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Mr. Deputy Speaker: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the content of ministerial answers is not a matter for the Chair. In this particular instance, however, the Chair would feel diffident about advising the hon. Gentleman how to pursue matters through parliamentary questions, as he has some form in that respect.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance on a serious matter affecting my constituency? You may be aware that there was a report this morning of alleged safety breaches at the air traffic control centre in Swanwick. As one of the affected airports—Cardiff—is in my constituency, I have sought assurances. I am afraid that I have to report that there are serious inconsistencies in the information that I have received, with different views given by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Health and Safety Executive, both of which bodies are the responsibility of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. In light of the fact that I was unable to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in business questions and that the House is going into recess tomorrow, I believe that that is a matter of great public concern. How can we now best get the Minister with responsibility for aviation to look at it and report to the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has stretched the definition of a point of order to get the matter on the record. I recognise that it is of obvious importance, but there are parliamentary means of pursuing such issues, even on an urgent basis, and I leave him to think about that, although he has now put his concern on the record.

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Orders of the Day

State Pension Credit Bill [Lords]

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 1

Imputation of years of home responsibility

'(1) On making an initial claim to state pension credit, all claimants shall be asked to list the date of birth of any natural children and any other children for whom they had primary caring responsibilities in any year prior to the introduction of Home Responsibilities Protection.

(2) The definition of primary caring responsibilities shall be set out in regulations.

(3) For the purposes of calculation of entitlement to the guarantee credit and the savings credit, any individual may substitute for his actual rate of retirement pension an amount equal to the rate of retirement pension that he would have received if he had been entitled to a year of Home Responsibilities Protection for each year in which he was the primary carer for a child up to the age of 16 prior to the introduction of Home Responsibilities Protection.'.—[Mr. Webb.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

2.25 pm

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

In pensions, women have been second-class citizens for generations. Of today's elderly pensioners, women are the poorest, and make up the bulk of the group of people approaching pension age with poor pension entitlements. With increasing reliance on private sector pensions, there is a danger that in future women will be less likely to have private sector pensions or take out stakeholder pensions; once again, they will be the poor relations in pension provision.

New clause 1 tries to correct a feature of the Bill which is prejudicial to the interests of a particular group of women. We touched on that issue in Committee, which was constructive and non-partisan; I hope that we can carry that over to today's deliberations, and it is certainly the spirit in which the new clause has been moved. We are seeking to deal with the danger that the values of the 1940s, when bringing up children was seen as women's work, will be carried over into the 21st century in the Bill. We cannot rewrite the system of the 1940s, but we can try to make sure that those values are not enshrined in new legislation and advanced for decades to come.

There has been confusion about the categories of women affected. There has been discussion—I have raised the matter myself—about the position of women who pay the married women's stamp, but that is not my primary focus now. I wish to focus on women whose state pension entitlement has been substantially reduced because of years spent out of the labour market bringing up children. Leaving aside the millions of women who have already retired, I wish to talk about women who are coming up to state pension age with poor pension entitlements. Recently, I received a written answer that suggested that typically women reaching 60 have a basic state pension entitlement of £58 a week, excluding the state earnings-related pension scheme and so on, compared with the full basic pension of £75 a week. That is roughly 75 per cent. of the average figure.

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Despite the growth in women's work and the introduction of home responsibilities protection in the late 1970s, women are still reaching pension age with poor basic state pension entitlements. We are not proposing to rewrite the history of the basic state pension entitlement, and are leaving alone the fact that women will typically retire with £58 a week. However, in new clause 1, we query the carry-through of that poor basic state pension entitlement into state pension credit entitlement. Society was right in the late 1970s to value the work of bringing up children, which was predominantly undertaken by women, in home responsibilities protection and similar measures that protected women's pension entitlements during the years when they were raising their family.

2.30 pm

The problem is that women now reaching 60 brought up their children, by and large, in the years before home responsibilities protection was introduced. To take a simple example, if a woman who is 60 this year—in other words, who was born in 1942—had her children in her 20s, which is common, or early 30s, most of the time that she spent bringing up those children was in the 1960s and early 1970s, before home responsibilities protection came in. That woman suffers the consequences in the form of a poor basic pension, and the state pension credit system doubles the penalty. It says to the woman who has managed to do some saving—which, let us face it, was doubly difficult because of all the years that she spent bringing up the children—"You don't get a reward for that saving until you have built up from the pension that you are getting to the full basic pension, and we reward private pensions or other saving only beyond that point." Of two women, one with a full basic pension and a little saving, and one with a partial basic pension and a little saving, one gets a reward for her saving and the other does not—the infamous double whammy. A poor basic pension is the penalty for having brought up children, and a reduced savings credit is the second penalty.

The question is how we can best respond to that. We have considered various ways in which that might be done. In Committee we proposed that home responsibilities protection on the post-1977 model might be imputed for years before 1977. The Minister responding said that one of the problems with that is that the benefits that trigger entitlement to home responsibilities protection—child benefit, invalid care and so on—did not exist at all or did not exist in the same form before 1977, so there was no simple read-over from the post-1977 to the pre-1977 system. One could not apply the new rules to the old period.

In the new clause we propose a different way of imputing a value to the caring that those women did, for the purposes of calculating their entitlement to the state pension credit, with particular reference to the savings credit. Nothing that we propose would affect their basic pension entitlement, but it would help them with their savings credit.

We are proposing that when a woman fills in her state pension credit form, she is asked about the children that she has ever cared for. The new clause refers to natural children and others for whom she had caring responsibilities. We have left to regulations a specific decision about the definition of caring responsibilities. We are aiming at women who spent time out of the labour

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market because they were looking after their own children. We would like to include adopted children, foster children and so on, but those cases are on the margins of the issue that we are raising. The key point is that women should not be penalised for caring.

When the issue has been raised in the House in the past, the Government have conflated the position—not wilfully, I am sure—of women who paid the married women's stamp and therefore saved some money and therefore had a poor pension, with women who simply brought up their own children. I shall give one instance of that.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) intervened on the Secretary of State and pointed out that

That is the point that I have been making. The Secretary of State said in response:

Now, the women in question did not have any money. They were at home bringing up the children, so they were not making pension contributions in their own right—not by choice, not because they had the money but were not putting it into a pension, but because they had no money coming in to put into a pension. The Secretary of State went on to say:

But those women had not chosen not to pay contributions. The women under discussion are not the women on the married women's stamp—or rather, they may also be, but that is not the reason why, for the periods of home responsibility, they were messing up their pension record. It is because they were caring—bringing up a child. We recognise that we cannot rewrite their basic pension entitlement, but in a brand new Bill at the start of the 21st century the system should not penalise women a second time round for the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s society did not put a financial value on bringing up children.

I shall be happy to hear the Minister's comments on the logistics of our specific recommendation. Clearly, there are issues to do with providing evidence about children who were born 20 or 30 years ago and whether or not the woman was their full-time carer. Inevitably, there will have to be some broad-brush response to those issues. Unless there are extraordinarily detailed regulations defining primary caring responsibility, there might be one or two women who would not be entitled to credits, but in general, if a mother could show that she was the natural mother of a child and if she stated on the form that she was responsible for that child—in the sense that the present child benefit system works, which is the trigger for home responsibilities protection—that should be enough. There might be the odd case where the husband challenged that, but the House would probably accept that the claim by a mother that she had cared for the children listed should be enough to trigger entitlement to the credits.

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Speaking specifically about home responsibilities protection and about caring makes a distinction between women who did something that society now values, but did not value financially in the past—bringing up children—and women who had some financial benefit from paying the married women's stamp. That is not the issue that we are raising here. We are dealing not with women who saved some money by opting out, but with women who did not have money and whose work was not recognised then. It is time that the House valued such work.

For too long women have been the poor relations in state pension provision. There is a danger that we carry over that relative poverty into the Bill. New clause 1 provides the House with the opportunity to make sure that we do not redouble that injustice.

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