Clause 46 - Energy Act 2004 and Health Protection Agency Act 2004

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 30 Mehefin 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General 2:15, 30 Mehefin 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 91, in clause 46, page 38, line 44, at end add

'or

(c) the pension rights and entitlements of former employees of UKAEA who are members of pension schemes that were, or are, run by UKAEA.'.

The amendment seeks to safeguard the pension rights of United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority employees. The clause is a tidying-up exercise following decisions contained in the Health Protection Agency Act 2004 and the Energy Act 2004. The Health Protection Agency Act 2004 created the new Health Protection Agency, which among other things absorbed the old National Radiological Protection Board, which will cease to exist in its current form. The clause removes certain exemptions that applied to the old NRPB.

Under the Energy Act 2004 the role of the UKAEA is also scheduled to alter and certain exemptions from income and corporation tax on its investment income are also being removed as a result of that. However, the two situations are slightly different, because UKAEA will continue with an altered remit, while the NRPB per se will cease to exist. There could be implications for the pension schemes of UKAEA employees and pensioners.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General

I apologise in advance to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) for having the temerity to quote from the explanatory notes.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General

I fear that the hon. Gentleman's copyright may be in danger.

The explanatory notes acknowledge the possibility that there could be implications and seek to provide some reassurance in the following terms:

''This also affects in principle pension schemes run by the Authority but in practice there is no effect because the schemes are still subject to the normal rules for pension schemes.''

That may be so, but given the general concern surrounding what has happened to pensions in the United Kingdom over the past few years, amendment No. 91 would provide extra security to UKAEA pensioners and employees by placing in the Bill the requirement that their pension entitlement should not suffer as a result of the changes, rather than tucking it away as a comment in the explanatory notes, which are not formally part of the Bill. We are seeking to upgrade the protection from the explanatory notes to the Bill.

I have here the latest edition of the UKAEA glossy newsletter, ''UKAEA Today'', which I believe has been circulated to a number of Members of Parliament including me. It talks at some length about the future development of the company but unfortunately says   little about its staff and—having read it carefully—nothing about their pensions.

We would like the Government to agree to the amendment to provide some extra security, but if they are not minded to do so at this stage—and they may not be—perhaps the Minister would provide some firm assurances that will be of comfort to the employees and pensioners of UKAEA.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Llafur, Wolverhampton South West 2:30, 30 Mehefin 2005

Reading the hon. Gentleman's amendment and listening to what he says, I can understand his point. However, is he sure that his amendment would cover situations in which pension entitlements get better? The thrust of his speech is that there is a risk of adverse change, but is there a risk of beneficial change being excluded under the amendment?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General

The hon. Gentleman asks a fair question, but I am sure that he and the other Committee members can see the principle of what we are attempting to do. We simply seek some reassurance from the Government that pensioners will not suffer. If, on the contrary, at some point in the future they do better, that is well and good from their point of view, but we want to know that they will be adequately protected.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

It is reassuring and touching that the Conservative party is on the side of pension holders, given some of the mis-selling scandals that happened when they were in government, when there was a lack of an appropriate regulatory framework. Having said that, Mr. Cook, you will be delighted to learn that I shall not say any more on that. Instead, I say to the hon. Gentleman that he raises a valid point about the need to reassure people by placing certain things on the record, and I shall try to do so.

The clause itself operates on the tax treatment of the pension schemes only. The rights or entitlements of individuals are not affected. The exemption for the specific pension schemes was introduced many years ago, and circumstances have changed since then. The relevant point is that specific provisions granting exemptions for the UKAEA-run pension schemes that we now seek to remove are no longer necessary to provide exemption. Either the exemptions being removed do not, and will not, apply in practice to a particular pension scheme, or exemption will otherwise be provided by the general rules for pension schemes. The removal of the exemptions from the pension schemes was discussed with UKAEA and no objection was raised. Therefore, the amendment is neither relevant nor necessary. The sentiment behind it is understandable, and I hope that we have placed on record the reassurances that the hon. Gentleman sought. On that basis, I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Paymaster General

I thank the Economic Secretary for not wandering off the subject, and for not going into the whole concept of mis-selling, so I will reciprocate by not talking about the £5 billion a year that the Chancellor has taken out of people's pensions.  

I have listened carefully to the Economic Secretary's comments. He provided some qualified reassurance. I have no doubt that his speech will be printed in the next edition of ''UKAEA Today'' and will be read with alacrity by all its employees. The Economic Secretary entirely understood what we were trying to do, as did the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. In principle, the Economic Secretary has provided us with reassurance for those employees and pensioners, and I am sure that they will be grateful. Having achieved my aim, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.