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Pensions Bill

Volume 694: debated on Thursday 26 July 2007

My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line references are to HL Bill 61 as first printed for the Lords.]

MOTION A

28: Insert the following new Clause-

“Post-legislative scrutinyFour years after the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall arrange for post-legislative scrutiny of this Act to check on its operation and may arrange subsequent scrutiny.”

The Commons insist on their disagreement with the Lords in their Amendment No. 28 but propose Amendments Nos. 28C and 28D in lieu-

28C: Page 25, line 14, at end insert the following new Clause:-

“Review of operation of Act(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of 2014, prepare a report on the operation of the provisions of this Act.

(2) The Secretary of State may prepare subsequent reports on the operation of the provisions of this Act.

(3) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of any report prepared under this section before Parliament.”

28D: Page 26, line 38, at end insert-

“(1A) But section (Review of operation of Act) extends to Northern Ireland in accordance with subsection (1) only as respects the provisions of this Act extending there.”

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 28, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28C and 28D in lieu.

This is the one remaining issue on the Bill. On Tuesday, we had a full debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, as we did at Third Reading, so I shall be fairly brief today.

The other place has given full consideration to the reason for insisting on Amendment No. 28, which was:

“This House remains of the view that it is appropriate to impose an early obligation on the Secretary of State to arrange for post-legislative scrutiny”,

and has given cross-party support to the amendment proposed in its place. It will be seen that the Government have taken note of the strength of feeling that was shown in this House on Tuesday and that they are happy to compromise on the timing of the review. We therefore propose that this should take place before the end of 2014 at the latest—three years earlier than our original proposal and three years later than proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. By 2014, it is expected that the majority of the provisions of the Act will be in operation.

We have never taken the position that we would not review the operation of the legislation once it had been enacted. In our response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s fourth report, we said that we would undertake a post-implementation review once the reforms had had a chance to bed in. We do not consider it necessary to place such an obligation on the statute book but, as I said before, we are happy to give the additional assurance that a statutory requirement will provide.

I understand that this compromise has the support of the other Front Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and I thank him for that.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 28, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28C and 28D in lieu.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

My Lords, I have my Tellers in place—I should just like to keep the government Whips alive on this. Of course, the Minister is entirely right that we have reached agreement. I thank him very much for the Government’s movement on this issue—from saying that it was unnecessary to the position that we have today. We have taken an important step forward. It is one of the first post-legislative clauses of this kind that I can remember, ensuring that there will be a review of an Act after it has been in operation. Certainly, I can remember nothing like it in previous pensions legislation. Obviously, we hope that when the second Pensions Bill comes to this House we will have a similar clause, because it is a valuable precedent. More than that, it is in the interests of the public as consumers and taxpayers to ensure that mistakes and errors in the implementation of legislation are picked up as early as possible. It is also in the interests of Ministers.

The Secretary of State must now prepare a report on the operation of the Act before the end of 2014. That is substantially better than the Government’s first offer of 2017, and although 2014 may seem a long way ahead, the Minister made a fair point in the previous debate when he said that some of the most important provisions do not come into operation before 2012, so 2014 is a fair compromise.

I thank all those who supported me in this amendment, particularly those who voted in the first Division, which was narrowly carried by 141 to 138. I thank my noble friend Lord Norton for his consistent support, the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott—not the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft—who spoke on my behalf, and my Tellers. I also thank Nigel Waterson in the other place for his excellent speech—at least we ensured that this was debated in the other place, which was one of my aims—and last, but not least, my Front Bench. I am tempted to say that it just shows what can be achieved when we work together, but I shall not. Instead, I thank my noble friends Lord Skelmersdale and Lady Noakes for their help and support and for their vast effort throughout the progress of the Bill.

The Bill is an important step forward, and I agree with the Commons amendments.

My Lords, we from these Benches are very happy to support the compromise amendment on post-legislative scrutiny outlined by the Minister. One important aspect of any post-legislative scrutiny of such a far-reaching Bill as this is the fundamental importance of an effective publicity campaign about the new provisions, particularly those affecting carers and women. I was struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, during the previous stage of the Bill. He said that he and his then Minister of State, John Major, promised a major publicity campaign about the change in SERPS in the Social Security Act 1986, but a year later they left the department and there was no publicity campaign. Who knows where any of us will be in seven years’ time? Having a report on the Bill must be a good idea.

My honourable friend in another place, Danny Alexander, was right to point out two other aspects of the Bill that post-legislative scrutiny would highlight: the extent of means-testing and the timing of the restoration of the link with earnings. For these reasons, and the reasons outlined by the Minister, we welcome this amendment and thank everyone who made this compromise happen.

My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend believes—how can I best put it?—that half a loaf is better than no bread. Ably assisted by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, he has achieved the first step in his ambition, expressed in his maiden speech to your Lordships—I recall that that was in 2001, so it was a few years back—to introduce post-legislative scrutiny. The Minister for Pensions Reform may not understand exactly what it means, as he showed in another place yesterday, but in the very unlikely event that he lasts long enough in his job—I note that being Minister for Pensions in this Government is not exactly secure—he most assuredly will.

Talking about Ministers’ misapprehensions, I must also gently chide the Minister for believing that there was a division of opinion between my colleague Mr Waterson and myself on this amendment. Let me assure him that we are as one on all issues to do with pensions, including the Government’s disgraceful rejection of the lifeboat scheme and the retirement income fund, which was so well championed by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral. I am grateful for their support on the Bill, as I am to the Minister when he really tries to represent the feelings of your Lordships’ House to his colleagues in another place.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. As my honourable friend Mike O’Brien—I believe he will be Minister for Pensions Reform for a very long time to come—said in the other place, ending on a compromise is reflective of how this legislation generally has proceeded. It is a profound Bill. We have had some significant disagreements around the edge of it. The core provisions have been supported across the House, both here and in another place, and I think that that bodes extremely well for the future of our pension provision in this country.

I shall not return to the lifeboat fund at this stage, but will just say that I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has been reunited with his Front Bench; long may that remain the position.

On Question, Motion agreed to.