Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:37 pm on 31st January 2006.

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Photo of Terry Rooney Terry Rooney Labour, Bradford North 9:37 pm, 31st January 2006

We on the Select Committee had the pleasure of the company of Lord Turner and John Hills at our hearing on 14 December. I want to give a word of warning to any Members who intend to invite Lord Turner to a meeting: they will find a man who is sincere, passionate and knowledgeable—he can recite reams of his report without notes—but extremely loquacious. If the meeting is for one hour, allow two.

The key thing with Turner is that the analysis is superb, but the problems come with the solutions he offers. I do not think I am breaking any secrets when I say that I chaired a parliamentary Labour party meeting about a month ago where 31 people were present and 28 different solutions were on offer. That is the situation we are going to be in.

There is such a wide range of ways out in terms of how Turner analyses things and I am intrigued, but also concerned, by the use of the word "consensus". Who are we aiming to get consensus with and between? Is it with and between men and women, because that has never been there before? Is it between young and old? Is it between contributors and beneficiaries? Is it between the public and private sectors? Is it between professionals and manual workers? Let us not forget that if we move at some time to a retirement age of 69, a less than academically gifted child who leaves school at 16 will have to work for 53 years. A professional person, however, will have a working life of around 40 years. That is a huge difference in terms of retirement age.

Consensus between the various parties in the House is the most dangerous consensus of all. In 1975, we had that consensus across all parties in the House including the Scottish National party, and it lasted five years. With the best will in the world towards Opposition Members, it is an absolute betrayal to pretend that they agree with something and will stand by it should there be a change of Government. That is a pretence and a sham. The consensus needs to be among the public, consumers and those most affected by the issue, not between the Government and Opposition Benches.

There is no doubt that there is a crisis of confidence among consumers about the pensions and savings industry. Often, that crisis of confidence is used by individuals to justify not doing something that they had no intention of doing in the first place. We must recognise, however, that there have been successive broken promises, mainly by Governments but also by financial institutions—changes to the state earnings-related pension scheme, pensions mis-selling, low-cost endowment policies—