§ 4. Mr. Tim Smith
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations have now been received by his inquiry into personal portable pensions.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)
By 21 March we had received nearly 1,700 written submissions specifically about portable pensions and a number of more general ones which also dealt with this subject. In addition, I have held four public sessions and heard evidence from 14 organisations.
§ Mr. Smith
Is my right hon. Friend aware that although most of the principal representations on this subject have been made by vested interests, one exception is the National Consumer Council, which has called for more choice in pension provision? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, when the inquiry is concluded, there will be more choice for pension scheme members?
§ Mr. Fowler
Yes, Sir. In principle, I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says. We want to improve conditions so that if someone moves from one employer to another there is an early-leaver provision, which would be fairer. Too many people are adversely affected by the present situation.
§ Mr. Hordern
Is it not time that we ended the inequity whereby the full occupational pensions of the few are financed by the contributions of many who have long since left their jobs? Is it not reasonable that every employee should have the option of a portable pension if he wishes?
§ Mr. Fowler
That is precisely the point that the inquiry is considering. We have received much evidence about it, and it will be discussed in our final report.
§ Mrs. Beckett
Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many of the representations that he has received stress the concern felt by many who are anxious to see the results of the inquiry? Unless there is proper protection for pensioners, there is a danger that the insurance companies rather than individuals will benefit most from the scheme. Is there not a real risk that that will happen unless clear and well-drafted provision is made?
§ Mr. Fowler
Clearly, there is a conflict in the evidence. We do not want to do anything which will affect the growth of occupational pension schemes, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) has pointed put, we must look at the position of the many people who are either not covered by occupational schemes or whose rights could be improved. We must find a reasonable compromise between the interests of the schemes and of individuals.