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Mr. Darling: The report has not yet been produced. I have spoken to the IPPR, as my hon. Friend might imagine. My answer to her is exactly the same as the answer that I gave to Conservative Members. At this stage, we know that just over 400,000 stakeholder pensions have been sold, but nobody is yet in a position to give an accurate breakdown of who exactly has bought them. In any event, to judge stakeholder pensions or any other financial product after only six months would be fraught with difficulties. It is not possible to reach a judgment after a very short period.

It is not surprising that people who are transferring from personal private pensions, or people who have got the cash and want to make provision for people, will be first in the queue. However, a more accurate picture of stakeholder pensions will grow over a period of time. The Government's objective, as we set out in the Green Paper some three years ago, is to ensure that more people go into funded pensions. The figures that I referred to are encouraging, because more people are taking out funded pension provision. That is wholly desirable.

Mr. Willetts rose

Mr. Darling: Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, I must say that it would be nice if he were to tell us exactly what is his policy on stakeholder pensions. He referred to the Association of British Insurers report as if it somehow supports his argument, but it is in no way critical of stakeholder pensions. Neither is the research that it commissioned, which accompanied the letter circulated to hon. Members. The ABI report refers to the fact that stakeholder pensions are new. It is too early to reach a judgment, which is what he wants to do, but I am not surprised by that in the absence of a Conservative pensions policy. He has two failures under his belt already, so it is not surprising that he has to content himself with criticising our policies.

Mr. Willetts: The Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers have regularly referred to the target group for stakeholder pensions. All we ask is that he tell the House whether he is hitting his target, what his target is, when we will know whether he is hitting it and how we will measure that. For 25 minutes, he has danced around the point. How can he be judged against the objectives he has set himself? That is all that the debate is about and he has failed to answer.

Mr. Darling: If the hon. Gentleman refers to the pensions Green Paper, which we published in December

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1998, he will see the targets clearly set out first at paragraph 27 and then at paragraph 10 on page 49. The target group is people on moderate and higher earnings. It has been the target since 1998, it remains the target today and it will be the target tomorrow and in future years.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling: Not at the moment. Before moving on, I want to make a point to the Liberals. The hon. Member for Northavon—the professor—will no doubt speak, but I notice that he refers to what he perceives as the deficiency of the scheme in the press release published on his website, which states:


A very Liberal word that—an "element". No one is sure how much or how little. Is the figure 1, 2 or 3 per cent?

We will be fascinated to hear from the hon. Gentleman on two points. First, I believe that he has a paper from a pensions company. If he quotes from it, he must provide it to all Members of the House if he wants any credibility. Let us have a look at it; let us see what this pension company has to say. Secondly, if indeed we need an element of compulsory saving, as he puts it, perhaps he will tell us what that element will be. If he has time, he should also tell us how he would fund his pension plans, which cost some £3 billion. There must be a limit to how much the Liberals' tax proposals can cover in respect of education, health, transport and pensions.

Mr. Barker rose

Mr. Djanogly rose

Mr. Darling: I have given way to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker), so I give way to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly).

Mr. Djanogly: The Secretary of State has frequently referred to the fact that stakeholder pensions are for medium and higher earners. If that is the case, why have the Government spent £6 million advertising them to the great mass of the population? Why have the Government put in place a system whereby companies can be prosecuted for not introducing stakeholder pensions? The system that he describes is for mass pensions, not pensions for a small percentage of the population, and it has failed.

Mr. Darling: It is a long time since I have heard such a daft observation. The Government's objective, which I would have thought both sides of the House shared, is to encourage people who can save to do so. The objective of the Government's advertising campaign is to get people to think about their pension provision in retirement. That is not all we are doing. As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, over the next five years, people will receive an annual forecast of what their pension will be on retirement. I would have thought that most hon. Members would have considered that wholly beneficial.

Mr. Barker rose

Richard Ottaway rose

Mr. Darling: I will not give way at the moment; I have not finished with this intervention. Good heavens, surely Conservative Members want me to deal with one of them at a time.

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The hon. Member for Huntingdon got one thing right. He has at last understood that the target audience is moderate and higher earners. If one mounts a television advertising campaign, it is not possible to blank out the screens of people on low earnings. It is necessary to show the same advertisements on screens up and down the country, so that people who can save have it drawn to their attention that they need to save for their retirement. That brings me to the third element.

Mr. Barker rose

Richard Ottaway rose

Mr. Darling: I will not give way, because I am conscious of the fact that this is a half-day debate. Other Members on both sides of the House want to speak.

The third element of our reform, which is crucial, is to deal with a point raised by the hon. Member for Havant—the incentives to save. Under successive Labour and Tory Governments there has always been a tension between their desire to ensure that there is a floor beneath which pensioner incomes should not fall—even the Conservatives paid income support, although it was substantially lower than the minimum income guarantee—and encouraging people to save. That is why we are introducing the pension credit, which is designed to help people who lose out under the current system because they have done what successive Governments told them to do—put a bit of money aside for retirement.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Darling: Not at the moment.

The pension credit will ensure that someone who has saved money receives a reward for having done so. That is essential if we are to encourage people to save. Interestingly, many big pension providers welcomed the announcement of the pension credit in November last year as vital if we are to encourage people to save. It is necessary to continue to ensure that we have a system that boosts the income of the poorest pensioners while building in an incentive to save so that if people save through a stakeholder pension, an occupational pension or other means, they receive a reward for it.

Richard Ottaway rose

Mr. Barker rose

Mr. Darling: I will not give way at the moment. I want to finish the point.

I opened my remarks by drawing attention to the fact that, at one stage in his career, the hon. Member for Havant was in favour of scrapping winter fuel payments. He then discovered that those sitting behind him were rather nervous about knocking on pensioners' doors to say, "Vote Conservative, it will cost you 200 quid." I would be intrigued to hear how he will persuade his party to say at the next election, "If we are returned to power, we will take away the pension credit."

The pension credit will benefit more than 5 million pensioners on low and modest earnings. If it is Conservative party policy to remove the pension credit

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and take money from more than 5 million pensioners, I very much look forward to Conservatives arguing the case. They will have some difficulty doing so.

Mr. Butterfill rose

Richard Ottaway rose

Mr. Darling: I give way, for the last time, to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill). I must conclude.

Mr. Butterfill: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has read the observations on the pension credit submitted by the pensions provision group, which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) mentioned. Paragraph 5 of that excellent report says:



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