2 February 2024
Dunne backs Pensions (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill

Philip Dunne speaks in support of a Private Member’s Bill that will increase advance payment of their pension for those who are terminally ill when the sponsors of their pension scheme has become insolvent, and takes the opportunity of the Second Reading debate to raise concerns about apparent changes to the Boots defined-benefit pension scheme. 

Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)

Good morning, Madam Deputy Speaker, and thank you for calling me so early in this important debate. Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on introducing this Bill. He shares with me the prospect of joining the ranks of the pensioners in our community later this year. He failed to declare that in his speech, but I am glad to put that on the record for the benefit of Members of the House. It is a time of life that we will be fortunate to reach, if we get that far.

Thanks to the good work of the NHS, more and more of us manage to achieve pensionable age. As of last May, nearly 12.7 million people were claiming the state pension. The over-65 pensioner population in England and Wales has increased from 9.2 million in 2011 to over 11 million in the most recent 2021 census. Pensioners represent some 18.6% of the population, although now that the pension age is going up, the figure will be slightly different.

My constituency probably shares with my hon. Friend’s constituency the characteristic of having a significantly above-average proportion of the population who are pensionable, at 30.2%. I mention that because, although the Bill is narrow in scope, it is possible that any of us, pensionable or not, could be diagnosed with a terminal illness. Although the Bill applies to members of defined benefit or defined contribution schemes, who are a subset of that population, and hopefully very few of them will have such a diagnosis, it is important that we provide equity to those who do, as he said so well. I therefore think that the objective of my hon. Friend’s Bill is entirely honourable and appropriate, and one that we should support.

On the subject of pensions, as we have the Minister here, I would like to raise a case that was brought to my attention in my advice surgery last Friday by a constituent, whom I will not name, who is a member of the Boots defined-benefit pension scheme. The scheme was acquired by Legal & General, quite properly, last December. According to my constituent, the new scheme administrator has decided, seemingly without consultation with members, to remove the option to take an early pension from the age of 60, so that pensions have to be taken from the age of 65.

If that decision has been taken without consultation with members, I urge the Minister to look into whether the trustees were duly authorised to undertake such a significant potential change in terms for their members without consultation—I would not expect her to know the answer to that now. I have also written to the Secretary of State on this matter, because the Boots pension scheme is probably one of the largest membership schemes of any retail business in the country.

Having put that on the record, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury for his Bill today, which I shall support.