Clause 1 — State pension

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 17th July 2007.

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Lords amendment: No. 1.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.— [Mr. Mike O'Brien.]

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Liberal Democrat, Northavon

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you clarify whether the intention was to debate amendment No. 1, which I believed the Minister was seeking to do?

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

The Minister has just moved the amendment formally and does not intend to speak at this time.

The Question is, That this House disagrees with the Lords in their amendment No. 1. As many as are of that opinion say Aye— [ Interruption. ] If Members want to contribute, they must stand to indicate their wish to do so.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My understanding was that the Minister would say something about the Government's motion on amendment No. I, but if he does not intend to, I am happy to do so.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

I am sorry, but we have moved on. The Minister moved the motion formally, indicating that he did not want to contribute—

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. If Mr. Waterson now wishes to contribute to the debate, he may do so.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be brief because I know that other Members want to participate.

Many issues relate to amendment No. 1, which is the method proposed by Baroness Hollis in the other place, to allow— [ Interruption. ]

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Will Members who are not intending either to listen to the debate or take part in it please leave the Chamber quietly?

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

The amendment was proposed by Baroness Hollis in the other place and carried by quite a handsome majority with support from, I think, Members of all the different parties, including some of my Conservative colleagues. It is designed to help women with broken contribution records to be able to buy back previous years retrospectively—so there is an element of a contribution being made by the women—and to increase the limit to nine years, whether consecutive or not. As I understand it, the rules currently refer to six years and they have to be six consecutive years. There may well be women who get to the end of their working lives and find that they have any number of years still unpaid for. The amendment has the backing of Age Concern, Help the Aged and, above all, the Equal Opportunities Commission.

I have two issues to raise. I do not know whether the Minister will have a chance to reply. The Minister in the Lords said that the cost would be £260 million. Is that netted off against the means-tested benefits, such as pension credit, which the women might otherwise claim if they did not have this advantage? Would this really be an extra spending commitment if the Government, or any Opposition party, were to sign up to it? As I understand it, the proposal is not to change the rules on eligibility, but merely to increase take-up. All Governments, at different times, try to increase take-up by applying different methods to benefits and so on, but does that actually involve a commitment to greater Government spending?

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

My right hon. Friend Baroness Hollis proposed the amendment in the other place. We understand, and are very sympathetic to, the objectives of the amendment, and hope that we can deliver its aim of helping women in this country if at all possible. The Government have always been clear about their desire to provide fairer outcomes for women and the measures in the Bill demonstrate that commitment. We recognise the strength of feeling expressed in the other place and we are keen to find a solution that may bring more people into the contributory system for the first time. However, this is a complicated issue, and it is important to explore the complexities and possible implications of the range of options, including the proposal in my right hon. Friend's amendment.

There are for example options in relation to the number of years that could be purchased, the rate at which additional contributions could be paid, the treatment of individuals overseas, and the interaction with the current system. These have varying administrative, legal, cost, distributional and policy implications, and we need to ensure that we get any targeted solution right. We want to find a way to overcome these problems. We are keen that any solution should deliver a fair outcome for individuals who have experienced complex and fragmented lives, but at the same time we need to be mindful of how any changes would impact on people living overseas.

With that in mind, the Government will commit themselves to looking at the range of options in the coming weeks, including the option to buy additional years as proposed in the amendment, and to provide an update in the pre-Budget report. In doing so, the Government will consider all the options in terms of the following principles: fairness—any solution must help those most in need; affordability—any solution must be affordable and sustainable; simplicity—any solution must be deliverable, simple to implement and understandable to those it would benefit. There is no difference between my right hon. Friend's wish to help women in this country and our wish, but we need to deal with the practical problems. I cannot make a commitment that we will achieve that outcome today, but we will use our best endeavours to deliver the principles of her amendment. She has authorised me to tell the House that, on the basis of that statement, she is now content and believes that this is a useful basis on which to go forward. I therefore ask the House to reject the amendment from the other place.

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Photo of Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I will speak very briefly, in the remaining minute of time. The Liberal Democrats believe that this very important amendment will tackle the great injustice faced by many women pensioners. In particular, it will provide more flexibility to those people, especially women, who currently lack the appropriate level of contributions to get a full pension, even under the new system. It will help those whose employment records are broken, for example. It will also help with the cliff edge that people will face when the new system is introduced from 2010. As my hon. Friend Steve Webb pointed out, currently that cliff edge could confront people whose pension date is just before the new system is brought in and could cost them about £28,500. That is why it is important that the House support the Lords amendment.

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Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 312, Noes 68.

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

It being more than three hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day].

Lords amendments Nos. 12 to 14 disagreed to.

Lords amendment No. 28 disagreed to.

Lords amendment No. 73 disagreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2, 3 to 11, 25 to 75, and 29 to 72 agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Danny Alexander, Mr. Wayne David, Natascha Engel, Mr. James Plaskitt and Mr. Nigel Waterson; Mr. James Plaskitt to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee. —[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the imminent deportation scheduled for 9.30 tomorrow evening of Samar Rashavi, a Christian lady against whom a death warrant has been issued by the Iranian Government, have you received a request from any Minister to come to the House to make a statement about any change of policy from the usual line, which is that we do not deport when somebody is in serious danger of the death penalty, particularly for a reason that we would not recognise in this country?

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving me notice that she would raise a point of order. I have no knowledge of any intention of any statement being made to the House, but the right hon. Lady has used the device of a point of order to raise the matter, and I am sure that what she said will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. I cannot add substantively to that.

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