§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)
I beg to move amendment No. 181, in page 2, line 25, leave out from 'Act' to 'and' in line 26.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 182, in clause 9, page 4, line 36, leave out'or in any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 183, in clause 48, page 33, line 41, leave out sub-paragraph (iii).
Amendment No. 184, in clause 48, page 34, line 12, leave out from `(c. 49)' to end of line 17.
Amendment No. 185, in clause 67, page 47, line 13, leave out'or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 186, in clause 67, page 47, line 43, leave out'or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 187, in clause 91, page 64, line 38, leave out'or any provisions in force in Northern Ireland corresponding to this Act'.
Government amendments Nos. 97, 98, 119 and 121.
Amendment No. 189, in clause 177, page 119, line 35, leave out`or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 190, in clause 177, page 120, line 6, leave out 921'or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 191, in clause 267, page 193, line 42, leave out paragraph (e).
Amendment No. 192, in clause 280, page 200, line 10, leave out lines 10 to 40.
Amendment No. 193, in clause 280, page 200, line 8, after 'England', insert 'Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 194, in clause 281, page 200, line 41, leave out Clause 281.
Amendment No. 195, in schedule 1, page 206, line 12, leave out'and any corresponding provisions in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 196, in schedule 1, page 206, line 32, leave out from 'function' to 'or' in line 34.
Amendment No. 197, in schedule 1, page 207, line 13, leave out'or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 198, in schedule 1, page 207, line 16, leave out'or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 199, in schedule 1, page 211, line 35, leave out from 'Act' to end of line 36.
Amendment No. 200, in schedule 1, page 211, line 44, leave out'or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 201, in schedule 1, page 212, line 2, leave out'or any corresponding provision in force in Northern Ireland'.
Amendment No. 202, in schedule 4, page 220, line 12, leave out'or any provisions in force in Northern Ireland corresponding to this Act'.
Amendment No. 203, in schedule 5, page 230, line 14. leave out'or any provisions in force in Northern Ireland corresponding to this Act'.
New clause 32—Application to Northern Ireland—
- '(1) This Act extends to Northern Ireland.
- (2) The Secretary of State may by order make such modifications to this Act or other legislation as are necessary in the application of this Act to Northern Ireland.'.
Government amendment No. 165.
§ Mr. Barnes
The key amendment is No. 193, which would make the whole Bill apply to Northern Ireland. At the moment, only parts of the Bill apply there. To ensure that the whole Bill applies to Northern Ireland, it must be amended so that all the partial references are deleted. Amendment No. 193 would then come fully into play.
Consequential amendments in another place would be required if my amendments were accepted. Provisions applicable to Northern Ireland need to be added to the Bill to take account of the region's distinctive legislative position, but that should present 922 no great difficulty, as the Bill promises that a statutory instrument will be put before the House for that purpose.
It would be distinctly advantageous if that instrument could be introduced now and adjusted to the primary legislation. One result would be that Northern Ireland matters could be debated as they arose in connection with the rest of the Bill. Moreover, amendments appropriate to the circumstances in Northern Ireland could be proposed.
Using the Order-in-Council procedure could mean that we end up in a Committee for one and a half hours or three hours, dealing with everything in one go on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We would then have to take it on trust, to some extent, that the secondary legislation fitted in with the Bill and applied to the circumstances in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland section of the Irish Confederation of Trade Unions has a distinct interest in this Bill and wants certain matters to be pursued. Other groups of amendments contain proposals to do with information and advice for annuity purchasers, TUPE, consultation by employers and stakeholder pensions. Those are exactly the sort of matters that attract the interest of Northern Ireland trade unions, as I am sure is the case with the trade unions on the mainland that have made representations on them.
The Northern Ireland interest in the Bill was evident in the Adjournment debate at the end of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee of 29 April. It was introduced by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), who referred to a number of firms in the region. He mentioned Irish Fertiliser Industries in his constituency, TK-ECC in the constituency of the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson), and Fii Shoes in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). The debate also covered cross-border provisions in respect of company pension schemes, as IFI was formed in 1987 as a joint venture between ICI and the Irish state.
I wanted these amendments to be considered in the Standing Committee that dealt with this Bill and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) was kind enough to move them. The Minister argued that, because social security and pensions are transferred matters under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, Northern Ireland has its own social security and pensions law. He said that such matters are normally dealt with by means of an Order in Council. I do not think that it is or ever has been inevitable that all matters to do with Northern Ireland must be dealt with by means of the Order-in-Council procedure.
When the Disability Discrimination Bill was in front of the House, I was promoting a version of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill for which I had sponsors from four political parties in Northern Ireland. On announcement of the Second Reading of the Government's Bill, the then Minister said that Northern Ireland would be included, and it was. All the technical problems that usually meant that we had to shunt legislation off somewhere were miraculously dealt with on that occasion.
It is therefore important that we have this measure applied to Northern Ireland properly and fully. The Government should get round to applying all legislation 923 of this type to Northern Ireland. The argument that something might happen in the meantime and we might get the Executive and the Assembly up and running so the legislation might need to be shunted off to them is inappropriate. Either the measure will be dealt with before we reach that stage and the law will apply to Northern Ireland or, if something miraculous happens, we can change the measure and transfer to the Assembly the bits that are relevant.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP)
I rise primarily to speak to new clause 32 and amendment No. 194 in my name and that of my hon. Friends, but I also support the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). If the Minister is minded to accept his amendments, I shall be happy to concur.
The issue of pensions and company pension schemes applies to Northern Ireland just as much as to the rest of the United Kingdom. There is no significant difference and nor should there be. It would be foolish if there were significant differences in commercial law in the United Kingdom. I am glad to see the Minister nodding his head. That deals with the point to which the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire referred and the point that was made in Committee. There is no good reason and no intention for the law to be different. It would be a bad thing if it were different.
The Minister should not use the excuse that because these matters are notionally devolved to a Northern Ireland Assembly that does not exist, the legislation should not extend to Northern Ireland. It is not a good argument. It would be much better if the Government looked at why these issues are devolved when there is no good reason for their devolution and it carries with it a serious risk. The risk is that the Bill makes provision for a subsequent Order in Council. There is no guarantee that that Order in Council will appear when it should, whereas if new clause 32 or the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire were accepted, the legislation would extend to Northern Ireland at the same time as it comes into operation for the rest of the United Kingdom.
In the past, Orders in Council have limped along a significant time after the legislation here. It is simply not right that the people of Northern Ireland should be deprived of the protection available to their counterparts on this side of the Irish sea. The problem should not arise. There is a serious danger that the Order in Council will not arrive in time due to the length and complexity of the legislation and the fact that the small team of legislative draftsmen in Belfast will have to make last-minute adjustments as further new clauses and amendments are introduced.
If the Minister does not accept the new clause or amendments, I want a clear assurance that steps will be taken by him and the Northern In land Office to ensure that the Order in Council is brought into effect at exactly the same time as the Bill and that no gaps will occur in the coverage of the legislation or the ambit of new clause 34, which we will discuss tomorrow, when we can take up the issues that the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire mentioned with regard to companies that have failed in Northern Ireland leaving workers who believed that they had a pension entitlement with little or no pension. That is an issue that we can come back to 924 tomorrow. The issue today is to ensure that the protections that are being introduced for the benefit of people in England, Scotland and Wales apply in Northern Ireland at the same time, and that is the point on which I hope the Minister will reply. Can he give us an assurance that the provisions will apply at the same time and, if he cannot, can we extend the legislation?
§ Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP)
I support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and concur with much of what the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said. It is imperative that the people of Northern Ireland, especially those affected by the Bill—including the matters that will be discussed tomorrow—should have the protection it affords at the same time as the rest of the country. I shall not rehearse all the arguments that have already been made, but we have seen examples where legislation was passed for other parts of the UK, to be followed by Orders in Council in Northern Ireland where a significant time lag has occurred. For example, there is widespread support in Northern Ireland for the introduction of the legislation on antisocial behaviour orders, but some six years after their introduction in the rest of the country, the process is only just reaching a conclusion for us.
It is imperative that the Bill should apply to Northern Ireland from the start, and provision to achieve that should appear on the face of the Bill. I cannot see any real argument against that. As the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire said, the matter of workers left with pension shortfalls was considered in the Northern Ireland Grand Committee in some detail, and the provisions applying in such cases should also apply to Northern Ireland from the outset.
§ Mr. Pond
I share the Front Bench at the moment with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Work, who used to be a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, and I know that she will have listened as carefully as I have to the arguments that have been made. I shall not spell out again the constitutional arrangements because I know that the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken do not accept that because social security and pensions are transferred matters under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, that is an automatic reason to reject the amendments. Although the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) asked me to consider whether that is appropriate, under the current arrangements the House has no authority—
§ Mr. Trimble
If the Minister was going to say that the House has no authority to enact legislation, I can tell him that he is wrong. There is no exclusive jurisdiction in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which does not even exist at the moment.
§ Mr. Pond
I accept that point and, given the suspension of the Assembly, such matters have to be dealt with by Order in Council—[Interruption.] If I may develop the arguments, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's patience will be rewarded, although perhaps not to the extent that he would like.
Northern Ireland issues are dealt with in different ways in various parts of the Bill and there are good reasons for that. Clause 281 sets out the detail of how the 925 Order in Council will be introduced and, of course, in the event of a return to devolved government, provisions for Northern Ireland would be a matter for the Assembly.
In line with established practice in the pensions field, some of the provisions of the Bill extend directly to Northern Ireland, including, for example, those relating to the establishment of the pensions regulator, which is to operate throughout the United Kingdom. The same is true of the pension protection fund. It is also currently true of both the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority—OPRA—and the Pensions Compensation Board. Those bodies were established on a UK-wide basis, but their functions are bestowed by Westminster for Great Britain and separately by Northern Ireland legislation.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office has written to Northern Ireland Members and peers and to the Speaker of the Assembly to advise that the provisions of the Bill that do not extend will be replicated in the Order in Council. That means that when Northern Ireland Members and peers consider the Bill they will do so in the knowledge that corresponding provision is to be made for Northern Ireland by Order in Council.
I accept the arguments that Members have made and their concern that there may be some delay. I shall come to those points in a moment.
With respect to the amendments before us, Government amendments Nos. 97, 98, 119 and 121 are further technical drafting amendments to ensure that the PPF and the fraud compensation fund can operate as two UK-wide funds, rather than having separate funds for Northern Ireland and Great Britain. To do otherwise would result in the board having to manage four separate funds and produce separate accounts and reports, which is neither sensible nor cost-effective. The amendments will ensure that administrative costs are kept to a minimum, thus securing value for money for the levy payer and also ensuring that protection is extended to all citizens of the United Kingdom.
Government amendment No. 165 is linked to a new clause about the pensions ombudsman and the deputy pensions ombudsman, which we debated in Committee on 22 April. It ensures that the reimbursement of expenses incurred by the deputy pensions ombudsman is dealt with in the same way as those incurred by the pensions ombudsman and ensures consistency between the provisions of UK and Northern Ireland legislation.
With respect to the other amendments tabled by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I hope that Members will accept the constitutional situation. I realise that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann does not accept it, but I can assure him that our intention is to ensure that the provisions in the Bill apply to people in Northern Ireland in the same way as they apply 926 throughout the rest of the UK. We want to ensure that that protection is made available to people in Northern Ireland, just as it is throughout the rest of the UK.
§ Mr. Pond
The right hon. Gentleman asks from a sedentary position for my reassurance that the intention is that the provision should happen at the same time. I can tell him that my hon. Friends in the Northern Ireland Office have confirmed that all the Bill's provisions will be enacted in parallel and to the same time scale in Northern Ireland. I think that that is the reassurance for which he and other Members are rightly asking. On the basis of the discussions with my hon. Friends in the NIO, I think that I can give that reassurance, so I hope that hon. Members will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
§ Mr. Barnes
I am on a hiding to nothing—not just because of what the Whips might do, but because of what might happen in a Division. Furthermore, we have only just over an hour to deal with some important amendments on TIPE, consultation by employers and stakeholder pension. For those reasons, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.