I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths, as I do your colleague, the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), with whom I have had the pleasure of discussing many Bills in Committee over several years. You and I entered the House at the same time, and I assure you that my wild-boy days are over and that I
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am an absolute statesman when it comes to debating matters in Committee. I will not cause you any problems—at least not those that are unnecessary to cause.
I thank the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and other colleagues who were members of the Programming Sub-Committee for the efficient way in which the resolution was dealt with. To show the honest way in which such matters proceed, I gave an undertaking last night to members of the Sub-Committee to use my best endeavours through the usual channels if it were felt in later sittings that further time might be required.
I thought that I would help members of the Committee by sending a letter enclosing an explanation of clause 3 and the assessment of income periods. They have received the letter but not the enclosures, for which I apologise. However, I have now issued the background information. As the hon. Member for Daventry will know from our discussions of previous Bills, if I can help members of the Committee by issuing further information, I shall be more than happy to do so without, I hope, causing too much trouble to civil servants in the Department. I hope that the additional information about clause 3 and other issues will help members of the Committee in their consideration of the Bill.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): May I echo the Minister's words in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths? Your co-Chairman—my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham—the Minister and I have debated at less convenient hours than this morning matters of considerable public importance in relation to employment law. I do not wish to signal to the Committee our determination necessarily to prolong affairs to such an extent. We want to have a proper businesslike discussion and deal with the main worries and detailed matters. As the Minister said, we had a discussion to that end in the Programming Sub-Committee, which reached a broadly successful conclusion and one that has been reinforced by the undertaking of the right hon. Gentleman this morning. The explications that he promised in his letter, but which were not enclosed with it, are not yet on the Table, but I sure that they will be placed there during our debate, although they are not relevant to today's discussions.
Although I do not want to make a meal of the programme resolution, for the avoidance of any doubt I wish to say—the Minister referred to it in the exchanges that we had in the House yesterday—that our reservations about the Bill remain. They were referred to in a reasoned amendment in the name of several members of the Committee, not all of whom were Conservative Members, when the Bill was discussed on Second Reading. We are concerned about mass means-testing, the complexity of the system and the possibility that many pensioners will miss out, that there will be an erosion of incentive to save and that additional expenditure could have been better directed towards the basic pension, especially for older pensioners. Such central worries will no doubt inform our arguments later in our proceedings.
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Perhaps it would be appropriate, while the memory of yesterday's questions is still in our minds, to respond to the point that the Minister made after answering an interesting line of questioning. The hon. Member for Kettering (Phil Sawford) said, reasonably enough, that he was pleased that there was more money for pensioners, but thought that it could have been better spent on providing an uplift in the basic state pension. That is very much cognate with what we intended through our reasoned amendment on Second Reading, although the hon. Member for Kettering was unable to support us. The Minister then challenged me to say whether I was in favour of the extra money.
The Chairman: Order. How exactly is that related to the programme resolution? It seems to be a substantive debate that could be had elsewhere in our consideration of the Bill.
Mr. Boswell: I would have no difficulty discussing the subject when we are considering the substance of the Bill, if that is what you wish, Mr. Griffiths, but I was anxious to establish the ground rules from the start. Perhaps you will allow me a brief analogy. The Minister asked me whether I was for or agin putting the extra money into the state pension. I afterwards thought to myself that if there was a choice between haddock and chicken in a restaurant and I chose haddock, it would not mean that I was against chicken.
Mr. McCartney: It looks as if he has chosen both, actually.
Mr. Boswell: The Minister is one up on the jokes. He will remember that a distinguished member of his party was known as ''two dinners''. The Minister may recall an occasion, involving the former leader of my distinguished party and some cod, when I found myself having two dinners. However, it would certainly be out of order for me to discuss that further. In all seriousness, if one makes a choice one way or another, it does not mean that there is something wrong with the other choice; it just reflects the balance of preferences.
Important things have happened since Second Reading, and we will have occasion to refer to them as we work through the programme. There has been the publication of the useful report by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, which was ready in good time for the debate. It contains some interesting reservations on the Government's position. There has also been a debate on annuities. Although annuities are not mentioned explicitly in the Bill, the incomes derived from them are relevant.
I did not notice many Labour Members' names on either side of the Division list on Friday; no doubt they were busy with other matters. It is nice that they have bothered to turn up for the pensions legislation today. I realise that their lordships have discussed the matter at some length. We have, as a matter of propriety, the opportunity to put their lordships out of our minds and ask the Minister for his explanations of various bits of the Bill. That will be healthy for him, and will probably be enjoyable for us. However, we are conscious that their lordships have had a good go at the Bill, and that informed the reasonableness and
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moderation of our demands in the Programming Sub-Committee.
I am pleased that we have on the Opposition Benches a representative of our associates on the reasoned amendments and a representative of the Scottish National party. We also have a splendid body of men from my party, most of whom have a military background and who would insist, if you did not, Mr. Griffiths, on an absence of prolixity on my part, a businesslike approach, and a speedy resolution of our affairs.