It’s good to see that our MPs at Westminster continue to press the case for the PMS savers. There was an excellent example today when Rev Dr William McCrea and Ms Margaret Ritchie took the opportunity during Northern Ireland questions to ask the Secretary of State about the issue. PMS savers appreciate the hard work and the commitment of so many of our local elected representatives. We hope that all their efforts will eventually bear fruit.
I must say I like the Secretary of State’s turn of phrase when he says, “we will get a grip on it”. May your hand be strong and your grip firm!
Here’s what was said according to Hansard.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): Both the Prime Minister and I have publicly stated our firm commitment to working with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure a just and fair resolution to the PMS situation, and all options are being considered. The reconvened ministerial working group will meet soon to review progress, and I will be its chairman.
Dr McCrea: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of those with savings of less than £20,000 in the PMS are in the older age bracket? As a result, they have been denied access to their savings for more than 20 months and have faced hardship and great distress? Does he appreciate that the urgent resolution of this situation is necessary? What timetable is he working on to resolve it?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I totally appreciate the severity of the pressures, particularly on older people, who are having trouble paying nursing home fees and so on. I would love to set a timetable, but I cannot do so. All I can say is that this Government take this issue seriously, we will get a grip on it, we have reconvened the working group and I will chair it. I very much hope that we will arrive at a solution.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Given the extent of central Government support for failed financial institutions and the severe budgetary pressures faced by the Northern Ireland Executive, does he accept that it is imperative that the Treasury endeavours to alleviate the financial burdens faced by savers in the PMS? Will he take those views on board when he begins to chair this group shortly? If the Northern Ireland Executive find resources for this organisation, will the Treasury match those several-fold?
Mr Paterson: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I would not want to prejudge the result of our deliberations, so I merely say that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be on the working group, and its other four members are all part of the Executive and will put the point of view of the Executive clearly in our deliberations.