Webb warns 'now is the only time' to tweak pension bill

Webb warns 'now is the only time' to tweak pension bill
Sir Steve Webb

Sir Steve Webb has urged pension specialists to lobby peers for changes to the Pension Schemes Bill, warning there would be not efforts to change it when it passes through the Commons.

At the Association of Member Nominated Trustees’ winter conference on Monday (February 10) in London, Sir Steve, former pensions minister now partner at LCP, agreed with the views of some of the peers in the House of Lords, who at the end of last month asked for changes to the bill's wording in relation to new criminal sanctions.

The department for Work and Pensions reintroduced the bill in the House of Lords on January 7, after the December general election delayed its debate in parliament.

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It will enter committee stage, which is a line by line examination of the bill, on February 24, before passing through two more stages and then entering the Commons.

New powers for the Pensions Regulator in relation to defined benefit schemes form a key pillar of the legislation, including the introduction of new criminal offences, with the most serious carrying a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment and a civil penalty of up to £1m.

However, the wording of the new legislation “is slightly too broad,” Sir Steve argued.

He said: “The purpose of this legislation was to clamp down on evil employers, but it is just not employers - it is trustees, regulators, government, ministers.

“It’s anybody who does something that makes benefits less likely to be paid, who might reasonably have been expected to know that would be the consequences of their action and doesn't have a good excuse.”

Sir Steve noted if the bill was not amended while it is in the House of Lords, then it will not be changed.

He said: “The government has a majority of 80 votes in the House of Commons, it will win every vote in the next five years. So the effective scrutiny of this bill is now, while it is in the House of Lords, and the clock is ticking, anything you can do individually, now is the only time we can get any traction.

“If we don't, this piece of legislation will be on the statute book and too many people will be at risk.”

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