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Pensions Bill

Volume 703: debated on Monday 30 June 2008

House again in Committee.

89B: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—

“Report on auto-enrolment

The Secretary of State must publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament a report annually on the impact of auto-enrolment on—

(a) the take-up of;(b) persistency in; and(c) contributions toqualifying pension schemes.”

The noble Lord said: As with my previous amendment, this one also addresses another of the major issues that will decide the final success of the policy behind the Bill. Indeed, it would seem to address the most important one of all. As with means-testing, the issues of take-up and persistency are obviously at the forefront of the minds of stakeholders and Parliament. They have been raised many times by several of the employer and business organisations and have already cropped up in several of our debates, particularly when we have discussed the potential administrative costs and burdens that auto-enrolment in qualifying schemes will impose on employers.

The figures from the multitude of reports have been quite varied. Naturally, the Government are sticking by the most optimistic result—that of little or no levelling down and a large upswing in the size of pension saving from the target population of low to medium earners. Unfortunately, this rosy view is not shared by everyone, and the possibility that the qualifying test will drive many employers into personal accounts must be considered and, if possible, protected against. My noble friend Lady Noakes referred to that last week in the debate on Amendment No. 60A. In response, I noted that the Minister said:

“What matters is that the amount that goes into the scheme at least equals what would go into the scheme if the 8 per cent of the band on the definition of earnings”—

that is, basic earnings—

“that is adopted were applied. We are not asking for that to be adopted in every scheme, simply that the contribution that goes into the scheme under the existing scheme’s rules produces at least that outcome”.—[Official Report, 23/6/08; col. 1300.]

I understand that but stakeholders still believe that the qualifying test will impose a burden on employers and, in many cases, will lead to their current schemes needing quite serious changes in order to qualify for auto-enrolment. To put it another way, it will not matter whether an employer’s scheme is calculated by reference to basic or gross pay as long as the total money going into the pension scheme is at least as much as it would be under the new personal account arrangements, which of course is 8 per cent.

If stakeholders have misunderstood the import of the Minister’s remark, the size of this burden rests largely on details that the Minister cannot yet tell us about. My amendment therefore does not seek to amend these later crucial decisions but, instead, to keep the issue alive and to ensure that research and the education of stakeholders, which I believe is vital, continue so as properly to inform and communicate those decisions. I beg to move.

We on these Benches broadly support the amendment. The noble Lord is certainly right to say that this is one of the most important issues, if not the most important one, that arise from the Bill. Clearly, none of us can know at this stage what the effect of personal accounts will be and whether auto-enrolment will undermine existing schemes. It is very hard to disentangle that possible effect from the continuing decline of saving in pension schemes anyway. My only reservation is whether once a year is almost too much of a running commentary on matters which take a little time to become clear and whether every two or three years might be better.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State to report annually on the impact of auto-enrolment; on the take-up of qualifying pension provision; and on the length of time members remain in pension schemes, as well as contribution levels in qualifying schemes. Both noble Lords who have spoken have focused on the importance of seeking to guard against levelling down. We want to do everything that we can to preserve existing good quality provision. I believe that the noble Lord quoted me correctly as regards looking at the qualifying standard: it is the amount of money that goes in; it does not have to be calculated on the same basis as the definition of earnings in the Bill, or the band of earnings.

I am glad that the noble Lord has tabled this amendment because it provides me with an opportunity to outline our plans for monitoring and evaluating the impact of the reforms, which is very important. We are developing an evidence and data strategy to ensure that appropriate evidence is gathered on the pensions' landscape to enable monitoring and evaluation of the Government’s pension reforms. We have already started to engage with key stakeholders through a series of seminars on the current evidence base for pensions. We will publish a report of our work later this year and we plan to continue this dialogue with key stakeholders.

The Government already conduct regular surveys of the pensions' landscape at the industry, employer, and individual levels, including the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, which is an Office for National Statistics survey; the Employers’ Pension Provision Survey, a biennial DWP survey of employers; and the Occupational Pension Schemes Survey, an ONS survey of pension schemes, conducted each year. We are also conducting regular tailor-made surveys to track employers’ and individuals’ likely responses to the reforms. These include employers who plan to enrol their employees, anticipated participation rates, planned contribution levels and the likely impact on existing pension provision. A full evaluation is planned once the reforms have bedded in and then on an ongoing basis.

We will continue to work closely with key stakeholders, academics and other relevant government departments as we develop plans for the data and evidence strategy for monitoring the private pension reforms and for monitoring the Government’s wider reforms of the pensions system, including reforms to the state pension in the Pensions Act 2007.

The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, would add further requirements on top of the plans that I have already mentioned. A new statutory duty would be placed on the Secretary of State, requiring him to produce an annual report on the impact of auto-enrolment. That duty in those terms may not fit well with the wider evaluation of the reforms and at worst could become a tick-box exercise.

In addition, if we had to adhere to that annual cycle as proposed, there is a risk that the proposed duty would perversely require the Government to impose additional reporting burdens on employers in respect of qualifying schemes. If we were required to produce a further annual report specifically covering participation and persistency in contributions in qualifying schemes, we could not rule out the possibility that we might need to seek further information or more frequent updates from employers, increasing burdens on them. For example, we may need to ask more frequently about participation rates among the job-holder population or the rates of deferred membership among the job-holder population, or the rates of deferred membership and opt in.

We believe that it is important to continue to work with key stakeholders to identify the questions that need answering: what data are already available to identify evidence gaps and what is the most effective way to fill those? It is important to concentrate available resources on a balanced programme of data collection, monitoring and evaluation that has been developed carefully with key stakeholders.

I hope that that has given the noble Lord the clear assurance that we need to monitor and evaluate because in doing so we will build our understanding. However, I do not believe that the proposed narrow annual survey and report is the right way to go. It could, at the margins at least, be counterproductive, and I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

I am well aware of the reports that the Government publish around the pensions arena, including those that the Minister mentioned. Although I did not say so, I was trying to get at whether the ongoing evaluation of personal accounts, and indeed the new pensions regime, would automatically be included in those reports. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, for his minor quibble that reporting every year, as proposed in my amendment, would be a bit too frequent. I accept that, but I will read carefully what the Minister said on the existing reports in the pensions arena.

I also note that the Minister will monitor and evaluate the report on the consultation, to be published later this year. Is it the Government’s intention to publish it before we finish proceedings on the Bill?

I cannot give a precise answer to that, but I will check. I can see that it may be helpful if it can be published, but I am not sure that I can give that commitment without checking.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say a little more about the qualifying test and how the employer duty is discharged, which was raised by the noble Lord. Employers and schemes will receive plain English guidance on how to apply the qualifying test and to discharge the employer duties. We will consult on the content and format of the guidance. We have research under way to understand the information needs of small employers to ensure that we communicate with them in the most sensible way.

I am grateful for that extra information, but I am afraid that it prompts the same question. I would assume that guidance will not be in final form until 2011, but that will not help the worries of the pension scheme managers, to whom we refer as stakeholders, during the passage of this Bill. Would it not be possible at least to have draft guidance before we finish with the Bill to give an idea of the kind of thing that is expected of employers, and rather more than the Minister has been able to give on our various amendments? That would relieve their minds, and thereby relieve the minds of my noble friend Lady Noakes and myself. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 [Effect of failure to comply]:

90: Clause 30, page 14, line 5, leave out subsection (1)

The noble Lord said: This is a simple probing amendment to explore why the Government chose to go down the route of giving the Pensions Regulator sole right to take action in the event of an employer failing to meet his obligations. The clause in Chapter 2 on compliance gives all manner of detail about the methods by which the Pensions Regulator can encourage an employer to meet his duties, and the penalties that can be imposed if he continues to disregard the notices under Clauses 31, 32 or 33. Clause 34, in particular, ensures that a jobholder should be able to have any missed contributions made up to him, but there are many other ways in which a jobholder can be disadvantaged by negligence on the part of his employer.

Some of these cases, such as the provision of false or misleading information, are covered in Clauses 40 to 42, which specify new offences. How will these two regimes operate together? For example, if a jobholder were to opt out based on misinformation fed to him by his employer, but the Pensions Regulator were to consider the breach too small to be worth the expense of going to court, what rights does the jobholder still have? As I understand the Bill, he has none. To return to repayment of contributions, when the employee chooses to opt out, the Minister indicated earlier that the worker’s contribution might be repaid to the employer in the expectation of it being passed on to its rightful owner. What powers does the jobholder have to ensure that that is done? I beg to move.

I thank the noble Lord for this amendment because it gives me an opportunity to clarify an important point. Clause 30 aims to ensure that there is only one compliance regime for the new duties, which will be enforced by the Pensions Regulator. This means that an individual will not be able to bring an action against an employer solely—I stress, solely—on the basis that he has breached an employer duty provision. It does not affect any pre-existing right of action.

This amendment, which I understand is a probing amendment, removes that provision and enables individuals, alongside the regulator, to take action against the contravention of an employer duty. There will be a role for individuals in alerting the regulator to non-compliance through whistle-blowing, but allowing individuals to take action against employers directly could lead to duplication, confusion and increased employer burden as an employer could face action from the regulator and individuals at the same time.

We fully recognise the need for individuals to have access to other routes for redress if a situation of non-compliance has not been pursued or resolved to their satisfaction. A fairer, less burdensome way of achieving that goal is to enable individuals to make a complaint to the Pensions Ombudsman. The ombudsman may then decide to pursue an investigation. Individuals may already make a complaint to the ombudsman under certain circumstances; for example, where they are an actual or potential beneficiary of a pension scheme. We have tabled an amendment to ensure that jobholders opting out of pension schemes are among the groups of individuals who can make a complaint to the ombudsman. The proposed approach will ensure a clear and consistent compliance regime and minimise burdens for employers while providing appropriate protection for individuals. This amendment would undermine that approach. There is nothing in this clause that affects any pre-existing right. For example, where contributions are set out in an employment contract, the individual will retain the right to pursue missing contributions just as he would be able to pursue any other breach of contract. It is just in relation to the duties arising under the Bill where the Pensions Regulator is put in place to ensure compliance.

That might have been a hopeful opportunity, but it was also a fairly hopeful response. I shall come to this on another set of amendments, but I do not understand the difference between employment law and pensions law in this area and why they should be different. I agree with the Minister that if my amendment made it possible for there to be two prosecutions of the same employer for the offence, that would be total nonsense. I shall read carefully what he said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

90A: Clause 30, page 14, line 11, leave out subsection (4)

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 90A, I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group. This chapter introduces the provisions needed to establish the compliance regime for the new duties set out in the Bill. An effective and proportionate compliance approach is essential to the success of these reforms. Overall, our stakeholders recognise the need for an effective regime and for our approach to compliance. Before I begin, I acknowledge that we have tabled a number of amendments to the compliance provisions in the Bill, and it may assist the Committee in considering them if I explain briefly why this has come about.

The Pensions Regulator emerged as the organisation best placed to deliver the compliance regime following a thorough assessment of options. That decision was taken at a relatively late stage, which did not enable the compliance powers to be fully tailored to the regulator's existing legislative framework or its intended compliance approach. Hence, many of the amendments that we shall consider today are minor technical changes to ensure a proper fit with the regulator's existing powers, clarity of meaning and accurate expression of the policy intent.

I apologise for the fact that we are dealing with so many government amendments; I know that that does not make life as easy as it might be for the Opposition, in particular. If it would help to have a briefing from officials on any of them, that can be organised.

It has also been necessary to propose minor amendments to the compliance provisions to ensure that they accurately reflect the employer duty provisions, enabling the regulator to respond effectively to all instances of non-compliance. In addition, some amendments have arisen from discussion in another place, where it was agreed further to consider certain issues raised about the compliance approach. In some cases, it has been necessary to table several amendments to achieve the same purpose. Where that has occurred, I hope that the grouping of the amendments will assist the Committee to consider them effectively.

With that introduction in mind, I turn to the first such group of government amendments. They are technical amendments intended to improve the drafting of the Bill to ensure that there is adequate protection for individuals in all cases where an employer has breached its duties. The amendments fall into three categories.

First, government Amendments Nos. 90A, 90K, 90M, 90U and 90V, 92B and 92C, 92E and 92G, relate to Clause 8, which gives individuals who do not have qualifying earnings the option of requiring their employer to make arrangements to enrol them into a pension scheme. As the compliance clauses are currently drafted, the use of the term “jobholder” will exclude workers who do not have qualifying earnings but are in pension schemes by virtue of Clause 8. Those amendments will ensure that, where Clause 8 applies, it can be enforced—in other words, they will enable the regulator to use a single compliance regime in respect of all workers.

Secondly, as currently drafted, the requirements in Clause 34 for the employer to calculate the amount of contributions not paid to a scheme and to pay unpaid contributions do not apply to compliance notices in cases where that employer fails to auto-enrol a jobholder or induces a jobholder to opt out. The policy intention here is to have a mechanism that ensures that the employer makes up any unpaid contributions in those instances. For that to occur, there must be a recognised appropriate date on which contributions were expected to have been made, but where the employer has not automatically enrolled the jobholder, or has induced them to opt out, there is no scheme and therefore no relevant due date.

The second group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 91D and 91E and 92E and 92F, ensure that the regulator can issue an unpaid contributions notice in cases of failure to auto-enrol and compliance notices for induced opt-outs. The amendments provide that compliance and unpaid contribution notices can specify an appropriate date from which contributions should have been paid. The amendments also enable the regulator to use a compliance notice for both the remedy of auto-enrolment failure and to recover missed contributions, rather than having to introduce a compliance notice followed by an unpaid contributions notice.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 91A, 92F and 116A will ensure that the regulator can take enforcement action against an employer in respect of an individual who no longer works for them. That will ensure that compliance notices and unpaid contributions notices can be applied to all employers, past and present. For example, an individual may change jobs, but their original employer has failed to make contributions on their behalf. This set of amendments will enable the regulator to require the original employer to pay the outstanding contributions.

I apologise for the length of my introduction, but I hope that my explanation has been helpful to the Committee. I beg to move.

For once, I am almost speechless. I will have to read carefully what the noble Lord has said when Hansard is published tomorrow. My only comment on this large group of government amendments concerns Amendment No. 91A. It would seem to be more appropriate to look for this provision in Clause 77, on definitions, which applies to the whole of Part 1. I offer that only as a thought. I do not expect the Minister to respond at this moment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 31 [Compliance notices]:

90B: Clause 31, page 14, line 15, leave out “referred to in this Chapter as”

The noble Lord said: This group of minor and technical government amendments is designed to ensure that the compliance provisions achieve their intended effect. I will explain each of them briefly. Amendments Nos. 90L, 92H, 97D, 97E and 139A clarify meaning and correct minor exclusions. Clause 31 enables the Pensions Regulator to issue a compliance notice, which may require the employer to take steps to restore the jobholder’s position. Subsection (5) spells out what that means for defined benefit schemes. Amendment No. 90L extends the provisions of that subsection to hybrid schemes. It is right that subsection (5) should apply here because hybrid schemes are partly defined benefit in their structure.

Clause 35 gives the Pensions Regulator the power to issue a fixed penalty notice to persons who fail to comply with the new employer duties and compliance or contributions notices. As drafted, Clause 35(5)(g) refers only to notifying,

“the employer of the review process”,

and appeal rights, even though fixed penalty notices may also be issued to persons other than employers. Amendment No. 92H corrects that exclusion.

Amendments Nos. 97D and 97E relate to Clause 41, which extends Section 80(1)(a) of the Pensions Act 2004. These amendments correct drafting to ensure that the extension of Section 80 is clearly expressed. Amendment No. 139A clarifies how Section 80 will be changed. Amendments Nos. 90B, 105A and 123A are drafting amendments to clarify references to the Pensions Regulator, while Amendments Nos. 90T and 91C are drafting amendments to clarify references to unpaid contributions.

Finally, Amendment No 90N removes the power to make regulations about the application of the employer duties where an employer has been issued with a compliance notice. In its recent report, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee noted that,

“special provision for employers who are subject to compliance notices could almost certainly be achieved under the wide additional powers conferred by clause 116(3)”.

We note and accept the recommendation of the committee and accordingly are making this amendment to implement it. I beg to move.

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining these essentially drafting and technical amendments so clearly. I was particularly impressed by his explanation of Amendment No. 90N, which leaves out the regulating power in Clause 31 on compliance notices. I am delighted that the Government have yet again seen fit to agree with the Deregulated Powers Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

90C: Clause 31, page 14, line 16, leave out “an employer” and insert “a person”

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 90C, I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group. These government amendments are designed to ensure that the Pensions Regulator can respond effectively to all instances of non-compliance. Under Clause 31, the regulator can issue a compliance notice to an employer who fails to meet one of the employer duty provisions. However, there are two scenarios in which this provision would not enable the regulator to issue such a notice.

The first scenario is where a person fails to meet one of their duties but is no longer subject to that duty at the time that the regulator wishes to issue a compliance notice. For example, an employer might fail automatically to enrol a jobholder, but the jobholder might then leave the job before a compliance notice was issued. Under current provisions, it is not clear that the regulator would be able to seek unpaid contributions on behalf of that jobholder.

The second scenario is where a duty applies to a person other than an employer. The duties set out in Clauses 2 to 10 will, in the main, fall to employers. These include the core new duties of automatically enrolling jobholders into a pension scheme and paying minimum contributions into that scheme. However, regulations under those sections may prescribe a small number of duties on other individuals. For example, Clause 9 enables regulations to be made detailing the information that a “prescribed person” needs to give to the jobholder. That person would not necessarily be an employer; they could be, for example, a trustee or manager of an occupational pension scheme or the provider of a workplace personal pension. Where duties arise on individuals other than employers, it is right that the regulator should be able to issue a notice if those duties are not met. These amendments will enable the regulator to take that action. It also follows that the Pensions Regulator must be able to issue a notice to a third party who contributes to a breach of the employer duties, whether that duty was breached by an employer or by another person. That is what Amendment No. 90P achieves. In short, these amendments will support a fair and proportionate compliance regime. I beg to move.

The Minister has just exemplified a saying that I first heard on the west coast of Scotland: “We think better later”. Clearly, he has. However, it occurs to me that as an employer I am responsible for the actions of my staff. Therefore, I wonder what lies behind all this. Perhaps the Minister has explained already who the third party in question is. Therefore, I will have to read Hansard extremely carefully, unless the Minister is able to come back to me now.

I will try. There are two different things here. As I said, although those employer duties will fall overridingly on employers, there could be instances where an employer duty—for example, in relation to the provision of information—might fall on someone who is not technically the employer. There are further provisions where third-party compliance notices can be given, which is where someone might contribute to the failure of an employer duty. The distinction between those two is that, if the individual to whom the third-party notice is given or is due does not have the employer duty, he or she is not in a position to rectify that failure of duty, although there may be other things that he or she can do. Therefore, there is a distinction between compliance notices relating to employer duties, which could cover people other than those who are technical employers, and third-party compliance notices for those who might contribute to a failure but who themselves do not have the employer duty. I am not sure whether that has confused or enlightened the noble Lord, but I am happy to have another go at it if he thinks that that would help.

This looks like another subject for one of the Minister’s famous letters; I am grateful for the four that I received this morning on earlier discussions in Committee. In what circumstances would the third party be liable for compliance? I accept that the Bill says that to an extent there are third parties that are involved in all this, so I wonder whether the Government have their policy right. However, I shall look carefully at what the noble Lord has said.

Perhaps I may try to clarify this a little more. I want to differentiate between compliance notices in respect of failures of employer duties and third-party compliance notices where someone has in a sense contributed to a failure. For example, a third-party compliance notice could be given to a trustee of a pension scheme who has not properly given information to enable the employer duty to be fulfilled. It could also be a payroll provider for the employer who, by not doing something, causes a breach of the employer duties. Those are the sort of situations to which I am referring. However, the individuals or entities themselves would not actually have the duty and therefore there is a need to distinguish them from those who do have the duty. That is why there are two sets of compliance notices.

We are getting a little clearer. I can well understand that the trustee, for example, who has given information to the employer who then acts on it might well be prosecutable in certain circumstances, but I fail to understand why, for example, a member of the employer’s HR department should have a compliance notice issued against him, as I would have thought that the employer was responsible for his employees. I do not want to take this any further because it is a rather abstruse argument. I shall read carefully what the noble Lord has tried to explain three times now, which is probably enough for the rest of the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

90D: Clause 31, page 14, line 17, leave out first “employer” and insert “person”

90E: Clause 31, page 14, line 18, leave out “employer” and insert “person to whom it is issued”

90F: Clause 31, page 14, line 23, leave out “employer” and insert “person to whom it is issued”

90G: Clause 31, page 14, line 25, leave out “employer” and insert “person”

90H: Clause 31, page 14, line 26, leave out “employer” and insert “person”

90J: Clause 31, page 14, line 27, leave out “employer” and insert “person”

90K: Clause 31, page 14, line 30, leave out “jobholder” and insert “worker”

90L: Clause 31, page 14, line 34, after “scheme” insert “or a hybrid scheme”

90M: Clause 31, page 14, line 35, leave out “jobholder” and insert “worker”

90N: Clause 31, page 14, line 37, leave out subsection (6)

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 31, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 32 [Third party compliance notices]:

90P: Clause 32, page 15, line 4, leave out “an employer” and insert “a person”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

90Q: Clause 32, page 15, line 11, leave out “the contravention”

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group. Clause 32, to which these amendments relate, enables the Pensions Regulator to issue a third-party compliance notice of the kind that we have just discussed to a person who has contributed to a contravention of an employer duty set out in Clauses 2 to 10. This provision recognises that a third party may bear some responsibility for a failure to meet one of those duties and allows the regulator to issue a notice to that third party requiring that the situation be remedied. Indeed, we were slightly ahead of ourselves in our discussion on the other amendment. These minor amendments would ensure that the provisions reflect the policy intent and that they are consistent with other provisions both in this chapter and the equivalent position in the 2004 Pensions Act.

I shall try briefly to explain each of them. Amendment No. 90Q addresses subsection (2), which, as currently drafted, directs the third party to take steps to remedy the contravention or prevent a recurrence of the failure. However, a person who is not bound by a duty cannot remedy a contravention of that duty. The third party can take steps only to remedy or prevent a recurrence of its failure. This drafting amendment means that the third-party compliance notice will not direct a third party to do something that it is not able to do.

Amendment No. 90R ensures that the third-party compliance notice states the period within which a third party should stop taking a particular action where that action is contributing to a breach of an employer duty. It will make this clause consistent with Clause 31(3)(a), reflecting the fact that the principle behind both compliance notices and third-party compliance notices is the same, to ensure that failures can be addressed and put right. It will also ensure consistency with the regulator’s existing third-party notice provision in Section 14 of the Pensions Act 2004.

Finally, Amendment No. 90S states that a third-party compliance notice can inform the recipient that he may be subject to fixed penalties if the notice is not complied with. This is consistent with Clause 31(3)(d). The power to issue fixed penalty notices to third parties is already provided for in Clause 35. Those who receive compliance notices will have every opportunity to contact the regulator and to seek help before penalties are applied. Notifying the recipient of the possibility of financial penalties ensures that recipients are fully informed of the consequences of failure to comply. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

90R: Clause 32, page 15, line 14, at end insert “or must cease to be taken”

90S: Clause 32, page 15, line 17, at end insert—

“( ) state that, if the third party fails to comply with the requirements of the notice, the Regulator may issue a fixed penalty notice under section 35.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 32, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 33 [Unpaid contributions notices]:

90T: Clause 33, page 15, line 25, leave out “unpaid relevant contributions” and insert “relevant contributions that have not been paid”

90U: Clause 33, page 15, line 27, leave out subsection (3)

90V: Clause 33, page 15, line 35, leave out “jobholders, or category of jobholders” and insert “workers, or category of workers”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

91: Clause 33, page 15, line 43, at end insert—

“( ) require, in the event of excessive delay, that interest be paid on unpaid contributions.”

The noble Baroness said: I should explain that this amendment was suggested to me by the TUC. As I have already told the Committee, the TUC welcomes the general thrust of the Bill and is entirely supportive of it, but it has one or two points of view that it has put to me that I thought warranted tabling amendments. We agree that there should be a robust compliance regime to ensure that firm action is taken against a minority who fail to comply with their obligations under the Bill. This should be supplemented by penalties for non-compliance severe enough to provide a deterrent effect. Therefore, the provisions already in the Bill on compliance are to be welcomed.

Workers, however, should not experience any detriment or financial disadvantage because of an employer’s failure to enrol them into personal accounts or a qualifying pension scheme. There is a strong case, I believe, for interest payments on unpaid contributions to be made for any delay beyond a reasonable administrative period. That is what my amendment is designed to achieve. It would have the necessary deterrent effect and I hope that the Government will feel disposed to agree to it. I notice that the amendment has been grouped with government Amendment No. 92D, which, although on a different issue, nevertheless seems to accept the idea of interest being paid on unpaid relevant contributions. I hope, therefore, that my amendment will be accepted, as it seems to fit as new paragraph (g) in Clause 33(5). I beg to move.

The noble Baroness’s amendment seems fair and sensible. We look forward to hearing from the Minister what a reasonable administrative period would be or whether he thinks that there are practical problems. However, the principle that an employee should get the full benefit of the matching employer contributions if those contributions are delayed through no fault on the part of the employee—and as long as there is not a strong excuse on the part of the employer—seems to us to be the right one.

I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Turner for tabling this helpful amendment, whose intention I agree with. I am also pleased to note the support of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. Clause 33 deals with the power of the Pensions Regulator to issue unpaid contributions notices to employers. This amendment would give the regulator the power, when issuing such a notice, to require the employer to pay interest on the arrears of contributions. When pension contributions are not paid on time, the scheme trustees lose the chance to invest the money on the workers’ behalf and there is a risk that as a result an individual’s pension pot may be smaller over time.

When this matter was discussed in the other place, we accepted the need for some compensatory payment that would put the worker into the position in which they would have been had the contributions been paid on time. We announced our intention to introduce an amendment to require employers to pay interest on late-paid contributions. Clearly it would be difficult, if not impossible, to assess completely accurately the loss of investment value to an individual worker, given the numbers of people involved and the different investment strategies and portfolios of individual schemes and investment managers and so on. However, it would be relatively straightforward to require an employer to calculate and pay interest on the arrears of contributions. Such payments would both recompense workers for the lost investment opportunity and give employers an incentive to pay contributions on time.

The Pensions Regulator’s powers to calculate and, where necessary, estimate the amount of unpaid contributions are set out in Clause 34. While I completely agree with the intention behind my noble friend’s amendment, we think that the ability to require interest to be paid would best appear in Clause 34, which is why we have tabled the government amendment. This will take the form of a power to require interest to be paid. The amendment would give the Pensions Regulator the power, when it issues such a notice, to require the employer to pay interest on the arrears of contributions should certain conditions apply. These conditions, along with the rate of interest and other technical details, will be prescribed in secondary legislation. This will allow for further discussion with the regulator and stakeholder consultation on the detail of how the provision will operate.

I hope that I have assured my noble friend that I agree with the principle that she has raised and I thank her for doing so. Given my assurances that the government amendment will deliver the same intention, I respectfully ask her to withdraw her amendment.

I thank my noble friend for that assurance. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, for supporting the amendment. He is quite right about what is excessive delay—I understand that. In view of the assurances that the Minister has given, this is obviously a matter for regulation. I am glad that the principle has been accepted and, in those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

91A: Clause 33, page 15, line 43, at end insert—

“(6) In this section, “employer” in relation to a worker means the person by whom the worker is or, if the employment has ceased, was employed.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 33 shall stand part of the Bill?

I wish to debate Clauses 33 and 34 standing part in order to ask the Government to explain the relationship between these clauses and the provisions of the Pensions Act 1995. What I am about to say is based on briefing from the Law Society of Scotland.

Clauses 33 and 34 deal with unpaid contribution notices. There are already sanctions and compliance powers in existence under Sections 87 and 88 of the Pensions Act 1995 relating to money purchase schemes. Can the Minister explain why these additional powers are being created in Clauses 33 and 34 and why the existing powers are not adequate?

I cannot see that the Bill repeals any powers in the 1995 Act but it clearly adds powers through these clauses and others. Can the Pensions Regulator act under both this Bill and the 1995 Act in respect of the same issues? Are the Government satisfied that they have not ramped up the regulatory burden on companies in a disproportionate way as a result of the Bill? I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

I thank the noble Baroness. I understand the import of the debate that she wants to have and I shall try to deal with the points she raises.

Clauses 33 and 34 form a key part of the overall compliance regime. Where employers are late in paying contributions, these clauses will enable the regulator to issue compliance with unpaid contributions notices to employers directing them to pay unpaid contributions into a pension scheme. These clauses build on and streamline the regulator’s current approach to following up late contributions and will enable it to deal with the higher volume of late payments expected after 2012. While it is expected that most employers will co-operate fully with the new system, it is possible that a minority will fail to fulfil their responsibilities. The compliance regime will therefore need to take firm action against this minority of employers without imposing unnecessary burdens on responsible employers.

The noble Baroness specifically asked why the regulator needs new compliance powers. The Pensions Regulator has a range of powers under existing pensions legislation, as the noble Baroness asserted. These include powers to issue notices, such as improvement notices, and civil penalties. As noble Lords are aware, the Bill introduces a range of new duties. We expect most employers to comply with those duties and, as now, the regulator’s focus will be on educating and enabling them to do so. But an effective enforcement regime is needed where these initial steps fail.

There are two reasons why new compliance powers are needed to enforce the new provisions. First, they are needed to ensure that the regulator can enforce compliance with the new duties in the Bill—for example, the regulator’s existing improvement notice powers would not apply to an employer who fails the automatic enrolment duty—and, secondly, more streamlined powers are needed to equip the regulator for its new compliance role.

That, in essence, is why the new compliance powers are needed. The noble Baroness asked which powers, if both potentially applied, would be used. The compliance powers provided in the Bill would apply. I hope that has dealt with the point but I shall try again if it has not.

Can the Minister explain why the Government are not removing anything from the 1995 Act if they are producing streamlined and better powers under this Bill? Is there not a case—there is always a case—for removing regulatory burdens, especially where so-called improved versions of legislation are introduced?

It is because the existing powers are needed to deal with the existing business of the Pensions Regulator; these powers are focused on the new duties that arise under the Bill. However, they are still relevant to the other powers and responsibilities of the Pensions Regulator. I have a note of the detail on that which I will be happy to share with the noble Baroness, but I expect there will be no appetite for me to do so at the moment.

The other point to bear in mind is that, to date, the Pensions Regulator regulates an environment where there is voluntary sign-up to pension arrangements. Obviously auto-enrolment takes us into a new era and there are likely to be many new employers coming into pension provision for the first time. I think overwhelmingly they will be supportive of it—some may be reluctant and will need support and guidance initially—but there will be a need for streamlined powers to enforce compliance where not.

The Minister has revealed his true clothes. We are back to, “All employers are potentially evading their responsibilities and so we have got to have bigger and better powers to bash them with”. I regret that the Minister has replied in those terms.

Clause 33, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 34 [Calculation and payment of contributions]:

91B: Clause 34, page 16, line 3, after “of” insert “a contravention of section 2(1) or”

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to the other amendments in the group. It is essential that a worker’s decision on whether to join a qualifying pension scheme is taken freely and without influence from the employer. We know that the vast majority of employers will not put pressure on their workers around this decision but there is a risk that a minority might, and we have recognised from the start that that risk must be properly managed.

We have listened to the repeated concerns of the Opposition in the other place that existing measures in the Bill did not go far enough in this regard and several stakeholders, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the TUC, have also expressed concern.

We now propose to introduce an amendment that I hope will satisfy those calls for a stronger approach by sending out the clearest possible message to employers that trying to encourage or force workers to opt out from, or cease, pension scheme membership is unacceptable. Government Amendment No. 106A will introduce a prohibition on such behaviour.

The prohibition will be enforceable by the Pensions Regulator alongside its new role of maximising compliance with the employer duties in Chapter 1 and the prohibited recruitment conduct clause, Clause 49, in Chapter 3. The regulator will have available to it the full suite of enforcement powers appropriate to this role. This group of amendments contains proposed consequential amendments to several of the Chapter 2 compliance clauses. These changes will enable the regulator, where it believes that an employer has contravened the prohibition, to be able to investigate matters and, if appropriate, issue a compliance notice setting out what action is needed to remedy the contravention. If that notice is not complied with, the regulator will be able to issue penalty and escalating-penalty notices, just as it can in relation to failures to comply with Chapter 1 employer duties.

However, the aim of compliance activity in this area is not simply to punish non-compliant employers in order to deter them and others from such behaviour in the future. We want to ensure that individuals are, so far as possible, put back into the position they would have been in if the inducement had not happened. Employers could therefore be required by a compliance notice to enrol workers back into qualifying scheme membership where appropriate and to make back payments of employer contributions owed from the time the inducement occurred. We are aware that going back in time like this where an opt-out is found to have been induced could create a risk of uncertainty for all parties involved. To manage that risk, we feel it is important that there are time limits within which complaints can be made or investigations launched. These limits should also discourage the possibility of vexatious claims from some individuals. We understand that there are widely differing views among stakeholders on how long that period of time should be. We wish to consult on that to ensure that the views of all interested parties are considered before determining the issue in regulations.

I shall briefly explain the other amendments in this group, which are consequential upon the new clause. Amendment No. 91B amends Clause 34 in order to allow for the calculation and payment of contributions that have been unpaid as a result of the induced opt-out or cessation of membership. It does so by extending Clause 34 to contraventions of Clause 2(1), and subsection (2) of the new inducement clause provides that Clause 34 applies to a contravention of the inducements clause as it applies in relation to a contravention of Clause 2(1).

Amendments Nos. 98B and 99ZA ensure that the regulator’s powers to require information and enter premises are available to it in the context of its role in maximising compliance with the two Chapter 3 prohibitions on inducements and certain forms of recruitment conduct. Government Amendment No. 99ZA also ensures that these powers are available in respect of any corresponding provision in Northern Ireland. I hope that these amendments will find favour, and I beg to move.

My colleagues in another place will be delighted that a clause of this sort is now to be included in the Bill, and I congratulate the Minister on moving this amendment, to which I do not object—but I have a problem. He said that employers could be made to re-enrol a worker where they have persuaded him to opt out with either financial inducements or any other inducements, perhaps payment of overtime. When all that is settled and the employer is clearly in the wrong, it may be that the worker in question will still want to opt out, now of his own volition. Has the Minister considered what would happen then in relation to Amendment No. 106A?

I can see that those circumstances might arise, and I do not see that they would be precluded. This clause says right at the start that,

“An employer contravenes this section if the employer takes any action for the sole or main purpose of … inducing a worker”,

and so on. If they originally took that action to induce a worker, the matter has been rectified and the worker has been enrolled but then decides to opt out, I do not fundamentally see a problem with that. There would be issues regarding evidence and the facts and circumstances of a specific case, but the opt-out should not be precluded in the circumstances the noble Lord suggests.

Obviously it is the worker’s absolute right to opt out, whether or not an inducement has been offered or even received. My question was directed to the effect of compliance, but if the Minister is saying that if a wrong has been committed, no matter what happens afterwards, whatever compliance notices, fines and so on are produced from the regulator, then I understand that point of view. I was just trying to clarify what the Government were actually thinking in this area, but I suspect that there is no point in pressing the point now.

I will reflect further on that point because it is an interesting one. However, if we are talking about the same act of inducement that first time around caused the employee to opt out, but after a compliance notice the employee was then auto-enrolled into an auto-enrolment scheme and then chose to opt out, one would have to consider the juxtaposition of those events and whether effectively the first inducement so tainted the subsequent decision that it was wrapped up in it. One would need to go into more detail. I am happy to do that and discuss it with officials. It is a practical matter; if there is evidence that there was inducement the first time around and there was an opt-out that followed pretty swiftly afterwards the second time around, there might be some difficulty with evidence. We will have a look at that; the noble Lord might even receive one of my letters on that subject.

91C: Clause 34, page 16, leave out line 8 and insert “are of a description specified in the notice (“unpaid relevant contributions”);”

91D: Clause 34, page 16, line 10, leave out “due” and insert “appropriate”

91E: Clause 34, page 16, line 11, leave out “33(3)(a)” and insert “(Meaning of “relevant contributions” )(2)(a)”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

92: Clause 34, page 16, line 12, leave out paragraph (c)

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment to seek a clearer understanding of how the repayment of contributions will operate. As I understand it, it is possible for a repayment to go in one of at least three ways. The first and simplest is that within the prescribed period—presumably a grace period for employers who generally misunderstood their duties—both the employer and the jobholder pay in the contributions that they have missed. Another possibility is that the jobholder might decide that he will opt out of repaying missed contributions, although the employer is still liable for his portion.

The complication comes in when the employer does not repay the contributions within the prescribed period. As I understand from subsection (2)(c), he then becomes liable for the entire shortfall, both the employer’s contribution and the jobholder’s. Is it the case, then, that if the jobholder were not to pay back his missed contributions, the employer’s liability is that much higher? It would be helpful if the Minister could explain. I beg to move.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the important issue of the policy on restitution. As we have already discussed, making contributions to pension schemes in full and on time is vital to the growth of the individual’s pension fund. This is one of the key intentions of the compliance regime and the focus of this subsection of the Bill.

Where employers are late in paying contributions for a short period, which will be set by regulations, we propose that they be required to pay only backdated contributions. Their worker can choose whether to pay their own missed contributions and elect to do so in instalments. However, where an employer is late paying contributions for a longer period, the worker may not be able to pay arrears of their contributions. Without the worker contributions, an individual’s pension pot will be significantly smaller over time.

In this situation, it would be unfair if workers were disadvantaged by their employer’s failure to pay contributions on time. Therefore, where the contribution arrears are for a longer period, the employer may be required to pay both their own arrears and those of their worker. As well as being fair to the worker, it should act as a strong incentive for employers to comply and pay contributions on time. The principle behind the clause is supported by a range of stakeholders, including Help the Aged, the TUC and Which?. Certain stakeholders, including Help the Aged and the TUC, have suggested that the period be three months. However, before we identify a period, I want to discuss it fully with stakeholders, including business organisations.

The amendment would remove the requirement on employers to restore missed worker contributions even where they had been non-compliant for a long period. It would mean workers ending up with a smaller pension pot, which, I am sure we all agree, would be undesirable. In addition, as I have just said, it would reduce the incentive for employers to pay on time and mean that scheme members lost out on the investment value of their contributions. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

I described it as a probing amendment and it was a real description—noble Lords might think, “for once”. However, I still find a little confusing in paragraph (c) the words

“on the employer’s own account”

and shall read carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said. I assume that it means for both of them, as I said in my opening remarks, but if I am wrong, I will no doubt get the answer from my reading of Hansard. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

92A: Clause 34, page 16, line 13, leave out “due” and insert “appropriate”

92B: Clause 34, page 16, line 17, leave out “jobholder” and insert “worker”

92C: Clause 34, page 16, line 20, leave out “jobholder” and insert “worker”

92D: Clause 34, page 16, line 21, at end insert—

“( ) if the contributions are payable to a money purchase scheme, a hybrid scheme or a personal pension scheme, a requirement to pay interest on the amount required by the notice to be paid in respect of unpaid relevant contributions, at a rate and in respect of a period determined in accordance with regulations.”

92E: Clause 34, page 16, line 25, leave out “jobholder” and insert “worker”

92F: Clause 34, page 16, line 28, at end insert—

“(5) In this section, “appropriate date” means—

(a) in the case of a compliance notice, such date as may be specified in the notice;(b) in the case of an unpaid contributions notice, the due date within the meaning of section 33(4).(6) In this section, “employer” in relation to a worker means the person by whom the worker is or, if the employment has ceased, was employed.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.

92G: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—

“Meaning of “relevant contributions”

(1) In sections 33 and 34 “relevant contributions” are—

(a) in relation to a jobholder, employer contributions payable to a qualifying scheme in relation to the jobholder;(b) in relation to a worker to whom section 8 applies, employer contributions payable to a pension scheme which satisfies the requirements of that section.(2) In subsection (1), employer contributions means contributions payable by the employer—

(a) on the employer’s own account (but in respect of the worker), or(b) on behalf of the worker out of deductions from the worker’s earnings.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 35 [Fixed penalty notices]:

92GA: Clause 35, page 17, line 7, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4) The amount of any financial penalty imposed under subsection (1)(a), (b) or (d) must not exceed £5,000.

(4A) The amount of any financial penalty imposed under subsection (1)(c) is, subject as follows, to be 50% of the total of the amounts referred to in subsection (4B).

(4B) The amounts are the amounts specified under section 33 (unpaid contributions notice).

(4C) If a financial penalty as calculated under subsection (4A) would be less than £100, the financial penalty specified in the notice shall be that amount.

(4D) If a financial penalty as calculated under subsection (4A) would be more than £5,000, the financial penalty specified in the notice shall be that amount.

(4E) The Secretary of State may by regulations—

(a) amend subsection (4A) so as to substitute a different percentage for the percentage at any time specified there;(b) amend subsection (4C) or (4D) so as to substitute a different amount at any time specified there.(4F) If the employer on whom the notice is served, within the period of 14 days beginning with the day on which the notice was served—

(a) pays any amount required under section 34 above, and(b) pays at least half the financial penalty,he shall be regarded as having paid the financial penalty.”

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 92JA, 93, the Question whether Clause 36 should stand part, 106ZA and 106ZB. The operative part of all this is Amendment No. 92GA.

It is unusual for a Member of the Opposition to produce quite as detailed a piece of drafting as I have done, but my amendments are based on a provision in the Employment Bill, which recently passed through this House and is proceeding through another place. I make it very clear for the avoidance of doubt that I will not press the amendments; they are intended to probe DWP Ministers’ approach to compliance and contrast it with that of their colleagues in a different department.

In the Employment Bill, the Government seek to amend legislation dealing with employers’ compliance with the national minimum wage, as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform apparently feels that the current penalty is unclear and not a sufficient deterrent. On these Benches, we had no strong objections to the Government’s plans. There is evidence of wilful non-compliance; the measures were consulted on fully; and the result is a clearly defined penalty with an incentive for employers to make good their arrears quickly.

Unfortunately, none of the good practice evident in the Employment Bill seems to have made an appearance in the Pensions Bill. Clauses 35, 36 and 51 represent a marked departure from the principles on which DBERR based its compliance legislation. My amendment therefore brings forward those aspects of the Employment Bill that the Minister would do well to consider in this case.

DBERR agreed with many of the respondents to its consultation, including the CBI, chambers of commerce and the Forum of Private Business, that using a multiple of arrears was a sensible, proportionate way to enforce compliance, hence my new subsection (4A). This Bill, under DWP’s aegis, has failed to ensure proportionality and does not provide clarity. Its provisions instead would allow penalties to be arbitrary, inconsistent and disproportionate to the non-compliance.

I have no doubt that the Minister will bring forward his favourite word, “flexibility”, when defending the non-specific nature of these penalties. Perhaps he will suggest that in cases where it was clearly a mistake on the part of the employer rather than wilful non-compliance there should be no penalty at all. If he were to make that argument, I would be in complete agreement, but my amendment would in no way force the regulator to impose a penalty in the event of any non-compliance. The employer would already have ignored a contribution notice under Clause 33 before Clause 35 comes into play, and even if this had happened, subsection (1) does not force the regulator to impose a financial penalty if it does not feel that it is warranted.

I sincerely hope that it is the regulator’s intention to be very light handed when imposing financial penalties. The employer duties set out in the Bill will be many and varied and, as we have heard, are not even close to being fully defined. The number of unintentional breaches may be very high as employers, particularly in small businesses, struggle to absorb the burden that the legislation will place on them. To impose penalties on them for breaches that they have every intention of rectifying would be both unfair and counterproductive to the long lasting success of auto-enrolment. For this reason, DBERR, and my amendment, would ensure an incentive for prompt repayment: a 50 per cent discount for making good any arrears or paying any penalty promptly.

Perhaps the Minister will criticise my amendment and, therefore—I presume—his colleagues in DBERR, for not providing a suitably large deterrent. The upper limit specified in my amendments is £5,000 rather than the astronomical £50,000 in the Bill. DBERR’s consultation specifically addressed this issue. It pointed out that only 3 per cent of cases investigated in 2005-06 would have required a penalty higher than £5,000, and it felt that they were so serious as to be better dealt with by criminal prosecution. Moreover, the government documentation also highlights concern that a disproportionate civil penalty would breach Article 6 of the ECHR. Why is this concern not felt by Ministers in the DWP?

For those reasons, DBERR also considered carefully, and then rejected, any thought of an escalating penalty. The best way to deter the worst offenders was again stated to be through criminal prosecution. Clause 36 of this Bill instead sets out an extraordinarily open-ended escalating penalty.

My two amendments to Clause 36 highlight two aspects of this flexibility. First, the clause does not limit the regulator to using the escalating penalty only in proven cases of non-compliance. My amendment would make certain that a fixed penalty had been ignored before allowing its use. Secondly, there is no upper limit whatever in this clause. For the daily limit of £10,000, we could be seeing enormous sums, easily capable of bankrupting a business, becoming due in a very short period. My amendment therefore follows my line of thinking about Clause 35—that it would be sensible to involve the courts in extreme cases of non-compliance.

As I said at the beginning, these are essentially probing amendments designed to give the Minister an opportunity to explain his approach. We have not heard so much about joined-up government in recent months as we used to, but I assume that the Government would still wish to be thought of as reasonably consistent across their departments. I look forward to hearing his response. I beg to move.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on his hard work in drafting this, and for the extensive evidence of what is going on in DBERR. I am sorry that I am not as au fait with that as I should be. However, I am bound to say that this seems a pretty light slap on the wrist—or, should I say, half a slap on the wrist with the 50 per cent discount. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says, but the Conservative approach is rather lenient here.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for this amendment. I understand that it is by way of a probing operation. He has raised issues about the penalty provisions in Clauses 35, 36 and 51. I shall also respond to his request for a clause stand part debate on the escalating penalty provision in Clause 36.

These are important provisions, and I thank the noble Lord for giving the Committee the opportunity to examine them more closely today. It may assist our consideration of these amendments if I begin with an overview of the compliance regime and the role of penalties within it. While we are confident that the majority of employers will meet their new duties, we need an efficient and effective compliance regime to maximise compliance. The proposed approach comprises three stages: educating, enabling and enforcing. The emphasis is on educating and enabling employers to meet their duties; only when that fails will the Pensions Regulator take proportionate, graduated enforcement action. That action will start with statutory notices, moving to fixed and escalating penalties if non-compliance persists. The availability of financial penalties will therefore play a small but significant role in securing compliance and enabling jobholders to access pension saving.

I understand that the noble Lord has tabled some of these amendments to explore why we have not adopted the same legislative approach and penalty structure as in the revised national minimum wage regime set out in the Employment Bill. Before addressing each of his amendments, it may be helpful to set out why our approach differs from the proposals for the minimum wage.

I reassure noble Lords that the compliance regime for the reforms in this Bill will accord with good practice and available evidence. We are building on analysis of other regulatory regimes, not only the minimum wage regime but also the compliance approach for PAYE requirements; the Companies House regime for ensuring that corporations file their accounts; and, internationally, the approach taken for the superannuation scheme in Australia. We are further developing the penalty regime in line with the recommendations of the Macrory review and with regard to the regulatory principles of transparency, accountability, proportionality and consistency.

There is no doubt that we are at a different stage from the national minimum wage regime, which is now in a position to place more specific provisions in the Bill in the light of practical experience and the data accumulated on the enforcement approach. That approach cannot be replicated for an entirely new regime. We have been clear on the maximum penalty levels, which are set out in the Bill and have broad stakeholder support, but the actual penalty levels should be set out in regulations. That will enable adjustments to be made below the maximum level in the Bill when it becomes clearer which approach is most effective. It will enable detailed consultation with the regulated community, and other stakeholders, on the structure of the penalty.

On the specific amendments tabled by the noble Lord to Clauses 35 and 51, since the provisions of the Employment Bill were carefully tailored to meet the needs of the national minimum wage regime, some problems arise when they are translated into the context of our new regime. For example, reducing the £50,000 fixed-penalty ceiling to £5,000 in Clauses 35 and 51 would make the regime out of step with the regulator’s current powers. Under Section 10 of the Pensions Act 1995, the regulator has the power to impose fines of up to £50,000. We believe that it is important to ensure that complying with the new duty is seen to be as important as complying with existing legislation. Several stakeholder groups, including the CBI, have indicated their broad support for this decision.

Secondly, the noble Lord’s amendment to Clause 35 would calculate penalties associated with unpaid contributions based on the amount unpaid, just as the Employment Bill calculates penalties based on the amount of underpaid wages. However, in the pensions context, we have a series of related duties, and there are practical implications of different breaches carrying different penalties. For example, an employer who does not automatically enrol one of their workers into a qualifying scheme inflicts much the same harm as an employer who does not pay over the relevant contributions to a scheme. It is therefore unclear why they should be treated differently. We are not ruling out the possibility of tying penalties in certain circumstances to the nature of the contravention. However, we would like the opportunity to conduct full preparatory research and engage in formal consultation first.

Thirdly, the noble Lord’s amendments to Clauses 35 and 51 place an early-payment discount in the Bill. Such a discount is a common feature of penalty-based regimes, and is a strong candidate for inclusion among the options to be brought forward in our consultation and regulations. Early-payment discounts promote rapid compliance, which is why the Government felt that it was crucial to place this in the Bill in the national minimum wage context. Time is of the essence when we are talking about remedying shortfalls in the pay packets of some of the most vulnerable workers in our society. The implications are not identical with reference to late payment of pension contributions—but, again, this is a strong candidate for inclusion in our regulations.

I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord with regard to the amendments tabled to Clauses 35 and 51. On the amendments to Clause 36, a similar question of penalty caps is raised in relation to escalating penalty notices. The amendment would cap the total amount payable for a single breach at £50,000. I shall explain why we chose to cap the amount of the daily escalating rate at £10,000 but not to cap the total amount payable under these notices. The essence of an escalating penalty is that its value directly reflects how long an employer continues not to comply. Such penalties will be applied only in cases of very persistent non-compliance. We are not alone in recognising the benefits of including escalating penalties in our toolkit; other regimes such as HMRC PAYE also have the option to issue them. I share the noble Lord’s concern that penalty levels should be proportionate and fair, but am concerned to maintain the intention that escalating penalties directly reflect the extent to which an employer delays meeting their responsibilities. A cap on the escalating penalty would effectively cap the period within which employers are deterred from continuing to breach their duties.

As for the noble Lord’s second amendment to Clause 36, the intention is to ensure that daily escalating penalties are issued only if an employer effectively ignores a preceding fixed penalty. I assure him that we have always envisaged a sequential issue of penalties as part of the wider graduated approach. However, there may be cases where the recipient of a fixed penalty notice may pay the penalty but does not put right the situation that caused it. In these circumstances, the regulator will require the option of issuing escalating penalties to ensure compliance.

I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord, and that he will withdraw these amendments, which I understand are probing in nature. I have set out the background to why these provisions are in the Bill in this form.

I am grateful for that long and fairly explanatory answer. I accept that there are already powers in previous legislation to allow the regulator to impose fines of up to £50,000. Can the Minister tell me whether the regulator has any powers to use escalating fines thereafter?

A compliance regime must be both efficient and practical. There will be small differences with the national minimum wage. However, the regulator having the power to impose £50,000 in certain circumstances does not mean that we could not take the opportunity of the Bill to review whether that has been effective, and whether £50,000 is the right level. How many times has the regulator used the maximum fine? If he has not, that is a good reason to look at the whole thing again. I am glad that the Government are prepared to look at a 50 per cent reduction for paying the fine early and consult upon it—the least that they could do under the circumstances.

I said this was a probing amendment and I meant it. Unless the Minister wants to come back to me, I shall withdraw it now.

I do not want to deter the noble Lord from withdrawing his amendment, but it might be helpful if I deal with a couple of points that he has raised. He asked whether there are currently escalating penalties. I understand that there are not. Penalties in the Bill should not generally signal a review of the Pensions Regulator’s powers. I presume that consultation and discussion of these powers might at least butt up against that.

On the argument that a system of penalties would put firms out of business, the primary aim of the compliance regime is to encourage the employer to comply. Financial penalties are only one of a number of tools to help us to achieve this. The compliance regime is designed to ensure that employers can make redress or put things right in the first instance. Penalties would only be imposed when employers continue to breach requirements after they have been told how to comply. The regulator will have some discretion on whether to enforce the payment of the penalty. In situations where the employer can demonstrate to the regulator that he is at risk of becoming insolvent if he pays the penalty, the regulator could exercise that discretion; for example, the regulator could withdraw the penalty to allow the employer to pay any outstanding contributions.

I am grateful. Clearly, however, the Bill contains a ratcheting-up of the compliance regime that already exists within the pensions framework, albeit for a slightly different purpose. I will have to look at that extremely carefully. I said that I would withdraw the amendment, and I will. However, I certainly reserve the right to bring back the issue in one form or another, perhaps one not directly relevant to the national minimum wage, at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

92H: Clause 35, page 17, line 22, leave out “employer” and insert “person to whom the notice is issued”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

92J: Clause 35, page 17, line 23, leave out “appeal” and insert “referral to the Pensions Regulator Tribunal”

The noble Lord said: A key principle of our compliance regime will be a right to appeal for recipients of fixed and escalating penalty notices. I have tabled three sets of government amendments that improve how the policy is reflected in the Bill. The first set, Amendments Nos. 92J, 92K, 92L and 93A, corrects the drafting of Clauses 35 and 36 to ensure that these rights of appeal are expressed accurately and consistently across the Bill. The second set, Amendments Nos. 95A and 95B, ensures that there is an opportunity for the regulator to conduct a formal review before any case reaches the tribunal. The amendments require recipients of fixed and escalating penalty notices to request a review before appealing to the tribunal. This will ensure that any review is completed before a formal appeal process can begin. A review will enable some cases to be addressed before they reach the tribunal and hence could provide a quicker resolution for recipients. It will also enable the tribunal to focus only on cases that could not be addressed by the regulator.

The final set, Amendments Nos. 95C and 95D, aims to address concerns raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee about the regulation-making power in this clause. The committee was concerned that the power was too wide and recommended that the procedures and powers of the tribunal should be placed in the Bill, as they are in the Pensions Act 2004. We are addressing the committee’s concern by removing the regulation-making power and bringing the new references for the Pensions Regulator Tribunal into the existing provisions set out in the Pensions Act 2004. These amendments apply the tribunal’s procedural rules in Schedule 4 to the Pensions Act 2004 to the new references. They also provide for those references made under the new compliance regime to be treated slightly differently where necessary.

We are also further considering the rights to redress in light of questions from the Select Committee on the Constitution. My noble friend will return to our intentions in this respect when he responds to Amendment No. 94 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. These amendments will ensure a robust and speedy right of redress for those issued with penalties under the new compliance regime. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 36 [Escalating penalty notices]:

[Amendment No. 92JA not moved.]

92K: Clause 36, page 17, line 37, leave out “appeal under section 39 against” and insert “referral to the Pensions Regulator Tribunal under section 39 in respect of”

92L: Clause 36, page 17, line 38, leave out “appeal” and insert “reference”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 93 not moved.]

93A: Clause 36, page 18, line 18, leave out “appeal” and insert “referral to the Pensions Regulator Tribunal”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 [Review of notices]:

94: Clause 38, page 19, line 2, leave out “may” and insert “shall”

The noble Lord said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 95. Many of these compliance provisions are extremely time-sensitive. We have discussed the enormous escalation of a penalty notice that might occur within a very short time, as well as the importance of an employer complying with an unpaid contributions notice within the prescribed period. It therefore seems to be a necessity rather than an option that, in the event of a review of a notice, its effect will be suspended. The amendment would make such a suspension the default position, allowing the employer to clarify any uncertainty or to plead his case as to why the notice is unnecessary without having to be concerned about how long it will take for the regulator to get back to him. Amendment No. 95 is even simpler. Could the Minister please clarify the difference between substituting a different notice, as allowed by subsection (6)(b) and the power to vary a notice in subsection (6)(a)? Why does the Bill require both options? I beg to move.

The Bill gives the Pensions Regulator power to review all notices that it may issue as part of the compliance regime. This includes compliance notices, third-party and unpaid contributions notices and fixed and escalating penalty notices. This provision is an important safeguard for those receiving such notices. The review will be wide-ranging, giving the recipient an opportunity to explain their case and provide further information that might be relevant to the decision to issue the notice.

The noble Lord has tabled two amendments to this clause and I am grateful to him for the opportunity to discuss the review process. With regard to the first, as my noble friend indicated, he echoes the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, which has recently written to us on this matter. As the Bill stands, the regulator is allowed to suspend proceedings in relation to a notice while that notice is under review, but retains the discretion whether to use this option. Our approach throughout the compliance provisions of the Bill has been to give the regulator powers rather than obligations. This is intended to ensure maximum operational flexibility within the regime’s broad principles.

However, we take seriously the concern to ensure that, to quote the Constitution Committee,

“a branch of government should not be empowered to enforce sanctions against a person who disputes the factual or legal basis of the action in question”.

We are therefore further considering the rights to redress in light of the committee’s questions and will return at Report to present the final strategy to the House, with amendments if necessary. As I indicated, the Constitution Committee raised important questions in addition to that of a stay of proceedings. These relate to the absence of a right of appeal to an independent tribunal against certain notices, the opportunity to make representations before a notice is issued and the relationship between civil and criminal penalties. We are grateful to the committee for raising these important points, to some of which we responded last week.

In our response to the committee, we made a commitment to give further consideration to appeal rights, employers’ ability to make representations before statutory notices are issued, stay of proceedings where a review or appeal is under way and the regime’s approach to criminal proceedings. We are keen to continue this dialogue to ensure a satisfactory conclusion for the committee. I understand that the exchange of correspondence with the committee is placed in the Library. If that is not the case, I shall ensure that it is. I apologise for not making sure that noble Lords were aware of that before this debate, but this is work in progress. The noble Lord’s focus is consistent with the committee’s position. We need to look at this and perhaps bring forward amendments.

The noble Lord asked me about subsection (6)(b) and how substituting a different notice was different from confirming, varying or revoking a notice.

I asked what the difference was between varying a notice and substituting a different notice, because if you vary one it is by definition a different notice.

That is the point that I was trying to address. It seems to me that one example might be if one moved from an escalating penalty notice to a fixed penalty notice. That would involve substituting a different notice from the one that existed previously. Therefore, you are not confirming or varying that although you might be revoking it at the same time. I think that you could substitute something that was not a variation of the notice that previously existed. Therefore, I do not see how the noble Lord’s problem arises, but I am not sure that we need to get too engrossed in that. However, on the substantive—

Surely if a notice has an escalating penalty and you change that to a fixed penalty, that is varying it, is it not?

We are getting into semantics. It is a different form of notice. In some circumstances it may be appropriate to substitute a new notice. For example, the regulator may issue a compliance notice for failure to auto-enrol an employee, but if that employee leaves while the notice is under review, the regulator may then choose to revoke the compliance notice and issue an unpaid contributions notice. Varying a notice might comprise changing the amount of unpaid contributions. There is a distinction, which we could debate for the next hour or so if we wished. However, in substance, the point made in the noble Lord’s amendment chimes with the position taken by the Constitution Committee. We shall need to engage further with a range of issues and return to them on Report.

I am grateful for that answer. I was questioning why it was necessary to include “vary” in subsection (6)(a), although I did not express it in those terms. I have still not received a particularly clear answer, with or without the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. However, that was only a tiny part of what I was after. It is clear that the suspension of a notice while it is being reviewed is in suspension, if I may put it that way. Over the summer the Government will consider how they intend to respond to the Constitution Committee’s suggestions and will come back with amendments on Report. I am extremely grateful for that and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 95 not moved.]

Clause 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 [References to the Pensions Regulator Tribunal]:

95A: Clause 39, page 19, line 10, after “may” insert “, if one of the conditions in subsection (1A) is satisfied,”

95B: Clause 39, page 19, line 13, at end insert—

“(1A) The conditions are—

(a) that the Regulator has completed a review of the notice under section 38;(b) that the person to whom the notice was issued has made an application for the review of the notice under section 38(1)(a) and the Regulator has determined not to carry out such a review.”

95C: Clause 39, page 19, line 14, leave out subsection (2)

95D: Clause 39, page 19, line 26, at end insert—

“( ) In section 103 of that Act (references to the Tribunal), after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) A reference to the Tribunal under section 39 of the Pensions Act 2008 must be made during such period as may be specified in rules made under section 102.”

( ) In subsection (2) of that section, at the end insert “or (1A)”.

( ) In Schedule 4 to that Act (constitution, procedure etc. of the Tribunal), in paragraph 7(5)—

(a) the words from “under this Act” to the end become paragraph (a);(b) at the end insert—“(b) under section 39 of the Pensions Act 2008 or any provision in force in Northern Ireland corresponding to that section.”( ) In that Schedule, in paragraph 13—

(a) after “reference” (in both places where it occurs) insert “under this Act”;(b) at the end insert—“(3) The Lord Chancellor may by regulations make provision about the award of costs and expenses by the Tribunal on a reference made under section 39 of the Pensions Act 2008 or any provision in force in Northern Ireland corresponding to that section.””

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 40 [Offences of failing to comply]:

96: Clause 40, page 19, line 34, leave out from “indictment” to “to” in line 35

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 96, which seeks to amend Clause 40(2), I shall also speak to Amendment No. 97, which complements it. Since I tabled my probing amendments, the Government have tabled Amendments Nos. 97A to 97C, which take a diametrically opposite view to my amendments and therefore answer my probing questions to some extent, although not in the way that I had originally hoped.

Clause 40 deals with various offences in relation to enrolment and opting in and subsection (2) provides for the penalties on conviction. On a summary conviction, there are fines. On a conviction on indictment, there is the possibility of imprisonment for up to two years, a fine or both. My amendment would remove the option of imprisonment for a conviction on indictment. I tabled this because these are offences committed by employers. For the most part employers will be corporate bodies and companies cannot be locked up, but a minority of employers will be individuals, whether sole traders or partnerships. These are typically small businesses and the individuals clearly could be locked up.

My purpose in tabling my amendments was to ask what public policy objective was served by having the possibility of imprisoning employers only if they happened to operate in an unincorporated form, as this seemed to target small and unincorporated businesses. The government amendments, which I shall leave the Minister to explain in his own way, go a different route and bring company directors and others fully within the criminal provisions, including those related to imprisonment.

We know that the Government think that the business world is populated by unscrupulous businesses, which are in turn manned by unprincipled directors and managers. Hence, they are accustomed to take the most draconian powers possible. Since this Government came to power, they have progressively introduced legislation, broadly in the format of Amendment No. 97B, which allows them to lock up directors and others even on the basis of mere neglect—not gross negligence or recklessness, only simple neglect.

I therefore have a couple of sets of questions for the Minister about this form of offence. Will he say how often similar provisions—in other words, those based on neglect—have been used against directors in the past 10 years? How many directors have been imprisoned? The Minister’s own department, for example, has introduced identical provisions for health and safety offences. Have they resulted in convictions followed by imprisonment?

Secondly, will the Minister place on record the Government’s understanding, in the context of the offences created by the Bill and his amendments, of the sorts of actions and omissions that will be likely to bring the new provisions into effect? What sort of conduct will amount to connivance? What will amount to neglect? Will neglect encompass a simple mistake? I beg to move.

I thank the noble Baroness for the opportunity to discuss the principle of having an imprisonment option for those convicted of the new offence under Clause 40 and to speak to the government amendments.

Where an employer wilfully fails to enrol or re-enrol jobholders into a qualifying pension scheme, those workers are losing out on the opportunity to save in a workplace pension with the advantage of an employer contribution. Given these serious consequences, the ultimate sanction for such non-compliance should be criminal prosecution. I stress that criminal prosecution will not be undertaken lightly. The regulator will have discretion over whether it is appropriate to bring about a criminal prosecution, and will generally use it only as a last resort. However, creating this offence will send a clear message to all employers that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

We have proposed three amendments to clarify the provisions relating to this offence to ensure that prosecutions can be brought against a wide range of employers. The first amendment, Amendment No. 97A, is a minor technical amendment to the drafting of the limit for fines applicable on summary conviction. Consistent with the way in which penalties are expressed in other legislation, the amendment refers to a fine not exceeding the “statutory maximum”, rather than to “level 5 on the standard scale”.

The second amendment, Amendment No. 97B, is a new clause designed to make responsible individuals in bodies corporate criminally liable for wilful breaches of the enrolment role. That deals directly with one of the points made by the noble Baroness about employers, if individuals, being sent to prison. Companies cannot be sent to prison, and the amendment extends the provision to people who as individuals in body corporates are responsible for wilful breaches of enrolment duties.

In a similar vein, the third amendment, Amendment No. 97C, is a new clause that will allow for the prosecution of employers who are set up as partnerships. It allows penalties to be paid from a partnership’s business funds and individual partners to be prosecuted. I am bound to say that this is a standard measure that brings the Bill into line with other legislation, such as the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. This is not unique. Together, this package of amendments ensures that the criminal offence provides a transparent and workable sanction of last resort.

On Amendments Nos. 96 and 97, as I said earlier our compliance policy has been developed as a three-stage strategy: first, to educate and inform employers of their duties; secondly, to enable them to simplify and comply easily with their duties; finally, to enforce them. There are therefore a number of opportunities for employers to meet their duties, and the criminal sanction is very much the back-stop of our enforcement strategy. It is in line with the regulator’s existing powers in the Pensions Act 2004, which includes the option of imprisonment for offences such as the intentional alteration or destruction of documents.

Other regulatory regimes, such as those set out in the Companies Act 2006 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, also have the option of imprisonment. The noble Baroness recognised that. She asked how many times these sorts of provisions have been used and individuals imprisoned. I do not have the data for the past 10 years, but they have been used to prosecute individuals for health and safety offences, and individuals have been imprisoned. I will try to get the data for which the noble Baroness asked.

Although our expectation is that the sanction will be rarely used, it is none the less an important deterrent. The new duties placed on employers are designed to ensure that millions of workers will have access to good-quality pensions savings, some for the first time. Failure to fulfil these duties therefore seriously jeopardises the retirement income prospects of these individuals. We need employers to take their responsibilities seriously. Given that the regulator will have powers to impose fairly large civil penalties, it is reasonable to suppose that employers who are unresponsive to these financial penalties may be similarly unresponsive to a fine imposed by a court. We therefore believe that it is right that an employer who “wilfully fails to comply” ultimately faces the possibility of imprisonment. I reiterate that our expectation is that the criminal sanction will be used rarely and only in the most serious of cases.

The noble Baroness pressed me to put on the record my understanding of what “wilfully fails to comply” means. I am cautious about doing so, because I do not want to put on the record an off-the-cuff comment that might be seen as a point of interpretation. However, if someone wilfully fails to comply, it has the components of deliberately seeking not to comply and possibly persistently not complying. This is not a new term. It is around in legislation, and I am sure that there is an appropriate precedent as to how it should be interpreted.

My note says that I hope this provides the noble Baroness with reassurance, and I ask her to withdraw the amendment. I suspect that it will not, but in any event I will move the government amendments in due course.

Now that we have had the opportunity to hear the noble Baroness’s and the Government’s amendments, may I briefly say what the attitude of those on these Benches is about this?

I quite agree with the noble Baroness that there should be no discrimination between large incorporated businesses and small individual employers, but it struck me that the government amendments deal with that fairly. I have heard what the Minister has had to say, and I think it is reasonable that there is ultimately a criminal sanction of last resort. By saying that, I in no way mean that most employers are trying to evade their responsibilities. I simply mean that we all understand—the noble Baroness with her great experience in accountancy will know this—that a small number of rogue employers do not play by the rules and that, if you think about it, an employer who persistently refuses to comply is ultimately stealing the employees’ money by not having the money in the pension scheme that should be there. With the Minister’s assurances, it is reasonable for there ultimately to be a criminal sanction.

I thank the noble Lord for his support. I re-emphasise the point, which I hope I made, that the offence applies to a wilful breach of certain employer duties. An employer who does not comply because of genuine inadequacy will be extremely unlikely to be found guilty of wilfulness. The use of “wilful” ensures that if employers fail to fulfil their duties through haphazard administration or forgetfulness, they will not be criminalised under these provisions. It is important that we get that clear.

The Minister focused his attention on the meaning of “wilfully”. That was not what I asked him. I asked him what conduct would amount to connivance, and the meaning of neglect. What actions would constitute neglect to bring individuals within the ambit of this criminal offence? It is reasonable to ask the Minister at the Dispatch Box how the Government believe the offence will operate.

The noble Baroness has quite properly posed some detailed questions. If I may, I shall reflect on them, write to her with some considered thoughts and expand on them rather than just try a definition from the Dispatch Box.

I am extremely surprised that the Minister comes to the Committee to introduce amendments that will massively increase the possibility of individuals being sent to jail for offences in relation to the duties under the Bill when he cannot even explain what is meant by the matters specified in Amendment No. 97B. That is not an acceptable way for the Government to behave.

Let me try again. “Neglect” covers wilful recklessness where the employer does not care. How is that as one definition? It seems clear enough.

The Minister is clearly not even trying, so we will not make much progress today. I hear that the Liberal Democrats think that banging up company directors is also a good thing—

I exaggerated for effect. The Minister gave examples, all of which have occurred in the last 10 years, of increasing criminalisation of directors. The Government always have a good reason for seeing potential criminal failure, which needs to be deterred or—

I quoted the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act at the noble Baroness. That was 1974, so it was not created in the last 10 years.

I believe that the formulation of the offence was put in subsequently and was not original, but we can test that.

The Minister said that the Bill’s massive financial penalties—we have just debated them; certainly, we on these Benches are not convinced about them—had to be matched by a commensurate criminal penalty. That makes us wonder whether the scale of penalties for what is non-observance of financial obligations to employees deserves the regime being set up to deal with potential non-compliance. The problem is that, whenever a regime is set up for what the Government say is just one or two bad employers, it can inevitably be used against a wider number, especially by overzealous officials in organisations such as the Pensions Regulator, which in the first instance would have control over financial penalties. We will need to think carefully about how the penalties in the Bill are constructed and whether they are fair and proportionate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 97 not moved.]

97A: Clause 40, page 19, line 36, leave out “level 5 on the standard scale” and insert “the statutory maximum”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 40, as amended, agreed to.

97B: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—

“Offences by bodies corporate

(1) Subsection (2) applies where an offence under section 40 committed by a body corporate is proved—

(a) to have been committed with the consent or connivance of an officer of the body corporate, or(b) to be attributable to any neglect on the part of an officer of the body corporate.(2) The officer, as well as the body corporate, is guilty of the offence and is liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

(3) “Officer” in this section means—

(a) a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer, or(b) a person purporting to act in such a capacity.(4) Where the affairs of a body corporate are managed by its members, this section applies in relation to the acts and defaults of a member in connection with the member’s functions of management as if the member were an officer of the body corporate.”

97C: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—

“Offences by partnerships and unincorporated associations

(1) Proceedings for an offence under section 40 alleged to have been committed by a partnership or an unincorporated association may be brought in the name of the partnership or association.

(2) For the purposes of such proceedings—

(a) rules of court relating to the service of documents are to have effect as if the partnership or association were a body corporate;(b) the following provisions apply in relation to the partnership or association as they apply in relation to a body corporate—(i) section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 (c. 86) and Schedule 3 to the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 (c. 43);(ii) section 70 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 46).(3) A fine imposed on a partnership or association on its conviction of an offence under section 40 is to be paid out of the funds of the partnership or association.

(4) Subsection (5) applies where an offence under section 40 committed by a partnership is proved—

(a) to have been committed with the consent or connivance of a partner, or(b) to be attributable to any neglect on the part of a partner.(5) The partner, as well as the partnership, is guilty of the offence and is liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

(6) Subsection (7) applies where an offence under section 40 committed by an unincorporated association is proved—

(a) to have been committed with the consent or connivance of an officer of the association, or(b) to be attributable to any neglect on the part of an officer of the association.(7) The officer, as well as the association, is guilty of the offence and is liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

(8) “Officer” in this section means—

(a) an officer of the association or a member of its governing body, or(b) a person purporting to act in such capacity.(9) “Partner” in this section includes a person purporting to act as a partner.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 41 [Offences of providing false or misleading information]:

97D: Clause 41, page 20, line 1, after “information)” insert—

“(a) ”

97E: Clause 41, page 20, line 2, at end insert—

“(b) omit “or” at the end of sub-paragraph (iii).”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 41, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Requirement to keep records]:

97F: Clause 43, page 20, line 10, leave out “of this Part, or this Chapter” and insert “or 2 of this Part”

The noble Lord said: These drafting amendments all flow from government Amendment No. 106A, which introduces a prohibition on employers inducing opt-out. The regulator will enforce that prohibition with the powers to investigate matters and, where necessary, to issue compliance and eventually penalty notices. There are a number of consequential amendments to provide for those enforcement powers.

This group of amendments covers two areas. First, Amendment No. 103C updates the regulator’s new objective to reflect its additional roles in maximising compliance with the measure and with the prohibition at Clause 49 on certain forms of recruitment conduct. Secondly, the remaining amendments change the structure of the chapters of Part 1, so that Chapter 2 focuses on the central enforcement powers of the regulator and a new Chapter 4 is created that covers supplementary provisions about compliance and information sharing. I beg to move.

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to split the amendments from an earlier group, which was gigantic—that is the only word for it. However, I am still somewhat confused. The essence of the amendments is to move Clauses 43 to 48 to after Clause 57, which I assume means that they remain in Chapter 3. Perhaps I misunderstood what he just said; I heard him mention Chapter 4, but I could not understand in what connection. Why is it necessary to move them a bit later in the Bill?

The purpose is to move the amendments to a new Chapter 4; subsequent chapters would obviously need to be renumbered. The benefit of that is to seek to concentrate in Chapter 2 the core issues around the Pensions Regulator’s powers and the compliance that goes with them. The issues around records and information are collected separately under a new chapter. There is no greater logic than that, as I understand it; it is just a reordering and those provisions do not change.

In that case, I must apologise to the Minister for not listening properly the first time round.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

98: Clause 43, page 20, line 16, at end insert—

“( ) Notwithstanding anything provided in regulations under subsection (1), there shall be no requirement placed on any person to keep the records of a company which has been wound up.”

The noble Baroness said: This is a small probing amendment. In Clause 43 there is a regulation-making power, backed up by criminal sanctions, allowing record-keeping periods of up to six years to be prescribed. I can completely understand the thinking behind that. The question posed by my amendment is: does that apply to the records of a company which has been wound up? I am not an expert in insolvency law, but I had understood that the records of a company which had been voluntarily wound up could be destroyed by the last liquidator of the company after one year. In a court winding up, the official receiver gives the authorisation on destruction at any time. That is provided by Regulation 16 of the Insolvency Regulations 1994.

Could the Minister explain the relationship between the Bill and the Insolvency Regulations? Do the Government intend that the Secretary of State will override insolvency law and, if so, have the Government thought about the logistics for insolvency practitioners of keeping records for long periods after the dissolution of a company? I beg to move.

Clause 43 will allow the regulator to request books and documentation from employers to demonstrate that they have complied with the new requirements. In addition, when the regulator is of the opinion that a person has failed to keep proper records, it will have the power to issue a civil penalty. Employers already keep records and documentation to illustrate that they are complying with legislative requirements. Therefore, very often the employer's own records will show one way or another whether it has complied with the requirements placed on it.

The noble Baroness's amendment would mean that if a company wound up, the regulator would no longer be in a position to require the former employer to provide records to show that while trading it was complying with the employer duty. Similarly, former employees of the company that had been wound up would almost certainly be left in a position where they could not enforce their rights against their former employer, because there would be no legal obligation on the employer to produce the very records that would prove whether it had been compliant. It may also be possible for employers who have for some time been deliberately ignoring legal requirements and who fear the intervention of a regulator simply to wind up their companies and then reopen for business under a different name a short while later. This behaviour has been observed in relation to the national minimum wage requirements and it may well be seen again when the employer duty comes into force.

On the specific question posed about the consistency of this with other legislation and whether it can be reconciled, there is some difficulty with it. Where an employer is wound up it effectively ceases to exist and may therefore not be covered by existing record-keeping requirements. It is effectively covered by the insolvency regulations, but these place a requirement on both liquidators and trustees to wait for one year before books and records can be destroyed. So I say to the noble Baroness that we need to think a little more about this and revert in due course. I do not believe that we have been fully able to cover and reconcile that inconsistency in the legislation. The point she raises is a good one and we need to take it away.

I thank the Minister for that and look forward to hearing further how the Government intend to resolve the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43, as amended, agreed to.

98A: Transpose Clause 43 to after Clause 57

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44 [Powers to require information and to enter premises]:

98B: Clause 44, page 20, line 24, after “2008” insert “or section 50 of that Act”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

99: Clause 44, page 20, line 36, leave out subsection (3)

The noble Lord said: I would like to return to the issue of the extent of the powers being given to the Pensions Regulator by this chapter. Actually it is another chapter—but never mind, we will forget about that for the moment. Clause 44 amends the Pensions Act 2004 to extend the regulator’s powers to enter premises to investigate compliance with this Bill.

I accept that this clause does not actually add significant new powers to the regulator, because in the 2004 Act the regulator can enter premises to investigate compliance with the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999, particularly the duty of employers to facilitate access to stakeholder pension schemes. Why that was not thought of originally in 1999, I have no idea, but I suspect that the noble Lord does not either. Clause 44 just allows them to enter to investigate compliance with relevant parts of this Bill.

This seems a good opportunity to probe how the Government intend the regulator to police employers’ compliance. Do they expect the majority of investigations to be sparked by jobholder complaints or, perhaps, rather ominously, by Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue? How many investigators does the Pensions Regulator have now and how many extra does the Minister anticipate will be necessary to ensure compliance with auto-enrolment? I beg to move.

In this context, can the Minister confirm that “premises” will mean only business premises and not someone’s home?

Where the regulator is of the opinion that an employer is not or may not be complying with its new duties under Chapter 1 of the Bill, it will need the power to conduct further investigations. It is important that regulators in whatever field have the power to conduct necessary investigative work. For example, HMRC’s inspectors have the power under Section 14 of the National Minimum Wage Act to require employers to produce records and to enter employers’ premises where necessary in the course of their investigation.

Section 74 of the Pensions Act 2004 gives an inspector appointed by the regulator the power to enter premises for the purpose of investigating whether an employer is complying with certain legal obligations relating to pension provisions. Clause 44 extends Section 74 of the 2004 Act to give an inspector the power to enter premises to investigate whether the employer is complying with the new legal obligations the Bill creates in Chapter 1, Part 1.

The noble Lord’s amendment would leave inspectors with the power to enter premises in the course of investigating, say, apparent irregularities of payments to pension schemes—the 2004 Act gives them that power—but to deny them that power in relation to the new duties created in the Bill, matters such as the requirements to automatically enrol eligible jobholders and calculate contributions accurately, and so on. That would seem a serious omission given the importance that we attach to saving for retirement and our commitment to helping low and medium-earning workers to provide for their old age.

I do not expect the power to enter premises to be used lightly. We expect the great majority of employers to comply fully with the new requirements, and many, if not most, of those who do not will have done so inadvertently and will put matters right as soon as their errors are pointed out. However, there may well be cases in which workers have raised concerns about the employer’s behaviour or its administration of the scheme, or where an inspector had good reason to suspect that an employer may be giving false or misleading information. In those circumstances a visit by an inspector may be necessary to resolve any concerns.

We are aware that some employers operate their business from their home address, and we expect that inspectors will take this into account when they plan to visit employers’ premises. The power of inspection will not apply where a dwelling house is not used for the purpose of trade or business. I hope the noble Lord is reassured by those explanations.

As for the general procedures by which compliance with the Act will be verified, the Act gives the regulator power to have large amounts of information, for example from HMRC. That sort of information will carry the great burden of ensuring compliance, and the power to inspect premises will rarely be used.

It seems that I am not the only one whose attention slips during a long and warm afternoon. I asked the Minister whether he expected the majority of investigations to be sparked by the jobholder or by HMRC. He did not tell me which he thought was the most likely. Secondly, I asked how many investigators the Pensions Regulator has now and how many extra he expects the regulator to need. I think that those are perfectly reasonable and sensible questions.

They may be perfectly reasonable and sensible questions but they are not in my brief. I am being briefed to react to the issue of entering premises and using investigative powers. We anticipate that the investigation of premises by the regulator will arise primarily from whistleblowing complaints; that is, where an individual has alerted the regulator to a potential instance of non-compliance.

I am reminded of a late noble Lord who was on the opposite Front Bench for some years. He had a cleft palate and was wont to say, “Not in my bweef, my Lords”, which is exactly the same response as we have had from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. At some point, please may I have a letter from one Minister or the other to say how many investigators the Pensions Regulator has now? I still think that that is a perfectly reasonable question but it is quite clear that I will not get an answer tonight so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

99ZA: Clause 44, page 20, line 38, leave out from “employer” to “at” in line 39 and insert “is contravening, or has contravened—

(a) any provision of, or of regulations under, Chapter 1 of Part 1, or section 49 or (Inducements), of the Pensions Act 2008, or(b) any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland,”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 99A and 99B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

100: Clause 44, page 21, line 3, leave out “employees of the employer are employed” and insert “the employer employs workers”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

100A: Clause 44, page 21, line 8, at end insert “or under any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland”

The noble Lord said: I have tabled government amendments to Clause 44 to create consistency between the entry and inspection powers in the Bill and the corresponding provisions in the Pensions Act 2004.

Section 74 of the 2004 Act gives an inspector appointed by the regulator the power to enter premises, liable to inspection, for the purpose of investigating whether an employer has complied with the stakeholder pension requirements under the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland.

The Bill puts in place new duties on employers, and we may expect that from time to time inspectors will need to enter and inspect premises to ensure that employers are complying with the requirements. Amendments Nos. 100A and 101AA will allow an inspector to enter premises to check whether an employer is complying with the duties in Chapter 1 or with the corresponding Northern Ireland legislation, or both.

Again, with a view to ensuring consistency between certain clauses of the Bill and other legislation to which they relate, I have introduced amendments to Clause 121. This clause extends Chapters 4 and 5 to Northern Ireland. The first amendment extends the interpretations of terms defined in Clause 86 to Northern Ireland where the terms relate to Chapters 4 and 5 of the Bill. The second amends the extent provision in this Bill to recognise that Clauses 46 and 47 and paragraph 9 of Schedule 8 have the extent specified within them. I beg to move.

When I was a junior Minister in the Northern Ireland department, it was made clear to me that the Province was very keen to hang on to its own statute book. That also applied to some social security legislation, which, although it paralleled what was going on in the rest of the country, was not absolutely identical. It occurs to me to ask the Minister whether this position still exists or whether some sort of Northern Ireland order will accompany this legislation, when enacted.

I am sorry; I do not have the answer to that question and it would be wrong of me to try to guess it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

101: Clause 44, page 21, line 13, leave out ““employee”” and insert ““worker””

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 101A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

101AA: Clause 44, page 21, line 16, at end insert—

“(D1) In the application of subsections (A1) and (B1) in relation to any provision mentioned in subsection (A1)(b) (a “corresponding Northern Ireland provision”), references in those subsections to “employer”, “worker” or “qualifying scheme” are to be read as having the meaning that they have for the purposes of the corresponding Northern Ireland provision.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44, as amended, agreed to.

101B: Transpose Clause 44 to after Clause 57

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 45 [Disclosure of tax information etc]:

102: Clause 45, page 21, leave out lines 30 to 33

The noble Lord said: I hope that the Minister—whichever one is to answer—will regard this as a simple probing amendment. Its intention is to establish what sort of co-operation the new subsection at lines 30 to 33 on page 21 will establish. In what circumstances will Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs provide information to the regulator? Will the regulator have to ask specifically if there is evidence of an employer avoiding other obligations, such as compliance with the national minimum wage, or will HMRC spontaneously offer up names of employers whom they consider worth investigating? I note what the Minister said earlier about complaints coming from both HMRC and jobholders, although the majority would appear to be from jobholders.

If HMRC spontaneously offers up these names, will there be clear guidance on when information should be offered or will it be entirely ad hoc and dependent on individual HMRC officers who remember that another government body may be able to use the information?

I should also like to explore the effectiveness of these growing interorganisational relationships. I recently discussed a similar partnership between HMRC and the Child Support Agency, where a plan to allow for the secondment of officials between bodies looked worthwhile on paper but entirely failed to reached its potential in practice. Is anything similar planned in this instance and, if so, what steps will the Government take to ensure that these secondments are more effective? I beg to move.

This amendment would disable the new provision for HMRC to share information with the Pensions Regulator for compliance purposes and it would eliminate existing data-sharing arrangements between the two. I understand that that is not the import of the amendment but I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter.

I am aware that lapses in data security in recent months have rightly caused great anxiety and wish to reassure noble Lords that we share that concern. I should like to explain why the data-sharing provided for in Clause 45 is vital and outline the steps that we are taking to ensure that the transfer and storage processes will be protected by the highest standards of data security.

HMRC, through its PAYE responsibilities, is the only holder of a comprehensive UK employer database. These data will allow the regulator to communicate with employers about their new duties and to run a registration process requiring employers to state how they will meet their new responsibilities. Without registration, compliance with the employer duties would be much lower, and millions could be denied access to pension saving. In addition, this subsection is designed to allow HMRC to share information about non-compliance which it has collected through tax and national minimum wage activities. This will help the Pensions Regulator to identify which employers are more likely not to comply with their new duties. Finally, the clause replaces the regulator’s existing gateway to exchange data with HMRC, which is crucial to the regulator’s ability to deliver its existing functions.

It is of course vital to ensure that data are transferred safely and securely. The Bill, and Clause 47 in particular, strengthens the legal safeguards of data shared by HMRC by increasing the maximum sentence that a magistrate can impose on Pensions Regulator staff who unlawfully disclose restricted data. This sanction also applies to anyone who unlawfully discloses restricted data which they have received from the Pensions Regulator.

The noble Lord referred to secondments or transfers between departments, which we discussed to some extent during the passage of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill. There may well be arrangements for people to be seconded from one department to another, but when individuals arrive in a transferee department, they will be subject to the same procedures, processes and systems as any other employee in that department. The fact that they may have come from another department does not matter. They may bring expertise and experience with them, but this is not meant to be a loop round what should be a formal gateway.

The noble Lord also asked how the arrangement will work, particularly in relation to information related to non-compliance with the national minimum wage. The data-sharing arrangements have yet to be operationally finalised, but the clause will allow HMRC to provide the regulator with information regularly about employers who are not complying with other legislation. That could be at the request of the regulator or on HMRC’s initiative. Clearly, this needs to be formalised and procedures need to be set up. The key point is that that information flows on a structured basis and that it is protected. I hope that enables the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

This is obviously a recurring theme of mine. I am worried that to a great extent transferees have to have a form of amnesia as regards their previous employment. However, I shall not go into that matter tonight.

I do not think that was what I said. That misunderstanding may be running over from the previous legislation that we discussed. Transferring individuals between departments does not mean that they do not bring with them their expertise, knowledge and experience, which could well be brought to bear and made good use of. My point was that, simply because they come from another department, there should not be informal transfers of information and loops back to that department. The gateways are there on a statutory basis for very good reasons. Transferees or secondees, just like any other employee of the Pensions Regulator, will be subject to the same processes and procedures.

By using the word “amnesia” I meant that, if a particular individual who has just been transferred from Revenue and Customs has been looking at an employer’s account and it needs to be looked at again, he has to go back through the proper channels to be effective. I will not get into that argument now. I am grateful to the Minister because I think I have had an answer to my question, which is the spontaneous offering-up of names by HMRC. Of course it has the biggest database, if it does not lose it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 45 agreed to.

102A: Transpose Clause 45 to after Clause 57

On Question, amendment agreed to.

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.33 pm.

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

House resumed.