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Clause 1 — Equalisation of and increase in pensionable age for men and women

Part of Concessionary Bus Travel (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 18th October 2011.

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Photo of Fiona O'Donnell Fiona O'Donnell Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:30 pm, 18th October 2011

I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to support the amendment to which my hon. Friend Gregg McClymont spoke so eloquently. I welcome him to the Dispatch Box.

Many women in my constituency have contacted me about this issue, and none of those who have contacted me over the weekend, yesterday or today have expressed the view that the Government have gone far enough; they all support the amendment. I found it almost stomach-turning to hear Jenny Willott congratulate herself on winning this concession from the Government. I do not think that even Labour Members should take credit for the achievement—lacking though it is in ambition—and I certainly do not think that the Liberal Democrats should do so. I wish that some of the honourable and good Liberal Democrat members of the Bill Committee mentioned by my right hon. Friend Malcolm Wicks had had the guts and the principle to propose similar amendments when they had the opportunity. This feels a bit like Groundhog Day: it is the Health and Social Care Bill all over again.

Credit for the victory, such as it is, lies with all the women who have written to us, e-mailed us, telephoned us, and come to the House to make their case. They have said, “We will not sit back and let the Government do this to us.” Every evening as I leave this place, I see a touching reminder in the poster in the tube station showing those women, although I must confess that at first I considered it rather strange that there was also a man in the photograph, and wondered what that could be about. The fact is that this change will have an impact not just on the women concerned, but on the families for whom they have made plans. In the light of the rising cost of child care, they have asked themselves, “When can I help my sons and daughters to make better lives for themselves and their families?” I have to say that I think my sons and my daughter have similar plans for me, which I intend to resist for as long as possible.

The Government, particularly the Liberal Democrats, have not just broken their promise to women; they have broken their promise to their families as well. What an appalling lack of ambition from a Government! They have repeatedly called on Labour Members to say how we would pay for our proposals, so let me give them a couple of examples. Through the future jobs fund, they could take a million young people off the dole queue so that they were back at work and contributing to the system. They could scrap their top-down reorganisation of the NHS. They could ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether he has any money left in the pocket where he found the bin money. This is not about arithmetic; it is about political will. It is about the Government saying, “We believe that this is something worth doing, and it is something to which we will commit ourselves.”