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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but that is strictly out of order, because it does not relate to the order that is the subject of the debate.
Mr. Wilson : With all respect, I assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it relates very directly to the order, as I will show if I am allowed to develop the argument a little. It relates closely for the reasons already alluded to by my hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich and for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), and, indeed, which were acknowledged by the Minister when responding to their interventions. If you will allow me that degree of latitude, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will show you directly how it relates to the order tonight, without any
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I will certainly give the hon. Gentleman a short opportunity to do so, but I have to be convinced.
Mr. Wilson : Among other things, it is my job to convince you, Madam Deputy Speaker. But I place it within that context. There is no question of it not being related to the order.
Column 134I shall now quote from a document that was produced by the railway staffs arbitration tribunal, in settlement of the previous national dispute on the railways, on 7 July 1989. The chairman and other members placed on record that
"The railway industry has been marked, in the last two years particularly, by very significant improvements in productivity as clearly demonstrated by data in the BRB latest annual report and accounts. Indeed, these productivity improvements have been of such an order that there has been no contribution to cost inflation from the wage bill of the rail industry in the last financial year. In our view, the exceptional productivity performance of this industry and its workers, and the co-operation displayed by the group involved in this reference towards restructuring, should properly be reflected in some real improvement in basic rates of pay." In other words, the previous rail dispute was settled specifically by taking account of past productivity gained within the industry.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has now been given the opportunity to demonstrate the connection between what he has been saying and the order. I have to say that he has not demonstrated that connection to me. I am sorry, but he must not continue along those lines.
Mr. Wilson : You are being uncharacteristically ungenerous, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the amount of time allowed to develop an argument. Perhaps I can help you in reaching your decision by referring to the headline in The Independent today, which states :
"Railtrack strikers threatened with £50m pension loss". That is why the two things are related. They are threatened with a £50 million pension loss precisely because of the relationship that I have mentioned.
Initially, the settlement of the dispute was related to the order not by me but by Ministers and Railtrack seeking to tie up the future of the pension fund with the outcome of the signal workers' dispute. I would be delighted to say that there is no relationship between them, but as long as such threats appear, clearly on the basis of a Government briefing, that relationship exists and cannot be said not to.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. But we are not debating newspaper reports. We are debating the order, and I see no connection.
Mr. Wilson : I shall try to make headway and take account of what you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have said
Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West) : This is irrelevant.
Mr. Wilson : If the hon. Gentleman wanders in late at night and makes sedentary interventions, which, frankly, I think that he would be embarrassed about if he read them the next day in Hansard , that is his concern, but we will try to make serious arguments about serious subjects, which include the future of railway workers' pensions and which seems to me to be rather important.
Mrs. Dunwoody : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would never dream of questioning any ruling from the Chair, as you know. We are in some difficulty. I understand that you will not want to discuss newspaper reports in general, but the difficulty that those of us who represent railwaymen are in is that the two things are directly linked, and they are of great concern to the people who work in the railway industry and feel that the remarks of Railtrack are directly linked to the order.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you also bear it in mind, before you stop my hon. Friend from proceeding along this particular track--if I can use that unfortunate phrase--that other groups of railway workers who were rewarded for productivity deals before the dispute had their pension payments based on those productivity deals, under the terms of the order ? The anxiety that my hon. Friend expresses is that the delay in concluding the deal will directly affect the pensions of railway signal workers. Surely that is relevant to the order. It is the reason why most of us are here.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not clear, as my hon. Friend the Minister spelt out, that the date in the order is the end of September or beginning of October and the earnings of signal staff are relevant ? However, for those of us who represent travellers on the railways as well as for some people who work on the railways, to go into the full ins and outs of the dispute would, as you have said, be out of order.
Madam Deputy Speaker : I have heard the various points made. I fully understand that there are concerns about the current dispute. There are other ways to raise those concerns. Tonight we must deal with the specific order before us.
Mr. Wilson : I have no difficulty with that ruling. I recognise the distinction that the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) has made, but it cannot be said that there is no relationship. I have put on record a quotation which I am sure will be hung round the neck of Ministers in other ways. It disproves the idea that settlements of railway disputes have never been based on recognition of past productivity.
I shall now narrow the relationship between the order and the dispute. We have here the threat, ill-defined though it may be, that £50 million will be lost for ever to the railway employees pension fund. More specifically, the threat is that each striking signal worker will personally lose £1,700 in later life as a result of the dispute. That gives a whole new dimension to the order, which is certainly not irrelevant.
The threat arises out of the restructuring of railway workers' grades. The result of regrading employees and increasing their basic salaries is that the pension fund has to pay out more than expected because pension entitlements are based on the final salaries of fund members. I am pleased to see the Minister nod. In order to meet that reality, a substantial kitty was created out of the pension fund surplus. Indeed, the Minister obliged by giving it a more formal name. He called it the pay restructuring reserve.
Various groups of workers who successively have had their terms and conditions restructured have already benefited out of the pay restructuring reserve. The signal and telecom engineers, the permanent way staff--that is the track workers, for the ill-informed who have joined us--the traffic grades--that is the station staff--have all had their terms and conditions restructured. All have received increases in their basic rates of pay. In each case, the employer drew on the fund to meet the extra payments to pensioners as they drew their increased entitlement. In each and every case, past productivity was incorporated into the restructuring of the employees' pay and grades.
Column 136That leaves just two categories to be settled in the same way--the drivers, who are not immediately germane to tonight's discussion or the current controversy--and most significantly for the purposes of our discussions tonight and for the travelling public, the signalmen.
I have no doubt that the signalmen's dispute would not have happened and that their pay and conditions would have been restructured in the same way as the signal and telecom engineers, the permanent way staff and the traffic grades if we had not had the lunatic transfer of the role of negotiator from the British Railways Board to Railtrack.
So the signalmen are the people we have in our minds tonight. They have a direct relationship to the order. I understand, and I think that the Minister confirmed, that £600 million is left in that fund. Rather less than one fifth of that amount attaches to signalmen--a little more than £100 million. The threat is that, if agreement is not reached by 30 September, that pay restructuring reserve will effectively close.
The order would break down the fund on a 53 : 47 basis. Signalmen who are current employees would lose the 47 per cent., which would go to the fund for pensioners. In the words of The Independent and of a Department of Transport and Railtrack briefing, £50 million could be gone for ever. Others may offer advice to the contrary, but that is the relevance of my argument to the debate.
If one divides £50 million by the number of signalmen, it works out at about £1,700 per head. That is the basis of the threat that has been widely reported today in the briefing of the Department of Transport and Railtrack. It states that signalmen are to lose £1,700 in pension entitlements.
Two questions arise directly from that. The first is : is it appropriate for Ministers to associate themselves with such a threat ? Will it help to solve the dispute if one threatens people--who in many cases have given their lives to the railway industry and have been employed on low pay--not only with what Ministers or Railtrack will do to them in their attempts to confront and defeat them in the dispute, but with the knowledge that, after they have left the employment of Railtrack, £1,700 will be taken from them ? Does that improve the atmosphere of the dispute ? I hope that the Minister will agree that it will not, any more than the Government's initial interference in the dispute assisted its settlement.
The second question is also worth asking to place on record one of the possible answers. What do the Government get out of it ? Again, my colleagues have been right in the points that they have made. The Government have a vested interest in not achieving a settlement. If a settlement is not reached with signalmen by 30 September, £50 million will revert to the fund for railway pensioners. If a settlement is not reached with drivers, about £280 million will revert to that closed fund. The Government's interest lies in the fact that there would be a £280 million hedge against the solvency guarantee on the pensioners fund, which they so bitterly resisted in the first place. I am not a conspiracy theorist, so I do not say that the Government are driving the dispute and preventing a settlement because they want £280 million. [Interruption.] The master of sedentary interventions, the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) must have something tremendously important to say. If he wishes to rise to his feet, he would be welcome to say it, but I suspect that he is limited to monosyllables.
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) : I take it from the hon. Gentleman's comments that he would like the dispute to end sooner rather than later. If that is so, will he advise his brethren in the RMT union to return to the negotiating table to try to find a solution ?
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind hon. Members of my previous strictures. Comments must be narrowly connected to the order.
Mr. Wilson : I hope that I have proven conclusively, Madam Deputy Speaker, that everything that I said was directly related
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the speech of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). I do so to say that I deplore seated interventions, from whichever side they come. I frequently say so in the House. I do not want to hear any more from the Conservative Benches.
Mr. Wilson : I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not need protection, but the House does, against such foolishness. On the question of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), of course I want negotiations. I want people to return to the negotiating table tomorrow and I want the minimum of political interference in the dispute. With no political interference, the dispute would not have reached industrial action and it could have been resolved easily. That is why I asked earlier today whether the Government would block the restoration of the 5.7 per cent. offer, which would have been the basis of a settlement if only Ministers had not forced it to be taken off the table.
I do not want to stray wider than the order and so far I have resisted doing so, but I hope that the few hon. Members who have an interest in the matter will recognise that there is something in the order, in the delay, that is of potential benefit to the Government and to the Treasury. The Government may plant stories about a £1,700 threat to individual signal workers and about £50 million being taken out of the pension fund and not put back, but it is a double-edged sword because anyone who knows anything about the matter will be able to examine the circumstances and find out that there is a vested interest concealed in that story--the vested interest of government not to allow the issue to be settled. Other vested interests working in government do not want the dispute to be settled, but they are not germane to tonight's debate.
I do not know what reshuffling is going on, but if the present Secretary of State gets the heave later this week the nation, with one voice, will say "godspeed and good riddance" because all that he has brought to the industry has been fragmentation and chaos and a lowering of morale and investment to the point where the only country in Europe that invests less in its rail network is Finland. A boardroom in Helsinki may want him, but nobody in our public transport industry does.
Let us have none of the double talk. There is no agreement that we should be here tonight, because in the first place we should not be breaking up our railway industry, and if we were not doing so we would not be breaking up the pension fund. If we were not breaking up the pension fund, we would not have caused anguish and despair in the past 18 months to tens of thousands of railway pensioners. The Labour party, rail pensioners,
Column 138trade unions and public opinion have forced the Government to back off from their original intentions in respect of the railway pension funds, and for that much we are thankful, but there is no consensus on the primary aims and certainly no consensus on the fact that, once again, the Government seem to be using pensions as a threat to win a dispute.
Instead of doing that, the Government should be settling the dispute, which means people getting around a table, talking about a normal industrial dispute through normal industrial channels and recognising that it involves a retrospective claim that has been recognised as legitimate for every other section of the railway industry.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : That was a pretty pathetic speech. In effect, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) was saying was that if the dispute were settled before the end of September, twice as much of the signalmen's pay--£100 million instead of £50 million-- would become eligible for pensions.
I strongly object to any party spokesman being sponsored by one of the producer interests. We should be speaking of the fair division of the pension fund now that the railway industry is being divided, but when talking about the interests of the producers--signal staff and others who work in the industry--we should think first of those whom they serve : the travelling public.
My constituents want the order to give the full £100 million benefit to signalling staff because they want to see consolidation of people's earnings for sick pay, for mortgages and for pensions. When the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North spoke of the eligibility for pensions at low pay-- pensions are obviously linked to pay--he should have said that the rate of increase of signalling staff's pay eligible for pension purposes now, and twice as much if they agree a modern pay deal, had risen significantly faster than the pay for manual workers.
One of the reasons for that is that signalling staff are on the bridge between being manual workers and modern industrial workers in a modern railway industry. Part of the agreement should have been to move them on to full, effective salary status, rather than the hotch-potch of allowances, overtime rates and shift and roster payments.
For seven years, the RMT, which sponsors 12 hon. Members, has failed, with management, to get a pension deal that doubles up the eligibility for pension.
You were absolutely right, Madam Deputy Speaker, to point out that if we confine our remarks to the pay that is eligible for pensions, and to that date at the end of September when the £50 million would return to the closed part of the fund rather than be eligible, open and available to those who are still working in Railtrack, and also for others working in the railway industry, we will stay in order. I want everyone working in the railway industry to have modern terms and conditions of employment. That means that pension arrangements should take their full earnings into account. If people argue that the present dispute, which is tangential to this debate, is justified because of the amounts of money involved, I ask them to consider that a top grade member of the signalling staff would be able to have earnings of well over £20,000 a year eligible for pension entitlement.
Column 139If the dispute were settled, the average earnings eligible for pension entitlement would be £17,000 a year. Many of the people who travel on the railways, especially those who travel from stations in my constituency, who earn less than £17,000 a year-- and certainly less than the £24,000 that top signalling staff receive- -believe that the signalling staff should be doing what other people on lower pay have done, and that is ensuring that all their earnings are eligible for pension entitlement so that that entitlement is not made up of a basic pay which is half their average earnings.
When I first entered the industrial relations and personnel field and was working in industrial relations for the British Steel Corporation in the late 1960s, we tried, with the representatives of the people at work, to provide people with what was, in effect, common status.
Hon. Members who are sponsored in this House, apparently sponsored to be silent rather than to speak up, should have told the RMT that they wanted modern conditions and pension arrangements which do not involve leaks to the newspapers about the £50 million that may go missing, as that has been obvious for the past seven years of negotiation.
If the signalling staff are not aware of that, and of the effect of the order, what on earth have their representatives in the RMT being doing and saying to them for the past seven years, let alone for the past seven weeks of this dispute ? [Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) interrupts from a sedentary position. He is one of those people who should give up his "money for votes" sponsorship by the RMT so that he can feel as free to speak on behalf of the travelling public as spokesmen of other parties are to speak on behalf of those who are supposed to receive the benefit of services in transport or other areas.
Mr. Snape : Will the hon. Gentleman accept from me, as a sponsored Member of the RMT, and as a former railwayman and railway signalman, that the RMT and its sponsorship does not influence my voice or my vote in this place ? What the hon. Gentleman is saying is absolutely despicable and totally wrong. Seven years ago, there was no intention of progressing down this particularly barmy path of fragmenting the railway industry. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to participate in these debates late at night, he should do the House the service of reading something about the subject under discussion and read something about the order.
Mr. Bottomley : Other hon. Members will be aware that the order is about the division of the pension fund. It is a consequence of earlier legislation. I would be surprised if the hon. Gentleman had missed his chance of contributing to those debates ; I thought that he had contributed to them.
If the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) argues that union sponsorship has different effects from those that I have outlined, I would put it to him that a sensible union would want to have agreed a deal for its members whereby all their earnings were eligible for pensions seven years ago.
Would the hon. Gentleman disagree with that ? It would be very surprising if he did.
Mr. Snape : I do not want to drag this out. However, I urge the hon. Gentleman to understand that the matter of salaried status for railway signal workers and others has
Column 140been the subject of long and contentious discussions. Of course the RMT would like its signalling staff to be placed on the salaried grades and thereby make their wages and salaries liable to the pension payments under the terms of the order. Understandably, the RMT also sought a lump sum payment for the productivity concessions that had already been made. That is partly what the dispute is about.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I caution the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) to keep narrowly to the terms of the order, rather than debate the history of the railways and any disputes therein.
Mr. Bottomley : Even leaving aside the past seven years, we seem to have established agreement that getting on to full pensionable earnings makes sense.
During the past seven weeks, when we have been moving toward this draft order coming before the House and when hon. Members have been speaking outside about the rights and wrongs of the dispute, we have had to face two facts. First, the RMT has failed to deliver fully for any of its members modern terms and conditions of employment. That is a tragedy.
Those who consider the past know that one of the reasons why the order, although not contentious in itself, is brought forward in a contentious atmosphere is that the RMT has had a different industrial relations history from that of many others. One has only to read the books to understand that point.
Secondly, the RMT sponsors 12 Members of Parliament, but, to my knowledge, it has not sent a full briefing to the other 630-odd Members of Parliament. In general, its sponsored Members have been almost silent and their communication with the rest of us on this and associated issues has been very slender.
If the union wants to say that it is important for its members to be able to get the pay restructuring reserve in the order, it should ask all hon. Members, "Will you say to the signallers and to other railway staff in your constituency that it is important that the RMT reaches a deal with the employer, so that we do not go past the end of September with the issue unresolved ?" I am not talking about the strike, I am talking about how people are paid and
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am concerned that the hon. Gentleman now seems to be debating who should have said what and to whom. That is not relevant. The hon. Gentleman must deploy his own arguments and allow others to deploy theirs.
Mr. Bottomley : One of the reasons why I shall not get very far in politics and for my not hanging on to my telephone for the next two or three days is that I am not always very good at communicating. Under the heading "Citation and commencement", article 1(b) refers to
"articles 2(1) to (10), 6 and 7 on 1st October 1994"
and is directly linked to my sentence before you gave me guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.
All of us should be saying to all signalling staff in our constituencies for their benefit and, for that matter, for the benefit of the travelling public that a deal should be done before the end of September so that the provisions in the statutory instrument are to the benefit of those still working in the railway industry and not just for existing pensioners, which is where the money would go otherwise.
I hope that, by the end of September, the provisions in the order will be available in full measure to those working
Column 141in the industry, but I give this warning : if there is a failure by those who are sponsored by the union to help put pressure on the union to reach a deal, the people who will lose are those whose union subscriptions have been paying part of the election expenses of the silent 12, including a potential Labour leader, the Opposition's trade and industry spokesman, their transport spokesman, their employment spokesman and their social security spokesman.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : It is not my intention to detain the House very long, but this is a very important subject and I hope that it will be seriously considered, at least for the rest of this short debate.
I do not believe that the Minister is unaware of how tremendously worried railwaymen and railwaywomen are about their pensions. This and other orders are the culmination of much negotiation, frankly great misunderstanding, and certainly great unease. I am a sponsored Member of the RMT, and many railwaymen and railwaywomen in my constituency regularly talk to me about their pension entitlements. They have been exceedingly disturbed by the negotiations, first, because they saw no need for them ; secondly, because they were extremely concerned by the Government's attitude to the closed funds ; and, thirdly, because they believed and still believe that there is considerable doubt about the veracity of the Government's arguments. I am afraid that, in a miasma of total disbelief, people who have given their lives to the railway industry will find it very difficult to accept that they should accept what the Minister is proposing. They are deeply worried ; they are not at all happy about the fact that what should be a straightforward organisation of their pensions for the future has suddenly become a political football. It upsets them very much that, at every stage of the negotiations on the pension funds that we are discussing, the Government appeared to have been forced into giving way until some kind of agreement was reached with the trustees.
I hope that a solution will be found to the current dispute. I believe that passengers' safety should be paramount, that the House should strive to retain the reliability and good will of railway operators and, above all, that no one inside or outside the industry should be in any doubt that the pension funds of a basic industry are being administered for the good of those who have contributed to them. If those people believe that the Government or their puppet Railtrack may be seeking to use their pension funds as a political football, they will not only feel real dismay and fear ; they will feel that they have been betrayed by the House of Commons. I not only understand that attitude, but see it in my day-to-day dealing with railwaymen and women.
I must tell the Minister that there is a long way to go in rebuilding trust between the Government and transport operators. I hope that tonight's debate will not make the gap even wider. 11.11 pm
Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) : Let me begin, as I always do in debates about pensions, by declaring that I am a British Rail pensioner- -a deferred pensioner. I have
Column 142been told on previous occasions that my interest is not significant enough to prevent me from speaking, but it is fairly significant to me, which is why I am speaking.
I was amazed by what was said by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). I shall do my best not to refer to it much, but part of the reason for my being a deferred pensioner is the fact that I was made redundant. If the hon. Gentleman's speech and--I think--the mood of the country are anything to go by, in the near future the hon. Gentleman may begin to know what redundancy feels like.
The order affects my income, and that of ordinary pensioners. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that this is just a product of the fragmentation of British Rail ; I think that it is much worse than that. From the beginning, I had no doubt that the Government intended not just to privatise the railways but to get their hands on my pension fund. Their actions showed that. Only my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North, other Labour Members and pensioners themselves, who rose up in anger at the proposals, stopped the Government taking control of the pension funds.
The Minister was right : the Government did not actually take anything out of the pension funds. What they did was stop putting something in. The payments that they used to make have now ceased and will not be made again. I believe that undertakings have been made to resume them if they are needed, but, effectively, they have ceased. I lost out. It is no use the Minister's saying that the trustees agreed to the move ; they did not. They accepted it because it was the best deal that they could get from Government, but they did not want it or volunteer for it.
The trustees have a narrow role. They have a fiduciary duty and that is why they have had to accept--not agree to--the Government's tabling this order. I am not prepared to accept it, because I recognise that the pension that I had previously was better than the pension deal that I will get now. I am prepared, however, to accept that nothing that I say or do will change the Government's mind and that the deal will not get any better.
I take exception to one thing, to which other hon. Members have also referred. In fighting to protect my pension fund, one of the guarantees that we got--it had to be fought for--from the Government was a solvency guarantee. If the fund looked as if it were in difficulties, the Government would guarantee its solvency. What do I find now ?
The Government stepped in as the unions and Railtrack were about to reach a 5.7 per cent. settlement and effectively snookered the deal. It was finished and I thought that it was merely political vindictiveness. I thought that Government were union-bashing again, and wanted to blame the difficulties on all the left-wingers in the unions. I have sat with many signalmen and there are not many left-wingers among them, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will confirm, as en ex- signalman. Their political viewpoint is conservative--with a small "c"--and they have common-sense views. If they vote for a strike, it means that there is something radically wrong.
It really annoyed me when I found out that it was not merely dogma that had made the Government interfere in the pay settlement, that there was another reason. Once again, the Government were trying to get some money out of the fund. As before, they were not intending to take something out, but to stop themselves from having to put
Column 143something in. If, on 30 September, the fund is distributed, 47 per cent. will go to the closed fund and, effectively, will act as a cushion, which will mean that the Government will not have to pay the solvency guarantee if it is required. The money will have been stolen from the signalmen--possibly from the drivers as well.
I feel annoyed that the Government are using the pension funds to blackmail signalmen and, by doing so, are souring industrial relations and the chances of Railtrack's arriving at a settlement. The Government are using the money not merely for blackmail, but to hold the travelling public to ransom. Without Government interference in the strike, the dispute would have been settled by now and the travelling public would not have been inconvenienced in the way
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : I have been present since the beginning of the debate and this is the second time that it has been suggested that it is somehow to the Government's advantage to spin the dispute out until the end of September. Has the hon. Gentleman no idea of the cost to the country, the Government, the travelling public, the businesses of this country and the prosperity of the nation caused by the dispute ? The suggestion that the Government should be trying to spin it out for the benefit of some putative robbery of the pension fund seems bizarre.
Mr. Heppell : I should like to think that the hon. Gentleman is right. There is an easy solution--for the Government to tell Railtrack that it can do as it wants and decide on whatever settlement it wants. The answer would be simple, and Railtrack would already have settled because it was in the process of doing so when the Government interfered.
I recognise that what I say tonight will not make any difference to the Minister or to Tory Members. I want to make it clear, and put it on the record, that there is no consensus about what the Government are doing to railwaymen's pensions and my pension. My pension will be worse as a result of what the Government are doing. It is all right for the Minister to shake his head ; he will not feel the difficulties in his wallet. I will feel the difficulties. I am in a privileged position because I do not have to rely on only my railway pension. I will have the opportunity of a pension from here, which is much better than any railwayman's pension will ever be. However, many people, including many of my constituents, will be relying on that pension. I do not want to see them in the same position as the Maxwell pensioners in another 20 years.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) : I speak as a Member sponsored by the rail drivers' union, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. I say to the Minister, as I have had occasion to say to him before, that the peace of mind that he deems with his sanguine carelessness to be part and parcel of the lives of employees and pensioners of the railway industry is not anything other than a hope at present for the members of ASLEF. The Minister and Tory Members who have spoken tonight in this debate, as in previous debates, have
Column 144persisted in attempting to present an image of the British Rail pension as something which the Government have restructured, and made safe and viable.
The Minister knows, as do all hon. Members in the House, that the British Rail pension scheme was one of the best managed, and certainly one of the most productive, schemes in the country. The turmoil came about when the Government decided erroneously, as Opposition Members believe, and as the majority of the British public believe, to restructure--effectively, to break up--the British Rail network in the ideological pursuit of privatisation.
It is that break-up which has caused the concern that is still being felt, certainly by the members of ASLEF, over what they perceive to be unnecessary breakages in what was an efficient and highly productive pension scheme. Nothing that the Minister has said this evening, and nothing in the statutory instrument, will bring about peace of mind for ASLEF members.
It is extraordinary that the Minister can depute or, in fact, give a name to a sizeable proportion of the pension fund. It is the pay restructuring fund, £230 million of which is earmarked for the engine drivers' pension scheme. Yet, if no agreement is reached by 1 October, that entire sizeable amount will go into the general fund and be split 53 :47. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) that there is a believable case for thinking that the Government wish effectively to drag things out until 1 October because such a sizeable amount in the fund would release them from having to make their first contribution to the pension fund. I hope that I am wrong in this instance, but experience of the way the Government have handled the restructuring of the pension scheme for the rail industry leads me to believe that I am probably right. If the Minister really wishes the peace of mind to which he constantly alludes to be a reality for employees of the rail industry and pensioners, I urge him to clarify that issue tonight.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Mr. Doug Hoyle.