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Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Rooker: I have not finished the letter yet. It goes on:

that is, the Secretary of State--

that is, the Government Actuary--

As everyone knows, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make the pre-Budget report statement on Wednesday and the Secretary of State for Social Security will come to the House and make a statement on Thursday, so there is nothing secret. Nothing is being hidden. It is only once our plans for next April's uprating have been announced--they will not be announced in the main until Wednesday and in more detail on Thursday--that the report can be published.

Therefore, it is not possible to publish the Government Actuary's report in a way that allows right hon. and hon. Members to have a meaningful debate, but when the House is asked to vote and to approve those orders--some time in the near future, subject to the business managers--the report will be available. It will be published on Thursday.

What is the problem with that? The report could not conceivably be published beforehand. Any report that was half completed and put in the hands of hon. Members for today's debate would not take account of what will be proposed for next April. Surely, it is relevant for Members to have the full picture before we get involved in a debate and in decision making.

Mr. Beith: May I suggest that, in any publicity the Government give to the figures to be announced on Wednesday and Thursday, any press release or briefing given by the Department contains the relevant passage from the Actuary's report, particularly if that briefing takes place before an announcement to the House?

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Mr. Rooker: Drivel plus. The report will be published in full. We are not in the position of manipulating the Government Actuary's report.

Mr. Simon Hughes: You are delaying it.

Mr. Rooker: We are not delaying it--it is not finished. It cannot be finished until the Government Actuary is given the figures that the Chancellor will announce on Wednesday.

Mr. Beith: Has the Government Actuary been given the figures?

Mr. Rooker: The right hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to answer that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Again, we cannot have conversations from sedentary positions with the Minister at the Dispatch Box. If Members want to intervene, they should stand up in the normal way and the Minister may or may not give way.

Mr. Rooker: As Liberal Democrat Members well know--and as they knew when they chose the subject of today's debate--they cannot have any information whatever on Wednesday's uprating statement. I can answer no questions today on Wednesday's statement.

Mr. Matthew Taylor: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Rooker: No.

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

Mr. Rooker: Yes; I promised my hon. Friend that I would.

Mr. Flynn: Does my right hon. Friend recall telling the House, on 24 July, that the earliest opportunity to publish the Government Actuary's report would be in January 2001? Does he also recall that the Deputy Government Actuary--in his letter to the Southwark Pensioners Action Group, of which I am a member--said:

which is what he was talking about--

The Deputy Government Actuary's letter was written on 28 September, since when I have tabled five parliamentary questions--including one during the recess--on the subject. However, I can generously describe the answers given to me by my right hon. Friend the Minister as evasive. Would it not be better if he had replied to those questions with the type of answers that he has just given the House?

Mr. Rooker: Indeed; that is precisely what I have done. As I said,

of pensions--

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I should address some of the other issues raised in the debate, including those on administration. I do not deny that NIRS2 is a problem that has not been solved. However, I am not going to review the history of NIRS2 or the preceding years in which competitive tendering was used. I should add that the word "stable", when used in relation to information technology systems, does not mean that those systems are 100 per cent. perfect.

Each month, about 50,000 plus people become pensioners. Currently, the system is not dealing correctly with payments to about 2,300 of those people, which is not satisfactory. Also, there is still a backlog of information from NIRS2 to the Benefits Agency. We are, however, working very quickly to correct the situation.

I do not think that it is a secret that the Department of Social Security is not proud of our IT systems, which are rubbish. Over the years, underinvestment in IT and purchase of the cheapest systems have brought us to the current sorry state. Although I shall not blame all that on the legacy that we inherited, everything cannot be put right in three years. We are purchasing and designing new systems. Had hon. Members examined some of the finer points of detail of the spending review 2000, they would have seen that more money is being made available to obtain those systems.

In his remarks on inherited SERPS, the hon. Member for Northavon showed himself to be a disgrace to his party and to the House. By refusing to accept that the Government have accepted, from the ombudsman and from the Public Accounts Committee, that the burden of proof is on the Government and not on the individual, he sought deliberately to create a disturbance among the public. Our difficulty in designing a scheme is that the burden of proof is on the Government, not on the individual. It is for the individual only to make a claim, subject to procedures that we will be introducing for debate.

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is untrue that individuals will have to satisfy the burden of proof, and it is dishonourable and disgraceful for him to repeat that statement on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Webb: The Minister is getting extremely carried away. It is a serious issue about which many pensioners have contacted me, because they are concerned about the Minister's utterances on it. I think that everyone agrees that those pensioners saw duff literature. Will he clarify whether the Government will seek to disprove their claims that they might have taken different action, or will their assertion that they might have taken different action be sufficient?

Mr. Rooker: The House can debate that when it debates the regulations--[Interruption.] No; the burden of proof is on the Government, not on claimants. I cannot express the position any clearer than that.

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The hon. Member for Northavon is trying to twist my words. Claimants do not have to prove anything. They do not have to have documents; they only have to make a claim. They have to fill in a form and answer some questions. The onus of proof is on the Government, not on claimants. I have said that since March, and it is entirely false and disingenuous of the hon. Gentleman to try to assert otherwise.

In his speech, the hon. Member for Northavon talked about it taking years to introduce the pension credit. A few sentences later, he slipped in the date of 2003. We hope to get the pension credit up and running in two years, and we shall publish detailed information on that. As we have not yet published that information, and there is not much on the subject in the public domain--other than the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security--the hon. Gentleman cannot say that that information is complicated. A consultation document on the subject will be published very shortly.

I am not sure what the hon. Member for Northavon said about his party's policy on the minimum income guarantee, because I was adding up the figures. He can make assumptions, based on press speculation--I cannot--about Wednesday's announcement. However, it did not seem that pensioners aged between 65 and 75 would end up with a pension that reached even the present MIG level of £78, let alone our £90 proposal. I say to pensioners who are now on £78.45p that it is not a princely sum--it is a safety net, and one cannot have a comfortable life on it. However, before April, the figure was £75; there has been an increase of £3.45. By next April, the figure will be £90--an increase of almost £12 a week. I do not hear many cheers from the Liberal Democrats about that increase for the poorest pensioners. I assume that they will vote against it, as they did with regard to the help for pensioners earlier this year.

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