HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc758-9
11. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

If he will restore the link between retirement pensions and average earnings. [111842]

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

No, we are committed to raising the basic state pension at least in line with prices. We have kept the basic state pension as the foundation of pensions and maintained its real value. In addition, we have acted to meet pensioners' needs through, for example, winter fuel payments, free eye tests and, of course, from this coming November, free television licences for those aged 75 and over.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Is the Minister aware of the genuine anger of many pensioners who voted Labour? Despite the specific assurance that all pensioners would be better off under Labour, they find that, even if they have saved money or made provision for their retirement, they are faced with the robbing of pension funds, the abolition of the married couples tax allowance, and the scrapping of home income plans and the widows bereavement allowance—instead of an increase.

Although I appreciate that the Government have made some provision for people on limited incomes, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the majority of pensioners represented by the National Pensioners Convention genuinely feel that they were blatantly misled at the general election and that, if they have done something to help themselves, they will receive no help from the new Government?

Mr. Rooker

They were not misled and they are better off under our Government—that is the plain, simple truth, as the hon. Gentleman should know. In my reply to the original question, I said that we had retained the basic state pension. I understand that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) is off to New York later this week to commit the Tories to getting rid of the basic state pension as the foundation of pensions policy in this country.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

When we do positive things for pensioners, such as introducing the winter fuel allowance and the minimum income guarantee, why do we undermine our position by restricting pensions increases to the rate of inflation during a period of low inflation—when there is an opportunity to enhance pensions—and thereby play into the hands of those who use the same exaggerated arguments as the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor)? Our position is undermined by our not tying those actions together.

Mr. Rooker

I understand the reasons behind my hon. Friend's point, but he should not dismiss the extra things the Government have been able to do precisely because we have kept inflation low. He cannot dismiss extras such as the fivefold increase in the winter fuel allowance, free television licences and free eye tests, and complain that we have only kept pensions in line with prices. We are following the commitment in our manifesto, on which we were all elected.