The position of the Opposition on this matter is quite typical. They constantly demand cuts in public expenditure and then they vote against measures designed to carry those cuts through. They have behaved irresponsibly. The position of my hon. Friends is totally different. On the question of public expenditure they take a completely different position from that adopted by the Opposition.
I understand that this morning the Opposition had an alternative proposal, which was to increase prescription charges. Presumably that was to be added to the other proposals they have in mind—proposals for charging people to go to the doctor and to go into hospital. My right hon. Friend and I will now have to consider the position that we take in view of this morning's vote.
Will my right hon. Friend represent to the Chancellor how important it is in the next round of pay policy to allow scope for adequate improvements in pensions so as to prepare for the introduction of the Bill to provide better pensions in 1978 and therefore avoid any possibility of delay in the introduction of that scheme?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. Occupational pension schemes were included in the pay policy because, as fringe benefits, they add to labour costs. They will, however, be discussed in the talks on the next stage of pay policy. A valuable easement was allowed from last August. Improvements designed to bring the scheme up to the level required to meet the contracting-out requirements of the new scheme could be negotiated and implemented. There should be no reluctance on the part of employers or employers' representatives to put in hand the work required to meet the contracting-out date of April 1978.
The right hon. Gentleman has missed the point. Is he aware that no one will go through all the elaborate procedures if the scheme which results is no better than what the State can offer? Does he recognise that there is now a very difficult time scale? Employers must know that they will be able to negotiate beyond the minimum figure in time for them to go through the necessary procedures by the deadline in the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle).
I agree with the point made by my right hon. Friend. It is important that this issue should be made clear as soon as possible. That is why I gave an assurance on behalf of the Chancellor and my other right hon. Friends that this is a matter that can be taken up as part of the next stage of pay policy.