HC Deb 15 April 2002 vol 383 cc353-4
9. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of pension provision in the UK. [45019]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Alistair Darling)

As I said a short while ago, people need to save more for their retirement. Our approach is based on a partnership between state and private provision, as both are essential. Since 1998 we have reformed the structure of pensions in this country to build and strengthen existing partnerships between the state, the pensions industry, individuals and employers.

Gareth Thomas

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that there is real concern that people are not making adequate provision for their retirement? Does he also accept that the Government have a crucial role in educating the public and encouraging them at an early stage to make adequate provision for retirement, given the fact that there is a decline in occupational pensions and that people are living longer in retirement?

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend is right. People need to be aware of the fact that as we can all reasonably expect to live longer we have to make provision to finance us at whatever standard of living we think we want in retirement. The introduction of annual pension statements will help to concentrate minds, but more needs to be done with pensions and other financial products. As I said on previous occasions, when we reach the stage when pension products and the way in which they are sold are heavily regulated, we may unintentionally impede access to the very products that we want people to buy. A number of measures are necessary—first, to make people aware of the need to save and, secondly, to make it easier for them to acquire the means to save.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

Following the Government's heavy defeats on Friday on the Pensions Annuities (Amendment) Bill, will they now accept the Bill and give people the chance to have a decent income in retirement?

Mr. Darling

No, because the purpose of the Bill is to benefit a minority of people in this country who are better off and on higher incomes. I have made it clear time and again that although the Government are willing to consider ways in which the annuity market might be improved—indeed, we are consulting on them—we will not introduce a system that blatantly benefits a tiny minority at the top of the income scale at the expense of everybody else. That approach might be all right for the Conservatives, but it does not commend itself to us.

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