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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 7:00 pm on 18th October 2011.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 7:00 pm, 18th October 2011

We had amendments. We tabled amendments that were not a million miles away from those that we are proposing today, because we felt that, in the circumstances, a proposal to cap the period of time for which women would have to endure this change was the best thing to do. Our amendments were not supported by either Government party in Committee, but we had clearly made proposals that ranked as transitional, because—lo and behold—four days before this final chance to debate the subject in the House, a proposal was made. It is not some complex transitional arrangement that would take civil servants hours, weeks or months to work out but fairly straightforward and involves capping the period of time. In my view, that proposal could have been made in Committee without any difficulty and it could also have been made at any time over the months that have passed since the Committee stage ended in July.

I suspect that one of the main reasons this rabbit has apparently been pulled out of the hat at the last minute is to prevent any great campaign being restarted for further change and to prevent people asking for more. Like Oliver—most of us nowadays, unlike the cruel people in Victorian workhouses, think that Oliver was right to ask for more—the women who have contacted my colleagues and me over the past few days are still asking for more because they feel that the Government’s proposals remain unfair. They have alleviated the proposals for one group of women but not for all those who are affected and, in my view, those women are right to ask for more.

The Government have been extremely calculating. By not making their announcement until almost as late as possible while still making it in any way credible, they calculated that they would foreshorten the possibility that their Back Benchers might again be contacted by many of their constituents who would argue that the proposals are still not enough. The fact that they have given the shortest amount of time to this very successful campaign is clearly tactical.

In this debate, we always come back to the money question—it happened repeatedly in Committee and in many interventions on Opposition Members today. We are asked where we will get the money and told to come up with a specific statement about where we will find it. That happens not just as regards this proposal but day in, day out—[ Interruption. ] It is not unreasonable for us to say that we would not start from here. That is not unreasonable because we have a very different view about the choices and the fairness arguments that it is right to make and about how to progress our public finances over the next period.

Another argument that often comes up states that one cannot borrow one’s way out of a crisis or out of debt. It seems we cannot cut our way out of a deficit either, or out of more debt, because public borrowing, far from having come down in the past year and a half, is rising. We would not start from here because our entire economic strategy would be different. Our view—as we said a year and a half ago and as it remains—is that to attempt to reduce the deficit within this Parliament was reckless, that it would not be successful and that it would risk higher unemployment and the stagnation of the economy. That is what is happening. If the economy continues to stagnate, tax revenues will fall with fewer people in work and fewer businesses thriving. Falling tax revenues are a big reason why we have a deficit in the first place. This is not simply about Government spending, as is sometimes suggested.

Tax revenues will fall and benefits payments and other outgoings will rise, and those are very important considerations. In saying that we would not start from here, it is perfectly reasonable for us to make it clear that we would not want to be in the position that the Government seem determined to drive us into.