HC Deb 15 January 2003 vol 397 cc667-9
4. Bob Spink (Castle Point)

What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on improving pensioner living standards in Wales. [89729]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain)

Regular ones. We want all pensioners to have a decent and secure income in retirement and to share fairly in the rising prosperity of Wales.

Bob Spink

Is the Minister aware that the National Assembly is forcing local authorities to bear the costs of means-testing the elderly on the services that they provide to them? Does he agree that those costs will lead to cuts in services, and will he try to stop the National Assembly forcing those costs on to the local authorities?

Peter Hain

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The National Assembly is providing extra care for elderly citizens on top of free bus travel, free eye tests and all the other initiatives that have been taken by the Labour-led Assembly to support not just pensioners but all citizens in Wales.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

I endorse what my right hon. Friend says, but will he look at another aspect of pensioner living standards in Wales, in particular the plight of the former Allied Steel and Wire workers from Cardiff? Will he join me in welcoming the fact that Celsa has announced that it will reopen the steel plant in Cardiff and create several hundred jobs? Will he pledge to use his considerable reputation as a fixer and problem solver to look at the whole issue of the loss of the occupational pensions of hundreds of workers from Cardiff?

Peter Hain

I acknowledge the important points that my hon. Friend makes, and he will be involved in an important meeting next week with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to take the matter forward. The plight of the pensioners of Allied Steel and Wire in Cardiff is extremely important and we shall work hard to solve it.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon)

Are not pensioners in Wales doubly disadvantaged because they face an extended means test as a deliberate effect of Government policy but are also less able to contribute to occupational pensions because of the lower rate of economic activity among older workers in Wales, 61 per cent. of whom are economically active compared with 75 per cent. in London and the south-east?

Peter Hain

We are injecting record help for pensioners in Wales. In October, an extra 250,000 pensioners in Wales will benefit from the pension tax credit, which will support thrifty, hard-working pensioners, some of whom have small savings or a small occupational pension. That is part of an increase in support that, by October, will bring pensioners in Wales between £21 and £30 extra on average a week. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that, and the fact that, if his plans for an independent Wales were ever introduced, all that support would disappear.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

My right hon. Friend will agree that, for pensioners in Wales and elsewhere, an important part of their living standards is the quality of the health services that they receive. Will he confirm that the Commission for Health Improvement, established by the House to monitor the health service in England and Wales, will continue to do so independently for the foreseeable future?

Peter Hain

Yes. I acknowledge the expertise of my hon. Friend, who is a former Welsh Minister, and I welcome his point. Discussions are going on with the Department of Health to resolve this issue.