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Mr. Geraint Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that alongside all the benefits to employees in small businesses, some of which she has mentioned, there has been a net increase of 140,000 new small businesses,

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partly because we have reduced corporation tax, we are considering cutting red tape, and we are providing an environment in which business under Labour prospers?

Ms Perham: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Government have done a great deal for small businesses, and I was pleased to take part in the debate on the subject in January. It is a complete myth that they are disadvantaged by red tape. We have created a climate in which small businesses thrive. We have much more to do for business, but we have already done a lot.

Finally, as one of the 411 Members of Parliament who supported Second Reading of the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), I continue to support the proposal, and welcome the introduction of the Bill that will provide options for banning hunting with dogs. I am delighted to see that it has been published today. Like the almost 300 people in my constituency who have contacted me on this issue, I support a total ban.

The Queen's Speech rightly focuses on our continuing commitment to fight crime and improve health, and to introduce other important measures, including those relating to education and industry. The people of this country will want us, with their support, to carry through our programme. We shall continue to introduce good measures to realise our vision of an economically stable, fair and prosperous society.

12.20 pm

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): I shall speak briefly. I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for being unable to be present for the winding-up speeches, as I have a longstanding commitment to show some people around the House.

I welcome the attention given in the debate to the Government's proposals to help people with education. Many parents feel that their local education authority either does not understand the need for their child to be assessed, or does not have the resources to provide the special help that is needed. The Department for Education and Employment has an appeals system that allows for hearings; the number of inquiries made by parents is great and the number of hearings is significant. However, I hope that the Government will carry out some analysis of withdrawn appeals to determine whether they were withdrawn because parents were satisfied, or because they had given up. We must be aware of the stress on those processing such applications and on education authorities. I believe that the appeals system works fairly, but it would be sensible to check that people are not falling by the wayside.

My second and final point on education relates to a problem that I think still exists--it certainly did two years ago. If a child, because of illness or for some other reason, takes A-levels at the age of 19 and that child comes from, say, a lone-parent household in receipt of income support, there is no way in which that child can obtain income support, even though the income of the parent--typically a mother--can fall by as much as £70 a week when the child turns 19. If such a child stays on at college or school to do A-levels, there is a gap, and in all my correspondence with Ministers at the Departments of Social Security and for Education and Employment I have discovered no way in which either the education authority or central Government can bridge that gap. I ask not for a reply today, but that consideration be given to filling that gap, which I believe still exists.

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There are obvious limitations. Ministers may well say that, were they to act, it would open up to everyone the opportunity of having income support while they do A-levels. I do not want to get involved in the issue of university access courses. I am referring specifically to pupils who have lost a year or two of education, who are doing A-levels at the age of 19 and whose family is on income support. My question is, what happens in respect of income support when the young person turns 19? In the first such case I encountered, I had to get a charity in which I am involved to provide support. It was pleased to do that, but how much better it would have been had there been a way of resolving the matter through the local education authority or the national Government.

The main issue I wish to address is of a different nature from those raised in the debate so far. I am concerned about people who will not vote for my party or any other in the next election because they have been away from the country for some time: I speak of the 4 per cent. of British pensioners who are resident overseas in what are referred to as the "frozen countries". The problem is not new, having existed under the previous Government, but it is one to which we should return.

The first paragraph of the Government's response to the 7th report of the Select Committee on Social Security, on pensioner poverty, House of Commons paper No. 606, states:

It does not say that only 96 per cent. of pensioners should have a decent income in retirement. Let me illustrate the problem by quoting from a transcript of the "Today" programme, broadcast at 7.45 am on 16 October this year. The Minister of State, Department of Social Security, stated:

he probably meant to say "there are"--

He mentioned historical reasons for that state of affairs, but did not try to defend the logic.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:

It would cost £300 million a year to unfreeze the basic state pensions of people who earned their entitlement in this country and now live abroad.

I shall give some illustrations of the anomalies. They are well known, but it is important to repeat them. If I had retired 30 years ago to the United States, I would get upratings of my basic pension. If I had gone north of the parallel to Canada, it would have been frozen.

To show what that might mean, let us consider the case of a woman who, sadly, died this year, aged 96. She emigrated to Montreal in 1963 after her husband's death to live with her blind daughter who, as it happens, is also on a frozen UK pension. She was able to get some social security help in Canada. The cost to her of the frozen pension between 1963 and this year, when she died, was more than £53,000.

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It is difficult for any Government to say that they are giving help to all pensioners and meeting their needs, if someone who goes to another country to look after a blind daughter from 1963 to 2000 loses £53,000 if that country happens to be Canada, but would not have lost that sum if she had gone slightly further south to the United States. That needs changing, and now is the time that it should be changed.

Basic state pensions are not frozen for people who go to live in Germany, Italy or France, but they are frozen in South Africa. They are not frozen in the Philippines, but they are frozen in Indonesia. They are not frozen in Bosnia-Herzogovina, but they are frozen in Zimbabwe. They are not frozen in Barbados, Jamaica or Bermuda, but they are frozen in 48 of the 53 Commonwealth countries, including Grenada, St. Lucia, as I mentioned, Trinidad, India, Pakistan and Australia.

The Chancellor said when he presented his mini-Budget last month:

He did not say that those whose working lives were spent in the United Kingdom and who were entitled to a reasonably full basic state pension or part of it were to be excluded. For pensioners living abroad, it is a case not of being able to share in the rising living standards in this country, but of preserving the standard of living that they had when their pensions were first paid to them and they chose to live elsewhere.

It is obvious that pensioners who live overseas will not get the benefit of a free television licence or the winter fuel payment. Their costs for medical treatment will not be met by the national health service. We have cut them off with the basic state pension, and £300 million a year would put right that illogical, indefensible anomaly.

I pay tribute to the alliances of pensioners in many of the countries where people are affected, and to the World Alliance of British Expatriate Pensioners. We have an obligation to make sure that the Government put right the anomaly. I am sorry that it was not put right before three years ago. It certainly needs to be put right now.

Of those with frozen pensions, 98 per cent. live in the Commonwealth. What a terrible price they are paying for Commonwealth membership. I hope that the Commonwealth ex-service associations and the Royal British Legion will take up the case, because most of the people who are affected are in their 80s or 90s, and they will have given service during the last great war. There is an example of a widow whose husband had served in the first world war and in a reserve occupation in the second world war. People such as her are still our responsibility.

The House is the place where we should say to Government, "Time to end the anomaly. Time to be fair." We must make sure that it is not just the more than 11 million pensioners in this country and the almost 400,000 in the unfrozen countries who get the upratings, but that the more than 400,000 in the frozen countries share in the upratings as well.

I do not find it easy to look forward to my own pension, which will be at a significantly higher level, when I know that people are suffering overseas, many of them on very low incomes and many unwilling to argue their case

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because of pride. I pay tribute to those who argue on their behalf, and I am proud to have followed Michael Colvin in helping to continue the campaign.

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