Goode Report: Goode proposals call for new pension law: Powerful regulator and compensation scheme are recommended by committee in wake of Maxwell affair

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EMPLOYEES' pension rights should be safeguarded by bringing in new pensions legislation to set up a powerful regulator and a compensation scheme to prevent a repeat of the Maxwell scandal, according to a report published yesterday by the Government.

The report, from the pension law review committee chaired by Roy Goode, professor of English law at Oxford University, makes 218 recommendations. The report runs to 1,000 pages over two volumes and, according to Professor Goode, weighs in at 3.36kg or 118.45 ounces.

Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, said he would need to consider the report carefully before bringing in new legislation, which would not be introduced until the 1994-95 parliamentary session at the earliest. This means new pensions safeguards are unlikely to be in place until 1996.

'I am sure (the report) will be a seminal work for the future development of pension policy in this country,' Mr Lilley said.

The report recommends a new Pensions Act to replace the existing complex and unstructured legislation, and to clarify the rights and duties of employers, employees, trustees and professional advisers. Existing trust law provides an acceptable foundation but needs to be reinforced, the report says.

It proposes that the Occupational Pensions Board, the body that ensures that schemes pay a minimum level of benefits, should be replaced with a new regulator with wide-ranging powers to monitor and intervene in the running of pension schemes.

Employees should have to appoint at least one-third of the pension fund trustees, the committee says. Scheme members should be given much better and clearer information.

Pension funds should have to ensure a minimum level of solvency and provide an annual certificate of solvency along with accounts to the pensions regulator.

As a last resort, the committee wants the Government to establish a compensation fund to cover scheme deficits arising from fraud, theft or other misappropriation - though not for incompetence or bad investment performance.

Compensation would be limited to the lesser of 90 per cent of the value of the misappropriated assets or 90 per cent of the scheme deficit.

Professor Goode said his committee had tried to ensure that any extra burdens imposed would be counterbalanced by greater flexibility and simplicity of the proposed regulations.

The National Association of Pension Funds was pleased the Goode Committee had opted for minimum solvency requirements and a compensation scheme but warned that the proposals did not go far enough. In particular, it believes compulsory training of trustees is necessary and that fund assets should be lodged with authorised custodians.

Bacon & Woodrow, the leading actuaries and pension consultants, thought the report disappointing. Nigel O'Sullivan, an investment specialist with the firm, said: 'I can't see a lot here to prevent another Maxwell happening. It is more biased towards looking after the employer than after the employee.'

John Quarrell, a pensions lawyer with Nabarro Nathanson and council member of the Pensions Management Institute, said: 'Well-run pension schemes have nothing to fear from this report. Those in the twilight zone ought to have something to fear - and that's good.'

Asked what could be done to prevent further abuses of pension funds before the implementation of the Goode proposals, Mr Lilley said the alertness of trustees and those involved in pension funds had never been higher. 'With the help of this report, we will be able to develop long-term security and not just rely on short-term alertness,' he declared.

The Goode Committee, set up in the aftermath of the Maxwell affair, sat for 15 months and received nearly 1,700 submissions.

Leading article, page 23

View from City Road, page 28

Hamish McRae, page 29