HC Deb 23 November 1983 vol 49 cc342-414 4.58 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That this House regrets that this week's pension uprating is below the current rate of inflation, leading to a significant loss in purchasing power for over nine million pensioners; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reverse its damaging and increasingly discredited economic policies which are depriving pensioners of the higher living standards they deserve. It is often said that it is by its treatment of its elderly people that a society should be judged. I agree with that, and we approach this debate in that constructive spirit. The Opposition chose this issue partly because we want to draw the nation's attention to the re-emergence of mass poverty in our society. Today, more than 7 million people are wholly dependent on means-tested supplementary benefit for their survival. That is 60 per cent. more than four years ago, and a great many of those people are pensioners. Altogether roughly two out of every three pensioners are living in poverty, or on its margins.

One of the prime signs of the poverty that millions of pensioners face is that they are increasingly forced to choose between food and heating. I shall cite just one example that I found in the newspaper. It is not in any way exceptional. Indeed, I fear that it is wholly typical. The article states: Mr. Frederick Moody, an 82-year-old pensioner, survives in his bed sitter by keeping an electric heater half switched on for just eight hours a day. He gets up at 10 am and is in bed by 6 pm. Even with extreme economy he has watched his autumn bills jump from £17 to £23 in the last two years since the Government let fuel bills rise. Mr. Moody is being forced to try to solve the problem by staying in bed for 16 hours a day. Life is being increasingly reduced to that standard for millions of pensioners under this Government's regime.

What are the Government doing to help the millions like Mr. Moody? Two days ago the pension was increased by 3.7 per cent., an amount significantly below the inflation rate, which is now running at 5 per cent. or more. That means that the living standards of married pensioners will be cut now, and over the whole of the rest of the year by about £1 per week. In effect, married pensioners are being robbed of the equivalent of one week's pension in a full year. To most pensioners that is a significant sum.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will say that the shortfall will be made good at the time of the next uprating. He always says that, and no doubt he w ill say it again today. However that does not solve the main problem. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, most pensioners do not have a pool of reserve capital on which to fall back in hard time. For pensioners, a cut is a cut. The increase, which is well below the rate of inflation, means a significant and big cut in the living standards of millions of pensioners. The Secretary of State may say that pensioners are protected because last year they received an increase above the going rate of inflation. He may say that they can use that excess to tide them over this year. However, if that is the argument, it confirms what the Opposition have always suspected—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's change in March in the method of uprating was simply a backdoor manoeuvre to claw back the excess that he dared not take openly. The Government, then, have simply devised a system of getting their clawback without having to admit it openly.

Thus, whether we think of the meanness of the clawback or the enforcement of lower living standards, the fact remains that pensioners will be getting a bum deal this winter.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

I apologise for intervening so early in the hon. Gentleman's speech, and congratulate him on his new appointment. He will know of my interest in pensioners. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that Mr. Moody would be faced with a quarterly autumn bill of something in excess of £23 or £24. Mr. Moody is 82 and is, therefore, almost certainly entitled to the highest level of heating supplementary benefit. How much would he get in one quarter at the new high rate of heating supplementary benefit?

Mr. Meacher

That is an interesting question. I do not know the answer, because I do not know the circumstances of the case. However, it is quite likely that Mr. Moody is one of the 2 million pensioners who do not get supplementary benefit and who are simply on rate and rent rebates. There are another 900,000 pensioners who are entitled to supplementary benefit; but who do not receive it. That means that there are nearly 3 million pensioners who will not receive the heating additions, because the additions are limited purely to those on supplementary benefit. I do not know whether Mr. Moody is one of them. However, more than half of all pensioners do not receive such aid, and it is quite likely that he is one of them. It would be more helpful if the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) told the Government that they should provide those 2 million pensioners with heating additions.

Mr. Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if Mr. Moody is not receiving that supplement he must have other means that exclude him from supplementary benefit?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman comes from a class that certainly does have other means. He should not assume that other people are necessarily like him. However, the newspaper article further states that Mr. Moody fits into the national picture of pensioners—he pays his bills on time, tries to keep down his total bill below £2 a week and is not sure whether he should be entitled to charity. Mr. Moody is certainly one of those who does not want to have to claim. He wants benefits as of right, and so do we. That is how pensioners should be assisted.

I have described the situation facing 9 million elderly people. However, something much more fundamental is at stake. It is not a question of whether the Government have maintained the pension in line with inflation. That is what the Secretary of State keeps coming back to. The question is whether pensioners have shared in rising living standards. That is the essential issue and it is a central part of our case, because under this Government they patently have not done so. In case the Secretary of State thinks that I have chosen the criterion for my own purposes, I should point out that the Opposition did not choose it themselves. It was originally accepted by the Government. In 1979, the former Secretary of State said: My right hon. Friends and I have repeatedly committed ourselves to ensure that pensioners share in rising prosperity."—[Official Report, 20 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 903.] That is what was said four years ago, but it clearly has not happened. Since that statement was made, the record on every count belies it. Ever since then, the Government have consistently used clawback in one form or another precisely to prevent that from happening. In November 1980, the uprating was delayed for two weeks, which cost the pensioner couple £12.30. That loss was never made up. In November 1981, the Government clawed back 1 per cent. so that pensioners would not be permitted even to keep a meagre 25p a week. In November 1982 the pension uprating again turned out to overrun estimated inflation, and again the Government threatened to use clawback to obtain the extra sum. A more deliberate, calculated and persistent policy of nailing pensioners down to the floor of inflation could scarcely be devised.

The Government's promises to pensioners are not worth the paper that they are written on. Rather than honouring their word and trying to meet the targets which they rightly announced when they first came to power, the Government cynically changed those targets on the principle that if it is not possible to score a goal shift the goalposts. That is what the Government did. They dropped higher living standards as an objective for pensioners. They then proclaimed that price-matching was the height of their ambition and, having achieved that, claimed to have scored a major victory. Big deal. As the British Pensioners Action Association said recently, on being told that pensioners had been awarded an extra 5p under the so-called Rossi price index, "Do not spend it all at once".

I accept that, like the Labour party, the Tories are sincere when they say that they would like pensioners to enjoy higher living standards. The difference between us is that the Labour party did something. In five years of Labour Government the pension increased by 20 per cent. in real terms. In nearly five years of the Conservative Government the pension has increased by only 3 per cent. in real terms and that includes this week's uprating. Even that tiny margin of improvement will almost certainly be eroded by inflation in the next 12 months. That is the measure of the difference in performance between the two parties.

The truth is that pensions are no more safe in the Prime Minister's hands than is the National Health Service. Pensions are not safe in the Prime Minister's hands because she cannot resist tampering with them. Her most serious act of interference was committed in 1980 when she broke the link that Labour made between pensions and the rise in prices or earnings, whichever was the greater. At a stroke, pensions were decimated and have remained so ever since.

If Labour's method of uprating had been preserved, the single person's pension would now be £2.95 higher and the pension for a married couple would be £4.65 higher. Those are large sums of money for most pensioners. As a result of the Government's shabby manoeuvre, since 1980 pensioners have been robbed of about £2 billion. That is the extent of the Tory Government's meanness towards elderly people.

Mr. Peter Lloyd (Fareham)

With regard to the Labour Government's method of uprating—by prices or earnings, whichever was the higher—will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that is what the Labour Government did each year that they were in office? I have a strong impression that they broke their promise.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman is not on to a good point.

Mr. Lloyd

I am.

Mr. Meacher

What matters to pensioners is the result, not the procedure or the method. They are worried about cash in the pocket and how much it increases their prosperity. The fact remains that, at the end of five years under Labour, pensioners were 20 per cent. better off in real terms as compared to 1974. Under the Tory Government, they are a mere 3 per cent. better off. At the end of next year they will be 0 per cent. better off.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Since the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), the hon. Gentleman has made considerable play of how much better pensioners did under the Labour Government. Has he calculated how much better still they would have done if the Labour Government had not failed to reach their policy target in four of the nine years in which it was in operation?

Mr. Meacher

I am glad to harness the hon. Gentleman to the Labour Government's objectives. As he is so anxious that pensioners should be rewarded as richly as he would appear to believe, I am sure that he will support the Opposition, as that is the best way in which to achieve the objectives that he mentioned.

The Opposition are aware that big increases in the real value of pensions, such as Labour achieved, must be paid for.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

In a moment.

The Government sometimes argue—no doubt the Secretary of State will do so again today—that however much the Government might like to make substantial increases in pensions, the necessary resources are simply not available. I must tell the Secretary of State that such preening of the conscience would be far more credible if such resources as the Government command were used to reduce poverty and not to enhance wealth. Nye Bevan said that Socialism is the language of priorities. It is. However, the language of priorities also gives meaning to capitalism. The Government's priorities are all too plain. In 1980 they chopped £500 million by uprating pensions and other long-term benefits in line with prices only. They chopped £100 million by deferring the 1980 uprating for two weeks. They chopped another £500 million by abolishing the earnings-related supplement and by other changes in the Social Security Act 1980.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Meacher

They chopped another £200 million through the 1 per cent. clawback in November 1981. In every case—

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way before he leaves chopping?

Mr. Meacher

I shall chop the hon. Lady out of any right to speak if she continues to break in.

Mr. Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Gentleman is afraid.

Mr. Meacher

In each case, the Government reduced aid to pensioners and other people who are among the poorest people in Britain. The total cut amounted to £1 .3 billion. How was the money that was clawed back from pensioners and the poor used? It is perhaps no coincidence that that sum was almost exactly the same as the value of the tax handouts that were given away to the rich in the 1979 and 1983 Budgets. In other words, £1.4 billion was given away in reductions in the higher tax rates and rises in the higher tax thresholds.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way now?

Mr. Meacher


Bearing in mind Government accounting conventions, I am the first to admit that there was not a straight swap from one to the other, but that was unquestionably the effect. Under the Government the poor have got poorer and the rich have got richer. There can be no doubt about that and it has happened on a big scale.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of my constituents have managed to put away a certain amount of their income for a rainy day or for their retirement? They have done that throughout their working life although they were not well paid as it is not a well-paid area. Will the hon. Gentleman express the regret that he should feel that the Government whom he supported chopped their savings in half?

Mr. Meacher

I am glad that the hon. Lady is getting so worked up about private pensioners with modest private pensions.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I am talking not about them but about elderly people who have put money away out of an honest income.

Mr. Meacher

I am also talking about elderly people who saved up modest pensions.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Not pensions but small lump sums.

Mr. Meacher

Perhaps the hon. Lady is as worried as the Opposition that the Government decided in Cabinet—apparently they did not understand what they were doing but perhaps that is the normal way in which they make decisions—to make major cuts in the private pensions of occupational pensioners.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

So the hon. Gentleman does not like that?

Mr. Meacher

I am desperately opposed to that cut. If the hon. Lady were a little more genuine and a little less partisan she would join us in condemning the Government for what they have just done.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon. Friend should be aware that, when he is dealing with the hon. Lady, she is likely to be envious of the fact that he is advancing an argument for increasing pensions because she has just suffered the bad result, so I am told, of having her European seat taken away from her. She is therefore losing more than half of the expenses that she has been picking up.

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend has the knack of putting his finger on a matter.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

On a point of order, I14r. Deputy Speaker. May I refer you to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I have clearly stated my intentions throughout my term, but the hon. Gentleman has complained that I should not be in Europe—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)


Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady knows that that is not a point of order.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Lady has managed to combine a misunderstood intervention with a bogus point of order. I suggest that she stays in Brussels.

It does not wash when Ministers, such as the Secretary of State, loudly proclaim their integrity, as the right hon. Gentleman has done many times over the past few months. They say that although this has been the worst slump—we agree with that—since the 1930s, nevertheless they have done the decent thing and stuck by the pensioner, but there is not any more money available. The fact is that the record gives the lie to every word of the Government.

I hope the Secretary of State will pay attention to me as I examine what has happened under this Government, on the one hand to the pensioner and on the other to a director paid at the Secretary of State's level. In 1979, the pensioner got an extra £3.80 a week in the uprating. A director got an extra £74 a week from the Budget. These are not my figures but the Government's figures from Hansard of 21 November 1979, column 227. That £74 a week would be a fortune for pensioners, but that is the priority of the Government in our society-0 for the pensioners and £74 for the directors. This was not a one-off exercise in the first year—the exuberance of the new Government. In 1980, the pensioner got £3.85 and the director an extra £9.33 a week from the Budget. Again, these are the Government's figures from Hansard 23 April 1980, column 146. In 1982, the pensioner got an extra £3.25, and the director and extra £10.67 a week from the Budget. These are again the Government figures in Hansard of 20 April 1982, column 60 It was not that the money was not available, but that under capitalism—and Thatcherism is a reversion to unreconstructed capitalism—pensioners do not count high in the priorities. That is what this is about.

It is not only the present pension provision, but the future pension entitlement that is under threat from the Government. The best deal that pensioners ever had was provided by Labour's 1975 earnings-related pension scheme, and I pay a warm tribute to my former colleague, Brian O'Malley, for that. When the scheme is fully mature in 1998, a married man on average earnings will receive a pension of over half his gross earnings, and a single person on similar earnings will receive a pension of around 40 per cent. That is a huge step forward. However, such is the Government's lust for cuts that this excellent scheme is subject of an unspecified threat.

In his New Society article a month ago the Secretary of State said: We will be announcing a major inquiry into pensions soon. We all know what Government inquiries into health and social security matters are about, and I understand that his officials were none too pleased about the right hon. Gentleman's disclosure, so no doubt there is trouble brewing. The interviewer asked the Secretary of State a straight question, which was: Can you give an assurance that the earnings-related scheme will be preserved in its present form? The Secretary of State gave a characteristically evasive answer and said: The aim is to try to come to an objective view of what the cost of it is going to be and to look at the other side—what standard of living people in retirement should be entitled to. I have news for the Secretary of State. People are entitled to receive what they have contracted and paid for, and nothing less. The truth is that this scheme is a solemn contract between the generations. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an unequivocal and public commitment that he will not interfere with it? In particular, because this rumour is rife, as the Secretary of State must know, will he explicitly deny the rumours that the Government are contemplating cuts such as discontinuing the right of a widow to go on receiving the pension on the basis of her husband's contributions? Surely, there are some things that are sacred even for this Government. I hope that the Secretary of State will give that answer.

The reality is, as my hon. Friends seem to believe, that wherever the Government's eye turns on matters affecting pensioners, nothing is safe from them, whether the threat is cuts in services, removal of concessions, higher charges on essentials, or simply inactivity where reform is needed or was promised.

Let us take the pension earnings rule. In 1979, the Tory manifesto pledged the Tory party to phasing out the earnings rule in the lifetime of Parliament, but nothing was done. The pledge was repeated in the 1983 Tory manifesto and so far nothing has been done again. Even this latest increase this week has still not returned the value of the pensioners' earning rule to the real level at which it was held in May 1979 when the Labour Government left office.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

What has not emerged is that there are many pensioners, particularly the older and more dignified ones, who simply will not go for supplementary benefit even though the value of their state pension has been eroded. This is the reality. They will live in the same conditions as in the case cited by my hon. Friend at the beginning of his speech. Those are the facts, and the pensioners are not fools. Those who live close to them, and Labour Members in particular have these cases coming to them all the time, are not fooled either. The Government will reap the whirlwind in consequence of the pensioners' movement against the Government.

Mr. Meacher

That is an important point. There are about 1 million pensioners who, for their own good reasons that we all understand, and for the sake of their self-respect, are unwilling to accept what they see as help. They will accept benefits only as a right. It is for that reason that we are so concerned that the pension has simply been kept up in line with prices and not with earnings. Had it been kept in line with earnings, even those 1 million would have had a steadily increasing income. My hon. Friend is making a point about which we should all be concerned.

Let us also take the example of the death grant, which is deeply symbolic of the yearning for dignity of millions of elderly people. In March 1982, the Government issued a consultative document on the subject, which represented a typically mean response to the problem. No new resources would be committed to the grant. Instead, they proposed the restructuring of the existing expenditure on a means-tested basis. I warn the Secretary of State that this is totally unacceptable. The right hon. Gentleman might as well withdraw that consultative document. The Labour party will increase the grant and keep it as a benefit as of right, and it will take action to control funeral prices, which have soared during the past few years. I am convinced that that is the right solution.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that mobility is a crucial part of the health and well-being of pensioners. In London, 1 million pensioners have claimed bus passes, yet Age Concern was so troubled by the Government's White Paper on public transport that it was moved to say, with good reason, that the future of free public transport for the elderly in London is now at serious risk.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the alliance has given considerable support to the points that he makes against the Government, but I should be interested to hear how the Labour party, were it returned to office, would finance those proposals. During the election campaign in the summer the shadow Chancellor, who would presumably have been Chancellor in a Labour Government, disowned most of the economic policies on which the Labour party fought the general election.

Mr. Meacher

One could ask a similar question of the SDP, but since that party will never be elected to office it does not matter. It is little use to make promises. What really matters is the record, which shows that the Labour Government made available to pensioners, in the state pension and in other ways, much more money than has been given to them before or since then.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) has made a fair point. Is the Labour party pledged to the precise promises that it made about pensions and related spending during the election campaign?

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman must await our statement of policy, which I hope will be produced soon. However, I assure him that the Labour party will devote considerably greater resources to pensioners than he has managed to do.

It is widely accepted on both sides of the House that heating costs for the elderly have become a scandal. There is good reason to believe that the number of pensioners who die from hypothermia is much greater than we see in the official records. However, leaving aside the headlines about hypothermia deaths, surveys have shown that more than one quarter of the elderly—or 2.5 million people—will have living room temperatures this winter below the level at which employers would be liable to prosecution under the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. Fuel prices are critical for old people, since the proportion of their budget that is devoted to heating is almost double that of other households. Pensioners have been nothing less than devastated by rocketing fuel prices during the past three or four years. During that period pensions increased by 68 per cent., but electricity prices increased by 84 per cent. and gas prices by no less than 116 per cent. The Government are condemning millions of pensioners to a life in the cold. That is why, under this Government, more and more pensioners are forced to make the fundamental choice between eating and heating. It is a national disgrace.

Mr. McCrindle

The hon. Gentleman has expressed indignation about heating costs. Can he explain why, in constant 1982–83 prices, the total amount of expenditure on heating costs under the Labour Government in 1978–79 was £201 million, whereas under the Conservative Government in 1982–83 it had increased to £325 million?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman forgets to take into account the fact that there are many more pensioners today than there were in 1979. If he works out the sum on a per capita basis, I suspect that there will be little difference in the figures.

The housing benefits scheme—which is a polite euphemism for an administrative mess—has been a disaster. More than 1 million pensioners have lost benefit, and one sixth of them have lost more than 75p a week, which is no mean sum for a pensioner. Far from simplifying matters, this scheme has spawned a system that is difficult and expensive to administer, and incomprehensible to most of those whom it is supposed to help. The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) failed to recognise that the Chancellor has made matters worse because of the cuts in housing benefit that he announced in his autumn statement last Thursday. They will especially hit elderly people with a modest occupational pension, who may suffer cuts of up to £5 a week. There must be something radically wrong with a scheme that leads to old-age pensioners who have not owed a penny in rent in their lives suddenly being in rent arrears of £400.

I quote only one example of the chaos and anxiety that the scheme has produced: Until last November the Shaws paid their £18 a week rent from their pensions, which was topped-up with a payment from the DHSS. Then they got a letter telling them to stop paying rent. They did as they were told and their pension was cut by £13 a week as the rent was now paid direct to the council. At the beginning of February the Shaws got a letter from Birmingham Council, threatening them with eviction because they were behind with their rent. Horace, an 80-year-old retired railway guard who has never been in debt in his life could not understand it, so he telephoned the council. Nothing happened until May, when the Shaws saw their local councilor. The housing department said everything had been sorted out, but the next month the Shaws got another letter telling them that they were £365 in arrears. And later in the month the council told them to pay these off at £2 a week. That is pretty rich for those who simply did what they were told.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the Members of Parliament for Birmingham have taken up some of the cases to which he quite fairly referred? There has been much worry, but it was caused by difficulties at the beginning of the scheme, which have now been sorted out. Does he agree that it is infinitely better that the rent should be paid direct either to the local council or to the private landlord, because before this scheme rents were often not paid?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Lady is wrong to say that the matter is almost settled. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pensioners are still suffering from chronic anxiety. Rent arrears in the Anchor Association have soared to unprecedented levels and are only gradually decreasing.

I am glad that the Minister for Health is in the Chamber, because I wish to deal with the cuts in health and personal social services. Elderly people, more than anyone else, will bear the brunt of the health cuts, and for them the consequences will not only be those set out in our motion—lower living standards. There will also be the loss of the care on which they depend and which they desperately need, and unquestionably for some it will mean premature death. Last Friday I visited Thornton Heath hospital in Bradford, of which the Minister will be aware, where 70 frail elderly patients are looked after lovingly by staff whose devotion to them led them to occupy the hospital. Now it is threatened with closure by the so-called Lawson cuts. It is the only home that those elderly and helpless patients know. If the Government cuts force its closure, and that of many similar hospitals, it will almost certainly mean that half of the patients will die within about three months. That is what happened when the Government forced the closure of St. Benedict's hospital, and the story is being repeated all over Britain. The elderly are suffering, and the consequences are tragic.

Is that what we have come to in Britain? Do not the pensioners, who have served Britain with their labour for all their lives, deserve better from us? Are not the indignities and deprivations that I mentioned, and the multiple hardships that are being heaped on millions of pensioners, an indictment of the nation and of this Government, who have made it all too clear that their priority is to stuff the pockets of the rich with gold, even if it means that the elderly and the poor go without food and suffer the cold?

We believe in a better society, a society where pensioners share in rising living standards, where expanding health and personal social services provide a base for security and dignity in old age, and where the needs of the elderly are not sacrificed to the interests of those who have wealth and power. It is because we not only believe in that but have shown in the past how on each count rhetoric can be matched by action that I call on all my right hon. and hon. Friends and all other hon. Members who share our ideals to vote for our motion tonight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

5.40 pm
The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: congratulates Her Majesty's Government for successive increases in retirement pensions which have increased the purchasing power of nine million pensioners since 1978–79; recognises the success of this Government's economic policies in reducing and controlling inflation; and notes that the greatest single threat to the security, savings, and living standards of pensioners would be the reversal of these policies. I again welcome the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to his new job and to his first debate in that capacity. He comes to these debates with a record of his own, because he was a junior Minister at the Department of Health and Social Security in the Labour Government between June 1975 and April 1976. That period was significant for pensioners in a number of ways which it appears have temporarily escaped the hon. Gentleman's memory.

First, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) was right in what she said. The hon. Gentleman did not say much about the rate of inflation during his time at the Department of Health and Social Security. During that period, inflation was destroying pensioners' savings at a record rate. It was the highest inflation rate for generations. During his period at the DHSS it reached 26.9 per cent. So the hon. Gentleman is uniquely qualified to talk about the effects of inflation on the pensioner.

Secondly, there was the matter of the Christmas bonus. The hon. Gentleman did not mention that, although he mentioned virtually everything else. Opposition Members now say a great deal about increasing that bonus, but it should be remembered that in 1975 and 1976 the Labour Government did not pay a Christmas bonus at all.

Thirdly, and most significant—this is particularly important, bearing in mind the hon. Gentleman's remarks about cynically changing the system—he did not say that during his time as a Minister at the DHSS Ministers decided to change the uprating basis. They decided to switch from the historic to the forecast method. That meant one thing, and one thing alone: they did not pay pensioners for the period when inflation was at its highest. As a result, the Labour Government, who should have paid 21 per cent. on the historic method, paid 15 per cent., thereby saving themselves £500 million. At today's prices that is more than £1 billion. Therefore, we shall not take lectures from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Meacher

No doubt the Secretary of State has had Conservative Central Office, as well as his Department, working flat out to find criticisms, so I hope he will accept that what he has said is remarkably feeble. Bearing in mind the three criticisms that he has made, will he confirm that pensions rose by 20 per cent. over and above inflation during the Labour Government's five years in office and that under his Administration and that of his predecessors pensions rose by 3 per cent.?

Mr. Fowler

If the hon. Gentleman regards the three criticisms that I made of his record as feeble, I should tell him that there are many other criticisms that we shall make of it. It would be a mistake for the House to believe that in his period at the DHSS he was seen as the unquestioned hero of the pensioners. I quote from The Times of 11 March 1976, which, for the hon. Gentleman, had the rather unpromising headline: Minister shouted down at pensions rally. The report says: old age pensioners shouted down Mr. Meacher, Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Security, yesterday as he tried to explain the Government's record on pensions. Before the hon. Gentleman claims that it was a meeting of retired Conservative agents, I should point out that it was a rally of 2,000 pensioners from all over the country, and it was organised by a trade union action committee. The hon. Gentleman has a great deal to be modest about on his own record, and we on the Conservative Benches do not feel inclined to take lectures from him.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Before the Secretary of State leaves the three points of criticism, one of which was the Christmas bonus, will he be announcing an increase in the Christmas bonus? Is he aware that to maintain it at the level at which it was introduced it should now be £38? Will he accept the early-day motion that was signed by many of his colleagues, including the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who has conveniently disappeared? Ah, there he is! Will the Secretary of State announce an increase in the Christmas bonus today, because this is the perfect opportunity?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman's eyesight is about as bad as his points. My answer is that we have no intention of abolishing it this Christmas, which is what the hon. Member for Oldham, West did.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Before the Secretary of State leaves the subject of meeting pensioners, is he prepared to say that he will leave the doors of his office and come and meet the hundreds of pensioners in Southwark who today said that the Labour Government's record was inadequate, but that this Government's record was considerably worse? Does he accept that pensioners in Britain are worse off than pensioners in any other state in the European Community?

Mr. Fowler

I shall do a deal with the hon. Gentleman. Rather than leaving the doors of my office, I will open the doors of my office and he can bring a delegation of pensioners to see me.

Mr. Hughes

The only problem is that the Minister's colleagues might be a little perturbed to see 700 pensioners coming up the escalators at Alexander Fleming house. However, if the offer is on, I shall certainly accept it.

Mr. Fowler

The offer is on, and I should be delighted to see a representative delegation.

I say that Conservative Members are not prepared to accept lectures from the hon. Member for Oldham, West for three major reasons. First, the motion that stands in the name of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues is headed: Pensioners' Loss of Purchasing Power. The hon. Gentleman in his speech ranged from the new method of uprating to the changes in housing benefit. I shall come to those points, because they are clearly important.

If this debate is about living standards, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's starting point would have been the rate of inflation. The fact that inflation is down to levels not experienced since the 1960s is surely one of the Government's main dramatic achievements and contributions to the living standards of retired people who, all too often in the past, saw their savings slashed in real value. The single greatest threat to the financial security of old people is the prospect of a return to the levels of inflation which so ravaged the country in the mid-1970s.

There was a period when that fact was recognised by the Labour Front Bench. The White Paper "The Attack on Inflation" published in July 1975 noted that prices had risen by 25 per cent.

In unequivocal terms it declared: This must not go on. Failure to control inflation would mean massive and indiscriminate cuts in public expenditure with crippling damage to the social services. Success in controlling inflation is the best guarantee against this. That statement is as true today as it was then.

The tragedy of the Labour party is that the bitter truths that were learnt then have been forgotten, but the people of this country have not forgotten that the previous Labour Government presided over a rise in prices of 110 per cent. That is particularly true of retired people who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston said, saw the real value of their savings eroded and the security of their fixed incomes shattered.

It is fair to say that retired people expect the Government to protect their savings, and I believe that the Government have a duty to do that. It is not enough for any Government to say that they have kept national insurance pensions in line with the cost of living index and to ignore the rate of price increases. If inflation rises at 20 per cent. a year, that not only erodes savings and eats into occupational pensions—many occupational pensions are not index linked—but it destroys the base of industry from which the resources for social provision can come.

Any Government who are serious about maintaining pensioners' living standards must also be serious about reducing inflation in this country. The public can judge for themselves in which party they have the most confidence.

I cannot accept the charges made by the Opposition, even on their own terms. I accept that the Government have responsibility to provide not just for national insurance pensions but for extra help for those who need it. The facts are that, in spite of the worst recession since the end of the second world war, we are currently spending £35 billion a year on the social security budget. As a result of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement last week net spending next year will increase to almost £37 billion. By any standard, that is an enormous budget, amounting to nearly 30 per cent. of all public spending. Over half of that is devoted to pensioners and the elderly.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Minister accept that the increases in fuel prices will be a nightmare for many pensioners during the winter? Do the Government intend to help any of the 2 million pensioners who are not on supplementary benefit but are in receipt of rent and rate rebates and do not receive a penny towards their fuel bills? Does he recognise the hardship, nightmares and agony suffered by those who cannot afford an increase in fuel prices? The price of gas has increased by 116 per cent. during the past four years, which is double the increase in the retail price index.

Mr. Fowler

I recognise those problems. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that expenditure on heating additions will be about £100 million more this year in real terms than during the last year of the Labour Government.

It is important to say that the improvement in benefits payable from this week means that the Government have more than fulfilled their pledge to protect the real value of pensions. This week's uprating takes the pension 75 per cent. above the rate in November 1978. Over the same period the retail price index increased by about 70 per cent.

We have raised the capital limit for supplementary pensions by 20 per cent. to £3,000. We have also increased the single payments limit and introduced a £1,500 disregard of the surrender value of life assurance policies. In the last Budget, tax thresholds were increased, benefiting people on lower incomes and taking about 1.25 million people out of tax altogether—and many of those were pensioners. The hon. Member for Oldham, West will have heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement last week. He will know, therefore, that we have made provision for not only pensions but other benefits—supplementary benefit, unemployment benefit and child benefit—which will be increased in line with prices next year.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that in operating the commitment that he has just given about the increase in benefit next year there will be no fudging of figures as in the cuts in this week's increase to pensioners with children and widowed mothers?

Mr. Fowler

There will be no fudging of figures. I can also give an assurance on one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West about widows. We do not intend to change the position of widows.

Mr. Rooker

I said "widowed mothers."

Mr. Fowler

We had to make some economies in this year's budget. We made no secret of it. It would have been remarkable in a budget of £37 billion had we not. The hon. Member for Oldham, West must remember that expenditure on housing benefit currently amounts to something approaching £4 billion. It goes to almost 7 million households and affects 21 million people. The changes to come into effect next April will amount to less than 5 per cent. of total spending and will leave 6.3 million households receiving help. Moreover, we have specifically designed the changes to protect poorer households, and that includes the pensioners.

The hon. Gentleman made the further point that we have changed the system of uprating, from the forecast to the historic or actual method, to the disadvantage of pensioners. I have already touched on the reasons why we moved to the forecast system in the first place. If anyone wants confirmation of the motivation of the then Labour Government for that change, he has only to read the memoirs of the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Barnett, who said: The reason was simple: with inflation forecast to show a substantial fall, if we had not made such a change, we would be increasing pensions and other benefits by nearly 30 per cent. There is no doubt why the Labour Government moved that way. They moved for no reason other than to make a once and for all saving at the expense of pensioners. What also became clear later was that the forecast method with which they then lumbered the country was more often wrong than right. During the past seven years, forecasts have been wrong five times. Sometimes there has been an overestimate and sometimes an underestimate of inflation. The measure used to determine pensions and benefits for millions of people was shown to be three times more likely to be wrong than right.

So in the Social Security and Housing Benefits Act which we introduced in April this year, the system was changed and we returned to the actual method of measurement. In other words, we have the benefit of an exact measurement of inflation between May in one year and May in another, and that figure becomes available in June and forms the basis of the November uprating.

If I may say so, there is one significant difference between our proposal and what the Labour Government did in 1976. In 1976, the Labour Government made a once and for all saving. There was no way in which pensioners could ever catch up with the £500 million that they had lost. By definition, as the hon. Gentleman said, under our system if there should be an increase in inflation between May and the November uprating, it is automatically taken account of in the following uprating. These arguments were fully and extensively debated earlier this year, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Bar (Mr. Rooker) would be the first to confirm, not only in the House, but throughout the general election campaign. There was nothing hidden about the change.

There is one further important point that I should like to make. There are wider issues involving pensions policy. The decisions that we take now affect the entitlement of people in 20, 30 or 40 years' time. The hon. Member for Oldham, West is clearly right to be concerned about this year's uprating of national insurance pensions, but it is surely also right for him to be concerned about future generations of pensioners. There was little mention in his speech of occupational pensions.

At present 11.5 million people in this country are covered by occupational pensions. It is right that their interests should be protected as well, and that was at least part of the intention of the Social Security Pensions Act 1975. Like the hon. Member for Oldham, West, I pay tribute to Brian O'Malley for his work on that Act. The Conservative party, then in opposition, gave an unopposed Second Reading to that measure. We did so because on pensions policy it is necessary to have a degree of agreement between parties on the way ahead. Prior to that legislation various schemes had been put forward but had perished. There was the Crossman scheme and the scheme of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). We on this side of the House—and I was chief Opposition spokesman at that time—took the view that this uncertainty could not go on. We sought the views of the pensions industry, which overwhelmingly advised that we should proceed on the basis of the proposals contained in the 1975 Bill and that there should be a firm long-term basis for pensions development.

Mr. Bidwell


Mr. Fowler

The result has been a partnership between the Government and the occupational schemes in the provision of pensions. That partnership has been to the overwhelming benefit of the public.

Although occupational pensions matters are generally negotiated and financed by employers and employees, the Government have a role to play in this area. Most employees in occupational schemes have no option but to join the schemes as part of their contracts of service. The Government, therefore, cannot turn a blind eye when members join schemes with apparently favourable terms only to find the unfairness of those terms should they later leave that particular job. Basically that is the position of early leavers at the moment. The problem is that someone who leaves a scheme and goes to another job often leaves behind him a pension entitlement, but that entitlement is frozen until the age of retirement. Alternatively, if he transfers his pension, the transfer value also reflects the frozen rights. I do not believe that that position can be justified. In its 1981 report the Occupational Pensions Board declared that it remained a fact that many early leavers lose and often lose substantially and that it cannot be just that early leavers from pension schemes should suffer in relation to those who stay.

Because of this concern, in September I convened a conference on early leavers. I do not pretend that there is complete agreement, but there is now a wide consensus and acceptance that reform is needed.

Mr. Bidwell


Mr. Fowler

Consequently the Government have now decided that it would be right to legislate at the next suitable opportunity.

The legislative changes we propose will be broadly on the lines of the Occupational Pensions Board's majority recommendation. They will require schemes to revalue pension rights of future early leavers up to the time when they take their pension by 5 per cent. a year or, if prices rise by less than 5 per cent., by that amount. Next week I shall be issuing a consultative document setting out the Government's proposals in greater detail, and I should like to have reactions and comments by the end of February so that we can keep open the option, which has many attractions, of legislating in the next Session.

Mr. Bidwell

We accept, because of the forward-looking projects with which the right hon. Gentleman has been dealing, that under any future Government pensioners, in relation to the rest of the country, will be better off because improvements in occupational pension schemes are proceeding apace. But the immediate problem involves those who had no chance of contributing in a substantial way to occupational pension schemes. Does the Minister accept that the more the value of the state retirement pension is eroded, flattened out or sustained, the greater will be the administrative costs of seeing whether people are entitled to supplementary benefit? The myriad extra benefits available to people struggling for dignity will mean more administrative costs. Has the Department taken that on board? I do not think that the previous Labour Government went into it exhaustively.

Mr. Fowler

The adequacy of pension provision now and in the future is a fundamental matter with which any Government must be concerned. I shall return to that point.

Mr. Meacher

The Secretary of State is apparently using the opportunity of the debate to make an important statement about the early leaver problem. Will he undertake to make a formal statement to the House, because there are many other issues, such as disclosure of information and the policing and regulation of schemes, on which the House has a right to question him? Will he make a statement on another occasion?

Mr. Fowler

I cannot give that undertaking, but it is fair in a debate on pensions for me to announce the Government's pensions policy. If I do not have many more interruptions, the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate will have a full three and a half hours to go over this point. I will do what I can to provide further information to the hon. Gentleman. I stand by what I said. It is important in this area to have as much agreement as possible. I appreciate and understand that there will be differences between us on pensions policy, but it is important to try to seek as much agreement as we can.

A linked area in which we look for improvement in the operation of occupational pension schemes is the disclosure of information to members, to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West has just referred. It is important that members of pension schemes should not only be provided with full information about their individual rights, particularly when they change jobs, but have access to information about the general situation of the scheme, as revealed by the audited accounts, actuarial valuations, annual trustee reports, investment reports and so on. There should be as much information as possible. That was the subject of a further report by the Occupational Pensions Board in 1982. At the time of publication I said that the Government accepted in principle the need to legislate on the disclosure of information to members of occupational pension schemes.

I also announced the setting up of a working party of officials to consider the pensions law. I am considering its conclusions, which also cover the possibility of a register of occupational pension schemes, the need for trustees' and employers' responsibilities to be clarified, and the issue of supervision. I shall also pay careful attention to the outcome of Professor Gower's study on the protection of investors in, and beneficiaries from, pension funds. When I have seen those proposals—which I understand will be ready very shortly—I intend again to publish a consultative paper with the aim of starting the consultative process early in 1984 so that those disclosure measures might be included in the legislation proposed for early leavers.

That much has been decided for legislation on early leavers and disclosure. But one of the proposals that is now attracting a great deal of attention is the proposal that individuals, if they wish, may be given the chance to have their own personalised pensions. This includes the proposal for personal and portable pensions, which has been put forward by, among others, Mr. Nigel Vinson. The aim is to encourage schemes in which the individual member knows what his personal stake in the pension fund is and can identify the units of pension wealth that he has built up. At the minimum, this would promote greater interest in the development and investment of funds, but the ultimate aim would be that people leaving a job would be able to take with them the pension wealth that they had built up in that scheme.

The debate that has been opened up by this proposal for a portable pension scheme has demonstrated not only that the concept has considerable attractions to many people, but that there are considerable practical problems to be overcome. For example, there is the old problem and question of contracting-out conditions, and the whole issue of the employer's contribution. Nevertheless, I believe that this proposal deserves careful study, and it comes together with a number of other very important questions that will require decisions in the coming years in relation to state and occupational pensions. There are the questions of pension age, of the balance between the working population and the retired population and of demographic growth. Those issues will crucially affect the expectations of millions of people for 20, 30, 40 years ahead.

Accordingly, the Government believe that it is the right time to set up a special inquiry into provision for retirement, which I shall be chairing, which will study the future development, adequacy and costs of state, occupational and private provisions for retirement in the United Kingdom, including the portability of pension rights, and consider possible changes in those arrangements, taking account of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Social Services in its report on retirement age.

The House has the benefit of the report of the Select Committee on Social Services on pension age, but the decisions to be faced could obviously involve substantial costs to be borne by future generations of contributors, and that cannot be considered in isolation from other pensions issues. The House will be debating the matter on Friday, when my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) moves the Second Reading of his Bill on pension age. I shall tomorrow publish the Government's response to that Select Committee report, and that will make it clear that the report will form an integral part of the inquiry.

Another important issue concerns changes that might occur in the age structure of the population in the next 40 years, and, if I may say so, it is important to look carefully at the position. The present projections show a patchwork that falls as well as rises in the numbers of old people relative to the rest of the population. The number of people over 65, having risen by more than one third in the past 20 years, will now remain more or less stable as a proportion of the population until about 2010. Thereafter, indications are that the proportion of elderly people will increase quite rapidly.

Estimates of future pension costs must also depend on assumptions about matters such as the future age structure of the population. But they also depend on other assumptions—for instance, about price and earnings increases. I will illustrate this from the recent report by the Government Actuary on long-term pension costs—a subject about which the hon. Member for Perry Barr often talks. On the least favourable assumption about the real increase in earnings, the Government Actuary's report shows that class 1 contribution rates would increase from 15.4 per cent. now to 21.9 per cent. in 2025. On another assumption—that the real increase in earnings is in line with the historic growth of 2 per cent. and that the pension remains price-protected—the contribution rate would fall in the same period to 13.5 per cent. That underlines the importance of reviewing the whole position carefully before reaching conclusions, and that basically is what the inquiry will be about.

The membership of the inquiry will include Ministers from the other Departments most concerned, the Government Actuary and figures outside the Government. I am not giving a comprehensive list, but they will include people such as Mr. Stewart Lyon, president of the Institute of Actuaries; Mr. Marshall Field, chairman of the joint working group of the main occupational pensions organisations; and the eminent economist, Professor Alan Peacock.

There is I think one other important point to make. No one can doubt the public importance of pensions policy. These are important issues for public debate, and accordingly I shall conduct the inquiry as openly as possible. The public, employers, unions and pension interests will all be invited to express their views, and they will be free to make their evidence public. Certainly we will also expect to have some public sessions, but I do not envisage this inquiry going on for years. My aim is to produce conclusions—for example, on portable pensions—by the spring. I hope that the inquiry will be completed by next summer or autumn, and following that the Government will publish their conclusions as soon as possible.

Mrs. Jill Knight

Will my right hon,. Friend make sure that when the inquiry is at work it looks with a very jaundiced eye indeed at some of the figures that were put forward today by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who said that in Birmingham hundreds of thousands of pensioners were in difficulty over their rents—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have checked the figures. Considering the size of the population of Birmingham and the fact that 40 per cent. of households may be receiving housing benefit, it would be impossible for the figure to be anywhere near that mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, even if no cases had been settled, but I know from experience that many have been settled.

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that the point she raised will be mentioned in the debate.

Provision for retirement is an issue in which hon. Members in all parts of the House have an interest. We have a duty to satisfy ourselves that the pension promises of today can become the pension payments of tomorrow. My aim in setting up an inquiry is not to call into question the fundamental pensions structure that was established in the 1970s with all-party agreement, and to which I was a party. Rather, it is to ensure that our pensions structure is soundly based, that it is fair as between contributors and beneficiaries as well as between all scheme members and that it continues to command the support of the community as a whole.

A responsible Government must look ahead. Only in that way can we be sure that successive generations of pensioners get the pensions that they need and deserve. We stand by what this Government have done for pensioners since 1979, and I want to see that record maintained for future generations of pensioners.

6.18 pm
Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

The Secretary of State based much of his defence of the Government on the need to keep inflation down, and pensioners, like the rest of us, are happy to see inflation coming down. However, that is not sufficient to answer the charge that is being levelled against the Government in this debate.

Special housing, day care, residential and other facilities for pensioners are already inadequate. The social benefits system is already under strain and attack, and it also is inadequate. If there are problems now, there will be much greater problems in a few years. By 1986, there will a large bulge in the aged population, and in Scotland 864,000 people will fall into that category. In the following years, an increasing proportion of the population will be becoming elderly with a smaller proportion of the economically active population supporting them. If unemployment figures are not drastically reduced, the system will be even more insupportable.

The most suitable accommodation for the growing number of frail and elderly people in Scotland will be sheltered houses and, in some cases, residential care. Officially, it is necessary to have 50 sheltered houses per 1,000 people aged 65 and over. In my view, this is a gross under-estimation of needs, given the appalling housing conditions that many old people must endure.

According to "Scottish Housing Statistics" and the "Scottish Abstract of Statistics", the 1983 edition, 9,458 sheltered houses provided 15,500 places in 1981. I doubt that conditions have improved dramatically during the past couple of years. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on that point. According to projected 1986 figures for the elderly in Scotland, we shall need 56,200 sheltered housing places. That is judged by the official standard of 65 places per 1,000 people aged 65 and over.

The current level of pensions is scandalous. Old people have always been under-provided with pensions by Tory and Labour Governments. The Government's latest trick is extremely nasty. They decided that the increase in pensions which occurs in the autumn should be based on the inflation rate until May 1983. The rate of inflation until May 1983 was 3.7 per cent. Expecting that the rate of inflation would be higher in November 1983—it is now about 5 per cent.—the Government followed that decision and did the pensioners out of their money. Pension payments have fallen behind inflation and pensioners are now worse off for the third consecutive year.

The Government have sunk fairly low at times, but this must be one of the lowest and meanest tricks to date. This example of hypocrisy is outlined by the fact that the Government in their 1983 manifesto state: In the next Parliament we shall continue to protect retirement pensions and other linked long-term benefits against rising prices. After this highway robbery, the unforunate pensioners are expected to be duly thankful to the Government for their Christmas bonus. With a Santa Claus like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, few pensioners can look forward to a happy new year in 1984.

Last year in Norway the state pension was equivalent to £49 for a single person and £80 for a married couple. This year, the figures were £52 and £82 respectively. Meanwhile, in Scotland, which is also an oil country—it is an oil-exploited country—pensions have been £33 and £53 respectively. The Scottish National party has long supported a substantial increase in pensions, at least to Norwegian levels, for our old people in Scotland. We have the wealth to do it. Only Westminster holds us back from implementing progressive social policies in Scotland.

It is bad enough for pensioners in England to cope with the present situation and the Government, but it is generally harder for pensioners in Scotland. There are two reasons. First, the price of everyday foodstuffs and other commodities is higher in Scotland. According to official answers given in the House, it is consistently 3 per cent. higher than the United Kingdom average. In some parts of Scotland, the price is considerably higher. In my constituency, in Benbecula, the cost of everyday shopping and services is 16 per cent. above the United Kingdom average. This level of price hardship is found elsewhere in rural Scotland. How can Scottish pensioners, never mind working people, cope with such a situation? Many pensioners are on supplementary benefits. In Glasgow, 27 per cent. of pensioners are on supplementary benefit. That shows how bad the situation is.

Secondly, heating bills are higher in Scotland. To heat a comparable house in Scotland to the same temperature in winter as in the south of England takes much more energy, and that must be paid for. In Glasgow, heating a comparable house takes at least 20 per cent. more energy, and in Aberdeen at least 30 per cent. more energy, than in the south of England.

The Scottish National party has often called for a cold climate allowance to be paid to pensioners and other households on supplementary benefit. The automatic payment of such an allowance would equalise living conditions for those in colder areas and would go a long way towards preventing the series of tragic hypothermia deaths about which we read in our constituencies every winter.

Other measures could be undertaken to enhance and improve the lives of our pensioners—the abolition of standing charges for pensioner households on gas and the introduction of concessionary television licences for pensioners. Surely that is not beyond the Government's resources, even in the present climate. When a Bill was introduced in October 1982 by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and me, no Scottish Tories, Liberals or SDP Members bothered to support it. No doubt, some of them were against it. In a country as potentially prosperous as this—although not at present because of our difficulties—the Government could surely go some way towards alleviating the hard struggle that nearly all pensioners are facing. I therefore support the motion.

6.27 pm
Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

As one who has for many years been at the forefront of those who see the need to improve the lot of members of occupational pension schemes who change their jobs, I warmly welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that he is contemplating legislation along the lines of the Occupational Pensions Board report that was made some time ago. There can be no doubt that, when mobility of labour is becoming increasingly important, the prospect of losing out pension rights is a serious disincentive. Having sometimes felt that I was fighting a one-man campaign, I am delighted that I have been able to persuade my right hon. Friend that the time is ripe to move forward. I could not have been more pleased to hear his announcement.

I am also pleased that the Secretary of State is to mount this wide-ranging inquiry into the future and status of pension provision and its financing. It is wise to encourage the public to engage in the widest possible discussion of the problems that lie ahead, although I in no way concede the point made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that this is another way of saying that the Government are intent on cutting pension entitlements. We do not have to accept that to welcome the wide-ranging inquiry announced by my right hon. Friend.

The House will appreciate that I did not have any knowledge that the subject of portable pensions would be announced by the Secretary of State this afternoon. My right hon. Friend is right in wanting further inquiries into the advantages and—I must be fair—the disadvantages of this imaginative idea. He and I are united in the desire to increase what we choose to call the property-owning democracy by encouraging the development of one's own pot of gold. That can best be achieved by a measure along the lines of the portable pensions idea which has gained currency in 1983.

Pensioners' living standards are at the heart of the debate and a wide range of the main arguments will no doubt be rehearsed today. Front Bench spokesmen on both sides have certainly done that. I shall concentrate on three key issues, which I concede are among the most emotive of the topics to be discussed today—heating costs, concessionary bus fare schemes and supplementary benefits for the elderly.

Hypothermia is not just an emotive word which conjures up feelings of revulsion and distaste in all parts of the House. It can be ended only if we continue to move in the direction in which, as I shall try to prove, the Government are already travelling. The essential element in the prevention of hypothermia is the provision of adequate heating. That may seem so obvious as not to need repeating. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that, and to emphasise that the Government's policy in the whole sphere of social service provision is to give priority to those in greatest need. There can be no doubt that people suffering from or threatened by hypothermia fall into that category.

Overall, the Conservative Government are providing more help with heating costs than did the Labour Government. I do not enjoy putting the argument in a partisan way, but as the hon. Member for Oldham, West, for perfectly understandable reasons, chose to argue in that way it is so some extent incumbent on Government supporters to reply in the same vein.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

What about gas prices?

Mr. McCrindle

If hon. Members will be patient, I shall come to that. I make that comment not as a parliamentary device but because I intend to deal with gas prices shortly.

Basic heating additions are now paid automatically to householders on supplementary benefit who are aged 70 or over. That was introduced by the Conservative Administration in 1980. A heating addition is now paid to 90 per cent. of supplementary benefit pensioners. The Conservatives thus provide more help with heating costs in both real and cash terms than the Labour Government did, as I sought to prove with the statistics that I quoted in my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West. There has been a substantial increase in the heating addition since 1978, with two higher rates being consolidated into one.

I promise not to bore the House with too many statistics, but one or two are helpful at this stage. The increase in the heating addition at November 1983 is 8.6 per cent. That is higher than the rate of inflation and takes into account the disproportionate rise in some elements of fuel costs. The basic rate in 1979 was 95p per week. It is now £2.05 per week. The higher rate was £1.95 or £2.85 in November 1979. It is now £5.05 per week. The increase of 8.6 per cent. will protect the poorest pensioners—those on supplementary benefit—against the rises in electricity prices.

I promised to deal with the gas and electricity price rises now in the offing. I make no secret of the fact that I should have preferred the prospective increases to be avoided, if that had been at all possible. Nevertheless, the increases are likely to be less than the rate of inflation. That may not justify the price rises, but it brings them more into perspective than is likely to be the case in speeches from the Opposition.

The news today that the electricity industry is considering efficiency improvements and economies which could prevent increases in costs is greatly to be welcomed. The Daily Telegraph reports that the electricity industry's review is evidence that not only will the Government have the right to insist on increased efficiency from nationalised industries but that efficiency can increase savings and thereby benefit pensioners as well as other consumers.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) raised the question of standing charges. This applies not only to pensioners on supplementary benefit but to all pensioners and other consumers. I shall concentrate on its effect on pensioners across the board. I ask the gas and electricity undertakings to recognise that if, as a result of Government decisions, it is necessary to increase gas and electricity charges the whole relationship of standing charges to the cost of these basic fuels to the consumer should be examined. I suspect that there can be no greater resentment than that felt by people on low incomes, be they pensioners or otherwise, who have economised in the use of gas and electricity but find that their bills are still dwarfed by the standing charges. If the cost per therm or per unit has to be increased, this is surely an opportunity for the gas and electricity undertakings to consider carefully whether a better balance can be achieved. If I am challenged to say whether that means a slightly higher charge per therm or per unit, I cannot have it both ways. I must concede that that is indeed my proposition to the House and to the gas and electricity undertakings.

Hypothermia is a particular problem at this time of year and the Government have taken steps to prevent pensioners from suffering its effects, but there are other areas of policy in which the Government believe that local authorities are more able than central Government to help. Transport is one such area.

As I have said before, I oppose a national concessionary fares scheme which would extend to all pensioners irrespective of their financial or physical circumstances. It is sometimes overlooked that such a national scheme, which would have to be paid for and might mean a reduction in benefits in other areas, would bring no benefit to the bedridden, to those who are disabled and unable to use public transport or to those who for one reason or another do not wish to use it. None of those people would obtain the benefit that is often adduced for the introduction of such a scheme.

In my ideal world we should press for disproportionately larger increases in the pension itself and leave behind the tendency in recent years to decide how pensioners ought to spend their money. That is not the function of Government. Ideally, the whole principle of such concesssionary schemes should be abandoned. I have to be a realist. I recognise, from experience of my constituency, the popularity of such concessionary schemes. I suppose that I shall have to accept that there is no way of terminating them, because they have become so much a part of the social fabric of pensioners' lives in many parts of the country.

The provisions of concessionary schemes can be arranged much better by local authorities. There will be envy if a pensioner resident in one local authority area gets poor concessionary rates, or, sometimes, none at all, when those living just along the road have a good scheme. I accept that there will be unevenness. Equally, I accept that what is necessary and possible in terms of the cost to the ratepayer will be much more easily ascertainable if the matter is kept in the hands of local authorities rather than introduced as a national scheme.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the provision of many schemes costs the local authorities nothing? The buses, trains, boats and, sometimes, aeroplanes, have vacant seats, and should be available for old-age pensioners.

Mr. McCrindle

I have heard that argument many times. I am fair-minded enough to recognise that there is something in it. With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, it does not go the whole way to answer the objections that I have tried to raise this evening. I have to say that, although there are superficial attractions in the introduction of a national scheme, it would be costly and unfair in some respects to a sizeable section of the population who could not take advantage of it.

For those reasons, and because local authorities are better able to assess the needs of their areas, I should much prefer to leave the matter in their hands. I hope that we shall not continue to add to the number of concessionary schemes introduced through the Government. It is an affront to old people to assume that Parliament necessarily knows better than they do how they want to spend their money. I hope that I have conveyed my preference. I support the Government's broad objective of encouraging local authorities to introduce concessionary fare schemes.

The division across the Chamber is very real when we talk about health and social security benefits. Opposition Members seem to believe that we should for ever put up every social benefit to each person within a particular category. Therefore, they object to what they regard as selectivity. They prefer the universality of putting up benefits and then paying them to everyone, irrespective of need. That is a perfectly defensible position. However, the great divide that is always obvious whenever we debate these matters is between that approach and that of the Government, taken at a time when there are limited resources. Whatever anyone says, resources would still be limited if a Labour Government were in office today. In those circumstances, there is no alternative but to do the very best that we can, sometimes on a selective basis.

Let me give an example. Mention was made of the death grant. The hon. Member for Oldham, West expressed great distaste for the consultative document issued by the Government some time ago. At the heart of the document was the suggestion that it is ludicrous to pay a death grant of £30 in 1983, but that one way of paying a sum almost 10 times that amount to those in real need would be to introduce an element of selectivity. One idea was to pay 10 times that amount in respect of those whose next of kin are left with the responsibility for burial, and are receiving supplementary benefit. That is not the only way, but it was one suggestion. It was rejected by the Opposition. In the meantime, because they are not prepared to countenance the need for selectivity in benefits, the payment of £30 continues to all. That is totally inadequate for those who need it, and it comes willy-nilly to those, including hon. Members, who do not need it under any circumstances.

That is the great division. Although the Opposition hold their views strongly, I hope that they will understand that some Conservative Members who are known to speak on these matters have an equally sincere dedication to doing the best that we can within what we see to be the limited circumstances. If that is the yardstick, Her Majesty's Government have done pretty well so far.

6.45 pm
Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

I represent the inner city area of Manchester, which is no different from any other city. There has been a mass exodus of young people, strong in wind and limb, talented and able. Such people have tended to leave the cities and go to pastures new, to the suburbs and new towns.

There has been a massive decline in manufacturing industry, and people have had to go in search of jobs. What is left in their wake, in inner cities such as Manchester, is a large percentage of people in desperate need. Many categories of people require the welfare services and rely on the services provided by the local authority. One such category is the elderly. There are many of them in the inner city of Manchester who, together with the unemployed, the low skilled, the young unemployed and the ethnic minorities, are victims of a double-edged attack on their livelihoods. One side of that attack is cuts in public expenditure, which have been discussed today. That is a backdoor and underhand tactic to cut facilities for the elderly. The other side of the attack is in the Government's policy for the elderly.

Manchester social services is proud of what it does. I used to say that one had to go outside the city to appreciate the facilities provided in Manchester. The chairman of the social services tells me that he is in the unenviable position of having to make a decision not on who benefits but on who suffers under the Government's enforced local authority cuts.

In the inner cities there is a high demand for home helps, meals on wheels and domiciliary services, but because of the Government's policy to cut finance, and now that we have the new terminology "natural wastage", there is a limited number of staff, and they have to spread their time thinly over the elderly people. Many of them now go wanting. That is not because Manchester social services or the city council is less caring than it was before, but because there is a lack of resources and facilities

Many of the elderly people whom I represent are now marooned in tower blocks. We had a policy to alter and restructure the tower blocks to provide sheltered accommodation, with community rooms, a warden service and all the facilities that the elderly need, but because of the cuts in the housing investment programme that is now a pipedream. The people who suffer are the elderly.

The elderly are the victims of bad housing. The package deals in which people must live have been discussed in the House over and over again. 'Chat is system-built rubbish with inefficient and costly heating systems. The elderly tenant is confronted with an astronomic fuel bill. How have the Government assisted? They have "assisted" the pensioner by increasing the price of gas and electricity. The result is a choice between spending on food and spending on fuel. The pensioner tries to economise, and the result is hardship. It can even mean death. It is estimated that about 600 pensioners die annually from hypothermia. The number who die from other cold-induced illnesses may well run into thousands.

The case of one elderly person comes to my mind. I went to her flat to see what the problem was. She was living in a damp-ridden, condensation-filled room. She could not pay the fuel bill because she was living in the type of development I have described. She was using a paraffin heater. She asked whether I could get the room decorated before her husband came back from hospital where he was dying of cancer. It was necessary to bring in the direct labour department to refurnish the room simply to enable an elderly person to die in dignity. That is what some of the elderly are experiencing in my constituency. What a way to treat the most vulnerable sections of our society.

Pensioners living alone tell me they have less money to spend. They certainly have less money to spend than married couples, but their heating requirements may be even greater. They may need more bodily warmth. Old single people need even more bodily warmth. They may need to heat more than one room. Winter is a frightening time of year for elderly people who do not know whether they will come through it. It is no fault of their own; it is sheer neglect.

In Manchester sheltered accommodation for the elderly was thought to be a great success. Yet these people find they have to pay not only for their own heating costs but, because of a switch in financing, for the heating of corridors, common rooms and the overall cost of the building. That cost comes out of their meagre pensions.

Those people are luckier than pensioners living alone in my constituency who suffer from the cold and die alone. Mr. Jack Jones is absolutely correct when he says that old people are dying simply through neglect.

In "Caring for Old People" the Government said: The Government's overall priority is to reduce and contain inflation. As the economy improves elderly people will share in that improvement. In the meantime we have to hold back public spending and concentrate on the revival of the economy. That was the Government's message to pensioners in 1981.

Public spending has been cut and the economy is in ruins. Its status is stagnation. What faces the elderly at the bottom end of the scale? To them it means a decline into abject poverty. This is what the campaign for the elderly is trying to avoid.

What do elderly people receive after looking forward to retirement and doing their share for the country? They receive a pension that lags behind those in other European countries, whose links have been broken with earnings and prices, whose value should be about £16 higher for a single person and £20 higher for a married couple, and which means a further deterioration in their living standards. They are made to feel inferior, unwanted and a burden to society.

The idea of continuing to throw pensioners a few crumbs of comfort and acting in a charitable way may solve the problem, but that is not what they want. Pensioners want dignity and a feeling of belonging to society.

As more and more elderly people become aware of the injustice, they will make their voice heard. They do not want charity, simply their rights. They have earned them and they are our responsibility. The elderly have provided for us in the past and we should be providing for them for the future.

In recent months I dealt with elderly people who have accepted responsibility for burying their elderly relatives. In one case an elderly person's sister was in a private nursing home and they had not seen each other for years. On the death of the sister my constituent was found to be next-of-kin and this poor lady in her ignorance accepted the responsibility. In doing so she had to accept financing the funeral. Friends contacted the undertaker and the funeral eventually took place. My constituent, a pensioner, was faced with a massive bill to cover that expense. She did not have the resources to pay.

What does £30 cover? The death grant would not bury even a pet budgie at today's funeral costs. It is inadequate to meet any funeral expenses. More and more elderly people are being conned into accepting responsibility only to find the undertaker knocking on the door and demanding his recompense. The Government have failed the elderly not only in the pension but in the death grant, community care, public transport and television licences. However, this neglect is being recognised by 11,500 pensioners and their voice will be heard.

Not only elderly pensioners are suffering. One of my constituents is a war pensioner. This lady, a Mrs. Hibbert of 48 Assheton Road, Newton Heath, Manchester, has just obtained a small warm flat. She has written to me saying: Today I am 71 and 40 years of that I have been a war widow bringing up three daughters on the meagre pension that was awarded at that time. Now I am on my own trying to keep head above water which I do, still on the meagre pension, with a rise this year of about £1.30. To say I am disgusted is putting it very mildly indeed when you realise that if you have a retirement pension with your war pension you are barred from getting any help with heating and other things it makes life very hard trying to save for the heating bill. That is one reason I applied for this flat, so that I would have a warmer winter to look forward to". That flat was provided not by the local authority but by the British Legion. Her husband was a Regular soldier who lost his life fighting for his country in 1944.

That is just one of the voices that are now being raised. When public opinion is on the side of the pensioners the roar will be deafening and I am afraid that the Government will have to listen.

I wish to commend the former Member for St. Pancras, North, Mr. Jock Stallard, who is now in another place, for his fight for the elderly and some advice that he gave us. He told us to recognise the need to look no further than our neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, which makes exemptions similar to those he sought in his Bill.

The Irish provide a free electricity allowance of 300 units for every two weeks of the six winter months as well as exemptions from standing charges and free television licences. The Irish economy cannot claim to be far richer than ours. Therefore, it may be in our interests and those of pensioners to examine the Irish schemes. The former Member for St. Pancras, North said that if they can do it in Ireland we can do it in this country. I know that there will be a fight outside the House, there will certainly be a fight in the Chamber, and people like the former Member for St. Pancras, North will be fighting in the other place.

I ask that we stop quoting statistics and using the pensioner merely as a political football. Pensioners must be treated with the dignity they deserve, and that means paying them a proper pension.

7 pm

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

I feel strongly that this is an appropriate subject on which to address the House in my first debate. I come before the House in all humility to represent the people of the magnificent city of York—a city of great antiquity with Roman and Viking influences and with schools dating from the seventh century that are almost as striking as its medieval centre. Yet the city has very much moved with the times by adapting itself during the Georgian and Victorian eras and by showing its practical care, usually based on strong, Christian, traditional values towards the old.

York's contribution to the community has embraced the foundation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1831 and, this century, the formation of a distinguished university 20 years ago.

The care of the individual was very much the concern of the retiring Member for York, who represented the constituency since 1966, a fact that I generously acknowledge on behalf of the House. He took up many causes and won a special place of mention on an international stage, particularly in the new Commonwealth.

The city's thriving industries—confectionery, the railway, tourism, construction and insurance—will be an absorbing interest of mine. The diversity of industrial investment must be a priority for the next quarter of a century, and I shall do my best to encourage such growth against the background of a living city that continues to conserve the best of the past with the commercial viability of the present and future in mind.

The media, particularly the Yorkshire Evening Press and this year's new birth, BBC Radio York, rightly find much to comment upon for a city that is both ancient and modern. It is a mixture of narrow medieval streets, dominated by the largest and finest gothic cathedral north of the Alps—the scene of last Friday's glorious enthronement of the new archbishop, attended by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister among others. It is a city of elegant Georgian facades and characterful Victorian brick, the whole bisected by two rivers.

It is said that York is Britain's largest village. In that respect, I am pleased to know a great number of its inhabitants who are now of retirement age, and to have seen their lovingly cared for homes, both private and state, in which many are housed.

Turning more specifically to the debate, the Government can take the lead in rethinking society's attitudes to senior citizens. I urge them to seize the opportunity to give our elderly a higher priority in terms of their welfare and dignity. Both sides of the House realise that the legislation affecting pensioners contains unjust anomalies, and I hope that the Government will act to rectify that.

We shall witness a rapid growth in the number of very old and frail persons in Britain. By giving the estimated number for north Yorkshire, of which York is the principal conurbation, hon. Members will be made aware of the alarming increases that are predicted. There will be a 20 per cent. rise in the number of people aged 75 and over, from 46,100 in 1981 to 55,300 in 1991. Within that figure is a 42 per cent. increase in those aged 75 and over who live alone, from 8,300 two years ago to 11,800 in 18 years' time. There will be an even more drastic increase. A rise of 43 per cent. is estimated for those aged 85 and over, from 19,200 in 1981 to 27,400 by 1991. This demographic move requires the Government's urgent attention and they must think well beyond the traditional five-year period.

I urge the Government to ensure full transferability of pension rights for all members of occupational schemes who discontinue service. The pensions movement appears to have taken no effective action to deal with the problems confronted by a member of an occupational scheme who changes jobs during his working life. Such people need protection if we are to ensure proper job mobility and avoid penalising someone who reaches normal retirement age.

There are about 90,000 pension funds. The most effective way of giving statutory effect to my suggestion is for the Government to instruct the superannuation fund office of the Inland Revenue to approve only those deeds of trustees that increase either the transfer value or the value of deferred pensions by 5 per cent. per annum, as recommended by the Occupational Pensions Board. That my be adequate today when we have a low rate of inflation, but any scheme must ensure that the final pension provided protects the individual against the ravages of inflation.

The Government must look again at the earnings level in respect of retirement pensions. That is particularly iniquitous on so-called "unearned" income, which is effectively "savings" income. We must raise the thresholds. The limit has been increased by £7 to £65 this month, but it must be kept under constant review and, I hope, finally abolished.

In 1979, the Conservative manifesto pledged that we would phase out the earnings rule. It stated: It is wrong to discourage people who wish to work after retirement age, and we will phase out the 'earnings rule' during the next Parliament". That pledge was repeated in the 1983 manifesto, which contained the phrase: as soon as we can". However, the figure has not been increased in line with inflation.

Pensioners over 80 years of age have received a relatively mean 25p extra a week since 1971. That would now be more than £1 a week if it were to be increased in line with inflation. Constituents have told me that they find that small element degrading.

The Christmas bonus has not been missed, as it was under another party in 1975, 1976 and almost in 1978. We honour our commitments. If updated in line with inflation, the bonus would now be worth £38.

We Conservatives recognise the energy needs of the elderly, especially during prolonged winters. The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) said that many old people live in properties that are insufficiently heated or which were constructed at a time when oil and electricity were low-cost fuels. I ask the Minister to re-examine the statutory fuel allowance to see whether it goes far enough. Many consider that it is wholly inadequate in the light of today's high fuel costs. Heating allowances should be extended to those receiving housing benefit. The Government should also take account of the sense of injustice felt by those who pay standing charges on relatively small amounts of fuel.

Often, the elderly live in older draughty property and are unable to find the extra money to pay for insulation. Insulation schemes could be better publicised. The Government could do more to help, and the conditions under which insulation grants are given could be extended. At present, such grants are rigidly available only for lofts without insulation. They should be extended to all homes, even to those with a little insulation. It should be remembered that even in the 1970s insulation standards were less stringent than we demand today. As the all-party Energy Select Committee recommended last year, the Government could pay the costs of insulation for poor households.

No pensioner should be disconnected by a fuel board. Fear of disconnection is widespread throughout the country. If the disconnection of pensioners were abolished, debts could still be reclaimed through the courts, and at least some pensioners might not be as fearful as they now are of using fuel.

We should not forget those pensioners who, additionally, are blind and disabled. They face extra costs, such as equipment, because of their disabilities, especially if they are not eligible for extra benefits through supplementary pensions.

They cannot obtain a suitable form of work to supplement their pension. Prior to retirement, such people often secure low-paid jobs and therefore cannot afford superannuation arrangements. Furthermore, the blind and the disabled often retire early and their state pension is reduced.

Several hon. Members have referred to the death grant. In view of my interest in this subject, it is appropriate for me to refer to it. The death grant was foreshadowed 41 years ago in the Beveridge report. Reform of the national insurance death grant is long overdue. However tenuous, it is a contributory benefit. The subject is usually raised at the most distressing time—when a close loved one has died. The full rate of £30 has remained unchanged since 1967, and is one of the lowest in the EC. West Germany's death grant is £26.01p.

The British death grant has increased only twice since the inception of the national insurance scheme. It covers barely 10 per cent. of the cost of a funeral. Families often need assistance with funeral costs. I have been told that widows fear that they may be unable to leave sufficient money to pay for their own funerals. As a consequence, they deprive themselves of food and fuel in an endeavour to save for that purpose. While I recognise that we cannot restore the purchasing power of the grant to its 1949 value, which would cost the exchequer £100 million on a universal basis, priority must be given to those who most require assistance, rather than to maintaining the present scheme, which applies to 90 per cent. of recorded deaths, and costs £10 million to administer.

The Government should re-examine the possibility of making income tax concessions to those who wish to prepay their notional interest accrued on the sum pre-paid each year until the funeral takes place. I commend that novel and enterprising scheme to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would assist in the development of specific insurance policies to fund funerals and cause less distress to the elderly. The consultation period ended in July 1982. However, no Government action has taken place despite the presentation of a petition containing 1 million signatures urging improvements in the death grant made in January 1981.

About 22,900 people are in receipt of mobility allowance. That allowance suffers from an arbitrary rule that application must be made before one reaches the age of 65. I have witnessed the distress that the rule has caused to some of my constituents. It is fully appreciated that, initially, the Government cannot provide an allowance to those who suffer from degenerative conditions owing to old age. We should give a mobility allowance to those who are diagnosed after the age of 65 as having specific neurological conditions or other grossly incapacitating diseases. The elderly person, armed with the mobility allowance, could make donations to friends towards petrol costs, or could afford a hire car when necessary.

I commend the work of the Government and local authorities in many aspects of community care, especially home helps—by September 1981 the number of home helps had risen to more than 48,000—the meals on wheels service, the so-called bath ladies, the district nurses—which cost £2.2 million in 1981–82—the laundry service for the incontinent, and community physiotherapy to improve and maintain mobility and advise relatives on how best to care for the elderly. If the Government are to provide more community care, the elderly could be looked after at home. We must foster voluntary bodies that help to transport the elderly to doctors and others, and we must assist with the provision of telephones.

The next stage is to foster the construction of privately run homes, be they old people's homes or sheltered housing with a warden and a built-in alarm system, that are easy to run and self-contained. The Abbeyfield Society, founded in 1959, is probably the best known of its type in Britain, and caters for 6,000 people.

Day centres enable pensioners to be looked after while remaining in their home environment. They provide an opportunity to give the elderly attention on a cost-effective basis. Many such centres receive visits from chiropodists and physiotherapists. Their early work can save disproportionate costs incurred at a later stage in a person's medical life. Above all, the day centres, which cater for more than 38,500 elderly people, provide fellowship. I am a frequent visitor to St. Sampson's social centre in York and I know what a lively base it is. More than 1,000 elderly people visit the centre daily, which is housed in a redundant church. There is a national demand for more places. I applaud the voluntary bodies that are working towards expanding day centres.

The joint financing between health and social services has assisted the development of such projects as increasing the number of home helps. This means an increased longterm commitment as local authorities take over the responsibilities and costs. Over a five year period, the local authorities will pick up the tab. Bearing in mind the substantial number of people who will reach pensionable age and live long into old age, I urge the Government to make the necessary resources available and to co-ordinate the caring agencies that deal with the problem.

By supporting the amendment I believe that we shall continue to give our support to a just cause and be seen to do so by those most in need.

7.18 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

It is a great honour and privilege to follow the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory). He has the good fortune to represent one of England's most beautiful cities. He comes to the House with a distinguished record of activities on councils in Norwich and Norfolk. I am sure that that experience will stand him in good stead. The hon. Gentleman is also described as being a master of wine. I am sure he will agree that the vintage year of 1983 will grow and mature with keeping. I have a vested interest as I had the privilege to join the House of Commons at the same time as the hon. Gentleman. His speech dished up a strong brew. I wonder whether it was too strong for the palate of the Minister. He posed some questions to which I look forward to hearing the Minister's answers.

I welcome the debate as we are dealing with an important subject, much canvassed at the election. The House should maintain close scrutiny and control over the impact of the economy on the living standards of households whose only income comes from the national insurance retirement pension.

I think that we obscure some of the problems confronting us by using strident party political dogma. We must be more objective in our approach to these matters. I accept that on some issues there is a case for the normal cut and thrust of parliamentary politics, but on this important subject we would be wise to try to secure some constraint.

When I first saw the motion before the House, I was afraid that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) would restrict the terms of the debate to a narrow economic, statistical and financial analysis. I am pleased that he broadened the debate to include some of the wider issues facing pensioners.

Although income is the crucial problem facing pensioners, they have urgent needs for accommodation. They should have privacy and the facility to look after their material possessions and the freedom to express and indulge themselves in their last years of life. It is also important to provide them with sensible access to transport, so that they can provide for their own needs and indulge their own inclinations. They need security. We must ensure that they are not subjected to threats, or to the danger of physical violence. We must also see that they are not threatened by having essential domestic supplies cut off, just when they are in a most vulnerable position. They also need a great deal of domiciliary help to give them as much independence as possible as they become increasingly infirm and disabled.

I shall divide my remarks into two sections. First, I should like to consider some of the long-term aspects of the problem. The Secretary of State rightly said that, although there had been an increase of about one third in the number of those falling into the pension bracket in the past 20 years, the figure would stabilise to some extent in the medium term. However, after that there will be a real problem. According to some statistics I have turned up, by the year 2001 the number of people over the age of 75 will have increased by about 500,000, and the number of those over 85 by some 300,000.

We should make urgent long-term plans so that we can meet the consequences of that demographic change. Such an aged population needs special help, because the elderly are often unable to bathe themselves, are bedridden or are unable to leave their own homes. Indeed, some live on their own. Such problems demand urgent long-term planning. However, no one seems to be doing any sensible long-term planning. The only exception to that might be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the long-term plans that he has in mind do not augur well for the needs of the retired population.

I should like a reassurance from the Government about their intentions towards the development of the earnings-related pension scheme. I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said about the proposed review, and look forward to seeing the Green Paper. However, in the course of that review I should like him to consider recommendations 10 and 11 of the Social Security Advisory Committee, which were published recently in its second report. The report said: Retirement pensions should be maintained in real terms and there should be a periodical adjustment of basic pension levels in relation to earnings if the full objectives of the new pension scheme are to be achieved. The Government Actuary's quinquennial review of the national insurance fund also made it plain that some uprating of benefits above the minimum price relation provided for was essential if the Government's intention to allow pensioners to share in the increased standards of living of the country as a whole were to be fulfilled. The problem is whether the Government are prepared in the long term to relate the increase in pensions not to the increase in prices, but to the increase in average earrings.

I should also like the Government's reaction to recommendation 11, which states: Pension measures should be considered to give help to older and poorer pensioners who have not been able on grounds of age to take due advantage of the earnings-related element of the pension scheme. The Social Services Committee took the view that there were special problems for those who had not had the opportunity, on the ground of age, to take advantage of the earnings-related element of the scheme. It said: future Governments of whatever political complexion will have no choice but to regard this as one of the first calls on any additional resources. Those points are important to long-term planning, and the Government should take them into account in their review.

There is a flaw in the basis that is used for calculating the retail price index for pensions. The RPI does not reflect the lifestyles, incomes or needs of pensioners. Indeed, they are excluded from the expenditure weighting calculation in the general index of retail prices. The general index shows a clear bias in favour of those at the top end of the distribution curve. There is evidence front Age Concern that since 1974 the cost of living for pensioner households has been 12 percentage points higher than the RPI. That is an important point that the Government should bear in mind when considering the relationship of pensions to prices.

In the short term, too, there are some problems to be confronted. Inadvertently, or otherwise, the Cabinet has recently inflicted a series of financial blows on pensioners. The new financial limits for the electricity and gas industries must have a cruel effect on pensioners. Indeed, I understand the concern expressed earlier by other hon. Members, because there is no doubt that hypothermia will be stalking the countryside again this year. In addition, the recently announced cuts in housing benefit will seriously affect pensioners. The scheme is now so complicated that it is difficult to assess its full impact.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Earlier, we heard suggestions that the problems of housing benefit had gone away. However, I hope that the Government will accept, and that my hon. Friend will confirm, that pensioners who are receiving only £30 per week are still receiving bills from their local authorities that show that there is a muddle in housing benefit. They used to have at least a bit of spare cash that they could use to budget properly. However, that has now gone under the housing benefit scheme. It confuses and worries hundreds of pensioners even now. Britain has a lower basic rate of pension than any other state in western Europe. Therefore, I hope that the Government will treat that problem as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Kirkwood

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. We all have examples in our constituencies of how the changes have caused concern in pensioner households throughout the country. The historic uprating cuts this week have not in any way compensated pensioners fairly for the recent rise in prices. The sooner the Government consider twice-yearly upratings, the better for those who receive those benefits.

The cuts in the housing allocations will inevitably mean that local authorities will be unable to build many sheltered units and that the housing associations will no longer be able to continue the sterling work that they have been doing in providing suitable accommodation for retired people. The expenditure of local authorities is under severe constraint. My own local council is now having to choose between home helps and shoring up bridges that are in danger of falling down. That is a ridiculous position to be in, and the Government cannot deny that the situation has worsened as a direct result of their economic policies.

Furthermore, there is no prospect of any improvement in the Christmas bonus, the abolition of the earnings rule, the death grant, the flexible age of retirement or the standing charges, to which the hon. Member for York rightly referred.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

The hon. Gentleman's apprehension about benefit increases is correct. Is he aware that from January next year all pensions of less than £1 will be paid annually, one year in arrears? Many of my constituents will be affected by that. One old lady told me that she draws her pension of 89p every 10 weeks and regards it as a substantial part of her electricity bill. She is now to be denied that and will have to wait a year—I hope that she survives the year—to be paid in arrears. When I asked the South of Scotland Electricity Board whether it would wait one year for its bill to be paid, it understandably said that that was not possible.

Mr. Kirkwood

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I entirely agree that the Government do not understand the full horror of the system that they have introduced. It is only when examples such as the hon. Gentleman gave come to hand that the system's complexity is exposed.

In the long term, the Government must consider returning to a system that links pensions to prices or earnings, whichever is the greater. That is important as it is the only way in which we can protect the living standards of the poor and the elderly.

The Liberal party expounded at great length during the general election campaign on the rationalisation that it considers necessary to bring together the taxation and benefit schemes. That reform would eradicate many existing anomalies and provide the machinery for a real redistribution of resources to meet the needs of retired people. We shall follow the hon. Member for Oldham, West into the Division Lobby tonight.

7.31 pm
Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

I should like to be the first Conservative Member to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) on his interesting and very well informed maiden speech. The whole House will have been pleased to hear the credit that he gave to his predecessor. Some of us have been here long enough to remember his predecessor's predecessor. It is extremely pleasant to recall the work of Charles Longbottom and to see another Conservative Member representing the York constituency.

My hon. Friend's speech was not entirely uncontroversial. His message to the Government was that they are doing quite well but could do better. I hope that it is not presumptuous of me to say that that is an entirely proper attitude for a new Government Back Bencher. It was a balanced stance which was neither sycophantic nor rebellious, and it was constructive. Many of us will echo many of the sentiments that my hon. Friend expressed. We all hope that he has as long and successful a reign as the Member for York as will York's new archbishop who was recently enthroned.

If emotion and rhetoric had any effect on the level of pensions, the speech made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) would have contributed to them considerably. His speech contrasted unfortunately with the calm, informative, factual and forthright speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who reflected wisely on many aspects of the matter to which we shall have to give our attention.

Governments do not often look as far into the future as has my right hon. Friend. It is entirely right that he should do that. By the time that he finished his speech, I could not help feeling that it was hard of the Leader of the Opposition to have appointed the hon. Member for Oldham, West as the Opposition's spokesman on pensions as he cannot avoid responsibility for some of the less successful administration of pensions during the period of office of the previous Labour Government. What the hon. Member for Oldham, West said was repeated by several Opposition Members. They said that the Government are not doing enough for pensioners. No Government will be judged by the House to be doing enough for pensioners. I was glad that the hon. Member for Oldham, West acknowledged that all of us are trying to do much more.

It is regrettable that the arguments which are advanced in support of improvement are based almost entirely on hard cases. All hon. Members have regrettable and sad cases of people who draw attention to their plight at our surgeries. Nevertheless, it is not possible to improve, administer or legislate for pension schemes or systems purely on the basis of hard cases.

It is important to keep a perspective on pensions. There is not a pensioner in my constituency whom I would not like to have a larger pension. The same could be said of Opposition Members and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team. As I said, however, we must maintain a perspective. The Government increased the single person's pension from £ 19.50 to £34.05 between November 1978 and November 1983 and they increased the married couples' pension from £31.20 to £54.50 in the same period. That is an excellent record.

When one considers that prices have increased faster than that during the same period, the Government's record is seen to be even more remarkable, especially during a recession. Moreover, it should be pointed out that pensions have risen faster than the pensioners' price indices. I understand that, from the last quarter of 1978 to the third quarter of 1983—the latest date for which figures are available—the pensioners' price indices did not rise as fast as the retail price index. The single person pensioner price index rose by 62.7 per cent. from 1978 to the third quarter of 1983 and the married couple pensioner price index rose by 62.4 per cent. during the same period. The RPI rose by 67.7 per cent. during the same period. That shows that pensioners have done just a little better than price increases alone demand. That is something to be welcomed, and on which the Government should be congratulated.

My hon. Friend the Member for York referred to inflation. It is undoubtedly true that the control of inflation is not only a feather in the cap of the Government, but above all has had a beneficial effect for those on low incomes, particularly pensioners. I am glad that so much emphasis has been laid on the control of inflation. One point has not been made this afternoon about the Christmas bonus. Reference has been made to it, but it should not be forgotten that it was originally instigated by the Conservative Government. The Conservative party can claim not only that it has been able to pay the Christmas bonus on every occasion that it has been in power, but that it instigated this particular form of help to pensioners, which is so welcome at Christmas time.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Having explained the Government's success, can the hon. Gentleman explain why so many pensioners, like so many other people in our constituencies, certainly in my constituency in the inner city, must have supplementary income from the state to top up the basic pension to give them enough to survive? Where is the success if over 2 million pensioners are still on the poverty line?

Mr. Morrison

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my earlier remarks. I suggested that it was wise to maintain a sense of perspective. Undoubtedly we all want to see more and better provisions, but we have to take account of wider considerations. I am not claiming that the Government's record is perfect. My right hon. Friend knows that I am not, and he would be amazed if I were to say so. I shall not do so, but the record has been pretty good, given the circumstances and the times in which we have been living.

A briefing recently arrived on my desk from the Child Poverty Action Group was not entirely complimentary to the Government in every respect; it was quite critical. However, at least in regard to pensions, it made the point—this is related to what the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Southwark (Mr. Hughes) has just said—that the number of people over pension age who are living below the supplementary benefit level fell by 15 per cent. between 1979 and 1981. That is a considerable improvement. I do not know the latest figures, but that demonstrates yet again the successes of Government policy for pensioners.

The second part of the Opposition motion calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reverse its damaging and increasingly discredited economic policies". I should not agree for one moment with that request, or with the rest of the motion, although I am one of those who consistently suggest that the Government should evolve their policies to take account of changing circumstances and to do as I should like and provide a little more stimulus to the economy without recreating inflation. That is possible.

It is wholly unwise to forget either now or in the long term the implications for public spending attached to pensions. In that regard, I was pleased to open my newspaper this morning and to read the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Brent Conservatives last night. A good deal of what he said then he repeated today. In that speech, he referred to the long term. Quite rightly, he called for an appraisal of the circumstances. He asked for a rational approach, and with that I entirely agree. If there is not a rational appraisal, no hon. Member can sensibly or reasonably draw conclusions and exercise choice, which is what we have to do, or, what the level of pension or any other form of public spending should rightly be.

My right hon. Friend was right to call for this rational appraisal. It seems clear that the necessity for such an appraisal for the long term is all the more necessary if I am right in concluding that there is some difference of opinion between the Department of Health and Social Security and the Treasury. One cannot believe everything written in the newspaper, but the journalists who came to that conclusion would not be far from my view on the subject.

Therefore, it is regrettable that there is no independent body or adjunct to the Government such as the Think Tank—call it what one will—to look objectively at such subjects and to put the facts before the Government. It may be that discussion of a think tank is not proper for this debate, but I express the hope—perhaps this will even be support for my right hon. Friend—that he will press for the re-establishment not of the think tank of the variety that was recently guillotined but a proper one that does what it was set up to do—to make long-term appraisals for the benefit of the Government and other political parties. The more open the resolutions of these appraisals, the better, so that all political parties may know the facts and develop and evolve their policies accordingly. All too often there is too much emotion in policy making and too little reference to the facts.

I congratulate the Government on what theyare doing, and I encourage my right hon. Friend to do even better.

7.49 pm
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

When I listen to speeches made by hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), I wonder whether they understand what is meant by poverty in Britain today. I wonder whether they ever see the poverty that exists and that affects many pensioners. Perhaps the hon. Member for Devizes believes that a housing problem is deciding at which of his houses he will spend the weekend. Those are not the housing problems that our old-age pensioners face. They have problems with inadequate houses, with heating those inadequite houses and in some cases with getting decent houses.

On a less aggressive note, I concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood)—I was surprised that he seems to have abandoned the Liberal Whip, because his speech sounded like that of a non-party Member—and of the hon. Member for Devizes that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) made an excellent speech. I hope that he will not soon be disillusioned by the actions of the Government, whom, I am afraid, he will troop into the Lobby to support this evening.

I am pleased to speak today as the joint chairman of the all-party pensioners' group. I pay tribute to my predecessor Jock Stallard, now Lord Stallard of St. Pancras. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not favour the House of Lords, which I sometimes believe is one of the best day centres for the elderly that exists. However, if we must have a second Chamber, we can do no better than to fill it with people such as Lord Stallard.

My hon. Friends will find it difficult to believe, but as the joint chairman of the all-party pensioners' group I sometimes become disillusioned. The group produces early-day motions signed by many Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), now parliamentary private secretary to the Minister, but I suspect that they sign the motions only to send them to their elderly constituents as evidence of their support of the cause mentioned in the motion. It does not take much to sign an early-day motion, but when they are asked to vote on the subject of the motion—when they are asked for deeds, not words, to support the elderly—they troop into the Government Lobby.

My hon. Friends, who meet pensioners more often than do Conservative Members, and who understand their problems, know that the most important matter is the level of pensions. Pensioners have often said to me, "If only we had a decent pension we would not need concessions. We would not need cheap television licences or travel concessions if we had a decent pension." That is why the pensioners valued the system in which pensions were linked to prices or to earnings increases, whichever was the larger, because for the first time that ratchet effect gave them a real increase in pensions.

What worries me is that the Government say that keeping up with inflation is enough. We are in danger of accepting that. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, 2 million pensioners need supplementary benefits to make up their basic pensions. We have lowered the expectations of the House, of pensioners, and of pensioners' organisations. Keeping up with inflation is not enough if one starts from a low base, which is why the ratchet effect was one of the greatest advantages that pensioners enjoyed. I see the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] It is the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I always make that mistake.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I am extremely flattered by the hon. Gentleman's mistake. My right hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is far better looking than I am.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful for that intervention. What a pity that the hon. Member for Macclesfield is not here, because in March he rightly criticised the Government for their willingness to introduce the clawback. He said that the change in the method of calculation from the predictive to the historic was a device to obtain the clawback by another means. He was right.

I heard the Secretary of State speaking on the "Today" programme this morning from a radio car. It is appropriate that the right hon. Gentleman always gives interviews from his getaway car, because he is frightened that the pensioners will come round to find him. He said that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was booed by pensioners about 10 years ago, but the right hon. Gentleman is frightened to meet pensioners nowadays. He would be lynched, and not simply have a can of red paint thrown at him. The pensioners know—the Chancellor effectively admitted it when I asked him the other day—that the change in the basis for calculation caused a real clawback of pensions.

Hon. Members mentioned the twice-yearly uprating of pensions, which in the past was supported by many Conservative Members. They include the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), who is now a Minister, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who is now a Whip, and the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson), who is also a Whip. When the Secretary of State was the Opposition spokesman on social security matters, he attacked the Labour Minister and said: Why does the right hon. Lady still resist six-monthly reviews of pensions, for which we have pressed? Is it really only because the proposal comes from the Opposition side?"—[Official Report, 22 May 1975; Vol. 892, c. 1626.] Now he is Secretary of State and can do something about it, so why does he resist the proposal? Is it only because it comes from the Opposition?

Mr. Fowler

If the hon. Gentleman had read the remainder of the quotation, he would have seen that I qualified that remark by saying that it was a time of high inflation. The difference is that inflation was then running at 25 per cent. Now it is 5 per cent.

Mr. Foulkes

The pensioner, the pensioners' organisations and some Back-Bench Members still want such a change. Most of our partners in the European Community manage to have a twice-yearly increase, so why cannot Britain? Neither the Secretary of State nor other Ministers has answered that question.

The Minister for Social Security knows of my interest in the death grant, in which he too is interested. I share the concern, annoyance, disgust and despair expressed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House that have lingered on over this matter. There has been promise after promise. The previous Minister promised unequivocally, without reservation, an announcement by Christmas 1981. Then the Government produced a consultative document, to which they received more than 700 replies, most of which rejected the Government's option and put forward a more positive option for an all-round increase. At present the death grant of £30 does not even cover the cost of the two doctors' certificates required if a body is cremated. The VAT levied on services provided at funerals amounts to more than £30 in each case, so the Government are making a profit out of death. They claw back in VAT more than they give in the death grant.

As the hon. Member for York said, there was a petition with 1 million signatures, but the Prime Minister refused to accept it. I wrote to the Prime Minister asking her how she reconciled the vacillation of her Ministers, who are unable to make a decision about the death grant, and are transfixed like the rat in front of the snake—I hope that I am using the right metaphor—with the resolute approach of which we hear so much? The Prime Minister wrote me a pathetic letter, saying that the resources were not available. There are unlimited resources for an airport in the Falklands, and for Fortress Falklands, but there are not enough resources for an increase in the death grant.

Let me give another example of how Conservative Members, including the parliamentary private secretary of the Minister for Social Security, the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), behave. It concerns the Christmas bonus. The Secretary of State made announcements about occupational pensions. Conservative Members always seem to be interested in them. They talk very little about the ordinary pensioners.

They avoid that subject. I gave the Secretary of State the opportunity to make an announcement about the Christmas bonus. He berated my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West about the Christmas bonus. It is still only £10, when it should be £38, to keep up with inflation. We waited, but we got nothing. The right hon. Gentleman made no announcement.

I shall finish with two points. The first concerns Europe. I find it strange that this Government are keen to carry out some of the decisions of the European Court, some of the directives of the European Commission, and some of the suggestions that come from the European Community. The UHT milk is now flooding in, threatening our doorstep deliveries of milk. We implement directives about the size of eggs. We have directives about the specific gravity of beer. However, when it comes to harmonising the amount of pension for retired people we get no action. In Belgium, a single person gets 60 per cent. of gross average earnings, in France the figure is 50 per cent., in the Netherlands it is 42 per cent., but in Britain it is only 24 per cent. Surely, it is time that we brought it up to the level of our European partners.

My final point, which I am sure hon. Members will be pleased to hear, is that in my capacity as joint chairman of the all-party pensioners' group I was asked to speak a few weeks ago to a meeting in Finchley, the Prime Minister's constituency. It was a little like going into the lion's den. I did not know what kind of a reception I would receive from the 300 pensioners who turned up. However, I did not receive a hostile reception, and I was astonished by the strength of criticism that they voiced about the Government. They criticised the amount of the pension. They criticised the NHS cuts. I am not one to advocate the closure of any hospital, but I was told by those pensioners about the threatened closure of the Finchley memorial hospital. I was told that the Prime Minister had said that it would be closed over her dead body. It is a tempting proposition to say that if any hospital is to close it should be the Finchley memorial hospital, as long as the Prime Minister keeps her promise.

The pensioners at that meeting in Finchley were overwhelmingly in favour of the retention of the Greater London council. They supported Ken Livingstone rather than the Prime Minister because they valued the concessionary ticket, the free travel. I realise that Conservative Members will say, "Ah, but we have clear assurances from the London Boroughs Association that after the GLC goes it will continue that scheme." I am a Scotsman, and I do not throw away money lightly, but I bet the Prime Minister a pound to a penny that that guarantee will not last long. As soon as the London boroughs take over, particularly the London borough of Barnet, which includes the Prime Minister's constituency, we shall see the end of the concessionary fares, the free travel for pensioners. The pensioners know that.

When I visited Finchley I got the feeling that if there were a general election tomorrow the pensioners there would sweep the Prime Minister out. I am not in favour of early retirement for all, but that is the one early retirement that I would look forward to, as would British pensioners, with the greatest glee.

8.6 pm

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

I start by saying how much I appreciated the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory). It was an elegant and eloquent speech, and I certainly look forward to hearing from him again in future.

There was one aspect that I thought I should like about this debate—and I have not yet been disappointed. Although we debate many contentious subjects on which not all hon. Members could agree, this debate is about a subject on which there should be considerable agreement. Surely one of the few matters that would unite hon. Members on both sides of the House is the care of those who cannot look after themselves. Who is more worthy of our care and compassion than the elderly and retired? That sentiment has no party political element. As a Conservative, I feel that way, and I am sure that many Opposition Members feel the same. No political party can have a monopoly on compassion. It is not good enough to say, "We care." We have to do something about it.

We should pause to consider how many elderly people there are. I shall give the figures for today, not for the future. There are about 9 million people in this country of pensionable age. That represents about 18 per cent. of the population of the country as a whole. Certainly in Teignbridge the percentage is far higher—about 26.6 per cent. I claim no special experience when I say that from what I learnt during the election campaign and what I know from my constituency and my postbag pensioners feel bitterly about the deals that they have had from past Governments.

The Opposition motion seemed almost to say that there have been cuts in the pension. We have had many statistics today, so I shall not give many more, but we should remember that this Government have not cut pensions. During the lifetime of the previous Conservative Government, pensions kept pace with prices. Pensions went up about 74.6 per cent., and in the same period prices went up by 69.9 per cent. I do not say that a single person on an old-age pension of £34.05 can have a ball. That is certainly not true. No hon. Member would say that was a marvellous sum and that the pensioner should be grateful. In fact, it is the bare minimum. Few hon. Members would care to live on that amount. However, it has at least kept pace with inflation. That is an important and significant fact, because hon. Members continue to say that the pension is not high enough, that there is no point in. talking about inflation, and that not everyone has a pool of capital, but neither does the country.

Inflation is important because many pensioners do have a small amount of money tucked away. It may be a few coppers put away week by week to contribute to the death grant. People who do that have a small amount of capital. If they have to suffer inflation at 25 per cent., it is no consolation to know that at the end of the year their pensions will be increased in line with inflation. During the period 1974 to 1979, pensioners would have seen their nest-eggs halved. That fact is relevant when talking about inflation. If inflation is increasing at 25 per cent., by the week before the next yearly increase there will be a great deal less left in one's pocket to do the basic food shopping. The pensioner is not consoled, when going to the corner shop and being faced with those prices, by the fact that the Government will give him or her a 25 per cent. increase at the end of the day.

Inflation is also important when talking about pension increases keeping in line with inflation.

Mr. McKelvey

Is the hon. Gentleman bearing in mind that the pension increase on Monday was 3.7 per cent., while inflation was 5 per cent.? Irrespective of the nest-eggs that pensioners might have, they are concerned that the pension increase buys less than it should. They are being deprived, irrespective of their nest-eggs.

Mr. Nicholls

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, and I shall address myself to that problem in a few moments.

The Government try to look after pensioners and ensure that they receive a proper pension increase, but money has to come from somewhere. There is not a limitless amount of money available.

It is all very well for the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to indulge in great flights of rhetoric and talk about the record of the previous Labour Government. I hope I can speak in a non-partisan way. For once I am not trying to score points in anything I say about the previous Labour Government. When they were in office—and their compassion cannot be questioned—they were charged with responsibilities that the hon. Member for Oldham, West does not have today. When considering the reponsibilities of office in the context of his caring and compassionate speech, he might care to bear in mind the appalling pickle that that Labour Government got themselves into when they found themselves hooked on the earnings as opposed to the prices link. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember the Labour Government's contortions when trying to honour that commitment. When talking about that I can do no better than mention a remark by the then Labour Secretary of State for Social Services. When tackled about the 1978 pensions deficiency, he replied: There is a statutory obligation to take these figures (i.e. earnings) into account, which was done, but no statutory obligation to get it right. One could make a cheap remark about that and say that it showed the right hon. Gentleman's cynicism. It did not. It showed his desperation, because he did not have the money to honour the commitment.

The Christmas bonus excites a certain amount of merriment and mirth on the Oppostion Benches. I cannot see why it should. When I said that for two years the Labour Government did not pay the Christmas bonus, I was not saying it in a partisan way. They must have been appalled when in Cabinet they had to consider taking bonuses away from pensioners, for two reasons. In political terms it must have been a difficult decision, but in compassionate terms it must have been appalling to be so strapped for cash that a caring Government had to cut Christmas bonuses for two years in succession. That is the significance. It was not, for once, the wicked old Labour Government doing these beastly things. It was a measure of their dilemma. They had the care and compassion and wanted to do what was morally and decently right, but at the end of the day, when using their calculators, matches or the back of an envelope, the cash was not there. My point is that we do no service to pensioners by forgetting that their pension increase has to be found from somewhere.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said that if there is money to spend on Fortress Falklands and the Falklands airfield, more should be spent on the old-age pension.

Mr. Foulkes

Hear, hear.

Mr. Nicholls

I hear the hon. Gentleman say, "Hear, hear." If roles were reversed and the Labour party were in government, I wonder whether he would take that attitude. The Government must honour a wide range of responsibilities. On this issue they will be judged on whether they have done the right thing. One cannot say that money should be taken from one thing and given to another.

I was questioned about the fact that pensioners lose because of the change from the forecast to the historic method of calculation. One must remember how that came about in the first place. It was calculated on the historic basis until 1976. I sympathise with the Labour Government's dilemma, but they could not find the money. One could say that that was the inevitable consequence of their economic policies, but that is a point for another day. They could not find the cash, so they switched to the forecasting method. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory for a Government than to have to make predictions in that way in an inflationary age. We know what happened. On about seven out of nine occasions the calculation was wrong and the wrong increase—even allowing for the assumptions on which it was based—was given.

We now have a logical and certain method. It works on a historic basis—on what has happened rather than on what might happen. The point made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) was fair, but ironic. The Government have brought inflation down. If inflation were constantly coming down, the historic method would not have brought about the apparent injustice that the hon. Gentleman had in mind. The change happened to coincide with a slight increase in inflation. Inflation is now coming down and the position should be remedied. There can be no doubt, even on a straightforward arithmetical basis, that what pensioners lose one year, they will gain in the next. I know it is said, "That is not good enough. Some of them will not be here. If you are approaching subsistence level, you need the money now, not later." That is a marvellous argument for those who are not charged with the responsibility of getting it right. There are only two ways to calculate the pension increase—by forecasting or on an historic basis. At least, on an historic basis, it comes right within 24 months, and that must be important. That does not mean that the garden is entirely rosy and that no improvement could be made.

There is one improvement that might be worth considering. It relates to those who decide to opt for a higher rate of supplementary benefit with a view to coming off the unemployment register—effectively those who retire at 60. They suffer an injustice because, if they want to earn to supplement their "new retirement money", they are tied to the levels of earnings appertaining to supplementary benefit. I know from a written answer that I have recently received that the Minister makes the point that supplementary benefit is one thing and old-age pensions another. Many people who are approaching retirement age feel badly about that, and that matter could perhaps be looked at again.

People will be looking to the House today not for rhetoric and arm-waving, but for the knowledge that hon. Members on both sides of the House take seriously the plight of pensioners. They can be told that the Government have a good solid record. The Government are protecting them as much as they possibly can while at the same time not spending money out of compassion, which, at the end of the day, pushes inflation through the roof. The most cruel thing of all for pensioners, after they have listened to our deliberations today and the bombast and rhetoric of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, is to think that the money is there waiting for them, if only rhetoric could produce the money. If they go away thinking that, if they go away not realising what a good record the Government have, their expectations will have been cruelly raised. Regardless of party politics, no hon. Member should raise expectations which will be dashed. The Government have a good record on pensions, and pensioners should know that as well.

8.21 pm
Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Unlike the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who has been engaged in and has referred to rhetoric and theories about pensioners and their problems, I shall speak from experience.

Two years before coming to the House I was already retired on a pension and in receipt of a small addition from my previous employer. It was no life of luxury. Pensioners are much worse off than I was during that period. I have a much higher standard of living now than I had then or even when I worked for my living as an engineer.

I want to speak about reality, not about statistics. We have had a good deal of wishful thinking from Conservative Members. I wish to talk about the reality of life for pensioners in Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. The living standard of old-age pensioners in my area is outrageous and scandalous. They live in poverty and many die neglected and alone when they need not. They live in constant fear. I have before me a cartoon sent to me for this debate by an old-age pensioner. The cartoon was drawn by a Mr. Fowler. It must be a different Mr. Fowler. The cartoon shows the Prime Minister acting as a conductor on a bus of old-age pensioners. The Prime Minister is shown tearing up the pensioners' GLC free travel permit. On her money bag is written "Feed the rich". That is the opinion of an old-age pensioner who took the trouble to write to me and send that cartoon.

Old-age pensioners come to my advice surgery every Sunday to complain about their gas or electricity supply being disconnected by the board. They live in damp squalid homes that need repair and modernisation. Many are imprisoned in tower blocks such as those on the Nightingale estate or those that were described in the House a few days ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). The Government must make money available to Hackney borough council to deal with these problems.

There are not enough home helps or social services workers in the area to help the high proportion of old-age pensioners. There is a great need for free telephones for old-age pensioners—for some it is the only lifeline. In a local paper that is produced and distributed to residents the point is made that around 1,300 specially-installed telephones could be among the aids for elderly and housebound people which will have to be cut off if the council is starved of more cash by the Government"— in other words, if the Government operate penalties against councils such as Hackney.

Health care in the area has deteriorated disastrously since the Tory party came to power in 1979. Hospitals have closed. Many of the doctors in the area are old. They work alone in dingy surgeries, in old shop units and in first floor rooms of houses that have been left empty. The old-age pensioners who come to see the doctor queue in the streets in the cold and rain. Those are the conditions from which old-age pensioners suffer in places such as Hackney. Rhetoric and fine words from Conservative Members will not solve the problem. The only way to solve the problem is to put money into places such as Hackney.

Arising from this poverty and neglect Hackney borough has the second highest discharge rate from hospitals for schizophrenia—20 in every 10,000, which is almost twice the national average. Old people are being driven into insanity. It is no exaggeration to say that when they come to see me week after week at the surgery I see a mental deterioration.—[Laughter.] Conservative Members should not laugh because they do not see it

Mr. Skinner

It lines their pockets.

Mr. Roberts

That is right—it lines their pockets. These old people are being driven into the lunatic asylum as a result of the living conditions being imposed on them by the Tory Government.

As with many pensioners, I have worked for 50 years. Pensioners have produced more wealth in their lifetimes than they could ever consume, yet they eke out their existence in poverty. Is that right? Where is the morality in that? That is the morality of the system of society which the Tory Government represent and defend. The Government say "Let these poor people who have worked for 50 years save out of their miserable salaries." The Low Pay Unit has just produced a booklet for Hackney entitled "Low Pay and Unemployment in a London Borough." How can these people save? They live in poverty even when they are working because of the exploitation of those who employ them. This is no laughing matter. Poverty is a serious problem and it can be solved only if more money is poured into efforts to solve it.

I have before me the Queen's Speech which outlined the Tory Government's policy. Old-age pensioners did not even merit a mention in it. That shows what the Tory party thinks about the old-age pensioners. The Government owe old-age pensioners a decent, secure and happy life. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Teignbridge who asked from where was the money to come and who said that money was needed for many different things, may I say that the Prime Minister has £130 billion in her purse. The right hon. Lady is always talking about the family budget. Her family budget for this country is £130 billion I can give the House examples of where money is being misspent. For instance, £16 billion is spent on unemployment. There is £16 billion spent on arms expenditure—to defend what type of life? The type of life from which old-age pensioners are suffering" That money should be injected into Hackney to solve these serious problems. The Government have the money and responsibility to ensure that the problems of old-age pensioners throughout Britain are solved.

8.30 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I find the motion depressing. As I have strong views about the things that I stand for, so I am sure that there are members of the Labour party who have equally strong beliefs in what they stand for. But the motion is destructive of the credibility of the Labour party and can only do it damage. If the Labour party is damaged, the alliance benefits, and I wish Labour more success than the alliance.

The motion is naked propaganda. It is designed to be plastered all over the front cover of Labour Weekly. It represents bleeding hearts poured out all over the Order Paper. It requires more money, but nowhere does the motion say from where it should come.

Mr. Skinner

I will tell the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Marlow

We look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). We are always delighted to see him and we are particularly delighted tonight to see that he has his son with him.

Mr. Skinner

My son?

Mr. Marlow

I will explain to the hon. Gentleman later.

I say that this depressing motion is destructive of Labour Members' credibility because everybody knows that many of those we see on the Opposition Benches were present in 1975 and 1976 when the pensioners were prevented from having their Christmas bonus. They were led by Lady Castle who, in 1976, at a stroke, reduced the value of the pension by 6 per cent. That financial sleight of hand has since cost pensioners millions of pounds a year. Yet the Opposition have the cheek to criticise this Government, whose record on pensions is second to none.

Most of us have elderly relatives and we all have elderly constituents. We appreciate the problems of the aged, and I assure Opposition Members that my hon. Friends care every bit as much as they do. Not only do we care, but, as was eloquently said by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory), we have done something about it. My hon. Friend gave a catalogue of the many services that we have improved or provided for the elderly. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's predecessor, the then Labour Member for York, who was a valued Member of the House. I had much time for him, and I hope that he is doing well in his present occupation.

Some things in life are certain. We all grow old and finally die. Most of us will become pensioners, so we have a vested interest in seeing that the pension is as realistic as we can afford to make it.

There are other facts. For example, since the Conservatives came to office, the real value of pensions has increased by 5.5 per cent. Not only against the retail price index but against the pensions price index, pensions have gone up faster than ever. The heating addition has gone up in real terms by 60 per cent. That is real caring, real money and real value.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The hon. Gentleman says that he has compassion. How can he reconcile that compassion with saying that pensioners are entitled to only £34 a week on which to live? Does that standard justify the compassion that he is leading the House to believe he has? I do not believe that it is compatible; nor do I believe does he.

Mr. Marlow

Few people would say that the pension is generous or that they would not wish it to be higher. I simply say that the Conservatives have provided a more generous and realistic pension than any previous Government.

Mr. Hughes

If pensioners do not have enough to live on, it is no use.

Mr. Marlow

The pensions paid to this generation of pensioners must be borne by those in work—the younger generation. They feel no resentment. The younger generation would wish to have a generous and compassionate pension scheme. We must take account of the fact that since the Conservative Government have been in power there are about 600,000 more pensioners than there were before and that means that more resources are needed than were needed when the Labour Government were in power.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)—the Paul Daniels of economic policy—is good at discovering what needs to be done and, no doubt, producing money from thin air. The Government are a little more responsible and do not gull people in that way. The support of those of pension age takes in excess of £9,000 million a year from the resources of the Exchequer, taxpayers' money or contributions—whichever way it is put. Said quickly, that is a figure taken from thin air. However, £9,000 million a year is actually £16 a week from each person in work. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Half the arms programme".] We heard interventions like that before. We had a general election a few months ago. The Labour Party, on the basis of its defence policy, suffered a humiliating reverse. People as a whole are 100 per cent. behind the Government's arms programme.

I know that my plea will not be met. There is such a lack of understanding of the facts of life and arithmetic incompetence in the House that it would be almost sensible to insist that anyone who stood for Parliament should have not A-level but perhaps O-level maths. I know that that would be too much for the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), because I do not believe that he could manage even that level. It is a fact of life that if we are to spend money, we must get it from somewhere. It is no good having ideas about what the money will be spent on or how the resources will be committed unless and until we find out from where those resources will come.

Another way of looking at the contribution that society makes, quite rightly and properly, to the elderly is that for every family of four it costs £1,500 a year. That is a lot of money. We must think about that before we decide from where any more money will come. I am not saying that that is wrong or that we should reduce the amount. At the moment, we are having discussions about the family. We should keep the level of resources for our elderly at least at the same level, but many societies—even some that have recently come within our midst, the immigrant societies—are much better at looking after elderly people. They have a greater commitment to their family members as they grow older. If the Government, through the fiscal system, encouraged people to look after families better, that would be great social progress.

What else have the Government done since they have been in power? During the past 10 years, 200,000 more people than before have been working in the hospital service. That is a valuable service to the elderly. We have reorganised the Health Service. We have taken out a whole layer of administration so that resources can be spent on the needs of our people, especially the elderly. Recently we produced the Griffiths report, which gives us a chance to have the Health Service properly managed at last.

The Government have increased the size of the police force. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) talked about elderly people living in fear. If there were a change of Government and the Labour party were in power, police numbers would be reduced to their previous levels, road blocks would be put in the way of their activities and they would become so ineffective that elderly people would live in fear, trepidation and trembling all their lives.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I remind the House that the Front Bench spokesmen hope to catch my eye by 9.10 pm. The debate is about the purchasing power of the old-age pension. I hope that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) will return to that.

Mr. Marlow

Inflation is one of the most important factors for pensioners. They need stability in the cost of living. Most people want to save for their old age, to help themselves and to look after themselves. In five years of Labour Government, the savings that people had put aside to look after themselves were cruelly halved in value. That is theft, robbery and deception. Conservatives are committed to ensuring that inflation remains extremely low so that people can save for their old age, look after themselves and retain their pride and dignity.

Pensions this year are very important and we must be as generous as we can, but pensions next year and in succeeding years are also important. The only way to be honest and to do the best for our people is to ensure that the economy of this country is properly run and that business does not at this stage have to pay taxes that will destroy its future. We must ensure that business can invest so that we can increase the wealth of the country and the community and thus have more resources to devote, rightly, to our elderly people.

Labour Members have been howling and complaining, putting forward plans for more expenditure and telling the Government how to cut their expenditure, but they have not said a word about the cost to the public sector or how the public sector can become more efficient and thus release resources. The Government must come to grips with the problem of the public sector and provide resources not only for industry to create more wealth, but to produce more money, more value, more resources and better pensions for our people.

8.41 pm
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) to order and saying that he should stick to matters affecting the plight of pensioners.

The 3.7 per cent. increase in pensions this week is a tragedy for the House. I was told about that in June. A short time later, we had a long debate about Members' salaries in which we decided to give ourselves a rise in July, followed by further increases every January for the next three years, every one of them well over 3.7 per cent. and taking no account of inflation. The decision to give pensioners 3.7 per cent. is a disgrace. No Tory Member today has tried to justify the pitifully low pensions of £34 for a single person and just over £54 for a married couple. That is certainly not a healthy pension.

Whatever else was increased by the Labour Government, one increase was achieved, although it was difficult and we had to find the money to pay for it We linked pensions with earnings, which is the fairest way to try to eradicate poverty. The Conservatives took away that link, costing the pensioners money that should now be in their pockets. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) gave the exact figures. I hope that the Minister will comment on them and on what has happened to old-age pensions since the Conservatives came to office.

We must also consider the effects of other Government policies on pensioners. Rotherham metropolitan borough council had an excellent housing record in the 1970s. Now we cannot afford to build houses for old people in the area. We used to concentrate our energies on building accommodation with wardens and flats or bungalows in which old people could live, but now we cannot make any starts that would help the aged population in Rother Valley. We must accept that there are more old people than ever before. The Government, by not giving local authorities the money to build houses, are attacking pensioners. Many people whom I have seen say that they would like to live in a bungalow because of illness, sickness or disability, but they have little chance of getting into such a house. The Government should consider that matter.

In south Yorkshire, we run an excellent and popular passenger transport service. If anyone does not believe that that service is for the community, especially old people, they could do no better than get on a bus in the Rotherham area at 9.30 am and see the old people travelling on the bus, going to visit relatives or going into town to shop, trying to spin out their pensions a little more. That service is under direct threat from the Government. We are attacking pensioners not just by giving them a rise that is lower than the rate of inflation but by threatening the services that they get.

Meals on wheels, luncheon clubs and home helps have gone to the wall in the past few years. Those services are directly connected with the care of old people. It is an utter disgrace that the local authorities have been forced to cut back on home helps, meals on wheels and luncheon clubs when the number of old-age pensioners is growing. We should expand those services, yet we must cut back because of Government dictates.

It may be true that old people often die from hypothermia. However, in view of the energy surplus, thousands of old people should not die each year. 'We cannot care for them all as individuals, but we could put the energy surplus to use to make sure that old people are kept warm in the winter. I am sorry that we are not thinking of doing that. The allowances are not sufficient.

Mr. McKelvey

It is not a free market.

Mr. Barron

Indeed, it is not a free market.

There are long queues of patients in the National Health Service. It means that there have to be priorities in health care. Who is at the back of the queue for kidney transplants, hip replacements and knee replacements? It is not those of 40 or 50 years of age but those of 60, 70 or 80 years of age. They do not have priority for treatment because of their age. Indeed, they are discriminated against because of their age.

The list of problems is endless. We shall not be able to means-test our pensioners for ever. We should move away from means-tested benefits for pensioners. At present 2 million pensioners receive supplementary benefit. That is an indictment of this country. We are supposed to be civilised. We should make sure that there are good basic state pensions for old-age pensioners. If one is wondering where to look for finance, one need look no further than Trident. Some £10 billion will be spent on weapons of death and destruction. It is immoral that any Government should consider that when our pensioners are in such a plight.

8.49 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) talked about the Labour party tabling a motion for propaganda purposes. Let us face it, that cannot be the purpose. I was hoping that it would be the motion that was passed at the Labour party conference in the first week of October, but it missed out one or two things to which I shall refer later. It is nonsense to say it is blatant propaganda. I think that the machine has been at work. I know there was a lot of good will and unity at the Labour party conference but we must now fill in some of the blanks.

The hon. Gentleman talked, as many Conservative Members have done, about not being able to find the money to pay reasonable pensions. Who do they think they are kidding? Yesterday a debate was devoted to the stock exchange. It was about all this money coming through the stock exchange, what is called "liquid stuff'. It was all about ensuring that jobbers and brokers, who it was alleged were not doing as much work as one old-age pensioner, would get fantastic professional salaries or increments—

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)


Mr. Skinner

That is the word I was looking for—so they could make money on the side, by inside share dealing and goodness knows what else. The 50 Members of Parliament who represent Lloyds here as underwriters joined in, too. There was plenty of money for that. The place was flooded in it—all spread across the carpet of the House that cost £24 a square yard. Yet the hon. Member for Northampton, North says that there is no money in the country. He spends most of his time talking about where the real wealth is, and all the time throughout the last four and a half years this Tory Government have been aided and abetted by the hon. Member for Northampton, North and all those who should be sitting on the Conservative Benches but have not turned up for the debate. It is significant that there are nearly twice as many Tory Members of Parliament as there are Labour Members of Parliament, yet not one could be found to speak in the later stages of the debate. That shows the paucity of the Government's efforts for the pensioners.

Therefore, I do not take much cognisance of the argument about there being no money. There is always plenty of money for the purposes that some of my hon. Friends referred to earlier.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) talked about Trident, which will now cost £10 billion or £12 billion. [Interruption.] I am told it is £20 billion, yet the Government say there is no money in the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)—he is a pro-Marketeer and not bad on pensions, as a matter of fact—talked about the Falklands—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing pensioners.

Mr. Skinner

I am trying to give an answer, because we have had a debate of a kind. The only question that has been asked from the Conservative Benches, from the Secretary of State to the last Conservative Member who spoke, is from where a Labour Government would get the money, and it has to be answered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley said that the Falklands dispute cost £3 billion, but the Government were sending money to the Argentines when there was still a junta. The Prime Minister was telling bankers to send money to Argentina to bail out their economy so that the Argentines could use some of it that ought to be going to the pensioners. The money was going to the Argentines so that they could buy more French Exocets and other armaments with which to bomb the airstrip that the British taxpayers are currently paying for. What lunacy! The Government then have the cheek to tell us that there is no money in the country. We do not believe it, and we will not have it.

We can justifiably be proud of the record of the last Labour Government. I know that they could have done better, I know that they should not have cancelled the Christmas bonus, but they will not fall into that trap again. We want no more instructions to the next Labour Government from the International Monetary Fund and whispers in the ear from the leader of the Liberal party. I remember those sad days. We shall not go down that path again.

Mr. Simon Hughes

You would not have survived without us.

Mr. Skinner

We should have tabled a motion stating that we would pay people decent pensions, build more houses, prop up the welfare state and reduce NHS waiting lists. We should have gone to the country on that basis, and we would not have needed the Liberals.

Last Thursday the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement that flies in the face of all that the Tories have said in this debate. He stood at the Dispatch Box and said, I have found a winning combination". I thought that he had come up on the pools. The Minister for Social Security should say how much of that winning combination will go to the old-age pensioners.

The Chancellor meant that he had found a winning combination for the stockbrokers and jobbers and the rest of his friends in the City. Year by year the Conservatives have shoved the balance of power away from working class people and pensioners towards the bosses. An article in the Daily Telegraph on 1 October reveals just how much the pensioners have been hammered. It said that Mr. Smith, a jobber, had got a 250 per cent. pay rise and that his turnaround profit was £100,000.

The Government say that they have no money, yet the big four banks have made profits of £6,000 million in the Government's first four years of office. They are hound to make more because interest rates remain at 9, 10 or 11 per cent., despite the fact that inflation is less than 5 per cent. The banks are bound to make money. They cannot fail when interest rates remain at that level. The wealthy have had the money. Tax decreases have not been given to those near the pensioners' bracket. They have gone to the wealthy.

We are not just arguing for a married couple's pension of half average earnings and a single person's pension of one third average earnings. We are also calling for the abolition of standing charges. I have a letter in my pocket from a constituent whose gas bill was £22, 60 per cent. of which went towards the standing charge. That is why pensioners should get free television licences, for example.

The Republic of Ireland, supposedly one of the poorest countries in the world, gives its pensioners free television licences and free passes on road, rail and ferry services, yet it is said that that cannot be done in Britain where North sea oil gushes out of every pore. What nonsense! That typifies the Tory Government. They even attacked the pensioners last Friday by blocking the Bill to help the disabled, many of whom are elderly and suffer from NHS cuts and so on.

Without a doubt, the Labour party is on the side of the pensioners. Much more could be said, but I need only repeat that money is found for Trident and the Falklands and that the banks have made huge profits. Currently £17,000 million is paid to the unemployed. If those 3 to 4 million people were in full-time work and paying taxes and insurance contributions, that real wealth could be distributed.

The Labour party's main argument is that the Government have deliberately run down the economy. They have prevented 4 million people from paying taxes and insurance contributions so that they could shift the balance of power away from the workers and towards the bosses. As a result the pensioners and others like them have suffered. That is the reason why they have lost purchasing power.

Until we turf out the Government, the chances of improving the pensioners' lot are very slim. That is why I welcome the motion. It could have been toughened up to be exactly parallel to the motion that was before the Labour party conference. But make no mistake, when the next Labour Government take office they must carry the motion into practice.

9 pm

Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

If rhetoric and loud noises paid pensioners, they would undoubtedly be well off should the Opposition come to office. Neither rhetoric nor loud talk pays the pensions that we want the elderly to have. The realisation of hard cash pays for benefits for any section of the community. It does not matter whether we are talking about pensioners, the disabled or the chronically sick. If we have no cash, we cannot give benefits. The Opposition can say what they like, but rhetoric does not produce cash for any section of the community.

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member does not appear to be giving way.

Mr. Powley

Opposition Members—

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Powley

Opposition Members have derided the word "profit" and those who make profits. I am in business in a small way and my company makes a profit

Mr. McKelvey

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In a debate about the living standard of pensioners, is it in order for the hon. Member to give his living standards?

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

How ludicrous!

Mr. Powley

Whatever benefits or pensions the Government give, most of the money comes from the profits of companies or from individuals. If they do not make profits, they cannot pay their taxes. They are a means of revenue for the Government and that is how they provide pensions and benefits. Without that revenue, pensions would not be paid.

I do not like the traditional way in which Opposition Members deliberately try to manipulate the emotions of sections of the community. Today they are manipulating the pensioners and trying to inflame emotions. Last Friday they tried to manipulate the chronically sick and disabled in an effort to further their cause. I regard their behaviour as disgraceful.

My opponent at the last general election told his audience on untold occasions, be it pensioners, schools or nurses, "We will give you everything if we are elected. We will give more to the Health Service, to the pensioner and to the education service". Not once during the debate has any Opposition Member told us where the money will come from. If we add up what the Opposition have said, they would find it impossible to produce the goods. They would be unable to give anybody anything as they would not have the resources.

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) is obviously not giving way.

Mr. Powley

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) can deride the IMF as much as he likes, but he knows that when the Labour Government got into trouble in 1975 and 1976, and could not give pensioners their Christmas bonus, they had to be bailed out by it in order to save this country from becoming bankrupt.

This Government's record is absolutely first class. It represents realism rather than the rhetoric that we have heard tonight from the Opposition.

9.5 pm

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

I know that I must be brief, but hon. Members will accept that my speech will not be any incantation of rhetoric. The maiden speech made by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) certainly showed that he has a humane streak. The first part of his speech contained many progressive elements that we would all support, but unfortunately the second part showed that he has already been contaminated by the company that he is keeping on the Conservative Benches.

In response to many of the points raised by Conservative Members I should like to quote something factual. Fortuitously, a letter from a pensioner landed on my desk today. I shall read it out as quickly as possible. It is from Margaret Cameron, 15 Main Road, Low Fenwick, Ayrshire. She certainly cannot be accused of rhetoric when she states: Dear Mr. McKelvey, I am sure you will not be surprised to receive my protest against further increases in the electricity charges suggested for April 1984. I am now 91 and it is a great strain to meet the heating costs of heating in the winter. So much so that I only heat one room. It would appear we have many power stations in Scotland and yet electricity is not be be cheaper. My old age pension has only been increased by £1.04p and this month is already fully absorbed by my increase in the cost of living. Why does industry need such huge profits? We elderly people will never live to experience or enjoy the advantages of the technological age much less be able to afford them, so why do you make us pay for them? I write for your comments and interest in this matter. Now that that letter has been recorded in Hansard, the Minister may be able to answer the very questions that that 91-year-old lady asked. We must all have felt the drop in temperature this morning. We shiver on a cold morning. But let us think of what that means to the elderly. The point is that hypothermia will be with us very shortly. Unfortunately, no figures are available to show exactly how many elderly and infirm people will die this winter because they cannot afford to heat even a single room. It is not a question of asking where the money will come from. We do not need any money. Scotland has a surplus of electricity and there is now more coal above the ground than we have had for the past decade. We could give them coal for their coal fires and free electricity. We do not even need to cancel Trident to prevent them from suffering from hypothermia.

Mr. Canavan


Mr. McKelvey

I would be happy to give way to my hon. Friend, but have been told that I have only one minute in which to speak. I shall probably use the remaining time to explain some of the points that my hon. Friend would have raised. Like me, he takes an active part in the fight against fuel poverty. Pensioners suffer abjectly from fuel poverty. The old lady who wrote to me expressed the fears of the elderly on that subject.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is not in the Chamber. He spoke of the pensioners' fear of muggers and of the violence perpetrated on the streets. None of us would tolerate that. Indeed, we all abhor it. There are other ways in which old people are violated. One of them is insidious—if they are not given the proper facilities to keep their homes or at least one of their rooms adequately heated, thousands of old people will die of hypothermia this year. That type of violent crime need not happen, because we have surplus coal stocks and electricity.

9.10 pm
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I congratulate the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) on his maiden speech. I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) who has sat through the whole debate, yet has not been able to make a speech—I am not criticising the Chair—because the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) bowled into the Chamber when the Tories had run out of Members to make speeches. The hon. Gentleman made a speech based on ignorance and prejudice and deprived my hon. Friend of the opportunity to speak.

I do not believe that anyone could disagree with the first part of the motion: That this House regrets that this week's pension uprating is below the current rate of inflation". It is therefore natural to call on the Government to change their discredited economic policies. We shall continue to do that as long as they remain in office and impose cuts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) concentrated on the mechanics of the financial side of pensioners' standard of living. I shall widen the debate slightly and deal with matters that other hon. Members have mentioned to encompass the quality of life of old people.

The Government have produced voluminous documents about the problems of the elderly. Recently, I re-read sections from their booklet, "Care in Action", of 1981. In that document the Government admitted that elderly people have often been provided with an unacceptably low standard of care. They then set the priorities and objectives for health authorities and local government. The Government said that those bodies should strengthen the primary and community care services, together with neighbourhood and voluntary support, to enable elderly people to live at home. Later in the same year we had the White Paper, "Growing Older". The conclusion reads: To enable people to enjoy secure, dignified and fulfilled lives in their later years is a large and ambitious objective. It will never be possible to achieve it for everyone, but there is no doubt that society can do more for its elderly members. Many of the services that translate that rhetoric into action are the responsibility of local government. Social services departments provide services in so far as the Treasury allows them to do so. Early this year, the Department of the Environment published its audit on social services departments. That document reveals massive variations in expenditure on the elderly. It can vary as much as plus or minus 37 per cent. In a typical area with a population of 500,000, containing 75,000 elderly people, spending varied by plus or minus £2 million per annum. Spending on the over-75s varied as much as plus or minus 42 per cent. between different local authorities. We should be aware that 50 per cent. of spending on social services is accounted for by residential accommodation, that nearly 33 per cent. is accounted for by the home help service and that no other provision accounts for more than 4 per cent. of spending. That shows that a relatively small shift in the expenditure that social services departments are allowed can have a catastrophic effect on elderly people.

The most recent report by the Association of Directors of Social Services of November 1982 pointed out that the frail elderly are three times more likely to get home help or meals on wheels if they live in a northern urban area than if they live in a southern county area. That is why some of my hon. Friends representing northern constituencies find that local authorities in urban areas, which are not famed for being under Tory control are having cuts imposed through the rate capping procedure of the Department of the Environment. Those authorities are spending on services for frail elderly people three times more than is spent by authorities in the south controlled by the Conservatives.

Let me highlight the differences between investment per head of the population in caring for the elderly. Five social services departments were found to invest over per head of the population, and 15 spent less than £30 per head of the population. We can imagine the political control of those social services departments. My point is that in no other aspect of local government services would such a wide range of standards be tolerated. It is simply because there is too much discretion, and standards are not good enough under the law. Tory-controlled shire counties take advantage of this and do not provide a good and adequate service.

The Association of Directors of Social Services—this makes the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has made—concluded: This leads to standards of care well below what a rich civilised society should tolerate We are a rich society. There is money galore for improving services for elderly people. In virtually every debate every day there are examples of where expenditure could be cut and the money transferred to the care of the elderly. The Exchequer is now getting revenue from the North sea amounting to £8 billion. It was not getting a penny piece four years ago. That £8 billion, which is coming in as a windfall to the Government, is being frittered away because none is directed towards the services for the elderly.

What happened in the House last Friday has not gone unnoticed. Many elderly people are disabled. One can draw the connection between what happened on Friday and the audit report. I am not sure about the motives for the report, but it provides useful information and evidence and gives a breakdown of the number of disabled among the elderly. Some 50 per cent., one way or the other, can live satisfactorily without being supported by others; but 2 per cent. cannot handle the most basic task without assistance and 35 per cent. cannot do heavy household cleaning. Altogether, 50 per cent. of our elderly, to a greater or lesser extent, depend upon the services provided by the general community.

We saw the Government's aims in a document published in 1981, but what action has been taken? The Government's White Paper on public expenditure imposed a cut of 4 per cent. in social services departments in the year 1980–81. That was supposed to be followed by a 2 per cent. growth, which the Select Committee in its second report in 1982 said was not enough. That 2 per cent. would not be enough even to keep standards at the present level.

The 1980 expenditure cuts were substantial, and, as reports from social services departments have made abundantly clear, they have not been recovered. It is easier for social services directors to cut services, such as aids and adaptations, than to close an old people's home. Such cuts are made quickly, but their after-effects create massive problems for the elderly. The Government have not realised that.

In the Birmingham social services department the position has become so bad that the chairman was forced to report to the committee on 9 March this year: I am advised by the City Solicitor that it is not proper to recommend to the Committee that the Council ignores its statutory obligations. That Tory chairman had reached the point where, because of the cuts imposed by the Government, he had to contemplate throwing out of the window some of the statutory obligations of the social services department. The Association of Directors of Social Services reported in 1980–81 that 74 out of the 78 reporting authorities had made cuts that affected mainly the handicapped and the elderly. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West quoted the directors as saying that those cuts would foreshorten the lives of the elderly. As late as 1982 the association complained that it was receiving two different messages from the Government. The report stated: We are also confused by the fact that we get two totally different messages from Central Government; firstly the DHSS say we must expand slightly our expenditure on social services, whilst the Department of the Environment, and Mr Heseltine in particular"— I suspect that the present Secretary of State is no different— say we must reduce Local Government expenditure. The association also stated that a 4 per cent., or even 6 per cent., growth would only begin to reflect the type of service development required to prevent standards from dropping. However, the Government told authorities to cut 4 percent. in 1980 and to plan for 2 per cent. growth later. The association also said that the country had entered such a massive recession since 1980 that the promise of a 2 per cent. growth went out of the window, and that a 4 per cent. to 6 per cent. growth was needed to stop services deteriorating.

The headline in The Guardian on Monday of this week, even with that track record of damage to the elderly, stated: Lawson firm on welfare cutbacks. That contrasts with the headline in the Financial Times of 12 October: Biffen warns against social service cuts. Who in the Cabinet will win that battle? Who will stand up for the elderly, who are being crushed by the Government's cuts? We know that the Leader of the House knows the score, because he has made it abundantly clear. Some of us rely on him, in his quieter moments, to restrain some of the Chancellor's plans.

It is clear that the present Secretary of State, who has made all the cuts demanded of him, in so far as he has never admitted that he has not, has seen the light of day. I welcome his announcement today of an inquiry. In next year's Budget the Prime Minister and the Chancellor cannot muck about with the Pensions Act 1975, because the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry will still be continuing. We shall win a breathing space of another year. It is clear from the speeches of Treasury Ministers, past and present, that the Government wish to tinker with or completely to change the 1975 earnings-related pensions scheme.

Although it is clear from the Government Actuary's report, which the Government have taken on board, that changes must be made, the population has a contract with Parliament—not with the Tory Government or with a Labour Government, because, of the 20 million people who work, about 50 per cent. are contracted in and the rest are contracted out—for that pension scheme before it comes into full working order in 1988. Neither the population nor the Opposition will tolerate the Government slashing that scheme simply because they wish to privatise or to make cuts, or because the Prime Minister says that there will be too many pensioners by the time that she becomes one. The right hon. Lady need not worry about an old-age pension. She will have the cushion of a Prime Minister's pension, and she will never know what it is like to be a pensioner such as the one mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudon (Mr. McKelvey).

The Government speak with a forked tongue. The Department of the Environment audit of social services departments was carried out partly to ensure that district auditors could see that local social services departments were providing value for money. However, the document "Care in Action", when talking about community-based packages of care, stated: The 'cost-effectiveness' of these packages often depends on not putting a financial value on the contribution of informal carers. They include the voluntary sector and the families out of whom the Government are squeezing yet more time and financial resources. On the one hand there is the question of value for money, and on the other hand there is cost-effectiveness. When the Government talk about the cost-effectiveness and efficiency in the service, they rely on not including the full contribution to the care of the elderly.

Many hon. Members have mentioned home helps. Home helps create wealth. They create just as much wealth as the factory owners, because they enable people to lead fuller lives and allow other members of families to keep on working and contribute to the community. It is true that between 1978 and 1982 there was an increase in home helps, from 44,000 to 47,000, but in fact the number has fallen as a percentaage of the elderly population. That is what counts. The percentage has fallen in respect of the over-75s from 1.8 per cent. in 1978 to 1.7 per cent. in 1982. That looks small, but it is many hundreds of home helps for the over-75s in the country. The percentage has fallen from 9.7 per cent. in 1978 to 8.9 per cent. in 1982—that is home helps as a percentage of the population over 85. That should be the key part of the home help service. Nevertheless, in the area where the demand is greatest the number of home helps has been cut—in real terms, not in absolute numbers.

The Centre for Policy on Aging said in a recent report that it estimates that only half of the people who are in moderate need received the service. Time does not permit me to go into the details that it gave, but the document that it produced was considerable, dealing with the research evidence. It used official figures for people in only moderate need, and it said that only half of those people actually received home help service. Under this Government, for the first time, the social services departments have charged people on supplementary pensions for home helps.

Reference has been made to meals on wheels. There are now 27,000 fewer meals on wheels a week than under the Labour Government. That is an absolute disgrace, when one realises that the need has risen. In 1979–80, the number was 41.7 million. The system was already in force then, and the Government could not change it quickly. In 1981–82, it was 40.3 million—1.4 million fewer meals on wheels a year. That is a scandal. After all, more people die during the winter months than during the summer months. One reason is the lack of heating. Another reason is an inadequate supply of nutritious hot food, and that is a direct result of the fact that 27,000 fewer people a week are getting meals on wheels.

Many of my hon. Friends have mentioned the subject of fuel. The Government intend to tax fuel. Whether or not they call it a tax, that is clearly the Government's intention. The Minister for Social Security wrote a long letter recently to Age Concern. I do not want to quote the hon. Gentleman out of context, but he said in that letter that the Government used the introduction of the housing benefit scheme to provide a "convenient opportunity" to take anomalies out of the existing rules on heating additions. What that really meant was that a lot of old people have lost £4.65 a week. Irrespective of what the anomalies were, a lot of old people lost more than £4 a week on the heating addition, as a result of the introduction of housing benefit.

Many tower blocks have their underfloor heating switched off. Calor gas canisters proliferate in many blocks, in contravention of the safety rules that we all know about and constantly tell our constituents about. However, when electricity bills reach £75 to £80 a month a pensioner under a Tory Government is in real trouble. I know of one tower block where the heating is still on. The March 1983 bill for one flat, which was occupied by a lady of over 80, was £294.81. The lady was housebound, and she was not even getting all the heating additions to which she was entitled from the DHSS. She was terrified. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West said, the elderly today get up at 10 am and go to bed by 6 pm. That is a thundering disgrace, given the wealth that is around.

The Government have taken the opportunity to cut £3 million from pensioners with dependent children. They never referred to that. It slipped through in one of the orders in July. They also took money from widowed mothers by changing the rules of the uprating. None of the Ministers or press releases referred to that fact. About 200 pages of orders slipped through the House just after the general election. The Opposition plead guilty to not spotting the provisions.

No one could argue that the pension has not been cut this week. I will not quote the statistics. I will settle for the headline of The Times of 19 November: Rising pensions fail to keep pace with prices. That is good enough for The Times, me and my constituents.

One or two hon. Members referred to the chiropody service, which faces a complete crisis. The Government have been slipshod. The Secretary of State may smirk?—

Mr. Fowler

I am not.

Mr. Rooker

The right hon. Gentleman was not smirking. I withdraw that remark. He knows as well as I do that the Birmingham foot clinic is under threat of closure because of the squeeze on district health authorities.

Housing benefit cannot be ignored, because of the disastrous effect of its introduction. I have Government figures which show that 1.1 million pensioners lost out when the scheme started. I and my hon. Friends have received an estimate, resulting from the Chancellor's announcement last Thursday, of the consequences of next April's changes in housing benefit. There will be 2.26 million losers of whom 1.15 million are pensioners. I do not care what their income levels are but 1.11 million more losers among pensioners is unacceptable, given the wealth in this country. The cut has been made because the Cabinet is blindly ignorant of how the housing benefit scheme works, as any hon. Member who sat in Committee and watched the orders go through the House could testify.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) was right when she said that it is not true that there are no problems in Birmingham. There still are. It was guaranteed that everyone would be on full housing benefit by 31 December this year. The scheme was supposed to start in April, for the last group of people who were to be transferred. Yesterday I came across a constituent of 80-plus who had not received housing benefit. My constituent had not received a penny piece since April. The private landlord is going bananas. However, he is not threatening eviction, like the city council. The city council threatens people with eviction for not paying their own housing benefit.

Today's generation of elderly people have passed through more dramatic changes in society than any other generation. Go back to the first or second world wars, the first depression, the massive recession that we are suffering now, the change in technology, values and attitudes, and this group of elderly people is utterly bewildered by what it has had to put up with for the first time.

The Government come along with their penny-pinching measures, whatever they may say about the retail price index. They are the first Government to bring a Bill before the House to cut pensions by 1p in the pound. Whatever the arguments and statistics about the previous Labour Government, at the end of the day pensioners were 20p in the pound better off, after inflation, compared to the 3 per cent. of the first four years of this Government.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

What about the Christmas bonus?

Mr. Rooker

Even if we count the Christmas bonus in the pensioners' annual income, we are quids in compared with the Tory party, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. If the Tories were so confident, they would have increased the Christmas bonus. We have reached the point when, if we do not defend the elderly, this Government will defeat them. That is why I ask my hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby tonight.

9.35 pm
The Minister for Social Security (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

This has been at times an emotional as well as a rational debate, and we have been privileged to hear a speech from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I cannot say that I agreed with him, but I enjoyed what he said. This House is made up of people with all kinds of characteristics and ideas and is, I hope, representative of all people in this country.

From the Government Benches—for example, from my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison)—came not only support for the amendment, to which I shall come, but some prodding from time to time about various actions that we should take. There cannot be any hon. Member who is not concerned for the standard of living of the pensioner. I do not bow to anybody in any other party when it comes to compassion. The question is how to do it so that in the long run not only the pensioner but the country is better off, because, if the country is not better off, the pensioner will not be better off. In the realisation of that lies the diffence between the two sides of the House.

My hon. Friends the Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) made it clear that they, like all Conservative Members, feel as much as anybody for the mentally and physically handicapped, the old and the young. As they pointed out, it is a question of so ordering our society that, in the long run, we can raise their standard of living.

I come to our record with the pensioners. In the five years from November 1978 to November 1983 there was 70 per cent. inflation while the uprating of the pensions was 75 per cent. The living standard of pensioners is marginally better now than when the pensioners rejoiced at the failure of Labour and its defeat in the May 1979 election. It is only marginally better and we should have liked to have done better, but that has been achieved.

Reference was made from the Liberal Benches to the pensioners' price index. Compared with that index -which has increased by only 64.3 per cent.—the 75 per cent. uprating is even higher. Reference was also made—I will not dwell on it too much because I do not want unduly to hurt the feelings of Opposition Members—to the tragic history of the Labour party in 1975–76, to Christmas bonuses not being paid, and to £500 million being taken away by a 15 per cent. uprating instead of a 21 per cent. uprating. Compared with that record, we have no apologies to make.

Heating additions have gone up by 8.6 per cent. in this month's uprating. In 1980 the Conservatives gave to supplementary pensioners over the age of 70 an automatic heating addition. The cost of that addition is now £200 million, going to 1½ million supplementary pensioners. When that is linked with the automatic giving, as happened in 1980, of heating additions to families on supplementary benefit with children below the age of five, it means £100 million more in real terms in heating allowances than in 1978–79. Therefore, the old and the young are getting more than they were when we came to power.

As for heating addition rates, since 1978 heating allowance rates have gone up by 140 per cent. compared with fuel costs rising by 100 per cent. Thus, not only are we giving the allowance to more people, but what we are giving is more valuable.

Consider what we have done for the 60-year-olds, those who unfortunately—as we get the economy of the nation right—are still unemployed. In November 1981 we decided that the unemployed at the age of 60 should after one year go on to the higher rate of supplementary benefit. That was done by the Conservative Government.

In 1983 we gave automatic credits to all unemployed men between 60 and 65 to help them fill gaps in their contribution record. That, too, was done by this Government. In June of this year we decided that a 60-year-old unemployed person should immediately go on the higher rate of supplementary benefit. That makes a difference of £11 for a couple and £7.50 for a single person. That also was done by this Government.

Mr. Foulkes

What about the death grant?

Mr. Boyson

The facts that I am mentioning are worrying the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), but he will have to listen to what I am saying; he may even enjoy it. I respect him highly and I listened to him. His turn has now come to listen.

We inherited in 1979 a mobility allowance of £10—it is now £19, an increase of 90 per cent., which is 5.3 per cent. more than the increase in transport costs during that time. Again we have done more than could be expected.

I hate to mention the Christmas bonus again but we have made it statutory. Now it must be paid. It is not a decision made in any year.

Mr. Foulkes

What about the death grant?

Dr. Boyson

I have not yet reached the death grant. I am dealing with old-age pensioners—I have not reached the undertakers yet.

The debt of honour of our manifesto pledge in 1979 to war widows for pensions and allowances to be tax exempt was carried out immediately after the 1979 election. A great many people were involved. For those who want to continue working we have increased the earnings limit form £57 to £65 for men between 65 and 70 and for women aged between 60 and 65. That is a 14 per cent. increase. That is not chickenfeed. It is 9 per cent. more than inflation. They can earn their additional money without losing.

On supplementary benefits, we have increased by 50 per cent. in two years, from £2,000 to £3,000, the minimum amount a person may have before he can claim supplementary benefit. Many more people can have assistance, as my right hon. Friend said. We have allowed at the same time £1,500 of life assurance to be disregarded so that people can still have supplementary benefit.

Mr. Foulkes


Dr. Boyson

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is listening. Other hon. Members were not here and I could not rely on the hon. Gentleman to tell them.

A person can have capital of £500, against £300 last year, before his entitlement to supplementary benefit single payments is affected.

Mr. Foulkes

What about the death grant?

Dr. Boyson

I have not yet reached the death grant. I am dealing with low income families. I have not mentioned death grant. But I would not want the hon. Gentleman to worry because I have not mentioned it. I did not intend to mention it but because of his persistence he will get his reward.

According to the DHSS report that came out recently 100,000 fewer pensioners in 1981 compared with 1979 were below supplementary benefit level. I have quoted 1981 because it will be another year or two before we have the 1983 figures. I shall come back to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley when I have those figures and bring him up to date.

As for job release, where people retire early so that someone else can take their job, the Labour Government spent £22 million in 1978–79. In the past year we have spent £212 million to enable older people to leave their jobs so that others can take them.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) dodged the issue of inflation. Inflation is the most terrible thing for someone who has saved up—however small those savings are—to supplement the pension and to live on the interest of what has been saved. Few people in this country today do not have savings of some type. There are quite a number of people, including Labour voters—not just those who want to buy their council houses—with savings. As my right hon. Friend said, there was 110 per cent. inflation in 5½ years of Labour Government. Every £100 that was put away was eroded in value by more than half after that 5½ years. It is no wonder that some grandmothers are still frightened to talk to members of the Labour party when they come around after dark. By bringing back the value of money we have helped pensioners. The value of money is essential to a good and healthy society. Pensioners gain from that.

Mr. Rooker

I want the Minister to explain housing benefits. Why does he believe that the index-linked bonds that were introduced under the last Labour Government were called granny bonds?

Dr. Boyson

We wanted a property-owning democracy and every granny with a bond. I am prepared to appear on television with the hon. Gentleman advertising that throughout the length and breadth of the country.

In discussing housing benefits, I come to the most difficult part of my script. When I have lived through this debate, I can take even death in its stride. About £4 billion is going to about one third of houses. Housing benefits have been given to those on increasingly high levels of income and greater amounts have been spent. The adjustments to housing benefit, to which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) referred, will mean a cut of about 5 per cent. in total expenditure. However, the needs allowances are being uprated this November by about 4 per cent. At the end of next April 2½ million out of 4 million pensioners on housing benefits will still be better off than they were in April of this year, even after taking account of the changes last April, the November uprating and next April's changes. Of the pensioners affected, nearly one third will lose less than 25p a week and over half will lose less than 50p a week.

I give three cases of senior citizens on housing benefits. The recent changes have no effect on the housing benefit of a non-dependent son or daughter living with his or her pensioner parents and who is at school, on the youth training scheme or on supplementary benefit. If a pensioner is living as a non-dependent with his son or daughter there is no change of housing benefit. If a pensioner's income is no more than £9.75 above a state pension, there is no change in housing benefit. It is wrong to say that the Government have said, "Who are the poorest in the land? Let us line them up and do the worst that we can for them." We have protected those on supplementary benefit and the lowest incomes. I believe that at one time the philosophy of the Labour party was to look after those who were the worst off in our society.

About 500,000 families will be helped from next April with £1 a week extra when we increase the dependent children's addition to the needs allowance. There were problems in Birmingham when a computer broke down. Local authorities quickly complained that the system was not working. I have received no further request for extensions to the transitional arrangements for implementing housing benefit, although extensions have twice been given.

I shall now deal with the pensions inquiry. I will then give a short summing up. I am sure that hon. Members would be disappointed if I did not do that. [Interruption.] There is clearly approval for that.

Mr. Foulkes

What about the death grant?

Dr. Boyson

Yes, then there is the death grant. The hon. Gentleman should come to all my meetings, not just some of them.

I inherited—if that is the right expression—a report on the death grant. There were replies from some 700 people, some with large petitions, referring to three ways in which the death grant could be dealt with. Of that total, 55 per cent. said that they did not like any of the proposals, 30 per cent. just wanted the grant increased and the other 15 per cent. we could not understand. We are still studying the 15 per cent., but there was an overwhelming decision.

To uprate the death grant in line with the present cost of funerals would cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

Mr. Rooker

Two hundred.

Dr. Boyson

I accept the hon. Gentleman's figure. At least £200 million would be added. That money is not available. The choice is, therefore, between allocating the available funds through means-testing, to which the Opposition object, and giving it to those most in need or doing it in some other way. With regard to those who have no income at all, last year some 11,000 such people were paid an average of £200 for funerals, so it is not true that people with nothing cannot get grants.

Mr. Foulkes

I am sure that the Minister will agree that this is no laughing matter. The people who replied may have been confused, but it is not their business to make a decision. It is the Government's business. Will the Minister give a clear assurance that an announcement will be made, preferably before Christmas, about the future of the death grant, since it is something for which people have been waiting for four years?

Dr. Boyson

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall move at least as fast as the Labour Government on this.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Boyson

No, I listened to the hon. Gentleman without interrupting him.

Social security expenditure by the Government in real terms is 20 per cent. higher than it was in 1978 under the Labour Government, so we shall take no objections from Labour Members about what we are doing. Increased expenditure of £748 million was provided for in the spring Budget this year and the autumn statement provided a further increase in social security expenditure of £163 million. We have no apologies to make in relation to our spending on the social security system.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred today to other important long-term factors. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) in his maiden speech, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) for the Liberals, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) and the hon. Member for Oldham, West in opening for the Opposition all referred to the need for an inquiry to get the long-term question of pensions right. I trust that we can deal with this in an entirely non-partisan manner. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, similar changes were made in 1975 when he was Opposition spokesman. We trust that the same will apply now.

There are four further points. First, on occupational pensions, there is the problem of the early leaver. Employees in occupational schemes often have no option but to join and accept the terms given. The terms are often unfavourable if the employee leaves for another job because the entitlement is likely to be frozen. We all receive letters about that. The Government have accepted the majority report of the Occupational Pensions Board in 1981 requiring uprating of pension rights by 5 per cent. per annum or up to 5 per cent. if inflation is lower, as we trust that it will be in years to come if the Conservatives remain in power.

Mr. Foulkes

We have heard all that.

Dr. Boyson

Not all hon. Members were present earlier, or does the hon. Gentleman propose to tell the others outside?

A consultative document will be issued next Tuesday asking for comments by the end of February 1984 on the option of legislation in the 1984–85 parliamentary Session.

Secondly, on disclosure of information, the 1982 report of the Occupational Pensions Board recommended improvements in the information available not only on individual pension rights but on the overall schemes, on audited accounts, actuarial valuations, annual trustee reports and investment reports. As for the publication of that report, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accepted the need in principle to legislate on disclosure and established a working group, which has reported on issues such as a register of occupational pension schemes and clarification of trustee and employee responsibilities. We shall issue a consultative document early next year with the aim of including disclosure measures in proposed legislation for early leavers.

We must also consider the report of Professor Gower, which is expected shortly, on the adequacy of provisions for protecting investors in and beneficiaries of investment funds.

In addition, as my right hon. Friend has said, we are setting up a pensions inquiry to report shortly on the whole question of the adequacy and cost of state, occupational and private provision for retirement and portability of pension rights. The Select Committee report on the retirement age will also be taken fully into consideration. Tomorrow the Government's response to the report by the Select Committee on Social Services will be published. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) will introduce a debate on retirement age in the House on Friday this week.

A good life for the pensioner depends not just on the amount of money that he receives but on living a useful life in society. We should see that that is so, as people live longer. Flexible retirement means that one can choose when one retires. People are changing their jobs much more often up to the age of 60 or 65, and they do all sorts of things later. It is most satisfying for any senior citizen to feel that he is part of the family, has a job to do and is part of the community.

I recently read a book by Eric Midwinter. It was a biography of W. G. Grace, a person of considerable versatility. It is well worth reading because of what he said about the university of the third age. Some time in the future we shall have to start thinking about education from the age of 60 onwards. I trust that we shall also be able to do that in a bipartisan fashion.

Pensioners are part of society. They are concerned not just about money coming in. I read a Gallup poll this month, which may interest hon. Members. Twice as many pensioners are concerned about defence as about pensions. There is no doubt which party they support on that—the Conservative party. More pensioners are concerned about inflation than about pensions. Again, more will support the Conservative party. Of the number of pensioners most concerned about pensions 60 per cent. are most concerned about law and order. We are charged with depriving pensioners of the high living standards that they deserve. However, they are not so concerned about that. According to the first report of the British crime survey, they are more concerned than young people about law and order on the streets. Again, the Conservative party is concerned about law and order.

The Opposition's motion states that we are depriving pensioners of the higher living standards they deserve. No one in the House believes that pensioners do not deserve high living standards. However, we must get the economy going so that we can pay them what they deserve. Also, throughout one's life, one must consider carefully one's income and expenditure, so that one has a satisfactory retirement. Pensioners deserve a good standard of living, but we can give it to them only when we get the economy right. As well as doing that we need to decrease the rate of inflation and increase production, and then we shall have the capacity to look after the young and the old, and the mentally and physically handicapped. Until then, it is no good saying what people deserve. The hon. Member for Bolsover may deserve more. But until we get the economy right, we cannot offer more, even to the hon. Gentleman.

A Gallup poll in June showed the way in which pensioners voted at the election. Today Opposition Members claimed to speak with concern and integrity on their behalf. According to the Gallup poll, 48 per cent. of 65-year-olds, and people over 65 voted Conservative compared to 33 per cent. who voted Labour, and 19 per cent. who voted for the alliance. They believe that we are the Government to get the country right and to give them what they deserve.

Mr. James Hamilton (Motherwell, North)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 197, Noes 343.

Division No. 76] [10.00 pm
Abse, Leo Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Alton, David Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)
Anderson, Donald Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Caborn, Richard
Ashdown, Paddy Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Campbell, Ian
Ashton, Joe Canavan, Dennis
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Carter-Jones, Lewis
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cartwright, John
Barnett, Guy Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Barron, Kevin Clay, Robert
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Beith, A. J. Cohen, Harry
Bell, Stuart Coleman, Donald
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Bermingham, Gerald Conlan, Bernard
Bidwell, Sydney Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)
Blair, Anthony Corbett, Robin
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Corbyn, Jeremy
Boyes, Roland Cowans, Harry
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Craigen, J. M.
Crowther, Stan Marek, Dr John
Cunningham, Dr John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Martin, Michael
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Maxton, John
Deakins, Eric Maynard, Miss Joan
Dixon, Donald Meacher, Michael
Dobson, Frank Meadowcroft, Michael
Dormand, Jack Michie, William
Douglas, Dick Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dubs, Alfred Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Duffy, A. E. P. Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Eadie, Alex Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Eastham, Ken Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Ellis, Raymond Nellist, David
Evans, Ioan (Cynon Valley) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Evans, John (St. Helens N) O'Brien, William
Ewing, Harry O'Neill, Martin
Fatchett, Derek Park, George
Faulds, Andrew Parry, Robert
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Patchett, Terry
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Pendry, Tom
Fisher, Mark Penhaligon, David
Flannery, Martin Pike, Peter
Forrester, John Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Foster, Derek Prescott, John
Foulkes, George Radice, Giles
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Randall, Stuart
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Redmond, M.
Freud, Clement Richardson, Ms Jo
Garrett, W. E. Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Robertson, George
Godman, Dr Norman Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Golding, John Rogers, Allan
Gould, Bryan Rooker, J. W.
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Harman, Ms Harriet Rowlands, Ted
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Ryman, John
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Sedgemore, Brian
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Sheerman, Barry
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Heffer, Eric S. Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Short, Mrs (W'hampt'n NE)
Home Robertson, John Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Howells, Geraint Skinner, Dennis
Hoyle, Douglas Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Soley, Clive
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Steel, Rt Hon David
Janner, Hon Greville Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd) Stott, Roger
John, Brynmor Straw, Jack
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Kennedy, Charles Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Kirkwood, Archibald Tinn, James
Lamond, James Torney, Tom
Leadbitter, Ted Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Leighton, Ronald Wainwright, R.
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Wallace, James
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Litherland, Robert Wareing, Robert
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Weetch, Ken
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Welsh, Michael
Loyden, Edward White, James
McCartney, Hugh Wigley, Dafydd
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Williams, Rt Hon A.
McGuire, Michael Winnick, David
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Woodall, Alec
McKelvey, William Young, David (Bolton SE)
Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
McNamara, Kevin Tellers for the Ayes:
McTaggart, Robert Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. John McWilliam.
Madden, Max
Aitken, Jonathan Eggar, Tim
Alexander, Richard Emery, Sir Peter
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Evennett, David
Amess, David Eyre, Reginald
Ancram, Michael Fairbairn, Nicholas
Arnold, Tom Fallon, Michael
Ashby, David Favell, Anthony
Aspinwall, Jack Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Finsberg, Geoffrey
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Fletcher, Alexander
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Fookes, Miss Janet
Baker, Kenneth (Mole Valley) Forman, Nigel
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Baldry, Anthony Forth, Eric
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Batiste, Spencer Fox, Marcus
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Franks, Cecil
Bellingham, Henry Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bendall, Vivian Freeman, Roger
Benyon, William Fry, Peter
Berry, Sir Anthony Gale, Roger
Best, Keith Galley, Roy
Bevan, David Gilroy Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Garel-Jones, Tristan
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Body, Richard Glyn, Dr Alan
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bottomley, Peter Goodlad, Alastair
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Gorst, John
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Gow, Ian
Braine, Sir Bernard Gower, Sir Raymond
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Green way, Harry
Bright, Graham Gregory, Conal
Brinton, Tim Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Brooke, Hon Peter Grist, Ian
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Ground, Patrick
Browne, John Grylls, Michael
Bruinvels, Peter Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Bryan, Sir Paul Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Hampson, Dr Keith
Buck, Sir Antony Hanley, Jeremy
Budgen, Nick Hannam, John
Bulmer, Esmond Hargreaves, Kenneth
Burt, Alistair Harris, David
Butcher, John Harvey, Robert
Butler, Hon Adam Haselhurst, Alan
Butterfill, John Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Hawksley, Warren
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hayes, J.
Carttiss, Michael Hayhoe, Barney
Chapman, Sydney Hayward, Robert
Chope, Christopher Heathcoat-Amory, David
Churchill, W. S. Heddle, John
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Henderson, Barry
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hickmet, Richard
Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clegg, Sir Walter Hind, Kenneth
Cockeram, Eric Hirst, Michael
Colvin, Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Conway, Derek Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Coombs, Simon Holt, Richard
Cope, John Hooson, Tom
Cormack, Patrick Hordern, Peter
Couchman, James Howard, Michael
Critchley, Julian Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Crouch, David Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Dickens, Geoffrey Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Dicks, T. Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Dorrell, Stephen Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hunt, David (Wirral)
Dover, Denshore Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Hunter, Andrew
Dunn, Robert Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Durant, Tony Irving, Charles
Dykes, Hugh Jackson, Robert
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Jessel, Toby Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Parris, Matthew
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Patten, John (Oxford)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Pawsey, James
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Key, Robert Pink, R. Bonner
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Pollock, Alexander
King, Rt Hon Tom Porter, Barry
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Powell, William (Corby)
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Powley, John
Knowles, Michael Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Knox, David Price, Sir David
Lamont, Norman Prior, Rt Hon James
Lang, Ian Proctor, K. Harvey
Latham, Michael Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Lawler, Geoffrey Raffan, Keith
Lawrence, Ivan Rathbone, Tim
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Renton, Tim
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rhodes James, Robert
Lester, Jim Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lightbown, David Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lilley, Peter Rifkind, Malcolm
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lord, Michael Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Luce, Richard Roe, Mrs Marion
McCrindle, Robert Rossi, Sir Hugh
McCurley, Mrs Anna Rost, Peter
MacGregor, John Rowe, Andrew
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Ryder, Richard
Maclean, David John. Sackville, Hon Thomas
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Sayeed, Jonathan
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
McQuarrie, Albert Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Madel, David Shelton, William (Streatham)
Major, John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Malins, Humfrey Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Malone, Gerald Silvester, Fred
Maples, John Sims, Roger
Marland, Paul Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Marlow, Antony Soames, Hon Nicholas
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Speed, Keith
Mates, Michael Speller, Tony
Maude, Francis Spence, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Spencer, D.
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Merchant, Piers Squire, Robin
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Stanbrook, Ivor
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Steen, Anthony
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Stern, Michael
Miscampbell, Norman Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Moate, Roger Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Monro, Sir Hector Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Montgomery, Fergus Stokes, John
Moore, John Stradling Thomas, J.
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Sumberg, David
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Tapsell, Peter
Moynihan, Hon C. Taylor, John (Solihull)
Mudd, David Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Murphy, Christopher Temple-Morris, Peter
Neale, Gerrard Terlezki, Stefan
Needham, Richard Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Nelson, Anthony Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Neubert, Michael Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Nicholls, Patrick Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Norris, Steven Thornton, Malcolm
Onslow, Cranley Thurnham, Peter
Oppenheim, Philip Townend, John (Bridlington)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S, Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Osborn, Sir John Tracey, Richard
Ottaway, Richard Trippier, David
Page, John (Harrow W) Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Dr Gerard Wells, John (Maidstone)
Viggers, Peter Whitfield, John
Waddington, David Whitney, Raymond
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Wiggin, Jerry
Waldegrave, Hon William Winterton, Mrs Ann
Walden, George Winterton, Nicholas
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester) Wolfson, Mark
Wall, Sir Patrick Wood, Timothy
Waller, Gary Woodcock, Michael
Walters, Dennis Young, Sir George (Acton)
Ward, John Younger, Rt Hon George
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Watson, John Tellers for the Noes:
Watts, John Mr. Carol Mather, and Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Wells, Bowen (Hertford)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put, That the proposed words be there added:

The House divided: Ayes 343, Noes 198

Division No. 77] [10.15 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Alexander, Richard Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Clegg, Sir Walter
Amess, David Cockeram, Eric
Ancram, Michael Colvin, Michael
Arnold, Tom Conway, Derek
Ashby, David Coombs, Simon
Aspinwall, Jack Cope, John
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Cormack, Patrick
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Couchman, James
Atkinson. David (B'm'th E) Critchley, Julian
Baker, Kenneth (Mole Valley) Crouch, David
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Dickens, Geoffrey
Baldry, Anthony Dicks, T.
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dorrell, Stephen
Batiste, Spencer Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dover, Denshore
Bellingham, Henry du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Bendall, Vivian Dunn, Robert
Benyon, William Durant, Tony
Berry, Sir Anthony Dykes, Hugh
Best, Keith Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Bevan, David Gilroy Eggar, Tim
Biffen, Rt Hon John Emery, Sir Peter
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Evennett, David
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Eyre, Reginald
Body, Richard Fairbairn, Nicholas
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fallon, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Favell, Anthony
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Finsberg, Geoffrey
Braine, Sir Bernard Fletcher, Alexander
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fookes, Miss Janet
Bright, Graham Forman, Nigel
Brinton, Tim Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Forth, Eric
Brooke, Hon Peter Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Fox, Marcus
Browne, John Franks, Cecil
Bruinvels, Peter Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bryan, Sir Paul Freeman, Roger
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Fry, Peter
Buck, Sir Antony Gale, Roger
Budgen, Nick Galley, Roy
Bulmer, Esmond Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Burt, Alistair Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Butcher, John Garel-Jones, Tristan
Butler, Hon Adam Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Butterfill, John Glyn, Dr Alan
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Goodlad, Alastair
Carttiss, Michael Gorst, John
Chapman, Sydney Gow, Ian
Chope, Christopher Gower, Sir Raymond
Churchill, W. S. Greenway, Harry
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Gregory, Conal
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Maclean, David John.
Grist, Ian Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Ground, Patrick McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Grylls, Michael McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) McQuarrie, Albert
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Madel, David
Hampson, Dr Keith Major, John
Hanley, Jeremy Malins, Humfrey
Hannam, John Malone, Gerald
Hargreaves, Kenneth Maples, John
Harris, David Marland, Paul
Harvey, Robert Marlow, Antony
Haselhurst, Alan Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Mates, Michael
Hawksley, Warren Maude, Francis
Hayes, J. Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hayhoe, Barney Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Hayward, Robert Merchant, Piers
Heathcoat-Amory, David Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Heddle, John Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Henderson, Barry Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Miscampbell, Norman
Hickmet, Richard Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Moate, Roger
Hind, Kenneth Monro, Sir Hector
Hirst, Michael Montgomery, Fergus
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Moore, John
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Holt, Richard Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hooson, Tom Moynihan, Hon C.
Hordern, Peter Mudd, David
Howard, Michael Murphy, Christopher
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Neale, Gerrard
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Needham, Richard
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Nelson, Anthony
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Neubert, Michael
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Nicholls, Patrick
Hunt, David (Wirral) Norris, Steven
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Onslow, Cranley
Hunter, Andrew Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Osborn, Sir John
Irving, Charles Ottaway, Richard
Jackson, Robert Page, John (Harrow W)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Jessel, Toby Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey Parris, Matthew
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Patten, John (Oxford)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Pawsey, James
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Pink, R. Bonner
Key, Robert Pollock, Alexander
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Porter, Barry
King, Rt Hon Tom Powell, William (Corby)
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Powley, John
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Knowles, Michael Price, Sir David
Knox, David Prior, Rt Hon James
Lamont, Norman Proctor, K. Harvey
Lang, Ian Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Latham, Michael Raffan, Keith
Lawler, Geoffrey Rathbone, Tim
Lawrence, Ivan Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Renton, Tim
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Rhodes James, Robert
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lester, Jim Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lightbown, David Rifkind, Malcolm
Lilley, Peter Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lord, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Luce, Richard Rossi, Sir Hugh
McCrindle, Robert Rost, Peter
McCurley, Mrs Anna Rowe, Andrew
MacGregor, John Rumbold, Mrs Angela
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Ryder, Richard
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Thurnham, Peter
Sayeed, Jonathan Townend, John (Bridlington)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Tracey, Richard
Shelton, William (Streatham) Trippier, David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Twinn, Dr Ian
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Silvester, Fred Viggers, Peter
Sims, Roger Waddington, David
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Soames, Hon Nicholas Waldegrave, Hon William
Speed, Keith Walden, George
Speller, Tony Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Spence, John Wall, Sir Patrick
Spencer, D. Waller, Gary
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Walters, Dennis
Squire, Robin Ward, John
Stanbrook, Ivor Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Steen, Anthony Warren, Kenneth
Stern, Michael Watson, John
Stevens, Martin (Fulham) Watts, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire) Whitfield, John
Stokes, John Whitney, Raymond
Stradling Thomas, J. Winterton, Mrs Ann
Sumberg, David Winterton, Nicholas
Tapsell, Peter Wolfson, Mark
Taylor, John (Solihull) Wood, Timothy
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Woodcock, Michael
Temple-Morris, Peter Young, Sir George (Acton)
Terlezki, Stefan Younger, Rt Hon George
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Tellers for the Ayes:
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Mr. Carol Mather and Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Thornton, Malcolm
Abse, Leo Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)
Alton, David Corbett, Robin
Anderson, Donald Corbyn, Jeremy
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cowans, Harry
Ashdown, Paddy Craigen, J. M.
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Crowther, Stan
Ashton, Joe Cunningham, Dr John
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Barnett, Guy Deakins, Eric
Barron, Kevin Dobson, Frank
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Dormand, Jack
Beith, A. J. Douglas, Dick
Bell, Stuart Dubs, Alfred
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Duffy, A. E. P.
Bermingham, Gerald Eadie, Alex
Bidwell, Sydney Eastham, Ken
Blair, Anthony Ellis, Raymond
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Evans, Ioan (Cynon Valley)
Boyes, Roland Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Ewing, Harry
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Fatchett, Derek
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Faulds, Andrew
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Caborn, Richard Fisher, Mark
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Flannery, Martin
Campbell, Ian Forrester, John
Canavan, Dennis Foster, Derek
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Foulkes, George
Carter-Jones, Lewis Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Cartwright, John Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Freud, Clement
Clay, Robert Garrett, W. E.
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Cohen, Harry Godman, Dr Norman
Coleman, Donald Golding, John
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Gould, Bryan
Conlan, Bernard Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Park, George
Harman, Ms Harriet Parry, Robert
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Patchett, Terry
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Pendry, Tom
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Penhaligon, David
Heffer, Eric S. Pike, Peter
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Prescott, John
Home Robertson, John Radice, Giles
Howells, Geraint Randall, Stuart
Hoyle, Douglas Redmond, M.
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Richardson, Ms Jo
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Robertson, George
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Janner, Hon Greville Rogers, Allan
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd) Rooker, J. W.
John, Brynmor Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rowlands, Ted
Kennedy, Charles Ryman, John
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Sedgemore, Brian
Kirkwood, Archibald Sheerman, Barry
Lamond, James Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Lead bitter, Ted Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Leighton, Ronald Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Litherland, Robert Skinner, Dennis
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Loyden, Edward Soley, Clive
McCartney, Hugh Spearing, Nigel
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Steel, Rt Hon David
McGuire, Michael Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Stott, Roger
McKelvey, William Straw, Jack
Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
McNamara, Kevin Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
McTaggart, Robert Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
McWilliam, John Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Madden, Max Tinn, James
Marek, Dr John Torney, Tom
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Martin, Michael Wainwright, R.
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Wallace, James
Maxton, John Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Maynard, Miss Joan Wareing, Robert
Meacher, Michael Weetch, Ken
Meadowcroft, Michael Welsh, Michael
Michie, William White, James
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Wigley, Dafydd
Miller, DrM. S. (E Kilbride) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Winnick, David
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Woodall, Alec
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Nellist, David
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Tellers for the Noes:
O'Brien, William Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Don Dixon.
O'Neill, Martin

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government for successive increases in retirement pensions which have increased the purchasing power of nine million pensioners since 1978–79; recognises the success of this Government's economic policies in reducing and controlling inflation; and notes that the greatest single threat to the security, savings, and hiving standards of pensioners would be the reversal of these policies.