While thanking my right hon. Friend for having visited the leaders of the association, which does such good work for retirement pensioners, may I ask him whether he found that they had rather greater appreciation than some hon. Members opposite have of what the Government have done to increase the real value of the pension and in providing to review it every year?
Yes, I did. I received a delightful welcome and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. They had an appreciation of the increase in the real value of pensions and of the financial increase as well. In three years the Government have added over £1,600 million a year in improved and new benefits without the lower-paid workers in general having to pay increased contributions. That is a fully justified policy.
Is the Prime Minister aware that old-age pensioners are as anxious as anyone to ensure that this country does not, in the next few weeks, tear itself to pieces in industrial strife? If he saw the old-age pensioners, would he tell them that he regards the TUC initiative and the Pay Board's relativities report as at least giving some scope for hope? Would he also tell them that the Government's general acceptance of the relativities report is at least a recognition by the Government that greater flexibility is required under phase 3? Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the old-age pensioners, when he sees them, whether the Secretary of State could, under paragraph 61, regard the miners' case as being one of special national interest for immediate consideration, refer it urgently to an examining body and indicate to old-age pensioners and any other persons who might be listening that the Government would accept the Pay Board's suggestion that the pay code might well have to be amended if the recommendations went beyond phase 3?
Finally, would the Prime Minister say to the old-age pensioners that, as we are in a situation in which we are ready for a head-on collision, if the miners regarded the £44 million offer as an interim offer awaiting the outcome of the examination and the Government regarded it as an immediate settlement under phase 3. honour could be saved on both sides?
The other thing about which the old-age pensioners wish to be assured is that wage-cost inflation does not push up prices again. In that they are absolutely right.
The right hon. Member will find most of the answers to his questions in the Pay Board's report on relativities. However, perhaps I can point out to him that when we operated the freeze and then stage 2 we recognised that anomalies had arisen and we asked the Pay Board to report on how they should be dealt with. We immediately accepted the anomalies report, which came into effect with stage 3. As a result, over 90 per cent. of the anomalies have already been peacefully settled and worked out through the Pay Board as a result of its report.
I believe that the question of relativities can be dealt with in exactly the same way. As Sir Frank Figgures has pointed out, stage 3 must not be broken, because of the 5 million people who have already had settlements approved by the Pay Board. The question of relativities can be dealt with as soon as the machinery is set up. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that I am right in inviting the TUC and the CBI to help us to set it up as soon as possible.
With great respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that the circumstances are comparable. He is referring to the limit of the earnings rule as it affects pensioners. The question of where the limit should be fixed is debatable. We have raised the limit, quite rightly, while we have been in government. My hon. Friend also referred to the question of the repayment of tax to strikers as a result of their not receiving any income during a strike. As I have said, the two matters are not exactly comparable. That does not mean that I do not recognise that the repayment during strikes of tax which has been paid is a controversial matter.