From 1979 to 1987, the average pensioner's net weekly income from savings increased from £9·10 to £20·90 and occupational pensions income increased from £13·20 to £23·30 at 1987 prices.
I welcome those figures. Does my hon. Friend agree that inflation remains the greatest threat to the prosperity of pensioners? In those terms, is she satisfied that the retail prices index accurately reflects the costs borne by those pensioners who depend mainly on the old age pension, or does she think that some other index of costs for pensioners should be sought?
At the moment, we have no plans to change the index by which we assess pensioners' incomes, but it is, of course, something which we always keep under review, and we shall continue to do so. From the figures that I gave my hon. Friend, however, it appears that our policies are working and are raising pensioners' overall incomes, which grew by a net 31 per cent. between 1979 and 1987—an average of 3·5 per cent. per year—whereas between 1974 and 1979, when inflation was rampant, the average increase was a mere 0·6 per cent. per year.
Will the Minister confirm that all the figures that she has quoted are gross, and therefore conceal the enormous increase in the taxation of pensioners in the past 12 years? According to the figures that she herself produced in Hansard a fortnight ago, the poorest one fifth of pensioners paid 28 per cent. of their incomes in taxes in 1979 but now have to pay more than 40 per cent. How can she justify the fact that after 12 years of Toryism those pensioners are paying proportionately more in tax than was paid by the richest one fifth of households in 1979, when we were told that high taxes were driving the rich out of the country?
The hon. Gentleman's arithmetic does not improve with each new statement that he makes. Those were, indeed, my statements, but the hon. Gentleman is persistent in either accidentally misunderstanding or deliberately misinterpreting such statements. I said clearly at the start that the figures that I gave were net.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) has said, the best Government for pensioners is the Government who keep inflation firmly under control, as the Conservative Government have done for the past 12 years? In that respect, will she assure pensioners and the House that her Department will ensure that spending is prudent and does not get out of control, in contrast with the plans of the Labour party, which would unleash massive inflation and thus ruin the standard of living of all pensioners? Will my hon. Friend give the House that assurance?
Indeed, public opinion appears to be waking up to the dreadful implications of Labour's spending plans, as shown by the movements in opinion measured at the weekend. We shall, of course, pursue a prudent policy. We shall not promise what we cannot deliver, and we shall not promise to spend vast sums that will then have to be raised from the taxes and national insurance contributions of the less well off as well as from others.