Press Notice 56, Session 2005-06

28 July 2006

PASC criticises government on the pensions promise€”and warns about constitutional threat to the Ombudsman

In its report published today, 'The Ombudsman in Question: The Ombudsman's report on pensions and its constitutional implications' (HC 1081), the Public Administration Select Committee criticises the government for breaking the 'pensions promise' and failing to respond appropriately to the Ombudman's report on the issue.

The Ombudsman published her report Trusting in the pensions promise: government bodies and the security of final salary occupational pensions in March 2006. The Government rejected both the finding of maladministration and her recommendation that the Government should consider whether it should make arrangements for the restoration of full pensions to those affected.

PASC concludes that:

€ Once the Government had chosen to give information about the pensions system, that information should have been complete and accurate. Instead, they failed to mention one of the greatest risks. The Ombudsman's finding of maladministration was correct.

€ The Government cannot simply abandon people who have lost significant sums of money. It should work with others who share responsibility to find a solution.

€ The Government has become far too ready to question the Ombudsman's findings of maladministration. She is Parliament's Ombudsman, and Government must respect her. There is now a threat to the Ombudsman's consittutional position.

Tony Wright, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"It was entirely reasonable for people to put trust in government information on the safety of their occupational pensions. The pension leaflets neglected to warn of a substantial risk; people have lost significant sums of money. This was clearly maladministration and the Ombudsman was right to say so. The Government should stop quibbling over this and act to find an acceptable solution for the thousands affected. As the Ombudsman herself has said, it's maladministration - get over it!

"If government became accustomed simply to reject the Ombudsman's findings of maladministration in this way, it would raise fundamental constitutional issues about the position of the Ombudsman and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive."

FURTHER INFORMATION:

The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. Its terms of reference are to examine the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsmen, and to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration provided by Civil Service departments, and other matters relating to the Civil Service. The Membership of the Committee is as follows: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Grant Shapps (Con) (Welwyn Hatfield), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)

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Chairman: Dr Tony Wright may be contacted for press inquiries on 020 7219 5583

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