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Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Adam Price.

Kevin Brennan: I am Kevin Brennan, Mr. Speaker; he is the naughty one.

The hon. Gentleman mentions past warnings that he has given, which presumably include his saying that raising the basic state pension in line with earnings is a wild and uncosted policy. He is a man of logic and he has mentioned the Turner report, which states that the implication of raising the basic state pension is that
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either taxation or the retirement age will have to go up. Which of those alternatives is the Conservative party proposing?

Mr. Willetts: Let me now turn, then, from the Government's failure to reform welfare to their failure to tackle the pensions crisis. [Interruption.] I will touch on the issue raised.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Willetts: I give way to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood).

Sir Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (LD): I understand political foreplay when I hear it, and the hon. Gentleman is obviously enjoying himself. Now that he has got it off his chest, will he not recognise that the Adair Turner report is a rather special moment in time? It is the next best thing to a royal commission in terms of setting out the extent of the problem, so is this not a sober moment at which we should try to deal with the issues and the context in a more deliberative way, rather than exciting all this party political clap-trap?

Mr. Willetts: Spoken like a true Liberal Democrat! They are so superior, so above the rest of us. I think that it is part of the real Opposition's job to hold the Government to account for what they have done on pensions, and that is what I am doing.

I want to remind Ministers of what they have said in the past, as set against the conclusions of what is indeed a very sober and important report. In the days of the Soviet bloc, one east European country had a law that made it a criminal offence to keep old newspapers. That made it very difficult for people ever to hold any Government to account for what they had promised or done in the past. Fortunately, in this country we can hold Ministers to account for what they have said or done, and I want to remind the Secretary of State of what we have heard from this Government on pensions since they took office in 1997.

In March 1998, a document entitled "New Ambitions for our Country: A New Contract for Welfare" rather rashly set out—I am sure that the Government would not risk this now—what they called their "success measures" for pensions. Success measure 1 states:

Success measure 2 is:

Six and a half years later, we are entitled to ask Ministers how they are doing. Adair Turner's report states:

The Government have completely failed to deliver on what they said in March 1998.
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We then had another attempt, in December 1998: "A New Contract for Welfare: Partnership in Pensions", with a foreword by the Prime Minister. He said:

He continued:

Six years on, what do we now have in the report that the Prime Minister himself commissioned? We have a completely different picture. It states:

the very document from which I quoted—

That is what Adair Turner now says about what the Government promised.

It gets worse for Ministers. I do not know whether the Secretary of State has ever read the pensions documents previously produced by his own Government, but I hope that they would cause him at least one or two blushes. The Turner report states:

Yet as recently as December 2002, we had another of these outrageously optimistic documents. It stated:

I should tell the Secretary of State that I have a nice collection of letters of apology from previous Secretaries of State. His two predecessors had to write to me to apologise for their mistake in claiming that we are saving more than we really are. Adair Turner's report finally shows that all those assertions were false. It shows that the December 2002 assertion, on which rests the policy that is still being defended, was also false.

What they also said in December 2002 was that

They go on:

That is what Ministers were saying. What do we now find? It is exactly the opposite. Adair Turner's report published this week states that

At last, a dose of reality.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab) rose—
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Mr. Willetts: I see a former Minister wanting to enter the debate. Perhaps he is about to accept some responsibility—it would be a nice change—for some of those extraordinary assertions of the past. I am happy to give way to him.

Mr. Denham: I should like to remind the hon. Gentleman of two points. The first is that the Turner commission clearly concluded that the current problems that we face arise from the "cumulative impact" of the decisions and commitments made, often with unintended consequences, by Governments over "several decades". People outside the House would be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman accepts his party's share of responsibility for what happened. In particular, will he now accept that when he stood in the 1997 election on the Conservative policy to phase out the basic state pension over the coming years, he and his party were completely and utterly wrong? [Hon. Members: "What?"] Those hon. Members who shouted out "What?" should have read the policy that was advocated by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) when he was Secretary of State, which was to abolish the basic state pension. They were wrong, and Conservative Members should accept responsibility for it. [Interruption.]

Mr. Willetts: If the right hon. Gentleman wants to debate pensions and the 1997 election, it is about time that we received an apology from Labour Members for the way that they shamelessly misrepresented our views. Pensioners throughout the country thought that they were about to lose their pensions under the policy proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), but that was absolutely not his intention, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows.

I accept, of course, that the serious pensions crisis that we currently face arises from a range of factors. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right about that. Not everything is under the Government's control and not everything is the responsibility of the present Government. I accept that. The evidence in the Turner report shows that it is a complicated story. The fact that Governments cannot control everything makes it even more important that the factors that Governments can control and influence are got right. The trouble with the present Government is that they have made a complete mess of the factors that they do control—the tax regime on pension and the benefit regime on pensioners. That is the case against the Government and the challenge that they face.

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