HC Deb 16 July 1986 vol 101 cc1062-106
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.13 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That this House, noting the Government's niggardly pension increase of 40 pence, the break of the link with earnings which this year has prevented an increase three times higher, the cuts in housing benefit of £450 million, the reductions in public transport and the cuts in community provision, all of which chiefly hit pensioners, and bearing in mind that in seven Conservative years pensions have increased by three per cent. in real terms, while under the previous five Labour years they increased by 20 per cent. in real terms, calls on Her Majesty's Government to give priority to ending poverty among pensioners by reversing the tax hand-outs to the most privileged sections of society. Our central contention in this debate is that poverty amongst the eldery in Britain today is shamefully high, that it is increasing, and that it desperately needs to be cut. Our contention is not only that the pension increase of 40p, due to be awarded in 12 day's time, is derisory but that the pension, at a mere £38.30 a week for a single person, compares extremely badly with pensions currently provided in other EEC countries and very badly too with the relative value of pensioners' cash allowances in this country in Victorian times, as I shall show.

It is our contention, too, that pensioners' living standards are suffering not only because of the miserable level of the pension but because they depend equally on a range of essential public services and are being dragged down by the cuts across the board in housing benefits, in the availability and cost of buses, in community care provision and in delayed access to hospitals for vital operations such as hip replacements.

I read with incredulity in last Saturday's newspapers that the Secretary of State for Social Services was issuing a call for an increased share of national prosperity for the old, the sick and the poor. I say "with incredulity" because no Government in modern times have done more than this Government to diminish that share. Indeed no Minister has done more to diminish it than the right hon. Gentleman; it is with regret that I note that he is not present this evening to hear me.

The Secretary of State has just completed what he likes to call the biggest review of the welfare state since Beveridge. According to the Government's own figures, the effect will be that 2.25 million pensioners will lose money, three times more than will gain. The average overall effect for all pensioners — again I quote the Government, as I shall do repeatedly in my speech—is a loss of 80p, twice the royal ransom that pensioners will get in a couple of weeks' time.

No fewer than 120,000 pensioners are being handed cuts in excess of £5 a week, which at today's pension levels would be the equivalent of hon. Members having their salaries docked by over £2,000 a year. One wonders Low many Tory Members who voted for the Social Security Bill would support the same medicine being handed out to themselves.

All that is minor compared with what the Government did in 1980, the effect of which still continues and will increase, contrary to the Secretary of State's claims. The Government in 1980 took a clear and unequivocal decision not to give pensioners a share in the rising national prosperity. They decided to uprate pensions only in line with price increases and not, as the previous Labour Government had done, in line with earnings. [Interruption.] The hon. Member may laugh, but if he considers the facts which I am about to give the laugh will be on him.

If Labour's formula had been continued, the pension increase paid this month would have been three times greater. That is one important fact. More important, if Labour's formula had not been changed—I have asked an independent source in the Library to produce these figures—the pension for a single person today would be no less than £5.95 per week higher than it is, and the pension for a married couple would be no less than £9.40 higher. Those amounts would apply to every week in 1986.

So far from increasing pensioners' share of the national cake, by that decision alone the Government have knocked off cumulatively £5 billion from pensioners' living standards since 1979. That is over the short period of six years. The Government's decision will continue to operate until it is changed, so over a lifetime, or the next 70 years, the figures of the Government's Actuary show that giving pensioners their share of the rising national income, that is, by paying pensions in line with earnings, would cumulatively put into pensioners' pockets pensions worth £56 billion. Those figures were issued recently by the Government.

By refusing to give pensioners their share of the rising national income, that is, by uprating pensions purely in line with prices, the Government have decided to allocate only £20 billion to pensioners over the same period. Again, that is the Government's own estimate. It really is the most brazen cynicism for the Secretary of State to call for pensioners and others to have their due share of rising national prosperity and then to do—and it is what the Government do that matters — exactly the reverse by reducing pensions by nearly two-thirds below that level over the period of a lifetime.

It is not as though the pension in Britain is exactly generous. I suspect that hon. Ministers and those outside the House—

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

Also it will result in more pensioners having to ask for supplementary benefit as a counter balance.

Mr. Meacher

Of course, and I shall be commenting on that. My hon. Friend has made a very important point. Figures that were issued yesterday show that the number of people on supplementary benefit, including pensioners, has reached an all-time high.

I suspect that most people have little idea of how miserably badly the pension in this country compares with pensions that are now being paid in other European countries. According to the Department's evidence, which was given in a written answer last year, the total state pension amounts to just 27 per cent. of average earnings in Britain. In Germany it is 50 per cent.; in Belgium it is 60 per cent.; in France it is 60 to 70 per cent. Therefore, by international standards the pension in this country is pathetically inadequate. If other countries can pay a significantly higher pension, why cannot we? That question has never been satisfactorily answered by the Government.

It is not only by international comparisons that it can be seen that today our pensioners are getting such a raw deal. It is also by comparison with what happened in the past in this country. I am sure that most hon. Members will agree that poverty is not an absolute; it is relative to the average standard of living in society at any time. By that standard, pensioners today are somewhat worse off —I say advisedly "worse off'—than their forebears who received the first state old-age pension in the early years of this century.

It may seem remarkable to the House, but it is true, that they are much worse off— by comparison with the average worker, which is the relevant comparison—than those elderly persons who received the poor law allowances in the middle of the last century. Those allowances than amounted to roughly two-thirds or more of the income of an adult worker. Today the elderly are allotted little more than one-third of the income of the average adult worker.

We hear a great deal from the Prime Minister about Victorian values whenever she wants to exhort us to be thrifty. If she really believes in such values, she ought to apply them to her treatment of pensioners. If she did, it would mean a dramatic reversal of everything that she has done over pensions during the past seven years.

Unlike the Government, the Opposition believe that at present pensioners receive a shameful return after a lifetime of service to this country. We believe that widespread poverty in old age is an indictment of our society and that it should be removed. We believe that pensioners should be given a full share in rising national prosperity. It was precisely for those reasons that the last Labour Government increased pensions in line with earnings each year, with the result that the value of the pension rose 20 per cent. in real terms during the five years of the last Labour Government, compared with a mere 3 to 4 per cent. during the last seven years of this Government. It was precisely for those same reasons that the last Labour Government introduced the state earnings-related pension scheme, which uniquely offers a high road out of poverty in old age and at last begins to put this country on a par with what other European countries already do for their pensioners. Yet it is upon this high road that this Government are now insisting on imposing a road block.

In the current Social Security Bill, the build-up of SERPS, which would have taken virtually all pensioners well above the supplementary benefit poverty line without a means test, is being stopped in its tracks. The latest report of the Government Actuary shows that the cutbacks in SERPS will amount to no less than £19 billion in the middle of the next century. That is the amount which the Government are proposing over that period to take away from pensioners.

These figures, huge though they are, may still not convey the full enormity of what the Government are doing to pensioners. Therefore, I put down a question in which I asked what would be the combined effect on the ordinary pension of the two major structural changes that this Government have made in the state pension: the chopping back of SERPS and the uprating in line with prices only. I received a written answer, which Members can look up, if they wish, on 6 February 1986. It showed that a young man who starts work in 1988 when the current Social Security Bill is intended to come into operation will end up with a combined basic and SERPS pension that is worth only £64 a week at 1985 prices. By comparison, if Labour's policy were pursued of uprating pensions in line with earnings and retaining SERPS in its present form, the written answer shows that he would receive a pension of exactly twice as much—£128 a week, again at 1985 prices.

That is the real case against the Government. It is not just a question of this cut or that cut here and now—although that is bad enough. It is the fundamental structural attack which this Government have launched on the position of pensioners in society which will drastically affect every single person in this country—not just those who are now retired but also middle-aged workers, young workers and those who are still at school. Indeed, the younger they are, the more it will affect them. For every person in this country the knives are out. They will hack back the state pension to which people can look forward by up to a half.

The gist of our case is that the framework of decent pensions above the poverty line is being dismantled. But the picture in the short term is not very different. Pensioners are being hit here and now by the huge £450 million cut in housing benefit. They were robbed of £550 million when the Government changed from a forecasting to a historic basis for uprating. They lost another £86 million when the Government increased the available scale margin, thus hitting the poorest pensioners on supplementary benefit who were receiving heating allowances.

Another £50 million is now being taken away from pensioners because of the Government's increase in the rates taper for housing benefit and their abolition of central heating additions for supplementary benefit claimants. Soon, if the Lords amendments are reversed, the poorest pensioners on supplementary benefit will be forced to pay 20 per cent. of their rates. That must inevitably force them below the poverty line. It will be the first time that any Government have ever done that. Over the next quarter of a century, widows — the great majority of whom will be pensioners—according to the Government's own figures that they have just released, will be deprived of £12 million, because of the cuts in widows' benefits that will arise from the Social Security Bill.

To compensate for all of that, in a couple of weeks time pensioners are to be treated to a bonanza rise of 40p. If that is not offensive enough, let me add that the next pensions increase will not be much bigger. The Secretary of State will announce it in October, which happens to be the month of the big bang. That is the nickname for financial deregulation in the City, but one might be excused for thinking that it referred to the explosive escalation of salaries in the City.

There is something ineradicably repellent yet irrefutably characteristic about this Government that in the same month that the Prime Minister's friends in the City—her people — will be popping the champagne corks to celebrate their six-figure pay packets, the Secretary of State will unveil the next pension increase, which I predict will be about 80p. So much for caring capitalism. So much for the Prime Minister's policy for the family. So much for giving pensioners a share in rising national prosperity. Frankly, I am amazed that the Prime Minister and her colleagues do not choke on the nausea of their cynicism.

Nor is there any compensation when we consider the social wage. Rather, the reverse is the case. The social wage is very important and good public services are an essential part of the livelihood of most pensioners. Pensioners, perhaps more than any other group in the population, have been the main victims or the steady erosion of public service provision over the past several years. Cuts in bus routes and the higher costs of fares under the Transport Bill must severely reduce pensioners' mobility. No doubt that will leave many pensioners little more than prisoners in their home area.

Reductions in home helps, meals on wheels, day centres, chiropody services, and the lack of respite for carers looking after the frail, confused or disabled elderly are all diminishing the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of pensioners. The lengthening waiting lists in many areas for crucial operations such as hip replacements leave thousands of pensioners not just in discomfort—although that is bad enough—but in intense pain for months at a time.

We reject a system with such priorities. We reject the system which gives a pittance of an increase on a pittance of a pension, while at the same time the Top Salaries Review Body awards an increase of nearly £50 a week to top civil servants, judges and military personnel. We reject a system which allowed 1,000 elderly people to die of hypothermia last year while the bungled bureaucratic farce of exceptionally severe weather payments denied help to pensioners even when the temperature was below zero. Above all, we reject a system and a Government which, according to the written answer issued yesterday, drives up the number in poverty to 5,250,000 claimants, the highest level ever recorded in Britain. That means that there are now officially more than 8 million people—one in seven of the population—living on or below the poverty line in Britain today. Of course, a high proportion are pensioners.

Instead of that, we propose a charter of justice for pensioners. As a priority, we will raise the single person's pension by £5 a week and the married couple's pension by £8 a week. That will broadly compensate pensioners for what they have lost during the Tory years by the break in the earnings link. We will pay for that and for a £3 a week increase in child benefit by taking back the tax handouts now totalling over £3.5 billion a year which have been poured out on the richest 5 per cent. of the population —the Prime Minister's own people—in honour of her zealous vision of growing inequality.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many years on the trot the Labour party intends to offer the £5 and £8 increase? Will they, as they did in 1974, give a substantial increase made on a promise which won the election in the first year and then take it back in the following year?

Mr. Meacher

We will continue to pay those sums for every year that we remain in government. I do not think it is surprising that, having made that change, we will maintain that change in the order book. Each year, the £3.5 billion which the richest 5 per cent. would have received will go to pensioners, mothers with young children and to the long-term unemployed. A little will still be left over for the severely and very severely handicapped. That is a policy of social justice which I believe the people will strongly support.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. John Major)

Before the hon. Gentleman goes too far with his £3.6 billion clawback in tax from high income earners, may I ask him whether he is aware that the promises that he has made amount to a cost per annum not of £3.6 billion but, on reasonable assumptions, of £5.6 billion?

Mr. Meacher

That figure is as fabricated as the £24 billion which the Government like to prate about on every occasion.

Mr. Major


Mr. Meacher

The Minister will have an opportunity to make his speech. I want to make it clear that the main item in that £24 billion is £3 billion which is allotted to the reduction of the pension age to a common age of 60. I have not said that. the Labour party has not said that and it is not party policy that the age will be reduced to 60. Yet it appears as the biggest single item in the Government's list. That is typical of the moonshine represented by these allegations.

Mr. Major

The hon. Gentleman is being inaccurate. However, rather than take up too much of his time, I shall be happy later—if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye—to set out in some detail the costings of the hon. Gentleman's promise.

Mr. Meacher

I should be delighted if the Minister were to do that. I hope that the costings will be more accurate than some of the allegations made earlier in the year. I remind the Minister—as he probably needs reminding—that the figures which I have quoted have been worked out on the basis of Treasury written answers and answers from the DHSS. I stand precisley by the figures that I have given because they are correct.

We will also restore the link with earnings because we believe that pensioners should fully share in rising national prosperity. We will retain SERPS, which is perfectly affordable because it offers pensioners the best deal that they have ever had and because SERPS will finally end the cruel indignity of means-tested poverty in old age.

We will tackle the horror of hypothermia by a new winter fuel premium of £5 a week for the coldest months from December to March. We will make the steady buildup of community care services, which are so vital to the well-being of the aged, one of the priorities for a renewed Health Service.

I do not deny that this is an ambitious programme but it is also a rigorously costed and practical programme. I believe that the vast majority of the British people will endorse it. Taken against the miserable and niggardly record on pensions over the past seven years, I believe that that programme will shortly play a major part in finally sweeping the Government from power.

7.37 pm
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

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 on its achievement in increasing the purchasing power of the national insurance retirement pension during a period when the number of pensioners has risen by nearly a million; endorses the Government's firm commitment fully to protect pensioners against rising prices; welcomes the continued development of health and community services for the elderly; recognises the Government's outstanding success in reducing the rise in prices to the lowest level for nearly twenty years; and notes that security in retirement would be the first casualty of the renewed and rapid inflation which would flow from the expenditure and taxation policies advocated by Her Majesty's Opposition.' In moving the amendment, I want first to set out clearly and in less heated but more factual terms than those used by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) what the Government have achieved in relation to pensions.

When we came to office in 1979, the national insurance retirement pension for a married couple stood at the rate set in November 1978—£19.50 a week. In less than a fortnight's time, with the uprating which takes place on 28 July, it will have been increased to £38.70 a week. That is an increase of £19.20 in cash terms, and of only just short of 100 per cent. in percentage terms. It compares with a rise in prices of several points less over the same period. Pensioners have therefore had a real increase in their standard of living—as indeed even the hon. Gentleman's motion has the grace to acknowledge. The fact is that we have more than kept faith with the clear promise we made —and continue to make, and will continue to fulfil—fully to protect the retirement pension against the rise in prices. What is more, we are doing so on the basis of clear facts about what that rise has actually been, not on the basis of the previous Government's hit-or-miss forecasts that turned out wrong five times out of seven.

Nor have those increases been achieved as a matter of easy routine. They have been made against a difficult economic background. And they have been made not only for the 8.5 million pensioners who existed in 1979, but for a number which has grown in the intervening period by nearly a million to the 9.5 million pensioners we have today. In other words, we are now paying better pensions than ever before, and to more pensioners than ever before. As always, the hon. Member for Oldham, West goes on about "cuts". It is his most frequently used word. There is no cut here. Spending on pensions has increased from £7.5 billion in 1978–79 to £16.5 billion in 1985–86. Of course, some of that increased spending is the consequence of inflation, albeit at the greatly reduced rate which has been not the least of the Government's successes, but much of it is not just the consequence of inflation. For example, £2.5 billion represents a real increase in the value of the resources that we devote to the state retirement pension, and of that, £1.5 billion represents the real increase in the purchasing power of pensions.

If the hon. Gentleman really wants, as he obviously does because he does little else, to talk about cuts perhaps he would tell us about the Christmas bonus and explain to the House why the Government of whom he was a member simply refused to pay it for two of the five Christmases during which they were in office.

Mr. Meacher


Mr. Newton

The Christmas bonus is piffling? Is that official Labour policy? Will that lead to the cancellation of the bonus under any future Labour Government?

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

The Labour Government may not have paid the bonus, and it was wrong not to do so, but the Minister is talking about an amount of £20. When will he restore the money that he has taken from pensioners during the past seven years?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman may not think that £20 is much money, but one matter that the House must judge, in considering the words of the hon. Member for Oldham, West about what he would do if he got the chance, is what he did when he had the chance. When he was a Minister in the DHSS he did not pay the Christmas bonus. The present Government have made the bonus a clear annual entitlement under the law.

Mr. Meacher

I was saying that it is a piffling point to refer to the fact that for two years the Christmas bonus was not paid. That is £20 less than pensioners might otherwise have got. Will the Minister tell us the value of a 20 per cent. real increase, multiplied by every week for five years, because that is the amount by which it was increased? It is hundreds of times more than the piffling amount to which he constantly refers.

Mr. Newton

It does not seem to me to be piffling or trivial to observe, when listening to the promises that the hon. Gentleman now so relentlessly makes whenever he gets the opportunity, that some regard should be paid to what he did when he had the chance to act. In effect, he cheated the old-age pensioners of their Christmas bonus two Christmases out of five.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

I am most interested in following the Minister's observations. He has waxed eloquent about the loss of £20 in five years. Will he comment on the £570 that the pensioner couple has lost and the £390 that the single pensioner has lost since 1981 under the Government's cuts?

Mr. Newton

Yes, I would. I should like to comment on them in the following way, because it is the other great deficiency in the credibility of the hon. Gentleman, and slightly less in the case of the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), because she was at least cutting expenditure in another Department during the period of office of the Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman will remember clearly, because he was in the Department under the Labour Government, that when it came to the crunch of fulfilling all of those promises about increases related to earnings, after the International Monetary Fund had become involved in 1976 and 1977, the then Secretary of State for Social Services invented a dodge to change the uprating method which had the effect of taking £1,000 million in a full year from pensioners, measured by today's value of pensions.

The hon. Gentleman will have heard from me before — I do not wish to weary him too much—that that was when, as we all know, the celebrated story appeared in The Times on 11 March 1976 of how the hon. Gentleman had attended a pensioners' rally arranged by his brotherly loving friends in the Trades Union Congress and was shouted down as he tried to explain the Government's record on pensions. That is what happened when the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to take responsibility for those matters. Alongside those broad measures which benefit all pensioners, we have made many other important improvements for some groups.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

One of the most welcome defeats inflicted upon the Social Security Bill in the other place concerning pensions was the rejection of the 20 per cent. domestic rates contribution. As the matter is of special importance to Scottish pensioners vis-à-vis the recent revaluation exercise inflicted upon pensioners by the Government, what is the likelihood of the measure being reintroduced by the Government next week when the Bill returns to the House?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the consideration of the Bill in the other place is not yet completed. It would be inappropriate for me to respond to his question until it has been completed. I shall not disguise from him the fact that the Government still firmly believe that it is important to improve the accountability of local authorities to their electorates and to impose that through the social security system.

That is my description of the broad achievements of the Government in relation to the national insurance pension. Of course, there has been a range of other improvements, some of them admittedly only important to small but nevertheless important groups of people, which should not be forgotten when the House debates retirement pensions. For example, we have taken steps to ensure that a married woman over 80 who qualified for a non-contributory pension gets it at a full rate, not a reduced one. We have also relaxed the residence rule for those non-contributory over-80s pensions, in such a way as to enable people who return to Britain after the age of 70 to qualify, whereas under the previous regime they could never have got such a pension.

Although that is a small point, I take special pleasure in it, since I well recall trying to persuade the Labour Government to do almost exactly that in a Social Security Bill Standing Committee of which I was a member in 1978, only to have my proposal strongly resisted by the then Labour Minister for Social Security.

More importantly, we have abolished the remaining effects of the old half-test for married women which we inherited from the Labour Government and which prevented many married women from receiving their pension in return for the contributions that they had made. That measure alone enables 20,000 people — married women who reached the age of 60 before 1979 — to receive pensions on those contributions that they would not otherwise have had.

Nor, despite the hon. Gentleman's attempt to say so, have we forgotten those pensioners who are least well-off and on supplementary pensions. We have increased their pensions, too, in real terms. The rules about capital have been eased to help those with limited savings. Extra help with heating costs has been substantially increased since we took office and extended so that many more pensioners and more than 90 per cent. of pensioners on supplementary benefit receive such an addition with a higher rate for the over-85s. We have, of course, made it clear that the spending on heating additions will become part of the new scheme and will be taken into account in setting the new premium rates of income support for pensioners.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Newton

There are many hon. Members who wish to speak, and I am in danger of taking too much time. I have already given way many times and it is right, from the point of view of the entire House, that I should continue. However, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the Minister accept that last winter, during the period of exceptionally cold weather, many elderly people needed extra assistance but could not obtain it because of the byzantine complexity and the lack of public understanding about the additional help that should be made available and potentially is available? Does he accept that something must be done before next winter to ensure that elderly people do not die from cold?

Mr. Newton

I have made it entirely clear that neither the Government nor anybody else is satisfied with the way in which that regulation has worked during the last two winters. We have been considering that matter and I hope that it will not be too long before I can give some idea of our intentions, although I cannot do so tonight.

As I have told the House before when discussing the Government's record on pensions, we need not apologise for that record. It is one in which we can, and do, take pride. That pride is in no way affected by the fact that, largely because of the Government's success in cutting inflation, the actual amount of this July's pension increase is modest by the standards of the Labour days when large increases were needed just to stand still. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on a previous occasion, the one ambition of the hon. Member for Oldham, West seems to be to return to the days of 20 per cent. inflation so that he can then claim credit for 20 per cent. pension increases, and completely ignore the hardship caused by that inflation.

Much of the hon. Gentleman's speech was nothing more than a re-run of his speech in the debate on the uprating orders a month ago. As the hon. Gentleman has re-run his speech, I shall remind the House of my comments on that occasion. The pension increases that will come into effect in a fortnight are four months earlier than usual and, when taken with last November's increase, will mean that the pension for a married couple will be increased by £4.65 a week in less than a year. There will be another increase only eight months later, resulting in three increases in a period that would normally have seen two.

The hon. Gentleman relentlessly runs away from the fact that those increases are coupled with greater price stability than we have seen for decades, and that is probably the biggest single bonus that pensioners have had in 20 or 30 years. That helps to give us a more sensible framework for future increases and is fully in line, as have been all our actions, with our firm and continuing commitment to maintain the value of the pension.

The hon. Gentleman concentrated almost exclusively on social security, despite the fact that his motion refers rather more widely to aspects of health and personal social services as well. I should like to comment on that because it is of great importance to our retired population. It is an area in which any Government will face a significant challenge over the coming decades, and well into the next century. Total expenditure on social services has increased from a little over £1 billion in 1978–79 to nearly £2.5 billion in 1985–86, a real increase of over 20 per cent. A growing proportion of that increase relates to the elderly.

The hon. Gentleman made some play of a number of statistics relating to social services. I shall give him just one to digest while he considers the rest of the debate. Everybody would accept that day centres are an important part of our provision for the elderly. There are now 39,700 places, representing an increase of 31.5 per cent. since 1978. That is the kind of provision which we are seeking to stimulate and encourage as part of an overall greater flexibility and diversity in the provision of care.

Mrs. Beckett

Since the Minister said that he wanted to give the House as much information as possible, will he now tell us how much of that was spent by Labour-controlled local authorities who have continually been criticised and rate capped by the Government as a result?

Mr. Newton

The Government have consistently sought to encourage all local authorities to make better use of the money they spend on social services, and to give greater priority to the needs of groups such as the elderly. That policy and the Government's encouragement are reflected in what is happening.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the Minister aware that last year the Department of the Environment informed 30 of the 32 London boroughs that their social services budget was over the grant-related expenditure allocation formula, and that a significant number, I think half, were over the target figure as well, specifically on social services, which means, in effect, that the Government were telling those authorities to cut back on their social services provision, much of which was for the elderly?

Mr. Newton

If the hon. Gentleman examines some of the work of the Audit Commission and others, he will know just how many of those London boroughs could deliver a great deal more service for the same amount of money, as has been demonstrated by local authorities up and down the country.

I am anxious to allow other hon. Members to contribute to the debate, but I should also like to comment on National Health Service expenditure which has risen by some 25 per cent. in real terms, in respect of people aged 65 and over between 1978–79 and 1984–85. Those increases have meant that, despite the rising population of people over retirement age, expenditure per head rose by some 19 per cent. over that period. This in turn has been reflected in the services available to them.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred to hip operations. The number of hip replacements, 75 per cent. of which are performed on elderly people, rose from just over 28,000 to well over 37,000 in that period and a similar pattern is true of other operations which are of particular importance to elderly people.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I put this point gently because the problem is difficult. It relates to dental care. The Minister will be aware of the representations of the General Dental Practitioners Association and of the problems encountered by many hon. Members in their constituencies. On visiting the dentist, some, but not all, elderly people find that the charges are rather high, up to £115. Is it not an anomaly that charges should be made for X-rays of the mouth in cases where elderly people do not have to pay for X-rays of other parts of the body? There are other anomalies, but all I am asking is that the Department of Health and Social Security should study the problem and comment on it. I see the Secretary of State nodding. I think that he recognises that this is a real problem.

Mr. Newton

I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State murmur "Certainly" just as the hon. Gentleman saw him nodding and we shall, of course, look at the points he raised. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will make any comment that he can at the end of the debate, but it may well be more appropriate for us to write to the hon. Gentleman on this matter.

Before I conclude, I should like to comment on the promises and estimates made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West on which he was challenged by my hon. Friend. I will give the hon. Gentleman the figures that we have put on the promises that he has made and repeated today. For the promises that he has made about increasing retirement pension and supplementary pension, assuming he intends to adjust the housing benefit needs allowances—

Mr. Meacher


Mr. Newton

Let me run through my figures. It is going to be very interesting indeed. I shall give my figures and we shall then see what interesting gloss the hon. Gentleman wishes to put on them. The pension increases which he has just repeated, and to adjust the housing benefit needs allowances in line, would cost £2.2 billion. It will cost £1.85 billion to increase child benefit by £3, along with supplementary benefit and housing benefit needs allowances for families with children, to ensure that they too benefit from the increase. To pay the long-term scale rate for people who are unemployed for more than one year would cost £540 million. This makes a total of £4.6 billion as distinct from the £3.6 billion mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

We have also assumed that, in line with the policies of successive Governments over many years, he would also wish to raise other long-term national insurance benefits, for example, widows' benefit, to which he referred in such loving terms, and invalidity benefit which for people between 65 and 70 years of age is, in some circumstances, virtually an alternative to retirement pension.

Mr. Raynsford Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Newton

No, let me finish.

We have also assumed that the hon. Gentleman would raise the supplementary allowance long-term scale rate and avoid offsetting savings in supplementary benefit for widowed mothers and people on invalidity benefit, and that housing benefit needs allowances would also have to be increased. That is how we reach the total of £5.6 billion. I should be fascinated to hear—indeed, I should like to hear it now—whether the real meaning of those large and apparently generous promises is that the poorest people, in respect of housing benefit needs allowances and supplementary benefit, whether they are pensioners, families with children, the long-term unemployed, widows or those on invalidity benefit, are to get no benefit from the hon. Gentleman's promises. Because on the £3.6 billion, every penny, as far as I can judge, will be clawed back from the poorest social security beneficiaries. Is that the policy?

Mr. Raynsford


Hon Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

. Order. I thought that the Minister was giving way to the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford). I hope that he will make clear to whom he is giving way.

Mr. Newton

I was giving way to the hon. Member for Oldham, West in order that he should make clear his policy. If the hon. Gentleman does not wish to intervene to tell me what his policy is in a way which clarifies the matter, I see no reason for giving way to any more of his hon. Friends at this stage of the debate.

Mr. Raynsford


Mr. Newton

No, I shall riot give way.

We now know either that the promises of the hon. Member for Oldham, West mean nothing for the poorest people on social security benefits, or that they would cost a great deal more than the money he can get from the so-called wealthy taxpayers, in which case we want to know where the rest of the money is coming from. Which ordinary taxpayers, which VAT rate, which other forms of taxation will be raised to achieve the hon. Gentleman's objectives?

Mr. Raynsford


Mr. Newton

No, I shall not give way.

The House must recognise that the promises of the hon. Member for Oldham, West—whatever they turn out to be—must be set against Labour's record. I have already referred to the Christmas bonus fiddle and the uprating fiddle of the Labour Government. The invalid care allowance, which this Government are now extending to married women, was introduced on a discriminatory anti-married woman basis by the Labour Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member.

In 1977–78 the NHS budget was cut by 3 per cent. in real terms — the only time that that has happened in recorded history. In 1978–79 capital spending on hospitals in Great Britain was reduced to £436 million, which compares with well over £1 billion available now for spending on new facilities for pensioners in the NHS.

Lastly, I make the point about the dog that has not barked in this debate. It is clear from everything that the hon. Gentleman has said that the target for this debate is not the relatively few Members of Parliament assembled here this evening; it is the electors of Newcastle-under-Lyme tomorrow. I just wonder why it is that the dog that has not barked is the Bradwell geriatric hospital in the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency. That is a £5 million development for the very elderly people who are the subject of the debate. That was cut by Labour and dropped from the capital programme when that programme was cut by one third in 1976–77. That programme has been restored by this Government. The hospital is now being built and will open at the end of next year. The reality against which the hon. Gentleman's promises have to be measured is the cuts of the Labour Government and the building programme of this one.

In the previous debate that we had on these matters about a month ago, I predicted that if the hon. Gentleman were let loose to spend as he promises we should have back the surging inflation that marked the previous Labour Government, with all the hardship that that meant for pensioners in Britain. Today I shall venture another prediction. If the hon. Gentleman were to achieve what no doubt is his heart's desire, and became the Secretary of State for Social Services, he would not last six months. It would simply become too embarrassing for his colleagues to listen to him speaking at the Government Dispatch Box, eating all the words that he had uttered at the Opposition Dispatch Box. I invite the Roues to reject the motion, to accept the amendment, arid to help save the hon. Gentleman from that embarrassment.

8.5 pm

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

The mark of a society that is in some difficulty and, indeed, in some danger is one that does not offer decent prospects to young people nor a fair chance of security to the old. Despite the side of the House on which hon. Members may sit, they will have to agree that two of the biggest social problems that Britain has at the moment are the lack of opportunity for the young and the sense of insecurity for the elderly. Ministers are not doing themselves or their case, far less the issue at stake, much good by trying to pretend that there are no problems, conflicts or competing priorities to be faced. In that respect, I found the Minister's speech, entertaining though it was in its analysis of the Labour party's economic policies — an analysis with which I would concur—disappointing in that it did not seek to address some of the serious and genuine problems that exist.

It was interesting that in April 1985 a public opinion poll carried out by MORI showed that 69 per cent. of people, when asked, believed the basic state pension to be too low. I hardly think that in the wake of a 40p increase that percentage of people expressing dissatisfaction with the level of the basic pension is liable to have dropped. I should have thought that one could say clearly that at least three quarters of the population would like to see a higher basic pension.

If we want that, the Minister, in putting forward his case, is right to stress that at the end of the day that can only be based on a sound economic policy. I agree that simply to run a highly inflationary economic policy and then to claim some credit for increasing a basic pension rate in line with high levels of inflation is nothing to be proud of. His analysis is correct.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will admit that in the case that has been put forward by my right hon. Friends and myself over the past few years at each Budget time, in marked contrast to the Labour party, we have produced a costed economic programme and have admitted where our spending priorities would have to be met by specific increases in certain areas, or that certain things that we would like to do as a point of principle cannot be achieved in the immediate future because the money would not be there to do so. I hope that the Minister will be fair-minded enough to recognise the difference of approach which exists between the Labour party and ourselves in putting forward those kinds of social priorities.

So it has been with pensions.

Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

I am deeply appreciative that the hon. Gentleman has given way. He is right in saying that the Benches that he represents have a policy which is costed. Would he be so kind as to inform the House of the increase that he would make, particularly as we now know the position of the Opposition?

Mr. Kennedy

If the hon. Gentleman reads the programme for government which we presented at the last general election, and subsequent policy statements—and a further statement which we shall make in the autumn, although I cannot anticipate its contents—he will find that we propose that a married couple with no private pension or other income would receive a basic pension of £63.25. We also propose a scheme of pensioner credit, which would provide an additional £5.72. The total of £68.95 should be compared with the Government's proposed £61.30. Moreover, pensioners' housing costs would be met. Even if the pennies change between now and the autumn, the change would mean that a pensioner's income would be substantially above supplementary benefit rates.

At the last general election and since, when we have introduced private Members' Bills, my right hon. and hon. Friends have tried to abolish standing charges. We have allowed for that in our figures. That would be welcomed in various parts of the House and in the country.

Mr. Corbyn

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the last time two Bills which would have abolished standing charges, one of which was mine on pensioners' rights to heat, light and communications, were presented, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), a member of the Sainsbury family, opposed them on behalf of the Government and thus prevented this important matter from being debated?

Mr. Kennedy

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to our attention. I am glad that it is on record. It will be interesting to read the Official Report tomorrow to see whether it remains on the record. I am sure that he will make strenuous efforts to ensure that it is. It is important to be aware that, when there has been opposition, it has come from the Government.

In the social security reviews, the Government are displaying supreme insensitivity in regard to the death grant, which is an important matter for many elderly people. The Government now suggest that the grant, which is woefully low—low enough to be a poor joke— is to be abolished and that some means, as yet rather ill-defined, will be established to provide support through the social fund. Subjecting elderly people at a time of bereavement to some regionally cash-limited, means-tested interview procedure is callous. Our policy document on this matter suggests that the death grant should be increased immediately to £250, and that it should be reclaimable out of the estate of the deceased according to its size.

Our Budget statement in March made it clear that we would restore the deplorable cut in heating allowances. As the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) said, it is scandalous to suggest that pensioners should contribute 20 per cent. of their rates. It is clear that there are to be real cuts in housing benefit. Despite the Minister's robust defence of the social security reviews, it is worth noting the conclusion reached by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said: the reviews imply a significant shift of resources from pensioners to the working age population, half of all pensioners are more than 1 per cent. worse off and 11 per cent. have their incomes reduced by more than 5 per cent. The net effect is a transfer of £300 million". I should like Ministers to attack those figures as well briefed and with the same enthusiasm with which they attack the figures advanced by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). The Government seem considerably more reticent to attack a detailed and independent analysis by such groups than they are to attack their political opponents. We are left wondering why. We, and perhaps Ministers in their hearts, know that independent analyses reveal the disturbing truth.

Dr. Godman

I am listening closely to what an alliance Government would provide for pensioners. The hon. Gentleman mentioned heating additions. I do not know about his experience in the part of Scotland which he represents, but in Strathclyde there have been many complaints about exceptionally severe weather payments for February. I know that many scores of thousands of payments were made in Scotland and, presumably, a goodly number were made to pensioners. What is the hon. Gentleman's answer to that dreadful state of affairs?

Mr. Kennedy

As I said earlier, we must try to assist at the outset by giving a more substantial basic pension to help people to heat their homes. We must recognise that such additional payments will be made, however, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I agree that the system is botched and chaotic. I have heard from people who work in the DHSS that, much as they want to help, they are furious when the Minister of State, in response to political pressure here, goes on television to say that the Government have fixed it because he has issued a blanket instruction that such payments must be made. People who work in the DHSS are then deluged with applications from pensioners. They cannot cope and, in July, they are still working on the backlog.

The Government have made more people dependent on social security benefits and added to poverty. They have also cut the number of DHSS staff. Even the best system in the world will not operate properly if there are insufficient people to administer it. We must make the system better and increase the number of personnel to make it operate better. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that would be a step in the right direction, and better than what the Government offer.

I do not know to what extent the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State reads reports of the Scottish Grand Committee.

Mr. Major


Mr. Kennedy

Jeffrey Archer clearly has competition when it comes to the Minister's bedside reading. The Scottish Grand Committee recently had a debate on the Scottish Office proposal to reform the rating system in Scotland. I do not intend to get into that horrendously complicated issue, but my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) made a valid point concerning the 20 per cent. rate contribution. Apparently, we face that prospect in Scotland much sooner than people south of the border. We asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how he would accommodate that fact and what form the system would take in Scotland in the transition towards the community charge—

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The poll tax.

Mr. Kennedy

Indeed. The community charge is Saachi and Saachi's description of a poll tax. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that it is not his responsibility because it comes under the social security reviews which are being handled by the DHSS. The Minister will appreciate that Scottish Members have been told by the Secretary of State that, although he is getting rid of rates, it is not his problem that some way has to be found to collect the 20 per cent. contribution. We have never had, from the DHSS or from the Scottish Office, an adequate description of what will happen in Scotland in the transitional phase and thereafter. I would be grateful if he could give some indication tonight because many hon. Members would be extremely interested to find out what the Government propose to do. My strong hunch is that the Government do not have the faintest idea what to do about the problem. Judging by the rather guilty grin on fie Minister's face, I suspect that that is an accurate assumption. We shall listen with interest, and I hope that he can satisfy us better than did his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

We tend to think of the pensioner being cared for. We must also remember those pensioners who are perhaps parents of handicapped children and who are having to look after them. We must also think of pensioners who have to look after very aged parents, perhaps in their late 80s or early 90s. We all know the effect of that because we see it in our communities. More often than not, it is the person doing the caring who ends up falling ill or dying as a result of the strain. That being the case, it would be good to see the Government move in the direction proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), myself and my colleagues of introducing a carers' charter which would seek to give those who care informally for dependent or handicapped relatives or whoever in the community. not just a level of' support through a carer's benefit, but some form of agreement with local authorities so that relief facilities can be provided to give the carer a much-needed break.

Unfortunately, although the Government paid considerable lip service to the private Member's Bill dealing with services-and representation for disabled people, they did not move very far down the line in practical support.

I said at the beginning that in this country we are not caring adequately in terms of opportunities for the young or security for the old. Tonight we are debating the elderly. One of the things which must give the elderly the greatest cause for insecurity, with perhaps the single exception of the degree of violence in Britain, must be the fact that there is increasingly a glaring hole in the level of network support in the community to make care in the community the viable and realistic option that we all want it to be. That is coming about as a result of the complete distortion and lack of matching of Government policies. The Scottish Home and Health Department and the DHSS are encouraging care in the community, and the Department of the Environment and the Scottish Office have policies for local government finance which are deliberately or directly thwarting that by the level to which they are pulling back on the resources which could be available.

Until that border problem begins to be tackled, I fear, despite the enthusiasm with which the Minister criticises his direct political opponent, the hon. Member for Oldham, West, across the Dispatch Box, the truth will be shown, not just in a certain constituency that goes to the polls tomorrow, but all over the country, that the lot for pensioners in this country under the Government is not something that the Minister should crow about to the extent that he did tonight. I believe that the policies put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends will, when put into practice, I hope by ourselves in government. prove a much better way forward.

8.25 pm
Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

In taking part in this debate I feel, as a matter of honour, that I should declare that for the past seven years I have represented 95,000 old-age pensioners at national level. Having said that, I hold the view, and I have held it over many years, that the greatest blessing that any Government of any persuasion can give to the sick, aged, infirm, unemployed, pensioners and those on fixed incomes is low inflation. The blessing that is being experienced at the moment with the level of inflation is something that the House, across all political divides, should applaud.

I went into the general election in 1983, like all Conservative Members, with a firm pledge that we would protect the retirement pension. I address the House this evening with a great sense of confidence that we have honoured that manifesto pledge to the letter.

I am a little surprised and disappointed that we have had so much debate regarding the heating costs. It is a simple, plain and unchallengeable fact that the allowances for heating are running at record levels. However, I must take account of the comments made by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) regarding the administration. It was a source of considerable pleasure, not only to people in the House, but to pensioners at large, to hear the assurance from the Government Front Bench that positive steps are being taken to ensure that there will be a distinct improvement in the payment of those allowances next year. I am prepared to say loudly and clearly that there were considerable problems last year and I hope that we do not experience those administrative problems during the coming year. We are all part of a caring society and I claim to be part of a caring party. However, on that issue I know that there is room for considerable improvement.

I accept the suggestion that 42 per cent. of the facilities of the National Health Service are used by the elderly without qualification. If that is so, I am able to say, again with a sense of confidence, that spending on the NHS has gone up year by year and is a particular credit to the Government. We are particularly directing our attention to geriatric care for the infirm and those in considerable difficulty.

Let the message go out loud and clear that the number of consultants engaged in geriatric care in this country since 1979 has gone up by 34 per cent. I am proud of a party that has done that. In addition, the number of nurses engaged in looking after the elderly has gone up by 18 per cent. That is not enough. We are looking not only at the medical staff and the nurses but the facilities. How good it is to know that the Government have gone forward with a programme which has given a 31 per cent. increase in the amount of buildings in connection with the care of the elderly.

I believe—and this view may be shared on both sides of the Chamber—that the real caring community is not within geriatric wards or the NHS. To me, the hallmark of a caring society is within the home and family. I am perfectly prepared to stand up and be counted as one who cherishes the family unit. It is interesting to note that the increase in the number of places providing day care, which is a tremendous relief to those caring for the elderly, has increased by 4,000 since 1978.

I was saddened when the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), said that a Labour Government would increase the retirement pension of a married couple by £8 and that of a single pensioner by £5. When questioned, he held firm to those figures, and gave a policy commitment that they would continue year upon year. In the midst of the 1983 general election the then Opposition spokesman on social services produced a figure of £11.

I do not believe that the British public want their pensions to be subject to an auction. They want a firm and fair pension and low inflation. I was pleased when I heard the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, the alliance's spokesman in this debate, say that the alliance would introduce a pension increase of £1.5o.

When we start talking about caring for the community and the people within it, I recall that prior to my election to this place I was for many years the spokesman of my local authority on social services. Socialist and Conservative members worked together and understood that when it came to social services the issues concerned people and not politics.

Mr. Kennedy

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow. He has said that the alliance would introduce a pension increase of £ 1.50p. I should have made it clear—I think I read out the figures—that we would increase the pension to £68.95. That must be compared with the Government's £61.30. I think that he will accept that the alliance proposes to introduce a significant increase.

Dr. Blackburn

I accept that I made a mistake. I thought that the hon. Gentleman said £63 and not £68. I apologise.

The local authority on which I served spoke with one voice in caring for the people for which it was responsible electorally. I recall receiving in 1978 one of the most memorable telephone calls in my life. I received a phone call at my home at half-past eight in the morning and was told to go to the town hall straight away. When I arrived, I discovered that the then Labour Government had been forced by the International Monetary Fund to make drastic reductions in their expenditure. The authority was called upon to cut its social services budget by £6 million within 24 hours. I am delighted to say — this reflects great credit on the authority — that we set about rearranging the budget responsibly and constructively to make allowance for the reduction that had been forced upon us by the then Socialist Government.

Mr. Corbyn

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us on which local authority he served and the cuts that it has been instructed to make by the Conservative Government since 1979 in the form of reduced rate support grant and reduced block grant.

Dr. Blackburn

Certainly. I had the privilege of serving on Wolverhampton borough council, which became the Wolverhampton metropolitan council. The meeting to which I have referred took place in 1976, when the authority was under the control of a Socialist administration. Since that time the authority has had a record of extremely high spending, which resulted in a 56 per cent. wage increase two years ago. It is responsible to the electorate for that level of spending. I do not believe that social service provision has been significantly increased as a result of the increased expenditure on the part of the authority.

I was disappointed when the Christmas bonus was described by the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, as piffling.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman must have misheard my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). He said that the way in which the Minister uses the Christmas bonus when he cannot think of anything else to say is piffling.

Dr. Blackburn

In musical terms, that is a variation on a theme. Whether piffling or not, I am proud to say that it is part of our policy, part of our principle and part of Britain's statute law.

Dr. Godman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Blackburn

No, I will not. I have given way four times already.

In my experience in this place and in local authority work, I have found that one of the keynotes of growth in social services and in caring for the elderly, the sick and the infirm is something which we seem to forget. It is called value for money. I am delighted to know that the important work that is undertaken by the Audit Commission is designed to ensure that there is the fullest utilisation of resources.

Like all other hon. Members, I take my political and constituency duties extremely seriously. A constituent came to me in considerable distress—I know that this is the experience of many other hon. Members—and told me that he had been waiting eight months for a hip replacement operation.

Dr. Godman

People wait for three years in Scotland for that operation.

Dr. Blackburn

Very well, there is a three-year wait in Scotland.

I found to my astonishment that facilities were available to carry out hip replacement operations. It seems that the difficulty is that the facilities are not available in the areas where they are needed. It was possible to transfer my constituent to Stanmore, Middlesex—a distance of about 100 miles—and the operation was performed in two weeks. There are many success stories of that sort that we can recount. I understand that 28,000 hip replacement operations were carried out in 1979 and that since then the number has increased to 37,000. These figures do not spell out a decrease in the number of these operations. Instead, they tell us that we have a caring community which is prepared to carry out hip replacement surgery for the benefit of the elderly.

I turn to the vexed question of personal social services, on which spending has increased since 1979 from £436 million to £1.5 billion. Whichever way those figures are considered, they are evidence of a caring society and caring Government and not of reduced expenditure.

Dr. Godman


Dr. Blackburn

We have been told this evening by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, on behalf of the alliance, that an alliance administration would increase the death grant to £250. One of the blessings of the Social Security Bill is that in future a widow will receive a tax-free lump sum of £1,000 on the death of her husband. She will receive that sum at a time of great emotion and distress and it will be a considerable blessing.

It is critical, as a matter of honour, that if policies on the care of the elderly throughout this land are to be presented in this House, they must operate within the bounds of arithmetic. I find it difficult to believe that the Opposition's proposal would work within the bounds of arithmetic, when we know, and have spelt out loud and clear, that the costings are £5.6 million, not £3.3 million. It is a deceit above words to present that sort of policy to our people.

The British people should applaud the work that has been undertaken by the Government to produce a rate of inflation of 2.5 per cent. When the pages of history are written, we shall find that this has been one of those periods of administration which has brought the greatest blessing possible to pensioners, the sick, the aged and the infirm. I salute the Minister on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major).

8.40 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The House will not take it amiss if I refer to a former colleague who passed away this morning. He was a champion of pensioners and an extremely effective holder of the Chair. I am speaking of the late Lord Dick Crawshaw. Like many of my colleagues, I was extremely sad and I disapproved when he changed to the SDP, but may it be always to his memory and credit that we never heard him criticise his former colleagues. To the end he remained a friend to many of us and he is a loss to Parliament.

I shall raise three issues. First, what are the Department's projections for the likely number of elderly people in the 1990s through to 2020? We hear that the latest projections are horrific, which is why I am rather against ya-boo politics on this issue. We shall face a most appalling problem over the next three decades. We shall somehow have to carry a burden of rising expectations and increased numbers of elderly people.

One way of coping with the position is through the respite allowance, and the Minister for Social Security mentioned it in his opening remarks. What money is involved in the respite allowance? The respite allowance is one of the most cost-effective and humane ways of helping people care for others. Many people wish to remain in their homes until their late 80s or early 90s and they should be helped to do so. That often means that some holiday and rest must be given to the carers. Therefore, what money is available?

Secondly, I recommend to the Ministers the section of the Crossman diaries—it seems to be fashionable to dig up all sorts of texts from them—which deals with what Dick Crossman did when the Cypriot nurse came to the Department to spill the beans on the Ely hospital. It deals with the whole issue of Ely, Farley and South Ockendon, and how the Minister of the day got a great deal of money from the Cabinet by highlighting what at first looked like a scandal, but which was a genuine, serious situation.

In some areas our care of the elderly mentally ill is back in the mid-1960s. Some hospitals are extremely good and much excellent work has been done in building and nursing. However, some places—I shall not name them because I am not after headlines or publicity — have returned to mid-1960s standards. I think that the Department knows exactly the sort of institution about which I am speaking where the conditions that prevailed in the mid-1960s which so upset Dick Crossman prevail now in the mid-1980s. Every Scot who has been watching the programmes on Lennoxtown castle will know the problems there. I am not highlighting them for political advantage. Indeed, the staff there have worked extremely hard.

The Minister has just entered the Chamber, and I was commending that he should read the sections of the Crossman diaries that refer to Ely, Farley and South Ockendon because the conditions in some hospitals have returned to the standards of the 1960s. I can give an example of that. Mrs. Hendry, the wife of the distinguished Edinburgh engineer Professor Hendry, is the chairman of a number of boards and is extremely rational. She knows of many cases where patients have been given back the wrong false teeth. That is a very human situation and simply reflects the shortage of staff in certain areas. What is the Government's thinking on that?

Thirdly, I come to the question of dental charges. I had a word with the Secretary of State who courteously said that either he would write to me or that notes would be provided for the reply. The problem is that more and more dentists are having to make judgments, not on clinical matters, but on the extent to which some of their patients can afford to pay for their treatment. The difficulty is that there are all sorts of anomalies in relation to the elderly. One is that there are charges for dental X-rays but not for X-rays for other parts of the body. The Department is probably seized of the problems put by the General Dental Practitioners Association and others.

Another problem relates to new materials. What does the Department think of the provision of expensive new dental materials? The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) is present. He will recollect that the Secretary of State for Scotland said to the Scottish Grand Committee that we should understand that demands on health care were infinite and that one could never satisfy everyone. I accept what he said, especially about raising expectations. The truth is that in dentistry, as in medicine, many sophisticated and, therefore, expensive materials can be used. Has the Department a philosophy on the extent to which new materials are a priority and should be provided, particularly for the comfort of the elderly?

I promised to make a short speech. I have put my points and I should welcome either a letter or answers in the reply.

8.48 pm
Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

The Opposition motion complains about the break of the link with earnings in the system for uprating state pensions. The Opposition are seeking to bring us back to the debates which we have had over many years as to whether upratings should be based on earnings or prices.

I support the Government's philosophy and what they are doing. Their solution to the finance of old age is different from what the Opposition have in mind. The Government propose that pensioners should be able to rely on two sources of income. The first is a basic income guarantee, which is not means-tested, but is every citizen's right; and the second is a variable earnings-related retirement benefit to enable people to retire in the standard of life to which they have become accustomed during working life through an occupational pension scheme or some other form of private provision for retirement. That philosophy is right, and we should build on it.

The question inevitably arises whether the occupational pension schemes and other private schemes are sufficiently good. They are in the public sector, because it has established an extremely generous earnings-related retirement scheme. Indeed, some people think that in some respects public sector schemes are too generous, but I shall not go into that now. Public sector schemes cost about 20 per cent. on top of the remuneration for the people in work. Therefore, if comparable benefits are to accrue in the private sector, we must look for contributions of about 20 per cent. on top of earnings, and possibly even more. That level of contribution is not flowing into the private sector at present, so inevitably there will continue to be disappointments and inadequacies for those in private sector schemes.

The National Association of Pension Funds survey for 1984 contains some interesting figures. Of course, it deals only with schemes that belong to the association. It says that for non-contributory schemes the overall average employer's contribution was 17.24 per cent. for staff schemes — not too bad — but only 6.83 per cent. for works schemes, and 16 per cent. for combined schemes. For contributory schemes, the corresponding figures are 11.95 per cent., 7.26 per cent. and 10.48 per cent. Those figures are not sufficient to produce the sort of income that people are entitled to expect in retirement. The result, sadly, is that a large number of people are dependent in retirement on supplementary benefit. They cannot stand on their own feet and we have to help them to a minimum standard of living through supplementary benefit, or housing benefits of one sort or another for those who inevitably find themselves over-housed when they have finished their working lives.

As I have said in the House before, 14 million people are now dependent on means-tested benefits. That is a large number of people who cannot rely on their savings and resources. It is something to which the Government must address their mind urgently if they are to justify their philosophy—which I believe to be right—to the electors.

Many people do not belong to occupational pension schemes, or belong only to schemes not as generous as those analysed in the survey. I wish to draw attention to the fact that a substantial element of members of occupational pension schemes get a raw deal. I refer to the early leavers—people who, for one reason or another, change their jobs during their careers. I calculated some years ago, and the figures are likely still to be true, that when someone who has been in full-time employment with a generous occupational pension scheme changes his job in mid-career he is likely to be writing off an asset that is at least as valuable as his house. That is a very large sacrifice to better oneself by changing employment. Ironically, the more generous the scheme, the more that is lost by changing jobs. That position has obtained for far too long. As a result, a large number of people reach retirement but are then unable to manage on their own resources.

I regret that the Government did not go through with their original intention to abolish the state earnings-related pension scheme, making good the gap by turning over the current employers' contribution to national insurance—and preferably the employees' contribution also—to accumulate in an approved tax-exempt fund on the principle of money-purchase and proper funding. It was a mistake not to have had the courage to go through with that.

The money that goes into the pension schemes should be recognised as the employees' deferred pay. It is their money and they should not be deprived of it. It should flow either into a national pension scheme that would invest it in Government indexed stocks on compound interest, or into one of the many approved schemes in the private sector.

In any event, occupational pension schemes will continue to play a very important part in providing retirement income. Whatever the position with the state scheme, we must pay attention to what is happening with private schemes; there are likely to be several million people in those schemes for the foreseeable future. Apart from the fact that not enough money is flowing into them to provide satisfactory benefits. the major deficiency that must be rectified is the shabby treatment of early leavers. There is still a great deal to be done in that area.

I know that recently the Government have made efforts and there has been some recognition of the problem, but on the best information that I can obtain from people who have access to the best data, I calculate that people who change their jobs are forfeiting at least £20 million every week from the assets that have accumulated on their accounts in their occupational penson schemes. We cannot allow that scandal to continue.

The suggestion that I hope that I shall be entitled to make in our debate on the Report stage of the Finance Bill is that an overpowering incentive should be given to occupational pension schemes to rectify that position through their tax treatment; I shall not try to develop that argument now. The real problem with the treatment of early leavers is the divided departmental responsibility in regard to occupational schemes. That was brought out in his presidential address to the actuaries by Professor Moore this year. Too many different Government Departments have responsibility in this area. The Treasury is concerned about the tax angle, the DHSS is interested in the schemes as an aspect of social security, and the Department of Employment is interested because of the implications for job mobility.

It is now 18 years since I made my first speech in the House on this subject. I am glad that we have made a little progress, but we have not yet done nearly enough for the members of occupational pension schemes who change their jobs. Present legislation will not bring them justice even in 40 years when it comes into full effect. In my opinion, and that of very many others, we cannot wait that long. Will the Secretary of State undertake to set up an inter-departmental review of the matter forthwith, with a view to publishing a White Paper before the end of the year?

If the Government, quite rightly, are to rely on private provision for retirement, the scandal of the schemes that give shabby treatment to early leavers must be put right. We cannot allow private citizens to forfeit more than £1,000 million of their savings each year simply because they have chosen — or been forced — to change their employment.

8.58 pm
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

I take on board what the Minister for Social Security said in opening. No matter how robustly he tries to defend the Government's position, he offers no solution to the basic problem. The question of pensions and retirement must be looked at with entirely different eyes. People argue that one of the things that measures how much a society cares is how it treats its aged, its poor, its sick and its young.

When an average working class man retires, having worked for 50 years, or 45 years in the case of a woman, he wants to enjoy the rest of his days by pursuing his own interests rather than those dictated by his employer. People should be able to look forward to their retirement. Men and women who have created the wealth of the nation by spending their working lives in industry should approach their retirement in a happy frame of mind.

Over the years — under successive Governments —millions of people have faced retirement with fear, apprehension and insecurity. Virtually overnight, they faced a dramatic fall in their living standards. The worries and concerns of such people are genuine. No matter how robustly the Minister defends the Government's position, he does not solve the problem.

I believe that our attitude to pensioners shows that we have an almost total contempt and disregard for what must be done. Britain is not an impoverished nation. It is a wealthy nation. It is said that Britain is the fifth wealthiest nation in the world. If the political will is there, there is no reason why we cannot remove that apprehension, fear, insecurity and, in many cases, the poverty that follows retirement.

When we consider the differences in the social classes, we find that those on the highest incomes, such as managers and directors of boards, who have accumulated wealth at the expense of those who produced it, find no difficulty, when their working life has ended, moving from one period to another. They move with the ease of a person moving from a non-smoking compartment to a smoking compartment in a train. We are not talking about the generality of retirement, pensions, and all the problems that people face. We are talking about working class people, many of whom cannot rely on an occupational pension because no provision was made for such a pension during their working life.

It is a scandal that Ministers of State—it does not matter which party is in government — bandy around figures and point to the performance of previous Governments rather than tackle the problem. This country's pensioners are fourth in the league made up of their comparable European counterparts. Pensions in this country are lower than in most European countries. It is a scandal that a wealthy country such as ours should ignore the plight of pensioners. It does no one any good to point to the performance of previous Governments.

Since I have been a Member of Parliament, I have been consistent—whether my party has been in power or not —in advancing the arguments that I advance today. We must reconceive the whole question of pensions and people's entitlements. I do not just refer to pensions. However, that is the main purpose of the discussion. We must return to a system of tying pensions to national average earnings.

I impress upon the Minister that pensioners do not want handouts. They do not want grants that enable them to do this and that. Heating allowances may resolve a problem for a time. What a pensioner needs, and should have, is sufficient money in his pocket to get the things that he or she needs and which, in my view, he or she deserves. Pensioners created the wealth that we inherited. The Government have ignored that basic question.

There must be recognition of the rights of pensioners, not because they are becoming a powerful electoral group but because the aging population is living longer and, therefore, in the future the problems and burdens will be greater. I reject the prognosis of many people and the point mooted in the review that in future it will not be possible to meet even the meagre amount of the state pension. It is an indictment of society to suggest that the pensions of the future will be in danger. There is no evidence that the private sector will make provision for retired people.

The Government have disregarded the important point that pensioners want in their pockets sufficient money to allow them to live a decent life, to have enough for food and clothing and to keep warm. Year after year, people weep crocodile tears about deaths from hypothermia when people die merely because they are cold. However, nothing has been done to eliminate that problem. Arbitrary figures are bandied about considering whether need exists. Meanwhile, people are dying. That is an indictment of society and of any Government who allow it to continue.

I hope that the Minister will reflect on what this means for present and future pensioners. The problem must be tackled. We must condition people to believe that retirement should be a period of pleasure when they can pursue the activities that they were previously denied. Retirement should be a happy time in their lives, not one burdened with its present difficulties. I hope that Government and Labour Members will take note of that point both during this debate and in the weeks and months ahead.

9.6 pm

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) feels, as I do—unlike the spokesman for the Opposition—that the welfare of pensioners is not and should not be made a party matter. It is a matter of caring and neither side of the House and no party in it has a monopoly on care for elderly people.

We all know of the propensity of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) for throwing accuracy out the window, which matches the way he welcomes hyperbole in through the door. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has so quickly left his place. Perhaps he has gone off to the confessional. Perhaps he is doing his sums, because that is certainly necessary. Perhaps he is even now apologising to the Leader of the Opposition for having dropped him in it on such a scale.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West said that pensioners today were worse off than when pensions began. I challenge that. When pensions began, a married couple was paid £2.10 a week. I am told that that would be worth about £24 today. This month, a married couple will receive a pension of £61.95.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry that the hon. Lady chose to make those uncharitable and foolish remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I am afraid that she did not listen to, or did not hear, what he said. According to the fruits of independent research—not my hon. Friend's figures—compared to the standard of living of the average worker, the pensioner is now worse off. My hon. Friend was, of course, as shocked as the hon. Lady to discover that.

Dame Jill Knight

That is simply the way that one reads the figures. I am going through the details to show why the pensioner today, thank God—and it is due to all parties and all people who have cared enough to try to help—is very much better off than when pensions began—not as much as we would wish, but the pensioner is certainly better off.

When pensions began, there was no question of concessionary fares. There was no question of dietary allowance or heating additions. There was no question of help with the rates or social services help, which assists so many elderly people in need today. We must recognise that when pensions began the people receiving them would not have dreamed of the help which, rightly, would be made available to them in future years. One example is walking frames.

Mr. Kennedy

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dame Jill Knight

The hon. Gentleman has had quite a go already. I want to try to finish quickly because others wish to speak.

Other examples are wheelchairs, meals on wheels, day centres and hospital care. I speak with feeling because for some years I was a member of the health committee on a local authority. We pioneered the idea of sheltered housing for the elderly — a place where they could be given a home where there was a warden. All those benefits have been given, and they are undeniable. When one looks them in the face, one cannot possibly say that pensioners today are worse off than when pensions began.

A great deal of play has been made of the fact that people are waiting for hip operations. Very little play has been made of the fact that they are getting them. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) gave the figure. To me, it is a wonderful thing that so many elderly people are able to walk without pain because of the advance of medical science. We should recognise that that must have changed their lives out of all recognition. I can think of many other operations, such as the glaucoma operation, which would not have been possible years ago. There is also help with drugs and prescriptions.

Sometimes I think that Opposition Members tend to believe that if everybody cannot have something free, we must not pretend that anyone has it free. I admire the speech by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I am sorry that I am not able to tell him this to his face. With regard to dental charges for the elderly, he rightly made the reasonable comment that it seems crazy that one can have an X-ray of part of one's body for nothing, but if one has a mouth X-ray one has to pay. The reason why an X-ray is free is that it is carried out at a general hospital. It is possible for people to go along and have an X-ray in the dental section of a hospital. Certainly, in Birmingham we have a dental hospital where anyone can go and, without charge, have a necessary X-ray of his mouth. Elderly people who need dental care and who receive either supplementary benefit or housing benefit are exempt from all charges for dental treatment, which would include X-rays. Those who are just above supplementary benefit level can also claim exemption. Those things are important advances.

I must take the hon. Member for Oldham, West to task for some of the phrases that he flung out. He talked about handouts to taxpayers. That is a favourite phrase. I wish that he would understand that it is not a handout to a taxpayer; the taxpayer is merely allowed to keep a little more of his own money, which he has earned by the sweat of his brow. Labour Members talk about handouts as if a mythical hand has gone into the national till and given the taxpayers money. In fact, our measures mean that taxpayers may keep more of their own money. That is a very real difference.

The hon. Gentleman also shot out a phrase beloved of many Labour spokesmen — "the means test". He said that Labour would abolish the demeaning means test. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have taken that fully on board. Abolishing the means test means giving money to anyone who holds out his hand. When spending public money one has a responsibility to taxpayers to ensure that their money is paid out only to those who need it. Without a means test, we cannot know who needs it. I am very much against giving public money to people who do not need it. It is salutary to know that the Labour party would abolish the means test. In real terms, that means that to anyone who asks, cash must be given. If that system comes back—God help us if it does—there will be the biggest forest of palms from here to the middle east.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West said that pensioners should share in the increasing prosperity of this country. We all agree with that, but I doubt whether there will be any increasing prosperity if the hon. Gentleman's suggestions are implemented because inflation would immediately be pushed upwards again which would be the worst thing possible for pensioners. The hon. Member for Oldham, West seems content to offer glittering prizes but is not prepared to reckon the cost of those prizes, even to those who will receive them.

I thought that the argument about the change in the method of calculation had already been won and I was amazed to hear it raised again. The Labour Government changed the method of forecasting pension increases in 1976. They said that pension increases would be based on what they thought—not what they knew, because they did not know the rate of inflation might be. In so doing, they saved themselves a handy £500 million. Moreover, that method of calculation proved wrong five times out of seven. Do Labour Members think that we should stick to a method which clearly does not work? We might as well bring in the crystal ball or the ouija board or pull the petals off a daisy. Even that would be better than sticking to a method which has proved wrong more often than right.

Surely it is better to give increases, albeit small ones, several times a year to keep pensions up with any rise in the cost of living. There were plenty of complaints in the House and outside when pensions were increased only once a year, but when the Government moved to a system allowing several increases per year they provoked a wave of fury because pensions were not increased by £3 or £4 three or four times a year. It would be nice to be able to do that, but at least we can keep pensioners abreast and, one hopes, a little ahead of any rise in inflation.

Whether we can honour promises to pensioners in future years is not a matter of will. It is a sad fact that in the future there will be far fewer people working than in the pensioner age group, due to population changes. That is where the worry arises and we must never let pensioners down by promising something that we cannot provide.

Mr. Loyden

Does the hon. Lady agree that, regardless of how many people are working, through modern technology and so on, wealth is still being produced at higher levels than it was? Is not the redistribution of wealth rather than its creation the problem?

Dame Jill Knight

I agree that increased technology and so on should provide more wealth. However, there are Kill fewer people in the working age group. That is the root of the trouble.

I am glad strongly to support the Government's amendment. Although we would wish to do more, what has been done should be recognised.

9.20 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Listening to some Conservative Members makes a question spring to mind. If the Government are so caring and humane an Administration, why are the electorate so deeply disenchanted with the Conservative party? Many pensioners I know would not respond favourably to the speeches about their problems that we have heard.

I have to disagree mildly with some of the things said by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), who spoke about pensioners being happy if they are protected and their interests promoted. I have much more sympathy with what Charles de Gaulle said about the old. He said that age is a shipwreck, and I agree with that. We have to protect and promote the interests of the elderly as best we can, and that might mean that those of us in employment have to make a greater contribution.

I represent thousands of pensioners who live in appallingly inadequate housing conditions. About 6,000 public sector houses in my constituency are acknowledged by the council to be suffering from damp, and many pensioners live under these circumstances. Much more needs to be done for them.

I have a question for the Minister about a constituency case. An elderly constituent of mine, a widow, recently visited her daughter and son-in-law in Holland where, unfortunately, she suffered a heart attack and died. Her daughter in Holland is on the Dutch equivalent of our social welfare. She wanted to send her mother's body hack to Greenock as her mother had always expressed the heartfelt desire to be buried alongside her late husband in Greenock. The remaining daughter in Greenock, who is also on supplementary benefit, and the rest of the family managed to raise about £950 to bring the mother's body back for burial. They were £310 short, so they applied to the local DHSS for an urgent needs payment.

As I said several times in Committee on the Social Security Bill, I have great respect for the managers of the two local DHSS offices in my constituency at Greenock and Port Glasgow. I also respect the hard work clone on the whole courteously and unflaggingly by their officials. However, in this tragic case the request for an urgent needs payment was turned down. The Dutch authorities have said to the daughter in Vlissingen in Holland and to the daughter in Greenock in Scotland that if the local Member of Parliament can provide documentary proof that the British system has turned down the application they will try to help the family to meet the shortfall of £310.

I appeal to the Minister to intervene in this case. I have written to the manager of the local office, Mr. Andrews, in the hope that the local adjudicator will consider again the request for payment. The family is prepared somehow to save the money rather than go to the Dutch authorities. I hope that our authorities can provide the family with the £310 and take away the stigma that has besmirched the old lady's dying wish that she be buried alongside her husband.

There is a great need for more sheltered housing for my elderly constituents. Recently I attended the opening of a sheltered housing complex that is sponsored and managed by the Church of Scotland. It is a first class establishment run by an excellent team. The people residing in that complex have their own flats. The regime is so humane and compassionate that in two cases elderly people have living with them disabled children who are themselves well into middle age. The provision of sheltered housing needs to be extended throughout the country but particularly in areas such as mine where, according to official figures, about 33,000 people, or 42.9 per cent. of my constituents, are living on or below the supplementary benefit level.

Another important issue with which the Minister is familiar concerns the problems inflicted on pensioners by spells of exceptionally severe weather. Some months ago I asked the Minister how many single payments had been made to claimants in Scotland under the regulations. At that time the figure was 57,000, but the Minister said that many more claims were being processed. I have another question down to be answered next week. I suspect that the total will be much higher than the interim figure.

Many people, particularly pensioners, have complained to me about the difficulties that are associated with applying for exceptionally severe weather payments. That applies particularly to pensioners who are still buying coal from what might be called itinerant coal dealers.

I sincerely hope that the heating additions for spells of exceptionally severe weather will be improved to avoid the humiliation that so often surrounds applications for single payments of this kind.

Many other areas need to be discussed, but my immediate concern relates to the problems that are faced by my constituent. I shall be deeply grateful if the Minister will take on board that serious problem.

9.30 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

This has been an interesting debate. At the beginning of her remarks the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) referred to a very unusual concept in politics, from which issues such as pension levels are apparently excluded. Politics are, more than anything else, about choices. The choices that have been made by this Government are at the heart of this debate. The hon. Lady also said—and I agree entirely with her—that what has been done by this Government ought to be recognised. That is the purpose of our motion and of the speeches that have been made by Opposition Members.

One of the greatest achievements of the past decade was the recognition of the universal poverty that exists among so many elderly people. The tragedy of the last few years has been the slow but steady progress towards the return of that considerable poverty. A major contribution towards it so far has been the break in the link between earnings and pensions and the steady cut in housing benefit.

Another major contribution that the Government are making in this direction is their changes to the state earnings-related pension scheme and occupational pensions. It is too little recognised that the Government are cutting, indeed halving, the value of the state earnings-related pension scheme, along with the basic pension. Furthermore, by lowering the standards of the state scheme the Government are also lowering the standards that are required to be met by occupational pensions, thereby — in one fell swoop — worsening the pension entitlement of everybody, whatever kind of pension scheme they happen to be in.

The cost and the problems involved in breaking the link between pensions and earnings are so great that in time they will have offset even the increase that is due to the state earnings-related pension scheme, as it was originally designed. Therefore, the total pension — the earnings-related supplement and the basic pension itself — will gradually fall back to a level that is no higher than that of the basic pension today. However, as the Government have introduced proposals, which we expect shortly to be returned to this House, substantially to reduce the state earnings-related pension scheme, the total pension —basic and earnings-related alike—will be substantially less over a period than today's basic pension.

The example that we give — which the Government have never contradicted, or argued with, or questioned, apart from saying that to dwell on the details of the figures would be tedious—is that a 16-year-old who starts work after the Social Security Bill becomes law, who never has a sustained period of unemployment and who never has a sustained period of sickness will receive a pension when he retires that is only half that which he would have received before that Bill became law.

I refer to a young person with a full employment record. Those who are unfortunate enough, for whatever reason, not to have a full employment record will receive even less than the half pension to which they will be entitled under the Government's proposals. Those with low earnings at some period during their working lives will have their pension disproportionately affected and disproportionately reduced, because the Government have decided that the pension should be calculated no longer over the best 20, 30 or 40 years but over a full working life. That inexorably means that far more pensioners will be dependent on the equivalent of supplementary benefit in future than are dependent on it today. Today 1.7 million pensioners are so dependent alongside the 4.2 million receiving housing benefit.

The Minister talked about the record of the previous Labour Government, a topic of which Ministers are especially fond. They would much rather talk about the Labour Government's record than about their own. I believe that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) holds the record in this respect, having dragged in and attacked the Labour Government of 1947 on one occasion. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the hon. Gentleman rather glossed over the record of his own Government. As he always does, the hon. Member for Ealing, North dragged in the fact that the Christmas bonus was stopped at the loss of £20 to pensioners over a period of five years.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

That was a lot of money at the time.

Mrs. Beckett

Indeed it was. However, as the hon. Lady would have known if she had been present earlier, it is rather less than the £570 which the Government have taken from pensioners by breaking the link with earnings.

In his enthusiasm, the Minister forgot that when the Government delayed the pension uprating for two weeks in 1980 the cost to a pensioner couple was £12.30 and in 1984, when they delayed the uprating by a further week, the cost was £2.80. I recall the then Minister of State justifying that on the ground that, if the date was not changed, in 250 years' time there would be two pension increases in one year. At the time, we did not think that that was a strong argument but it was the best that the former Minister of State could do other than attack the Labour Government's record.

I believe that it was the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) who mentioned that heating allowances under this Government are running at record levels. So, of course, are fuel costs. These have been increased by the deliberate decision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise money by putting a tax on fuel to give benefits to the wealthiest through tax cuts.

The Minister took credit for the increase in spending on social services only to be shot down in flames by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) who said that the Government continually criticise and try to undermine the extent of spending on social services in Labour-controlled authorities across the country on the grounds that they are spending too much. The Minister forgot to mention that the Government's contribution to social services expenditure has fallen — if I recall correctly — by over 10 per cent. as rate support grant has been slashed. The Minister also forgot to mention how the Government refused the Opposition's pleas to exempt pensioners from what he recognised at the time was likely to be the higher cost of glasses under the Health and Social Security Act 1984.

The Minister forgot to mention the substantial increase in prescription charges. There was a little talk earlier about clear pledges. If ever there was a clear pledge, it was the one given by the Prime Minister in 1979 not to increase prescription charges. That pledge was almost as clear as the Prime Minister's 1983 pledge not to attack the state earnings-related pension scheme.

The Minister barely mentioned housing benefit in his glowing account of the Government's record. Perhaps he did not do that because between April 1983 and November 1985 the Government saved £233 million in housing benefit during which period 600,000 pensioners lost all entitlement to housing benefit. That is not surprising, as pensioners are the largest group relying on housing benefit. There are 4 million pensioner households in all.

In the Social Security Bill the Government are making room for further substantial losses in housing benefit. Using the Government's figures from the technical annexe, it appears that an average pensioner couple paying average rent will receive nearly £3 a week less housing benefit than they would have had to set against the same rent in 1982 before the last series of cuts began. That is due to changes in the taper. It has been calculated that 650,000 pensioner households will lose as a result of the proposed changes. Up to £2 a week will be lost by 450,000; 110,000 will lose up to £3 a week; 90,000 will lose £3 or more a week and 30,000 of those will lose more than £5 a week. Some 140,000 will cease to be entitled to any housing benefit.

All that will happen before the proposal to deduct 20 per cent. of rates and water rates from those in receipt of supplementary benefit. If that is added to the taper changes to which I have just referred, nearly 3 million pensioner households will lose out through the Government's proposals. Up to £1 a week will be lost by 1,150,000, and a similar number will lose £2 a week, 270,000 will lose up to £3 a week and 170,000 will lose £3 or more a week, of which some 30,000 will lose over £5 a week.

I am sure that those figures, like the figures on basic pensions, are a little tedious for the Government, but they are of some considerable interest and significance to pensioners. Quite apart from that, the introduction of a capital limit will mean that some 250,000 pensioners will lose their entitlement to housing benefit. Again, we are seeing a further £450 million or so cut, saved or lost from housing benefit by the actions of this caring Government, praised so heartily by their Back Benchers during the debate.

That brings me directly to the calculations that the Minister claimed to have done on various issues, including housing benefit, on the costing proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member For Oldham, West. It is only right to say straight away that the Minister has costed not the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend but some wholly fictitious package of his own. The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn), who was here and was presumably listening to the Minister, had the gall to talk about deceit in the context of my hon. Friend's remarks and what we are setting before the country. There are few things more deceitful than fabricating a set of proposals, adding up the cost and then claiming that one's opponents are responsible for proposals that are not theirs. It should be made clear that the Minister costed his proposals, not ours.

However, let me ask a question on the Minister's proposals. How much of the cost of his proposals is due to restoring cuts in housing benefit already made under the Government to which I have referred? How much is due to the cuts that are being made under the Social Security Bill . cuts which the Government are proposing to restore in this place in a week's time, having lost in another place, perhaps even, it is rumoured, on the day of the royal wedding?

We had some interesting information and examples recently of the Government's costings. The Minister had the gall to take the credit, in the face of the decision by the European Court, for the decision to extend the invalid care allowance to married women, something that they were forced into and have steadfastly been refusing to do for seven years. [Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) would cease interrupting. If he had been here earlier, he would have heard my hon. Friend give the costs, and he can read them in the Official Report.

For the past several years the Minister has told us that the cost of extending the invalid care allowance to married women would be £85 million. Now that he is going to do it he tells us that it is £55 million, which I estimate is slightly over 35 per cent. less than his original claim. If we deduct 35 per cent. from what the Government claim to be the cost of our proposals, that might be more accurate.

But the main point and the main problem of the debate is that there is poverty among the elderly and that that poverty is increasing and will be substantially worsened by the Government's plans. Under this Government, poverty has increased, but that increase pales into insignificance beside what is in store for the elderly under the policies likely to be brought back before the House before we rise for the summer.

The motion calls for priority for pensioners. It calls for a reversal of the tax changes and the concessions given to the wealthiest people in Britain and for that reversal to be done in order to give priority to pensioners. The Minister appears to say nothing to that argument. All he says is that he has costed our proposals—although he has actually costed his own—and he argues that reversing the tax concessions and changes would not be sufficient to pay for what we would give to pensioners.

If the Under-Secretary argues that our costings are wrong, although we do not accept that, and reversing the £3,600 million given to the wealthiest 5 per cent. of people in Britain every year by the Government's tax changes would not provide the pension increases that we claim, I challenge him to tell the House what pension increase that would fund and then tell us why the Government will not do it.

9.44 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. John Major)

In the middle of the debate, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) paid a generous and warm tribute to Lord Crawshaw, who died last evening. I believe that the whole House would wish to echo that. He was a kind and gentle man who many of us will recall with some affection. He will be sadly missed by his many friends in this place and along the Corridor.

I am grateful to the Opposition for bringing this important subject before the House, albeit on a motion which is bizarre in its selectivity. We have heard yet again the old, familiar, unsustainable and unrealistic cry that the Government are not doing enough and that they do not care. It is the old story from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and his colleagues, and we have grown accustomed to it. That charge is neither accurate nor sustainable.

When moving the motion in the Newcastle-under-Lyme address, as we may come to think of it, the hon. Member for Oldham, West illustrated yet again one of the principal facets of his delightful character—the fact that he is unable to resist temptation. Not for him self-denial in words or expenditure, whether it be expenditure from his own pocket or that of taxpayers. He set out once again a catalogue of electoral offers for the next general election.

I do not doubt the Opposition's genuine wish to help the elderly. We have the same ambition. I am beginning, however, to suspect that the hon. Gentleman will offer anything on any occasion to any group for any purpose at any time if he thinks that that will buy a vote or two. One of the hon. Gentleman's characteristics—we enjoy it — is that he always overbids. He is the man who cannot say no. If somebody wants it, in the programme it goes, and he hopes that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) does not notice or cannot add up. If the Labour party was ever able to carry out its plans, it would have its hands in the taxpayers' pockets more often than the taxpayers themselves.

The House will be stunned to learn that the hon. Member for Oldham, West visited Newcastle-under-Lyme yesterday, where he added to his previously extensive spending plans. Among other things, he committed himself yesterday to abolishing all prescription charges.

Mr. Meacher

Not immediately. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Read what I said.

Mr. Major

The hon. Gentleman intervenes before he hears what I am about to say. I suspect that he has a guilty conscience. I was about to say that it was not clear how rapidly he would abolish prescription charges, but it was clear that they would be abolished. When and if the hon. Gentleman gets an opportunity to do that, and if he does it, I hope that he will bear in mind that it will not help the elderly, for they are already exempt from prescription charges.

Mr. Meacher

Why does the hon. Gentleman mention it then?

Mr. Major

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why if he gives me a moment. The change would help the hon. Gentleman and me, for we would no longer have to pay, and £135 million would be lost to the National Health Service. It would be a redistribution from the NHS to middle-income earners such as the hon. Gentleman and me, and it would come courtesy of the Labour party. I hope that pensioners, upon whom that £135 million could usefully be spent, will enjoy that piece of regressive redistribution to which the hon. Gentleman so rashly committed himself when addressing the electors of Newcastle-under-Lyme yesterday. It is the hon. Gentleman's equivalent of the Humber bridge. I suppose that we might be grateful that it was not even more expensive.

Of course, the loss of revenue—

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Tell us what you are doing.

Mr. Major

I am responding to the debate.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)


Mr. Major

My hon. Friend the Minister of State set out what we are doing. It is my responsibility and my intention to respond to the debate, if the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) will listen.

The loss of revenue is apparently to be financed by pouring back what the hon. Member for Oldham, West offensively calls in his motion tax hand-outs to the most privileged sections of society. That pot of gold, which the hon. Gentleman treats as if it were two loaves and five fishes because he is always extending it, will need to stretch to infinity as the hon. Gentleman has already spent very nearly £6 billion of the £3.6 billion he is referring to.

The hon. Gentleman's proposals to increase pensions, child benefit and the long-term scale rate for the unemployed amount to £4.6 billion. The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) tried to wriggle, but the figures are clearly set out in Hansard. When the hon. Gentleman and his advisers crawl over them, they will find that our costings are right.

If other benefits, which are presently at the same level as retirement pension — widows benefit and invalidity benefit—were to be increased by the same amount the cost would rise to £5.6 billion or thereabouts. Of course, abolishing the yield from prescription charges, when and if the hon. Gentleman does it, adds another £135 million.

The hon. Gentleman will have to look much further than the tax clawback to fund all that. The hon. Member for Derby, South rallied strongly. However, she did not rally strongly enough to cover the gaping gap of about £2 billion.

The point to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West did not refer, which was put to him clearly by my hon. Friend the Minister, is that unless the means— tested benefits levels are increased in line, the effect of a large increase in retirement pension would be to float large numbers of people off supplementary benefit and housing benefit. They would then gain little in cash terms from the hon. Gentleman's proposal. His spending propositions would benefit the better-off pensioners and not the poorest pensioners. Therefore, unless he is prepared to accept the realistic assumption that we set out—he may wish to study it at leisure—he will see that he is not benefiting those to whom he has held himself out as a benefactor.

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), speaking for the Social Democratic part of the alliance — the hon. Member for the Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) was keeping a close eye on him but he has fled since the hon. Gentleman sat down — referred to the death grant. The Social Democratic party's proposals, as set out in an amendment in the other place, are to pay a death grant automatically. According to the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, it would be £250. According to his noble Friend Lord Kilmarnock, it would be paid at rates to be set in regulations which may differ for different geographical areas. The noble Lord appears intent on reinventing the death grant equivalent of exceptionally severe weather payments.

The essence of the point is that the hon. Gentleman said quite clearly that our propositions on the death grant were ill defined. That is not so and the hon. Gentleman will see that clearly if he studies the position. We propose that funeral expenses will be available from the social fund automatically to people on income-related benefits and will be paid quickly and, equally important, without intrusion or means testing at the time of death. That may have been a surprise to the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in another place, but it has been our proposition since the time of the Green Paper.

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye also referred to the community charge, the 20 per cent. contribution in rates and the Government's position on that. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman genuinely expected me to respond at length upon that subject tonight. I am pleased to tell him that he was entirely right. I have no intention of disappointing him. He must be patient on that point for a little longer.

Mr. Kennedy


Mr. Major

I will not give way because there are many points still to be covered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) raised the question of the level of contribution flowing into the private sector pension provision which he felt was insufficient. I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest and persistence in this area of occupational pensions. I must remind him, however, that we tackled the early-leaver problem by tackling transfer arrangements. I am sure that he will recognise that and I know that he would wish us to go further, but he would be wise to see how the transfer regulations, which came into effect only on 1 January, work out in practice. I give him the assurance that we shall review the regulations carefully in the light of our proposals. I hope that he will welcome that.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow raised a number of important issues on dental care and respite charges. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said from a sedentary position that we would consider the issues and write to the hon. Gentleman. I undertake to do that at an early date.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow raised a further point, and a critical one in terms of the debate. He referred to the number of pensioners for whom we will need to care in future. In doing so, he asked for figures. I shall write to him with more detailed figures, but at present we have 9.5 million pensioners and we shall have 9.8 million in 1995. There will be 10 million in 2005 and 11.1 million in 2015. Even more critical is the fact that the age profile of pensioners is becoming higher all the time. Between 1981 and 2011 the growth in the number of pensioners aged 65 and above will be 7 per cent. It will be 24.6 per cent. for those aged 75 and above and 96.3 per cent. for those aged 85 and above. That is a staggering problem for us to deal with in future.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) raised a specific and distressing problem that is faced by one of his constituents. I shall be happy to examine the case urgently. I shall write to him, or see him to discuss the matter, as soon as I possibly can.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) referred to the greater certainty of the uprating mechanism. I agree with her that it is a material advantage to what it followed. The lottery of the forecast method that we have endured was inaccurate five years out of seven and clearly unsatisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) observed correctly that spending on the National Health Service has risen year upon year. He referred specifically to the capital building programme, which was decimated when the hon. Member for Oldham. West was a member of the previous Labour Government. The programme has been improved substantially in recent years and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is determined that it will continue to be improved. About £2,000 a minute is spent on capital expenditure on the NHS day in and day out.

A considerable amount has been said in recent months about the increase in the single person's pension. There is nothing novel about uprating being linked to price movement. The contraction of inflation is of immense value to everyone. Above all perhaps, it is of immense value to those who are on fixed incomes or relatively low incomes, as are many pensioners. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said, the 40p increase is an interim measure as we move the date of uprating from November to April so that it coincides each year with tax and budgetary changes. I doubt whether there is one hon. Member who has not at some time been asked why pensioners must wait six months for their increase when tax changes occur swiftly. That is one of the principal reasons for seeking to align the dates. The move should be a matter of welcome and nothing else.

When the inflation measurement fell to 1.1 per cent., there were three options— pay nothing, pay more, or pay inflation proofing. We thought that the last option was right, and it was what was anticipated. It costs over £400 million in a full year, and it follows a 7 per cent. increase last November that cost about £2 billion. The increase was well above the inflation rate at that time. It precedes a further uprating announcement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make in the autumn. The counterpoint to this modest cash increase is the level of price restraint, which is critical.

It may be thought from what I have said that the Opposition's motion has little merit. I believe that it has no merit. It puts in what was better left out and it leaves out what was better left in. There is no mention whatever of the improved benefits or of the virtues of low inflation. There is no acknowledgement of the services that remain free to supplementary pensioners and no recognition of the growth of personal social services. There is no reference to the rising number of district nurses, home helps, geriatricians and others. The motion is stuffed with assertion. The Government's record is—

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

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 177, Noes 293.

Division No. 262] [10 pm
Abse, Leo Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Anderson, Donald Deakins, Eric
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dewar, Donald
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dormand, Jack
Ashton, Joe Douglas, Dick
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Dubs, Alfred
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Duffy, A. E. P.
Barnett, Guy Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Barron, Kevin Eadie, Alex
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Eastham, Ken
Bell, Stuart Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Ewing, Harry
Bermingham, Gerald Faulds, Andrew
Bidwell, Sydney Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Blair, Anthony Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Boyes, Roland Fisher, Mark
Bray, Dr Jeremy Flannery, Martin
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Forrester, John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Foster, Derek
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Foulkes, George
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Buchan, Norman Garrett, W. E.
Caborn, Richard George, Bruce
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Campbell, Ian Godman, Dr Norman
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gould, Bryan
Carter-Jones, Lewis Gourlay, Harry
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Clarke, Thomas Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Clay, Robert Hardy, Peter
Clelland, David Gordon Harman, Ms Harriet
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Cohen, Harry Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Coleman, Donald Heffer, Eric S.
Conlan, Bernard Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Home Robertson, John
Corbett, Robin Hoyle, Douglas
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Craigen, J. M. Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Crowther, Stan Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Janner, Hon Greville
Dalyell, Tam John, Brynmor
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Pike, Peter
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Lambie, David Prescott, John
Lamond, James Radice, Giles
Leadbitter, Ted Randall, Stuart
Leighton, Ronald Raynsford, Nick
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Redmond, Martin
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Richardson, Ms Jo
Litherland, Robert Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Robertson, George
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Loyden, Edward Rogers, Allan
McCartney, Hugh Rooker, J. W.
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
McGuire, Michael Sheerman, Barry
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
McKelvey, William Shore, Rt Hon Peter
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
McTaggart, Robert Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Madden, Max Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Martin, Michael Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Maxton, John Snape, Peter
Maynard, Miss Joan Soley, Clive
Meacher, Michael Straw, Jack
Meadowcroft, Michael Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Michie, William Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Mikardo, Ian Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Torney, Tom
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wareing, Robert
Nellist, David Welsh, Michael
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon White, James
O'Brien, William Williams, Rt Hon A.
O'Neill, Martin Winnick, David
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Woodall, Alec
Park, George
Parry, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Patchett, Terry Mr. Don Dixon and
Pavitt, Laurie Mr. Derek Fatchett.
Pendry, Tom
Adley, Robert Brooke, Hon Peter
Aitken, Jonathan Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Alexander, Richard Bruinvels, Peter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bryan, Sir Paul
Amess, David Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Ancram, Michael Buck, Sir Antony
Arnold, Tom Bulmer, Esmond
Ashby, David Burt, Alistair
Aspinwall, Jack Butcher, John
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Butterfill, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Baldry, Tony Carttiss, Michael
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Batiste, Spencer Chapman, Sydney
Bellingham, Henry Chope, Christopher
Bendall, Vivian Churchill, W. S.
Benyon, William Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Best, Keith Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Clegg, Sir Walter
Blackburn, John Cockeram, Eric
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Colvin, Michael
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Conway, Derek
Boscawen, Hon Robert Coombs, Simon
Bottomley, Peter Cope, John
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Cormack, Patrick
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Corrie, John
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Couchman, James
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Cranborne, Viscount
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Critchley, Julian
Bright, Graham Currie, Mrs Edwina
Brinton, Tim Dorrell, Stephen
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dover, Den Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Dunn, Robert Key, Robert
Durant, Tony King, Rt Hon Tom
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Eggar, Tim Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Evennett, David Knowles, Michael
Eyre, Sir Reginald Knox, David
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fallon, Michael Lang, Ian
Farr, Sir John Lawler, Geoffrey
Favell, Anthony Lawrence, Ivan
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lee, John (Pendle)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fletcher, Alexander Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fookes, Miss Janet Lilley, Peter
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forth, Eric Lord, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Lyell, Nicholas
Fox, Sir Marcus MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Franks, Cecil MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) McLoughlin, Patrick
Freeman, Roger Madel, David
Galley, Roy Major, John
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marland, Paul
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Marlow, Antony
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mates, Michael
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mather, Carol
Glyn, Dr Alan Maude, Hon Francis
Goodhart Sir Philip Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Gow, Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gower, Sir Raymond Merchant, Piers
Grant, Sir Anthony Meyer, Sir Anthony
Greenway, Harry Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Gregory, Conal Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Miscampbell, Norman
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Monro, Sir Hector
Grist, Ian Moore, Rt Hon John
Ground, Patrick Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Grylls, Michael Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Moynihan, Hon C.
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Neale, Gerrard
Hampson, Dr Keith Needham, Richard
Hanley, Jeremy Newton, Tony
Hargreaves, Kenneth Norris, Steven
Harris, David Onslow, Cranley
Harvey, Robert Osborn, Sir John
Haselhurst, Alan Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hawksley, Warren Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Hayes, J. Pollock, Alexander
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Porter, Barry
Hayward, Robert Portillo, Michael
Heathcoat-Amory, David Powell, William (Corby)
Heddle, John Powley, John
Henderson, Barry Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Hickmet, Richard Renton, Tim
Hill, James Rhodes James, Robert
Hind, Kenneth Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hirst, Michael Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Holt, Richard Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hordern, Sir Peter Rost, Peter
Howard, Michael Rowe, Andrew
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Ryder, Richard
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hunter, Andrew Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Sayeed, Jonathan
Jackson, Robert Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Jessel, Toby Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Shersby, Michael
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Silvester, Fred
Sims, Roger Trippier, David
Skeet, Sir Trevor Twinn, Dr Ian
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Soames, Hon Nicholas Viggers, Peter
Speed, Keith Waddington, David
Speller, Tony Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Spencer, Derek Waldegrave, Hon William
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W) Walden, George
Squire, Robin Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Stanbrook, Ivor Waller, Gary
Stanley, Rt Hon John Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Steen, Anthony Warren, Kenneth
Stern, Michael Watson, John
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Wheeler, John
Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N) Whitfield, John
Stokes, John Whitney, Raymond
Sumberg, David Wiggin, Jerry
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wilkinson, John
Taylor, John (Solihull) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Winterton, Nicholas
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Wolfson, Mark
Temple-Morris, Peter Wood, Timothy
Terlezki, Stefan Woodcock, Michael
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Yeo, Tim
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Younger, Rt Hon George
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Thornton, Malcolm Tellers for the Noes:
Thurnham, Peter Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Mr. Michael Neubert.
Tracey, Richard

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 280, Noes 124.

Division No. 263] [10.16 pm
Adley, Robert Bruinvels, Peter
Alexander, Richard Bryan, Sir Paul
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Amess, David Bulmer, Esmond
Ancram, Michael Burt, Alistair
Arnold, Tom Butcher, John
Ashby, David Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam
Aspinwall, Jack Butterfill, John
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Carttiss, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Baldry, Tony Chapman, Sydney
Batiste, Spencer Chope, Christopher
Bellingham, Henry Churchill, W. S.
Bendall, Vivian Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Benyon, William Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Best, Keith Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Clegg, Sir Walter
Blackburn, John Cockeram, Eric
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Coombs, Simon
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Cope, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Corrie, John
Bottomley, Peter Couchman, James
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Cranborne, Viscount
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Dorrell, Stephen
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Dover, Den
Bright, Graham du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Brinton, Tim Dunn, Robert
Brooke, Hon Peter Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Eggar, Tim
Evennett, David Knowles, Michael
Eyre, Sir Reginald Knox, David
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fallon, Michael Lang, Ian
Farr, Sir John Lawrence, Ivan
Favell, Anthony Lee, John (Pendle)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lester, Jim
Fletcher, Alexander Lilley, Peter
Fookes, Miss Janet Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lord, Michael
Forth, Eric Lyell, Nicholas
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fox, Sir Marcus MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Franks, Cecil McLoughlin, Patrick
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Madel, David
Freeman, Roger Major, John
Galley, Roy Malone, Gerald
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marland, Paul
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Marlow, Antony
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mates, Michael
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mather, Carol
Glyn, Dr Alan Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Goodhart, Sir Philip Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gow, Ian Merchant, Piers
Gower, Sir Raymond Meyer, Sir Anthony
Grant, Sir Anthony Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Greenway, Harry Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Gregory, Conal Miscampbell, Norman
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Monro, Sir Hector
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Moore, Rt Hon John
Grist, Ian Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Ground, Patrick Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Grylls, Michael Moynihan, Hon C.
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Neale, Gerrard
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Needham, Richard
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Neubert, Michael
Hampson, Dr Keith Newton, Tony
Hanley, Jeremy Norris, Steven
Hargreaves, Kenneth Onslow, Cranley
Harris, David Osborn, Sir John
Harvey, Robert Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Haselhurst, Alan Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Pollock, Alexander
Hawksley, Warren Porter, Barry
Hayes, J. Portillo, Michael
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Powell, William (Corby)
Hayward, Robert Powley, John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Henderson, Barry Renton, Tim
Hickmet, Richard Rhodes James, Robert
Hill, James Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hind, Kenneth Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hirst, Michael Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Holt, Richard Rost, Peter
Hordern, Sir Peter Rowe, Andrew
Howard, Michael Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Ryder, Richard
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Hunter, Andrew Sayeed, Jonathan
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Jackson, Robert Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jessel, Toby Shersby, Michael
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Silvester, Fred
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sims, Roger
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Soames, Hon Nicholas
Key, Robert Speed, Keith
King, Rt Hon Tom Speller, Tony
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Spencer, Derek
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Squire, Robin Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Stanbrook, Ivor Viggers, Peter
Stanley, Rt Hon John Waddington, David
Steen, Anthony Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Stern, Michael Waldegrave, Hon William
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Walden, George
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Waller, Gary
Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stokes, John Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Sumberg, David Wheeler, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Whitfield, John
Taylor, John (Solihull) Whitney, Raymond
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Wiggin, Jerry
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Wilkinson, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Winterton, Mrs Ann
Terlezki, Stefan Winterton, Nicholas
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wolfson, Mark
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Woodcock, Michael
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Yeo, Tim
Thurnham, Peter Young, Sir George (Acton)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Younger, Rt Hon George
Tracey, Richard
Trippier, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Twinn, Dr Ian Mr. Tony Durant and
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Mr. Francis Maude.
Alton, David Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Anderson, Donald Fisher, Mark
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Flannery, Martin
Ashdown, Paddy Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Ashton, Joe Forrester, John
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Foulkes, George
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) George, Bruce
Barnett, Guy Gould, Bryan
Barron, Kevin Hancock, Michael
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Hardy, Peter
Beith, A. J. Harman, Ms Harriet
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Heffer, Eric S.
Bermingham, Gerald Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bidwell, Sydney Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Blair, Anthony Home Robertson, John
Boyes, Roland Howells, Geraint
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) John, Brynmor
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Johnston, Sir Russell
Bruce, Malcolm Kennedy, Charles
Caborn, Richard Lambie, David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Lamond, James
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Cartwright, John Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Livsey, Richard
Clarke, Thomas Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Clay, Robert McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Clelland, David Gordon McGuire, Michael
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McKelvey, William
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Madden, Max
Cohen, Harry Martin, Michael
Conlan, Bernard Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Meacher, Michael
Corbett, Robin Meadowcroft, Michael
Corbyn, Jeremy Michie, William
Craigen, J. M. Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Crowther, Stan Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dalyell, Tam Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Nellist, David
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) O'Neill, Martin
Deakins, Eric Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Dewar, Donald Parry, Robert
Douglas, Dick Patchett, Terry
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Penhaligon, David
Eadie, Alex Pike, Peter
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Radice, Giles
Fatchett, Derek Randall, Stuart
Faulds, Andrew Robertson, George
Rogers, Allan Straw, Jack
Rooker, J. W. Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W) Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Silkin, Rt Hon J. Wareing, Robert
Skinner, Dennis Wilson, Gordon
Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury) Winnick, David
Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive Tellers for the Noes:
Steel, Rt Hon David Mr. James Wallace and
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles) Mr. Archy Kirkwood.

Question accordingly agreed to.

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

Resolved, That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its achievement in increasing the purchasing power of the national insurance retirement pension during a period when the number of pensioners has risen by nearly a million; endorses the Government's firm commitment fully to protect pensioners against rising prices; welcomes the continued development of health and community services for the elderly; recognises the Government's outstanding success in reducing the rise in prices to the lowest level for nearly twenty years; and notes that security in retirement would be the first casualty of the renewed and rapid inflation which would flow from the expenditure and taxation policies advocated by Her Majesty's Opposition.