Maxwell pensions rescue 'hit by blood money image'

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The Independent Online
THE SPECIAL fund set up to help refinance pension schemes plundered by Robert Maxwell has been crippled by its image as a collection point for 'blood' money, Frank Field, Labour chairman of the Commons Social Security Committee, said yesterday.

He said the trust fund, led by Sir John Cuckney, had been tainted by the atmosphere created when it was first announced in the Commons last month. 'People like me did yell that people should be making, in a sense, blood contributions because of their past behaviour,' Mr Field told the Independent.

'That, in retrospect, has been damaging to what John Cuckney is now trying to do. As a committee, we want to make that trust fund as successful as possible, and not continue to cripple it.'

The committee would be working to broaden the appeal of the fund; urging financial institutions to contribute in the interests of the reputation and standing of the City of London.

The parliamentary select committee is to hold two hearings with the liquidators and administrators of the pension funds on 23 and 24 September which, Mr Field said yesterday, could provide evidence of 'the need to reform the process by which people take action to recover large amounts of what I would call public funds.

'We will be asking the liquidators and administrators, on a month to month basis, three questions - what have you been doing; how much money have you got back; and what have you charged?' he said.

'We are trying to learn where the monies went, trying to recover those monies, and learning what lessons we draw from that to safeguard other pension funds in the future.'

The way in which Mr Maxwell had pillaged the pensions funds had been 'medieval', and reforms were required to stop that happening again.

But Mr Field said the committee was also anxious to do all in its power to help Sir John Cuckney, who is heading the Government-backed trust fund into which voluntary contributions are to be paid to help the Maxwell pension funds.

The fund, whose deeds were finally signed on 17 July, has been handicapped by the summer holidays and the lack of board meetings. It is so far thought to have raised more than pounds 5m - compared with an irreducible minimum of pounds 50m.

Mr Field said: 'The committee is interested in looking at how the financial institutions are helping to rebuild those funds, and we don't want to bring Sir John in to give evidence until he's much further down the line, and we've made the case that the trust fund isn't like a sort of swear box or guilt box for people putting money in - it is nothing to do with whether people are guilty or not guilty.'

He said there was a collective responsibility on the part of the financial institutions at large to protect the reputation of the City as a centre. 'I think a number of them want to contribute, but as the fund has appeared in public, it will look as though they are somehow admitting some element of guilt if they did so.'