HC Deb 09 June 1981 vol 6 cc352-4
Mr. Peter Morrison

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 9, line 41, at end insert— '3. After subsection (5) of section 9 of that Act there shall be inserted— (5A) Where an order has been made under subsection (1)(b) of this section for the winding up of a board, the Minister may out of moneys provided by Parliament—

  1. (a) pay such pension, superannuation allowance or gratuity to or in respect of the former chairman of the board as he may with the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service determine; and
  2. (b) pay such sums as he may so determine to the trustees of the Industrial Training Boards' Combined Pension Fund for the purpose of meeting the whole or part of any shortfall in the assets of the Fund referable to the pensions, superannuation allowances and gratuities payable in respect of the former officers and servants of the board.".'.
The powers given in the amendment are essential to protect the present pension rights of ITB staff who might be made redundant as a result of the winding up of boards. Our general desire to do this must be backed by a specific undertaking and power to make up deficits in the pension fund that may build up after the boards are wound up and that are attributable to their pension rights. I hope that the House will recognise that this is a necessary and proper commitment to the rights of people whose jobs could disappear as a result of decisions following the passage of the Bill. I hope that the amendment will command the support of both sides of the House.

Mr. Hooky

My only query relates to subsection (b), which states: for the purpose of meeting the whole or part of any shortfall". As the Government will be responsible for causing the shortfall by winding up the boards, why are they not entering into an obligation to meet the whole of any shortfall in the assets of the fund so that they can meet their obligations? In what circumstances would the Government refuse to meet the whole of the shortfall? Why should they refuse to meet the whole of the shortfall when they have created the situation in which the pension fund cannot meet its obligations?

If it is suggested that "someone else" shall meet the other part, who is that someone else and under what conditions will that someone else be called upon to meet the shortfall? What is the full purpose of these words?

Mr. Peter Morrison

The fund will be divided into two parts. Part of it will be for those boards that remain on a statutory basis and the other part will be for those statutory training boards that are no longer in existence. We discussed the amendment about six hours ago when talking about the money resolution and related matters. Employees of training boards who, as a result of those boards not being in existence five, 10 or 15 years—or even one—from now, but who will benefit in five, 10 or 15 years' time, will be secure as a result of the Government being able to top up the pension fund accordingly.

Mr. Robert Taylor

I seek slightly more information from my hon. Friend. Will Parliament be able to see the accounts of the industrial training boards' combined pension fund? We are passing what might be a heavy commitment to the taxpayer of the future. These are index-linked pensions in the public sector. They are heavy burdens for the taxpayer to undertake. Have the Government had to top up the fund before today? What is the potential liability? Will my hon. Friend amplify the situation? Will he give an assurance that the audited accounts will be available to the House?

Mr. Morrison

The topping up of the fund has, in effect, been done through operating costs in the past. I cannot envisage a situation in which this Government, in particular, will open their hands wide for money to be grabbed from them. My hon. Friend need have no concern about the matter. The Government cannot commit themselves, and are not commiting themselves to underwriting index linking for ever. If as a result of the present review across the whole Government spectrum index linking is changed for other public servants, it will be changed for ITB employees.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Harold Walker

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 10, line 7, leave out paragraph 4.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 16, in page 10, leave out lines 11 and 12.

Mr. Walker

Paragraph 4 of schedule 1 was inserted by the Under-Secretary of State in the dying minutes of the Standing Committee. I was not present. I read in the Official Report what happened. My first reaction was that the Minister's officials must have been horrified when he accepted an amendment, which now forms paragraph 4 of schedule 1, moved by the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd). I can only assume that the Minister acted out of gratitude for the acquiescence shown at that stage of the proceedings and felt that he owed something in response. His action can be described as "Hacker strikes back", but it has done enormous damage to the statutory structure of the industry.

The assumption behind the amendment in Standing Committee seemed to be that the training levy paid to the training boards was met by employers dipping their hands into their own pockets. The overwhelming proportion of levy is paid by companies. These are corporate bodies that bring together the mutual interests of management, shareholders and workers within the enterprise. The interest of the worker in the enterprise is probably more important. He cannot take out his life and put it somewhere else, as a shareholder can take out his money and put it somewhere else. It is time to stop talking about the employer paying the levy as if it came out of his bank account. The money belongs to the company. The employees have as much responsibility for that money as anyone else. The workpeople and the shareholders have an equal say in these matters.

The insertion of paragraph 4 gives an exclusive right to decide about levy to a majority of employers on the board. This applies equally to the non-returnable levy, the pan of the levy that can be raised to meet the operating costs—the staff salaries and pension arrangements—of the board.

If employers combined together they could, either deliberately or accidentally, cripple or kill off a board. This would give employers a power that exceeds by far that of the Secretary of State or of Parliament to cripple or kill off boards. I do not rule out the possibility of employers organising themselves so that they have representatives on an industrial training board who, when the need arises for renewal of the annual levy, arrange that there shall be a motion, for example, of nil levy—

It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.