Clause 5 - Election for retrospective provision to apply to opted-out service

Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 27 Ionawr 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Clause 5 requires scheme regulations to make provision to allow a member who opted out in relation to a period between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2022 to elect for that service to be reinstated as though they had not opted out, if they satisfy conditions that may be specified in the regulations. This ensures that the member can be put back in the position that they would have been in had they not chosen to opt-out as a result of the discrimination.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

Can I raise with the Minister the concern that I raised on Second Reading but did not get an answer to? I welcome the vast majority of clause 5, because it is right that if a member of a pension scheme took a decision about opting in or out based on circumstances that have now changed beyond their control they should be given the opportunity to reconsider that decision. That is absolutely correct. And there has to be some kind of provision as to the conditions about when that right is put in place; I do not have a problem with that.

However, paragraphs (5)(c) and (6)(a) refer to conditions potentially being applied that would require the applicant to submit certain information before the application could be accepted? The House of Commons Library has suggested that one type of information that could be asked for would be for the individual to demonstrate that the reason that they took action was because of what we now know to have been unlawful discrimination built into the scheme.

My question to the Minister is this: is it reasonable to expect somebody to be able to demonstrate that? What standard of proof will be required? I need to remind the Minister that the Windrush scandal happened because the Government retrospectively decided to demand that citizens produce certain information in order to have their rights of citizens respected and they made completely unreasonable expectations on people to have retained information.

Okay, we are talking now about something five or seven years ago instead of 30, 40, 50 years ago, but the principle is still the same. Is it reasonable to assume that people will have kept documentation to demonstrate that they acted on the basis of information at the time and not for some other reason? Can we have an assurance that any regulations will not put an unreasonable burden of proof on people who may well have acted for the reasons set out in the clause, because the chance of them having kept any evidence to prove it five or 10 years later is pretty slim?

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 12:00, 27 Ionawr 2022

I can provide the hon. Gentleman with that reassurance. It is simply the case, under the operation of these provisions, that we want people to be able to make a decision at the point of retirement as to which scheme they wish they had been in for the purposes of this seven-year period. There will not be an onerous standard of proof; it will simply be for them to make that determination. I can reassure him that there is nothing that will be, if you like, in any way a high bar for people to satisfy. It is simply for people to make the decision based on their own circumstances and the advice they get at retirement about which scheme would have been best for them.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.