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I represent a significant number of former employees of the Albert Fisher group, who have lost the bulk of
their pensions. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, I have had numerous meetings with that group, as a result of which I have also met many other people involved in different pension action groups. One thing that struck me is that those people trusted the advice that they were given and invested their moneytheir own wagesin what they believed were safe products, only to have the rug pulled from under them.
I would like to pick up on one point that the Chancellor made yesterday. When he was justifying the changes to dividend tax credits in the 1998 Budget, he said that they were more than compensated for by cuts in corporation tax. However, dozens of companies did not benefit from those cuts because they were either breaking even or making a loss. In the case of the Albert Fisher group, part of the food processing sector, particularly the frozen food sector, was struggling and under very substantial pressure. That company was not making a profit, so the concessions on corporation tax were of absolutely no benefit whateverand the same applies to dozens of other companies as well. What the Chancellor said yesterday was irrelevant to those companies, which got no benefit from corporation tax changes, so the hit to them in respect of pension funds was direct and immediate. There was immediate pain and the result was that many of the pension schemes went bust with people suffering as a consequence.
I intervened earlier on the Minister, who was very critical of the Opposition amendments, but those amendments had been carefully thought through. They were not worked out on the back of a cigarette packet over the weekend. A number of experts gave us advice. As to Ros Altmann, she has a huge amount of experience and commands phenomenal respect. To be fair, until quite recently, Ros Altmann was saying that what we were doing with our draft amendments was not good enough. She said that the amendments did not go far enough, were not properly drafted and were technically incorrect, so Opposition Front Benchers put a great deal of effort and work into drawing up a package of measuresthe amendments and new clausesthat would go as far as possible and, above all, give these people some immediate respite.
On the point about a review, we have had endless reviews. Time and again, the Government have introduced changes and initiatives, and every time, they creep a little bit further towards the full measures that those people want and deserve. What we want nowwhat is on offer with these amendments and new clausesis immediate relief. What those people want is immediate relief. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead said a moment ago, a lot of those people are suffering as we speak. Many of them are ill.
Lots of very proud people were looking forward to a long and happy retirement, but they have had that retirement totally undermined and destroyed. Those people deserve immediate action. They want immediate action. We have a huge opportunity this afternoon to give them that action, and there is a very strong moral case for doing so. I appeal to Labour Members to support these amendments, because a lot of people are watching them very carefully. If they support us, those people will have the relief that they deserve.
Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) for curtailing his comments, and I shall try to curtail mine.
On 22 January 2002, I was fortunate enough to secure a debate in Westminster Hall that allowed me to raise the plight of more than 1,000 former workers of United Engineering Forgings in the United Kingdom who had lost most of their expected pensions when the company went into administration. Since then, as we have heard, along with my colleagues on the Labour Benches, I have tabled early-day motions, tabled amendments, met Ministers and generally campaigned with the trade unions for a solution to what I still see as a major injustice.
The Government recognised that injustice and the fact that hard-working people had been affected, but they did not recognise that compensation was required. However, as other hon. Members have said in the debate today, we achieved incremental success in securing help for those who lost out and, crucially, legislation has been passed to ensure that never again will people be deprived of the pensions that they have paid into all their working lives.
The Government have said at every stage of the debate so far that they have gone as far as they can go, and subsequently, they have gone further. So I am very interested to hear what the Minister said about the fact that they are prepared to go further again. There is no question but that a substantial amount of public money has been allocated to the financial assistance schemesomething that has not been adequately recognised in the debate or in general over the past five years.
The Conservative party said before the last election that it would not commit any further public money than had been committed already to the financial assistance scheme. I wonder whether I can take it from that that the Conservatives would not have come up with the £8 billion that is now in the pension pot?
Mike Penning: I stood on a manifesto, defending the Dexion workers, in which we said that we would compensate them from the unclaimed assets. That was in our manifesto, and that is what we stood on.
Sandra Osborne: I can remember Tory Front Benchers telling me on the Floor of the House that they would not commit any further public money, and that was the position that they took.
Those who lost their pensions, whether before or after 5 April 2005, are all innocent victims, and they all deserve to be treated equally. I have always thought it quite ironic that those who campaigned for justice in this matter will receive less as things stand at the moment than the beneficiaries of their campaign in the form of the Pension Protection Fund. Therefore, I believe that there should be equity. According to the trade unions, they have evidence that the £8 billion may in any case be enough to settle that issue. I do not know whether that is the case, but, obviously, it would be welcome. The Government have set up a review and said that they are open to suggestions. In my Westminster Hall debate more than five years ago, I
made both these suggestions: pooling the assets of pension funds and holding the private sector to account.
I will conclude by referring to the private sector. Prudentials venture capital company was the majority shareholder in UEF. I have met the chief executive on several occasions to call for the companys help, but that has not been forthcoming. I wish the Government all the luck in the world in trying to get the private sector to contribute towards the financial assistance scheme.
James Purnell: This has been a good debate. Everyone in the House has sympathy for the people who have been affected. The Government are saying that we will put in taxpayers money so that people are paid out with at least 80 per cent. We are setting up a review to examine what more can be done and to consider the Oppositions suggestions and all the points made by hon. Members in the debate.
It would be wrong to give people false hope, but I am afraid that the Tory amendments would create exactly that risk. They have unravelled even during the debate. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) said that there would be an increase in public spending, but that directly contradicted the comments of the shadow Chancellor this morning on Sky News, when he said that there would not be an additional burden on public spending. It would be better for the House to wait for the review than to accept the amendments.
Dr. Tony Wright: On the basis of what I think that the Minister has told me, even though there is still some uncertainty, I will not press new clause 25 to a Division. Will he assure me, the Opposition and other hon. Members that the words that will be presented to the House of Lords will reflect what he said today?
James Purnell: I assure my hon. Friend that the wording will do exactly that.
We have a basis on which we can move forward on both that point and on the issue of 80 per cent. for the people affected. The review will examine moving beyond that, and that is the exact basis on which we should move forward.
It being two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questio n already proposed from the chair, pursuant to Order [this day].
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
(1) There shall be established as soon as reasonably practicable a Pension Protection Lifeboat Fund (the Lifeboat Fund) which shall be administered by the Board of the Pension Protection Fund (the Board).
(2) The purpose of the Lifeboat Fund shall be to make supplementary payments to persons who are qualifying members
of qualifying schemes as defined by the Financial Assistance Scheme Regulations 2005 (S.I. 2006/1986) (or who would be qualifying members if the qualifying age for the Financial Assistance Scheme were set at the level of the qualifying scheme retirement age), in addition to the sums payable in any event under those regulations.
(3) The supplementary payments made to any person in accordance with subsection (2) shall equal the amount that, taken together with any amounts payable to that person under the Financial Assistance Scheme and amounts payable to that person as scheme benefits under the qualifying pension scheme in respect of which he is a qualifying member of the Financial Assistance Scheme (or would be a qualifying member if the qualifying age for the Financial Assistance Scheme were set at the level of the qualifying scheme retirement age), is the amount that would be payable to that person if that qualifying pension scheme was accepted into the Pension Protection Fund.
(4) The Secretary of State shall make such loans to the Lifeboat Fund as are necessary to allow the discharge of its functions and in particular its obligation to make supplementary payments under subsection (2).
(5) The Secretary of State shall make such loans from time to time having regard to
(a) requests for such loans received from the Board;
(b) the amount of assets transferred or to be transferred to the Lifeboat Fund under the Scheme (as defined in section [Transfer of unclaimed assets] (the Scheme));
(c) the level of any claims on the Lifeboat Fund in respect of assets transferred to it under the Scheme.
(6) Loans made in accordance with this section must be repaid to the Secretary of State as soon as, in the reasonable opinion of the Board, it is prudent to do so having regard to
(a) the obligations of the Lifeboat Fund;
(b) the amount of assets transferred or to be transferred to the Lifeboat Fund under the Scheme; and
(c) the level of claims on the Lifeboat Fund in respect of assets transferred to it under the Scheme.
(7) Loans made under this section shall be interest free.
(8) The assets of the Lifeboat Fund shall be held separately from the assets of any other fund under the control of the Board.
(9) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision in connection with the Lifeboat Fund.
(10) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.. [Mr. Hammond.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.
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