HC Deb 14 September 2004 vol 424 cc1191-239
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

We now come to the debate on the impact of Government policy on older women. Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.28 pm
Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

I beg to move,

That this House notes that women have historically always been the poorest pensioners and believes that they will continue to be so unless urgent action is taken; further notes that the average basic state pension entitlement of a newly retired woman is barely £50 per week; recognises that women's state pension rights are frequently damaged by periods of caring for children or people with disabilities and by periods of low paid employment; further notes that the improved rights for carers under the state second pension do not apply to women with children over the age of five, do not apply to carers not in receipt of carers benefits, will take decades to be fully implemented, and will still produce a pension that leaves most recipients needing a means-tested supplement during their retirement; condemns the policy of the Government to force pensioners to surrender their pension books, a policy which affects women in particular; expresses concern that age discrimination within the NHS means that many older women are not invited for routine breast cancer screening; expresses further concern that the Government has failed to abolish mixed-sex wards in all hospital trusts, a practice which many older patients find particularly distressing; and calls on the Government to introduce a decent state pension, based on a citizenship requirement, provide real choices for older people, take steps to tackle age discrimination, and put an end to mixed-sex wards. The Government's amendment on such occasions is always a good giggle. It is always a good laugh to see why the problem that we have all found in our constituencies and heard about from the people to whom we speak is actually not only not a problem, but a triumph for the Government. Today's Government amendment is no exception to that.

We have sought to bring before the House the failures of the Government to deal with the needs of older women, in particular, and our motion highlights pensions, but also issues relating to the health service. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) will catch your eye later in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that she can focus her remarks on those issues.

I shall concentrate especially on the position of women and pensions.

I start by agreeing with the Government. I shall not do that too often in the rest of my contribution, but let me start with a note of consensus, because we know that our electors want consensus on pensions. At the start of the amendment, the Government ask us to congratulate them on the fact that their pensions Green Paper was the first ever to include a chapter on the needs of women pensioners. It is good news that they finally included such a chapter in response to years of campaigning by the Liberal Democrats. The chapter was a list of problems facing women pensioners. The Government are good at listing problems—so good, in fact, that they produced quite a long chapter detailing the problems. One might reasonably assume that after listing the problems they might have felt the need to do something about them, but that aspect of the equation has not happened, because precious little of what came forward from the Green Paper was of benefit to older women.

The Government's amendment goes on to call for further praise for the Government because they are committed to report next year on the pensions position of women". As those who follow the minutiae of such matters will know, the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) moved an amendment in the Committee that considered the Pensions Bill to get such a report, to which the Government graciously acceded. The Government now want praise for the fact that they will report on the pensions position of women, but they had no intention of doing so until a Labour Member made such a suggestion. The argument in the rest of the amendment must be pretty thin if its strongest claims are that there was a chapter about problems and that there will be a report.

The essence of the problem that we are trying to address is that women are the poor relations on pensions. If pensioners feel like second-class citizens, women pensioners are often third-class citizens. As the Equal Opportunities Commission puts it, given that women form two thirds of the pensioner population, if we do not get pensions right, women are the ones who will suffer disproportionately. It is true that there has been a historical problem and that the old-fashioned system, which was based on the assumption that men worked and women stayed at home to bring up children, meant that women got a poor deal from pensions, but it is a myth that that is all ancient history. I want to dispel that myth today, because far from being over, the ancient history is with us today, and it is set to remain with us for generations to come unless the Government get serious on the issue.

I have figures about women who retire today, rather than extreme cases of women who have been retired for decades and lived their lives in a different era. A typical woman who retires today will receive a combined income from state pensions of £65 a week. A typical man retiring today will receive an income from state pensions of £105 a week, so there is a gap of £40. I do not want to be harsh on the Government because I am in a consensual mood today, so I praise them because the figures that I cited are better than those for the year before. The gap between men and women closed by 40p a week between 2002 and 2003, so that represents progress. At that rate of progress, I calculate that it will take a century before the gap of £40 closes. Liberal Democrat Members are patient and realise that progress takes time, but we think that 100 years is a little too long to wait to close the gap between men and women, especially for today's pensioners.

What is the origin of the problem and what can we do about it? A typical newly retired woman in 2003 drew a basic pension of £53.90 a week, but the full basic pension was in the high £70s. How did that situation arise? One would assume that, by the start at the 21st century, women who worked would have protected their pension rights and those who looked after children would have protected their pension rights. Why did they not receive full basic pensions? One problem is that women who retire now base their pensions on a working and caring life that typically goes back to the 1960s. They carry the baggage of a system that was generated in the post-war era on the assumption that they did not work and that that did not matter because they just depended on their husbands.

So although in the 1980s we had a system whereby when a woman was bringing up children, her pension rights were protected, many women retiring today do not benefit from that system and retire on a pathetically inadequate pension.

One reason the Liberal Democrats have taken the view that we need to act quickly on pensions is that this injustice has gone on for too long. We cannot wait for decades for all those historical anomalies to work their way through the system because, frankly, many of the women that we are talking about will not be around to see the benefit. That is why our priority, as reflected in the motion, is a pension increase, particularly for the oldest pensioners. They simply cannot wait.

That contrasts with the approach taken by the Conservatives, who have said that there should be limited, across-the-board increases for all pensioners proportionate to the pension that they draw, which means that women, once again, will get a raw deal. If a woman draws a smaller pension, an increase proportionate to that amount will be smaller than for a man. How can we put up with that discrimination any longer? We have a wholly inadequate basic pension, the value of which has been eroding for a quarter of a century relative to earnings, and we have to take urgent steps to deal with it because it is women who lose out.

In their amendment to the motion the Government are saying, "You don't need to worry about that because there is the state second pension"—what used to be called SERPS—"and that is good news for women." In fact, Ministers have been known to say that 20 million people will benefit from that pension. The state second pension is their response to the question, "What have you done for women?" Looking at the figures, I found that the typical woman retiring in September 2003 draws a SERPS or state second pension of a grand total of £9.73 a week; the typical man draws £22 from that source. That pension, which is meant to be the answer to the problem of women, is worth less than a tenner to the typical woman.

Why is it that, as ever, there is a huge gap between the Government's rhetoric on pensions and the reality for women pensioners? First, the Government say that women should have their pension rights protected while they are bringing up children, but only until their children are five. After that, the Government expect them to go out to work and earn above the earnings limit, and if they do not, or if they do part-time work, their pension rights are not protected. The new second pension, which is supposed to be the answer to all the problems, does not help women in that position, even starting from now. That seems wrong to us.

Secondly, the Government say that for the first time they are protecting the pension rights of carers, and anyone drawing the carer's allowance receives credits towards the second-tier pension. However, there are hundreds of thousands of women out there, doing caring work, who do not satisfy the 35-hours-a-week rule or the test that the Government set them. If a woman spends 20 hours a week caring for an elderly relative, and another 10 hours a week doing a rather pathetically paid part-time job in which she does not pay national insurance, the Government's response is that none of that matters. None of that has value in their eyes because none of it earns a woman a penny in pension rights.

This is the critical point: the history of pensions has been that the only thing that the state values is paid work above a certain level, and we are saying that that injustice has to stop. We as a society must surely value people who bring up children and care for elderly relatives, and we must surely value those who do a couple of part-time jobs, neither of which qualifies them to pay national insurance, leaving them without any pension rights.

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab)

May I take the hon. Gentleman back to his point about carers? It is relatively easy to decide when a woman is at home caring for a child because one can see the child. At the moment, what triggers a woman's receipt of a carer's credit is the fact that the person for whom she is caring receives the disability living allowance, which requires 35 hours of care. That is a very clear trigger that makes it easy to attribute the credit. If we are to allow part-time caring and part-time work to be taken into account—which I accept is right and is what, in reality, many women do—how will we trigger the award of the credit? That is a very difficult issue.

Mr. Webb

The hon. and learned Lady makes a critical point, and suggests why we concluded that the answer to the problem of national insurance is not to invent increasingly complex ways of plugging all the gaps. Instead, we should sweep the current arrangements away and base pension entitlement on citizenship. She is quite right—if we give money to full-time carers, there are practical problems in working out what we would give to part-time carers or people with two low-paid jobs and so on. I pay tribute to her and organisations such as the Fawcett Society, Age Concern and the Equal Opportunities Commission for raising those issues, but I disagree about their strategy which, although it may be realistic about how far the Government are willing to go, would plug the myriad gaps in the system. However, if one did so, the pension would still be 100 per cent. inadequate and operating it, as she suggested, would be complex and difficult.

The Liberal Democrats want the money that is currently spent on bureaucracy, qualifications, rules and regulations to be spent on pensions. It should not be devoted to bureaucracy but should go to front-line pensions. My response to the hon. and learned Lady, therefore, is that we should not devise ever more complex rules to bring more people into the net. Instead, we should say that citizens who satisfy a test of residency are entitled to a decent pension.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab)

The women of this country should know exactly what the hon. Gentleman's policy is. He will know that a large number of women did not opt for the married woman's pension, but voluntarily paid the full contribution. His reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) suggested that the Liberal Democrats would abolish those distinctions and qualifications, so is he telling those hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women who deliberately did not choose the lower rate but wanted to pay for the full pension that they were foolish to do so?

Mr. Webb

Women who paid the full stamp currently qualify for a wholly inadequate basic state pension of less than £80 a week. We propose a citizen's pension, which would be paid regardless of someone's contribution record at a rate of £105 a week for the over-75s. We would not make a distinction between people who had paid different rates, people who had been carers or had brought up children, but the women highlighted by the right hon. Gentleman would be substantially better off than at present. Like me, he knows that many women made the wrong choice about whether or not to pay the full stamp—they were misled or did not have accurate information and have retired in penury. We believe that that injustice needs to be put right.

Mr. Field

Would not the Liberal Democrats' position be stronger if they dropped all that old claptrap about a citizen's pension and merely said that they are going into the election with a strong policy on a significant increase for the oldest pensioners? That might win them support in very different places around the country.

Mr. Webb

The right hon. Gentleman's antipathy to the concept of a citizen's pension may derive from the fact that he has never had any time for shirkers. He has a horror of people who, for want of a better phrase, I shall call surfers, who spend their entire life surfing and draw a full pension on retirement because they are citizens. However, the citizen's pension does not allow people to be surfers or shirkers. We will not allow them to draw social security benefits or credits unless they satisfy rules on searching for work or unless they make a contribution. The people whom the right hon. Gentleman is worried about are bound by the present system to seek work and so on if they want support. It is therefore inconceivable that someone could spend their entire adult life shirking and drawing money from the state before receiving a pension on retirement. The citizen's pension proposal is therefore not vulnerable to the problems which, he believes, would affect a citizen's income proposal. That is not what we are proposing at all.

Mr. Field

I am merely suggesting that there is a more attractive way of presenting the hon. Gentleman's policies. It is important that we achieve agreement, so it is not a question of whether or not we go down the citizenship pension route. Nobody in their right mind thinks that people will deliberately make certain decisions so that after 15 years of receiving a pension they will qualify for other benefits under the Liberal Democrat proposal. It is not a question of citizenship—the greatest need is among the oldest pensioners, and that issue unites all the parties. Talking about citizenship pensions or non-citizenship pensions divides our forces instead of uniting them.

Mr. Webb

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we agree about the particular needs of the older pensioners, and I am happy to concur with him on that. Suppose, however, that we were to add £25 to whatever pension a pensioner over 75 happened to draw, many of the women to whom I am referring draw such abjectly pathetic pensions that even £25 on top would still leave them below the poverty line and needing to claim the sort of means-tested benefits on which the right hon. Gentleman wants less reliance.

In other words, the right hon. Gentleman and I share a view, first, that the older pensioners are particularly needy and deserving of further support. Secondly, he and I want to reduce reliance on means-testing. My worry about his proposal is that if we had an across-the-board increase for the over-75s but left the contribution-based pension intact—not the citizenship-based one—there would still have to be quite a lot of means-testing, which both he and I want to get rid of.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con)

As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman's proposal for a citizen's pension depends crucially on a residence test, but I have unaccountably been unable to find any details of how that test would be defined or how it would work. Can he assist me?

Mr. Webb

Certainly. There are already residence tests of the sort we have in mind in the social security system. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the pension—I think it is the category D pension, although I am open to correction on that—payable from the age of 80 onwards, which is non-contributory in the existing system and is subject only to a residence test. What we have in mind are residence tests of the sort that are already in the system, but one of the problems is that the data available to us as an Opposition party, which would enable us to come up with a precise definition, are very limited. We know that the general approach would be that people could not come straight off the boat at Dover and claim a pension—that is not how it would work—but would need to have established a significant connection with the United Kingdom, including in the period up to retirement. We will consider the exact details in due course—perhaps at my earliest opportunity, should I form part of the first Cabinet of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy).

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab)

If that is the hon. Gentleman's proposal, is it not wrong to call it a citizen's pension? Does that not mislead the public? Many of my constituents are not citizens of the UK and would feel excluded by that title. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD)

Call it the people's pension.

Mr. Webb

Perhaps my right hon. Friend has been spending too much time with the Prime Minister's former press secretary lately.

The point that we want to establish is the distinction from a contributory national insurance-based system, which has been described as a system of exclusion. National insurance these days is about excluding women, carers and the lower-paid. We value caring. We value bringing up the next generation. We value looking after older people. We support people who, through no fault of their own, have to do grotty part-time jobs that none of us would ever want to do, and we say that they have had a hard enough time for long enough. The injustice cannot be allowed to roll on for decades. Let us sort it out now.

Vera Baird

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but all the women who do not have a full basic state pension and have to claim means-tested benefits would still have to do so until they were 75. Why should they wait that long, when others do not?

Mr. Webb

Indeed. One of the points about pensions policy is that we need both a long-term destination and a route map. We need to know where we want to be and how we are going to get there. I contrast the Government's destination which, as the hon. and learned Lady well knows, is mass means-testing, with our destination, which is precisely as she describes—a citizenship pension, paid at the level of the means test to obviate the mass from requiring means-testing, and linked to earnings so that that standard of living is available across the board.

We have, however, had to be realistic about how far we can rescue an entirely inadequate pension. The fact that the pension has fallen so far behind the means test means that were we to stand up and say, "Vote for me and I'll give everybody lots more money", we would rightly be ridiculed. We have had to make what my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) would call a tough choice, and rightly so, to begin with those most in need—those over 75. But the hon. and learned Lady is right: the argument applies equally to those under 75, and we want to extend the principle as quickly as we can.

I move to the third plank of the Government's approach to financial support for women. We have seen the inadequacy of the basic state pension of barely £50 a week. The answer, apparently, is the second state pension, which provides barely £10 a week. The Government would say, "Yes, but it's just building up. Give it a few years", but it is a pension that takes a generation to be truly awful. By the time it is fully in, a typical woman—not an extreme case—on a full basic pension and a full second pension will find during her retirement that she falls below the poverty line and has to claim a means-tested top-up.

Even if we give the second pension 40 years, it will be so poor that it will not keep people clear of means-testing in their retirement. If that is the answer, one wonders about the question.

The basic pension is inadequate for women and the second pension is woefully inadequate for women, which brings us to the Government's real triumph, the pension credit. The Government amendment states that the pension credit is the answer. The pension credit gives more to women than to men, but that is because women are so poor. It also misses more women than men. The Minister did not say "yeah" to that, but "yeah" would have been appropriate.

Older pensioners are the least likely to take up the pension credit, and they tend to be women, particularly widows. The pension credit is like a scattergun: it hits some—we do not doubt that those people are grateful—but misses many. How long can we rely on a system that gives way when pressure is exerted? How long can we rely on a system which is meant to plug the holes in the basic pension and second pension, but which misses more than 1 million of our fellow citizens, who are predominantly women?

Vera Baird

The hon. Gentleman took my point that his proposal would only give equality to women over 75. Since that is his proposal's consequence, he must try to come up with a solution to the problem that I raised before—how to allocate carers' credits for part-time caring; otherwise he will disregard all women aged between 60 and 75 who are carers and who do not receive credits towards their pensions. He must look for a solution to that problem, as well as offering a solution for the over-75s.

Mr. Webb

The Government do not pay women who have reached that age group a penny. Many carers, who perhaps care for elderly relatives, are angry because, when they reach pension age, the Government say, "You can either have your meagre retirement pension or your carers' money, but not both." Many carers resent that treatment.

We accept the principle that caring must be valued and want to make progress towards valuing it, but we cannot achieve everything at once. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West said, what have the Government been doing? The fact that the figures that I quoted are after six years of a new Labour Government makes one realise the scale of the problem.

We welcome the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to his post. He is widely regarded as an able politician—I mean that in the nicest possible way—and I look forward to forming a constructive working relationship with him. The cynics in my party said that if one wants to sack 30,000 people, why not put in a trade unionist? I would not say that. I welcome him to his post and look forward to finding the consensus on pensions that is everywhere except in the new Labour Government—hopefully, we can take one extra convert with us.

The basic pension and second pension are inadequate, and the pension credit misses out far too many women. Where do we go from here? The Government strategy is gradualist, which may not be ideal for those who are 83. The Government say that the second pension will be worth a bit more in a decade or two, but it will be so inadequate that one will need to claim a means-tested top-up. They say that all will be well with pension credit after another phone line, advertising campaign or leaflet drop, but they fail to recognise the endemic problem—the people who need it most do not take it up.

We do not need incremental change of the sort proposed by the Conservatives, which would deliver £7 for a man and £5 for a woman. I do not know whether the wider British public recognise that that is Conservative policy—the increases would occur over the course of a Parliament and are pro rata to what women draw. The 21st-century Conservative party should not be in favour of such a measure, but perhaps I am wrong.

It is not good enough to introduce incremental change. We cannot say, "Those people have already retired. We will write them off, but we will do something for the next generation." Retired people have often given their best to this country, to bringing up their families, to caring and to fairly menial work that does not pay enough to pay national insurance.

Liberal Democrat Members believe that radical reform rather than marginal incremental change is required.

That is why I was proud last week to join my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats in proposing a dramatic change to the basis on which pensions are paid. We want a pension based on citizenship that says, "We value you for being a citizen of this country, not because you've done better-paid work." We want a pension that lifts people clear of the unnecessary processes of means-testing that leave many in poverty and keeps pace with the living standards of the majority. That is the radical approach that we are advocating.

It was worth coming back to the House for a second week to talk about pensions, because none of those ideas was properly explored in last week's debate moved by the Conservatives, who are still thinking in the old way of a few pounds here and a few pounds there. The fact that they have not tabled a motion on women's pensions makes one realise how low a priority they attach to the issue.

It is time that the injustices that older women have faced are tackled. This motion suggests how we should do it, and I commend it to the House.

4.55 pm
The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

welcomes the Pensions Green Paper as the first ever statement of government policy to explicitly consider the needs of women; further welcomes the commitment by the Government to report next year on the pensions position of women; supports steps to improve the incomes of women pensioners and enable more women than ever to build up pensions; welcomes in particular the introduction of Pension Credit, benefiting over two million women, and the state second pension, helping millions of the lowest paid women and women with caring responsibilities to build up a second pension; believes that both main Opposition parties' policies are unaffordable, unworkable and do nothing for the very poorest; notes that the Liberal Democrat policies will be financed by scrapping DTI programmes, which boost the wealth of the nation through investment in research and innovation; supports the conclusion of the Pensions Policy Institute that 'the average woman will lose' under proposed Conservative policy; notes that 99 per cent. of NHS trusts provide single-sex sleeping accommodation for planned admissions; and, as there are 10,000 wards in use across the NHS, congratulates the Government on this achievement; applauds the extension of breast screening to women aged 65 to 70, resulting in an additional 200,000 women being invited since April 2001; commends the Government's historic commitment to tackling pensioner poverty, which is continuing to do most for the poorest women pensioners; and welcomes the £10 billion extra that the Government is spending on pensioners this year compared with the 1997 system. I, too, start by welcoming our new Secretary of State, fresh from the TUC conference in Brighton. I very much look forward to working with him.

As I like to be generous on these occasions, I acknowledge that the Liberal party has, historically, made a substantial contribution to British social politics. I mention once again the Old Age Pensions Act 1908, the introduction of the original national insurance scheme before the second world war, and of course the seminal report of 1942 by that great Liberal, Sir William Beveridge.

Sadly, however, since the 1940s the Liberals have had a rather thin period. To be blunt, there has been nothing much to report in the past 60 years. We have seen the strange death of Liberal social reform; I hope that the more literate Liberals will understand a reference to a great and important book. That great gap in six decades of Liberal history has not been put right by today's announcements or by the speech by the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), despite the help that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) tried to give him. I always see that help coming and duck.

Yet, as I say, I want to be kind. I welcome another opportunity to debate pensions having done so last week. We do not have a pensions debate for a few weeks and then two come along at once. This time I want to address the subject in a slightly different way by discussing two key themes that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Northavon: women and pensions; and the needs of the most hard-pressed elderly people.

The Liberals are keen on addressing issues about women. They even have one or two women MPs to help them along, but when I look at their Benches I see more gender inequality in terms of political representation than I do when I look at my own.

Women's pensions must be analysed in the context of changing social structures, gender roles, work patterns and caring patterns in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Since the 1940s, substantial changes to key trends have added up to a fierce hurricane that has battered the post-war welfare state and the assumptions that underlie it. As a keen student of social policy and of William Beveridge, the way in which things have changed is perhaps best illustrated by looking at some of the assumptions that underpinned Beveridge's great report of 1942, in which he said that all women by marriage acquire a new economic and social status, with risks and rights different from those of the unmarried. On marriage a woman gains a legal right to maintenance by her husband as a first line of defence against risks which fall directly on the solitary woman; she undertakes at the same time to perform vital unpaid service". That was what William Beveridge wrote in 1942. Although, from a modern and feminist perspective, one could almost make fun of that rather sexist view of women, I suspect that it would have been prevalent in all our political parties at the time. I cite the quote so that I can talk about subsequent changes.

Since then, changes in employment patterns and patterns of care, divorce and separation, the growing number of one-parent families and women's changing attitudes and ambitions have presented new challenges and raised fresh questions. What are the implications for women's pensions? First, I would argue that anyone who is concerned about women's pensions should start not with pensions but jobs and incomes. If women earn well during their working lives, they are more likely to have decent pensions in retirement. We are therefore working to reduce the pay gap.

We gave a boost to low-paid workers' pay, 70 per cent. of whom are women, with the introduction of the national minimum wage, which is, therefore, a key part of pension strategy. Approximately 1 million women have benefited and it has contributed to a 2 per cent. drop in the pay gap since 1997. We are reducing the gap further by making it easier for women and men to take up equal pay claims by simplifying and speeding up existing tribunal procedures. For example, we introduced an equal pay questionnaire procedure in April 2003 and we are committed to a target of 45 per cent. of large companies undertaking pay reviews by April 2008.

Other matters are important to women's earnings and careers. The part-time workers' regulations that the Government introduced will ensure that 6 million workers, the majority of whom are women, are not treated less favourably than comparable full-timers in their terms and conditions. In a sense, access to affordable and good quality child care is part of the pension strategy. We want to provide an extra 250,000 child care places by 2006, helping with the costs through the tax credit system.

If we start with an analysis of employment and pay, we should go on to ensure that modern pension systems are not based purely on a traditional idea of an economy and a male-dominated perception of work. In recent decades, home responsibility payments have therefore credited young mothers with children into the national pension system. Despite the traditional cynicism of the hon. Member for Northavon about social progress, I make no apology for introducing the state second pension to boost the pensions of low and moderately paid employees. It provides, for the first time, additional pensions for carers and long-term disabled people. That will especially help women, many of whom work part-time or as carers. Almost all the 2.5 million carers who will benefit from the state second pension are women, as are approximately 70 per cent. of the 5 million low earners.

Stakeholder pensions are another part of the story because they will help women in the modern labour market who often move between employers and occupations and may, at different times, be self-employed or employed on a limited contract or a permanent contract. Flexibility means that stakeholder pensions are a good option for women who take a break from work, for example, to raise a family, because they can stop and restart their contributions without penalty. Stakeholder pensions are open to non-earners and, therefore, enable women or others who do not work but can afford to save something towards retirement to do that. Stakeholder pension rules allow family or friends to contribute towards someone else's pension. That may help the large number of women who are carers. During their first year, a third of all stakeholder pensions were taken up by women. There are currently approximately 2 million stakeholder pensions.

Other measures that are in place or proposed in the Pensions Bill will improve the position for women by making pensions cater more fairly for those with fragmented working lives. For example, our proposals on full transfer value for early leavers will allow people in short-stay jobs to take the full value of their pension with them when they leave such jobs. Often in the past, women who worked for relatively short periods essentially lost much of the build-up of their pension rights.

Our informed choice programme, which offers help, such as workplace financial advice, will benefit those who have most often been excluded from pension provision in the past.

I have spoken about today and the future but we are also presented with demands about pensions that are inherited from the past.

So, just as we need to look forward many decades to plan for an uncertain future—the pension protection fund will be crucial in that regard—we also need to understand past decades if we are to tackle current problems. New policies will affect pensions that are drawn in 2050 and beyond, but our policies also affect those elderly people whose life chances and incomes were perhaps determined in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1997, the Labour Government understood that all too graphically. Some pensioners were struggling on as little as £69 a week, such was the debilitating impact of the Tory inheritance bequeathed to us. That is why we make no apology for seeking to focus some of the additional resources that we have put into pensions on the poorer and more pressed elderly person. Hence the pension credit, which provides a guarantee that no pensioner need live on less than £105 a week. That means that the poorer third of pensioner households are now £1,750 better off in real terms than they would have been, compared with the system that existed in 1997. That is an extra £33 a week.

Opposition Members say that they object to the indignities of the means test. Perhaps they have forgotten the days when the Tory means test meant that prudent pensioners who had made modest provision for their retirement saw their benefits reduced pound for pound because of their savings. The days of 40-page-long claim forms, of having to visit unpleasant local offices in inconvenient locations, and of having to tell the DSS—as it then was—about every change in their finances have gone.

The new Pension Service—we are the first Government to have such a specific service—means that people can claim their pension credit over the telephone, where one of our advisers will fill in the form on behalf of the elderly person or her carer, or people can go to advice surgeries in all our constituencies. Alternatively, they can arrange for a home visit. More than 500,000 home visits have now been carried out by the Pension Service.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP)

I hear what the Minister is saying about pension credit, but how does he explain why so many pensioners seem reluctant to claim it? Why does the Government's own target project that a considerable number of pensioners will fail to claim their pension credit up to 2006?

Malcolm Wicks

I am pleased with the progress that has been made. About 3.1 million individuals are now claiming pension credit, and the number of those on the guarantee element has increased considerably, compared with a few years ago. We are not complacent, however, and we want more and more people to claim pension credit. I am bound to say that I think there is a role for Members of Parliament in spreading the word about pension credit, rather than spreading cynicism, as sometimes happens. Whatever their views about income testing, I hope that Opposition Members will accept that the pension credit is a million miles away from the income testing of the past. That is a fact, and MPs who find out about pension credit and our local Pension Service know it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows it, too. Perhaps he is going to acknowledge that fact now.

Mr. Weir

The Minister is missing the point. Most of us will encourage our constituents to take up what they can get under this system, whether we agree with the means-testing or not. The point is that many pensioners are not applying for pension credit. Why are they not doing so, if to claim for it is as simple as the Minister suggests? Many will not do so, and we cannot persuade them to do so. What will the Government do about those pensioners?

Malcolm Wicks

Well, the scheme only started in October. More than 3 million individuals are claiming, and our survey shows that those who have been through the process would recommend that their friends and neighbours should apply. This is a popular policy, but it raises a traditional issue. With any extra resource that we can devote to pensions, should we give every pensioner the same increase? The Liberals offer a variation on that question, with their proposed boost for the over-75s, and I shall come to that directly. Should we give everyone the same increase? Should the person with the big investment income and an occupational pension adding up to £50,000 a year in retirement get the same number of pounds extra each week as the 83-year-old widow trying to live on £80 or £90?

That is the issue—of course it would be simpler for us to give everyone the same increase, but simplicity is not a primary goal in social policy. Fairness is a primary goal, which is why we are investing in the pension credit.

Mr. Waterson


Malcolm Wicks

I was about to ask what the Liberal party says to that, but I am equally interested in what the Conservatives might think, so I shall seek an answer.

Mr. Waterson

My commiserations to the Minister on not being reshuffled to the Foreign Office or somewhere less dangerous and more palatable. Will he confirm, however, that the age-related payment that his Government are giving in relation to council tax increases will go to everybody—the duke and the dustman? Can he confirm that the great attraction of increasing the basic state retirement pension is that the take-up rate is more or less 100 per cent?

Malcolm Wicks

I was implying that the art of judgment, which I would commend to the hon. Gentleman, is to get the balance right between what we can do for all elderly people—which is why the winter fuel payment, for instance, goes to all elderly people in certain age groups, to which I shall refer later—and what extra we devote to the most hard-pressed. Although targeting raises issues and challenges in relation to take-up, and we are determined to meet those challenges, I nevertheless think that if we are concerned not just with simplicity but with fairness, targeting has a place.

Let me move on to the Liberal Democrat proposals. Although we heard something about a citizen's pension, it seemed to be anyone at all's pension—I heard nothing about the concept of citizenship, rights and duties or of the idea of what one puts in, one takes out. It is fascinating that the Liberals, who could claim credit for inventing social insurance because of the great Beveridge and the initiatives of the early inter-war years, are now going to overthrow it totally.

What the Liberals propose is not a citizen's pension but anyone at all's pension. The hard-working British citizen who has contributed by providing care and working hard for their country will get exactly the same as anyone at all who might have spent their time in prison, down the pub or doing whatever. It is anyone at all's pension, so please do not stain the decent concept of citizen with it. I will give way to a hard-working citizen.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC)

I find it difficult to square the Minister's support for the contributory principle, which has been the basis of the social security system for such a long time, with the huge growth in means-testing under his Government. How does he square that circle?

Malcolm Wicks

As I was saying, we must strike that balance. One of the difficulties with the insurance concept in practice—not the principle—is the carers issue: people caring for young children have been credited rather late in the day by Government. When it comes to retirement age, the great majority of men retire on more or less a full basic state pension, but very large numbers of women do not. That has been the flaw in the practice of social insurance but not, in my judgment, in the principle of it.

The Liberal Democrats, who have advocated an anyone at all's pension, have some sense of costings and economics, although they would abolish a whole Department—in fact, they would not actually abolish the trade and industry but many of the things that support it, which we shall discuss later. Because they have some sense of arithmetic—I know that the hon. Member for Northavon has his own calculator—first, they say that they will only pay the extra money to the over-75s. I think that I have that right. As is often the case, the hon. Member for Northavon starts with an interesting, important notion: the relatively poorer status of the very elderly or the over-75s. Sadly, with that important idea, and a bit of evidence base behind it, he gets over-excited, and, instead of the need to improve that status becoming a strand of policy, it determines, dominates and ultimately destroys the credibility of his whole pension plan.

Let us look at the evidence. Yes, older pensioners have lower incomes on average—pensioners over 75 have only about 90 per cent. of the income of those under 75; but it is 90 per cent., not 60 per cent. or 70 per cent.

A significant reason for the fact that older people have lower incomes is—among other things—their lower private pensions. Let me give the hon. Gentleman some evidence. Pensioner couples with a head of household under 75 receive an average of £139 a week from private occupational pensions; when the head of household is over 75, they receive an average of £108. So far I am with the hon. Gentleman, which is why I think this should be a strand of our social policy. But—and these are important qualifications—although older pensioners are on average poorer than younger pensioners, there is a wide variation in circumstances. In fact, over half—about 56 per cent.—of pensioners in relative poverty are under 75. [Interruption.] I am trying to have a serious debate with the hon. Member for Northavon. He must pull himself together, because these are important statistics.

At the other end of the income spectrum, a quarter of all pensioner couples with a head of household over 75 have net income of over £308 a week. In other words, age—although an interesting factor—should not be a dominant guide for policy.

On 27 February 2003, there was an interesting exchange between our former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), and the hon. Member for Northavon. My right hon. Friend said to the hon. Gentleman In the interests of open debate on distributional issues, which the hon. Gentleman says he welcomes, does he accept that the cost of his strategy is not only that some older rich pensioners get money that they arguably do not need so much, but that younger poorer pensioners do not get money that they do need? The hon. Gentleman replied I accept that."—[0fficial Report, 27 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 442.] So the hon. Gentleman has accepted the difficulties involved in his own position.

I think that there are also serious issues relating to financial sustainability. The Liberals' proposals would cost an additional £16 billion over five years, which would double over 10 years. I thought that the Liberals were going through a period of financial stricture, yet here is a major financial commitment.

As soon as an Opposition party starts saying that it is going to abolish things to pay for social programmes, I become wary. Later the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) will tell us that his party is going to abolish the whole new deal. Never mind the fact that that micro-labour market policy has contributed to a move back to full employment; never mind the fact that it is helping a lot of lone parents back into work; never mind the fact that in many places—most places—we have abolished long-term youth unemployment because of the new deal. The Conservatives are going to abolish it in order to pay for their rather wobbly pension proposals, which we took apart—I think fairly effectively—last week.

For the Liberals, it is obviously a learning game. They scratch their heads: how can they pay for their policy? They ask parliamentary questions. I reply because I want to be helpful, and because I am committed to an evidence base. At the end of the day, however, they cannot make the policy work within social security. They are going to abolish trade and industry, or at least the Department of Trade and Industry. It is a wholly incredible policy.

Kevin Brennan

In taking apart the Liberal Democrat position, has not my hon. Friend shown that a means test—particularly a light-touch means test—is much fairer than a crude age test?

Malcolm Wicks

That is the issue. We are now spending £10 billion more on pensions each and every year than when we came to office. Much of that goes to all pensioners.

We do recognise the importance of the age factor. I am trying to persuade the hon. Member for Northavon to be slightly calmer about that. An age factor is involved in winter fuel payments: there is more for the over-80s. The same applies to television licences, and to the extra £100 for households containing people aged 70 or over to help with the council tax burden. The hon. Gentleman, however, has become over-excited about the age factor: it dominates his whole pension policy. A fascinating statistic has coloured his judgment, and supposedly that of the financial managers of his party. That is the difficulty. We are not against an age factor, but we want to put it in context.

Mr. Webb


Malcolm Wicks

The hon. Gentleman may have changed his mind, of course, now that he has heard the evidence.

Mr. Webb

Will the Minister consider another facet of the age question, which is that pensioners over 75 do not have long to go? His softly-softly, slowly-slowly, "over a generation we will sort this out" policy is all very well, but those people need the cash now. Is there not an urgency to this matter for older pensioners?

Malcolm Wicks

First, I do not accept—[HON. MEMBERS: "Say yes".] I am not going to say yes, because it would be a silly answer. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's gloomy prognosis. Many people who reach the age of 75 often have a reasonable life expectancy—[Interruption.] Look at the figures; it can be demonstrated. What the hon. Gentleman says is an argument for some selectivity and targeting to try to help the poorest groups. Getting over-excited—I use the term again—about the age issue means that the hon. Gentleman is over-egging or over-ageing the pudding. The distribution of much of the extra money he proposes will not be focused. I have already made it clear that we accept the value of help for TV licences, winter fuel payments and so forth, but, to be fair, we have to achieve the right balance between making general provision for older people and targeting. Almost half of the extra £10 billion that we are spending is going to the poorest one third—mostly women, which is important to note in the context of the debate.

Vera Baird

Is there not another problem about linking things so wholeheartedly to age—the considerable gap in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest? In my Redcar constituency, men's life expectancy is about 10 years fewer than for men who live in the south-east, so giving extra money solely on the grounds that people are getting older has the problem that some people will not live long enough to get any enjoyment from it.

Malcolm Wicks

There are equivalents to the north-south divide in all regions. For example, there are some very affluent and healthy people over the age of 80 while other people, because they have had a long and difficult working life in difficult industries, may be quite frail in their early 60s.

To conclude, I welcome the debate and I have acknowledged the historic role of the Liberals, while expressing some disappointment about the last 60 years. I have suggested that the Liberals have not got the balance right, whereas the Labour Government have, particularly in respect of fairness and social justice. We do not pretend that we have all the answers and all the strategies on women's issues, which is why, when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) suggested a report on pensions, I was willing to accept the proposal. That report will be published some time next year and I hope that it will provide a focal point for further debate. However, I am not saying today simply that we are going to have a report. I am reporting the action and endeavour that we have taken to help women pensioners and, indeed, all poorer pensioners in Great Britain.

5.23 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con)

I greatly welcome the opportunity to debate these issues today and I am delighted to welcome the new Secretary of State to his post—I see his receding form departing from the Chamber. He is on a steep learning curve. When he was appointed, I could not help remembering—the story may be apocryphal, but I doubt it—that when the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid) was appointed Secretary of State for Health, he is reputed to have walked into the Prime Minister's study at No. 10 and, having looked at the Prime Minister's face, muttered to himself "Oh,"—expletive—"it's health"! I cannot imagine that a similar expletive would not have escaped the lips of the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Despite that, we wish him well.

I congratulate the Liberals on finally producing a pensions policy, as well as on securing today's debate. Their policy is peppered with contradictions and full of flaws, but better late than never. I shall return to that point in more detail later.

It gives me great pleasure to see the Minister for Pensions in his place. As I said earlier, he must have hoped against hope that he might be released from this living and waking nightmare of the job that he does. Sadly, he will remain chained to his oar until the ship finally sinks beneath the surface.

However, we are pleased that he is still here, and his engaging stories about Beveridge are always great fun.

The Minister has taken the credit for producing this report on women's pensions. That is becoming a habit. I seem to recall that the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) tabled in Standing Committee an amendment that was supported by both the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. The Minister was not at all keen to make that commitment until he realised that he might be forced to do so by a vote in Committee. We are pleased that he made it in the end, and I am sure that the hon. and learned Lady is pleased too, but he should not give the impression that the report was his idea.

Vera Baird

No one is pretending to be the parent of the idea, which emerged from the Fawcett Society campaign. I want to make it clear that there was no reluctance of any kind on my hon. Friend the Minister's part. Even before we debated the matter in Committee, he met me outside and offered to make this report. Furthermore, I emphasise that he improved on what I was asking for. The amendment to the Bill that I wanted need not have come into force for two or three years, and my hon. Friend the Minister offered me instead a report to be published next year. That was an improvement on what I wanted.

Mr. Waterson

I am delighted that the hon. and learned Lady is so pleased with that concession. The Minister is usually a stickler for accuracy, and I am merely saying to him that he should not rewrite history.

I shall now deal with how the Liberal Democrats' recently announced pensions policy might impact on women. The Liberal Democrats want to extend the citizens pension to all pensioners, and suggest that that could be financed through the use of contracted-out rebates or by raising the state pension age. I do not remember that that was their headline when they launched the policy. Perhaps the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), when she winds up the debate, will expand on that. Is it Liberal Democrat policy to make people work longer than they have to at present?

As the Minister mentioned, both last week and this, it is astonishing that the Liberal Democrat policy paper contains no detailed costings, nor a real explanation of how the policy would be financed. We are told that scrapping the Department of Trade and Industry could save £7.5 billion over the lifetime of a Parliament. Another suggestion—that the Office for National Statistics should charge more realistically for its services—sounds like they are grasping at straws. Government Departments are among the ONS's major users on a daily basis, so that may be an entirely circular argument.

We should not be too bothered about all that, I suppose, as one great benefit of being a Liberal Democrat is that no one—including the media—ever looks into the details of the party's policy, for the obvious reason that it is all a bit academic. However, I shall soldier on and look at the so-called "residence test". This is interesting, as the Liberal Democrats say that, in government, they would devise residence rules in detail, based on Government data.

Leaving aside the Liberal Democrat party's self-delusion that it may one day be in government, let me point out that being a responsible Opposition party means that one works such things out before getting into government. The reason is that the figures and facts may not add up when one finally gets there. The Liberal Democrats talk about a person who has spent a "significant" amount of his or her life resident in the UK. If they hope to be taken even remotely seriously by anyone—including women pensioners and would-be women pensioners—they need to try and flesh the policy out a bit.

As has been noted already, the Liberal Democrats' policy means that they are saying to people who have paid their contributions every week, month and year of their working lives that none of that matters any more. Under that policy, a person who has made no contributions at all will end up getting the same amount in pension as everyone else.

The Lib Dems' policy paper does not make it clear whether only the new so-called "citizen's pension" will be subject to a residence test or whether the test will also apply to the basic state pension received by people under 75. A clarification would be welcome when the hon. Member for Romsey winds up.

The Liberal Democrats do not make it clear how the state pension for people aged under 75 will be increased over time. One has to assume, therefore, that they would increase that pension in line with prices. On the figures that I have looked at, that means that 59 per cent. of pensioners would not gain from the proposals. The Liberal Democrats also say that pensioners aged under 75 would keep their current pension entitlements along with any means-tested benefits they currently claim. They do not say, of course, at what rate they would increase the pension credit. Again, we have to assume that it would rise with prices rather than earnings. So, unlike the Conservative policy, the Liberal Democrat approach would do nothing to float pensioners under the age of 75 off means-tested benefits, which would affect very many women.

The Liberal Democrats say that the state second pension should be phased out, but they do not explicitly say that people aged 75 or over would not receive payments over and above the citizen's pension in respect of the money they have paid into SERPS. It seems likely that pensioners aged 75 or over would get no more income as of right if they had paid into SERPS throughout their working lives than if they had merely lived in the UK for 20 years. I may be wrong about that, but I would be grateful for some clarification.

The Liberal Democrats also talk about the Government's financial assistance scheme, which we debated at some length last week. They say that the figures are inadequate, and we agree. However, they suggest that the taxpayer should pick up the bill for the balance, which they estimate at £2.3 billion, minus the £400 million already committed by the Government in their package. Is that a new spending commitment? Is it included in the calculations that I have already set out?

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the Liberal Democrats' proposals—it has not received much prominence, probably because they did not give it much prominence when they unveiled their policy—is the scrapping of tax relief on pension contributions for higher rate taxpayers, which would amount to a £6 billion raid on people's dwindling pension pots. We all know that one of the ways under the present system that women are able to establish a decent pension in retirement is by getting into an occupational pension scheme. One of the ladies given as an example in the excellent report produced by Age Concern and the Fawcett Society is a constituent of mine. She faced the unfairness of the present system because she had her children and brought them up, but she then requalified and built up a pension in her new occupation. That is how many women try to catch up in the pension stakes. However, many women would be deterred by the Liberal Democrats' new proposal. It will affect not only the super rich; millions of hard-working people who do the right thing by saving for their retirement, despite all the deterrents introduced by the Government, would be hit by a double whammy. They would be taxed on their pension contributions when they get their salary and again when they receive their pension income.

Mr. Webb

I need to nail one or two myths before they get going. The hon. Gentleman appears to have read our policy document. Did he read the sentence in paragraph 6.2 that states: The central part of the Lib Dem approach is to promote simplicity, and with the other changes we are currently proposing we believe that it would create more confusion than simplicity to change the tax reliefs as well."? There is no proposal to change the tax reliefs: that is a complete fiction.

Mr. Waterson

That is not my understanding, and I hope that the hon. Member for Romsey will deal with that point in a little more detail when she winds up. The Liberal Democrats do not appear to take seriously the option of occupational pensions as a way for women to catch up—although I accept that it is only one way and is available only to certain women.

On the whole issue of women's pensions, there is no denying that under successive Governments, and due to the sociological shifts of which the hon. Gentleman spoke, considerable unfairness has grown up that affects many women. I have already referred to the report produced by Age Concern and the Fawcett Society; indeed, I attended its launch. However, the Minister, the noble Lady Hollis, who was also present, made it apparent that the Government were not likely to accept the report's recommendations.

It is no good for the Minister for Pensions to clutch at straws by talking about the pension credit. Even after tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on advertising it, almost 2 million people are still not claiming it. As we know, the Government's working assumption is that 1.4 million people will never get around to claiming it and many of them will be women.

The Conservative party is looking at women's pensions, too, and at how to address the problems—possibly by amendments to the contribution rules or through a carer's credit, to reflect the role of carers who bring up families and look after disabled relations and so on. Recently, we unveiled for consultation our proposals for a lifetime savings account, which we think will be extremely attractive in encouraging young women and men to save for their retirement.

Let me deal briefly with mixed-sex wards. It is absolutely disgraceful that they still exist in this day and age. When a Conservative Government are in power, we expect them to become a thing of a past—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) obviously agrees.

There is also a worry about the level of screening for breast cancer among older women in some parts of the country.

Last week, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that when Labour came to office we had one of the strongest pension provisions in Europe and now probably we have some of the weakest". That is a damning indictment of the Government's record; it affects women, and men, too. However, the Prime Minister has recently taken an interest in pensions. Yesterday, at the TUC conference, he said: There is no easy solution. The blunt truth is that the population is ageing; people live longer. My goodness, that man has his finger on the pulse. He talked about finding solutions to the problems.

More interesting than the Prime Minister's words has been the briefing, over the past few days, about possible solutions. There is the plan for taxpayers to pay an extra 1.5p in the pound for national insurance, which is a typical Government strategy. They would keep all the wasteful, unsuccessful schemes—such as most of the new deal—but charge people even more to get a decent pension when they retire. Interestingly, No. 10 seems to have woken up to the wisdom of scrapping means-testing and finding a different way out. It seems to be joining the consensus about which we spoke last week: means-testing must be addressed and rolled back.

The only person who is not part of the consensus is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Perhaps he will simply tell the Prime Minister to mind his own business. We do not know. The worry, which is a real problem for the new Secretary of State—who has obviously gone away to continue his study of pensions—is that pensions are being drawn into the eternal battle between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. If it is true that the Prime Minister has finally realised—albeit, no doubt, for electoral reasons—the idiocy of proceeding down the route of mass means-testing and has concluded that many of our party's policies are correct, I commend that. There should, if possible, be a broad element of cross-party unity on pensions, but I think that the Chancellor will not let the Prime Minister come to that conclusion.

We have a great deal of sympathy with most of the motion. We agree with what it says about mixed-sex wards, real choices for older people, a decent state pension, breast cancer screening and direct payments at post offices. With the single exception of the proposal for a citizens' pension, which is unworkable and impractical and will not deliver what is promised for it, we would support the motion, and I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to do so in the Lobby this evening.

5.39 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab)

I am pleased to have been called in today's debate, and I should like to make two brief contributions: I wish to welcome the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—indeed, I want to go further than that—and I wish to suggest to those on the Treasury Bench that, although it is necessary to have the normal party fights over new ideas during such debates, the Government go away after the votes tonight and seriously consider the Liberal Democrat proposals to find out whether we should lift them and include them as part of our proposals for the general election.

First, like practically every hon. Member, I welcome the appointment of the new Secretary of State without any reservation whatsoever. From my personal experience, I know that he is someone of moral courage, which will not come amiss in the issues that he must face in putting in place Labour's strategy on pensions for the election. He is also someone with very considerable political abilities. Indeed, I doubt whether he shares the Prime Minister's view that, with his appointment, we can now see the light at the end of the pensions tunnel. My guess is that someone of my right hon. Friend's experience realised that it was not the light at the end of the tunnel but an oncoming train, largely manned by pensioners, and irate pensioners at that.

My right hon. Friend knows, even if other members of the Government do not yet fully appreciate it, that the next general election will be the first election when a majority of voters who turn out will be pensioners. When we add to that total those who are within 15 years' striking distance of that age, the likelihood is that 80 per cent. of voters next time will be either coming up to retirement or will be retired. I make a plea to him that he use the extraordinary good will and leeway that he has, and his ability to think differently from previous incumbents, to ensure that we have the strongest possible pension policy when we face that elderly electorate at the polls, probably next year. In doing that, I want to make a plea for looking seriously at the Liberal Democrat proposal.

My very honourable Friend the Minister for Pensions has already moved some way, but he has seen what an old claptrap idea it is to link the proposal to citizens pensions and all that. It is almost as though he was stripping down the idea and getting it ready for Labour to put its imprint on it. I want to return to his argument: in an age when social bonds are dissolving all too fast, what a folly it is to make another attack on the national insurance scheme, which is one of the clear bonds that most of our citizens know and appreciate.

In advocating that we look seriously at the Liberal Democrat idea, I want to refer those on the Treasury Bench to the Warwick agreement. We have got rid of clause IV. We have got rid of most of the ideas, the maps and compass that used to guide me when I was a younger member of the Labour movement. Now we have the Warwick agreement. In that agreement, which has been signed by the Government and the trade unions, there is a whole section on pensions. Prominent among those commitments is the phrase, Steps to make Pension Credit payment automatic and move beyond means testing". That is now one of the cornerstones of the Warwick agreement.

My hon. Friend has a St. Sebastian complex—so much so that he now cannot even see an arrow without getting his body in the way. Of course, none of this is intended to be a criticism of his contribution, which, as always, I found exciting and comprehensive.

However, there was just a tiny gap in his contribution. There was not one word about how we might fulfil the Warwick agreement and about how we, as a party, are going to move away from a policy of mass means-testing to one in which there is automatic entitlement.

Before my hon. Friend came into the House and when he was in the House and making contributions from the Back Benches, there was no stronger advocate of universal provision and no one stronger in pointing out the folly of the Conservative Government thinking only of selectivity in terms of income. He said that they should consider selectivity in terms of age. However, because of his St. Sebastian complex, I will not detain the House by reading out any of those quotations. I merely point out that he has always made the case for a selective approach that tries to consider how one can designate other than by income the groups that are overwhelmingly poor. Age is one factor that one can use.

Malcolm Wicks


Mr. Field

I shall happily give way to St. Sebastian.

Malcolm Wicks

I have not seen an effective arrow coming my way. However, does my right hon. Friend recognise that our argument is that we need to get the balance right between universal provision using the national insurance system, and a more selective approach? When I cited some of the evidence to show that although an older age criterion has some sense, it is nevertheless imperfect because many poor people are under, and some richer people are over, the age of 75. Did he hear the evidence? Has he yet been able to assess it, and is there just a chance that it might affect his thinking?

Mr. Field

It did not do that. I am sad to hear that St. Sebastian now needs an eye test. If he did not see any arrows aimed in the opposite direction, goodness knows what occurred.

The importance of the Prime Minister's position is that, of course, any social security system will have means tests in it. The question is whether we are increasing the scope of means tests or lessening it. The truth is that, up to the reshuffle, it looked as though we had a strategy of increasing the numbers on means-testing. It now looks as though we have an option of opposing that. One of the better ways of doing that is to use age, rather than income, as the basis.

The hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) did not suggest that this one move alone would solve all our pension difficulties. It does and could play a part in a short-term strategy of reversing the tide to run against means-testing. There is, of course, a need for the Government and perhaps the Opposition parties to have an idea of what their major and longer-term reforms will be. When the Adair Turner Pensions Commission report is published, there may not be a hiding place for a political party that does not have longer-term or fundamental proposals to put before the electorate next May, if that is the correct date.

After all the good old razzamatazz of the debate, I make a plea to my hon. Friend that we consider seriously such ideas. I welcome his cutting through the typical Liberal Democratic claptrap of looking for a trendy phrase and almost sinking a good idea because of it. Somehow it does not matter how hard or long one has worked. That record will be ignored.

If we lived in a 1950s-type society in which social bonds were strengthening rather than weakening, if we did not have major problems of family and social breakdown in our constituencies, and if more and more younger people felt that they had a sense of belonging not only to their own towns but to their country, there might be a case for saying that we can be cavalier with the idea of what national insurance has meant to people in the past. However, in the circumstances of vast social disintegration, it would be folly to do that.

Mr. Webb

The right hon. Gentleman thinks deeply about these matters, so one must think deeply about what he is saying. Does he acknowledge the flipside, which is that the national insurance system has failed to value many things that he values, such as caring and low-paid work? We are not saying that people who have contributed nothing to society should have something, but that people who have contributed to society, yet receive nothing, should get something. Surely that would contribute to social cohesion.

Mr. Field

Of course it would, so we would keep the baby and the bathwater rather than throwing both out. I thought that my hon. Friend the Minister was saying to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) during their interesting interchange that when the report is published next year one suggestion that follows on might be to make good some of the glaring gaps in the national insurance system by ensuring that credit is given for jobs such as caring for vulnerable old people, to be taken into account when computing people's pension entitlement.

We must be able to pay for any proposals that we make in the election campaign. I agree that the Liberal Democrats have come up with a slightly hazy scheme of abolishing the Department of Trade and Industry, especially given that they want all its functions to be carried out elsewhere.

I leave this point with my hon. Friend the Minister, because I suspect that he knows the figures and he used to write about such matters when he was a free agent. This year is the first in which higher-rate taxpayers will take half the tax subsidy that goes towards pension savings. It is not the case, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) suggested, that if we allowed such subsidy at only the standard rate—meaning that everyone was treated equally—we would rip £6 billion from the system. We would, however, find an extra £2 billion with which we could make payments to schemes such as those advocated by the Liberal Democrats. Given that our present tax subsidies support those with the most generous pension provisions to the greatest extent, we should have a little courage when fighting the next election and decide to redistribute some, but not all, of that money to the poorest people. That would go a long way towards ensuring that we could significantly increase payments to the over-75s through the national insurance system. Such a payment would have nothing to do with whether those people were citizens, but it would have a lot to do with whether they would vote for us.

5.52 pm
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con)

I am sorry that this debate is necessary, because I hate to hear women being talked about as though they are a race apart or a bunch of lame ducks—we are half the population, after all. I look forward to the day when such debates are no longer required.

Today's debate has focused mainly on pensions, and I shall not go into the technicalities of pensions and benefits in the august company of many experts, but I know that a large percentage of older women left school young without qualifications and that many never worked outside the home at all. There are also those who had a mixed record of wartime outwork—if anyone can remember what that was—during which they collected bulk items of sewing to do at home or did light assembly work. They also split mica, and although I am not sure what mica was or what it was used for, women used to split it and it was jolly unpleasant. Women also cared for their families—both the older and younger generations—and worked in their homes without the benefit of modern appliances. They juggled that with spasmodic periods of low-paid employment outside the home, all of which meant that they had no personal pension to show for an arduous existence. Some older women had rewarding employment, paid national insurance contributions and earned a pension in their own right.

The Liberal Democrats' policy is unfair in that respect—the effort of those individuals should not be disregarded.

I recall the 1960s, when married women were given the option of giving up paying the full national insurance contribution and paying a reduced married woman's contribution. There were obvious risks in that, not least the failure of the marriage, or if the wife was much younger than the husband, there was a considerable wait until he was 65 before she could draw a pension on the strength of his contributions. My personal recollection is that the provision of information was very good, and I was in no doubt whatever about what was being offered and what the likely pitfalls were, but I accept that many women claim that they did not understand at the time the disadvantage that they were storing up for themselves in the future.

May I commend to the House the Conservative party policy, which will link the pension to earnings? The Conservatives will increase the single person's pension by £7 a week and a couple's pension by £11, on top of increases for price inflation, over four years. The pension credit will not be abolished, but of course as the state pension increases in line with earnings, fewer pensioners will be eligible.

Vera Baird

I am slightly puzzled by what the hon. Lady says, because if the basic state pension is to be index-linked, there will be no increase in the number of people coming off pension credit, as that too is linked to earnings. The two things will increase in parallel. The Conservatives will help off the minimum income guarantee element of the pension credit only those people who currently are about £6.99 below the MIG level—no one else will ever move off it. That is unless, of course, the basic state pension will go up with earnings but the Tories will freeze, and link to prices, the minimum income guarantee. That is the only way that it can be done. Is that what is going on?

Angela Watkinson

I was going to thank the hon. and learned Lady for her intervention, but I am now reluctant to do so. Her assumption about the parallel lines is misguided. The differential will change, and the value of the pension will rise so that more pensioners will be lifted out of means-testing.

Mr. Waterson

I am listening very carefully to what my hon. Friend is saying. As she knows, no one would lose under our proposals, but is she aware that despite several opportunities to speak up in the Chamber the Government are still being very coy about whether it would be their intention, if by some mischance they were elected to a third term, to increase the pension credit in line with prices or earnings? Is it not a bit rich for them to criticise us when they, the current Government, have not even formed a view about it?

Angela Watkinson

I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification.

There is another in-built advantage to our proposals in that, as pensioners no longer rely on the means test, their savings will be freed from Government scrutiny, and a pound saved for retirement will mean a pound more for income in retirement.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op)

I believe that one of the hon. Lady's political heroines is Lady Thatcher. Is she aware that it is now almost 25 years since that meanest of Acts resulted in the decoupling of pensions from pay? Does she accept that that has contributed more towards the poverty of present-day pensioners, particularly elderly females, than any other single Government move in recent times?

Angela Watkinson

One of the main reasons for women's inadequate pensions and their poverty in old age is the fact that they have been unable to work outside the home or they have not had the same opportunities as men to do so. We will put that right by linking pensions to earnings.

The policy has received support from such august sources as the Institute for Public Policy Research, an editorial in The Observer, no less, the Equal Opportunities Commission and that robust and quite scary body, the London Pensioners Forum. If anyone has ever done battle with the latter, they will know that it is a force to be reckoned with. An Age Concern survey found that

nine out of ten pensioners receiving Pension Credit want the Government to provide a higher Basic State Pension…73 per cent. believe that means testing puts people off applying for the benefit". On a related subject, elderly women in particular like to receive their pension using their pension book at their local post office. Upminster, which is part of the London borough of Havering, is subject to the Post Office's urban reinvention programme—a weasel-worded way of saying, "We are going to close your post offices." Many elderly women who have never worked outside the home regard the collection of their pension as a social occasion, because they meet people and know the sub-postmaster. All their life, they have budgeted in cash on a weekly basis, and that is how they wish to continue. The changes have therefore been very upsetting for them. If their post office has closed, they have to rely on a neighbour to collect their pension, or if they still have a post office, they have been pressed to have their pension paid into a bank account, which many of them do not want. They are supposed to have the option of opening a Post Office card account, but they have to be very persistent to do so, because the system is extremely off-putting. Small details such as remembering a PIN number are a distressing change of habit for them, and are a break in the way in which they have managed their finances all their life.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

The hon. Lady will be aware that more than 3 million people have already opened a Post Office card account. We have the means to ensure that whatever account people choose they can access those funds at the post office. She is right, however, that we need the post office network, so does she accept that the Liberal Democrat proposal to wipe out the £2 billion that we are putting into that network by scrapping the Department of Trade and Industry will not help those women pensioners?

Angela Watkinson

In one post office in my constituency, the good ladies genuinely believed that they would be listened to if they responded to the consultation and that it would make a difference if they signed the petition. Their post office, however, has been closed, and the alternative is two bus rides away, so the closure programme has resulted in some worrying injustices.

Vera Baird

I am interested in what the hon. Lady is saying, but what have the Conservatives ever done for women pensioners in the past? Home responsibilities protection was a Labour measure, and everything introduced since 1997 to help women out of poverty has been a Labour measure. What have the Conservatives ever done for women pensioners?

Angela Watkinson

The Conservatives have done a great deal for women, because the country became wealthy under a Conservative Government, and that prosperity was available to everyone, including pensioners, who are part of the community.

I want to refer to mixed-sex wards, which are an utter disgrace. I accept that there are moves to do away with them, but they still exist. It is upsetting enough to go into hospital, but older women find it humiliating and embarrassing to be in a mixed-sex ward. When my mother-in-law was in a geriatric ward in Whipps Cross hospital, she shared a room with many elderly gentlemen with prostate difficulties who had to get out of bed every few minutes. They had to walk up and down the ward using certain appliances in front of ladies, which was a wholly unsuitable arrangement. The patients do not like such arrangements, which are as bad for men as for women, and neither do the staff. I look forward to the day when a policy of no more mixed-sex wards is implemented.

A new hospital in Oldchurch in Romford, covering the London borough of Havering, is due to be opened next year. I asked for a reassurance that there would be no mixed-sex wards in that hospital, but I did not get an unequivocal response. I was told that there would be separate bays for male and female patients, with partitions, and that there would be separate facilities for them, but that is not quite the same as completely segregated wards, which is what patients want for privacy and dignity. I believe that that would be supported by staff.

Finally, breast cancer screening has focused on women up to the age of 70. I welcome the extension of screening to women between 65 and 70, but there is no mention of women over 70 in the programme. They are encouraged to make their own appointment. However, many older women are of the old school, where one did not make a fuss. If asked whether they were all right, they would always say they were, even if they were not. My own mother was a case in point. We need to include women over 70 in the programme or introduce some method whereby they are reminded that they need to continue having regular screening, as that age group is most vulnerable to breast cancer.

I look forward to the day when we no longer need policies for women—when we just need policies.

6.6 pm

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab)

I was slightly disappointed by the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), who offered many fine words but no proposals to help women now aged 60 until they are 75, with the legion problems of pension eligibility that have been discussed today, and which were discussed last week and in all the proceedings on the Pensions Bill.

Among recently retired men, 90 per cent. have a full basic state pension. Only 25 per cent. of recently retired women have a full basic state pension. The hon. Member for Northavon has nothing to say about them except that they will come to a second retiring age, so to speak, when they are 75. At that point they will start to get as of right, on some curious and not fully explained basis, an increment that will bring them up to the level of the minimum income guarantee, which many of them will have been getting before that on a means-tested basis. I am disappointed that even though the hon. Gentleman says that he is proposing a new idea, he does not deal with the problems that concern pensioners now and will concern those who are due to retire in the next 15 or more years.

The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) seemed to think that the Conservatives' policy was marvellous. As I understand it, the Tories would restore the link to earnings, which they destroyed 25 years ago. They more or less—this is not unfair—froze the level of the basic state pension for a very long time indeed, leading to the vast numbers of pensioners who were in poverty when we took office and requiring us to bring in the minimum income guarantee.

Now, by way of redress 25 years later, the Tories would link the pension to earnings so that over the four years of a Parliament, a person with a full basic state pension would have it increased by £7. That is all that would be given. However, as I mentioned, 75 per cent. of women do not have a basic state pension, so what would they get out of this great gift from the Tories? At best, £5 on average, on £50 over four years. How will that help? It is proposed as some kind of answer to means-tested benefits that will start the crusade towards a good basic state pension and a reduction in the means-testing of benefits, but of course it will not achieve that.

The proposal means that men who are £7 below the level of the pension credit will get to the level of the pension credit.

People with an income £6 below the pension credit of £105 will be out of means-testing by £1 after four years. The band of people who are up to £6.99 below the minimum income guarantee may have the satisfaction of being brought off means-tested benefit by a penny or two, but that is a relatively small number of people, and guess what—the Conservative party favours the better-off. Only those who are close to the minimum income guarantee will get any benefit at all, but the benefit is trivial.

Angela Watkinson

Does the hon. and learned Lady oppose the restoration of the link to earnings for pensions?

Vera Baird

I oppose the absurd notion that current Tory policy bears any relation to the problems in the pension system. It is utter falsity to suggest that it has anything to do with significantly rolling back means-tested benefit. The figures produced by the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) suggest that approximately one quarter of pensioners will be brought off means-tested benefit. I doubt whether that is right, but if it is, in many cases pensioners will be brought off means-tested benefit by a matter of pennies.

Those who are not on means-tested benefit will get £7 on top at the end of four years and be £7 richer, but they were richer in the first place, because they were not on means-tested benefit. On the shadow Secretary of State's own figures, three quarters of the people who are currently on means-tested benefit will still be on it at the end of four years. The policy will not roll back means-testing in any way.

Angela Watkinson

Does the hon. and learned Lady accept that pensioner bodies have demanded the restoration of the earnings link for some considerable time?

Mr. Webb

Twenty-five years.

Vera Baird

Yes, pensioners demanded the restoration of the link 25 years ago, when the Tories scrapped it. Happily, the current climate among pension pressure groups is to re-examine that demand, not to set it aside, and to consider eligibility, which the Conservative party completely ignores. How is the Conservative policy a boon to women pensioners, whose problems were admirably set out by the hon. Member for Northavon? Save for £5, if they happen to be within £5 of the minimum income guarantee, how will it help them? The policy is a fake.

The other flaw in the argument is that it is alleged that the first four years, which will provide £7 extra and bring those who are just below the minimum income guarantee above it, are just the start of the policy. Conservative Members claim that in years to come the basic state pension will keep increasing because it is index linked to wages and, as the hon. Member for Upminster puts it, more and more people will come off means-tested benefit.

The minimum income guarantee element of the pension credit is also linked to earnings, so it runs side by side with the basic state pension. People will come off means-tested benefit only if the minimum income guarantee is frozen, which means that the income of the other three quarters of pensioners, whom the shadow Secretary of State is content to leave on means-tested benefit throughout, will gradually decrease, and they are, by definition, the poorest pensioners. The Tory policy really amounts to giving more money, and not very much of it at that, to the rich.

How will giving a little bit more money to the relatively rich be paid for? The new deal, which has put 1 million people back in work, including enormous numbers of people in constituencies such as mine, would have to be scrapped. If the Conservatives have any interest in the regions, scrapping the new deal is another risible policy, and it is class-based.

David Taylor

My hon. and learned Friend is lucidly describing the effect of the Conservative policy on pensioners on the minimum income guarantee, which would be the reintroduction of the decoupling of pensions from inflation and wages in the economy of a sort that we last saw 25 years ago. The Conservative policy has an awful echo.

Vera Baird

Yes, my hon. Friend makes a strong point. In terms of public confidence in who will look after the pension system, the bottom line is how much money will he put into it as a whole. The Conservatives often say that there is a need to cut public spending, and I do not think that the public are fooled for one minute by their vote-chasing attempt to deceive them into thinking that if they vote Tory, means-testing will be over and their pride will be restored to them. They know very well that the Tories scrapped the earnings link, that they will keep the poor poor, and that in the end, however they try to tweak their policies, they will never put enough money into the pension system for people to have the proper basis for a contented retirement.

Women have needs that the hon. Member for Upminster has not even considered. They have huge difficulties in getting a full basic state pension. The hon. Member for Northavon mentioned some of those difficulties; let me run through a couple more. Home responsibilities protection is a Labour measure; whatever the hon. Member for Upminster says, I am afraid the Tories did nothing for women caring for children or for older people. HRP gives a credit of a year at a time. A woman who will have to work for 39 years to get her pension entitlement and takes a year off to look after a child will then have to work for only 38 years, and on it goes to a maximum of 19 years. That is an unwieldy way of giving a credit, and for many women it does not work very well. Because it has to be based on a complete year, the woman will lose the first year if she does not have her baby on 6 April; and she will lose the last year as well if he does not eventually go to university on 5 April.

There are more serious problems than that, however. For example, many women go back to work part time when their children start to go to nursery or to school, thereby losing their home responsibilities protection. If they fall into the category of working below the lower earnings limit, they neither pay a national insurance contribution nor are they credited with one, even though they are working. A woman who works 30 hours a week looking after children and 16 hours a week on the minimum wage will not get pension credit from either source, however long she carries on working long hours every day.

Then there is the problem of the carers credit. A person gets a carers credit only if they are caring for somebody who is entitled to disability living allowance, which means that they require 35 hours of care. Many people do not require that much time. Many women take a part-time job rather than a full-time job in order to give 10 hours or 18 hours to an elderly relative, or to give 10 hours to each of two elderly relatives, or to share the care of an elderly relative with a sister. They will not get the carers credit, because they are caring for someone who needs only 18 hours or 20 hours' care, or they are sharing it with someone else, and the part-time job is not sufficient to bring them the credit either. They fall between two stools.

Another problem is the left-over iniquity of the 25 per cent. rule, which says that even those who have worked sufficiently to qualify for 24.5 per cent. of a basic state pension are, for some bizarre reason that must be left over from the days of book keeping by quill pen, not entitled to a penny piece of it. They have to have 25 per cent. entitlement or they get nothing. That equates to an enormous amount of money. Twenty-five per cent. of £70—the basic state pension—is around £17.50. Over a decade, that robs £8,750 from a person who has worked and paid their national insurance.

Only 25 per cent. of women have a full basic state pension on retirement—enormous numbers of them fall below that level because of all the difficulties. There is no excuse for that.

David Taylor

Would my hon. Friend include on her list of smash-and-grabs on the oldest and poorest pensioners the decision by the previous Government to halve inherited SERPS and then to say nothing about it, leaving this Government to pick up the pieces?

Vera Baird

Again, my hon. Friend makes a clear and strong point.

The report that the Government will produce on women and pensions next year is a big step forward. It will clearly be an assessment not only of pensions policy but, as the Minister said, of all the other aspects that help contribute to women's pension position. It was requested because the Green Paper states that we have introduced the minimum wage, which helps lots of women; we have equal pay for women—of course, we have it only theoretically but are working towards it; more women work; more women spend shorter periods of time out of work caring for children; they are all gravitating towards the Beveridge model of a working person, and they will all eventually qualify for a full basic state pension in the ordinary, national insurance way, or approach such qualification. I overstate the case that the Government make, which is not nearly so glib. Nevertheless, it is necessary to review the position from time to time to ascertain whether such factors are genuinely moving matters forward and helping women to get better national insurance contributions and thus progress towards better state pension provision.

It is clear that all the factors that I have outlined, which, by and large, go in the right direction for achieving women's eventual qualification for full basic state pension, are not enough. It is never likely to be the case that women will conform to the Beveridge model of a long working life. They will almost inevitably be the primary carers for children for a long time. Hence one returns full circle to the need for inadequate credits for caring to be rectified. Frankly, even if women are not the primary carers and men take on that role, they, too, will fall foul of the inadequate credits for child care and elder care. It does not matter who does the caring, but it is likely that women will do it.

We must re-examine the current position instead of the one the Liberal Democrats advocate, albeit only for those aged over 75. If all the credits are improved so that it becomes the aim to cover women who are in work, women who are out of work and caring, whoever they care for, and to make the ability to get credits for national insurance open to them all, most people will qualify for a full basic state pension. Do we need to take the extra step that the Liberal Democrats advocate, albeit only at a late age, to scrap the national insurance system, and to start on a different basis to give people a pension for doing nowt or summat?

I am worried about the Liberal Democrat proposal to abandon entirely the national insurance principle. I have concerns about who is a citizen and who is not, how long people have to be resident before becoming a citizen, and how else someone is chosen to qualify. What happens to people who are not citizens? What do they get? Is there any point in going beyond making national insurance inclusive rather than exclusive? Is there any need to scrap what, I believe, is politically dear to people because it gives them a sense of contributing to what they get back? Is there any purpose, in terms of future social cohesion, in scrapping that principle? What is to be gained by it?

The discussion has put eligibility for the basic state pension at centre stage. The main problem with the Liberal Democrat proposal is the way in which it will be financed. I have already referred to my constituency of Redcar. A couple of weeks ago, a happy announcement was made that an American business called Huntsman, which had been in Redcar since 1999, when it bought an ethylene plant from ICI, would invest in a polyethylene plant—a downstreamer from the ethylene plant. The ethylene plant employs 800 people; the polyethylene will secure those jobs because it is a downstream plant for the ethylene plant, and polyethylene is sold throughout the country. Currently, the ethylene is exported and re-imported as polyethylene—that is crazy. The new plant will secure the existing 800 jobs and generate another 120. Huntsman made it absolutely clear that the £16.5 million regional selective assistance grant from the Department of Trade and Industry made the difference between investing in the new plant or accepting that the cracker—the ethylene plant—was becoming less viable and profitable and would, in due course, have to be closed down.

I can tell the hon. Member for Northavon that at least 920 people in Redcar are very pleased indeed that the DTI exists and that it has an industrial development unit capable of providing such grants. I would ask him to consider the peril that he would put the regions in if he scrapped the DTI.

When Huntsman proposed making more investment, it was bombarded with offers of grants from many other parts of the EU, notably Rotterdam, and it was essential for us to compete. If the hon. Gentleman is really saying that the way to finance his pension proposals is by scrapping the means to do that, I would point out that he might be paying out to the very old, but he would be attacking the younger generation in order to do so. He would be depriving people in regions such as mine, where unemployment is still very high, of much needed employment, and that would be too high a price to pay. That is the fundamental flaw in his seriously flawed policy.

6.25 pm
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP)

Several themes have run through this debate. One was the need for consensus, although I have seen very little in what has been said so far. Another was the serious problem of pension provision, particularly for older women. That is largely a result of current pension provision being based on labour market provision, which discriminates against those with an interrupted employment history—particularly women and carers. Because of that link, many such groups find that poverty during their working lives translates into poverty in old age.

Although much of what we have discussed today has concerned state pension provision, it is also relevant to occupational pensions. Fewer women than men belong to such pension schemes: 52 per cent. of men, compared with 39 per cent. of women. The interrupted occupational histories of many women mean that they have had less time to build up pension rights.

Also, significantly for women who are getting near retirement age now, it is only in recent years that women gained pension rights through divorce. I have to say that Scotland was well ahead of England in this regard. Until recently, pensions were not treated as an asset on divorce, although they were a significant family asset. That is now changing. Many women now reaching retirement age have not had the benefit of that, and therefore face greater poverty in retirement.

We have discussed the destruction of the link between earnings and pensions, but perhaps the link between labour market provision and pensions should have been the one that was broken. That is the main attraction of the citizens pension, because it would do that. It would provide a basic pension for all citizens, notwithstanding the difficulties in ascertaining what citizenship involves in certain instances. When the Minister talked about means-testing, he suggested that the difficulty with a citizens pension as opposed to a means-tested one was that someone with a large occupational pension would get the same benefit from a citizens pension as someone on a low income. That is not true, because in the example that he cited, the person getting a £50,000 occupational pension would pay tax on that pension.

The citizens pension would ensure a basic living pension for everyone. That is important, because we know that one in five of our pensioners still live in poverty. The Government have gone down the road of means-testing, through the pension credit, even though they derided the Tories for doing so when they were in opposition. Means-testing is an inefficient way of dealing with a problem that is rooted in the fact that pension entitlement is attached to the labour market. The fact is that, under the present provision, more than half the over-65s in the United Kingdom were eligible for the means-tested pension credit on its introduction, and that proportion is rising. It will reach nearly three quarters by 2025.

I pointed out in an intervention on the Minister, to which he did not really respond, that many pensioners— particularly the older ones—are not taking up the pension credit, despite our best efforts to get them to claim whatever they are entitled to under the present system, whether we agree with it or not. Even the Government's own take-up target involves less than three quarters of pensioners by 2006. That will leave a considerable number of pensioners being missed out, and continuing to live in poverty.

The oldest pensioners are at greatest risk of poverty and in greatest need of pension credit, but are least likely to claim. That may be the reason for the Liberal Democrat idea of targeting more on older pensioners, but it seems to me that the proper role of a citizens pension is to provide for everyone at a reasonable level, and to allow a foundation on which to make additional savings.

The question of savings is important. One of the problems with mean-testing—which the Government should not brush aside—is that many who have saved something towards their retirement feel that they are being discriminated against because of the effort that they have made. That should be taken into account. Again, the citizens pension idea will get round that to some extent.

I am conscious of the lack of time and that other Members want to speak in the debate. Although it may be outside the strict confines of the debate, we must consider the question of savings and how people save towards their retirement. Governments, both Labour and Conservative, have tried to get people to save more towards their retirement, to lessen the burden on the state pension. Private and company pensions are the subject of a considerable amount of distrust following the Maxwell case and recent cases such as Allied Steel and Wire, and those problems must also be dealt with.

The motion refers to more than pensions. I notice that it says a lot about hospitals, which are a devolved matter in Scotland, and I will not comment much on it, other than to note that the Liberals are in coalition with the Labour party in the Scottish Executive, and are therefore partly responsible for hospitals in Scotland, which are the cause of some concern. The Scottish Health Minister has even been summoned to London to appear before Labour MPs today for a grilling.

The motion also mentions the issue of the pension book. The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) spoke at length about that, and I agree with much of what she said. I gave the example of a constituent whom I helped to apply for a Post Office card account. She went through all the forms, complicated though they were, and went back and forward. Eventually, she was told that she was getting the card. She went down to the post office, which said that it had no record of her and gave her another pension book. Two weeks later, of course, the Post Office announced that it was going to close that post office, although I am happy to say that a campaign that I organised was successful in stopping that closure. Therefore there is some hope that closures can be stopped. It is a small matter, but it is very important to pensioners, and the Labour party fails to take that on board at its peril.

6.33 pm
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD)

I shall try to be as concise as possible in the few minutes that are left. The background to this debate is that the pension system in this country is in crisis. There are two legs to the pension system. The basic state pension is completely inadequate, as we have often heard, and the mean-tested pension credit system, which the Government favour as the solution to that, is failing to reach almost 2 million of the poorest pensioners in the country.

Private pensions, which are needed to take people above the basic state pension, are also experiencing many problems. Not enough people save for a private pension, not enough people save soon enough, and not enough people save enough. Those who do have been hit by stock market problems, by the Chancellor's £5 billion pension fund raid, by the mis-selling scandals that resulted from the previous Conservative's Government deregulation of the selling of pensions, and by the loss of occupational pensions more recently, which has affected constituents of mine who work at Chesterfield Cylinders, Dema Glass and Coalite.

All that is leading to a spiral of decline in the private pension sector. One of my constituents who worked for Dema Glass received on her 60th birthday, instead of a letter telling her how much pension she would get, a letter telling her that she would get no pension at all or at best 30 per cent. at some time in the future, but it was not certain when. As a result, her daughter, who is in her mid-20s and works for a very good international firm based in Chesterfield, said, "I was going to take out a private pension with the company but what's the point? If that can happen to my mother after a lifetime's saving, there's no point me saving." Confidence must be restored in the private pensions system if that is to be overcome.

If all that is true of pensioners in general, and of male pensioners, it is even more true of female pensioners, as we have heard.

Sixty per cent. of pensioners get a bad deal, but most of them are women. Women make up 64 per cent. of the overall pensioner population, but a far higher percentage of the poorest pensioners. Typically, women receive 57 per cent. of the male pension, while only 12 per cent. of women get the full basic state pension in their own right; 25 per cent. of single women pensioners live in poverty. A recent joint report from Age Concern and the Fawcett Society showed that women accounted for 75 per cent. of pensioners on income support. As we have heard today, the origins of that lie in the earlier role of women, who used normally to work in low-paid and part-time jobs and would take long stretches of time out to care for children and other members of the family, the elderly and the sick.

We have heard that that may change, but very slowly. The women of today begin work on much more equal terms, with equal pay and a different attitude to life. It will take 30 or 40 years for that to feed through, so that they receive decent pensions in their own right when they retire. The Minister and his colleagues, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), have said in the past two or three hours that they are happy with that situation. They are happy with what they are doing for pensioners, and happy with the fact that any benefits that are generated will take 30 or 40 years to have an effect. In the meantime nearly 2 million pensioners, most of them women, must continue to live in poverty.

I hope that the Minister will have time to answer a specific question. The Minister for Pensions was full of praise for the Pension Service and its attempts to break down the barrier of means-tested benefits and get people on to pension credit. I have said the same in the House and in Committee debates. I have observed the good work that the service is doing in Chesterfield, for instance. Last Wednesday, however, along with two of the Minister's Back-Bench colleagues, I met members of the Public and Commercial Services Union. They said that one suggestion relating to the proposed job cuts of between 30,000 and 40,000 would affect workers in the Pension Service. If that innovatory service has indeed proved effective, can the Minister reassure us that it will not be hit? That would undermine the one bit of good work that is being done. I agree with the Minister for Pensions about that.

The recently announced policy of the Liberal Democrats is to give all those over 75—mostly women—a decent pension of £105 a week. That would avoid the present deterrent of means-testing. It has been welcomed across the board—not by the other two major parties in the House, but by financial commentators in the last week. It has been welcomed throughout the press, from the normally Conservative-supporting elements to others, as being realistic, costed and achievable, and as a first step towards a fair basic pension for all.

I hope for the sake of the poorest pensioners—most of them women—that the Minister takes the advice of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead. I hope that he borrows our policy and implements it, because that would be for the good of the poorest pensioners in the country. If he fails to do that—as I imagine he will—I look forward very much to fighting the election, in a few months' time, on our policy of providing a fair deal for the poorest pensioners in our society. It is the first time that that will have happened. Let me refer to our earlier debate, and add that I also look forward to fighting the election on our policy of scrapping the tuition fees introduced by the Government, and introducing a much fairer system of free access to higher education.

6.38 pm
Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD)

I am afraid that, owing to limited time, I shall be unable to respond in detail to some points that have been made. However, I will say to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) that it would probably help if he listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), because a number of his questions were answered in my hon. Friend's speech.

It was clear from the length of time for which the hon. Gentleman spoke that, although the Conservatives may have some sort of pensions policy, its bearing on women was an afterthought. It seems to have been a case of "We have a problem; what are we going to do?" I have little to add to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who highlighted the considerable flaws in the Conservatives' policy.

I want my winding-up speech to supplement the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon, who has long recognised the particular problems faced by older women and has carried out a huge amount of campaigning work on the subject, particularly on the injustice of the married women's stamp. He has highlighted the fact that many of those women did not know that they were signing away their rights to a pension. A generation of women thought that they would be looked after in their old age only to find out that that was far from the case.

Within that context, the self-congratulatory nature of the Government amendment is particularly distasteful. The motion might just have been acceptable one year into the new Government, but it appears that they believe that it is something to brag about, even though the Government admit that it will be next year before they even report on women pensioners, let alone do anything about it. I am disappointed that the hon. and learned Member for Redcar had to highlight the work of the Fawcett Society before it became an issue that the Department for Work and Pensions acknowledged. I am delighted that has happened now, but why could it not have happened six years ago? I sometimes despair.

The rest of the Prime Minister's amendment fudges the other issues mentioned in our motion in similar fashion, but I want to concentrate on the health of older women. Groups of pensioners will talk at length about their pensions. It is something that they are rightly indignant about, interested in and engaged in, but once that discussion is out of the way, other issues come to the fore. Our motion could have been much longer, but we wanted to focus on a few specific issues.

The Government happily announce in their amendment that 99 per cent. of NHS trusts provide single-sex accommodation for planned admissions and they give themselves a big pat on the back for that. That simple statement is a masterpiece of deception and I want to draw the House's attention to Prime Minister's Question Time on 19 November 1996. The then Leader of the Opposition—now our Prime Minister—asked the then Prime Minister:

Why has the Prime Minister not yet made good the promise given two years ago to eliminate mixed-sex wards in our hospitals?"— [Official Report, 19 November 1996; Vol. 285, c. 831.] We should note that there was no mention of planned admissions or sleeping accommodation. If that issue was worthy of righteous indignation as long ago as 1996, why is such a simple measure taking so long to achieve?

Naturally enough, when the Labour Government came to power—I was pleased that the Tories were no more—the then Secretary of State for Health took the expected action. He blamed the Tories. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said: As far as we can see, under the programme that they left us with, in very many hospitals there was no possibility of eliminating mixed-sex wards in the 20th century. We will speed up that process."—[Official Report, 20 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 492.] The Tories at least had their much maligned patients charter, which made it clear to patients that they had the right, except in emergencies, to be told whether they would be in a ward for men and women. It was stated that in all cases people should "expect" single-sex washing and toilet facilities. It also clearly stated: If you would prefer to be cared for in single sex accommodation (either a single sex ward or 'bay' area within a larger ward which offers equal privacy) your wishes will be respected wherever possible. We all know that the patients charter disappeared to be replaced by something called "Your NHS", which was by no means as specific about patients' rights in this matter.

The amendment before us today says absolutely nothing about washing facilities. It may not be a big issue compared with pensions, but I shall explain why it is a big issue for some people. I can assume only that the Government do not believe that single-sex facilities are important or even desired by elderly people in hospital.

I visited Southampton general hospital only last week. It is an excellent hospital in many ways, but I was surprised to find that the toilet bays were often not single sex. There were male and female cubicles side by side, but before a male could access the male toilet, he had to walk past the washing area, which was screened off only by a very flimsy curtain, offering absolutely no privacy whatever.

I suspect that many other hospitals provide similar facilities, so I assume that that shows that the Government are interested only in sleeping accommodation, and that they are not concerned about the wider picture.

The sad thing is that in many cases it is not a question of extra money. With a little thought, the problems could be solved by rearranging the existing infrastructure, but hospitals are so fixated on hitting every Government target that they simply do not deem such issues to be high priority. I can understand that: if I worked in Southampton general hospital, I would want to keep my job too.

People who think that this is not such a big issue should speak to a constituent of mine. I shall not reveal her name so as to protect her privacy, but she was placed on a mixed-sex ward in the Royal South Hants hospital in Winchester. I am not complaining about the original placement, as it was an emergency, but she was still there after several days, even though she had asked repeatedly to be moved, and even though one of the male patients kept on exposing himself to her. That is totally unacceptable, and it should not have happened to my constituent or to any other patient.

The Minister may say that the national service framework for older people is in place, and that NSF standard 1 reduces discrimination. When the NSF was launched, Professor Ian Philp, the national director for older people's services said: The NSF will mean that a person can expect to receive high-quality care and treatment, regardless of their age or whether they live. This will make age discrimination a thing of the past. Older people will be treated as individuals, with respect and dignity". My constituent saw no evidence of dignity. Hers may have been an extreme case, and one that I hope is not replicated widely, but mixed-sex toilets and washing facilities do not provide dignity either. I urge the Government to ensure that what happens in hospitals reflects their rhetoric. I hope that they will change the words that they use to produce the right results.

The House should not just take my word for this. A recent Mind report entitled "Wardwatch" stated that 23 per cent. of recent and current in-patient respondents had been accommodated in mixed-sex wards. A further 31 per cent. of respondents did not have access to single-sex bathroom facilities.

Disappointingly, the Government's response was to belittle the report. They should take seriously the problems highlighted in it, and find out what is going wrong. Professor Philp stated also that age discrimination was a thing of the past, and that is the impression that the Government also like to portray. Therefore, I shall talk briefly about the most prominent example of age discrimination in the NHS—the cut-off age for breast cancer screening.

The cut-off age was 65, and I am delighted that the Government are to raise that to 70 by the end of the year, but that is for people who are routinely invited for screening by the NHS and it completely ignores the fact that 40 per cent. of breast cancer cases involve women over 70. That is bad enough, but it also promotes the dangerous misconception among older women that they have a decreased risk of contracting breast cancer. Therefore, although women over that age may request screening, the low level of awareness of the risk means that tumours may not be detected until it is too late.

According to the Breakthrough Breast Cancer research centre, the most important risk factor is age. Many consultants have gone on record to say that increasing the cut-off age to 80 would be a cost-effective measure.

In 2002, 6,320 women aged 70 and over died from breast cancer. That is more than 55 per cent. of the total number of women of all ages who died as a result of breast cancer in the same year. Who knows how the numbers might have changed if the screening had been available?

That is just one example of discrimination, and it is Liberal Democrat policy to outlaw the denial of treatment on the basis of absolute age barriers. We would also require the NHS executive to issue national guidance to tackle the problem of discrimination on the grounds of age.

The Government deny that age discrimination exists, but Age Concern has received reports of both implicit and explicit age discrimination at all levels in the NHS. It issued a report in 2000, but little seems to have changed since. Despite the lip service paid by the Government to age discrimination, many people know that the problem is a real one.

To sum up, the Liberal Democrats are tackling the issues that affect pensioners. Our proposals to axe the council tax have not been mentioned today, but they would benefit 70 per cent. of pensioners, and our pension proposals would tackle the particular problems faced by older women.

There are other problems, but we cannot do everything at once. There is still a huge mountain to climb. Above all, however, we will be serious when in government about eliminating age discrimination in all its forms.

6.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

It seems only last week that we debated pensions on an Opposition motion and, indeed, it was. We have heard many thoughtful speeches today from Members on both sides of the House and I am delighted to welcome those Liberal Democrat Back Benchers who have been able to join us for the last few minutes of the debate on their motion, but who were not able to be here earlier.

The constant theme of all the speeches was that women pensioners do not enjoy as comfortable a retirement as they deserve. The Government recognise that the majority of pensioners are women and we are committed to ensuring that pension reforms improve women's rights. That is why the Government's priority has been to tackle poverty among the poorest pensioners, many of them women. In the year before we took office, 35 per cent. of single female pensioners were living in relative poverty. As a result of the action we have taken to tackle pensioner poverty, that figure is down to 21 per cent., even before the pension credit comes into effect. But there is clearly more to do if we want all pensioners to share in the nation's rising prosperity.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions earlier, the root of the challenge lies in the uneven distribution of opportunities during working life and of caring responsibilities. That is a problem that has gradually gained importance as a result of the breakdown of the model Beveridge family. But we have come a long way since Beveridge's time. The Government have introduced a range of important measures to benefit women and we do not intend to stop.

Our measures to help women differ from the advice given by the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) not so long ago, when he recommended that one way to respond to demographic challenges was for women to have more babies. Our measures do not expect today's women to have children so that they can enjoy a comfortable retirement. Instead, our most significant measure to benefit today's pensioners has been the introduction of the pension credit. Having sat through two debates this afternoon with the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), I have to tell him that he is developing an unfortunate tendency to sneer. The pension credit has had a huge and immediate positive impact on the living standards of many women pensioners. Two thirds of those entitled to pension credit are women, and half are aged 75 and over. More than 2 million women are now receiving the pension credit and we abhor the Opposition proposals that would take that away from the poorest pensioners. I can tell the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) that although we always envisaged that the number of people working in the Pension Service would decline once the pension credit had been launched, we are committed to maintaining the level of service to pensioners.

Pension credit has not been our only response to pensioner poverty. The introduction of winter fuel payments has helped 11.5 million pensioners, more than half of them women. Those payments are worth £200 a year, or £300 for households with a person aged 80 or over. In addition, more than 5 million households will gain from the over-70s additional payment. Some 60 per cent. of those aged over 70 are women, as are 66 per cent. of those aged over 80.

The state second pension, which the Conservatives plan to scrap along with the new deal if they get the chance, will boost the pensions of low and moderately paid employees and, for the first time, provide an additional pension for carers and long-term disabled people. As we have heard in this debate, that is of particular benefit to women, many of whom work part time or as carers. In fact, some 70 per cent. of the 5 million low earners who will benefit from the state second pension are women, as are almost all of the 2.5 million carers who will benefit.

We have also done much to improve the pension position of tomorrow's female pensioners. We are ensuring that all pensioners have as fair as possible an environment in which to save. The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) referred to wartime and post-war outworkers.

I think the hon. Lady will agree that it was sad that when the person she described as her heroine was in office she abolished the minimum wage for those very outworkers and home workers.

By tackling poverty during working age, we are giving people the means to avoid poverty in old age; for example, the minimum wage and the working tax credit overwhelmingly benefit women, thereby increasing their savings potential. The Government have also made a substantial investment in additional resources for child care to enable many of those caring for children to return to work.

We recognise that women are under-represented among those with private sector occupational pensions; in particular, women who work part-time are less likely to be offered and to take up employer-based pensions than men or women who work full-time. Nevertheless, more than 2 million working-age women are members of private sector occupational pension schemes, so the measures in the Pensions Bill to improve the security and simplify the structure of existing occupational pension provision are relevant to women. The House will remember that the Conservatives declined to support that Bill on Second Reading.

Stakeholder pensions, introduced by the Government, are beneficial to women in the modern labour market who move regularly between employers, who take a break from work—to raise a family, for example—or who have family who can pay into a pension for them. We are committed to improving pension information for everyone to ensure that they are aware of their pension position and the choices they face, which is especially important for women.

As I said, the Government have done much to help women. Today, the hon. Member for Northavon set out his plans for a citizens pension, which he says will help many women; but it will not be targeted at the poorest women. Taking account of the offsetting losses in pension credit, tax and national insurance, the poorest pensioners will gain nothing from the hon. Gentleman's proposals. The biggest gainers will be those in the top income deciles.

At a stroke, the Liberals plan to scrap the national insurance scheme, which is the bedrock of pensions as they operate today and was established in 1911 by another great Liberal—as he was at the time—Winston Churchill. People who have contributed, in many cases for an entire working life, towards their national insurance pension would find that it was swept away.

I have great respect for pressure groups. I used to run one, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions. The hon. Member for Northavon used to work for one, too. The problem is that he thinks he still does. Instead of representing a national political party, serious about its potential to run the country, he still wheels out the latest wheeze he comes across—ill-thought-out, uncosted and half-baked. As we pointed out last week and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) pointed out earlier, those plans will be paid for by scrapping the DTI, the £2 billion that supports the post office network, the mechanisms for the minimum wage and protection for consumers and employees.

In a move described by the hon. Member for Havant as a "triumphant success", the Conservatives, who scrapped the earnings link in 1980 at the earliest opportunity, now plan to reintroduce it. They are calling for an increase in the basic state pension in line with earnings, but we know that the vast majority of women would not gain from that increase. They would lose from the abolition of the state second pension and, indeed, of pension credit, with which the Conservatives plan to pay for the increase.

An independent analysis by the Pensions Policy Institute concluded that under Conservative policies the average woman will lose". The Leader of the Opposition agreed with that conclusion. Last year, he told us: Those who are entitled to the pension credit and do claim…will not be better off. Most of those people will be women.

We are not complacent; we want to do everything that we can to help women to build up a decent income in retirement. That is why we are committed to producing a report on women and pensions by the end of next year, and I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar for introducing those proposals and to my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions for accepting them.

Taken together, the measures that I have described to the House today are significant in meeting the challenges that many women in this country face in respect of pensions. They demonstrate that we have a coherent, sustainable long-term—

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 182, Noes 250.

Division No. 244] [6.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Gill, Parmjit Singh
Allan, Richard Goodman, Paul
Amess, David Gray, James (N Wilts)
Ancram, rh Michael Grayling, Chris
Arbuthnot, rh James Green, Damian (Ashford)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Baker, Norman Greenway, John
Baldry, Tony Gummer, rh John
Barker, Gregory Hammond, Philip
Baron, John (Billericay) Hancock, Mike
Barrett, John Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W &
Beith, rh A. J. Abingdon)
Bellingham, Henry Hawkins, Nick
Bercow, John Heald, Oliver
Beresford, Sir Paul Health, David
Blunt, Crispin Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Boswell, Tim Hendry, Charles
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hermon, Lady
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Surrey) Hogg, rh Douglas
Brady, Graham Holmes, Paul
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Horam, John (Orpington)
Brazier, Julian Hunter, Andrew
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Jack, rh Michael
Browning, Mrs Angela Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Burnett, John Jenkin, Bernard
Burns, Simon Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Burnside, David Keetch, Paul
Burt, Alistair Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye &
Butterfill, Sir John Inverness)
Cable, Dr. Vincent Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Cameron, David Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Lamb, Norman
Fife) Laws, David (Yeovil)
Carmichael, Alistair Leigh, Edward
Cash, William Letwin, rh Oliver
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Barnet) Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Chidgey, David Lilley, rh Peter
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Llwyd, Elfyn
Collins, Tim Loughton, Tim
Conway, Derek McIntosh, Miss Anne
Curry, rh David Mackay, rh Andrew
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Maclean, rh David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham &) McLoughlin, Patrick
Stamford) Malins, Humfrey
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Maples, John
Howden) Mates, Michael
Djanogly, Jonathan Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Dodds, Nigel Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Coldfield)
Doughty, Sue Moore, Michael
Duncan, Alan (Rutland) Moss, Malcolm
Duncan, Peter (Galloway) Norman, Archie
Ewing, Annabelle Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Fabricant, Michael Öpik, Lembit
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Page, Richard
Westminister) Paice, James
Flook, Adrian Paterson, Owen
Forth, rh Eric Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &
Foster, Don (Bath) Dinefwr)
Fox, Dr. Liam Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Francois, Mark Pugh, Dr. John
Gale, Roger (N Thanet) Randall, John
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Redwood, rh John
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis) Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Gidley, Sandra Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew Teather, Sarah
Robertson, Angus (Moray) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & Thurso, John
M-Kent) Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Tredinnick, David
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Roe, Dame Marion Tyrie, Andrew
Rosindell, Andrew Viggers, Peter
Ruffley, David Walter, Robert
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Waterson, Nigel
Salmond, Alex Watkinson, Angela
Sanders, Adrian Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Sayeed, Jonathan Weir, Michael
Simmonds, Mark Whittingdale, John
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk) Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S) Wiggin, Bill
Soames, Nicholas Wilkinson, John
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Willetts, David
Spicer, Sir Michael Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Spring, Richard Willis, Phil
Stanley, rh Sir John Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Steen, Anthony Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Streeter, Gary (Macclesfield)
Stunell, Andrew Wishart, Pete
Swayne, Desmond Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Swire, Hugo (E Devon) Young, rh Sir George
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, John (Solihull) Sir Robert Smith and
Taylor, Sir Teddy Richard Younger-Ross
Abbott, Ms Diane Cohen, Harry
Ainger, Nick Connarty, Michael
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Corston, Jean
Allen, Graham Cousins, Jim
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Cox, Tom (Tooting)
Atherton, Ms Candy Cranston, Ross
Atkins, Charlotte Cruddas, Jon
Bailey, Adrian Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Baird, Vera Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Barnes, Harry Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack
Battle, John (Copeland)
Bayley, Hugh Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Beard, Nigel Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Bell, Sir Stuart Darling, rh Alistair
Berry, Roger Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Best, Harold David, Wayne
Betts, Clive Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Blackman, Liz Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Blears, Ms Hazel Dawson, Hilton
Blizzard, Bob Dean, Mrs Janet
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Denham, rh John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Bradshaw, Ben Dobson, rh Frank
Brennan, Kevin Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Browne, Desmond Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burnham, Andy Edwards, Huw
Cairns, David Efford, Clive
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Etherington, Bill
Casale, Roger Farrelly, Paul
Caton, Martin Fisher, Mark
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg) Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Challen, Colin Flint, Caroline
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Chaytor, David Follett, Barbara
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough) Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings
Pentlands) & Rye)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Foulkes, rh George
Chryston) Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Clelland, David George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Coaker, Vernon Gerrard, Neil
Coffey, Ms Ann Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda Mahmood, Khalid
Godsiff, Roger Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Goggins, Paul Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Marshall, David (Glasgow
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Shettleston)
Grogan, John Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Martlew, Eric
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Meacher, rh Michael
Hanson, David Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Harman, rh Ms Harriet Michael, rh Alun
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) Miller, Andrew
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Rhymney) Mole, Chris
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Morgan, Julie
Heppell, John Mudie, George
Hesford, Stephen Munn, Ms Meg
Heyes, David Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Hill, Keith (Streatham) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hinchliffe, David O'Hara, Edward
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale) Olner, Bill
Hope, Phil (Corby) O'Neill, Martin
Hopkins, Kelvin Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Owen, Albert
Sefton E) Palmer, Dr. Nick
Howells, Dr. Kim Perham, Linda
Hoyle, Lindsay Picking, Anne
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Pickthall, Colin
Urmston) Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Plaskitt, James
Hutton, rh John Pollard, Kerry
Iddon, Dr. Brian Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Illsley, Eric Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Irranca-Davies, Huw Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jenkins, Brian Prosser, Gwyn
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Purchase, Ken
Hatfield) Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Raynsford, rh Nick
Jowell, rh Tessa Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W) Robertson, John (Glasgow
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald Anniesland)
Keeble, Ms Sally Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry
Keen, Alan (Feltham) NW)
Khabra, Piara S. Roche, Mrs Barbara
Kidney, David Rooney, Terry
Kilfoyle, Peter Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
King, Andy (Rugby) Ruddock, Joan
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Russell, Ms Christine (City of
Bow) Chester)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset) Savidge, Malcolm
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Sawford, Phil
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen Shaw, Jonathan
Lammy, David Sheerman, Barry
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Sheridan, Jim
Laxton, Bob (Derby N) Shipley, Ms Debra
Lepper, David Short, rh Clare
Leslie, Christopher Skinner, Dennis
Levitt, Tom (High Peak) Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen Smith, rh Chris (Islington S &
Linton, Martin Finsbury)
Love, Andrew Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin) Lunesdale)
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McCabe, Stephen Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McCafferty, Chris Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McDonagh, Siobhain Soley, Clive
MacDonald, Calum Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
McDonnell, John Stewart, David (Inverness E &
MacDougall, John Lochaber)
McFall, rh John Stinchcombe, Paul
McIsaac, Shona Stoate, Dr. Howard
McKechin, Ann Straw, rh Jack
McKenna, Rosemary Stringer, Graham
McNulty, Tony Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mactaggart, Fiona Tami, Mark (Alyn)
McWalter, Tony Taylor, David (NW Leics)
McWilliam, John Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Timms, Stephen White, Brian
Tipping, Paddy Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Touhig, Don (Islwyn) Wicks, Malcolm
Trickett, Jon Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Truswell, Paul Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Wills, Michael
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Winnick, David
Kemptown) Woodward, Shaun
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Wright, Anthony D. (Gt
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Yarmouth)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E) Wright, David (Telford)
Vis, Dr. Rudi Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Walley, Ms Joan Wyatt, Derek
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Robert N. Tellers for the Noes:
Waston, Tom (W Bromwich E) Gillian Merron and
Watts, David Paul Clark

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 248, Noes 175.

Division No. 245] [7:14 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cox, Tom (Tooting)
Ainger, Nick Cranston, Ross
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Cruddas, Jon
Allen, Graham Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Atherton, Ms Candy Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack
Atkins, Charlotte (Copeland)
Bailey, Adrian Cunningham, Tony(Workington)
Baird, Vera Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Barnes, Harry Darling, rh Alistair
Battle, John Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bayley, Hugh David, Wayne
Beard, Nigel Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Bell, Sir Stuart Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Berry, Roger Dawson, Hilton
Best, Harold Dean, Mrs Janet
Betts, Clive Denham, rh John
Blackman, Liz Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Blears, Ms Hazel Dobson, rh Frank
Blizzard, Bob Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Edwards, Huw
Bradshaw, Ben Efford, Clive
Brennan, Kevin Ellman, Mrs Louise
Browne, Desmond Etherington, Bill
Burnham, Andy Farrelly, Paul
Cairns, David Fisher, Mark
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Flint, Caroline
Casale, Roger Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Caton, Martin Follett, Barbara
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg) Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Challen, Colin Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) & Rye)
Chaytor, David Foulkes, rh George
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough) Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Pentlands) Gerrard, Neil
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Gibson, Dr. Ian
Chryston) Gilroy, Linda
Clelland, David Godsiff, Roger
Coaker, Vernon Goggins, Paul
Coffey, Ms Ann Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Cohen, Harry Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Connarty, Michael Grogan, John
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Corston, Jean Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cousins, Jim Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet Michael, rh Alun
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) Miller, Andrew
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Rhymney) Mole, Chris
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Morgan, Julie
Heppell, John Mudie, George
Hesford, Stephen Munn, Ms Meg
Heyes, David Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Hill, Keith (Streatham) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hinchliffe, David O'Hara, Edward
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale) Olner, Bill
Hope, Phil (Corby) O'Neill, Martin
Hopkins, Kelvin Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Owen, Albert
Sefton E) Palmer, Dr. Nick
Howells, Dr. Kim Perham, Linda
Hoyle, Lindsay Picking, Anne
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Pickthall, Colin
Urmston) Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Plaskitt, James
Hutton, rh John Pollard, Kerry
Iddon, Dr. Brian Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Illsley, Eric Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Irranca-Davies, Huw Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jenkins, Brian Prosser, Gwyn
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Purchase, Ken
Hatfield) Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Raynsford, rh Nick
Jowell, rh Tessa Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W) Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald NW)
Keeble, Ms Sally Roche, Mrs Barbara
Keen, Alan (Feltham) Rooney, Terry
Khabra, Piara S. Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kidney, David Ruddock, Joan
Kilfoyle, Peter Russell, Ms Christine (City of
King, Andy (Rugby) Chester)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Savidge, Malcolm
Bow) Sawford, Phil
Knight, Jim (S Dorset) Shaw, Jonathan
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Sheerman, Barry
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen Sheridan, Jim
Lammy, David Shipley, Ms Debra
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Short, rh Clare
Laxton, Bob (Derby N) Skinner, Dennis
Lepper, David Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Leslie, Christopher Smith, rh Chris (Islington S &
Levitt, Tom (High Peak) Finsbury)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe &
Linton, Martin Lunesdale)
Love, Andrew Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McCabe, Stephen Soley, Clive
McCafferty, Chris Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
McDonagh, Siobhain Stewart, David (Inverness E &
MacDonald, Calum Lochaber)
McDonnell, John Stinchcombe, Paul
MacDougall, John Stoate, Dr. Howard
McFall, rh John Straw, rh Jack
McIsaac, Shona Stringer, Graham
McKechin, Ann Stuart, Ms Gisela
McKenna, Rosemary Tami, Mark (Alyn)
McNulty, Tony Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Mactaggart, Fiona Timms, Stephen
McWalter, Tony Tipping, Paddy
McWilliam, John Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Mahmood, Khalid Trickett, Jon
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Truswell, Paul
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton
Shettleston) Kemptown)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Martlew, Eric Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Meacher, rh Michael Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Meale, Alan (Mansfield) Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan Winnick, David
Ward, Claire Woodward, Shaun
Wareing, Robert N. Wright, Anthony D. (Gt
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E) Yarmouth)
Watts, David Wright, David (Telford)
White, Brian Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan Wyatt, Derek
Wicks, Malcolm Tellers for the Ayes:
Williams, Betty (Conwy) Paul Clark and
Wills, Michael Gillian Merron
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Forth, rh Eric
Allan, Richard Foster, Don (Bath)
Amess, David Fox, Dr. Liam
Ancram, rh Michael Francois, Mark
Arbuthnot, rh James Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Baker, Norman Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Baldry, Tony Gidley, Sandra
Barker, Gregory Gill, Parmjit Singh
Baron, John (Billericay) Goodman, Paul
Barrett, John Gray, James (N Wilts)
Beith, rh A. J. Grayling, Chris
Bercow, John Green, Damian (Ashford)
Beresford, Sir Paul Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Blunt, Crispin Greenway, John
Boswell, Tim Gummer, rh John
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hammond, Philip
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Hancock, Mike
Surrey) Hawkins, Nick
Brady, Graham Heald, Oliver
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Heath, David
Brazier, Julian Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Hendry, Charles
Browning, Mrs Angela Hermon, Lady
Burnett, John Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Burns, Simon Hogg, rh Douglas
Burnside, David Holmes, Paul
Burt, Alistair Horam, John (Orpington)
Butterfill, Sir John Hunter, Andrew
Cable, Dr. Vincent Jack, rh Michael
Cameron, David Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y) Jenkin, Bernard
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Fife) Keetch, Paul
Carmichael, Alistair Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye &
Cash, William Inverness)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Barnet) Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Chidgey, David Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lamb, Norman
Collins, Tim Laws, David (Yeovil)
Conway, Derek Leigh, Edward
Curry, rh David Letwin, rh Oliver
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Stamford) Lilley, rh Peter
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Llwyd, Elfyn
Howden) Loughton, Tim
Djanogly, Jonathan Mackay, rh Andrew
Dodds, Nigel Maclean, rh David
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. McLoughlin, Patrick
Doughty, Sue Malins, Humfrey
Duncan, Alan (Rutland) Maples, John
Duncan, Peter (Galloway) Mates, Michael
Ewing, Annabelle Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton
Fabricant, Michael Coldfield)
Flook, Adrian Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Öpik, Lembit Stunell, Andrew
Ottaway, Richard Swayne, Desmond
Page, Richard Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Paice, James Syms, Robert
Paterson, Owen Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Taylor, John (Solihull)
Dinefwr) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Prisk, Mark (Hertford) Teather, Sarah
Pugh, Dr. John Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Randall, John Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Redwood, rh John Tredinnick, David
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute) Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Rendel, David Tyrie, Andrew
Robathan, Andrew Viggers, Peter
Robertson, Angus (Moray) Walter, Robert
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & Waterson, Nigel
M-Kent) Watkinson, Angela
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Weir, Michael
Roe, Dame Marion Whittingdale, John
Rosindell, Andrew Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Ruffley, David Wiggin, Bill
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wilkinson, John
Salmond, Alex Willetts, David
Sanders, Adrian Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Sayeed, Jonathan Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Simmonds, Mark Willis, Phil
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk) Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S) Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Soames, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Wishart, Pete
Spicer, Sir Michael Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) Young, rh Sir George
Spring, Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John Tellers for the Noes:
Steen, Anthony Richard Younger-Ross and
Streeter, Gary Sir Robert Smith

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House welcomes the Pensions Green Paper as the first ever statement of government policy to explicitly consider the needs of women; further welcomes the commitment by the Government to report next year on the pensions position of women; supports steps to improve the incomes of women pensioners and enable more women than ever to build up pensions; welcomes in particular the introduction of Pension Credit, benefiting over two million women, and the state second pension, helping millions of the lowest paid women and women with caring responsibilities to build up a second pension; believes that both main Opposition parties' policies are unaffordable, unworkable and do nothing for the very poorest; notes that the Liberal Democrat policies will be financed by scrapping DTI programmes, which boost the wealth of the nation through investment in research and innovation; supports the conclusion of the Pensions Policy Institute that 'the average woman will lose' under proposed Conservative policy; notes that 99 per cent. of NHS trusts provide single-sex sleeping accommodation for planned admissions; and, as there are 10,000 wards in use across the NHS, congratulates the Government on this achievement; applauds the extension of breast screening to women aged 65 to 70, resulting in an additional 200,000 women being invited since April 2001; commends the Government's historic commitment to tackling pensioner poverty, which is continuing to do most for the poorest women pensioners; and welcomes the £10 billion extra that the Government is spending on pensioners this year compared with the 1997 system.