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Clause 14—(Transfer To The Authority Of Liabilities Under Company's Pension Schemes, And Appointment Of Public Trustee As Trustee Of Certain Of Those Schemes)

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 9 May 1961

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

4.30 p.m.

This is the Clause which transfers to the Authority the liabilities under certain pension schemes and on that I want an assurance from the Minister. Would the Parliamentary Secretary be good enough to tell us, were there discussions with the trade union side about this? Has there been full agreement? Are there any doubts? Can we have an assurance that any schemes in being now will be maintained? The hon. Gentleman will see the reason for my concern. This Authority to be set up is an all-powerful body without any Parliamentary control. It is right that we should make quite sure that those who are to be affected by the activities of the Authority, particularly those who are beneficiaries under any pension scheme, will be protected. It is about that I want to know. If we can get assurances on these things we shall be happy to pass the Clause.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

I can give the assurance for which the hon. Gentleman has asked. There has been consultation. There is agreement. He will not. I am sure, want me to give the details of existing schemes, but I am told that the transfer is expected to be smoothly carried out.

There will be an annual report submitted to Parliament, and I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind that that will give ample opportunity for raising all subjects such as this from time to time, which they may at present be a little worried about, on the ground that this may be the first and the last opportunity for discussing them. It certainly will not be. There will be an annual report which, I am sure, will cover not only this but other questions which hon. Members may have in mind.

That is all very well, to say there have been discussions, but we have a duty to satisfy ourselves a little more about this. After all, we are going through this important Bill very rapidly. None of these matters was investigated by the Select Committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has said, this Clause affects the rights of a great many people. So do some of the Clauses that we have just passed.

Would the Minister be good enough to tell us, am I right in thinking that the effect of the Clause is to transfer to the new Authority when set up certain existing obligations of the existing company to pay pensions to certain people? I have not analysed in detail the Second Schedule which goes with the Clause, but would I be right in thinking that the Clause also relieves the existing Company of its obligations? If that is so, certain people in the market have certain rights against the existing company, and I suppose that those rights were enforceable in the same way as they would be against any commercial company.

My experience is that it is less difficult to enforce rights against a commercial company by due process of law than it is to enforce rights against statutory undertakers, authorities set up by Parliament. Why that should be so I am not quite sure, but experience proves that that is the case. Therefore, although the trade unions have been consulted, as my hon. Friend has suggested they should have been, we should like to know that, in so far as pension schemes have been entered into in conjunction with insurance companies—I see, for example, mentioned in the Schedule certain insurance polices of the Eagle Star Insurance Company Ltd.—the insurance companies have also been consulted and that there is no risk of anyone having any existing claim against the new Authority being defeated by reason of the fact that by this Clause we are relieving the company of its obligations.

I will try to give the hon. Member the assurance which he quite understandably seeks. The position is that the Authority steps into the shoes of the company and accepts all its obligations. I cannot comment on what the hon. Member says about having a dispute with a company as against a public authority, but, of course, a company can be wound up, and so I should not have thought that the individual would be any worse off with his contract with the Authority and—

Therefore, the Authority's obligations to the individual will continue. I do not suggest that the company would have been wound up. I do not think that the position is in any way weakened by the changeover.

The pension rights of the market staff are embodied in three pension schemes or arrangements under which certain policies have been taken out with an insurance company to secure benefits. The Bill—I am putting it simply; the Bill says it in rather more words—provides for the Authority to step into the shoes of the market company and to take over all the pension obligations and liabilities. This is the machinery to effect that, and I can assure the Committee that the rights of the employees of the company and their pension expectations are very properly assured under the arrangements provided for by this Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.