Clause 273 - Payments in respect of rights under pension schemes

Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:15 pm ar 18 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

With this it will be convenient to take the following: Government amendment No. 316.

Government amendment No. 317.

Government new clause 8—Consent orders: pensions.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Minister of State, Scottish Office, Minister of State (Scotland Office)

I rise to speak not only to give my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a rest from the process of attrition that he has experienced during the past hour or so, but because if I did not get up soon, given the temperature in the Room, hypothermia would set in. I

think that someone who was born in the same part of the world as the hon. Member for Lewes was must be in charge of the heating here.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Minister of State, Scottish Office, Minister of State (Scotland Office)

None the less, I shall now move on to the amendments.

Clauses 273 to 275 provide that if recoverable property is lodged in a pension scheme, the value of the rights obtained with that recoverable property can be recovered by the director or by Scottish Ministers. The provisions on pensions are intended to close a possible loophole and deter abuse, as I think that I said a few days ago; or was it a few weeks ago? It seems like years. [Interruption.] I was a much younger man at the time.

Clause 276 provides that recovery orders can be made on terms agreed by the parties. That reflects the fact that many civil actions are settled by agreement between the parties before the final hearing , as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield will be especially aware. The clause also reflects the experience of other civil recovery schemes around the world, which have found that civil recovery respondents, in common with other respondents in civil cases, do not always contest actions brought against them.

We always intended that recovery from pension schemes would be able to proceed with the consent of the parties involved. However, clause 276 as currently drafted does not cater for the particular requirements of pensions. The new clause and the three consequential amendments will remedy the defects.

New clause 8 is the key to the changes being made. It makes specific provision for cases in which an order reached with the agreement of the parties concerned under clause 276 involves pension rights. In the case of other types of property, once the court has made a recovery order, recoverable property will normally be vested in the trustee for civil recovery. The trustee is then required to realise the value of the assets vested in him. The Bill makes several detailed provisions as to how recovery orders will operate.

Rights in a pension scheme cannot be vested in the trustee for civil recovery in this way. They cannot be transferred to another person and subsequently sold, because they are neither a transferable nor a tradeable commodity. Therefore, clause 273 provides that the trustees or managers of the pension scheme must pay an amount equivalent to the value of the rights obtained with recoverable property to the trustee for civil recovery. The clause also allows for costs incurred by the pension scheme to be recouped. Clauses 273 to 275 make other necessary provisions relevant to pensions.

The Bill recognises that the recovery of rights in a pension scheme raises issues that require special provision. It is not prescriptive on consent orders under clause 276. It leaves the parties to the agreement to reach an outcome satisfactory to them and to the court. That will be an effective approach for most types of property, and will leave the parties a considerable degree of flexibility. However, when we were considering pensions, it was clear that it was not

appropriate to leave the arrangements completely at large. That is because any agreement reached will impact on the pension scheme and the pension scheme administrator. Consequently, it is necessary to apply several provisions that would apply in the case of a recovery order made under clause 267 to a recovery order made by consent.

New clause 8 will do that. It provides that when a recovery order is made by virtue of clause 276 and rights under a pension scheme are involved, the order may not provide for rights to be vested in the trustee for civil recovery. Instead, it provides that if the trustees or pension scheme managers are party to the agreement reached, the order may require a payment to be made in accordance with the agreement. It also provides that the trustee or scheme manager has the power to do that.

Additionally, the new clause makes provision for the recovery of costs by the trustees or scheme managers in the same manner as such provision is already made in clause 273. Finally, the clause applies aspects of clauses 273 to 275 that are relevant to recovery orders made by consent.

When the new clause is inserted into the Bill, it will appear after clause 276. Its insertion will necessitate some textual amendments to the other pensions clauses. Amendment No. 315 makes a minor change to the wording of clause 273, to take account of the addition of the new clause. Amendment No. 316 makes a minor change to clause 276. Finally, amendment No. 317 inserts a reference to the new clause in clause 276. The three amendments are therefore entirely consequential on the insertion of the new clause.

I should emphasise that it is anticipated that there will only be 15 to 20 civil recovery cases a year—which should be taken into account in debates on other parts of the Bill. Whether any of those cases will involve rights under a pension scheme will depend on the facts of each case. It seems unlikely, however, that the Bill will have significant implications for the pensions industry as a whole. If a civil recovery case involves pension rights, the new clause will ensure that it is possible for an agreement to be reached by the parties in a way that recognises the particular needs of pension schemes.

I hope that all Committee members are satisfied with those proposals, and that the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) will send me one of his Christmas cards to thank me for explaining them, as he has been using his time in Committee so valuably by writing all his Christmas cards—as, indeed, have many other members of the Committee.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Order. If the Chair were to notice any hon. Member doing anything like that, it would be ruled strictly out of order. Fortunately, at this time of year, the Chair has a tendency to exercise the Nelson technique.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Thank you, Mr. Gale.

The Minister's comments are welcome. I hope that what he has said about the effect on the pension industry is right. Most Committee members have to

declare an interest in Equitable Life. If it turns out that as a result of an action for the recovery of a sum under the provision, Equitable Life is tipped into complete insolvency, the Minister may regret his words. However, I accept what he has said, and I see no reason to dispute the amendments, although I look forward to reading them when they are incorporated in the text, as that makes it much easier to see the relationship between the clauses.

I have a query about costs, in connection with new clause 8. The Minister has touched on that matter, and I assume that the principle will be that the costs are recoverable from the pension fund or pension provider. Subsection (7) of the new clause states:

''The order may provide for the recovery by the trustees or managers of the scheme (whether by deduction from any amount which they are required to pay in pursuance of the agreement or otherwise) of costs incurred by them in—

(a) complying with the order''.

I assume from that that trustees are protected in the same way as they would be if the policy were surrendered in the usual manner, and that they are allowed to recover their costs, and to deduct them, in the usual way. That is my understanding, and if the Minister will confirm it, I will be satisfied.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is also my understanding of the matter.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 273, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 274 and 275 ordered to stand part of the Bill.