The emphasis given to wider share ownership in the Government's privatisation programme, coupled with changes in the tax system, have already probably doubled the number of individual shareholders in Britain since we first took office in 1979. The proposals to phase out the state earnings-related pension scheme will encourage the spread of personal pensions and give many more people the opportunity to take a direct interest in the way their pension savings are invested.
My hon. Friend is right. It is all part of the policy which my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary outlined in answer to the previous question, and which I set out at some length in the Maurice Macmillan memorial lecture a few days ago. It is striking to note that all that the Opposition can do is to say that they will grab back all the shares that the employees of the nationalised industries have taken. Moreover, they will do so at a confiscatory price.
Is it not true that the effect on shares of the ending of SERPS is trivial compared with the effect on the real economy? Do the Government intend that pensioners in the next century should have the same share of financial resources, but financed by private funding, in which case it will be unfairly distributed, or will our pensioners have a smaller share of financial resources?
Whichever way pensions are provided, those resources must be provided by the growth of the economy. There is a big difference between people making their own provision over and above the basic state pension and a funded scheme which will guarantee them a pension in the years ahead, and those who rely on the good will of the taxpayers of the day. Contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition appears to believe, SERPS is not a funded scheme.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the attitude of the Opposition to wider share ownership now is rather curious, given that when the scheme of wider share ownership was formed it was supported by Labour Members, especially by Lord Lever, who believed passionately that it was important to turn earners into owners? Why has their attitude changed since his day?