A COMMONS committee led by Birkenhead MP Frank Field says bosses like Sir Philip Green should face "nuclear deterrent" punitive fines for avoiding pension responsibilities to avoid a BHS-style "disaster" happening again.

The Work and Pensions Committee said stronger regulatory powers would give Sir Philip a far stronger incentive to make good on his promise to "sort" the £571m BHS pension fund black hole.

The controversial tycoon is thought to have offered £250m to help plug the deficit, £100m less than the Pensions Regulator demanded.

But the MPs said the regulator should have the power to impose fines that could treble the amount payable towards covering a pension scheme deficit.

That would mean regulator could threaten Sir Philip with a fine of up to £1 billion unless he paid his contribution.

The power would act as such a strong deterrent to avoiding responsibilities that it would never have to be used in practice, the committee's report on defined benefit pension schemes said.

Committee chairman Mr Field said: "It is difficult to imagine the Pensions Regulator would still be having to negotiate with Sir Philip Green if he had been facing a bill of £1 billion, rather than £350m.

"He would have sorted the pension scheme long ago."

The cross-party committee made a number of other recommendations for the regulation of pension schemes, insisting responsible employers have "nothing to fear" from the proposals.

The MPs said regulatory intervention is often "clunky" and concentrated on stages when a company pension scheme is in severe distress or has already collapsed.

TPR should be reformed into a "nimbler, more proactive" regulator to intervene sooner when company pension schemes appear to be in difficulty and before problems mount up.

The committee said the regulator should "never again" take two years to intervene in a pension negotiation that concludes with a 23-year deficit reduction plan, as in the case of BHS.

Instead recovery plans of more than 10 years should be "exceptional", and the Government should consult on new rules for situations where TPR clearance of major corporate takeovers or transactions is mandatory rather than voluntary.

It noted that companies are making less use of the voluntary practice of seeking TPR clearance during major transactions, with just nine cases in 2015-16 compared to 263 in 2005-6.

A move towards mandatory clearance would avoid the situation that arose when Sir Philip sold BHS and its pension deficit for £1 to the "dismally unqualified" serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell, Mr Field said.

The risk-based levy charged by the insurance "lifeboat" for collapsed pension funds, the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), should be recalculated to incentivise good corporate behaviour and avoid the "moral hazard" of irresponsible companies ducking their liabilities, the committee said.

And pension fund trustees should be given new powers to take decisions in the interest of scheme members, including being able to negotiate restructuring that result in better than PPF outcomes.

"The measures we set out in this report are intended to reduce the chance of another scheme going down the BHS route," Mr Field said.

"We hope and expect that we will never again see a company like BHS be able to come up with a 23 year recovery plan for its pension fund, and certainly not that it would take the regulator two years to really begin to do anything about it.

"It is further inconceivable that Sir Philip Green's deal to dispose of BHS and its giant pension deficit for £1 to a dismally unqualified man, with no plan for the pension schemes and no means of financing one, would have evaded or passed any mandatory clearance scheme.

"To prevent another BHS we need to have the means to nip inevitable disasters like this one in the bud.

"We hope the Government will consult on the package of measures we propose, which would go a long way, without resorting to any new reams of red tape, towards doing just that.

"It will sadly be of no comfort to the 20,000 BHS pensioners facing cuts to their promised pensions, but had just some of these measures been in place they might never have ended up in that situation."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "The majority of employers are managing their pension schemes responsibly but a few recent examples have raised some important questions.

"In the coming months we'll be publishing a Green Paper on pension funding and as part of this we'll be looking at powers of the Pensions Regulator."