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Allied Steel and Wire Pension Scheme

Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2006

1. What discussions he has had with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions on the occupational pensions of former Allied Steel and Wire workers in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (81346)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had a number of discussions with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. The Government announced in May a large expansion of the financial assistance scheme, which will directly assist the Allied Steel and Wire staff.

In the Allied Steel and Wire case in the European Court of Justice, the Government have applied for temporal limitation so that only those involved directly in the case can benefit from a positive judgment. Can that be seen as an admission of guilt by the Government, and what is the Minister planning to say to his constituents who used to work for Motherwell Bridge and who have lost their pensions as a result?

As the hon. Lady says, the matter is before the European Court of Justice and the Government are reluctant to comment in any detail on the temporal limitation. However, it is interesting to note that no one raised any legal objections in the oral hearing in the court when the Government applied for the temporal limitation. I assure her, as a Cardiff Member, that, whatever the outcome of the ECJ decision staff at Allied Steel and Wire will not be affected, by the temporal limitation.

The Minister will know that we have suggested a comprehensive audit of unclaimed assets in the financial sector as a possible way of squaring the claim of ASW workers with the protection of the taxpayer. Will he undertake to press the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for such an audit?

For 18 years, the Conservative Government did absolutely nothing to address this issue. The financial assistance scheme has been expanded from £400 million in 2004 to £2.3 billion starting from this October. It will provide substantial assistance to Allied Steel and Wire staff and it has been widely welcomed, including by their trade union, Community. We accept that there are issues that have to be resolved in the European Court of Justice, but we are confident that the scheme that is now in place will go a long way towards providing protection for staff who have lost their pensions. On top of that, we have the Pension Protection Fund, which will provide long-term security for people who have invested their savings in occupational pensions.