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12.59 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): May I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) on raising this important issue? There is some disappointment that Labour Members are trying to talk out the Bill.

Mr. Gardiner rose

Mr. Field: No, the hon. Gentleman has had more than enough time.

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Although the Labour party makes a great fuss about its role as the friend of the pensioner, Labour Members' constituents will realise that its position is weak.

Nothing is more likely to induce a glaze across the eyes of most hon. Members than a detailed analysis of pension-related policy. I wanted to say much more, but I shall keep my comments brief because time is tight.

There has been a healthy consensus within the United Kingdom political spectrum over the past couple of decades about encouraging individual saving for retirement. An integral part of that policy has been the generous taxation treatment of such personal contributions. I accept that the principle of an enforced annuity has been a quid pro quo for the generous taxation treatment. However, the element of compulsion lies in a bygone era.

Over the past few weeks and months I have been trying to conduct a small focus group—perhaps I am heading the same way as Labour Members. I asked people in one ward of my constituency about their views on pension-related issues. Having received 25 or so responses, I can only describe my research as qualitative rather than quantitative. There was universal opposition to the idea of an enforced annuity provision. Indeed, the pearls of wisdom from my Knightsbridge-based constituents include: no one should be forced into schemes that are provided by insurance companies; annuities are an outrage; we should allow any pension fund to be moved by a pensioner with transparency and full rules of reporting.

It was also the view that annuities are a strong disincentive and put people off saving for their retirement because the yields have recently fallen to such a low rate, as many hon. Members have commented. Above all, there was an overwhelming desire on the part of many of the constituents who got in touch with me that we encourage people in their 20s and 30s to start saving now. However, the problem with Equitable Life and other companies has affected confidence in the savings and pensions industry.

The final word from my constituents is a little more depressing. One local resident wrote to me and simply said:

I hope that we all play our part, not just in this debate, but in the months and years ahead. Only if the pensions industry is made much safer can we possibly contemplate compelling people to place their trust and their hard-earned cash and savings into it. If legislation forces us to hand over hard-earned cash to the incompetent, there is little incentive for anyone to save. Amid the debate on this issue and the worthy objectives of the Bill, which many of my hon. Friends addressed, we need to realise that no amount of new legislation will overcome the fact that, as Labour Members have said, many of our fellow countrymen are too poor to save adequately for their retirement.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) rose

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Too much time is being taken by Labour Members as they attempt to block future Bills. I wish to move the closure.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I am not prepared to accept such a motion at this time.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although I do not in any way challenge your ruling—nothing could be further from my mind—may I point out the problem that has arisen? It is obvious that at least one other Labour Member wants to speak, to say nothing of the Minister, who has not yet tried to catch your eye. The Children with Disabilities (Play Areas) Bill follows this Bill, and I understand that it has widespread support. If we are not careful, we will be in some difficulty. As a result of the Government's obvious tactics at this stage, it is perfectly possible that we will get to 2.30 pm without that second excellent Bill having any opportunity for debate.

You will be as aware as I am, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the pronouncement from the Chair—admittedly some years ago—in which the Speaker said:

If we are to pay proper account to parliamentary process, debate and accountability, the second Bill is in jeopardy, because it will not get even a brief debate as a result of the Government's tactics.

I make that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, while in no way challenging your ruling, because we are in a certain difficulty.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman is a seasoned Member of the House, and he will know the pattern of Friday business over the years. Many alternatives are still open to us in the 85 minutes remaining for this debate. He should wait and see what may yet happen.

Mr. Gardiner: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) suggested that Labour Members had been blocking the Bill. May I ask you to point out that Labour Members who have spoken in the debate have delayed the House for less time than Conservative Members?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Member is making a point of debate, and he had 49 minutes in which to do so.

Shona McIsaac: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a co-sponsor of a Bill that is third on the Order Paper, I want to assure you that I am certainly not trying to delay this Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I was not aware that the hon. Lady had made any contribution so far that would give rise to that accusation.

1.6 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I preface my remarks by declaring an interest: I have four money-purchase policies, so I would be affected by the Bill.

I am shocked by the allegation that I would take part in any attempt to talk out the Bill. The remarks of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) are

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extremely misplaced. We have had an informed debate on an extremely important issue. The contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) was extremely erudite and well informed. In fact, it was so well informed that I had great difficulty following some of the technical arguments in answer to the detailed points that arise from the Bill. I hope that, as my remarks progress, we will get back to a more level playing field, as suggested by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who commented on the fact that the debate had been non-partisan, and that issues had been discussed sensibly across the Floor. I hope that my observations will be taken in that context.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) on securing his place in the ballot and introducing a Bill dealing with this extremely important subject. However, I question whether a private Member's Bill is the correct vehicle to bring in these complex, although badly needed, reforms to annuities, with all their tax consequences. In that context, I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who is not present at the moment.

The starting point when considering pension policy—whether annuities or other issues—is to look at the overall context. The Government's White Paper on the pension credit succinctly sets out the Government's position, which provides the context in which this debate is taking place. In the White Paper, the Government say:

this is the point that the right hon. Gentleman's Bill is trying in part to address—

There is no doubt that there is a crisis of confidence in the concept of private pension provision following the mis-selling scandals of the 1980s and the Equitable Life fiasco, on which we focused at the start of the debate—before you took the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Responding to an intervention, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon said that the Bill would solve that sort of problem. Furthermore, on 22 July, The Sunday Times reported:

I intervened to challenge the right hon. Gentleman to explain to me, as an Equitable Life policyholder, how his Bill would address the issue. He said, probably facetiously, that if I listened to his two and a half hour speech, I would learn the answer. He spoke for half an

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hour, so perhaps the answer was in the other two hours, which he chose not to give us, no doubt to avoid being accused of talking out his own Bill.

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