HC Deb 05 July 2004 vol 423 cc546-7
18. Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)

If he will permit unclaimed assets to be used to offer further assistance to those occupational pension scheme members who will riot be covered by the pension protection fund. [181905]

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

The Government laid a report on 30 June on their research into the numbers affected where pension schemes wind up underfunded with insolvent employers. That suggests that some 65,000 people face significant losses of more than 20 per cent. of their expected pensions, of whom around 35,000 face losses of over 50 per cent. That confirms that our commitment of £400 million of public money over 20 years provides a sound basis for a worthwhile assistance scheme. We hope that industry will add to that.

As for unclaimed assets, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear in the March Budget that we want as much as possible to reunite unclaimed assets with their rightful owners. That is our No. 1 priority. Where the assets cannot be so reunited, they should be reinvested to benefit the whole of society. There are no plans to use such assets to provide assistance for those people who have lost pensions.

Mr. Sayeed

That is a very disappointing answer. The Minister knows that £20 million a year is just a small proportion of the less that has been suffered by those pensioners. First, does he accept that that is the case? Secondly, as the Chancellor has already taken his cut of the unclaimed assets, would it not be much better to assist pensioners who face real hardship by allocating that money when it is clearly proved to be unclaimed?

Malcolm Wicks

I do not accept that the money that the Exchequer has made available—£400 million—is a small proportion. It will enable the restoration of a significant proportion of people's pension rights, and that is important. The assistance scheme is a major move in the right direction. What was disappointing was the Conservative Opposition asking the House to decline to give the Pensions Bill a Second Reading.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab)

Will my hon. Friend look seriously at the claim by Anglo United, which used to be Coalite Products Ltd., because a number of people are affected as a result of changes that took place in the company some time ago? Will he tell me in writing whether they are included in the scheme that he announced a few weeks ago? It would be helpful to know that they are, and I am expecting good results.

Malcolm Wicks

Of course, we are looking at the details of all schemes to see whether their members are eligible for the assistance package. We now have research evidence on the numbers affected and are in consultation with trade unions and others to get the details right with a view to laying regulations later this calendar year and putting a scheme in place by spring next year so that benefits can be paid soon after. I will, however, write to my hon. Friend about the case that he raised.