Skip to main content

UK Pension-holders

Volume 552: debated on Monday 5 November 2012

1. What steps he is taking to ensure that foreign conglomerates carry out their responsibilities to UK pension-holders. (126298)

As this is the first session of DWP questions since the announcement of the untimely death of Malcolm Wicks, I hope that you will allow me, Mr. Speaker, to place on record, on behalf of the whole ministerial team, our appreciation of Malcolm and all that he contributed to our debates on pensions and welfare.

The Pensions Regulator has “anti-avoidance” powers to take action against employers when they have acted to avoid supporting the scheme. That includes taking action in foreign jurisdictions when necessary. For example, four financial support directions were issued last year against companies in north America in the Nortel case.

I thank the Minister for his response, and for meeting my constituent Alan Hunton and me to discuss the matter. He is aware of my concern about foreign companies that have purchased and asset-stripped businesses in the United Kingdom. In some cases, those firms have discarded their pension responsibilities in such a way as to endanger the pensions to which their employees are entitled. Will the Minister explain how he is working with the Pensions Regulator, and with his colleagues in the Government, to curtail such predatory behaviour?

This is indeed an important issue. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Pensions Regulator has engaged during the last 12 months, and continues to engage, with more than 1,100 schemes that are linked to overseas employers. Between April 2010 and August 2012, it has exercised its powers on at least 10 occasions in relation to such schemes.

The Minister is aware of a case in my constituency in which the BMI pension fund was placed in a pension protection fund by Lufthansa. In this case, Lufthansa voluntarily paid over £84 million in compensation to the fundholders. However, under current HMRC rules the money is being treated as income, and the lifetime and annual allowance rules are being applied to the compensation. Does my hon. Friend agree that the position is unfair and should be reviewed by HMRC?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that case. I have corresponded with Treasury colleagues about the issue, and, subject to their consent, I shall be happy to share with him the reply that I have just received.