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Lord Skelmersdale: Again, the Minister has explained the three orders in some detail. I confess that I have very few specific questions on them. However, we must consider occupational pension schemes against the background of what has been happening since the Government came into office. We all know about the Pensions Commission's first report and Adair Turner's chairmanship of the commission. We look forward to his second report.

I have been away, but I have been trying to keep up with the news, especially on pensions. I get the impression from my reading that the commission's second report will not provide a blueprint for action for the Government, but will put forward a series of options that will start a general debate on pensions, according to the Secretary of State. I thought that we had been having a general debate on pensions for something like the past two and a half years. I described a few minutes ago the attitude of the Government to pensions as lackadaisical, and I believe that to be so.

That attitude is added to by the various actions that the Government have been taking, not least the £5 billion of tax relief being removed from pension schemes. The Pensions Commission stated:

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The chairman of the Pensions Regulator, David Norgrove, said that Gordon Brown's decision to remove the dividend tax credit "didn't help either". You can say that again. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants stated:

Given that, it is small wonder that the head of the National Association of Pension Funds, Christine Farnish, said that all final salary pension schemes in the private sector could close within five years. She added in an interview on the "Today" programme:

I accept and appreciate that this is not a general pensions debate, although one is badly needed, so I shall turn to the orders. The first, concerning complaints of maladministration, refers to the ombudsman if there has been a complaint of that nature about which there has already been an investigation and decision by both the board and one of its committees. I can understand why the ombudsman is to determine the matter if the board run out of the legal time limit to determine the complaint. However, even with what the Minister said, I fail to understand why the ombudsman is to second guess the board.

All the other orders are, to my mind, straightforward and proceed rationally, including provisions on the ombudsman's powers and duties. For example, I am sure that it is right that his decisions should not be time-limited. I assume that the amendment order corrects a mistake. Indeed, the Minister said something about that. I think that he said that in the making of the original order, it was realised that it was about to be wrong, or words to that effect. Why was the original order not delayed slightly, in order to correct it?

The third order again gives the ombudsman the power to second guess the reconsideration committee. Why should any person who is sent or required to be sent a copy of the reconsideration decision have the right of appeal, given that the matter has already been considered by the board and reconsidered by the appropriate committee?

I would also be grateful, as a non-lawyer, if the Minister would expand a little on Regulation 7(4), which provides that no person can be compelled to give evidence or to produce any document that he could not be compelled to give under civil proceedings before a court. I understand that this is under tribunal rules, but it would nonetheless be helpful if the Minister could explain what sort of papers are in question. As I said, this would all mean something to lawyers, but not to an aggrieved pensioner, and the order is about aggrieved pensioners.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: This is probably not the time or place and I suggest that is certainly not the day for a general debate about pensions. I have one general question about the operation of the
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Pension Protection Fund, given that the noble Lord spoke in his introduction about how it was operating before we got on to the details of these orders.

The Minister may not be briefed now, so I would be more than happy if he writes to me, but on experience so far, how does the volume of problem cases appearing since the PPF started compare with the expectations and planning that went on his department when the PPF was set up? Can we have a progress report on how it is coming out? That would be of great interest to the pensions industry and to the House.

Turning to the details of these orders, we broadly support the principle of the ombudsman and how he operates, as we did during the progress of the Bill. I have some specific questions. David Laverick, the Pensions Ombudsman, was quoted quite extensively in Pensions Week last week about whether he would be taking on the roles of PPF ombudsman and of financial assistance scheme ombudsman. He said that he had serious concerns over the lack of resources, if he were to take on that role in addition to his position as the PPF Ombudsman. He said:

The DWP was quoted as saying that the Government were in negotiations with him about that additional role. It said that it would take that into consideration in making a final decision. Obviously the Committee would be very interested to know where that discussion has got to. Can the Minister tell us how that is developing?

As far as the details of the orders are concerned, I think the Minister will forgive me if I say that there is a certain element of reading into the record. I do not criticise him for that, but in what circumstances do we envisage that the ombudsman will hold hearings in private? Can I invite the noble Lord to stand back a little bit from his brief? I have heard him several times saying something about serious adverse consequences, but what situations are involved in layman's terms? How could it arise that a hearing would be held in private? In particular, if complainants ask that hearings should be held in public, it seems to me that there should be a considerable presumption in favour of justice being seen to be done publicly. Under what conditions will the wishes of the participants in that situation be overruled?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: First, I thank noble Lords for the general welcome for the proposals. I shall attempt to answer some of the specific points that have been made. I do not agree with the line of attack of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that the Government's attitude to pensions has been lackadaisical. Having an interest in pensions over many years, I have learnt that we have suffered from a lack of consensus about the long-term development of pensions policy. I think that the Adair Turner commission gives us a strong opportunity to try to resolve the best way forward on pensions policy. Three or four weeks ago, a number of us were fortunate enough to attend a seminar organised by Adair Turner. It was very constructive in his analysis of the issues that we face and his suggestions of some of the broad approaches that we may take forward.
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The noble Lord commented that there had been a general debate for a long time. The impact of the commission has been to step up the debate. While there has certainly been a debate about pensions among the rather select group of people who understand pensions, the debate has not until now embraced a large proportion of people in this country. What Adair Turner has done, and what I hope that we can encourage, is to get lots of people thinking and talking about pensions. As a successful pensions policy for the future will involve decisions of many individuals in this country, the more that we can embrace and involve people the better.

Lord Skelmersdale: The Minister is suggesting that the average employee reads avidly the Pensions Commission's report and all the newspaper articles that have been written about it. He cannot be right.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I think that I am, actually. I know that, having been identified as a pensions Minister, people tend to come up to talk about pensions. Even on a No. 50 bus in Birmingham from time to time, one hears people talking about pensions. That is one of the great advantages of starting the debate. If debate about pensions policy is confined to the very small number of people who understand the niceties of that policy, we will not get anywhere. I defend the Government's approach wholeheartedly. The debate is working.

The noble Lord asked me to say whether the Adair Turner commission will produce a blueprint. I cannot possibly comment; I do not know what will be in the second report. I am sure that it will be interesting and will very much help us towards making decisions. The noble Lord mentioned the abolition of tax credits on pension funds. To put forward the notion that that decision almost single-handedly was responsible for a loss of confidence in pensions is not sustainable. I do not accept that point.

The noble Lord asked why the original order was not right in relation to the amendment order. The realisation of the change that needed to be made came after the principal order had been processed but while drafting the regulations. We can plead not guilty to that.

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