State Pension Credit Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Brazier: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McCartney: No. I give way to the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer).

The Chairman: Order. The Minister has had a full opportunity to respond to Mr. Boswell's general points. We should return to the specific issue of whether the amendment should be accepted. Other issues can be debated at a later stage during clause stand part, or even on Third Reading.

Mr. McCartney: Thank you, Mr. Griffiths. I was just on my last word when you intervened. I give way to the hon. Member for Newark and, depending on what he says, I may give way to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier).

The Chairman: I hope that it relates to the amendment.

Mr. McCartney: Indeed.

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Patrick Mercer: I see a number of pensioners in my surgeries, and they tell me time and again that their benefits have fallen. The Minister mentioned increasing pensioners' confidence. Pensioners have no confidence in the current system and they cannot understand the improvements that the Minister suggested.

Mr. McCartney: May I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman goes back to Newark, probably about 3,500 to 4,000 pensioners are getting the benefit of the minimum income guarantee and probably more than 20,000 people receive the winter fuel payment? I assume that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that he wants to take that money away from them and that he will oppose their receiving any benefit from pensioner credit. The 3,000 to 4,000 people who already receive the minimum income guarantee will automatically be placed on pensioner credit. Some of them will qualify not only for the minimum income guarantee but for benefits through credit. A lot of benefits are available to the hon. Gentleman's constituents in Newark.

Mr. Brazier: I am conscious of your correct ruling, Mr. Griffiths, but the Minister's remarks are wide ranging. The clear point that emerged from Beveridge—from which Governments of all complexions have moved away slightly, but especially this Government, most of all in this measure—was not to create disincentives to save. What is the marginal withdrawal rate for a pensioner household that receives housing benefit and council tax benefit? What is the marginal rate of tax and benefit withdrawal—the combined marginal rate?

The Chairman: That question can be answered elsewhere, rather than in debating the amendment.

Mr. McCartney: I shall answer that question elsewhere. In general, the Bill is designed to ensure that people such as those to whom the hon. Gentleman refers, who lose out under the current system, will benefit significantly under the new system. I look forward to debates on the issue.

I had intended to start my remarks on the kernel of the amendments by quoting Baroness Greengross in the Lords, who took a fair and non-partisan stance. Some serious issues are involved, and my earlier comments were just as serious. On amendment No. 1, she said:

    ''I do not share that view as I believe that people get used to new things and new names if they are introduced well and thoughtfully''.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 January 2002; Vol. 630, c. 1588.]

The principle of introducing things well and thoughtfully is important.

From day one we used the title ''pension credit'', and I give a firm undertaking to Committee members that we shall continue to do so. Amendment No. 18 is, therefore, entirely redundant. I assure hon. Members that we shall undertake a substantial programme of targeted publicity to achieve the dual aims of reducing stigma and promoting take-up. I hope that in doing so and in incurring expenditure we see no silly press releases from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives saying that it is an appalling use of

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taxpayers' money to support the Labour party's achievements and manifesto. In giving people income and benefits, it is legitimate to tell them what they are entitled to. I hope that we shall have seen the last of those, but I have my doubts. The day we start that publicity, we shall see the first press releases from the Opposition complaining about the money being spent on advising people about their entitlements, and we shall just have to put up with that.

The reason the Bill refers to ''state'' pension credit is perfectly simple. The term ''pension credit'' is already used in legislation, although in a very different context. Section 29(i)(b) of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 uses it to refer to rights acquired by one spouse over the other's non-state pension in the event of divorce.

The amendments would create a second pension credit. I do not believe that Committee members need be lawyers, let alone parliamentary draftsmen, to realise that that is a recipe for legislative confusion.

The hon. Member for Daventry and I also sat on the Committee that considered the Employment Relations Bill, which I wanted to call the Fairness at Work Bill. The White Paper had been entitled ''Fairness at Work'', and fairness at work was referred to in the manifesto. Parliamentary draftsmen are, rightly, independent. It is their responsibility to determine the Bill's title. On this occasion, parliamentary draftsmen called the Bill the State Pension Credit Bill. We shall continue to refer to pension credit in getting the message across to people.

We need to move on to issues surrounding the use of the word ''credit''. Increasingly, people understand through the Government's activities that, under this Government, credit is positive and means an entitlement that people did not have before, whether working families tax credit, child tax credit or disabled person's tax credit. The term ''credit'' has been changed by the Government into something positive and meaningful, unlike how it has been used in the past.

It is vital for us all to take the view that, whatever the Bill is called, its implementation and the uptake of benefits that accrue from it are vital. The creation of the pension service is important. As we roll out the pension service, I make an offer to each Committee member individually; if any of them wish to visit a pension service facility, I will facilitate that. It is important that hon. Members who have taken the time to participate in the Committee can see how the programme is rolling out in practice, after the Bill's enactment. I leave that offer on the table.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Boswell: I thank the Minister for that offer to Committee members. The pension service that covers my constituency is based in Leicester. Its director has already been in touch with me and I hope, in due course, to have a conversation with him about how things are going, because it is important that that should happen.

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The Minister may recall that I suggested to him, in prior correspondence, that he might like to have a couple of presentations in this place, for the benefit of hon. Members who are not members of this Committee.

Mr. McCartney: I have not yet responded to that suggestion, as I have been ill. I apologise for the delay, but the hon. Gentleman will get a positive response.

Mr. Boswell: I am delighted about that. It is in everybody's interests that, regardless of whether we like the exact way that this legislation comes out, it should be properly understood by hon. Members, in so far as it is easy to understand—or, at least, the rudiments of it are—and it should be possible to communicate it to our constituents.

The Minister was talking about what we do at weekends. I can assure him that I am very happy to go home to my constituency, where I have lived for many years, and tell pensioners to participate in taking up this benefit, if they are entitled to do so. Therefore, there is no difference between us on that.

However, I wish to address one major concern and I shall draw an analogy with the minimum income guarantee. It has had some difficulties, which are now being ironed out, but it is, nevertheless, a more straightforward benefit than what we now have. We know that about one in four people who are entitled to it are not participating in it. Therefore, in my constituency—and in most others—some 1,000 pensioners have the right to take it up, but are not doing so at present. That is the continuing concern about such benefits, regardless of how they are presented. Regardless of whether they are called means-tested, or new Labour, or graded, or reward—or whatever—the fact is that they are not reaching the people that they are intended to help as much as they should. It is as simple as that.

I was happy to let the debate run on, rather than to make serial interventions on the Minister. However, I wish to state that the underlying difficulties were very well set out in the interventions by the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing)—who asked what the difference was—and the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) who asked, ''Is it not, in fact, a solution to a problem that the Government have caused by allowing the gap between entitlements and an acceptable level of income to widen?''

That is the underlying problem. We are fond of the Minister, but he is given to rhetoric from time to time: indeed, sometimes he gives rhetoric a bad name. However, I think that what he was trying to say was that he was attacking poverty. I hope that that is a commitment that most Committee members genuinely share. However, we wonder whether it is being met and I shall give an example that is based on something he said. He said that he wanted to tackle those who are left out of the state pension. However, if he reads the Select Committee's report—which gives flesh to the concerns that we have already felt—he will discover that one of the major problems is the large number of women who do not have a full state pension

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entitlement, for historic or other reasons, and whose starting point for the savings credit will be handicapped by the fact that they do not have a full retirement pension entitlement.

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