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Mr. Kaufman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Webb: No, I will not.

The hon. Member for High Peak asked what level of pension we proposed, and I am keen to give him a specific figure. At our party conference a few weeks ago, I moved a motion on our new pensions policy, which our party has overwhelmingly endorsed. I can put on record precisely the policy on which we shall go into the next general election.

We propose that those who benefited from the Lawson tax cuts of 1988 and are always on the top incomes, having done two, three, four or five times as well as those on average earnings--that is, those on more than

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£100,000 a year--should be asked to pay more tax on their slice of income above £100,000. They, after all, are most able to do so. That would raise enough to allow us to put money on to the basic pension.

We propose that, over and above the figure that the Chancellor announces for next April, there should be rises of a minimum of £5 a week for all newly retired pensioners, of £10 a week for those aged between 75 and 79, and of £15 a week for those aged 80 or more. Those figures are in addition to inflation, in addition to what the Chancellor announces, and in addition to the other payments that the pensioners currently receive.

The payments will not be means-tested, but they will be intelligently targeted. That is the beauty of our proposals.

Mr. Rammell rose--

Mr. Webb: I think I had better ensure that I set out the entire policy.

I mentioned an increase of £15 a week for those over 80. Why should the amount be tapered according to age? Because there is a strong link between the oldest pensioners and the poorest. I have received letters from pensioners up and down the land, and those in most need are often the oldest. Almost all are women, who are given a particularly raw deal in regard to both state and private pensions. We can give extra help to those in most need without forcing them through additional means-testing. That is the clear distinction between what the Liberal Democrats advocate and what the other parties advocate.

Mr. Levitt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Webb: No; I am about to finish my speech.

The Conservatives propose to give people back their own money, plus 42p top whack. Labour proposes a pre-election giveaway. On Wednesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will stand up and do a Chris Tarrant routine: "£2.25 for inflation--but we don't want to give you that! £3.40 for the earnings link--but we don't want to give you that!" It will be £5; it will be £8. Who wants to be a millionaire?

Labour will be throwing the money at pensioners because there is an election around the corner. Pensioners, however, will remember what the Government did when there was not an election around the corner. They will remember which was the only major party in the House that voted against the 75p--the Conservatives abstained. At the next election, when Conservative candidates show themselves to have undergone a damascene conversion to the basic state pension, they will need to be reminded that, given the chance to decide whether 75p was enough, they said "We do not really know." I note that the Conservative party declined to table an amendment to today's motion. Clearly, only one party is expressing serious opposition to the Government on pensions: the Liberal Democrats.

We believe that a substantial increase is needed in the basic pension. The Chancellor has created a huge gulf between the pension and the means test, and on Wednesday, whatever he says, he will increase that gap. We believe that there should be fewer pensioners on means-tested benefits, not more. We believe in a decent basic state pension, and we believe that we will be the only party to go into the next election committed to that.

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4.44 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Mr. Jeff Rooker): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I do not wish to be misunderstood, but I am one of the few Members of Parliament who can say with some certainty that I have a limited amount of time in which to listen to this drivel. The reality is that the speech of the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) was thirty minutes of drivel. I shall do my best to answer some of his points, some of his highly misleading statements and, indeed, the contemptible scare stories that were deliberately designed to frighten people outside the House.

The hon. Gentleman started off with a point about age discrimination. I wholly agree with part of his speech, as age discrimination is rampant throughout society in this country and goes across the board, whether in jobs or the health service. It is not the easiest thing in the world to deal with that but, as the House knows, we have attempted to tackle it in employment on a voluntary basis. We also made it abundantly clear with the publication of the report "Winning the Generation Game" that we are considering going beyond a voluntary approach. The hon. Gentleman therefore made a valid point.

The hon. Gentleman made some assertions on the share of the gross national product going to pensioners, but did not provide figures or Hansard references. He was on the verge of giving a quote or reference, but did not do so. I suspect that he got a quote from a parliamentary answer that appeared some months ago. I have read the motion and done Liberal Democrat Members the justice of taking it seriously, even if I cannot take the hon. Gentleman's speech seriously. I went back and looked for that parliamentary answer because I recall it--although parliamentary answers in March are not good up-to-date information in November.

One should look at expenditure on pensioners, including retirement pensions, winter fuel payments, means-tested benefits and other benefits paid to pensioners, as well as concessionary TV licences, which came in last week, and compare the last year of the previous Government, 1996-97, with the planning year 2001-02, which begins next April. Even before the Chancellor's statement on Wednesday about what will

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happen next April, the percentage of the gross national product spent on pensions is higher than it was in the last year of the Tory Government.

Mr. Webb: What about the first four years?

Mr. Rooker: It is no good the hon. Gentleman saying that, as he said that we have spent less. I am telling him that we have spent more, even before the Chancellor's statement on Wednesday.

Mr. Webb: And now?

Mr. Rooker: It is no good, the hon. Gentleman cannot go back and rewrite his speech.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Rooker: No, I shall not, as I am going to make my speech in my own way and answer some of the drivel that we heard before it becomes folklore that is repeated by Liberal Democrat councillors and campaigners up and down the country.

Mr. Flynn: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Rooker: In a moment, but first I want to put the matter on the record so that no one can go round using the hon. Gentleman's statement, as they will have the knowledge that I rebutted it with figures, which are 5.32 per cent. and 5.33 per cent. That is a small difference, but it is bigger than the hon. Gentleman said it was, even before this Wednesday's announcement.

Mr. Flynn: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Rooker: In a moment. I may be able to save my hon. Friend time, although I shall gladly give way if he is not happy with what I say.

The hon. Member for Northavon raised the matter of the Government Actuary's report and, in response to a question asked by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), said that the Government were seeking to manipulate it. I do not think that the Government Actuary would admit to that, and it is useful for me to put on the record the fact that we have answered parliamentary questions on the matter in the last couple of weeks. I do not resile in any way from what I said when the Government accepted Baroness Castle's amendment at the final stages of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill last year. It is true to say that the Government Actuary is finalising his report on the effect on the national insurance fund of an earnings uprating of basic state retirement pension, and it will be published when it is completed. That is the phrase that we have used in parliamentary answers and in answers to letters from right hon. and hon. Members, but it is important to point out that, on Friday, Baroness Castle received a letter from the Government Actuary in which he answered some specific questions. He said:

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That is the commitment that the Secretary of State for Social Security made clear. Before Parliament is asked to approve the uprating orders, the House will have all the relevant information, including all the reports available. That commitment has been given and will be met. It is outrageous for hon. Members to imply that the Government are deceiving the House or that Ministers are lying.

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