MERSEYSIDE and Cheshire politicians have insisted the Government reconsider a proposed deadline on pension compensation to include steelworkers from the region who lost most of their nest eggs.
The new Pensions Bill, a £400m scheme going though Parliament, seemed as if it would bail out former HH Robertson employees, whose retirement fund was cut by 75% when the company was sold. However, it now emerges they may not receive this financial lifeline as they have missed a Government cut off point by just 32 days.
This is because their scheme went insolvent on March 5, 1997. The Pensions Minister Malcolm Wicks insisted yesterday that compensation should be for people whose schemes went under from April 6 that year.
Yesterday, Mr Miller called on Mr Wicks to reconsider, adding that the proper date for compensation should be when the earlier 1995 Act achieved Royal Assent, on July 29 that year.
This was brought in to ensure that any money left in a company scheme goes first to retired workers in the wake of the Maxwell pensions scandal.
However, it did not have a retrospective aspect meaning workers who had lost out, such as those at Ellesmere Port, before that date were not entitled to any compensation.
Andrew Miller, the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said: "We failed in our responsibilities when passing the 1995 Act. We believed pension funds were going to be safer in the future for our constituents. It's on the basis of that failure that we should look at Royal Assent of that Act as the basis for progressing this matter."
Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, who tried to bring in a Private Members Bill for the steel workers before the government's Pensions Bill, last night described the situation as appalling.
Mr Field said: "It is ironic that the Government spent two-and-a-half years blocking my Bill then they bring in their own, which leaves the very people this legislation was designed to serve, out of the equation.
"The whole thing is appaling. The HH Robertson employers loss was the whole reason the new proposed legislation has been aired. These people must be included." The company pension fund was left £5m short meaning the 200 who lost their jobs when the firm was sold to British Steel lost out.
At least 300 other former staff were also members of the company pension scheme and are believed to have also been affected.
In the Commons yesterday, Mr Wicks did add that April 6, 1997 deadline was not yet actually specified on the Pensions Bill - allowing ministers to change their minds later if they wished. Former Ellesmere Port mayor Brian Jones, who is still still a Labour councillor, said: "The trustees of our pension fund knew this new legislation was coming in, but they ignored our requests for the insolvency to be delayed.
"We lost 75% of our pensions, which is one of the largest amounts lost by anybody. We have every right to be included, so I just hope the government will reconsider."