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We could mess about with the tapers on various benefits. There are various different costings, all of which are substantial, and it would increase means-testing. The various obvious options do not provide the
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answers. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has asked me what we are doing about it. I am happy to discuss with him and with others ways in which we can deal with the issue, but coming up with proposals such as he has and suggesting that because there is a problem there is therefore a magic bullet solution is not worthy of him. That is not a constructive approach for the Conservatives to take, and using it as an excuse not to introduce any proposals is not acceptable. I listened with growing incredulity to the comments I heard about—

Danny Alexander: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: Let me just finish dealing with the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell; I may then deal with the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell and his colleagues kept talking about the Government’s models. The Government do have a computer system that forecasts pensioner incomes up to 2050, but it has taken on almost mythic status in the interventions we have heard from the Opposition during the course of the debate. They told us that they cannot come up with any proposals because they do not have access to the computer. Our system is one of a range of models we use to tell us how people might end up in 2050 with regard to pension credit. It does not model behavioural changes arising from policy decisions and, to the best of my knowledge, the Pensions Policy Institute one does not either.

My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), discussed making the Department’s models available to the Opposition so that they could model their proposals, and neither party has taken us up on that offer. The Opposition can make their proposals; we are happy to run them through the system. They could see the results and so could we.

Mr. Waterson: I happened to be involved in those discussions, although, in fairness, the hon. and learned Gentleman was not in his current post at the time. The conditions that the Government sought to impose for any access to the Pensim 2 model were so burdensome and outrageous that there was no basis on which any sensible Opposition party could accept them.

Mr. O'Brien: I make the offer, and the Opposition will not accept it. They always come up with excuses. We have said to them constantly, “Come up with your proposals. If you say that there is a problem here and that you are not going to vote against the Bill because of it, what are your proposals for dealing with it?” The Opposition come up with nothing at all. I am happy to have a debate on the issue, but we must be realistic. We should not start scaring people just for the sake of what is basically opportunistic point-scoring. We need an end to that.

Just before Christmas, I met a group of pensioners who were among the 140,000 investors whose private pension schemes had failed, and I was able to tell them that the Government had put together a package that would deliver a just settlement for them. I am grateful for the kind words that have been expressed to me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but they
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should also be expressed to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor for bringing forward a settlement to deal with that problem.

The settlement generated a flurry of publicity, but we must not lose sight of the fact that it was part of a larger package of Government proposals that seek to renew confidence and faith in our pensions system—confidence and faith that was rattled by the previous Conservative Government. Today, by contrast, quietly and without controversy, we are carrying out massive social reform of pensions that will benefit tens of millions of people. The Bill is only a part of it. Our reforms address the real issues that face this country: a major demographic change with people living longer; a lack of saving to pay for it; confidence in the pension system; the move away from final salary schemes; and pensioner poverty itself. The Government have recognised those problems and are making one of the biggest changes to pensions in years.

We are reforming for the long term. We have put in place the pensions regulator, the Pension Protection Fund and proposals that address the issue of pensioner poverty. We have lifted more than a million pensioners out of relative poverty. The Bill will be another major reform that will tackle undersaving and give people who work the opportunity to save in a pension scheme. About 60 per cent. of the work force are not saving enough for their retirement. This major Bill will enable many of them to do so, and ensure that people on low and middle incomes are given many of the benefits that were available only to those who were richer.

This is a quietly done, but important and major piece of social reform. It is part of a wider package of reforms that we are undertaking. As part of those reforms, we aim, in the Pensions Act 2007 and other legislation, to renew confidence in Britain’s pensions. I look forward to a responsible debate, and to genuine and effective consensus for lasting change. We will keep our eyes on the prize: up to 9 million people saving more for the first time, and £10 billion more being saved. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second Time.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7) (Programme motions),


Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

Consideration and Third Reading

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Other proceedings

Question agreed to.


Queen’s recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Questions put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Question agreed to.


Post Office Closures (Kettering)

10 pm

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I have the honour of presenting to the House a petition signed by
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local people in Kettering protesting at the closure of the Hawthorn road post office, which is a busy, popular and profitable branch of Post Office Ltd.

The petition reads as follows:


Support for Armed Forces

10.1 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): We have the bravest and the best servicemen and women in the world. That is why there is so much support for them from our constituents. I am extremely proud of the work that our forces have done, including by veterans over many years, to make the world a safer and more stable place. People are particularly concerned about those who are sent to serve their country in the most difficult places, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The petition is signed by 1,000 people and calls on the Government to ensure that our troops are provided with the correct equipment while they are serving and given a better deal when they return to this country. David Cain of Canvey island, excellent members of the local branches the Royal British Legion and many other constituents are deeply concerned about this issue.

The petition states:


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Flooding (Gloucestershire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Steve McCabe.]

10.3 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I am pleased to have secured my second debate on flooding. I thank you for awarding it to me, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the Minister for remaining behind to reply to it. I know that he has been extremely active on the issue of flooding. I am also glad to see other hon. Members here, including my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper).

A number of people have asked me, “If you held a debate on this issue in October, why are you holding another one today?” The reason is quite simple: to keep the issue on the agenda. Two inquiries are under way, one by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and one by the Government. However, it is important to keep reminding people that there are many in Tewkesbury—I shall talk about Tewkesbury, but I know that other areas have been affected, too—who continue to suffer from the effects of the flooding, which happened some months ago. Although the emergency passed long ago, the problems remain.

One of the biggest remaining problems is the fact that many people—567, according to an estimate by Tewkesbury borough council—are still displaced from their homes. Many are living in caravans, and throughout Christmas many had to live in cold, cramped conditions on the drives of their homes. Some have been able to use the upper floors of their houses, but it has been a very uncomfortable time for them. While the rest of us may have enjoyed some comforts over Christmas, they have been suffering.

Many people whose homes were devastated are back in them now. It seems to depend on the speed at which loss adjusters and builders have worked. I do not mean to suggest that some builders have been working slowly, but families who know, live near or are related to builders have tended to get the work done much more quickly than those who made arrangements through insurance companies. I make no criticism of the companies concerned—it is just a very slow system—but when they have allocated builders, the process has taken some time. It has been a very uncomfortable period for many of my constituents, and it may be months before those displaced from their homes can return to them.

I pay tribute to those people. I visited as many as I could before Christmas, and their spirit was incredible. Virtually all those who were living in caravans and would be in them over Christmas took the time to wish me a happy Christmas, although their own season had been so disrupted. Old people, young people, people who were ill, people who were healthy, children—a very mixed bag—were concerned enough to wish me a happy Christmas. That says something about the people of Tewkesbury.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Thankfully, in my constituency far fewer people—about 41 families—were still in temporary accommodation over Christmas, but does my hon. Friend agree that the best Christmas present we could give all these people is to look carefully at the lessons from the inquiries that are conducted, in
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order to ensure that this is the last time a significant number of families are prevented from living at home over Christmas and that it never happens to anyone again?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is right. The main thing that most of my constituents want is for lessons to be learnt. They accept that we live on a floodplain and that we often see water on the fields, but they do not accept that things need be quite as bad as they were. We must learn those lessons.

As people work towards returning to their homes, their great fear is that the floods could come again. In his report, to which I shall return in a moment, Sir Michael Pitt described the fear that existed at the time of the floods. Now there is a different fear: what if it happens again? I do not think we can assume that this was a one-in-150-years flood. We do not know whether it was or not. Heaven forbid, it could happen again next week or next year. In the House we often discuss the problems caused by climate change, but I think we should take account of the fact that the same amount of rain could fall again at any time. We hope that it will not, but we really do not know.

People are living in fear, and although I have tried to establish contact with as many of them as possible—I have placed advertisements in newspapers and written to people—it is difficult to reach everyone. Despite all the activity going on around them, people feel alone. One thing that worries them is insurance for the future. Many face increased premiums, some cannot obtain insurance cover at all, and some are being told by insurance companies “If you want flood cover, there will be a very large excess on your policy”. One lady told me—and I think this is fairly typical—that the insurance company had said there would be a £10,000 excess on her buildings insurance and a further £10,000 excess on insurance for furniture and other items. Effectively, that person has no insurance. If it floods again, it will cost her at least £20,000 out of her own pocket. We may be in a position perhaps to criticise people who were not insured last time, but what about now? People cannot get insurance. The Association of British Insurers said:


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