My Lords, before we progress with Third Reading of this Bill, I will make a short statement about our engagement with the devolved Administrations. Officials have worked closely and collaboratively with the devolved Administrations throughout the passage of this Bill. The Northern Ireland Executive have passed a legislative consent Motion on this Bill. The Welsh Senedd is in the process of considering a Motion, and the Scottish Government are considering bringing a Motion forward. I am grateful for their continued engagement on this issue.
My Lords, it has been a great pleasure to lead the Bill through this House. Before the Bill moves for consideration in the other place, I want to take a brief moment to reflect on the Bill and its passage through this House.
This is important legislation that consolidates and strengthens the legal framework for pensions across all the main public services: that is, the NHS, the judiciary, the police, firefighters, the Armed Forces, teachers, local government and the Civil Service. This Bill ensures that those who deliver our valued public services continue to receive guaranteed benefits in retirement that are among the best available on a fair and equal basis. It is also vital in addressing the resourcing challenges facing the judiciary, recognising the unique constitutional role of judges.
It has been clear from the informed and considered contributions made throughout the Bill’s passage that we are agreed on the principles of fairness and equal treatment for public servants. I convey my gratitude to all noble Lords for their contributions to our well-informed debates, which have helped to ensure that we achieve this aim. The Government listened carefully to your Lordships’ arguments and concerns as the Bill progressed and made a significant number of technical amendments on Report—123 in total—which I think noble Lords will agree have strengthened the Bill.
In particular, we listened to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, during Grand Committee, regarding the importance of ensuring pension scheme members were provided with remedial voluntary contribution arrangements. I thank the noble Lord in supporting the Government to identify and address this important issue.
I would like to extend my thanks to all those who have engaged on the Floor of the House and in the meetings that we have had outside. In particular, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and Lord Davies of Brixton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, for their close engagement on the complex area that is public service pensions. I hope that the note sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, earlier today provides some reassurance on her important points raised on Report regarding eligibility criteria for voluntary contributions.
In addition, I thank a number of your Lordships who made impassioned contributions to our consideration of the judicial mandatory retirement age, including the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Etherton, Lord Woolf, Lord Thomas, Lord Hope and Lord Brown, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay.
I also thank the Bill team, ably lead by Fraser Johnston, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, officials across Her Majesty’s Treasury, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, all government departments with responsibilities for public service pension schemes, and the devolved Administrations for their extensive support throughout passage of the Bill.
Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Scott for her help as the Bill went through the House. There is a lot of technical detail in the Bill, with complex legal consequences, and the team’s guidance and expertise has been exemplary. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in expressing thanks for the support that the whole team has provided, including the updates, letters and briefings that noble Lords have received. On that note, I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his courtesy and helpfulness during the passage of the Bill. It was very much a learning process for me as the first Bill to which I had given such a close and involved consideration. I learned lessons, one of which is to check which group a particular amendment is in and get it right. I thank the Minister, as well as the officials. We seem to be saying farewell, but I suspect that it is au revoir and that, in one way or another, we will be returning to these issues.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister; I thank him for the letter I received today, which answered the question that he referred to, as well as for his leadership and his open and engaging approach. He has ensured that we have had opportunities to be fully briefed on the Bill. As others have said, it is a very complex Bill, wide-ranging in scope, and has implications for millions of citizens, particularly public sector workers.
I also thank all noble Lords for their contributions. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said, I am sure that we have all learned a great deal from the Bill. I certainly know a lot more about public sector pensions than I did when we started out. I express my appreciation to the Bill team, for its expert help and support and, not least, its patience in explaining some of these complexities.
Noble Lords across the House have made valuable contributions; certainly, the judicial offices part of the Bill saw a very high-quality debate, with issues arising that apply not just to judicial offices but across the board, to public services and the holding of high office. Again, I thank colleagues for their co-operation. I believe that we have worked hard and well on this Bill.
Lastly, I put on record my thanks to Sarah Pughe in the Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office, for her work on the Bill, and for the professional support that she has given me throughout its passage.
My Lords, I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, has said. I thank the Minister and his team for their comprehensive support to my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton and myself. It was a very complicated Bill and I know that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, I needed some guidance through it. This is important legislation for public service pensions. It will guarantee pensions for public servants—something which, of course, we all agree with. We are aware that there may well be further amendments in the other place as well as further legislation given that there are ongoing cases currently in court. My noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton is relatively new to the House and, I have to say, he has started extremely well. It is not often, when taking part in your first Bill, that you manage to influence government policy in the way that he has; my noble friend deserves congratulations.
I was present throughout all the debates and, when we debated the mandatory retirement age, I felt there was a sense of relief because it was an easily understood issue. Many noble and noble and learned Lords took part in that debate with a level of passion not forthcoming in the other more technical parts of the debate. Nevertheless, I thank the Minister for his support as the Bill transitioned through the House.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.