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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may deal with the amendment in two parts. The first part is all of the amendment bar the last line. That outlines the people who may complain to OPRA: a trade union representing members of a scheme, an employer, an individual member or members of a scheme, the Occupational Pensions Advisory Service, the pensions ombudsman or the Secretary of State. All of them may blow the whistle, as the expression has it.
We do not need such a provision on the face of the Bill. It is not required because the authority will have to look at all matters brought to its attention wherever they come from. The authority cannot just tear up a letter and say that because it has not come from A, B or C it will ignore it. The difference is that trustees, actuaries and auditors will be under a legal obligation to blow the whistle if they see anything wrong. Other people cannot be placed under such an obligation. That will not mean that they cannot blow the whistle and the authority must take what they say seriously. I believe that that part of the amendment is quite unnecessary. The Committee has my assurance that any complaint made to the authority, from whatever source, will be treated seriously.
I believe that the authority must have discretion to decide whether an investigation is justified. It would be unnecessarily bureaucratic to put the authority under a duty to demonstrate that an investigation was not needed. It has to be left to the authority's judgment and expertise to decide whether information which it receives and examines justifies an investigation.
I hope that with the assurance that the number of people who can blow the whistle is not limited and that anyone can complain to the regulator, who will look seriously at the complaint, Members of the Committee will be satisfied on that count. I hope that they will accept the point that I made about the last line in the amendment and the duty that it would impose on the authority being a step too far. It would give the authority little or no judgment on whether further investigation was justified. I hope that with those remarks, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Ezra: The noble Lord stated that the amendment was unnecessary because it was quite clear that anyone, in particular those groups referred to in the amendment, could draw the attention of the regulator to anything that they believed he or she should consider. Will the noble Lord indicate where that is made clear in the Bill or is it simply implied? Is the provision unnecessary because one ought to be able to deduce it; or is it referred to somewhere in the Bill? That clarification would assist us to decide whether to press the amendment at this stage or at a later stage.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I suspect that it suggests that the Minister is not superhuman and is not able to command to his memory every particular detail of the many lines and pages of the Bill. I shall certainly look into the exact detail that the noble Lord seeks.
However, the general point I made is that anyone will be able to blow the whistle. During Second Reading I believe that there was a little confusion. I had thought that I had put it right at that stage. There was confusion because on the face of the Bill there is a duty on the trustees, actuaries and auditors to blow the whistle. That duty cannot be imposed on some of the other people referred to in the amendment. But they are still able to blow the whistle and to report something that they do not like to the regulator for consideration. That is certainly the full intention of the Government and will be within the remit of the authority. When I have the opportunity of a break in the proceedings, I shall check exactly where that is provided on the face of the Bill.
Lord Shaw of Northstead: Before my noble friend sits down, will he clarify a matter that puzzles me? If the amendment spells out that the trustees and others of an occupational pension scheme may invoke the assistance of the authority, is there any danger that were we to accept that provision it would limit the number of people who were able to invoke the assistance of the authority?
Baroness Seear: The noble Lord was rescued by his noble friend on that point. Of course, he could add a clause stating that it is open to anyone else to do so, or words to that effect. It should be made clear that anyone is able to do so. The words ought to appear in the Bill.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As I made clear to my noble friend, when I have the opportunity I shall have a closer look at the point that is made. I believe that I am right in what I said; but I shall ensure that that is so.
There is a difference between the good manners of the authority in replying to a letter and requiring the authority to show the reason why it has not investigated. That is the point I seek to make when I say that the last line of the amendment ties the authority's hands unnecessarily.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I listened with interest to the discussion on the amendment and to the response of the Minister. I am glad that he intends again to have a look at his briefing and the Bill, and will tell the House (no doubt at Report) exactly where it is stated in the Bill that anyone may invoke the assistance of the authority.
There is a great deal of difference between receiving a letter from anyone, perhaps a member of the public with no specific interest in the scheme, and the individuals, members and organisations referred to in the amendment. The amendment quite clearly refers to people with a specific interesttrustees, a trade union representing members of a scheme, OPAS, and the pensions ombudsman. The last line of the amendment requires the regulator to investigate such requests from such people for assistance unless the authority can show good reason why it should not.
If one considers the people listed in the amendment, that seems quite reasonable. On the other hand, if one is talking about anybody, as the Minister indicated, I agree that such a provision places too much of a duty on the regulator. However, I do not believe that the amendment does so.
There is a need for the Bill to state who may or who may not blow the whistle. Of course, we accept what the Minister says about such action being a duty on trustees and other people referred to in the Bill.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I have had what I might describe as a quick legal consultation on the matter. It might be helpful if I shared that with the Committeeat, of course, no expense.
I am advised that it is not specified anywhere in the Bill that anyone is excluded from reporting, or that OPRA is excluded from investigation. The position that I statedthat anyone can blow the whistle, and that OPRA would be able to investigate a complaint from anyoneis clearly in the Bill so far as concerns the law, because it is not excluded.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank the Minister for that explanation. We shall consider Hansard closely when we have the opportunity. I still believe that there is some merit in having written on the face of the Bill that the people and organisations which are set out in the amendment have a right to have their queries properly investigated and to receive good reason if there is no such investigation.
We accept that any member of the public, perhaps people with no interest in the scheme, may write to the regulator and that no doubt the regulator would send a letter back stating whether or not he intends to proceed. That is not the same as having a positive duty to investigate, and to show good reason why that investigation should not proceed, if that is the decision.
I believe I heard the Minister aright when he stated that the Bill also includes a duty on trustees to blow the whistle. However, I gather that Clause 41 covers only actuaries and auditors and does not cover trustees. Perhaps the noble Lord will check that.
It is an issue to which I shall wish to return at Report stage when I have had the chance tomorrow to consider the report of the debate in Hansard. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.