|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Committee's excellent Chairman, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), frequently reminds us that, as Committee members, we are simple seekers after truth. That splendid phrase encapsulates the intention of new clause 5, which would cost the Government nothing; the expense for the Department for Work and Pensions would be negligible.
It is excellent that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), has confirmed that there will be annual statements for pensioners of future provision from both their private and public pensions. I very much welcome that; the information will be extremely useful for individual pensioners. However, when, as a nation, we are looking at a £27 billion savings gap, we need aggregate information, covering the whole country, to guide experts in the field and to advise the Government as to what should be done.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) asked why the Select Committee could not examine the matter annually and provide the information. I must point out to the hon. Lady that the scope of the Committee's inquiries is extremely wide. Only yesterday, we considered the Child Support Agency. We also look into the whole field of work. It is not always possible or practical to expect a Select Committee annually to provide information, as she suggests, given the range of the Department's activitiesthe Department spends £110 billion a year.
On amendments Nos. 1 and 2, about which the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) spoke, I was interested to hear that the Government's response has entirely concerned the discrimination that they believe would result in favour of women aged 60 to 64. Will the hon. Gentleman or the Minister comment on the viability of such an argument, given that the transitional arrangement is in itself clearly discriminatory? Ministers have accepted that that arrangement is appropriate. I cannot therefore see why they should not also accept some other measures that try to incorporate greater fairness.
On new clause 5, we must take into account the context in which we are trying to deal with the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) described the massive damage that the Government have already done to the savings ratio. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are acutely aware of the difficulties that so many pension schemes are facingwhether those
Against that backdrop and given that young people are not saving sufficiently, the new clause is a modest but important attempt to improve the situation. Young people are deterred from saving because they feel that the system is too complicated, is not worth it, does not apply to them and is not relevant and, tragically, by the knowledge that they will not benefit fully if they take responsible action and try to provide for themselves.
The Minister must reflect on one crucial question. We would not be here today dealing with this new clause and the amendments, or indeed with the Bill that will introduce the pension credit and the savings credit, had the Government got it right in the first place and had they not created a problem with the introduction of the minimum income guarantee. Had that guarantee been accompanied by such a requirement to produce an annual report on the savings behaviour of the nation, the Government would have understood the crisis sooner and the seriousness
Mr. Brady: I think that the Minister can do better than that. We all accept that there are problemseven the Government clearly accept itwith people's willingness to save and to make proper pension provision for themselves. Frankly, the hon. Lady's point was rather facile given that hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that something needs to be done.
Mr. Goodman: Did the Minister for Pensions not refer earlier in the debate to some of the problems caused by what he called the "old-fashioned MIG", making it clear that he thought that the pension credit was needed to alleviate some of those problems, which is what my hon. Friend was referring to?
Mr. McCartney: We are talking about old-fashioned income support. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to offer an apology for encouraging young people to come out of their pension schemes and go for personal pensions, which led to millions of such pensions being mis-sold. The Labour Government have had to clear up that mess.
Mr. Brady: Ministers are now competing with each other to make silly and irrelevant points, which they are doing rather well. I am sure that I heard the Minister refer to the "old-fashioned MIG". In some of his more red flag-waving moments I think he thought of something else as being an old-fashioned MIG not so long ago. He was
If the Government had been prepared to incorporate a proper review procedure such as the one that we seek today, they might have arrived sooner at the conclusion that they now appear to have reached that something needs to be done to "fine-tune", the Minister may say, but certainly to ameliorate the situation.
Maria Eagle: The debate on this group has been very lively. I hope to be able to answer as many questions as I can get through without testing the patience of the House too much. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has just been talking about the minimum income guarantee. We know that the Conservative party dislikes it and thinks that it is a problem. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition said in March 1999, when we were discussing the MIG in the House:
Maria Eagle: That is a wide long hop, to return to the cricket analogies that we were using earlier. The minimum income guarantee is based on income support rules. The fastest way we could introduce the scheme to alleviate poverty was to use the existing rules. We are now changing those rules to make them much simpler and to make the scheme better, so I have no problem in dispatching that comment to the boundary. The hon. Gentleman will have to try harder, although I probably should not have reintroduced cricket. I get the feeling that I may regret it at some point this afternoon.
Annabelle Ewing: Retaining the nice humour that we seem to be enjoying in this interlude in hostilities, could the Minister give me a glossary of terms, as I am getting a little lost with all these cricket analogies?
Maria Eagle: I am sorry to hear that the hon. Lady is not as familiar as some hon. Members with cricketing terminology, because Scotland has rather a good cricket team. I would have expected her to have watched their games occasionally. I cannot promise to give her a glossary at this moment as I am sure that Madam Deputy Speaker would bring me to order straight away, but I can point her to the section in the Library that contains "Wisden". She will no doubt find a good glossary of cricketing terms there. However, I must get on if I am to have any chance of dealing with the meat of the debate on this group, which has been very interesting.
New clause 5 was moved by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) at some length and supported by most if not all Conservative Members present and also by some hon. Members from other parties here present. The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that an annual parliamentary reporting mechanism is in place on the effect of the pension credit on an individual's incentive to save for retirement. I do not think that anyone would object to the House and the Government, or anyone who is considering these matters, having as much information as possible about the effect of policies on people's behaviour. Information is a good thing. The Government try to base their policies on evidence, and I am sure that most hon. Members would agree that that was a good thing.
The new clause would, however, require the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament setting out the effect of the pension credit on the individual's incentive to save, and would give the Secretary of State the authority to invite the Social Security Advisory Committee to comment on that report and make recommendations for changes to the structure of benefits that seemed to it to be important.
The new clause is not necessary because the Secretary of State already has the power to ask the Social Security Advisory Committee for advice on any social security matter. In fact, if Opposition Members look at paragraph 20 of schedule 2, they will see that it will amend section 170(5) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, so that the Bill, when enacted, will become a relevant enactment, which will bring pension credit into the existing SSAC framework. The SSAC may give advice and assistance to the Secretary of State in connection with the discharge of his functions under those enactments, which will include the Bill. Of course, under section 170(3) of the 1992 Act, he may refer to the committee for consideration and advice such questions relating to the operation of any relevant enactment as he thinks fit. In that sense, the power already exists in the Bill for the Secretary of State to make references to the SSAC if he wishes to do so. So the new clause is not necessary; nor would it add anything to the existing powers.
Of course Ministers are accountable to the House for the introduction and monitoring of any new policy. That is how things should be done. I am sure that Opposition Members will continue to seek Adjournment debates and ask parliamentary questions to discover how the Bill is working if it is enacted. That is the right way to deal with things, and new clause 5 would add nothing.
It is technically very difficult to produce a report that specifically separates the effects of pension credit from other impacts and policies designed to promote incentives to save for retirement. It would be particularly difficult to produce a report that isolated whatever the incentive, or disincentive, effect of the Bill may be on the propensity to save, as the new clause puts it, so there could be rather more confusion.
I hope that I shall not be unfair to the hon. Member for Hertsmere if I say that he probably tabled the new clause to promote a debate about incentives to save. It would probably be fair to say, having listened to the debate, that he certainly managed to have such a debate.