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We want trustees, administrators and insurance companies to co-operate as fully as possible. There are now about 600 people in payment, and we are in a position to pay more than 800—that is up from 39 in May. We want to pay more people, but the main obstacle is either schemes requesting initial payments, or problems regarding the completion of schemes’
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wind-ups. Although most schemes are being co-operative, we think that several could be making much more progress. We have written to some of those schemes. We have powers to deal with them if they fail to co-operate and, if necessary, we will not be afraid to use those powers.

Mr. Bellingham: Will the Minister give way?

James Purnell: I would like to make some progress. I have very little time, so I am afraid that I will not give way.

The main point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase made was that the Government had set up the regulatory framework and were thus responsible. It is worth pointing out, however, that we think that most of the companies in the category did not meet the basic rules that were set out under the regulatory framework that was introduced by the Conservative Government. Most schemes did not meet the minimum funding requirement, and the leaflets made the case that protection was in place only if the MFR was met.

It is not correct to say, as my hon. Friend did, that the disclosure regulations prevented people from saying that there were risks in their schemes and pointing out what they were. They were perfectly able to do so. At the time, the Government did not say that they should not talk about risks. His interpretation of what happened was not correct.

Mr. Todd: As the Minister knows, I have some sympathy with aspects of the Government’s argument, but I have doubts about the quality of the literature produced by his Department. Will he make a statement that applauds the quality of that literature, without qualification? As I have pointed out to him, I think that it was flawed and incomplete, and we deserve at least some public acknowledgement of that.

James Purnell: It was the right level of information to provide, given the context. We are talking about introductory, very general leaflets. Hon. Members who have read them will know that they dealt with very basic questions such as, “What is a pension?” If we had given the amount of detail that it is suggested, with hindsight, we should have done, they would have been not leaflets but handbooks, and they would not have served the purpose for which they were intended.

Mr. Flello: I came to the Chamber this afternoon to hear the arguments, but I have not been convinced that most, if not all, liability rests with the trustees for not exploring, and conveying, how much risk there was. For the sake of Mr. and Mrs. Ward in my constituency and other people, I ask the Minister to look again at the financial assistance scheme, and consider whether any improvements can be made.

James Purnell: We will continue to keep the scheme under review, as is right, and if other sources were to make further contributions to it, that would be welcome. However, the key point is whether the
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assistance that has been given is proportionate. We need to ask ourselves what principle the ombudsman works to when making recommendations about recompense, and she actually gives the answer in her report:

The truth is that, if that were the situation, those individuals would have been put back into a situation in which funds were underfunded—significantly, in most cases—and in which their employers were about to become insolvent. There is very little that people could have done to rectify the situation in which they found themselves.

Mike Penning: Will the Minister give way?

James Purnell: I am afraid that I must wind up my speech.

I would argue that the scheme that we put in place is far more generous than anything that would have been paid for we had done no more than consider the circumstances, because the vast majority of people—virtually everyone who was in the schemes—joined them before any of the leaflets were published. As we have made clear, we do not believe that there was maladministration, but even if people want to argue that there was, they must also address the fact that virtually everyone was in the scheme before the leaflets were published, and there was very little that they could have done to transfer out, because the value of their pension would have been reduced. There was little that they could have done to get the employer to put more money into the scheme, because the employer, as we know, was about to go to the wall, and it is extremely unlikely that any other company would have wanted to become involved and take over the liabilities.

We have great sympathy with the people who have lost significant amounts of money, and that is exactly why we put the financial assistance scheme in place. We want to work with Members on both sides of the House to make sure that we can make payments as quickly as possible.

Mike Penning rose—

James Purnell: The hon. Gentleman obviously wants to intervene, and I am happy to give way.

Mike Penning: I have wanted to intervene for some time, but the Minister keeps giving way to his hon. Friends, rather than Conservative Members. Will the Minister continue to tout the figure of £15 billion, which came out of the ether, as the amount that the taxpayer would have to pay, although it is clearly wrong?

James Purnell: That figure was calculated by our economists, and we have set out exactly how it was calculated. We have also made it clear that it is the net present value, but that is the way in which the Government accounts for their spending. It was net present value that was used in the pre-Budget report yesterday, too, because that is how resources are controlled in government. The debate has made it clear
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that, on one point, there is no difference between us and the Opposition—we both think that more taxpayer money should not be put into the scheme. The Opposition agree with us that we are at the limit of what taxpayers should do. We have worked hard to find extra assistance, and we have extended the scheme. In a previous speech on the subject, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) said that

We have worked hard to increase the scheme and will continue to work hard with Members of all parties on the subject. We believe that we have made a significant contribution, because we recognise the real distress and loss that people have experienced. We have listened carefully to the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase and his Committee, and we will continue to keep the matter under review. We have made it clear that we will consider deemed buy-back again, and that we will keep the issue of whether there are any other sources of funding under review, but I am afraid that we have come to the conclusion that there are no other sources of funding that could make good, and provide the significant amount of money that would be required—enough to pay for 8,000 nurses, 6,000 teachers or 3,000 doctors.

It being Six o’clock Madam Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Questions relating to Estimates, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(5) (Consideration of estimates)

supplementary Estimates, 2006-07

Department for Communities and Local Government

Department for Work and Pensions

Madam Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions required to be put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.)

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With the leave of the House, I propose to take motions 6 to 11 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Corporation Tax

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Petroleum Revenue Tax

That the draft Petroleum Revenue Tax (Attribution of Blended Crude Oil) Regulations 2006, which were laid before this House on 21st November, be approved.

Consumer Protection

That the draft Compensation (Claims Management Services) Regulations 2006, which were laid before this House on 16th November, be approved.

That the draft Compensation (Specification of Benefits) Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved.

That the draft Compensation (Regulated Claims Management Services) Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved .—[Huw Irranca-Davies.]

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9)(European Standing Committees),

Waste Prevention and Recycling

Question agreed to.







6.3 pm

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab): I wish to present a petition collected by my constituent, Mr. John Kelly, and others. It was organised by the Tyne and Wear asbestos support group, and it concerns the availability of the drug Alimta to sufferers of the asbestos-induced lung disease, mesothelioma. Alimta is not a cure, but it extends the victim’s life—in some cases more than in others—and it improves their quality of life. The House should be sympathetic to mesothelioma sufferers, because the condition is caused by industrial processes that use asbestos and is thus concentrated in industrial communities. Investment in Alimta may push back the frontiers of medical science, and Newcastle is proud to be associated with such studies. Feeling about the matter on Tyneside is so strong that the petition was signed by 3,080 local people.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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Internet Gambling

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn .—[Huw Irranca-Davies.]

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