Occupational Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 20th January 2003.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 6:02 pm, 20th January 2003

I take that point. Indeed, 90 per cent. is not an arbitrary figure. It is a figure that is already used in protection schemes. The point that I am trying to make is that, at a time when there is a crisis of confidence in private sector pensions, we must all bite the bullet together and say to all Britain's 5 million—something of that order; several million, anyway—retired occupational pensioners that they will have a less high priority when the funds are divided up and that they might get less next year than they would have got this year. We should not try to pretend that that is not a consequence of focusing our help on those close to retirement and with long service.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire was, regrettably, absolutely silent on how we should ensure that there is enough money in the pot in the first place. By all means, let us have a debate on how to carve up an inadequate fund and give it out more fairly. Of course we should do that, but what can we do to ensure that there is enough money in the first place? The Government are proposing fewer actuarial valuations, as a measure to reduce the regulatory burden on employers who run schemes. That is the goal towards which they are heading. That worries me, because a fund could satisfy the minimum funding requirement at a particular point in time, but things could then go wrong. The stock market could fall, for example, and life expectancies could increase. The fund might then have insufficient money in it before it was wound up. So, at the point at which it was wound up, things could have gone horribly wrong without any corrective action having been taken.

I am not sure whether the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Maria Eagle, will be responding to this debate—