HC Deb 27 April 1976 vol 910 cc179-81
10. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent discussions he has had with representatives of the occupational pensions interests.

Mr. Ennals

None yet, Sir. But departmental contact has been and remains very close. My predecessor met the pensions organisations as recently as 31st March, and my officials sent them draft regulations for comment on 15th April.

Mr. McCrindle

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it likely that in the new phase of incomes policy, which I understand is being discussed today, it will be possible to negotiate improved pension schemes in addition to the 3 per cent., 4 per cent., or whatever is decided on pure incomes? Does he realise that this step would help to improve the development of good occupational pensions schemes as almost nothing else would?

Mr. Ennals

That is a matter for my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Employment. Occupational pension scheme improvements were included in the present pay policy, just as all fringe benefits were. There was a measure of rough justice in the pay policy, but it was equitable and I think that it has worked. The points made by the pension funds and the hon. Gentleman will be borne in mind, but I repeat that it is basically a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Mr. Loyden

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the uncertainty in occupational pensions over the past decade or more has had a tremendous effect on workers, who have seen changes taking place, and that we require an approach by his Department enabling occupational pensions to start the process of laying down what will be their own future?

Mr. Ennals

This is a very important question which my right hon. Friend and I are studying. We are considering an important report from the Occupational Pensions Board on which I hope to make a statement to the House in the near future.

I think that the passing of the legislation for the new pensions scheme will produce a much greater measure of clarity for occupational pensions schemes in their relationship with the State scheme. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) for her achievement in this respect.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

Remembering past discussions on transferability of pension rights, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it will be his policy to guarantee transferability of existing rights in occupational schemes, or only rights which accumulate in the future?

Mr. Ennals

Having had exchanges with him in years gone by, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will want to trap me into making a commitment on an issue that I have not yet considered. I shall give thought to the hon. Gentleman's representations, as I always do and always did.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Has the right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to study the recent speech by Mr. Len Murray about the investment policy of pension funds, a speech in which he drew a distinction between the desire by unions to have more involvement in investment policy and his rejection of the idea of any Government control of funds' investment policy? Will the Government continue to draw a clear distinction between the interests of members of pension schemes wanting a say in the investment policy of their funds and the idea of the Government in any way interfering with the commercial and other judgments of fund managers?

Mr. Ennals

We shall always give first priority to the interests of the members. As I think I hinted in reply to an earlier supplementary question, it is our view that the members of pension schemes should have much more influence on the investment and other policies of their pension funds.

Mr. Skinner

Surely my right hon. Friend is not using the argument of economic necessity, especially bearing in mind that on Thursday night the House will undoubtedly pass an occupational pension scheme which will give Members of Parliament the ability to receive one third of £8,000 a year, provided they have been here for 20 years. If that applies to Members it should apply to many of those who receive only £3 or £4 per week in occupational pensions.

Mr. Ennals

Having taken on my new job, I have not been able to look at what will happen on Thursday. I shall now do so and I shall take my hon. Friend's point into consideration.