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Volume 464: debated on Monday 8 October 2007

Most individual complaints would be dealt with by pensions centres or the Pension Service chief executive. In respect of occupational pension schemes, complaints would be dealt with by internal procedures or the pensions ombudsman. It follows that few complaints would go to the Secretary of State; the Department does not therefore take account of the figure.

I am disappointed to hear that reply. When the Prime Minister was Chancellor, he was responsible for complicating occupational pension schemes to such an extent that many of them were shut down by the trustees.

On another point, will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain why the unclaimed assets fund is being used only for youth projects? None of that money is going towards helping those pensioners who suffered so much through the failure of the schemes.

Last week, the Conservative party claimed that unclaimed assets could be used—in pension and other funds, as far as I am aware—to make payments and refloat the lifeboat that was sunk in July by the report issued by the Government Actuary, Andrew Young. That report clearly stated that

“we do not believe that…‘unclaimed assets’ are credible alternative funding sources.”

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is a real problem in recruiting trustees for the administration of private pensions? That is partly due to the requirements put on pension funds by the regulator. For example, there is now a requirement for trustees to become professionally qualified. That has been difficult. In the case of our own scheme, which I have the honour to chair, all our trustees took the Pensions Management Institute examinations. However, it is proving increasingly difficult for other schemes to recruit people to become trustees given both the potential liabilities that they face and the requirement for additional learning. Before, it was considered sufficient for them to take appropriate professional advice.

As it happens, I met the regulator this morning and discussed this very point with the chairman and the chief executive. There is concern about the level of qualifications that it appears that some trustees are obliged to achieve. As part of the deregulatory review, I want to look at the issue. I am not sure that the statute is the problem—it is more the guidance that seems to be given. As a result of the review, I hope that we will be able to make it much clearer that the level of competence required of trustees consists of a reasonable knowledge, plus common sense, and that we will not deter large numbers of people from becoming trustees at a time when we need them. The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made.

How many complaints does the Minister know about concerning the very large sums of money taken out of funds each year under the tax policy of the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the ineffectiveness of the regulator to resist those demands?

Of course, the regulator’s aim is to ensure that we have a stable and effective pensions scheme. By and large in recent years, since the office of the regulator has been established, it has gained credibility and increased confidence in the pensions industry. As a result of the creation of the regulator, we have a pensions industry that is much stronger than it was.