Retirement Income Reform Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:04 am on 7th March 2003.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 10:04 am, 7th March 2003

I am sure that that company sold policies to other hon. Members as well, but they could not be sustained in the long term. The failure of private sector work-based schemes when companies go bankrupt is another problem that has helped to generate the crisis of confidence in the pensions market. Couple that with the problems on the stock exchange and the falling value of pension company holdings, such as at Standard Life, and people inevitably start to wonder whether it is worth while saving for the long term. That is completely different from saying that there is a crisis in pensions themselves.

There is nothing in the Bill to increase the savings pot for anyone—except women, who will benefit at men's expense, and I shall come to that in a moment—unless the hon. and learned Gentleman's claims of tax neutrality prove not to be correct. The Bill is not a panacea for problems with annuities. Moreover, it would provide very little benefit to the overwhelming majority of pensioners who, if they do buy an annuity, have relatively small funds.

As you mentioned earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my reasoned amendment was not selected, but that does not mean that the arguments behind it are not valid. I turn to those now in explaining why the House should decline to give the Bill a Second Reading. Clause 1(4)(c) provides that section 45 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 shall not apply to the minimum retirement income annuity, which is one of the hon. and learned Gentleman's inventions in the Bill. I shall deal with that in more detail later.

The purpose of the clause is to remove the defence allowed by that section for sex discrimination in annuity rates. It would prevent annuity providers from setting the annuity rate by reference to the different average longevity of men and women. I suppose that I ought to declare an interest as a man—at least, I was a man the last time that I looked. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to declare the same interest. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Gentleman says that he has no sex at all.