HC Deb 09 February 2004 vol 417 cc1113-4
11. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

If he will make a statement on his proposed pension protection fund. [153180]

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

The pension protection fund will play a key role in the Government's plan of action significantly to improve protection for pension scheme members and to create greater confidence in pensions in general. For the first time ever, members of defined-benefit pension schemes based in the UK can rest assured that they will always receive a pension, even if their company goes bankrupt leaving the pension scheme underfunded.

Gregory Barker

I thank the Minister for that answer, but will he tell the House how many people have had their pension affected by company insolvency since 1997, and when these plans are actually going to be put in place? Will he also undertake to look into the case of Ballast Wiltshier—a company owned by the Dutch company Ballast Nedem—which was acquired and subsequently liquidated? As a result, a constituent of mine can now expect only a fraction of the pension that he was formerly entitled to, although the parent company is still operating profitably in the Netherlands.

Malcolm Wicks

I shall be happy to consider the details of that case and to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for raising that important matter. The Bill will be published, as we know—[HON. MEMBERS: "Soon?"] Very soon. Depending on the will of Parliament, we are working towards implementation of the fund and other key aspects of the provisions in the spring of next year.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab)

The new pension protection fund proposed in the "soon to come along very imminently" Bill will obviously not be retrospective. May I add my voice to those who have already asked the Government seriously to consider giving some kind of compensation to pensioners who have lost their pension entitlement as a result of the collapse of their occupational pension scheme? I have a number of such constituents who were involved in the Richards scheme, which is one of the schemes having difficulties at the moment.

Malcolm Wicks

I hear my hon. Friend's statement, but cannot add anything to what the Secretary of State and I have said. However, the Secretary of State, other colleagues and I have met some of the workers who are affected, and we have a clear understanding of the reality facing them.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD)

When the pension protection fund is introduced, hopefully in 2005, it will be welcome, but it would have been more welcome if it had been introduced as long ago as 2000, when Ros Altmann, a former Government adviser, warned of the coming crisis and urged the adoption of such a scheme. However, as we have heard, the fund offers nothing to people who lost their pension between 1997 and 2000, such as constituents of mine who worked for Chesterfield Cylinders, Dema Glass and Coalite Products Ltd. Can the Minister not offer any hope of compensation to such people, especially those who worked in the steel industry and were compelled by the Government to make payments into their pension?

Malcolm Wicks

The Secretary of State and I have already answered those questions, and I did so again just now. We are listening to sensible suggestions, and have met concerned MPs, their constituents and affected workers. We cannot say anything at this stage because we do not want to offer false hope, but we are listening very carefully.