Clause 5 - Pensions

Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 10 February 2004.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I want to touch briefly on the issues in clause 5. In this morning's sitting the Minister was very helpful in clarifying the situation as regards the transfer of employment rights between the Arts and Humanities Research Board and

the arts and humanities research council, and certainly managed to put on record a good reassurance for employees of the council.

I ask the Minister to spend a moment addressing the issue of the pension arrangements for the board—and, subsequently, the council—employees, given the uncertainties that currently exist surrounding pension provision and retirement ages in particular. I know that there is a degree of anxiety in the public services at the moment about retirement ages, and I would be surprised if the Minister had not come across similar concerns in his own constituency. I seek an explanation from the Minister of the structure and nature of the current schemes, given that the board, as it is currently constituted, is a company and charity, established after the Dearing report in 1997. It does not, as I understand it, currently have formal governmental status. Subsequent to the changes that have been discussed today, and the final enactment of the royal charter, it will become a non-departmental public body.

I want to establish for the record in this debate whether the pension provision that existed up to now is separate from that which would normally apply to people within the civil service, to people who fall under the Government employment umbrella. Will that change as a result of the transition to the new status of the organisation? Are the employees of the board, and subsequently the council, likely to be affected by the review currently taking place across many parts of Government about retirement ages—whether the age should be 60 or 65—given the uncertainty that this is causing for a number of employees? I should be grateful if the Minister could take a moment to clarify those points.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

My understanding of the situation at the moment is that nothing changes. The employees concerned are already members of a public sector pension scheme. Therefore, all we are doing in clause 5 is ensuring that employment by the arts and humanities research council is included among the kinds of employment covered by the Superannuation Act 1972. That Act provides Ministers with the power to make the necessary contributions toward employee pensions under the various civil service pension schemes. The employees of the AHRB are already covered by the Superannuation Act 1972 and this clause will ensure that once they are transferred to the AHRC their pensions will transfer and be unaffected. This is a belt-and-braces job—my understanding is that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 would cover them anyway, but this is an extra reassurance necessitated by the terms of the Superannuation Act 1972. Nothing changes for the employees, including their pensionable age. It may change through negotiation and discussion in the future, but when they transfer to this new arrangements, they do so with all their existing pension entitlement.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.