Bernard Matthews bosses may be called to appear in front of MPs

Bernard Matthews lorry outside the company's Great Witchingham Hall headquarters.

Bernard Matthews lorry outside the company's Great Witchingham Hall headquarters.

The companies involved in the recent sale of turkey producer Bernard Matthews could appear before MPs probing whether the current rules around the pensions safety net work.

Norfolk MP Keith Simpson said he would be submitting evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee calling for the buyer and seller of the company to appear in front of MPs.

The Broadland MP met chairman Frank Field this week as the Pension Protection Fund reviews the Bernard Matthews liabilities with a view to taking them on after the pre-pack sale from Rutland Partners to food giant Ranjit Boparan.

Mr Field said it would be up to his committee to decide who they called in, but said Mr Simpson's submission would be 'most welcome'.

The inquiry's report from University of Essex professor Prem Sikka suggested the pension deficit could have risen to £20m and it is unlikely that more than 1pc of this, or debts to unsecured creditors, will be paid.

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Mr Simpson said he would be writing a letter to the inquiry explaining the impact of the deal on pensioners, but also explaining that although he believed what happened was perfectly legal, it 'raised a lot of questions that the debts of a pension fund can be dumped'.

'He [Frank Field] has the ability to call in those who ultimately control Bernard Matthew's assets. At the end of the day this doesn't mean to say it is going to reverse what has happened, I think that Bernard Matthews pensioners will realise that, but it is important that we get to the facts.'

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He said they needed to look at what has happened as it might happen again with other East Anglian firms.

'The letter I will write will not be 10 pages of facts and figures. It will say that I and other MPs in the area would be grateful if he could call as witnesses the controllers of Bernard Matthews where they will have an opportunity to explain what they did and the thinking behind it,' he added.

Mr Simpson said he would want to see 'whichever witnesses who are relevant to that inquiry' appear, and added that following his meeting with Frank Field he thought he was pushing at an open door.

Rutland Partners could not be reached. But a Boparan Private Office spokesman said in a statement that it welcomed any review of the transaction. A spokesman said that Boparan had offered the seller a deal which would have included all assets and liabilities, including the pension liability.

'Unfortunately, this offer was rejected. Consequently, we have secured a deal that saved 2,000 jobs and has saved the Christmas 2016 turkey supply which was at serious risk without our intervention.

'Whilst we recognise all liabilities including the pension liability is the seller's responsibility, it should be recognised that we have paid a fair market price for the assets which is materially more than the pension deficit.'

Comment – Page 26

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