Adjournment (Summer)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:58 pm on 9th July 1992.

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Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 4:58 pm, 9th July 1992

I congratulate the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) on what I, too, thought was an excellent maiden speech. However, he suggested that many hon. Members had not visited High Peak. My parents lived and worked in his constituency for many years and I had the opportunity to visit it on many occasions. While I accept the way in which he extolled the beauty of his constituency, I am not prepared to relegate my constituency to second place behind his.

I want to raise an issue that is very important for people in my constituency and for those in the constituencies of many other hon. Members. It relates to a group of people who, if we are not careful, may become the forgotten victims of the Maxwell scandal. I gave the Leader of the House warning that I was going to raise the issue and I hope that I will, therefore, hear positive news when the right hon. Gentleman replies to the debate.

Hon. Members will be aware that a few weeks ago the Secretary of State for Social Security announced that he was making available a sum of £2·5 million to provide temporary, emergency funding to help Maxwell schemes which are unable to maintain pension payments over the next few months."—[Official Report, 8 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 20.] That announcement was warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and many people sighed with relief. For many Maxwell pensioners who already receive a pension, it provided some certainty that those pensions would continue for at least the next few months.

However, there remains a great deal of uncertainty for many other people affected by the Maxwell scandal. I particularly want to draw those people to the attention of the House and hope that before we go into recess we shall be able to resolve their anxieties and uncertainties.

As hon. Members will be aware, the winding-up arrangements of the Maxwell pension schemes mean that people who reach pensionable age after February of this year are still treated as deferred pensioners. In many cases, they will not receive a pension through a Maxwell pension scheme unless the Secretary of State for Social Security and his newly established Maxwell pension unit are prepared to arrange for that to happen.

I have spoken to the Maxwell pension unit and I am grateful for its help. However, it told me that, to date, no decision has been taken on whether that group of deferred pensioners will receive assistance from the £2·5 million fund. It is important that we are told, as a matter of urgency, whether they will be helped in that way.

Another group of victims of the Maxwell pension scandal have been affected in a more complicated way. They are victims of the Maxwell scandal, but they are not currently members of a Maxwell pension scheme. To illustrate the complexity and importance of the situation, I want to refer to a group of my constituents.

In the mid-1980s, Robert Maxwell acquired the Hollis Engineering Group of companies, which included Stothert and Pitt in my constituency and Floform in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). The companies that formed the Hollis Engineering Group each had their own, well-funded pension schemes. However, when Robert Maxwell took over the companies, they were brought together in a single, new pension scheme now known as AGB.

Subsequently, as a result of a management buy-out, yet another pension scheme—the Victoria Works pension scheme—was established. It was independent of AGB—the Maxwell scheme. An agreement was reached that a sum of about £4 million of transfer-valued assets would be transferred to the Victoria Works scheme. However, only about £1·3 million was transferred, leaving a shortfall of more than £2 million in the new Victoria Works scheme.

At that point, the Maxwell saga blew up. The scandal broke and we discovered that AGB was unable to transfer the remaining amount into the Victoria Works pension scheme. Because of the fraud, AGB cannot hand over money owed to the Victoria Works scheme which affects 70 of my constituents. As the scheme has no other source of funds, it will very shortly be insolvent.

In short, that means that 70 of my constituents belong to a pension scheme which, because of the Maxwell fraud, will become insolvent. They will stop receiving their pensions very soon. In a few months' time, more of the 250 deferred pensioners will not receive pensions. At the moment, they are not part of a Maxwell pension scheme. Therefore, they do not appear to fall within the remit of the £2·5 million fund. Can that £2·5 million emergency fund be extended to the Victoria Works pension scheme?

George Busby is 67 years old and he is one of those affected in my constituency. He paid into a pension scheme for 30 years and retired at the end of 1989. He told me today that he is now seriously considering selling his home and that, with the threat of the loss of pension hanging over him, he is unable to make plans for a holiday. He said: The strain of not knowing whether you're going to be able to provide for your wife and dependants is intolerable. All the years of planning for retirement are destroyed. Given that the Leader of the House has had notice of the matter, I hope that he will be able to assure me that active consideration is being given to the possibility of money from the £2·5 million fund being transferred to the Victoria Works pension scheme, which is not the only scheme affected. There are nine other schemes, with asset values close to £10 million, that still have not been transferred from AGB, and their pensioners are in a similar position. I understand that some other Maxwell pension schemes may also face similar problems.

The issue is complex and it will require a great deal of sorting out. However, I hope that that can be achieved very quickly because many people are affected.