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Baroness Castle of Blackburn: The Minister has still not answered my question. Why are the Government proposing to cut contribution rates, to provide lower rates, so that there will be a smaller income out of which to meet the needs of the rising generation of old age pensioners?
Baroness Castle of Blackburn: I am sorry, but a cut in rates is proposed by the Government. It is part of a strategy that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and I, and those of my colleagues who have supported our amendments with such excellent speeches, are trying to point out to the House. The Government's strategy is to reduce the role of contributory pensions and increase the role of means-tested benefits, or benefits negotiated through private insurance--
Baroness Castle of Blackburn: --and the declining number of those who have a good occupational pension scheme. It is that approach that we are fighting. That is what we face at this crucial stage of the Bill.
The Government have indicated that they will restore the earnings link in the longer term for minimum income guarantee. So we face the prospect of a contributory pension that is shrinking all the time under price indexing, and guaranteed means-tested income will go up under the earnings rule. It is true that the Government have not given a date yet. We are rather used to that. But they have conceded the point
I am extremely grateful to all those in the House who have supported what we are trying to do through these amendments. If we fail, this country will move inexorably towards the destruction of state insurance in its entirety. A contributory pension which is worth only 7 per cent of average national earnings can only be a pauper's pension. I repeat the word "pauper". We are talking about the people whom the Minister says the Government want to target. Pauperism is not just about quantity of money. It is about one's stature in society. It is time that those old age pensioners who are too old to benefit from the promised, not yet received, second state pension were acclaimed with the affection and dignity that they deserve, and not told that they are being targeted as "the poorest pensioners". How many of us would like to be labelled "the poorest pensioners", deserving of charity?
If it is money the Government are worried about, the most expensive way of helping anybody is through means-tested benefit. Government figures have shown that it costs £5 a week more per recipient to administer income support than it does to administer the contributory state pension. That is what we are fighting today. We could go on arguing the figures. I challenge many of the Minister's figures. She is a bit of a slippery eel--
Baroness Castle of Blackburn: You are very welcome to, if you want to. I do not mind. I am thankful that this debate has come alive, and thankful that this Chamber is at last trying to face up to one of the crucial challenges of this century. Are we deliberately going to move to a divided society in which those who can enjoy a private or occupational pension, and the rest are dependent on means-tested charity? That is something I have always fought, and will continue to fight.
As I listened to the debate, and particularly to the Minister's speech, as regards targeting--"We're hard up, so we can't throw money about; fancy giving money to people who don't need it. What a waste of public funds"--I could not help thinking what our National Health Service would be like if that principle animated it. Do we ask what a patient's income is before offering treatment? They do in America. Yes, there are a lot of things that we admire in America. We are galloping after them as fast as we can. No, we say, "You are a citizen, you are human being, and we must so organise society that you can get some of the basic essentials of a decent life as of right".
The whole world admires our National Health Service, as I am sure do Members on all sides of the House. They do now; they did not like it when it started. Look at the National Health Service and the principles behind it. The targeting of income is not one of them, but targeting of clinical need, yes. Regardless of income, people receive treatment when a problem is discovered. I cannot see the National Health Service surviving very long in its present form if we allow this to happen to the state insurance, the great Beveridge scheme. I should think that he and Lloyd George are turning in their graves.
I want to thank all those who have spoken in support of our amendments. I want to thank noble Lords opposite, who have been courteous in saying nice things about me. Of course I like it; I appreciate it very much. But I should like far fewer compliments and more action. And who is following us into the Division Lobby today? I say advisedly that those who vote the other way will have deliberately chosen the destruction of the whole essence of our post-war society, which, for all its failings, has been the envy of the world.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.