HC Deb 19 June 1995 vol 262 cc5-7
5. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent representations he has received over the state pension. [27604]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. James Arbuthnot)

Since the beginning of this year, Ministers have received a number of pieces of correspondence from organisations, Members of Parliament and members of the public, covering all aspects of policy on the state pension.

Mr. Winnick

I am not sure what the Minister means by "pieces of correspondence", if I heard the phrase correctly. Is he aware that the National Pensioners Convention, which represents many organisations for retired people, was deeply disappointed by the response that it received from Ministers, including him? Is he further aware that millions of pensioners who are living in or near poverty believe, with justification, that they have been swindled by the Government during the past 16 years? They could not care less who leads the Government; they want decent policies for pensioners, and they have every right to demand them.

Mr. Arbuthnot

Under the Conservative Government, pensioners' incomes have increased almost as much every year as they did during the entire period of the previous Labour Government. I met representatives of the National Pensioners Convention in August last year. We had a constructive and helpful meeting, and I was left with no sense that they had the reaction that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Is not the whole point of the state pension that it is the foundation stone on which people provide for their old age? Is it not a fact that, under the Conservative Government, most people do not have to rely on the state pension as their sole income because more than 20 million people are now members of occupational pension schemes and can look forward to a far better old age than would have been provided by the Government supported by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)?

Mr. Arbuthnot

My hon. Friend is right. He has concentrated on people at the upper end of the income range. They are important, but it is also interesting to note that the proportion of pensioners in the bottom decile has fallen dramatically under this Government. In 1979, 31 per cent. of pensioners were in the bottom decile; now, 9 per cent. of them are in the bottom decile after housing costs—an important improvement.

Mr. Ingram

Does the Minister agree with the assessment made in December 1993 by the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), that the value of a state pension scheme under current Government policy would be worth a nugatory amount in the coming century? Coupled with the massive reduction announced by the Government in state earnings-related pension scheme entitlement, does that not show that the Government are prepared to increase pensioner poverty, in addition to the 1.5 million pensioners who already receive income support?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I am a little surprised at the hon. Gentleman. First, my right hon. Friend did not say that. Secondly, our policy is to ensure that the state retirement pension remains the bedrock of pensioners' incomes and that it will be increased in terms of prices year by year. If the state retirement pension becomes a smaller proportion of pensioners' incomes, it is because, under the prosperity introduced by the Government, their other income is growing so fast. That is why pensioners' incomes have gone up by more than those of the rest of the country as a group.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating John Cuckney on the award given to him in the recent honours list? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a suitable reward for the man who rescued the Maxwell pension fund? Does he also agree that pensions in this country are better funded for the next century than are those anywhere in the continent of Europe, due to the importance of our occupational pension schemes?

Mr. Arbuthnot

My hon. Friend is right. I and, I am sure, the entire House would wish to pay particular tribute to Sir John, now Lord, Cuckney for his amazing achievement in making secure the future of Maxwell pensioners. I should like to put on record my gratitude, and that of the entire House, to Lord Cuckney.