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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is going so far that he is about to start, or has already commenced, debating an amendment that has not been selected. He cannot do that. He has given a little background as to why the Lords amendment is before us; now he must speak to the Lords amendment.
The acceptance of the amendment will give new heart to the 106 Members who signed early-day motion 1 and to those who signed early-day motion 985, which relate specifically to pensions. The fact that money has been sprayed in all directions is an act of gross injustice to pensioners, if there is no remedy for the insult of the 75p increase on the basic pension. That must be put right. I believe that the Government are moving in that
Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I welcome the amendment. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), I too almost got excited because I thought that amendment (a) to amendment No. 16 had been accepted--but such is life.
The amendment will allow us to debate, at an early date, the earnings link with pensions. Although Baroness Castle was thwarted in her attempt to restore the link--as were several Members of this place--she managed to secure that fundamental report, which, I hope, will be made in the autumn. That will enable us to compare the costs of the Government's current array of benefits for pensioners with the restoration of the link for which we have argued for so long.
Previous debates have made it clear that many pensioners welcome the litany of improvements--the increased fuel allowance, free eye tests and the reductions in VAT--and the benefits that they would provide. However, the demand from all the pensioners organisations is for an increase in the basic pension and for that increase to be protected in the long term by a link with earnings in future. They argue that that is the only way to ensure that pensioners share in the growing wealth of the country.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the pressure is to make up for the loss since 1981? That would now amount to £30 a week. The report would provide yearly information, but not a means to make up that loss.
Mr. McDonnell: Clearly, the information in the report would enable us to calculate the loss, but it might go further. A report issued by the Department of Health this month showed growing inequality, both in general and because of increased pensioner poverty. More than 30 per cent. of pensioner households have incomes that are below half average earnings. A fifth of pensioners live in dire poverty--in unsatisfactory housing or in houses that have been condemned as unsuitable for human habitation.
The report proposed in the amendment should highlight such matters. However, unless it is followed by action--by which I mean an order enabling Parliament to determine the restoration of the earnings link--pensioners will be disappointed.
Recently, there has been much reporting about memos to the Prime Minister on how to get the Government back on track and how to ensure a place in history for the Prime Minister and the Government. One way to restore the Government's record among pensioners is through the proposed report. It will show that we can restore the link with earnings, which can be afforded by the national insurance fund. Pensioners would not only be lifted out of poverty but out of continued dependence on means-tested benefits. I urge the Government not only to accept the amendment but to think again about its implications for long-term policy.
Anyone would think that the Government did not accept amendments in the House of Lords, but we did. There is no argument about that. However, at the risk of upsetting noble Lords, especially Lord Higgins and Lord Goodhart, I think that the comments that they made last week at columns 1101-02 of Lords Hansard after my noble Friend Baroness Hollis had accepted Lady Castle's amendment were impolite and insincere--and I mean that. If I were a little less diplomatic, I would probably say that those comments were outrageous but one does not say that about Members of the other place.
Given the remarks of the hon. Member for Northavon, I want to make one point clear so that there is no ambiguity. I do not want to sound pompous, but we are making law by accepting amendments to the Bill. We have accepted the amendment that has come from another place. The actual words on the amendment paper--not what people think they mean--will go on to the statute book.
It will not be an annual report, because the amendment does not call for that. There will be a report at the earliest available opportunity, which is likely to be in January. That is when the normal report on uprating appears and it is based on the uprating statement. The figures will be amalgamated from the quinquennial report and that is the earliest opportunity that the House would normally have to see those figures. The amendment calls for a report up to 2005-06, and we have accepted that. It is not practical to produce a report for when we return from the recess.
The hon. Member for Northavon can rattle on all he likes about the Government's action but I remind him that, when push came to shove, he and the Liberal Democrats even voted against the 75p increase this year.
Mr. McDonnell: Although it is true that we are debating the words that will appear in the Bill, is my right hon. Friend also clear that we are sending a message to pensioners that the Government have not closed their mind on the restoration of the earnings link with pensions?
Mr. Rooker: We are sending out all kinds of messages. By the time the report is published--the earliest available opportunity would normally be in January--the Government will have fulfilled the commitment that we gave on Budget day to put forward our proposals for consultation on the pension credit. That will be a radical departure from the status quo arrangements. Although there is still much work to be done over the coming weeks, we will keep that commitment and thereby enhance the debate and send all sorts of signals to pensioners. I assure my hon. Friend of that.
I do not want to digress, but, as one of my hon. Friends said, simply restoring the link would not, of itself, help the poorest pensioners. Hon. Members who simply advocate restoring the link as a mantra must also have the courage to say, "But this will not get any more money fast to poorer pensioners. They won't gain from that of itself." That is why we need the pension credit.
Mr. Webb: Is the Minister saying that the amendment means that we shall have a report in January that will include figures that we would have had anyway, together with figures from the quinquennial report that would also have been available? What additional information will the amendment produce next January that we would not have had anyway? Will he clarify that point?
Mr. Rooker: I made it clear that the information requested in the amendment is already available from two different sources, and I explained what they were. We will make sure that that information is pulled together in one of the publications. I do not want to be hung out to dry on this, but, in the normal process, the earliest opportunity--the one that is of most use to the House--to publish the information would be in January. The information requested in the amendment is already publicly available. There is nothing new about that at all.
Mr. Flynn: If the information is available, why did the Department of Social Security refuse to give me information about the state of the national insurance fund in 2003 and 2004, which it has done twice in response to parliamentary questions in the last six months? Does the Minister agree with Baroness Castle that targeting sounds like a good idea, but in fact is another way of describing means testing?
Mr. Rooker: I do not accept that, and I am not going to get into a row with the goddess of the Labour movement in an argument between the two Houses. She knows that, and I have told her on more than one occasion that I am not going to do that.
Without the details, I cannot respond fully to my hon. Friend's question. It may be that he was referred to the Government Actuary's report. As I said, there are big caveats on the figures published years in advance, which may be why Ministers chose not to give what could have been a misleading answer to my hon. Friend's question. However, it is open to him to come back and ask the question again.