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Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is right. I visited Malton and Norton in 1998 and, given the severity of the flood then, I did not expect it to happen again for a very long time. However, as he said, the floods are even worse two years later.

The additional £51 million, which is new money, means that we can progress more schemes. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a scheme for Malton is at the design stage, but I understand that some technical issues need to be addressed. The scheme will be introduced as quickly as possible, and I assure him that the frequency of flooding that Malton has experienced will have an effect on the way that we score the schemes and on the priority that we give to them.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the problems of alternative accommodation is a serious issue. It will be tackled by local recovery teams and we want to ensure that people will continue to receive help from such teams even when the cameras and the newspapers are no longer present.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): When the Deputy Prime Minister kindly visited my constituency over the weekend, he gave so many assurances that they prompted my constituents to ask when Upton upon Severn will receive its share of the £51 million or when we will be told that it will do so. More generally, when we will we hear any details of the £51 million and, more particularly, what will its impact be on reducing the risks of flooding?

Mr. Morley: As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, schemes for flood defence have to go through the

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processes of design, evaluation and receiving planning permission. They cannot be introduced immediately. Nevertheless, I repeat that the £51 million of new money means that we will be able to introduce a range of additional schemes that we could not have introduced otherwise.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Is the Minister aware that the focus of attention in my area was the prevention of flooding in the down-town part of York itself? The perverse consequence was that the Vale of York was left totally exposed and, in Rawcliffe, the flood defences were breached. No sandbags were provided even though they had been requested from City of York council at 11 o'clock on Friday evening. I visited the area the next day and saw the consequences of the flooding. Sandbags were still not available and pumping was not started until 4 o'clock that afternoon. In fact, social services were nowhere to be seen until today and no soup kitchens had been provided. When I was in the area, I learned that one couple had not been rehoused and had nowhere to go. It is a serious problem, and the people in that area feel neglected and exposed.

The Minister also mentioned the revenue support grant. Will he respond to the request from the Local Government Association, which wants additional safeguards so that within year changes, as there will be this year, in local authority spending on flood defence schemes are recognised in the SSA for future years?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Lady has an Adjournment debate on the subject tomorrow and that will enable us to debate some of the issues in more detail than I can now. Much of her constituency is a flood plain and its flooding has taken a great deal of pressure off urban areas. The flood plains in Leeds, which flooded to take some pressure off other areas, have reduced the water level in Leeds by 1.5 m. Water catchment areas form part of the cycle of defence.

Sandbags have been issued in York, but some of the city's flood defences were operating beyond their designed capacity. Sandbags were needed in the city to stop the water getting under the flood defences and destroying them. Therefore, their distribution was an issue of priority. However, I understand that sandbags have been distributed as widely as they possibly can be.

On the SSA, money at above the rate of inflation is being made available for flood defence in all parts of the country. I am sure that we shall have the opportunity to discuss that in more detail tomorrow.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): Stamford Bridge in my constituency has been affected twice in the past two years. I never thought that I would welcome the Deputy Prime Minister tramping around my constituency, but we were grateful that he came. I apologise for not being able to be with him, as I was attending a meeting of the Economic and Development Committee of the Council of Europe.

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I am sure that the Minister will recognise that, having being affected twice in two years, with the prospect of floods again in another two years, the people of Stamford Bridge are saying that something must be done. I accept that the problem is enormous and not easy to solve, but when he is considering new flood defence work once the floods have gone down, will he make it clear to the Environment Agency and English Nature that top priority must be given to the safety and property of householders and businesses, rather than to birds and wildlife?

There will be a problem with insurance. In Stamford Bridge, small businesses have been particularly affected. Will the Minister consult the Deputy Prime Minister on whether businesses and houses which people cannot insure or for which excessive insurance rates must be paid should receive council tax relief?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman will know that when I visited Malton two years ago, I also went to Stamford Bridge, where, again, I did not expect such flooding in another two years. We will have to take into account changes in weather and more frequent flooding--and we are doing so by providing increased expenditure. His idea about council tax relief for affected businesses is interesting. We are discussing the matter of insurance companies, and we shall be looking at a range of options. The option that he is advocating would of course involve increasing public expenditure--of which he has not always been in favour.

Miss McIntosh: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although it is always a pleasure to see the Deputy Prime Minister and other Ministers in one's constituency, may I seek your guidance? I have written to you on the matter. I was informed that the Deputy Prime Minister was coming to my constituency, and then that he was not. In the end, he came to my constituency accompanied by the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley), and a number of national film and local radio station crews, but I was not informed. May I be assured that parliamentary conventions will be respected in future?

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): I met you, you twit.

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is an established parliamentary courtesy that a Member visiting another Member's constituency on official business should give prior notification. That applies to Ministers as it does to other Members. However, the matter should be sorted out between the Members concerned. I suggest that the hon. Lady write to the Deputy Prime Minister and to the Under-Secretary.

Miss McIntosh: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it parliamentary language to call a fellow parliamentarian a twit?

Mr. Prescott: On this occasion, yes.

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not nice.

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Opposition Day

[19th Allotted Day]

Pensions and Pensioners

Mr. Speaker: Before I call the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) to move the motion, I should announce that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.13 pm

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): I beg to move,

Today's debate is about pensions, but it is about much more besides. It is about the attitude of successive Governments to older people. The 75p pension rise has been much talked about and is a symptom of that attitude, but it is but one of many examples. The Government's failure to implement the recommendations of their own royal commission on long-term care is another example, to which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) will be able to draw attention later in the debate. The Government's failure to legislate against age discrimination in the workplace--they went only for a feeble code of conduct--and to stamp out ageism in the national health service are but a few more examples. In failing to treat Britain's older people with true dignity, the Government are following the tradition set by their predecessors. For that reason, our motion refers not only to the current Government but to those in office over "the last twenty years", wherein pensioners have been second-class citizens.

The Government's attitude to older people was summarised by the Prime Minister telling the Labour party conference that he wanted Britain to be "a young country"--that all the things associated with youth were positive and that, by definition, an older and ageing country, which ours is, was a negative thing about which we should be concerned. That is symptomatic of the current Government's attitude. Later, I shall refer to key documents that the Government are concealing, which would reveal their failure to act in support of

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pensioners and their willingness to keep the pressure off in terms of pensions increases. The Government are sitting on two important documents that should be before the House, but are not. That is a matter of concern.

Our motion begins with the Conservatives' record. As the House will expect, I am a regular reader of Saga Magazine, and I am sure that the Minister of State is too. The magazine recently conducted a survey asking its readers their views on Conservative proposals on pensions--which I have heard described as robbing Peter to pay Peter, by taking pensioners' awards away with one hand and giving them back, plus a few pence, with the other. Although it might have been presumed that the readers would want more money on the pension, rather than in other forms, they voted substantially against the Conservative proposals. The reason was simple: as many said, "We don't trust the Tories on pensions."

Pensioners have long memories. They remember the Conservatives' record on pensions and they are not willing to trust the party again. That record is one of not believing in the state pension, of eroding the basic state pension during their 18 years in office, of attacking SERPS--the state earnings-related pension scheme--and of slashing entitlements. In addition, as the House knows, women whose husbands were concerned about making provision for them when they became widows are now reaping the harvest of changes that were sown by the Conservatives in the mid-1980s. Pensioners, rightly, do not trust the Conservatives on pensions.

What do the Conservatives offer pensioners for the future? They face a dilemma: they have to go into the next election pledged to cut taxes, but they still need something to say to pensioners. The entirety of the policy that they have announced is twofold. First, they pledge to take money that pensioners already receive and then to give it back to them; added to that will be some money taken from lone parents who are trying to find work and some taken from the poorest of the poor through the social fund, to a grand total of 42p. At the next election, the electorate will be faced with a choice between a party that gave them 75p and one that promises them 42p--what a choice.

In my customary fashion, I am being generous to the Conservatives by citing a figure of 42p. The Conservatives said that their pension increase next April would be £5.50--£2 for inflation and £3.08 for the gimmicks, leaving 42p. However, we now know that £2.25 will be needed to cover inflation. Although the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) might provide one in her speech, we have not yet heard a revised figure for the increase. If it is still to be £5.50, with inflation taking £2.25 rather than £2, that leaves only 17p. Perhaps I have been too generous.

Secondly, those calculations are based on an equation that does not include tax, which leads me to one of the features of the Conservative proposals to which the readers of Saga Magazine objected most. The £150 winter fuel payment is tax free, as is the reduced television licence, worth more than £100. Once those pensioner benefits are subject to tax, many pensioners will be worse off overall. That is the best the Conservatives offer for the state pension in year 1; in years 2, 3, 4 and 5, they offer nothing. They would return to the old ways of nothing more than price indexation--nothing more than 75p and its equivalent.

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As for the Conservatives' long-term plan, they have always wanted to privatise everything that moves--and, in the case of the railways, plenty of things that do not move--and pensions are no exception. They tried to go for the full Monty--to phase out the basic state pension. Before the previous general election, they cobbled together a policy that was roundly rejected, so now they are going to try to do it very slowly.

The Conservative party intends to start with the young, by telling them that they can opt out of national insurance and save for a private pension in future. However, there is a slight cash flow problem. If people in their 20s start paying less national insurance in return for the state saving some national insurance in 40 years, there will be a bit of a gap between the loss of revenue now and the saved expenditure in 40 years. Where will the money come from? That is another black hole in the Conservative spending plans.

Perhaps it is unnecessary to dwell too long on the Conservative record. The House is familiar with it; more important, pensioners are familiar with it. I have one thing to say about Conservative proposals for the future. I have seen examples from around the country of Conservative literature relating to the party's proposals for pensioners, and the figure of £5.50 features prominently. I am reminded of the situation that arises when one writes an article for a newspaper, and the sub-editors remove the final paragraph because there is insufficient space. In this instance, it is the paragraph which discloses where the £5.50 will come from. Mysteriously, those who read the first line will see that £5.50 is to go on the pension, but they may never read the line that states that £5.08 is to come off. I believe that that is dishonest, and I hope that the hon. Member for Beckenham will dissociate herself from any local Conservative association that is putting out such literature.

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