HC Deb 25 February 1987 vol 111 cc290-328 4.36 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That this House, noting that more than a quarter of pensioners now live in poverty at or below the supplementary benefit level, that the living standards of pensioners have fallen by an average of about 21 per cent. compared with the rest of the community since 1979, that pensioners are the main victims of the £650 million cuts in housing benefit and that pensioners have been badly hit by the large and increasing cuts in community services and in hospital beds, calls upon the Government to reverse its policy of reducing the resources devoted to the needs of elderly people and to accord pensioners the priority which they deserve and which the nation would wish them to have, not only in terms of income, but also in the range of community services they need for personal independence, security and dignity.

Mr. Speaker

I must tell the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Meacher

The Opposition have chosen the title for this debate—"Priorities for the Elderly"—with care and precision. It is our view, as I shall explain—

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order to delay the debate for a little while, while the Opposition assemble their Members?

Mr. Speaker

That has patently nothing to do with me.

Mr. Meacher

It is our view, as I shall explain, that in one area after another the elderly have been accorded a distinctly low priority by the Government. With 26 per cent. of people over retirement age now living in poverty at or below the supplementary benefit level—

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I will not give way.

With pensions every year falling further and further behind living standards of the rest of the community, with huge cuts in housing benefit, a growing shortage of community services and hospital beds and a gross misallocation of resources in the development of residential and domiciliary care, one thing is certain: the elderly in Britain need a new deal.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I shall not give way. I intend to make some progress with my speech, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen.

The first and most important point that I want to make concerns the pension. The Government like to consider themselves as the defenders of choice. I wonder how much choice Ministers believe that pensioners get on £39.80 a week. However, the Government have decreased, not increased, the consumer choice of pensioners. Their buying power relative to that of the rest of the community has gone down sharply over the past eight years. Over that period the pension has trailed no less than 21 per cent. behind the growth of average earnings.

Mr. Nicholls

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Meacher

No, I will not.

That is the effect of one of the first things that the Government did when they came to power in 1979.

Mr. Marlow

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are very experienced and have been in the House for a very long time. Will you draw on your experience and tell the House whether you have ever been in the Chamber during a major and important debate on the elderly when there have been only five Back-Bench Labour Members—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that that is not a point of order.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman has also been here long enough to accuse one of my hon. Friends of a bogus point of order when he has just made two of the most bogus points of order that I have ever heard.

In 1979, the Government broke the links with earnings which Labour had established in the uprating of pensions. As a result, the single pension has been cut by £7.20 a week and a married pension by £11.40 a week compared with what would have been paid if Labour's formula had been retained.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government broke the link which the Labour Government had established. How many times between 1976 and 1979 did they keep to their formula?

Mr. Meacher

I will tell the hon. Gentleman that during the five years when the Labour Government were in power the real value of the pension increased by 20 per cent., whereas under the seven and a half years of Tory rule that we have just experienced, the real value of the pension has increased by only 2.5 per cent. Labour did eight times better.

Mr. Maclean

Answer my question.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that this will be taken as a serious debate. In the few minutes during which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has been speaking, there has been constant uproar in the House. It is a disgrace.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is no need for sedentary interjections. They simply delay a debate. This is a very short debate and many hon. Members feel strongly about the subject and want to speak in it. Sedentary interruptions from either side do not help.

Mr. Meacher

The loss for a married couple in retirement as a result of breaking the link with earnings, which is now about £600 a year, would be enough to take thousands of pensioners out of poverty, to ensure adequate heating throughout the winter, to improve the quality of diet most days of the week, to enable more trips to see children or friends, or to buy a holiday abroad. Those may be small matters to those who take them in their stride, but to be deprived of them is to be shut out from the quality of life which others take for granted, and that is what hurts.

Mr. Nicholls

Although the hon. Gentleman will not answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), does he deny the historical fact that in three years out of five the Government of which he was a member and which had passed legislation for an earnings link failed to follow it?

Mr. Meacher

That is a very silly point. What matters to pensioners is the amount by which their pensions increase relative to prices. I am glad to see the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled nodding. Under the Labour Government, it increased by 20 per cent. above prices—

Mr. Nicholls

Will you deny it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must realise that I have nothing to deny. Sedentary interventions are holding up the debate. We must get on with it.

Mr. Meacher

I shall indeed get on with it.

It is a cynical philosophy to pay people the going market rate so long as they are in economic employment but as soon as they are uneconomic or unproductive after a lifetime of work to discard them on the scrap heap of retirement. We know that pensioners today are being discarded when we consider that the basic retirement pension has fallen to only 18 per cent. of average earnings whereas in Germany the figure is 50 per cent. and in France no less than 60 to 70 per cent. We know t hat pensioners are being discarded when the Government Actuary has estimated that under current Government policies the basic state pension will fall during the next 40 years to only 9 per cent. of average earnings. Pensioners are being discarded because, in March this year, the Chancellor will dispense, in one way or another, up to £4 billion of largesse, but all that pensioners will get is an extra 80p a week.

What is almost harder to accept is the fact that Government policies not only condemn millions of people to a miserable subsistence income, but have blocked any future escape route from poverty for millions of workers on below average pay. SERPS offered the one high road out of poverty in old age for the lower paid.

Mr. Forth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I will not.

The Government's emasculation of that scheme. plus the worsening relative value of the basic pension and each successive uprating under the Government's price indexing policies, mean that up to a quarter of today's working population will spend their retirement in poverty.

The significance of the Government's assault on SERPS is brought home by a written answer that I received on 12 January. It shows that the additional earnings-related pension received by someone retiring on average earnings this year is slightly over £20 a week. SERPS is already providing a 50 per cent. topping-up of the basic state pension. By 1992, the SERPS addition will have increased to more than £40 a week—more than the entire basic pension today—and by 1998 it will have grown to £78 a week, according to Government figures. For half the population, SERPS offers the best pension scheme that Britain has ever produced. It would for ever break the cycle of poverty in retirement.

The Government repudiated the scheme because they said that it could not be afforded, yet it offers pensions no bigger than the state pensions being paid by the Germans and the French. If they can afford those pensions" why cannot we? The Government's stated intention to whittle down SERPS is the biggest attack by far on the living standards of the poorer half of the population. The Government, who have heralded six or even seven-figure salaries among their City acolytes, are stretching poverty level retirement far into the 21st century for a large section of today's work force.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman has used the word "poverty" many times in his remarks so far. Where does he get his figures and on what does he base his repeated assertion that there is poverty among this group?

Mr. Meacher

Does the hon. Gentleman differ from the conventional view, which I certainly share, that anyone who must subsist on supplementary benefit is living in poverty? Could he live on £45 a week compared with his salary which, like mine, is more than £300 a week? That is an exceedingly low standard of living compared with average earnings of £200 a week. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the goodness to share my view that that is a disgracefully low standard of living. The fact that the number of people on supplementary benefit has doubled under this Government is an indictment of their disgraceful policies.

If tomorrow's pensioners are not much of a priority with this Government, nor are today's. In one year's time, the Fowler social security pack—if it is not repealed by a new Government after the election—will drastically worsen the position of many pensioners. According to the Government's figures, 2,250,000 pensioners will lose money, including 820,000 who will lose more than £2 a week and 120,000 who will lose more than £5 a week. They may be small amounts to grinning Conservative Members, but they represent substantial losses when the entire pension is only £40 a week.

In particular, pensioners will be the main victims of the £450 million cut in housing benefit, which comes on top of the £200 million cut made recently in housing benefit and which also hits mainly pensioners. They will probably be the main sufferers from the abolition of single payments and the introduction of the social fund in a year's time.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Meacher

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman needs to learn a few manners and then I may give way.

It is surely cruel to expect pensioners on low incomes to repay loans towards essential items. The likely effect of that Government policy must be that even more pensioners will refuse to ask for help. Indigence will once again be the price of self-respect. It is also harsh that loans will not be available to those with savings of more than £500, who will be penalised for setting aside money for funeral costs. It cannot be justified to end lump sum grants to meet exceptional circumstances such as high fuel bills and draught proofing, for which elderly people are unlikely to take up loans. The abolition of the death grant cheats generations of people who have paid insurance contributions all their lives.

Even if pensioners' incomes and benefits were cut, that would not matter so acutely if the essential services on which they rely were increased. In fact, the reverse has happened after the scythe of rate support grant cuts and rate capping has hacked its way through so many local authority services. Of all groups in the population, it is the over-75s for whom community health and social services are critical. On average, they use them four and a half times more extensively than the general population. Yet services have not kept up with the growth in the number of people over 75—some 17 per cent. since 1979. For example, the number of geriatric beds in hospitals has been virtually static—an increase of less than 0.5 per cent.

The Audit Commission report published two months ago, which I recommend, has an excellent analysis of Government policy called "Making a Reality of Community Care". It states: There has been no increase per person aged 75 or over in community based services central to supporting elderly people: home helps and meals-on-wheels.

Mr. Forth

I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to be fair when making his arguments. Does he agree that the number of consultant geriatricians has increased under the Government by at least 34 per cent.? That one figure provides some balance to what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Does he acknowledge that a balance should be struck in all these things and that great achievements have been made in some significant areas under this Government?

Mr. Meacher

There has been a welcome shift in medical personnel towards geriatric, psychiatric and mental handicap. All Governments support that; we did so and I am glad that it has been continued and developed further. I am only sad that, although there are more consultant geriatricians and a considerable increase in the numbers needing their care, there has not been an increase in the number of beds available in hospitals. That is a great pity. The Audit Commission's report is a stunning indictment of Government policies which, it concludes, represent a fundamental misallocation of a total £6 billion budget between the National Health Service, social services and social security, devoted to the case of the elderly, the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill. It found that domiciliary care averages a cost of about £95 a week for an elderly person, while a residential home place costs about £135 a week and a bed in a National Health Service geriatric ward costs about £295 a week. However, because the paraphernalia of Government financial controls has decimated local authority social services, we have the absurd paradox that thousands of elderly people are now cared for in institutional settings, costing up to £300 a week, when they could be receiving more appropriate care in the community at a total cost to public funds of only about £100 a week.

The Audit Commission endorsed a view that the Opposition have repeatedly expressed, that it is a ridiculous perversion of priorities that local authority social services, which are determined by need, have been continually eroded by Government financial cuts, while supplementary benefit moneys, to the tune of no less than £600 million a year, are now being channelled through the board and lodging regulations into a virtually open-ended subsidy of the private sector, with no test of the need.

There is another nonsense in the system because it produces a strong financial bias in favour of residential care at the expense of domiciliary care in the community, although the latter is generally preferable wherever it is possible. The truth is that community care, for all the rhetoric that we have heard from the Government, is grossly neglected. Most social service departments are now not achieving even the 2 per cent. growth that the Government consider necessary simply to maintain existing standards. The DHSS guideline published 10 years ago, laying down that there should be 12 home helps per thousand people over 65, has, frankly, become a distant dream in most areas. Certainly, the number of home helps, the most crucial arm—I am sure it will be agreed—of all social services, has not kept pace. The average has now fallen to about six per thousand, half of the level set 10 years ago.

In practice, that means that in many areas today an elderly person who is confused, incontinent and liable to fall, now has a home help for perhaps only two hours a week and, in many areas, has to pay a significant fee for a limited service.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not dream of misleading the House. He will be aware that the number of home helps has increased by more than 14 per cent. since 1978 and that there has been a substantial increase—some 15 per cent.—in the number of day centres. The hon. Gentleman should not be so churlish.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman should not accuse me, but should look at the Audit Commission's report. That is entirely independent and states that there has been no increase per person for those aged over 75 in the essential—[Interruption.] I prefer the Audit Commission's report to the figures given by Conservative Central Office, largely because it is a great deal more accurate. I suggest that Conservative Members read official sources and not biased and partisan notes from their party.

In the face of that neglect, because we accord a much higher priority to the needs of the elderly, the Labour party is proposing a five point plan of community care. The first point is an audit of social need, to be carried out on a regular basis by each social services department, which would match the audit of health needs to be carried out in parallel by each health authority. The establishment of unmet needs is, I strongly suggest, the foundation of community care, and it is a huge omission that, for all the talk, that has never been done comprehensively by the Government during the past eight years. Only when needs are systematically known can services be realistically planned.

Secondly, we propose community-based assessment teams to work closely with elderly and disabled people and their carers to draw up care plans tailor made for each individual, after consultation with them. We also propose that a named person be appointed to help each elderly and disabled person negotiate the maze of different agencies that must be tackled to obtain such services as rehabilitation, chiropody, day care, temporary respite care or whatever.

Thirdly, we intend to produce a much better balanced distribution of services throughout the country. The Audit Commission makes a radical criticism of existing policies and states: A very uneven pattern of local authority services has developed, with the care that people receive as much dependent on where they live as on what they need. There could scarecly be a more fundamental contradiction of a proper national service than that. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will wait to hear what I am about to say.

At present, home help provision varies by a factor of about 7:1, according to where one is in the country. Sunderland, for example, provides 70 hours home help per person each year, while Surrey provides only 11. It is noteworthy that, of the top 30 local authorities providing the most home help, all but three are Labour controlled, while the bottom 30 local authorities providing the least home help are Tory controlled. Such huge inequalities of service provision to meet the same needs in different parts of the country are unacceptable, and therefore we shall ensure that minimum standards are met.

Fourthly, we propose a charter for carers. Current Government policies of neglect and cuts impose an intolerable burden on a great many of the 3.25 million women who provide essential part-time and full-time care for elderly or disabled relatives. Although many perform full-time caring duties, almost without relief, for 20 or 30 years, into their seventies or even older, often to the point of physical or mental breakdown, their unrecognised needs surely make them one of the most neglected groups in today's welfare state. Therefore, we propose a flexible respite care system. Carers need support, especially night sitting services, hospital nursing, holiday care, a more flexible home help arrangement, short-stay residential accommodation for members of their family, and self-help centres for counselling and support, because they are often isolated. To pioneer and carry through this new approach, we shall appoint a carers liaison officer in each local authority, who will be responsible for identifying carers and providing, as far as possible, the range of support services that are needed—

Mr. Forth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way again.

Fifthly, and most important, in developing community care we recognise that choice is crucially important. If service means anything, it must mean that elderly people can voice their views and be confident of a response that takes them into account. That is why we support a statutory right for an elderly or disabled person to be represented by another person in meetings with local authorities or other officials, and an appeal system that can challenge unfavourable local authority decisions.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No. The hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber. I shall no': give way—[Interruption.]

That is why we support a pluralistic approach, including elderly—

Mr. Carlisle

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his remark. I have been in the Chamber for all of his speech, although it has been painful to listen to it. I hope that he will withdraw his remark and apologise.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That matter is for the hon. Gentleman to decide.

Mr. Meacher

If the hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber for the course of the debate, I apologise to him. I did not see him. Indeed, I shall now give way to him.

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman has listed many admirable points. In fact, many Conservative Members will rather look forward to getting old if we can enjoy the various services that he will provide should his party come to office. Will he give hon. Members the exact cost of the programme that he has outlined?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is the seventh intervention, during a 20-minute speech, made by hon. Members who are waiting to catch my eye. They are prejudicing their own chances.

Mr. Meacher

As there is a gross misallocation of resources in favour of institutional care, the provision of domiciliary care, although it will not be much cheaper, may work out at some significant saving. Of course, what we are proposing is highly labour-intensive, but it is wholly accommodated within the £6 billion budget for jobs by which we intend to put—we shall do so—1 million people back to work, including, probably, over 100,000 of them in the area to which I referred.

At the root of the programme is a better allocation of public spending. The Audit Commission speaks of a serious distortion of public expenditure priorities. It adds: the social security policies of the Government appear to be working in a way directly opposing community care policies.

At present, there is a fundamental misallocation in favour of residential care and against domiciliary services. There is a fundamental misallocation in favour of the private sector that is not based on need, and against local authority services that are based on need. There is a fundamental misallocation, which is characteristic of the Government, in favour of tax cuts for the better-off and against the interests of the pensioner. We shall reverse all of that. That is why we propose an immediate £5 a week increase in the pension for single pensioners and an £8 a week increase for married couples to be paid for by recouping the £3–5 billion in tax relief handed out since 1979 to the richest 5 per cent. of the population.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way.

That is why we propose to restore the link with earnings in the uprating of the pension so that, once again, pensioners will share in rising living standards with the rest of the community. That is why we shall repeal the provisions of the Fowler Social Security Act 1986, which undermines SERPS as the high road out of poverty in old age. That is why we shall sweep away the piffling and fragmentary severe weather payments scheme, which is so pitted with holes, and replace it by a proper £5-a-week special winter fuel premium for each week throughout the winter to all pensioners on supplementary benefit and to a further million living in the margins of poverty only just above the supplementary benefit line. That is why we have published major plans for the development of community care which offer a charter of liberation for the elderly, the disabled and their carers.

Those are all priorities for the elderly, and they are our priorities, too. Because they are the priorities for millions of families for whom the care of the elderly is a fundamental concern, they will be one of the central issues that will sweep away the Government in the forthcoming election and bring to power a party that believes in and shares such priorities and principles.

5.5 pm

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. John Major)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'believes that pensioners deserve a good standard of living in retirement, whether their incomes come from state benefits, occupational pensions or savings, notes with approval that the Government's economic policies have reversed the previous sharp decline in the value of pensioners' savings; welcomes the higher level of expenditure on benefits for elderly people even after taking account of provision for one million additional pensioners since 1978; and congratulates the Government on its success in improving pensioners' living standards in both absolute and relative terms.'.

I assume from the remarks made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that the substance of the Opposition's motion is largely—and inaccurately—drawn either from the low income figures published last summer, which are now nearly four years out of date, or from parliamentary questions based on them. That is clear from the hon. Gentleman's response to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), and it is frankly astonishing.

The hon. Gentleman should know—the House has been told—that the statisticians who compile the figures that he has used so casually asked for a technical review of them because of their shortcomings. He should also know that the base line for including pensioners in those figures is 25 per cent. higher than for everybody else and that the heating additions, worth between £2.20 and £5.55 per week for pensioners, are excluded from those figures, as are all other additional requirements. Not one of these facts found a mention in the false and sweeping allegations that formed the foundation of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

The hon. Gentleman defined poverty as the supplementary benefit level and said that he had always regarded that as the level. That was in sharp contrast to the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) who, as Minister for Social Security, on a series of occasions expressly rejected that precise proposition. I shall refer to the details of poverty and matters of that sort a little later, as I have some accurate figures—not the fantasy figures that the hon. Gentleman used—that he may find rather unpleasant. They are not Government figures and the hon. Gentleman will be wise to wait to hear them as they will be enlightening to him and, I suspect, to many others as well.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend spoke of enlightening the House. Has it escaped his notice that, on this Opposition day, at this stage of the debate there are only five Labour Back Benchers, one Liberal Member and one SDP Member present? Is he not surprised at the lack of interest in the figures that he is about to give and worried that his message will not get across to enough Opposition Members?

Mr. Major

My hon. Friend is a perceptive mathematician, but from the flurry on the Opposition Benches I fancy that he neglected to mention that 50 per cent. of Plaid Cymru is also present on this occasion.

The claim of the hon. Member for Oldham, West that the living standards of pensioners have fallen by 21 per cent. compared with the rest of the community would be greeted with alarm on this side of the House if there were a grain of truth in it, but there is not. Adult full-time earnings have risen in real terms by 21 per cent. since 1978 —itself a tribute to the success of the Government's economic policies—but the hon. Gentleman ought not to mislead others as he should know that adult full-time earnings are in no way a reliable guide to the growth in incomes among the non-pensioner community. I shall come shortly to what is a reliable guide. Nor is the growth in the basic state retirement pension a guide to the growth in living standards of pensioners. Had the hon. Gentleman done his homework properly, he would know that the true position is precisely and absolutely the reverse of that which he has stated to the House in the last few minutes.

Since 1979, pensioner living standards have risen by nearly one fifth—twice as fast as those of the community as a whole. The hon. Gentleman totally overlooked the dramatic impact of occupational pensions, investment income, the growth in disability benefits and the aggregation of the additional component of pensions that comes from the state earnings-related pension scheme. None of those matters found a mention when he talked so misleadingly about poverty levels.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Major

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman a little later.

I do not intend to spend too much time on misleading and irrelevant figures. I propose to deal with facts that are based on clear statistical methods, not on the unreliable facts that the hon. Member for Oldham, West chose to use.

This debate is concerned with priorities for the elderly, so I shall deal immediately with those priorities, as revealed by the latest information from the family expenditure survey. I hope that nobody doubts its veracity as the family expenditure survey data are published, well known and well respected and the facts are unchallengable. if we look at the 1985 data, which the hon. Gentleman has clearly failed to do, some interesting comparisons can he made. These are the latest available data. We find, for example, that in real terms pensioners' incomes from retirement pensions and income related benefits increased at much the same annual rate between 1974 and 1979 as they did between 1979 and 1985, but since 1979 the reduction of inflation has meant that, on average, pensioners' incomes from savings have increased by 7.3 per cent. per year compared with a reduction of 3.4 per cent. per year between 1974 and 1979. That is a sharp and welcome improvement, but that is not all.

Occupational pensions have also spurted ahead quite substantially, and in constant prices now add, on average, about £18.60 per week to pensioners' incomes, compared with £12.30 in 1979. These various increases mean that under the present Government pensioners' total average net incomes—net of tax and national insurance, where applicable—have grown by no less than 2.7 per cent. per year in real terms since 1979, compared with 0.6 per cent. between 1974 and 1979. I should make it clear that the net disposable income available to pensioners is rising four and a half times faster now than it did during the period of the last Labour Government. That fact is revealed by the family expenditure survey and the comparison should make not just the hon. Member for Oldham, West but his right hon. Friend the Shadow Chancellor think very deeply about their proposed policies on social security and the economy. I will, however, make a concession to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Meacher

Since those figures, which we shall have to look at very closely, are heavily dependent not on the basic pension but on the state earnings-related pensilon scheme and occupational pension schemes, why have the Government done their best to undermine both by whittling down SERPS and by replacing good occupational final salary schemes with personal portable pensions that are much worse?

Mr. Major

We have done nothing whatever to damage occupational pension schemes. We have opened up a substantial opportunity for the 11 million people who do not have an occupational pension scheme to have one in the form of a personal portable pension, and we have made that pension transferable. The hon. Gentleman should know, but apparently he does not, that none of the SERPS changes will in any way affect anybody who retires this side of the year 2000. By that time, as the hon. Gentleman will see if he studies the family expenditure survey, the difference will be more than adequately made up by the growth in the other factors that I have just mentioned.

What is important to pensioners is the amount of net disposable income that they have to spend.

Mr. Raynsford

The Minister has said a great deal about income. Will he now please consider outgoings? Will he tell us what has been the impact on pensioners of the changes in housing costs brought about by the Government? What proportion of pensioners' incomes is now swallowed up by housing costs? And what has been the impact of the progressive cuts in housing benefits, upon which so many pensioners depend?

Mr. Major

These are net disposable spending figures, as I tried to explain a few moments ago.

Mr. Raynsford

Answer the question.

Mr. Major

The hon. Gentleman will know that the vast majority of people who are on very low incomes still receive a very high level of standard rate housing benefit, both for housing costs and for rates. He should know that as well as any right hon. or lion. Member, but I fear that he sometimes forgets it.

Mr. Raynsford

The Minister is dodging the question.

Mr. Major

I make this concession to the hon. Member for Oldham, West. Percentage growth rates can be confusing for him and for others, so I will set out the points that I have just made in terms of actual pounds in the pocket—a phrase that Opposition Members may conceivably remember. I see one or two of them wriggling, so they clearly do remember it.

At 1985 prices, pensioners had an average net income of £68.50 in 1974. By 1979, it had crawled up by £2.10 per week to reach £70.60, but between 1979 and 1985 it rose by no less than £12.50 to £83.10. That represents a rate of growth over those six years well over twice the rate of growth in incomes of the population as a whole. I shall repeat that in case Opposition Members have not heard me clearly enough. Under this Government, pensioners' total incomes—I emphasise "total incomes"—from all sources have risen, in real terms, more than twice as fast as the incomes of the whole population. When one looks at priorities for pensioners, that is the reality.

Mr. Raynsford

Now will the Minister answer my question?

Mr. Major

The Opposition occasionally accuse us of being uncaring and harsh towards pensioners. Frankly, that is both spiteful and ludicrous. I hope that the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who is always a fair man, will study carefully the family expenditure survey so that he may draw the conclusions that we have reached after having looked carefully at these matters in recent weeks.

The state pension is not, of course, the only element in pensioner incomes. It tends, however, to be all that the Opposition ever choose to mention. Beyond that, to put it mildly, their view seems a little blinkered. Other elements, such as occupational pensions and income from savings, have been growing and will continue to grow. Occupational pensions now go to nearly one half of all pensioners and to as many as 70 per cent. of new pensioners. Of the remainder, many will have an additional component to their basic pension. That is entirely as it should be and entirely in line with the philosophy of Beveridge. Beveridge envisaged the state pension as providing a level of maintenance, topped up by savings and income from other sources. He never envisaged it—as sometimes I get the flavour that the Opposition do—as the sole source of pensioners' incomes, and it is a perversion of his ideals to suggest that. It is the Conservative side of the House that follows the Beveridge principles, and it does so in a fashion that the Opposition can never begin to comprehend.

For the future, I believe that we can now look forward to a prospect that would have been unbelievable some years ago. We can now anticipate not merely the two-pension family with one state and one occupational pension, but also the four-pension family. Far more married women now work, and the abolition of the reduced rate married woman's national insurance contribution means that increasing numbers of women will have entitlement to a state basic pension in their own right, probably with an earnings-related supplement, as well as an occupational pension. Those trends mean that the steady improvement in pensioner incomes which we have seen over the past seven years should continue as the whole House hopes. That is our priority for pensioners— independence, security and choice—and that is what they have been getting since 1979.

Let us now consider the Opposition's propositions. The hon. Member for Oldham, West again mentioned the increase of £5 for single pensioners and £8 for married couples that he proposes to make in Labour's first year of office, should that be achieved by the principal Opposition party. That may seem a clear-cut promise, but it is not. For one thing, despite repeated challenges and opportunities, the hon. Gentleman still has not clarified whether the full value of this pledged increase will go to the poorest pensioners through an increase in supplementary benefit scale rates and housing benefit needs allowances. Without this, the full benefit of any increase will go only to the better-off pensioners. I am glad to say that there are more of those around now than there were eight years ago, but it is extraordinary that the Opposition's policy is still apparently to help the better-off pensioner and to ignore the poorest. This is, after all, a debate on priorities for the elderly. [Interruption] The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) scoffs; perhaps he can answer this question. The Opposition have not made it clear whether the long-term sick and disabled and widows are to be included in their proposals. At present they get the same as retirement pensioners. The reason the Opposition have been so coy is simple. Because of the cost, the poorest will be ignored in the electoral bribe that the Labour party will offer the people in the coming months.

We have been told repeatedly that the Opposition expect to raise about £3.6 billion from tax increases. I stress again, for the umpteenth time, that unless the Labour party denies help to the poorest, to widows and to the disabled, the price of its pledges is not £3.6 billion, or even £4.6 billion, but £5.6 billion. To put it into context, it is a quarter of the spending on the Health Service. Most people can spend only the money that they actually have, but the hon. Member for Oldham, West promises to spend several times more than that every time he comes to the Dispatch Box.

Moreover, the Opposition seem to have forgotten, if they ever heard it, the very sound advice offered to people in glasshouses. They have criticised the size of recent pension upratings and have offered increases of £5 and £8 as their alternative, but at no time in the two years since that alternative was first aired have they contemplated uprating that promise. Prices have risen by 7.8 per cent. since then, but the Opposition's offer to pensioners has not changed. I understand why, but something seemed familiar when it occurred to me that it had not been uprated, so I cast a backward look at the Labour party's record when it had the opportunity to do something about pensions.

The Labour party came to office in February 1974 with a pledge to increase the single person's pension to £10 in the first Budget. The Labour Government fulfilled that pledge, and all credit to them for doing so, but that single increase accounted for about three quarters of the total increase in real terms over the whole life of their Administration—one large increase to implement their electoral bribe and then the pensioners were largely forgotten. Is that to be the pattern as they approach the next election?

Between July 1974 when that manifesto promise was implemented and November 1978, the real increase was just over 5 per cent.—1 per cent. per year in a period when the Opposition like to claim that pensions were being uprated by the better of prices or earnings. The hon. Member for Oldham, West said that Labour will go back to that golden age if they win the next election. It is curious that they have erased entirely from their memory the fact that in 1976 they switched from a historic to a forecast uprating method precisely to cut the pension uprating by a third. Pensions should have gone up by 21 per cent. to match the increase in prices, but they went up by only 15 per cent. and the 6 per cent. loss was never made good. That switch cost about £1.2 billion at current prices. Moreover, in November 1978 the forecast increase in pensions fell short of the statutory obligation by a further 2 per cent.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

For the third time.

Mr. Major

Yes, for the third time, as my hon. Friend says in astonishment. That legacy was left to a Conservative Government to honour, as was the additional cost of SERPS and the abolition of the married women's half-test. Nor is that all.

Broadening the horizon beyond the basic pension itself, the Labour record is one of total and unrelieved gloom. If we examine it—I suspect this will be painful to Opposition Members—we find that savings, which on average accounted for 14.6 per cent. of pensioners' net incomes in 1974, had declined, both absolutely and as a proportion, to only 12 per cent. by 1979. For every year the Labour party was in office, the value of pensioners' income from savings declined by 3.4 per cent. in real terms because runaway inflation overwhelmed interest rates and pensioners had to live on their capital. That was the reality.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Has not my hon. Friend missed something in his account of the Labour party's record? Did not the Labour Government get the economy into such a mess that they could not pay the pensioners' Christmas bonus for two successive years?

Mr. Major

I had not forgotten that—I was about to come to it—but there is now no need for me to do so.

One further point should, however, be made. I am not talking about rich people whose losses might be regarded with equanimity by Labour Members. I am talking about the average of all pensioners, including many elderly people who worked hard all their lives to have a bit extra in retirement and found it utterly destroyed by the calamity of inflation engendered by the Labour Government's economic policies.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West might also like to know that under his party's policies pensioners' total incomes from non-state sources reduced steadily by more than 2 per cent. each year. The House will be interested to know that, on average, pensioners' total net income—the amount they had to spend—increased by a massive 0.6 per cent. per year over the period 1974 to 1979. That is the true record of the hon. Gentleman's party when it was in office, and it is a melancholy record for the pensioners who had to live through that period.

I will say this for the Labour party, however. It is true that pensioners did better than the rest of the population in that party's last period of office, but that is not saying a great deal as its record for pensioners shows. The harsh reality of that period was of pensioners becoming steadily more dependent on State sources because of the Labour Government's failure to provide economic security for the balance of their incomes. The hon. Member for Oldham, West tells me frequently, in the context of means-tested benefits, that pensioners do not wish to come to the Government for support, and I agree. They are proud and independent and they do not wish to do that. But that is exactly what the hon. Gentleman and his party brought about when they were in power. The House can judge the Labour party's policy by its results—0.6 per cent. per year growth in pensioners' incomes. We shall hang that figure round the Opposition's neck whenever they boast of their record on pensions, and we shall compare it with the 2.7 per cent. per year growth in real incomes after inflation since 1979.

The Opposition chose today to debate priorities for pensioners, but their need to examine their own priorities before questioning ours is substantial. Their record in the past was appalling and their promises for the future are unachievable. I urge the House to reject with contempt their impudent motion and to support the Government amendment.

5.28 pm
Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

I wish to make a brief intervention in the debate because I have a deep respect for pensioners. Indeed, I believe strongly that pensioners, having given the best years of their lives to the country, are entitled to expect a return that allows them to live in comfort and dignity. Having listened to the Minister's speech, while I do not doubt for one second a single statistic that he has given, I do not believe that his speech will carry much weight with pensioners.

Mr. Forth

Why not?

Mr. Smith

It is not that pensioners do not believe that the figures are true, but, frankly, they are interested in how much money they will get today, rather than how much they got in 1974. They are interested in what that money can buy them and the present Government's policies. A pensioner of 60, 75 or 80 is utterly bored with the long list of statistics about what this lot did and what that lot did or what happened in 1972 or in 1979. That means absolutely nothing to the vast majority of pensioners. I strongly advise the Minister and the Front Bench to abandon the statistical argument and get down to the realities of the position.

It is nonsensical to imply that millions of pensioners are starving or living on the poverty line, but it is equally nonsensical to imply that pensioners have never had it so good. Despite all the statistics that we have been given, the fact is that the living standards of pensioners still leave a great deal to be desired. We have heard the Minister brag about how much money pensioners save and so forth, but one of my major criticisms of the Government, especially as they are supposed to believe in free enterprise and thrift, is that, with pensioners, such thrift is penalised. The more money that people save in their working lives, the less they receive from the state when they are pensioners. There is a penalty on pensioners' thrift. The Government should answer that complaint.

Some pensioners live in extremely poor circumstances and that especially applies to single people living alone. Ever since 1980 when the Government broke the pension link with earnings pensioners have lost out. That does not mean that pensioners have received nothing or have riot been reasonably dealt with, but they have lost out. In statistical terms the loss has been £5.95 a week for single people and £9.40 for a couple. That loss is the result of the change in the method of calculating pensions.

Today, I speak for the alliance and we are wholly committed to returning to a pension system that links pensions with earnings. It is impossible to say that every pensioner will receive an increase under that system as pensioners' present income and income from other sources must be taken into account. However, we shall also scrap standing charges on gas, electricity and telephones. We shall raise heating allowances and we shall certainly do something about the death grant, which is a source of extreme concern among pensioners.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He says that the alliance will restore the link that operated under the previous Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman and his party had a tremendous influence over the final two years of the life of the previous Labour Government. However, in 1978 the Labour Government did not adhere—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Maclean

They did not adhere to the earnings link. Moreover, in 1979 the Labour Government broke the rule on the proposed uprating that the hon. Gentleman's party had supported.

Mr. Smith

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the link between the Liberal party and the Labour Government was broken. Certainly that link would have been broken much earlier if I had had my way. I accept that such points may be made, but they are not relevant in 1987—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Hon. Members come to the House and get all worked up and get their knickers in a twist about all the statistics, but pensioners are not worried about them. We sit here arguing and mithering about all those silly statistics, but they have no relevance to the position of pensioners.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he return to what he said about standing charges? I am concerned about the proposal to abolish standing charges, because that would mean spending large sums to help many people who do not need that help. Is it not wiser to spend the money on those who are desperately in need?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Lady is aware that I have a deep respect for her, but I do not believe that her argument is necessarily correct. It is possible to abolish standing charges and pass the cost of that abolition on to the cost of the consumption of the services. If one uses services, one pays for the portion of the services used rather than, as at present, paying for services one does not receive merely because one has a right to use them. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady does not understand, let me explain further. Let us suppose that we abolish the standing charge on electricity. That does not mean that, as a consequence of abolition, the electricity board's income must be met through public funds. Instead, the price of electricity is increased. Therefore, those using electricity pay for what they use and that replaces the present system whcrein pensioners, through the standing charge, pay for electricity that they never use.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I could understand the hon. Gentleman's argument with regard to a telephone because I regard a telephone as a vital link to the outer world for the elderly and frail. I cannot accept that argument with regard to electricity. In my constituency many pensioners have under-floor heating and they would be horrified if they had to pay per unit for the amount of electricity used. The hon. Gentleman is aware that this year electricity prices have remained static in the north-west. If pensioners had to pay a lot more for their electricity they would be in far worse trouble.

Mr. Smith

That is a matter of debate, but one thing is certain. We could increase heating allowances and thereby ensure that those allowances go to those who need them. We could ensure that people pay for the electricity that they use rather than, as at present, paying for electricity that they do not use.

The alliance believe that people have the right to retire at any age between 60 and 70, with a full pension at 65. There should be a graduated pension for people from the age of 60 to 65. However, that type of system can only be introduced over a long period of time.

An increase in pensions will do more to create jobs in Britain than a 2p in the pound reduction in taxes. Pensioners spend their money on goods that produce jobs. The goods that pensioners buy are usually non-imported—that is a statistical fact.

I shall vote for the motion before the House. It is relevant not only to pensions but to other important matters such as community services and hospital beds—that is an acute problem, especially in my constituency. There is also a tremendous need for community care and beds to care for the elderly. The ability to meet that need is sparse. I have never said—I do not now—that the Government have reduced expenditure on the Health Service. That is nonsense. They have spent more on the Health Service. What matters is not whether they spend more but whether the amount is sufficient to meet needs. There are a growing number of pensioners in this country and we need more money to care for them.

Pensioners are in desperate need of sheltered accommodation. I wish to place on record the superb, wonderful job that has been done by housing associations in helping to house the elderly and provide sheltered accomodation. However, there is a great deal more to be done.

The need for community nursing is there for all to see. It is a myth to believe that poverty is the sole problem faced by the aged. There are problems of care and security. I hear pensioners say that they are afraid at night and are frightened to go to bed—I have that problem in my household at the present time. That is a great problem for the elderly. In addition, people are living in conditions that leave a great deal to be desired. Those conditions arise not simply from poverty but from physical handicap, which often comes as a consequence of age, and lack of community care. It is tragic to see that.

There is a great need to look again at our care for the elderly. They are wonderful, lovely people, deserving of help. The Health Service does not cope adequately with the problem. Community care is inadequate. Far more attention needs to be paid to loneliness, and help should he given to overcome it. We need a caring society. I believe that, basically, at heart, we have a caring society. That is why I believe that the vast majority of people, given an honest choice between 2p off income tax and increased aid to pensioners and the Health Service, would vote for the latter. I honestly believe that to be the case.

I repeat that what we need is a new approach, a caring approach backed by Government legislation. The alliance will provide that caring approach.

5.41 pm
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

It has been a most important and encouraging development in our national life that in recent years the principle of care in the community has become so widely accepted and a beacon for social policy. It was a sad and curious feature of our history in the earlier years of this century that that was not the case. Instead, there was an unhappy emphasis, perhaps inherited from the age of the poor law and the workhouse, on segregation and institutionalisation of the elderly and the frail. We can all be deeply glad that in recent years that attitude has given way to a much more open and constructive attitude, when it is far more widely accepted that the elderly are in no sense to be regarded as a problem in society. They are a group within society with distinctive needs, like other groups. We look for practical and constructive ways to help them to meet those needs and make the contribution that they can make as fully fledged members of society for as long as possible. I agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) that we have a caring society, and that is one of its manifestations.

One of the best examples of care in the community in recent years is the very sheltered housing that has been pioneered in Warwickshire, in the Stratford-on-Avon district. It is a model that commands international admiration and is being increasingly emulated. It originated a few years back when the social services committee of Warwickshire county council and the housing committee of Stratford-on-Avon district council together considered what the pattern should be for part III provision for old people's homes. At the same time, they wanted to consider how to improve the existing provision of sheltered housing. They felt that it was much better to take the route of improving sheltered housing, moving forward to new and improved concepts in that area, rather than to retain the old approach of old people's homes.

Two key features of the councils' thinking proved to be creative. One was the recognition that the typical standard of staffing in sheltered housing was not adequate. It was unrealistic and unreasonable to expect a single warden, low-paid, and possibly not provided with accommodation on the site, to take responsibility, on call seven days a week, for perhaps up to 40 residents. One of the reasons why sheltered housing was proving unsatisfactory was that the demands on staff were intolerable.

The second consideration was that the typical standards of design were inadequate. Design standards were set out in circular 69/82, which, I regret to say, is still a current circular, setting standards in important respects. Those standards were inadequate. The councils sought to update and upgrade the standards of sheltered housing. They set about a 10-year programme of building what they termed very sheltered housing. The architectural design would be up to wheelchair standards. There would be no single steps, and the door frames would be wide enough for wheelchairs and for people to pass through with walking frames. The councils also thought imaginatively and sensitively about the residents' need for privacy and for adequate but discreet staffing.

Those standards have been achieved. The key to success in developing the new very sheltered housing complexes and administering them satisfactorily, as has proved possible, was that there was close and willing coordination not only between the housing committee of the district council and the social services committee of the county council, but with the Health Service and the Department of Health and Social Security on the social security side. At local level, the local authorities and the health authority were running ahead of Whitehall thinking. One of their earlier difficulties was to persuade the Department of the Environment and the DHSS in Whitehall to endorse the approach that they wanted to implement.

Anybody who visits the very sheltered housing in south Warwickshire—for example, Melville house in Stratfordon-Avon, Dell court in Henley-in-Arden, Malt Mill lane in Alcester, or one of the other seven purpose-built very sheltered housing complexes—will be not only impressed but moved by the positive and happy atmosphere there. Very sheltered housing meets the wants of elderly people. It becomes immediately clear to anybody who goes there that those elderly people do not feel that they are on the conveyor belt that leads from home to sheltered housing, and then, when sheltered housing becomes too difficult, into an old people's home and eventually into hospital where they will ail and die. That is not the pattern. Very sheltered housing is a place where people go to form a new community and to enjoy an extended lease of active life and where they are fulfilled as individuals.

The principle is applicable as much in the private as in the public sector. While the pioneering was done in the public sector, there is now a fairly rapid development of very sheltered housing in the private sector. There is immense scope for that. There have been major changes, which have to be taken into account in the making of social policy. It is a new and important fact that now 56 per cent. of people approaching retirement are owner-occupiers. They have a substantial capital asset. As my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned, it is also important that we are now witnessing the emergence of families with second, third, or even fourth pensions. Purpose-built very sheltered housing in the private sector, offering flats or bungalows for sale, provides the means for those assets to be mobilised and released into the most relevant, effective application for people's needs as they get older.

I should declare an interest as an unpaid director of Retirement Security, one of the most progressive private enterprise firms providing very sheltered housing. It 'was founded by Mr. Robert Bessell, the former director of social services in Warwickshire, who was anxious to explore the possibilities of extending to the private sector what had been so successfully pioneered in the public sector.

It is cost-effective for the state to work in partnership with the private sector in this area. In this way, the responsibility, which, as a society, we all share, can be discharged at minimum cost to the taxpayer. There is large scope for a legitimate, cost-effective, mutually beneficial partnership between the social security system and private enterprise. Help can be given to residents in private sector very sheltered accommodation if they run into difficulty with mortgage interest payments or rent payments, or over service charges and rates. Help can be given towards heating costs. They can be helped by way of supplementary pensions, housing benefit and other appropriate welfare benefits, in the same way as any other of our citizens are entitled to benefits.

It is important that the authorities scrutinise each very sheltered housing scheme and each individual claimant case by case. Our experience in Warwickshire is that the authorities do so. We have to safeguard against the abuses that might emerge in such a situation, but there is no difficulty with that.

If the state, on this cost-effective basis, could work with the private sector in helping 50 to 60 per cent. of the elderly population—it would take a long time to move to those proportions—the virtue of that would be not only the good care that the 50 to 60 pr cent. would receive, but that the state would then be able to concentrate the lion's share of its resources on helping the 40 per cent. of pensioners who are not well off and the proportion who, sadly. can only be described as poor.

The hon. Member for Rochdale paid tribute to the role of housing associations. That is the third leg. It is excellent that we have the public sector in local authority provision, housing associations and the private sector working together and working also in competition. Each is exploring the possibilities of innovation. Each is trying to develop new standards of best practice. That must be of advantage to society.

I mentioned standards of best practice. Central Government and local authorities have an important role to play in ensuring that standards are adequate, that best practice becomes better known and that what is regarded as the minimum standard is progressively lifted. I offered the reflection that the design standards stipulated in circular 69/82 were less than adequate in today's circumstances. I am glad that the Government, in circular 80/1, for example, lifted the standard that they envisaged for the provision of lifts. It is disgraceful that in private as well as in public sector developments it is possible to find four-storey buildings without lifts. I can think of one conversion of an old workhouse, which is far too much like the old workhouse.

Central and local government have a responsibility to ensure that standards are adequate. I should like to see a system of registration by private developers in this sector, and I should like to see the state undertaking a monitoring responsibility. I am always reluctant to advocate any increase in bureaucracy, but in this case we must recognise that old people are vulnerable. There is an indispensable role for the state in ensuring that their vulnerability is not taken advantage of. Pensioners are vulnerable to unscrupulous developers. I do not suggest that there are large numbers of unscrupulous developers in this sector, but there is a possibility of that. Pensioners are vulnerable to unscrupulous finance houses which sell them annuities on confiscatory terms. Pensioners are vulnerable to muggers. They would be vulnerable to the inflation that the Labour party would unleash again, devastating their savings.

The Government have rightly been praised this afternoon for their achievement in preserving the value of the retirement pension against the retail prices index. It has been a paramount necessity to restrain public expenditure in the interests of controlling inflation. No single aspect of public policy has proved to be more in the interests of our pensioners than bringing inflation down in the manner that we have. It was difficult even to preserve the value of the retirement pension in a period when not only were there important constraints on public expenditure, but the number of retired people in the population was increasing. As a result of the emergency in our public finances that we inherited in 1979, and subsequently during the recession, it was not possible to do more than limit the increase in the retirement pension to the increase in the RPI. We are now in a different period, with different circumstances. The number of people reaching the age of 65 years is stabilising, and the element of all retired people in our population will progressively stabilise. At the same time, the economy is prospering impressively. We have reached a point at which it is reasonable to say that our 9 million pensioners should share in the growing wealth of the nation.

In his opening speech my hon. Friend the Minister quoted Beveridge, who said that it is dangerous to be in any way lavish with old age. Nobody is contemplating the possibility of lavishness for our retirement pensioners, but the time has come when we can increase the real value of the retirement pension. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State will make representations to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking him whether, in his .forthcoming Budget, when it is anticipated that he will have some spare capacity, he will over-index against inflation the allowances that are directly relevant to pensioners. In particular, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will feel able to increase the retirement pension by more than the general level of inflation.

I also ask my hon. and learned Friend to consider whether the RPI is the right measure for retirement pensions. It is a matter of some disappointment to some of us, at a time when the Government have been reconsidering the components of and are rebasing the RP1, that they may not have sufficiently taken this consideration into account. We all know that the components for expenditure of the pensioner commonly do not include items such as mortgages or the expense of running a car, which the generality of the population expects to incur. We would all agree that the retirement pension could reasonably be measured against a special basket of expenses that are more representative of the expenses that pensioners incur. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to give sympathetic consideration to that point.

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

Is my hon. Friend aware, as is the case, that the pensioners' price index gives a less favourable picture for pensioners than the RPI? Pensioners do better with the RPI. That is an important aspect which pensioners should realise.

Mr. Howarth

My request to my hon. and learned Friend was that he would look sympathetically at the point that I mentioned. It is worth further exploration. I know that my hon. and learned Friend would like to find a formula that was of the most benefit to pensioners.

5.58 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

Thankfully, this subject has now been given the serious consideration that it warrants. The problem that the vast majority of elderly people face is simple—they do not receive enough money to live on. All of us, whatever party we belong to, whatever side of the House we sit on, represent pensioners. It was unbelievable to hear some of the comments that were made at the start of the debate. What are the comments of the Members who were making those statements when they visit, as I am sure they do, pensioner organisations in their constituencies? We all do that. I am sure that many pensioners would have been appalled at some of the comments that were made this afternoon.

Already, we have heard that next month, when the Chancellor presents his Budget, there will be a lot of money to be given away. I wonder how many pensioners will benefit from that. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) made the valid point that one of the priorities in the Budget should be realistic increases in retirement pensions. The Minister must know that recent increases of 40p and 80p have been received with disgust by pensioners. It is time that we did something far more constructive for them in the level of pensions that they receive.

The number one priority for pensioners is being able to keep their homes warm, and rightly so. Many of us who have a little time to go before we become pensioners often feel cold. We know what it is like. We know that often pensioners live in housing that lacks modern amenities, and it is essential that they keep their homes warm. The tragedy is that the present heating allowances are inadequate. When we visit pensioners' clubs, this point is made repeatedly to us. Whatever be the existing heating allowance, it is inadequate for the vast majority of pensioners, many of whom, in weather such as that which we have had this winter, have to make a choice between keeping warm and having a properly balanced diet. Both of those are crucial.

The much publicised extra £5 heating allowance was something, but I cannot be more generous about it than that. How many people have benefited from it, and for how many weeks was the benefit paid? I have one of the leaflets being supplied at the local DHSS office, and it looks attractive. It says: Extra help with heating costs when it is very cold … You may be able to get an extra £5 for every very cold week if you get supplementary benefit or housing benefit supplement. However, on an inside page the leaflet sets out the savings requirement, which appals pensioners. Under the heading "Savings", the leaflet says: You can get this help only if at the time of your claim you and your partner or your children have less than £505 in savings between you. That is a scandalous approach when people need adequate heating allowances. Many pensioners have that sum of money for a particular reason, about which we all know. Pensioners want to know that when, as we all will do, they pass on, they will have adequate funds for a decent and dignified burial. We all know how much funerals cost. I beg the Minister and his Department to look again at the restrictions on this allowance, inadequate though it is. For a reasonable funeral and headstone, one is talking about £1,000 and to refuse the heating allowance to those with more than £505 in savings is scandalous. I hope that the Minister will do something about it.

My hon Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made several points that should be mentioned again— for example, that about home help. The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) has disappeared. He made an intervention and read from an obvious handout, but has not returned to the debate. He gave the number of home helps in his area, and if he has got the figure right, he is very lucky. The vast majority of us know that there is an appalling shortage of home helps in our areas.

Recently, I had to contact Age Concern because a lady in her 80s could not get a home help and, as a result, she could not have her weekly pension because there was no one to draw it for her. To its credit, Age Concern was able to help. As other hon. Members have said, many voluntary organisations do wonderful work in our communities. Home helps are vital for the elderly and disabled, and we have a long way to go in the provision of them.

The Minister quoted figure after figure, all of which sounded impressive, but, as the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) said, those figures do not impress pensioners because they have to live with the day-to-day issues. For example, Members of Parliament are for ever fighting battles about hospital closures. In my constituency, and in many other areas, elderly people are being discharged from hospital far too quickly. I can name names of constituents who have been sent home too soon but have been told by the administrator at St. George's hospital, Tooting, that their neighbour or friend should keep an eye on them. It is an indictment of our day and age that elderly people at risk are discharged from hospital long before they should have been, and without the proper back-up services when they need them, possibly more than at any other time.

Another problem is the rundown in the ambulance service. All of us—

Dame Jill Knight

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have read the Order Paper carefully, and it seems to me that we can talk about health matters in the next debate rather than in this one.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to what is on the Order Paper.

Mr. Cox

I note your comment, Mr. Speaker, but, with great respect, I must point out that, while Mr. Deputy Speaker was in the Chair, we discussed these topics, and hon. Members who have spoken before me have made comments similar to mine. Elderly people are concerned not only about the amount of pension that they draw, but about many other issues that concern their standard of living within their community and their home.

We have a long way to go before any of us can be happy about the priority given to pensioners. As hon. Members have said, at the beginning of the debate there was an attempt to confuse the real issue by giving countless statistics. The tragedy for millions of people is that. if they are poor, they do not get adequate pensions to maintain the standard of living to which they are entitled. Until they do, there will be many problems for them to live with. When the Chancellor presents his Budget, whatever give-aways he may have, the greatest credit would come to the Government if the biggest give-away, in the form of realistic pensions, went to the retired people.

6.9 pm

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), reversing the roles at the time of my maiden speech, which was about pensioners. The hon. Gentleman was very kind to me at that time. The House listened with great interest to his speech and I know that he speaks with authority. This time he did not make the same speech as the one that he made eight years ago, but he made it with the same sincerity. I agree with the hon. Gentleman and with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) that the figures bandied about in the House do not mean much to pensioners, but all hon. Members are at fault there and I am glad that in the last couple of speeches we have discussed the real problems that face our pensioners and the priorities of the elderly.

The hon. Member for Tooting said that hon. Members talk to pensioners' associations. One of my regrets is that pensioners' associations in my constituency do not always reflect the real needs of the pensioners. Too many times they get involved in political arguments far beyond the real need and the welfare of their members. Pensioners' associations would be well advised to take that into account in formulating future policies.

Inevitably, we heard the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) squealing about the Government's record. My hon. Friend the Minister of State put the hon. Gentleman right about various figures. Pensioners do not need friends like the hon. Member for Oldham, West and his party— the party that raised inflation to such an extent that pensioners' savings were deeply eroded. It is the party that gave pensioners a Christmas bonus and then had the gall to take it away. Now the Opposition are making false promises which they know in their heart of hearts they cannot fulfil during the lifetime of a Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security was quite right when he said that it may well be that, on the sad day for Britain of a Labour Government being returned, they would implement immediately those promises. However, their record between 1974 and 1979 gives the lie to any promise that they make. It would cost an enormous amount of money and our taxpayers cannot afford it. The Opposition are fuelling false hopes among pensioners. That is cruel and will place pensioners in a desperate situation. My party and the Government take a realistic view about the growing burden on the public sector of pensioners and old people. We must welcome the fact that medical science has seen to it that old people live longer. The average age of the population is rising quite dramatically, and older people deserve and obviously need more expensive services. The burden on the public purse will increase dramatically towards the end of the century. I remind the House of a salient fact. There are more people alive today in the world than have ever died. We must remember that when talking about future pension policies.

I shall confine my remarks to the part of the motion about community care and residential homes. They are important and, as the motion says, an absolute priority for the elderly. My remarks are based on experience of visiting local authority homes in my own area during the eight years or so that I have been a Member of this House and during the previous four years when I was a candidate. Two obvious trends have emerged. First, the number of homes provided by local authorities and, more dramatically, those provided privately has grown.

Secondly—and this is an important point—the nature and character of the people in those homes is such that their increasing frailty has placed an enormous burden on the staff. In parts of my constituency residential homes have become almost nursing homes. The tragedy is that the members of staff who man them so ably are not trained as nurses and do not have the medical expertise to cope with the residents. Consequently, there is enormous strain upon the staff individually and in terms of the number required. Inevitably, there is also an enormous strain on the facilities that are needed. Because of the frailty of the residents, they need increasing and better facilities.

I am pleased to see in his place my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State. He will know that the report of Bedfordshire county council on the social services is still being compiled and has been brought to our attention. I shall quote briefly from that report. It talks about the trend in the condition of residents in these homes. It says: Since 1978 there has been a growing conviction that residents have significantly increased in physical and mental frailty and hence in their dependence on staff for the normal functions of daily life. As I say, that has come about because of the enormous growth in the population of the elderly because people are living longer. Secondly, and rather ironically, it has come about as a result of the increased and improved home care service which means that old people are staying longer in their homes. Of course we all support that, but when finally they have to go into a residential home they are far more frail than was the case in the past. There is a definite message from the staff of these homes that the nature of the residents has changed and the staff is finding it increasingly difficult to cope. I should like to add my tribute to those paid to the staffs of those homes and especially to the staffs of the homes in my constituency. They are doing a magnificent job, sometimes under very difficult conditions.

There is a definite change in the situation and the Bedfordshire report says that the proportion of residents who are virtually independent of need has decreased since 1978 by about 85 per cent and that over the same period those partly dependent on need has decreased by some 77 per cent. Perhaps more significantly it says that the number of people who are now virtually totally dependent on staff has gone up by 75 per cent. That means that the members of staff have to give an enormous amount of time to the residents and in many cases they can ill afford that time. Incontinence, immobility, and the confusion of residents have risen dramatically—to such an extent that many residents need assistance just to get up in the morning and get themselves ready for the day ahead.

I repeat that residential homes have almost become mini hospitals or nursing homes, but they do not have the staff to cope. Various things ought to be done. First, we must all ensure that better use is made of the available resources. I am not necessarily calling for increased resources, because many county council social service departments could spend money better. My county council in Bedfordshire would be far better employed spending money to meet the needs of old people in residential homes than on making Bedfordshire a nuclear free zone or spending money on anti-apartheid campaigns.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West is wrong. It is not an increase in numbers of staff that we need. We must look at the quality of the staff who care for the patients in our residential homes.

We must encourage the private sector. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), who spoke about sheltered accommodation. The private sector has mushroomed and the Government have had to take certain steps to ensure that the private homes are adequately and properly supervised and adequately funded.

I am glad to see in her place my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight). I am reminded of the story that she told some years ago in a national newspaper about two patients in a residential home. One of them paid the full amount of £120 or £130 because she had saved throughout her life and had money in the bank. The other patient was her greatest friend, and her husband had messed about, spent all his money and died and left his widow penniless. Both those patients enjoyed exactly the same facilities. I think that the hon. Member for Rochdale raised this matter when he talked about a penalty on thrift. We have got to get this right. There is something wrong somewhere if those who have saved during their lives—that we want to encourage—are now penalised because they have money in the bank.

We must encourage the idea that elderly people must be able to be kept at home in comfort. Some form of tax assistance must be given to those who are willing to keep them. It is an enormous burden on a family for an old person to stay within that family. As much as the family might like to keep the old person with them, in some cases it becomes impossible. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give a little more assistance by some form of tax concession to those who are willing to keep their old people with them. That would encourage people to do so.

I applaud the new moves by my own local borough council which is trying to turn one of our tower blocks into a block for old people. Right hon. and hon. Members know of the great difficulties we all have with tower blocks, especially Members such as the hon. Member for Tooting. Luton borough council is now trying to encourage pensioners to move into one of our tower blocks so that it can be used specifically for old people, with the necessary security and warden control. That sort of policy needs to be encouraged.

Old people require very little. They want to retain their independence, and we must respect that. Many of them want to stay at home, and, again, that must be respected. They want to retain their dignity. They do not want to receive bribes or free handouts which they feel that they might get as special, privileged members of society. They would rather stand on their own feet. Above all, they want comfort and security, and part of that security comes from low inflation so that they are encouraged to save, their savings are not eroded and, as the hon. Member for Tooting said, so that they can save for their funeral expenses, which is often a great priority in their financial independence.

I believe that the Government, by their policy and by the fact that we have retained and increased the pension well above the rate of inflation, thus increasing spending power, have treated pensioners extremely well. I believe, hope and know that they will give us a vote of confidence when the day comes. We deserve it, and they deserve our support.

6.22 pm
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

One of the tests of any civilised society must be the extent to which the needs and aspirations of its elderly are looked after. By that standard the record of the Government is lamentable. I do not believe that they are meeting any of their basic obligations to elderly people.

In my constituency there are more than 8,000 pensioners, many of whom have nothing which in any way approaches a decent standard of life. I was going to try to deal with some of the technicalities of the statistics quoted earlier but time does not pemit that. However, it is sufficient to say that many of the pensioners in my constituency do not have much in the way of savings, nor have they been fortunate enough to receive the benefit of an occupational pension scheme. They do not perceive themselves to be well off at all. In fact, they perceive themselves, in relative terms, to have a declining standard of life.

The supply of suitable housing for elderly people has been raised by several hon. Members on both sides of the House. Again, I was going to deal with some of the statistics in my own borough and mention how the provisions, certainly in terms of capital resources through the Housing Corporation and the housing investment programme allocations, do not meet the needs identified by the local authority. Perhaps I can mention one good example of a scheme that is dealing adequately with the aspirations of a particular group of pensioners and that might be a model way of providing housing for many groups of pensioners in the future.

The Huyton Community Co-operative for the Elderly is a body that I played a small part in setting up. It is not in my constituency; it is in the neighbouring constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes). That co-operative has a two-phase programme. The first is providing 24 units of accommodation for elderly people at a total scheme cost of £750,000 and the second envisages building 35 bungalows. Those two phases are funded through the Housing Corporation and will meet the needs of the tenant-co-operators.

If anyone ever visits these schemes once they are completed, in many respects they probably will not look dissimilar from other straightforward housing association schemes. What is important is that the elderly people who are going to live there, who were nominated by the local authority, will, for the most part, have been involved in the scheme before the design was completed. They would have been involved with architects in drawing up the design for the scheme. That seems to be an eminently sensible way of providing housing for the elderly. For all we in this House and elsewhere may sympathise and feel strongly about issues affecting the elderly, it is they who know the difficulties they face in their everyday lives and it is they who know what design features would help to overcome them.

I now want to raise the issue of how elderly people are consulted and listened to about the things which affect their lives. Much as I accept entirely the manifesto laid out by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), I believe that the involvement and representation of elderly people by elderly people has to be a significant part of any future programmes, whether we are talking about housing, pensions, health or whatever. I pay tribute to the National Pensioners' Convention, led by Jack Jones who is the president of that excellent body. He is the former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union— [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but it Is important that people like Jack Jones with organisational skills should put those skills to work on behalf of other elderly people when they retire. That would certainly apply just as well to retired company executives.

It is crucial that pensioners are represented not just in this place and on local authorities, but in their own organisations which are manned and led by their own people. Once those organisations, whether locally, regionally or nationally, are in place it would be difficult, with the growing proportion of the population which is elderly, for any Government ever again to get away with the appallingly bad way in which this Government have treated the elderly.

6.27 pm
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

In the true debating sense which does not always obtain in the House, I rise to respond to a speech made by my hon. Friend—I am not making a mistake when I say that— the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). Let us acknowledge that we all care about elderly people, and no one in the House wants to see poor old people who cannot feed, warm or house themselves properly. Let us instead, therefore, address ourselves to the difficulties, because the difficulties are very real.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale said that he wanted to abolish standing charges for gas and electricity to help elderly people. Many people believe that the cost starts only when one turns on the tap. In fact, that is not so, because it costs money to make power or water available to one's house. Therefore, someone has to pay that money. When, after the hon. Member for Rochdale had said that the alliance's intention would be to cancel standing charges, I suggested that that would help everyone indiscriminately, whether they were wealthy or poor, he manfully faced the question and explained that he realised that it would cost a lot of money but that the money would be gained by increasing the cost of electricity. I want the House to know that the gas and electricity undertakings looked into that possibility and found that using a low amount did not necessarily mean a person was poor, because, for instance, many people with two homes, such as some of the holiday homes in Wales, use very little electricity, and they would benefit from that scheme. We all want to help pensioners and we must address ourselves to these real difficulties.

Many people will agree with my hon. Friend that it would be much better to increase pensions than to take 2p off income tax, and to that extent I agree with him. However, it would be better still to take more pensioners out of the tax bracket altogether because many people on pensions are paying income tax. That is what I should like to address myself to.

My final point is about penalising thrift. People used to save money for a rainy day, but they do not save it any more because the Government provide the umbrella. It cannot be right that the Government should pay for items with taxpayers' money— many taxpayers are poorer than the recipients—when the recipients themselves have enough money in the bank to pay for those items. I do not find it easy to meet that third difficulty either.

If only we would address ourselves across the House to solving those genuine problems, we could get somewhere.

6.30 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

1987 is a year for elderly people in Wales as it is the 40th anniversary of Age Concern Wales. Obviously, it is an appropriate time for this debate.

Demographic factors are ensuring that the position of pensioners will be a dominant political issue for the next decade. Between 1981 and 1996 there will be a 28 per cent. increase in the number of people over the age of 75. Between 1983 and 2001 there is a forecast increase of 73 per cent. in those over 85 on an all-Wales level. In my county of Gwynedd the number of those aged over 80 will increase from the 1985 figure of 8,782 to the 1996 projection of 11,117. Those are real people who will need real care. That is why we need to pay attention in this debate to our spending priorities for both pensions and the services that are important to those people.

As pensioners live longer beyond retiring age, their capital expenditure items, such as clothing, washing machines and painting the house, often become an increased cyclical burden. Pensioners must face them perhaps two or three times after they retire, which becomes a real burden because their savings are eroded as they grow older. That is a burden particularly for single household pensioners. In Wales 27.7 per cent. of all pensioners live in single households and in my constituency the figure is 33 per cent. That shows the extent of the burden. There is a need to increase the resources available and, in particular, to give an extra differential to those in single households to meet those costs. There is also a need for a review of the benefits available.

I should like to draw to the attention of the Minister the mobility allowance for those over 75— we should not write them off and say that they have no right to mobility—and the death grant. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have drawn attention to the anxiety of many people about having enough money to pay for their funeral. As we all die, the state could bear a reasonable proportion of the cost of that.

The motion refers to services. Home helps and nursing services certainly need to be further developed to enable elderly people to remain in the community. Perhaps we need a new hybrid person who is a mixture between a home help and a home nurse to focus the attention and help that is needed. We also need more multi-disciplinary teams playing a crucial role where old people live. Perhaps there should be one such team for every general practioner area.

More thought is needed in constructing bungalows, sheltered housing and service flats about the needs of elderly people as demographic features change. We also need to look carefully at the joint planning and joint funding approach. Gwynedd area health authority recently told me: The majority of frail elderly persons and their carers require support from both statutory agencies but the separateness of their organisational and management systems together with major differences in the priority and funding of services leads to a totally disjointed provision at the 'sharp end'. We should take that message home.

I agree with the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) that we should listen to what elderly people have to say. At the last annual general meeting of Wales pensioners, 10 points were drawn up as a charter. I shall summarise them in headings. They are the substantial increase in the value of pensions; the abolition of standing charges; the linking of pensions with average earnings and the retail prices index; the amendment of the Social Security Act 1986, which is worrying many pensioners; improved health care facilities, which we shall debate later; local hospitals, which we shall debate later; the need to establish effective pensioner lobbies so that their voice is heard and people speak on their behalf; a retirement age of 60 for men and women; the cost of funerals to be borne to a greater extent by the public purse; and an end to discrimination against pensioners. Those 10 points made by pensioners should commend themselves to the House.

6.35 pm
Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) for the brevity of his remarks, which enables me to contribute to the debate. I am frequently tail-end Charlie on these occasions.

The House should pay tribute to the courage of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I took part in the debate on cold weather payments. The hon. Gentleman received such a mauling on that occasion, and has done so again this afternoon, by my hon. Friend the Minister and hon. Members that, if nothing else, one must recognise the courage of the man for coming to the Dispatch Box, albeit with inaccurate information.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) rightly said that pensioners do not want to hear about statistics, but want to live in the real world. But the fact remains, "by their deeds ye shall know them." During the time in office of the Labour Government, who were propped up by the Liberal party and the hon. Gentleman, who begged us to forget about the record of that Government, I was in local government and pensioners had their savings base eroded. They need to be reminded of the past. They cannot be allowed to forget it because there is nothing to stop the past returning. That is the lesson of history. If we return to a high-spending economy without earning it, pensioners will again lose their savings base.

The Minister reminded us, and it is as well to say it again and again to our pensioners, that after allowing for taxation and inflation between 1974 and 1979 when the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was a member of the Labour Government—yesterday he made this point to the Prime Minister and was subsequently corrected—pensioner incomes grew by 0.6 per cent. Under this Government that record is four and a half times better. Our achievement cannot be forgotten and pensioners must be constantly reminded of it.

The average net income of pensioners has increased from £68.50 in 1974 to £83.10 under this Government. That is twice the growth in income of the population as a whole. No hon. Member, certainly no Conservative Member, says to pensioners, "You have it easy and it is all coming your way" because we know that that is not the case. Pensioners want and deserve more.

As a young Conservative on an exchange to Austria I was struck by the respect extended by our continental cousins to the elderly parents of the household. They were regarded as the senior members of the household and were not shunted to one side. That made me think that we had a lot to learn from that society. Pensioners receive their dignity, not by relying heavily on the state, but by independence. That is why it was important for many elderly people to receive a second chance to buy their council home and to have the dignity of owning property. Those who experienced the war years when they were young did not have the means to buy their home, but they have subsequently been given that opportunity, which is important.

The service provided in private homes for the elderly is excellent and no more so than in my constituency. The homes that operate on a proper basis and have registered nurses providing proper care have audited accounts. It would be a big help if the DHSS paid those homes by cheque so that there was no longer an incentive for some of the less scrupulous operators to employ people on a black economy basis and to provide a less reputable service as a result. It is equally important that the planning constraints imposed by the Department of the Environment should he relaxed to allow for the building of more private developments for the elderly. Such developments, especially the recent one in my constituency called Carline Fields by Mercian Holdings, are popular. The one in my constituency is an excellent development for the elderly.

The debate has given us many issues to ponder. Although we accept that not everything is rosy, we cannot forget the past. If ever the spendthrift policies of the alliance and the Labour party are implemented, the problems of the past will return.

6.40 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

The elderly are a growing proportion of the population. It is expected that in 1991 more than 3 million people will be over 75 and that the number of those over 85 will increase from about 400,000 to 600,000. Those people are entitled to independence and dignity. Little respect was shown for either their independence or their dignity by the behaviour of some Conservative Members at the start of the debate. Frankly, it was disgraceful.

Retirement should, for the majority, be a time of opportunity. I welcome the campaign run by Age Concern called "Celebrating Age." It seems to select and to catch the right note. It is certainly a better note than the one that the Prime Minister struck when she spoke of the "burden" that the elderly represent on the working population. The Age Concern campaign draws attention to the resources that the elderly represent and reminds us that they are more likely than those in any other age group to be engaged in voluntary work. If the elderly are to have opportunities and are to be able to exercise them to the full, they need assistance and support.

There are a number of worrying tendencies in the development of policy under this Government. One has been the increased reliance explicitly on charitable care. Cuts in statutory provision have been accompanied by the encouragement and switch of financial support to the voluntary sector, although, as is the pattern with this Government, having cut financial support to the statutory sector, they follow it by cutting support to the voluntary sector. There has certainly been a switch of direction.

The EEC scheme for distributing food from the food mountains, with its direct use of charities, has used the avenue which the Government must surely understand is the most unfortunate one for that generation which rejects needing to apply for help as a basis for charity. A scheme which provides for charitable payment may be the type of scheme that replaces the present severe weather payments scheme. We know that such a replacement scheme will have to be brought in over the next few months because the existing one will disappear in April next year.

It is ironic that the present scheme debars those who have made savings from receiving any assistance with their fuel bills. A number of hon. Members have mentioned that. It is ironic, especially as the Government make such a point in their amendment about the value of pensioners' savings. Savings over a particular level debar people from receiving severe weather payments, as from receiving single payments for draught-proofing and from getting help with, for example, transfer from institutional to community care. In so far as the Government have taken the trouble to outline their proposals for the future, they see such help as may be available as more a charity than a right in the sense that the payments will be available only when DHSS staff decide those who have proven need. But the DHSS will not have the funds to help all those whose need is proven.

Social fund grants or loans for the elderly for transfer into the community will be available only after consideration has been given to whether the patient has saved money out of the benefit paid to him while in the institution and whether relatives, charities or other agencies could give assistance and, if so, how much.

Presumably, severe weather payments— if they are paid at all—will be on the same basis. It is instructive to consider the likely cost of an adequate scheme—not the one that the Government have or are likely to introduce—such as the winter premium which we propose. We calculate that it will cost about £150 million. The Government have implied on a number of occasions that the money for such a scheme cannot be found. Of course, it could have been found even this year had the Government been prepared to divert the £164 million that they spent on marketing the sale of British Gas.

For more than a year, the Government have been promising to tell us what they intend to do about single payments for draught-proofing, which are due to disappear as well. The programme of energy conservation, which most hon. Members should welcome as being beneficial to pensioners and of benefit to public expenditure, is under threat because of cuts in the Manpower Services Commission's budget for the community programme. Ten thousand places have been lost and 35 planned schemes of draught-proofing are under threat. I suppose that that is at least consistent—short sighted, improvident, but at least consistent—with the fact that the Department of the Environment is cutting its scheme for insulation grants.

The Minister spoke enthusiastically about the Government's record. We shall have to read Hansard carefully to examine his statistics, since they bear out the experience of neither most pensioners nor most hon. Members—a fact that was clearly evident even in the speeches of Conservative Members.

Mr. Maclean


Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way.

The figures that the Minister cited managed to steer clear of the record on, for example, housing benefit cuts, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) referred. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been cut from that scheme, mostly to the disadvantage of pensioners and especially those on occupational pensions, which the Minister commended to the House.

The Minister implied that pensions not only were rising but would go on rising, as would the general income of pensioners. That was extraordinary. Indeed, I think that it comes into the category of misleading the House. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government's policy is to lower pensioners' expectations and ultimately to lower their pensions. The Government have made no secret of that.

Mr. Major

indicated dissent.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is clearly misinformed. It is explicitly the Government's policy to lower pensioners' expectations.

Mr. Maclean


Mrs. Beckett

The Secretary of State has made that clear. The hon. Gentleman was not present to hear what was said so perhaps he is not aware of that fact. The Government have cut the state earnings-relrated pension scheme and occupational pension schemes. They have reduced pensioners' likely expectations, whatever the quarter from which they draw their pension. The Minister had the nerve to boast of the increased pensions that people will draw from either the state earnings-related pension scheme or the occupational pension schemes. He knows perfectly well that in the Social Security Act 1986 the Government reduced the likely increases in those pensions.

Attention has been drawn to the level of cuts. It is the Government Actuary's prediction, not ours— the Government have never questioned or contradicted it—that the fall in the basic pension and in the earnings-related pension will be so severe under the policies introduced last year by the Government that the total pension from both sources will fall below the level of the basic state pension alone. Against that background, it is extraordinary that the Minister should have boasted about the fact that people now do not have to live just on the basic state pension, because many are receiving pension supplements. We welcome those supplements, but the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Government's policy will mean that pensioners will not even get their present pension levels.

The Minister skated over other aspects of the Government's policy— for example, the way in which heating allowances were abated for the first time ever by the available scale margin and the way in which the amount that the Government have been prepared to pay in heating allowances makes up for about a fifth of the sum that pensioners have lost because of the break in the link between pensions and earnings. The Minister skated over the way in which the costs that pensioners have to meet have increased because of the taxes that the Government have imposed on fuel.

The Government's policy— if hon. Members doubt this, I recommend that they read what happened in Committee on the Social Security Act, 1986—is, as the Secretary of State has stated repeatedly, to reduce the expectations of pensioners. The Government have already reduced their prospects by cutting all elements of pensioners' income, by their toleration of high levels of unemployment, which in themselves are bound to reduce future pension entitlements, and by their pressure, especially on the low paid, for people to take still lower wages, out of which people cannot possibly save towards their retirement. Under this Government, celebrating age will become more and more difficult for the majority of elderly people. We require different policies and a different Government.

6.49 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Lyell)

There is just one matter of common ground in this debate and that is that pensioners deserve a good standard of living in retirement. The issue is how to provide that good standard of living, how it has been provided in the past and how it should be provided in future. The Opposition have sought to criticise our record and they boast of their priorities. The fact is, they fail on both counts.

This debate has highlighted in stark terms the difference between the empty hopes and unfulfilled promises of state Socialism and the present Government's real achievements for pensioners over the past eight years based on sound economic policies and the control of inflation. One central truth illuminates the difference between the two systems. That truth is that living standards for pensioners have risen under this Government by more than 18 per cent. in real terms. They have risen twice as fast for pensioners as for the population as a whole and they have risen more than four times as fast as the pitiful rate achieved by the previous Labour Government. Indeed, even to say that tends to exaggerate Labour's achievements.

The Labour Government made one big election promise between the two elections in 1974—to increase the single person's pension to just £10 in their first Budget. The Labour Government fulfilled that promise at the expense of the taxpayer and forthcoming inflation. The next five years brought little but a succession of unfulfilled hopes, broken promises, unpaid Christmas bonuses and the sad sight for pensioners of their savings of a lifetime being crippled by inflation.

Mr. George Howarth

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lyell

My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled has described the sorry catalogue. Pensions were to be uprated by the higher of earnings or prices increases. The Labour Government failed to do that in 1976, depriving pensioners of no less than £1.2 billion which the Labour Government simply could not afford to pay. The Labour Government twice failed to pay the Christmas bonus—in 1975 and 1976. For every year that Labour were in office, the value of pensioners' income from savings declined by 3.4 per cent. in real terms because runaway inflation had overwhelmed interest rates and pensioners had to live on their capital.

I want to emphasise one point. We may think that not many pensioners had savings. However, 71 per cent. of pensioners have incomes from savings. That 71 per cent. saw their income and that capital decimated by the Labour Government. In November 1978 the forecast increase in pensions once again fell short of the Labour Government's statutory obligation by 2 per cent. It was left to this Government to honour that commitment which Labour could not reach and which they were irresponsible to have given.

By contrast, under this Government, pensioners' incomes have steadily improved by an average of 2.7 per cent. a year. I notice that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) is in his place and he claimed that percentages can be confusing. I understand that. However, if we consider the matter in cash figures, and I give those cash figures in 1985 prices, things become clearer. Under the previous Labour Government, the average income for pensioners at 1985 prices managed to creep up over the whole of the Labour Government's period in office by a mere £2.10. During the period of this Government, simply from 1979 to 1985, pensioners' incomes rose by nearly six times that amount, by £12.50 a week, which is more than £600 a year. That is total net income and money in the pocket. That shows the real improvement that has been achieved by this Government.

The title of this debate is "Priorities for the Elderly". I want to say a few words about priorities because Opposition Members and others should be very clear on this point. Whether by design or incompetence—and I prefer to believe it is the latter, although I am not quite sure—the priorities of the leaders of the Labour party do not seem to be to help the poor. As we have explained many times, the poor pensioner will gain little or nothing from the promised £5 increase for single pensioners and the promised £8 rise for married couples, since it will almost all—and in many cases all—be clawed back by the means test. That is what the Labour party proposes. Despite being challenged time and again, neither the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) nor the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has responded. They must know, even if they did not realise it when they made their promises, that unless they make corresponding increases for those on supplementary benefit, for widows, and the long-term sick and disabled, those groups will benefit little, if at all, from the increases. If those increases are made, the cost will be not £3.6 billion—which is all that the Labour party will have available, and I doubt whether it will have even that—but £5.6 billion.

The message from the Opposition is, "The poorer you are, the less you will benefit." What a reversal of priorities. It is precisely because of the empty nature of those promises that pensioners would be wise to learn the lessons of history.

This became a thoughtful debate when my hon Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) made some excellent points. Those tied in with the points made by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). I agree with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for outon, North about the importance of sheltered housing. Sheltered housing has been a priority under this Government and will continue to be so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon asked about the possibility of considering a different index. Certainly we will consider that point. However, it is interesting to note that the RPI is a great deal better for pensioners than the pensioners' price index. Over the period of this Government leading up to the last uprating, if we had uprated by the pensioners index as against the RPI, pensioners would have been £2.70 a week less well off. That is an important point to remember.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred once again to the 40p and 80p. That must be seen in the context of the fact that we are changing the system so that pensioners no longer have to wait so long for their increases. There have been small increases as a result of lower inflation. However, if we examine a 16-month period, the figures are £3.70 for a single person and £5.95 for a couple. That is a significant help.

I want to emphasise two comparisons. The first is the comparison of pensioners' income relative to that of the rest of society in this country, and the other is a comparison with Europe. It should be remembered that., because of the growth in occupational pensions, including SERPS, which we are paying on exactly the same basis until the end of the century, and because of the tremendous turn round in pensioners' incomes for savings, covering more than two thirds and approaching nearly three quarters of pensioners, pensioners' incomes have improved twice as fast as incomes for the population as a whole. Furthermore, under this Government, pensioners have moved out of the lowest 20 per cent. of earners to a significant extent. However, when the Labour party left office, 38 per cent. of pensioners were in the bottom one fifth of income earners. We have lowered that figure to 25 per cent. There has been a steady improvement for pensioners in the average earning levels across the board.

Sometimes comparisons are made with Europe. I emphasise that, taking the position as a whole, as the motion enjoins us to do, including total support for elderly people and the services that they receive in the form of personal social services and residential and nursing home care, Britain is the third highest provider in Europe.

The facts disclosed in the debate should be a crushing blow for the confidence of the Opposition, and a heartening boost to the confidence of pensioners. The motion is ignorant and misleading. Our amendment shows the right way, and I commend it to the House.

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

The House divided: Ayes 199, Noes 273.

Division No. 101] [7.0 pm
Abse, Leo Eadie, Alex
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Eastham, Ken
Anderson, Donald Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fatchett, Derek
Ashdown, Paddy Faulds, Andrew
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Flannery, Martin
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Barron, Kevin Forrester, John
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Foster, Derek
Beith, A. J. Foulkes, George
Bell, Stuart Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Freud, Clement
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) George, Bruce
Bidwell, Sydney Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Blair, Anthony Godman, Dr Norman
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Golding, Mrs Llin
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Gould, Bryan
Boyes, Roland Gourlay, Harry
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Hancock, Michael
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Hardy, Peter
Bruce, Malcolm Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Buchan, Norman Haynes, Frank
Caborn, Richard Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Heffer, Eric S.
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Campbell, Ian Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Home Robertson, John
Canavan, Dennis Howarth, George (Knowsley, N)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Howells, Geraint
Cartwright, John Hoyle, Douglas
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clarke, Thomas Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Clay, Robert Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Clelland, David Gordon Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Janner, Hon Greville
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Cohen, Harry John, Brynmor
Coleman, Donald Johnston, Sir Russell
Conlan, Bernard Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Kirkwood, Archy
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Lambie, David
Corbett, Robin Lamond, James
Corbyn, Jeremy Leadbitter, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Leighton, Ronald
Craigen, J. M. Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Crowther, Stan Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Litherland, Robert
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Deakins, Eric Loyden, Edward
Dewar, Donald McCartney, Hugh
Dixon, Donald McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Dobson, Frank McGuire, Michael
Dormand, Jack MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dubs, Alfred McTaggart, Robert
Duffy, A. E. P. Madden, Max
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Marek, Dr John
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sedgemore, Brian
Martin, Michael Sheerman, Barry
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Maxton, John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Maynard, Miss Joan Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Meacher, Michael Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Meadowcroft, Michael Skinner, Dennis
Michie, William Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Mikardo, Ian Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Milian, Rt Hon Bruce Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Soley, Clive
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Spearing, Nigel
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Steel, Rt Hon David
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Nellist, David Stott, Roger
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Straw, Jack
O'Brien, William Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
O'Neill, Martin Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Parry, Robert Tinn, James
Patchett, Terry Torney, Tom
Pavitt, Laurie Wainwright, R.
Pendry, Tom Wallace, James
Pike, Peter Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Wareing, Robert
Prescott, John Weetch, Ken
Radice, Giles Welsh, Michael
Randall, Stuart White, James
Raynsford, Nick Wigley, Dafydd
Redmond, Martin Williams, Rt Hon A.
Richardson, Ms Jo Wilson, Gordon
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Winnick, David
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Woodall, Alec
Robertson, George Wrigglesworth, Ian
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, J. W. Tellers for the Ayes:
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W) Mr. Allen McKay and
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Mr. John McWilliam.
Rowlands, Ted
Adley, Robert Bruinvels, Peter
Aitken, Jonathan Bryan, Sir Paul
Amess, David Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Ancram, Michael Buck, Sir Antony
Ashby, David Budgen, Nick
Aspinwall, Jack Bulmer, Esmond
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Burt, Alistair
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Butterfill, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Baldry, Tony Carttiss, Michael
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Batiste, Spencer Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Chapman, Sydney
Bellingham, Henry Chope, Christopher
Bendall, Vivian Churchill, W. S.
Benyon, William Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Best, Keith Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bevan, David Gilroy Colvin, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Conway, Derek
Blackburn, John Coombs, Simon
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Cope, John
Body, Sir Richard Cormack, Patrick
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Corrie, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Couchman, James
Bottomley, Peter Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Dicks, Terry
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Dorrell, Stephen
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Dover, Den
Brandon-Bravo, Martin du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Bright, Graham Dunn, Robert
Brinton, Tim Durant, Tony
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Dykes, Hugh
Brooke, Hon Peter Eggar, Tim
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Evennett, David
Browne, John Eyre, Sir Reginald
Fallon, Michael Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Farr, Sir John Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Hunter, Andrew
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Fookes, Miss Janet Irving, Charles
Forman, Nigel Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Forth, Eric Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Fox, Sir Marcus Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Franks, Cecil Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Freeman, Roger Key, Robert
Fry, Peter King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Gale, Roger King, Rt Hon Tom
Galley, Roy Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Knowles, Michael
Garel-Jones, Tristan Knox, David
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Glyn, Dr Alan Lang, Ian
Goodhart, Sir Philip Latham, Michael
Goodlad, Alastair Lawler, Geoffrey
Gorst, John Lawrence, Ivan
Gow, Ian Lee, John (Pendle)
Gower, Sir Raymond Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Grant, Sir Anthony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Greenway, Harry Lester, Jim
Gregory, Conal Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Lightbown, David
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Lilley, Peter
Ground, Patrick Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Lord, Michael
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Lyell, Nicholas
Hampson, Dr Keith McCurley, Mrs Anna
Hanley, Jeremy Macfarlane, Neil
Hannam. John MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Hargreaves, Kenneth MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Harvey, Robert MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Haselhurst, Alan Maclean, David John
Hawkins. C. (High Peak) McLoughlin, Patrick
Hawksley, Warren McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Hayward, Robert McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Madel, David
Heddle, John Major, John
Henderson, Barry Malins, Humfrey
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Maples, John
Hickmet, Richard Marland, Paul
Hicks, Robert Marlow, Antony
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Hill, James Mates, Michael
Hind, Kenneth Mather, Sir Carol
Hirst, Michael Maude, Hon Francis
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Holt, Richard Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Hordern, Sir Peter Merchant, Piers
Howard, Michael Meyer, Sir Anthony
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Miscampbell, Norman
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Moate, Roger
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Monro, Sir Hector
Mudd, David Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Murphy, Christopher Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Neale, Gerrard Soames, Hon Nicholas
Needham, Richard Speed, Keith
Nelson, Anthony Speller, Tony
Newton, Tony Squire, Robin
Nicholls, Patrick Steen, Anthony
Onslow, Cranley Stern, Michael
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Ottaway, Richard Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Temple-Morris, Peter
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Geoffrey Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Pawsey, James Thornton, Malcolm
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Thurnham, Peter
Pollock, Alexander Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Portillo, Michael Trotter, Neville
Powell, William (Corby) Twinn, Dr Ian
Powley, John Waddington, Rt Hon David
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Price, Sir David Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Proctor, K. Harvey Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Raffan, Keith Waller, Gary
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Walters, Dennis
Rathbone, Tim Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Rhodes James, Robert Wheeler, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Whitfield, John
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Wiggin, Jerry
Roe, Mrs Marion Winterton, Nicholas
Rowe, Andrew Wood, Timothy
Ryder, Richard Yeo, Tim
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Young, Sir George (Acton)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Tellers for the Noes:
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Mr. Michael Neubert and
Silvester, Fred Mr. Gerald Malone.
Sims, Roger

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put .forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

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

Resolved, That this House believes that pensioners deserve a good standard of living in retirement. whether their incomes come from state benefits, occupational pensions or savings, notes with approval that the Government's economic policies have reversed the previous sharp decline in the value of pensioners' savings; welcomes the higher level of expenditure on benefits for elderly people even after taking account of provision for one million additional pensioners since 1978; and congratulates the Government on its success in improving pensioners' living standards in both absolute and relative terms.