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Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con):
I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State recognise earlier that some of these people now face severe financial hardship as a result of the loss of their pension savings. Sadly, a number of my own constituents lost their pension savings in the Kalamazoo and United Engineering Forgings schemes. They will of course be disappointed that today is not the end of the road, but they will be a little
relieved to hear that they will not be picking up any further costs. Will the Secretary of State reflect, however, on what my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) said earlier? While the high-profile issue of people having lost their private pension savings remains in the public eye, it sends a terrible signal to the many millions of our fellow citizens who are wondering whether the same thing might happen to them.
Mr. Hutton: I agree that that is not good, but the hon. Lady needs to reflect a little more on, for example, the Pension Protection Fund offers for cases going forward. We have taken the right course of action in setting up the PPF, which offers a very high and proper level of protection, so people can have confidence in their pension savings going forward.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends announcement, particularly what he said about costs, which, as he knows, is an issue that I have raised on a number of occasions; it is very good news that the Government will pay the costs. I am one of those who think that the Government had a genuine motive in introducing the financial assistance scheme to try to ameliorate the losses. However, the problem has been not just one of resourcing, because the scheme does not address the fundamental issues that have been obvious to MPs, that are dealt with in the ombudsmans report and that underlie the logic of the Pension Protection Fund. Will my right hon. Friend introduce, with some dispatch, proposals that resolve this issue and do not create further uncertainty down the line, so that my constituents who worked for Kalamazoo and others do not have to experience hardship for much longer?
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): The Secretary of State has rejected criticism of the FAS on the basis that a mere 900 payments have been made so far, saying that such criticism rests on unwarranted assumptions. Can he therefore put in the public domain the figures telling us exactly how many of the sample who are eligible for assistance from the FAS have reached retirement age and secured payments?
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op):
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement today, and particularly for its tone. Opposition Members seem to have shifted their tone as we try to find a workable solution for people such as those suffering after the collapse of the British United Shoe Machinery scheme, who are not eligible for the FAS as it stands. Will my right hon. Friend introduce his proposals in such a way that we can get a consensus on cost? That outstanding problem is preventing us from making progress, in that we seem to be unable to guarantee an annual figure. Will he also ensure that the scheme is extended to cover those who are not
currently covered? They feel betrayed, in that others are being compensated while they are not. Will he also examine every possibility of generating such income from other sources, not just from the taxpayer?
Mr. Hutton: We will try to do all the things that my hon. Friend has suggested. We will certainly continue to look at other sources of funding, but as I said in my statement and in response to other questions, my own view is that we will find it very difficult to find substantial sums from sources other than general taxation. That discipline should apply to all parts of the House as weI hopereach a conclusion on these matters.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): May I congratulate my constituent, Richard Nicholl, and other brave members of the Pensions Action Group? Some 5,000 people are members of some 20 schemes run by solvent companies, and that is the difference. As I understand it, from 28 February those people will not be entitled to compensation even if the companies in question become insolvent after that date. Subject to what the Secretary of State has to say, I would have thought that that was grossly unfair to my constituents and to others. In the light of the Court judgment, what will the Government do about that? In any event, I am glad to say that the Minister for Pensions Reform was good enough to see Mr. Nicholl and me recently about the issue.
Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important and serious issue about the deadline for FAS applications by the end of this month. We are looking again at that in the light of recent decisions by the Court. We hope to be able to be clear to hon. Members about future arrangements.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State appears to have shifted his attitude and policy on this issue. Is he aware that I represent many of the Albert Fisher pensioners? Most of them are in their late 50s and have lost on average 25 years worth of occupational pension benefits. When they eventually reach retirement age, the FAS will give them less than 50 per cent. of their expected pension, so obviously they are still very angry. Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) about the overall cost, will the Secretary of State elaborate on his answer? Surely from the £15 billion must be deducted the cost of benefits to constituents such as mine, and, indeed, the tax that they would pay if they received a bigger pension.
Mr. Hutton: It is very difficult to quantify the figures with the degree of precision for which the hon. Gentleman and others have asked. That has been true from the beginning, and we have not tried to hide the fact that these are estimated figures. It is also worth remembering that the judge said that on any view these are large sums of money. We will not find a sensible way forward on this if people keep bandying sums of money around and claiming that they are affordable. We have to find the money, and the only sensible place to find it from is general taxation. That is a very significant issue, which we must all consider as we think about the right way forward.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Like many Members, I welcome the Secretary of States tone, but the issue is more one of trust than tone. Our constituents must be wondering if the Government will ever admit that they are wrong. The Secretary of State has said that he has not yet decided on whether to appeal, but the precise wording of his pre-prepared statement reads, We have not yet decided the precise grounds for such an appeal. That is the complete sentence, and it suggests to me that despite his contrite tone today, the Government are set on carrying on the misery and suffering of so many people who have simply paid into a pension for security in old age.
Mr. Hutton: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has come to that conclusion, because it is a million miles away from the truth. We have sought and been granted leave to appeal, as have the other side, and to take the case to the Appeal Court. What we have not done yetI hope that I have been clear on this point todayis decided the grounds of that appeal. These issues have to be resolved and we have to take a sensible view, given the complexities involved. It is clear from the hon. Gentlemans remarks that he does not really understand the complexities of the issues.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Many young people, some of whom will be in the Public Gallery now, will be listening to this exchange and wondering what is the point of starting a pension. Does the Secretary of State agree that the longer-term cost to the economy of young people not setting up pensions will be far greater than the cost of damaging trust by not compensating people who have saved and then lost everything?
Mr. Hutton: Again, it is not true that no financial assistance has been made available to people who have lost out in those circumstances. The hon. Lady is a member of the Work and Pensions Committee and she should know that. Such comments are unlikely to boost confidence for savers in the future. She too has a responsibility in these matters, and I am afraid that today she has failed to discharge it.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Would it not be exceptional for the Government not only to reject the findings of the ombudsman and the Public Administration Committee, but to appeal and reject the findings of irrationality concerning the first recommendation of maladministration by the ombudsman? As welcome as the Court judgment is, is it not a sad day for Parliament that the Government may well be obliged to accept the Courts judgment of maladministration, rather than having properly respected the role of the ombudsman, and indeed of Parliament?
Mr. Hutton: It is precisely the complexity and constitutional dimensions to the case that have now to be resolved, because it is in a judicial setting. As a lawyer, the hon. Gentleman should know that. There is no easy or fast-track way through this. Nor is it true to say that it is not right and proper for a Government to consider exercising a right of appeal. The hon. Gentleman is a lawyer and he may have acted for Government Departments in the past. He must understand that it is entirely proper for the Government, in some cases, to exercise their right to appeal to a higher court for a ruling.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is looking to review the financial assistance scheme. Some of the most difficult cases include some of my constituents who were involved in the APW scheme. Those under the age of 50, but close to it at the key point, some of whom had transferred substantial sums from other pension schemes into that scheme, are still facing losses of more than 80 per cent. of their previous pension entitlement. Can he assure the House that such cases will be taken into account in the review?
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Yesterday, in response to my Adjournment debate on the voluntary adoption sector, in the closing seconds and in response to the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) made this astonishing assertion:
I understand that negotiations are taking place between the Executive and the powers that be at Westminster on the question of exemption.[ Official Report, Westminster Hall, 21 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 132WH.]
The exemption in question is for the Scottish Catholic Childrens Society. Have you had any notice of a Minister coming to the House to make a statement about why the critical work of that organisation, which deals with some of the most disadvantaged children in our country, is so important in Scotland that it deserves an exemption but is not apparently worthy of consideration for an exemption south of the border?
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I asked the Leader of the House about the Rural Payments Agency and the fact that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had set aside not £131 million, as it did in October, but £305 million. He told me that the Secretary of State had made a written statement, but I suspect that the Leader of the House was not aware that there was no mention of the £305 million in that statement. I hope that this is a good opportunity to put the record straight, not so much to correct the Leader of the House, but to try to draw attention to the fact that what the House really needs is a statement from the Department.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mr. Speaker asked me to wait until the end of the statement to raise my point of order, but during business questions, the Leader of the House inadvertently accused me of being a supporter of a certain football club in London whose name starts with M. This may be a trivial matter to other hon. Members, but in my house, being accused of being a Millwall supporter is a matter of life and death. Can you advise me how I may inform the House that I am actually a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, and was a season ticket holder until very recently?
That the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in force of sections 1 to 9) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 received Royal Assent in March 2005. The Act provides for control orders to address the risk posed to public safety by individuals believed to be involved in terrorism who can neither be prosecuted nor deported.
The purpose of the order before us is simple. Todays renewal debate is taking place in accordance with section 13 of the 2005 Act. The powers contained in the Act will automatically lapse after one year unless renewed by order subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. They were renewed last year but without this new order will lapse at the end of 10 March 2007. I believe that a date is already in place for a similar debate in the other place.
There is a serious and sustained threat from international terrorism to the UK and UK interests overseas. The current threat level is assessed as severe and an attack is judged to be highly likely. Moreover, since the tragic events of July 2005, the police and security services have had considerable success in disrupting alleged terrorist plots. Let me be clear that prosecution remains our preferred option for tackling individuals involved in terrorism. Indeed, that is why the Government strengthened the ability to prosecute for involvement in terrorism-related activity in the Terrorism Act 2006. That is demonstrated by the fact that, in 2006, 85 individuals were charged after being arrested under the 2006 Act or under other legislation where the investigation was conducted as a terrorist investigation.
Similarly, we seek to deport foreign nationals involved in terrorism, but that will sometimes not be possible, even with a memorandum of understanding and other agreements that are in place with a number of countries to enable us to return individuals safely to their country of origins. Consequently, there will remain a comparatively small number of individuals for whom neither prosecution nor deportation is viable.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): The noble Lord Carlile recently suggested, or appeared to suggest, that some cases that are subject to control orders could be pursued to prosecution. When control orders were first discussed, the previous Home Secretary agreed to consider a process by which the Crown Prosecution Service would formally declare that it had reviewed the files on a case that was coming up for a control order and confirm that there was no prosecutable case. Has any further consideration been given to that process, which might provide some reassurance that people would not be pushed down this route when, in fact, there was some sort of prosecutable case?
Mr. McNulty: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I will be coming on to precisely that point, dealing not only with the relationship between the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, but the processes to which Lord Carlile refers and on which we may be able to improve. If, when I discuss those matters, my right hon. Friend is not satisfied, I will happily allow him to intervene again.
As I was saying, there is a comparatively small number of individuals for whom neither prosecution nor deportation is viable. The Security Service assesses that they are involved in terrorism and that they pose a risk to public safety, but without control orders those individuals would be free to continue to engage in terrorist-related activity. That is clearly a risk that the Government are not prepared to take.
This assessment of the necessity for control orders is shared by the noble Lord Carlile of Berriew, whose annual report on the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was published on 19 February. In paragraph 7, he states:
I would prefer it if no control order system was necessary. However, in my view, it remains necessary given the nature of the risk of terrorist attacks and the difficulty of dealing with a small number of cases. Control orders provide a proportional means of dealing with those cases, if administered correctly.
I would like to place on record the Governments gratitude to Lord Carlile, who has produced another carefully considered, valuable report, which shouldand, I know, willinform todays debate. The two other statutory consulteesthe director-general of the Security Service and the intelligence services commissionerare also content with the intention to renew the legislation.
However, some hon. Members may argue that the legislation should not be renewed because control orders are not working. Let me underline to the House that control orders have been successful in preventing, or at least limiting, these individuals involvement in terrorist-related activitya view shared by the Security Service. No one is pretending that control orders are 100 per cent. effective. They are weaker and less effective than we would want, not least because of recent court judgments. As a result, there is inevitably a real risk that individuals on control orders will re-engage in terrorism or abscond. No one, I think, from whatever side of the argument they come, would agree that control orders are entirely satisfactory.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Minister may know that I sympathise with the Governments dilemma to a very considerable extent, particularly on the question of court judgments and the application to those judgments of the Human Rights Act 1998, which he has not yet mentioned, and the difficulties to which it gives rise. In the light of what the Lord Chancellor said on 19 February, which did not rule out a change in the Human Rights Act, I ask the Minister whether that is still being contemplated. Will the Government be good enough to get on with ensuring that the application of that Act is removed from control orders, as my Bill originally proposed?
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