State Pension Credit Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. McCartney: That is the same question that the hon. Gentleman asked me before. Some 2.5 per cent. will be affected by that fluctuation issue. I thought that I had answered that question quite reasonably but if he thinks that I have not done so when he reads Hansard, we can consider the matter again.

Under clauses 6, 7 and 8, we have been clear about the fact that the reporting system links positively to the assessment system to the benefit of the pensioner. The clause alone gives some responsibility to the claimant to give an indication of foreseeable income. That is a reasonable balance to strike. If hon. Members can accept the clause on that basis, our debate may move forward to the next clause.

Mr. Clappison: We have to beware of Ministers juggling balls in these circumstances. We shall have to read Hansard to see to what extent the Minister has succeeded in keeping his balls in the air at the same time.

I detect some sensitivity in some quarters on the subject of means-testing, as I was not conscious of the fact that we had been banging on about the subject all

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morning. The Government told us that the five-year period and the other features of the provision make that feature less of a burden and less intrusive for claimants. A lot of issues have arisen from today's amendments on which we shall want to reflect in due course. Further consideration may put those claims in a different context, and perhaps put a different complexion on them. The hon. Member for Northavon pointed out that further exceptions keep cropping up.

We shall consider the Minister's remarks further, but for today's purposes I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Boswell: I beg to move amendment No. 37, in page 7, line 4, at end add—

    '(6) For the avoidance of doubt, and notwithstanding regulations made concerning absence from Great Britain under section 1(5), the assessed income period shall continue through any period of absence from Great Britain during that period.'.

I am glad to be back in the Committee after an unmannerly interruption, although it is clear from the tenor of the exchanges that my hon. Friends have handled the Minister in a masterly way and that he has done his best to reply.

The amendment rehearses two previous debates. I was not expecting to have to move the amendment and I did so only because of the result of those two debates. It is an example of the kinds of difficulty in the Bill that concern us.

I shall remind the Committee of the two debates to which I refer. Under clause 1, we debated the jurisdiction and for how long the pension credit would be payable if someone went abroad for an extended holiday, for example. Last Thursday we debated the eligibility for continuing the assessment to pension credit by inference if it was more favourable than the current assessment for prisoners who were incarcerated at the time.

We could reopen the question of whether it is a suitable additional punishment for prisoners and whether pensioners should be able to go abroad for as long a holiday as they wish—good luck to them—but I do not seek to do that. I am trying to expose something implicit in the earlier debate. It seems to me that in framing regulations Ministers must have in mind two potentially different activities. They need to provide for a change of circumstance, and the making of a fresh assessment in certain specific circumstances. I am conscious that some of the debate this morning, in my absence, turned on that matter, but pensioners get married, they decide to leave the jurisdiction altogether and their income falls—and the Minister wants to help them.

Such changes in circumstances are all understandable. Except for the purposes of debate, I am not arguing that it is necessarily wrong to deal with discharged prisoners in that way. Nevertheless, Ministers need to equip themselves with the power to suspend the payment of the credit without amending the assessment itself. The Minister may say that it is already provided for—that is what I want to know—but it particularly inheres in the amendment. Some

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pensioners may decide to have an extended holiday—they may spend the winter in Benidorm. However, if an assessment is made that is more favourable than that made on their current level of income and capital, as we teased out this morning, before they go abroad, they will have to come back with a completely fresh assessment.

That creates a material consideration. No member of the Committee would want pensioners to have to say to themselves—or fail to say, to their subsequent regret—''I went away, I told the Pension Service, I was away for two months, but when I came back they said that I could not have the same pension credit because the income had changed and I was entitled to a lesser amount, or nothing.'' There is the possibility of deterring innocent travellers from going outside the jurisdiction for more than four weeks, and there can also be a retrospective effect if someone gets caught out. What I am saying to the Minister through the amendment, with particular application to leaving the jurisdiction, although there may be other cases, is that we need to have a battery of proposals that pick up the change in circumstances leading to fresh determination route, but given that some people lose when they have a fresh determination we also need the power to suspend the payment without affecting the determination of assessed income. If I have overlooked a way of doing that, I shall accept the Minister's assurances, but it is of particular relevance if pensioners decide, in all innocence, to take an

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extended holiday, because no one wants them to lose out in the process.

Mr. McCartney: I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the amendment harks back to a previous discussion on prisoners. During proceedings on the Proceeds of Crime Bill, he made a great fist of ensuring that people detained at Her Majesty's pleasure were able to get pension credit while they were there, and as a sign of not having double jeopardy, all was forgiven when they came out. It was the Ronnie Biggs amendment. One can go to Brazil for 35 years and then come back for one's pension credit. I know that that is not what was intended—

Mr. Brazier: You took him back.

Mr. McCartney: Indeed, that may well be why he came back. It was approximately at the time when the Chancellor made the announcement that Mr. Biggs got on that plane. Perhaps Ronnie Biggs's view of the clause is similar to that of the hon. Member for Daventry. However, I shall not go too far down that road.

The amendment would—

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Atkinson, Mr. Peter (Chairman)
Boswell, Mr.
Brazier, Mr.
Brennan, Kevin
Cairns, David
Clappison, Mr.
Cruddas, Jon
Ewing, Annabelle
McCartney, Mr. Ian
Mann, John
Mercer, Patrick
Osborne, Sandra
Purnell, James
Smith, Angela
Turner, Mr. Neil
Tynan, Mr.
Webb, Mr.

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