HC Deb 27 April 1998 vol 311 cc17-8
16. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

If she will calculate the impact of the measures contained in the Budget relating to VAT on fuel, and the consequent adjustments in benefits including the state pension, on the weekly income of a typical old-age pensioner not in receipt of income support. [38495]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. John Denham)

One of the first actions of the Government was to implement our manifesto promise to cut the rate of VAT on fuel, an issue which has been of particular concern to pensioners. As a result, on average, a typical single pensioner receiving the basic state pension will be 20p a week and a couple 25p a week better off.

Mr. Heath

Is not the import of what the Under-Secretary has just told us that the actual benefit for the average old-age pensioner of this much-fanfared measure is paltry? Is it any wonder that many people are saying that, whatever other merits this year's Budget may have had, it was not a Budget for the old-age pensioner?

Mr. Denham

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Conservatives in government attempted to establish VAT on fuel at 17.5 per cent. We carried out that manifesto commitment, but, in addition to carrying it out, we introduced winter fuel payments, at a cost of about £200 million this winter, and the same again next winter. Those were significant commitments to today's pensioners.

We have a wide-ranging pensions review, looking ahead at ways in which problems facing today's pensioners can be tackled in future, but I do not believe that anyone can fairly say that, in the months in which we have been in power, the Government have not done significantly more for pensioners than the previous Administration did.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What estimate has the hon. Gentleman made of the effect on the lives of old-age pensioners who do not receive income support, and who live in rural areas, of the Chancellor's decision to increase excise duty on petrol in the Budget?

Mr. Denham

The issues of transport will be addressed in the forthcoming transport White Paper. As I have said, we have taken action—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has already asked a question. He should let the Minister answer.

Mr. Denham

The Conservative party has already forgotten its determination to make pensioners pay VAT on domestic fuel at 17.5 per cent., and no amount of trying to side with those in rural areas will divert pensioners' attention from that fact. The issue of rural transport will be addressed in the forthcoming transport White Paper.