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Financial Assistance Scheme

Volume 462: debated on Monday 2 July 2007

9. When he next expects to meet representatives of private pension schemes to discuss the financial assistance scheme. (146352)

I have no appointments as yet to meet private sector pension providers, but I hope to do so in due course. In the meantime, my officials are in contact with the various private sector providers.

I too welcome the hon. and learned Member to his new ministerial post. Is he aware that I represent a large number of constituents who are members of the Albert Fisher pension scheme and that, even after the Government’s changes, they are not going to receive their full pension entitlement? In other words, they will still be short-changed in their retirement. They blame the former Chancellor for the devastation caused to private pensions. Are they right to do so?

They are certainly not right to do so. The previous Government set in place a whole series of changes to pension laws, which caused all sorts of problems for the pensions industry. Before laying blame on the Government, the hon. Gentleman should take the mote out of his own eye.

Should my hon. and learned Friend meet representatives of private pension schemes, will he tell them that if they had not spent so much time on contributions holidays, there would not be the same need for a financial assistance scheme? Will he remind them that it is thanks to the efforts of the present Government that thousands and thousands of pensioners will now be able to claim compensation rather than die in poverty?

My hon. Friend is right. Contribution holidays, which were encouraged by some of the policies put in place by a previous Chancellor—now Lord Lamont—were part of the problem. This Government had to tackle the pensions mis-selling crisis that was also created by the previous Government. We created the Pension Protection Fund to deal with the problems of occupational pensions, we have put in place a new pensions regulator and we are helping 125,000 people through the financial assistance scheme. We will continue to put in place policies through the Pensions Bill to ensure that we remedy the various problems that were indeed caused by the previous Government.

I have two sets of constituents who have lost their pensions: people who worked for MG Rover and those who worked for United Engineering Forgings. Those who lost their pension from MG Rover receive the protection of the Pension Protection Fund, while those in UEF secure only the financial assistance scheme, which offers considerably less compensation. Will the Minister now put my constituents out of their misery by finally accepting the lifeboat proposal championed by Conservative Members that would provide equality of compensation to my two equal sets of constituents?

Perhaps the hon. Lady should listen to her own shadow Chancellor who said at a meeting of The Independent newspaper that at the Conservative conference,

“lots of Conservatives… come up to me and say we’ve really got to put more money into pensions”

He continued by saying that

“part of the test of whether we are ready for government is whether we can resist those additional draws on public expenditure”.

This Government have put forward a set of proposals in pensions legislation that will deal with many of the issues relating to people who have lost pensions. Also, the proposals in the financial assistance scheme create the right balance between the taxpayer helping some of those who are affected and ensuring that pensions get a reasonable deal. The basic minimum that we are guaranteeing is 80 per cent. If they are covered by the Pension Protection Fund, they will be able to receive 90 per cent., but we should remember that people covered by that scheme have to make a contribution—it is more like an insurance policy—while no contribution was made by people under the FAS.

I should like to welcome my hon. and learned Friend to his position. Can he tell me—or, if not, will he write to me—whether primary legislation will be necessary in order for people to access private pension schemes in the City?

As my hon. Friend knows, Andrew Young is undertaking a review. We hope to get an interim report by the end of July and then a final report towards the end of this year. We then hope to be able to identify what we can access in respect of available funds. One of the concerns about the lifeboat proposal is that it is really an unfunded commitment. The Conservatives are quite happy to make such commitments, but we are the Government and we have to deal with these issues responsibly. Whatever we propose has to be properly funded.