HC Deb 27 April 1998 vol 311 cc13-4
10. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

When she last met representatives of the National Association of Pension Funds to discuss the Government's proposals for pensions. [38488]

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

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have met representatives of the National Association of Pension Funds on a number of occasions since the pensions review was launched last July, most recently at the annual council dinner on 11 February.

Mrs. Bottomley

Did the Under-Secretary hear the chairman of the Association of Consulting Actuaries warn recently of the damage inflicted by the Government on industry's willingness to support pension schemes? A year ago, the Government promised to support occupational pension schemes, but the result was a £5 billion raid without consultation. Was that another election pledge being delivered?

Mr. Denham

I should have found it difficult not to hear the comments of the chairman of the Association of Consulting Actuaries, as I sat next to him when he spoke. In my own remarks to that organisation, I made it clear that this country's future ability to pay pensions—in whatever form—depends critically on our developing sound economic policies, avoiding boom and bust and achieving the long-term investment needed to create wealth.

The measures taken in last July's Budget, including the cut in corporation tax, and our commitment to sound fiscal policies will produce the economic circumstances in which pensioners can be paid in future.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

The Minister for Welfare Reform told me in the Select Committee last week that the state retirement pension would remain universal for the lifetime of this Parliament. I am sure that the Under-Secretary will want to avoid any doubt on that point, which can perhaps be cleared up once and for all: will he confirm that the Government will not, in any circumstances, means-test the basic state retirement pension?

Mr. Denham

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to earlier exchanges. Let me make it clear that we will honour the manifesto on which we were elected, as we have done on uprating and maintenance of the basic state pension as the foundation for retirement and on the many other measures that we have taken to help pensioners.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Did the National Association of Pension Funds agree that the best-value pensions in this country are paid by the state earnings-related pension scheme? Did it agree that the previous Government got away with damaging the value of SERPS because that was not appreciated by the general population and that our best way forward is to ensure that SERPS is well understood—as is the pensions points scheme in France—to pay index-linked pensions of superb value? Would the association also agree that the worst way to go forward with stakeholder pensions would be to entrust them to those who wickedly mis-sold personal pensions to millions of people?

Mr. Denham

In fairness, the National Association of Pension Funds would be more anxious to stress that the majority of those who enjoy security in retirement have a good second pension from an occupational scheme. However, I agree that one of the critical challenges for the pensions review is to ensure that each individual has the fullest possible understanding of his or her pension provision and of the available alternatives. The pensions education working group established by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in September is considering that and we hope to receive its conclusions shortly.