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Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Does the Secretary of State endorse Lord Turner's specific conclusion that the 40 per cent. marginal tax rate arising from the withdrawal of the pension credit undermines voluntary private saving, or does he insistas his Ministers were doing until as recently as this Mondaythat there is no evidence of any disincentive?
Mr. Hutton: To be frank, I have yet to see any concrete evidence of a disincentive effect on saving, but the Department for Work and Pensions will shortly publish new research that might throw some light on this subject.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab):
I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to doing something concrete about poverty among women pensioners, who were structurally locked out of adequate pension schemes for now outmoded reasons. However, will he be cautious in dealing with blandishments concerning an exemption for small firms? If we build in another barrier to adequate pensions, we will probably end up reintroducing gender
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discrimination. In any case, such an exemption would be unacceptable for those working for small firms, who are often low earners.
Mr. Hutton: We have made no decisions on Lord Turner's recommendation for a new, low-cost savings scheme for employees. He proposes no exemptions for small firms, but I have made it clear that we will have to consider that part of his report in the same way as other aspects of it. My hon. Friend will be aware of the changes that we have made in an effort to credit periods spent out of waged employment by women and carers, and I hope that they will make a significant difference. They apply principally to the state second pension, but they have made, and will continue to make, a significant contribution.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): At the risk of incurring the Secretary of State's wrath, does he accept that pensioners would be better off with the compounded £60 billion to £70 billion removed by the Chancellor since 1997? If not, why not?
Mr. Hutton: I am afraid to say that the hon. Gentleman needs to learn a lot more about this subject before he makes another contribution. It is much more complicated than that, and if he wants to study it further he should perhaps look at the Pensions Policy Institute's recent work on the alleged £5 billion figure. It is complicated, in the first place by increases[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman either wants to listen or he does not, and I suspect that it is clear to all of us on this side of the House that he does not. One of the issues is longevity, and it would be foolish for him and others to pretend otherwise. Another factor is what has happened in the stock exchange over the past six or seven years, and the low level of interest rates has also been significant. The announcement about tax dividend credits was welcomed by business because it formed part of a wider overall package, and it is important to bear that in mind. I know one other thingthat the Opposition are not proposing to reverse that tax credit.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is little evidence that the reduction in the tax dividend credit, which actually began in 1993, has had any significant impact on pension levels? Was not the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) telling the truth when he said that the leading companies in the FTSE 100 list had told him that the reintroduction of the tax credit would have no bearing on their decisions about company pensions?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification, and agree absolutely with him. I agree
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with something else that the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said recentlythat Tory pensions policy would not solve the pensions crisis. I think that that is very right too.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): The Secretary of State is proposing to bring out his White Paper next spring. By then, the Government will have had nine years to bring proposals forward. The point made a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) was rather rudely dismissed, but nine times £5 billion does equal £45 billion. I understand that the calculation may be somewhat more complex, but I have studied the issues and understand advance corporation tax better than most hon. Members. Lord Turner makes it clear that the deficit is about £57 billion, of which £45 billion could be taken from the ACT change and raid carried out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What does the right hon. Gentleman think about that?
Mr. Hutton: Again, we have spent a lot of time on this matter this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman obviously likes to read widely on the subject, so I recommend that he take a look at the material produced recently by the Pensions Policy Institute. That would require him to revisit all the figures that he has quoted to the House today. If he has a chance to look at Lord Turner's report, he will see that he declines to give a figure for the pensions savings gap that in any way resembles what the hon. Gentleman has quoted. Lord Turner says that that is not possible, and I agree.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of the 2 million pensioners whom we have lifted out of poverty since 1997 are women and carers? I welcome what the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said earlier, but I do not recall him saying the same sort of thing when I was a carer and part-time worker in the 1980s. Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns that simplifying and reforming the pensions system to make it less means-tested may threaten those women and carers whom we helped to receive bigger pensions? Must we not be careful, in any consideration of the Turner report, that we do not plunge those people into poverty again?
I agree absolutely. Over the next few months, we must look very carefully at those outcomes that we think are important and that we want to secure. I assure my hon. Friend that we will take no measures that will threaten the retirement incomes of the people to whom she referred.
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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I very gently seek your guidance about the status of the convention regarding the silence of the Whips? During the exchanges between the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), the shadow Secretary of State, you firmly reproved one hon. Member for very loud heckling. However, you may not have been able to hear the very senior member of the Government Whips OfficeI shall not name her, as she has left the Chamberwho kept up an almost compulsive and constant sedentary chattering. Moreover, today is not the first time that that has been observed. Is that in order for the proceedings of this Chamber?
Mr. Speaker: Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I can hear a pin drop in the Chamber, so he does not have to worry about what I heard. I have a policy: I pick up one at a time, and the next time round it will be the right hon. Lady to whom he has referred.
Mr. Secretary Reid, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Clarke, the Solicitor-General, Mr. Adam Ingram, Mr. Don Touhig and Bridget Prentice, presented a Bill to make provision with respect to the armed forces; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second Time on Thursday 1 December, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 94].
The Bill will safeguard opportunities for the restoration of inland waterways, especially canals, by ensuring a more consistent approach to planning and development activities that affect the original lines of abandoned waterways.
I should start by explaining how I came to attach importance to the need for this Bill. My constituency has a rich canal history. In the centre of Ashton-under-Lyne, the Portland basin is a vital hub in the national canal network at the confluence of the Ashton, Peak Forest and Huddersfield Narrow canals. The Ashton canal runs through Droylsden to Manchester to meet the Rochdale and Bridgewater canals, forming part of the Cheshire ring. In recent years, we have seen the successful refurbishment or restoration of all of these canals and, most recently, millennium funding has enabled the restoration of the Rochdale canal through Failsworth in the Oldham part of my constituency.
Yet there is a missing link in this canal success story, and I should declare an interest as a member of the society that is working towards the restoration of the abandoned Hollinwood branch of the Ashton canal. In some places, especially through the Daisy Nook country park, this canal has been cosmetically refurbished. In other places, it has been infilled and built on. What is more, the construction of the M60 motorway has severed the original line in two places. Despite that, the Hollinwood canal society believes that it can be restored. I agree, but we are realistic about the time scale, which could be as long as three decades. I know that similar challenges are faced by many hon. Members in their constituencies
In similar vein, PPG13 exhorts local authorities to work with all those concerned, including private operators, British Waterways and voluntary groups, to develop the potential of inland waterways. In drawing
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up development plans and determining planning applications, they are advised, among other things, to seek to protect and enhance the waterway environment,
The waterways recovery group is one of the leading voluntary organisations involved in the restoration of canals. In the most recent edition of its magazine "Navvies", the editor makes clear the commonly held view among volunteers in this sectorthat planners and developers often do no more than pay lip service to planning policy guidance. His article points out some of the difficulties. For example, PPG13 stipulates that new road construction should incorporate full provision for canals under restoration, yet it does not cover waterways that have the potential for restoration where work has not yet started. It does not cover diversionary routes that have been identified because the original line has already been compromised. It does not prevent roads being built so close to the canal line, alongside it rather than across it, that future restoration is rendered impractical and extremely costly.
I know, from what the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) has told meand I am glad to see him in his place this afternoonthat that is precisely what has gone wrong in his constituency, where ambitions to restore the Lichfield and Hatherton canals have been frustrated by the failure of PPG13 to place enough of an obligation on the local planning authority to protect the line of the canal from adverse development that has hindered its reconstruction.
One volunteer in my constituency has expressed frustration that preserving the line of a canal can hinge on whether the senior council officer with local responsibility for inland waterways is sympathetic and enthusiastic or cautious and pessimistic about restoration. Given the time scale involved in restoration, changes in personnel are inevitable and that brings the risk of inconsistency and uncertainty.
Another concern is the difference in approach towards urban, inter-urban and rural locations. Developers and planners see the benefit of waterside locations and urban sites are very likely to be restored within regeneration projects. In my own constituency, in Droylsden town centre, work has started on a multi-million pound marina, with quality housing alongside leisure and commercial developments. The line of the Hollinwood branch canal has been protected, for a short distance, as part of that scheme. Also, on the banks of the restored Rochdale canal in Failsworth, there are plans for a new district centre, including retail and waterside housing development. However, the relevance of regenerating small stretches of canal and canal-side properties within urban regeneration projects must be called into question if the original waterways between will never become navigable again. The whole point of a marina is surely that boats will visit.
Where the line runs through a rural or inter-urban setting, there is no developer interest and attracting funding is much more difficult. The burden often falls on
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volunteer groups to bid for funding. Volunteers devote an enormous amount of time to restoration of canals and lobbying of local authorities, funding bodies and others. Many of those volunteers have incredibly detailed knowledge and a great deal of technical expertise. Their work has had, and will continue to have, an invaluable impact on the restoration of canals. However, it is regrettable that the future of inland waterways is so heavily dependent on the existence, skills and abilities of local volunteer groups. In areas where there are no volunteers diligently checking every planning application, the danger is that the lines of more and more abandoned waterways will be permanently compromised.
So, the problems are the lack of consistency of approach between local authorities; lack of consistency of approach between rural, urban and inter-urban areas; an over-reliance on the existence, skills and abilities of volunteers; the fact that construction projects that affect the line of disused inland waterways continue to be allowed, all too often without adequate consideration of the impact on the potential for future restoration; and the fact that PPGs are open to wide variations in interpretation and are guidance rather than being mandatory.
As long as guidance is applied in a patchy way, with variations in approach between one local authority and another and between urban, inter-urban and rural areas, the Government's vision of an integrated and sustainable approach to the use of inland waterways is at risk. The Bill will safeguard the future of inland waterways by preserving the lines of much of the abandoned network until such time as the funding, and the capacity of organisations such as British Waterways, is in place to effect the necessary restoration.
The Bill will establish a requirement for local authorities to consult all those concerned in the inland waterways industryprivate operators, British Waterways and other navigation authorities and the voluntary sectorto develop the potential of inland waterways in drawing up development plans and determining applications. In short, it will translate current guidance into legislation.
The Bill will establish a requirement for local authorities to preserve the lines of disused inland waterways to ensure the possibility of future restoration to a standard that meets the normal requirements of navigation. We must act now to prevent planning decisions continuing to be made that close the door forever on the eventual restoration of many of our inland waterways. I commend the Bill to the House.
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