HL Deb 26 March 1990 vol 517 cc567-9

2.43 p.m.

Lord Aylestone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the proposed Independent Television Commission is intended to continue to pay retirement pensions in line with public sector pensions as is done at present by the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, under the Government's proposals, employees of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and Cable Authority who are transferred to the Independent Television Commission will have their pension rights protected, as will existing pensioners of the authorities.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I should like to make it clear that I am not concerned financially with this matter but my former colleagues are. Is the noble Earl quite satisfied that under the proposals of the ITC, which will become the principal employer, present IBA employees will be no worse off financially than they are now; that is to say, that their pensions will be indexed as they are in the private sector?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, under the IBA's pension scheme, pension increases in line with increases in the retail prices index are guaranteed up to a maximum of 5 per cent. Those guarantees will be transferred. The IBA also has a discretion to make increases in line with increases in the RPI above 5 per cent. That discretion will be preserved in the new arrangements.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, can the Minister placate some of the worries about this question and tell us whether, as the ITC will be a much smaller body than the IBA, it will be able to afford to pay retirement pensions to existing IBA pensioners at the current rate? Would he care to comment on the fact that the pension rights of those employed up to now by the Cable Authority are specifically mentioned in Schedule 8 to the Bill while employees of the IBA and other people, referred to only in Schedule 1, are covered not specifically but simply by the phrase, as the Secretary of State may determine"? Can the Minister confirm that the Government would be prepared to write more information into the Bill rather than leave the wording vague as it is at the moment?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, in any transfer of personnel it has been made perfectly clear that existing arrangements enjoyed at the IBA will be transferred under the new arrangements. Therefore there should not be any cause for worry. The noble Baroness asked why the Cable Authority is mentioned in particular. The reason is that the ITC will take over the Cable Authority and this does not involve any division of assets. My right honourable friend has agreed to consider including in the Bill a provision to give transferred employees continuity of employment in order to give them greater reassurance. That is in the Bill. But the provisions dealing with pensions must be left to a scheme which will be devised since it involves the division of an existing pension fund. It would not be wise to tackle such a complex matter within the timetable of the Bill.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am sorry to press the matter but as it is left in the Bill some present and future pensioners could be worse off than they are at the moment. Does the provision take into account that a number of people— I believe something like 40 per cent. of engineers— will be going to a privatised transmission company?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I think not. If they go over to a privatised transmission company they take their pension rights with them. Therefore there should not be any concern about their being worse off. But the Broadcasting Bill gives the Secretary of State power to approve a scheme for the division of assets, which is what the pension fund is concerned with, including a provision to protect the employees' existing rights. The Secretary of State will approve such a scheme. It is quite complicated and the discussions about the scheme are taking place at the moment.