I sometimes think that I am a little bit too naive for this job. When I saw on the Order Paper the subject that the Opposition had chosen for debate, I thought, "Ah, they realise that the Green Paper is coming out, and they want to make a contribution on it in a debate." It was only when I got to the Chamber that I realised that the debate was intended to be a statement to the people of the by-election constituency, Norwich, North.
Before I try to follow Mr. Dorrell, and comment on his constructive comments and on the very thoughtful and impressive comments of my hon. Friend Kali Mountford, let me say a little bit in response to the way in which the debate opened.
If people in Norwich, North are listening to this debate to help make up their mind how to vote, let me remind them that it was the Conservatives who broke the link with pensions. They then attacked the Government's tax changes, and the impact that those changes had on definable benefit pension schemes, but they never point out that it was their Government who gave employers payment holidays, which accounted for a large part of the black hole in pension pots. Of course, the Conservatives never explicitly say that they will change those tax arrangements to refill the pot, because they are not going to do that. They do not mention that it was they who opposed the introduction of pension credits.
The Conservatives raise issues such as Equitable Life and try to give the impression that if they were in power, they would find £5 billion with which to compensate all Equitable Life pensioners. I have some Equitable Life pensioners in my constituency, and I hope that we will treat them generously, but the Conservative party really should not try to give the impression that it will give a blank cheque to those pension holders when clearly it will not. The Conservatives keep telling us that they want honesty about public spending in the debate, yet today they have tried to imply that every pensioner will be better off. They have even tried to fudge the difference between means-tested benefits and universal benefits. They tried to give the impression to people who currently do not get means-tested benefits that the Conservatives will move to universal benefits, and that everybody will get something, without being honest to the people on means-tested benefits about the fact that if one does that, the pot of money has to be distributed more thinly, and the poorest in society will get less. The people of Norwich, North would be well advised to take what has been said today by Conservative Members with a substantial pinch of salt. That also applies to the Liberal Democrats-