As my hon. Friend may be aware, draft regulations for restricting self-investment by pension funds have been referred to the Occupational Pensions Board for consideration. The board has consulted widely on the proposals and will consider the responses at its next meeting, in July. We intend to bring forward draft regulations as soon as practicable after that.
The draft regulations are undoubtedly a step in the right direction and will be widely welcomed. Does my hon. Friend accept that some financial institutions believe that any level of self-investment, other than for very small funds, is undesirable not only because of double jeopardy but because of conflicts of interest in take-over situations and problems with insider dealing legislation?
My hon. Friend is right. A body of opinion holds that no self-investment could be ideal. I hope that my hon. Friend will also appreciate that it would be impractical to try to move towards that when there has been a certain amount of self-investment in property. To insist on immediate disinvestment of that nature would mean that firms would be disposing of the very assets that they use on a day-to-day basis. Although I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I am sure that it will feature in the consultations, the position of certain companies is such that total disinvestment would be neither practical nor desirable.
Is it not time that employees received far greater protection for their pension funds through legislation? The Government continually talk about involving parents in school decisions and about enabling doctors to opt out of the national health service, so how about allowing employees to make decisions about how their pension fund money is used? Those funds should be protected from predators such as Hanson, who was stopped in the courts last time but who considers taking over such companies with a view to using the money from pension funds for other purposes. The workers deserve protection. When will they get it?
They already have protection to a large measure and the regulations that we are introducing are designed to improve it. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that pension funds are already protected by requirements for the reserves kept, so they are far less easy to plunder than he suggests. Nevertheless, what he says is important and will not be overlooked. It has formed the basis of much that we are now trying to do.