HC Deb 14 May 1985 vol 79 cc165-7
10. Dr. McDonald

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he now expects to announce the results of his review of supplementary benefit; and if he will make a statement.

16. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if the review of the social security system has now been completed; and if he will make a statement.

17. Mr. Redmond

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he now expects to announce the results of his review of housing benefit; and if he will make a statement.

18. Mr. Allan Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will now publish the evidence submitted to his review committees; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fowler

The Government's proposals on social security will be published in a Green Paper after Whitsun. Over 4,500 written pieces of evidence were received. Those who submitted evidence are free to publish it and many have done so.

Dr. McDonald

Does the Secretary of State agree that the phasing out of the state earnings-related pension scheme will mean that more pensioners in the future will have to rely on supplementary benefit and that both workers and employers will have to pay higher national insurance contributions for workers to get far less by way of pensions in the future? Does he further agree that the Prime Minister has moved on from being the milk snatcher to being the pension snatcher?

Mr. Fowler

No, I think that that is a pretty silly statement, even by the hon. Lady's standards. The House will have to wait for the proposals. I am entirely content to be judged on the proposals in the Green Paper, but I am not prepared to be judged on half-baked scare stories put forward by the Opposition. Whatever changes are made, the proposals do not affect the basic pensions, and our position on that is clear. The basic pension has increased by 84 per cent. compared to a 77 per cent. rise in prices, and we remain absolutely committed to the pensioners of the country.

Mr. Hughes

Is not the much-heralded campaign to scrap the earnings-related pension scheme yet another attempt to cut public expenditure so as to give further tax handouts to the rich, irrespective of the fact that 11 million contributors could lose their pension rights and that many thousands more could be living in poverty at the turn of the century?

Mr. Fowler

I certainly do not accept the last part of the hon. Gentleman's comments, and nor will he when he sees the proposals. It would be utterly irresponsible of any Government not to look forward and make some judgment about the costs that the country will have to meet.

Mr. Roberts

Instead of devising ways to take money from those in our community least able to support themselves and instead of devising ways to scrap housing benefits for millions of people, why does the Minister not consider in his review ways to help those in most need? For example, why does he not extend to the elderly living in public sector housing the right to live rent-free in the way that owner-occupiers, having received, quite rightly, income tax relief on their mortgages, live mortgage-free after 25 or 30 years of subsidy?

Mr. Fowler

One of the aims of the social security review—and I think that there is no difference between the two sides on this—is to have an overall look at social security provision. Another aim is to seek to simplify the system, and again I think that there is a consensus on that. A third aim is to make the best use of available resources and to channel them to those most in need. That is the right way to proceed, which is why the Government set up the review.

Dr. Mawhinney

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us are eagerly looking forward to his review, in the confident expectation that it will fully protect the standard of living of those of our fellow citizens who are genuinely in need?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, and that will be one of the standards which my hon. Friend and the country will want to apply to the proposals when they are set out. There appears to be total agreement that the social security system must be reviewed. The Government are doing that, while other Governments have funked it.

Mr. Eggar

Have not our society and the needs of our citizens changed during the past 40 years? Would we not be failing in our duty if we did not take this opportunity to review the system?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is clear that need, and the definition of need, have also changed. One of the areas that gives me most cause for concern is that of families with children, where there is undoubted need. We must have a modern social security system, which is why the Government are putting forward a Green Paper. The public will then know what the issues are.

Mrs. Beckett

Since extending private pension cover to those covered by the state earnings-related pension scheme seems likely to cost about £3 million to £6 million in tax reliefs alone, can the Secretary of State tell us how soon we can expect the Chancellor to renege on his commitment not to change tax reliefs for occupational pensions, as thoroughly as the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have reneged on their commitments to pensioners?

Mr. Fowler

There are no plans to change the tax relief on occupational pensions. The biggest deceit is to make the promises that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) does, when he knows perfectly well that they cannot be fulfilled. The biggest swindle of pensioners was carried out in 1976 by the last Labour Government when they changed the basis of uprating and saved £1,200 million. That is what the Opposition did when they were in government.

Mr. Forman

When announcing his reforms in his statement after the recess, will my right hon. Friend be careful to leave open the possibility of moving towards an integrated tax benefit system as one of the longer term consequences of his proposals?

Mr. Fowler

It is an important aspect of the study, and the debate which will follow it, to consider the relationship between the social security system and the tax system. I am conscious of that, as is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.