HC Deb 23 January 2003 vol 398 cc497-8W
Mr. Watts

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on how his Department can protect employees' pension schemes if their employer goes into administration or bankruptcy. [92732]

Mr. McCartney

If a salary-related occupational pension scheme starts to wind up as a result of its sponsoring employer going into administration or-bankruptcy, the members of the scheme are protected by measures contained in legislation.

The Statutory Priority Order sets out how the assets of the scheme are to be applied towards meeting the scheme's liabilities for pensions and other benefits. It aims to ensure that scheme assets are divided among scheme members as fairly as possible.

The employer debt provisions place a debt on an insolvent company's estate to cover any deficiency in the pension fund. The calculation of the debt is based on an estimate of the costs of winding up the scheme, the notional costs of buying annuities for pensioners and cash equivalent transfer values for people who have not retired.

The independent trustee provisions require insolvency practitioners to make sure that schemes that are winding up have one trustee who is independent. Trustees are required to report their progress regularly to Opra, which aims to ensure that schemes are wound up as quickly as possible.

Additionally, a compensation scheme was established to provide compensation for losses caused by dishonesty where the employer is insolvent. The compensation scheme acts as a safety net for members if their scheme suffers from a reduction in assets through dishonesty and their employer is not around to make good the shortfall.

Nonetheless, we are still concerned about instances when the sponsoring employer becomes insolvent and the pension scheme winds up under-funded. We are aware of the impact this has, and are determined to protect the long-term security of pensioners and other scheme members in occupational pension schemes.

This is why the pensions Green Paper, "Simplicity, Security and Choice" (Cm 5677), published on 17 December 2002, includes proposals to further protect members' pensions, including proposals to share out scheme assets more fairly, introduce some form of insurance and strengthen protection for members whose solvent employer chooses to wind up its scheme.

We are seeking views on our proposals and additional suggestions, and are therefore holding a wide ranging consultation on the Green Paper.

Mr. Tynan

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to simplify the overlap of stakeholder and additional voluntary contribution pension arrangements where a person's earnings are such to allow concurrent membership of an occupational and a stakeholder pension arrangement. [92315]

Ruth Kelly

I have been asked to reply.

On 17 December the Government published, for consultation, simplification proposals for the pension tax rules. The consultation paper, "Simplifying the taxation of pensions: increasing choice and flexibility", is available in the House of Commons Library. The consultation is to allow people the opportunity to put forward their views before final decisions are taken.

The consultation paper puts forward a proposed framework of general benefit rules. It is proposed that these rules would apply to all qualifying pension arrangements.