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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 7:15 pm on 18th October 2011.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 7:15 pm, 18th October 2011

It is a pleasure to support Government amendments 13 and 14 and to ask the House to reject amendment 1.

I welcome Gregg McClymont to his new role. With due deference to the good people of Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, I hope he will forgive me if henceforth I refer to him as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld—I hope they will not take offence at that. As he knows, his predecessor, Rachel Reeves, to whom he referred in his speech, enjoyed a meteoric rise by shadowing me for 18 months. I hope to do the same for his career.

Before I move on to the amendments, I want to place on record my appreciation of one of the Department’s officials, Evelyn Arnold, who has worked for the Department for 36 years. I know that Stephen Timms will have enjoyed working alongside her as well. She is stepping down from a legendary career. It is not often that we pay tribute on the record to the officials who make us sound far better informed than we otherwise would, so I would like to do that formally today.

We have heard £1 billion described today as “window dressing”, “a bit of money” and “penny pinching”. That summarises the difference between opposition and government. It reminds us how we came to find ourselves borrowing £150 billion a year when £11 billion, which is the cost of amendment 1, is regarded as small change and not worth worrying too much about. When pressed about where the £11 billion would come from, the Opposition said, in effect, “We’ll find it at some point,” but there was no specific answer.

It was revealing that Sheila Gilmore said, “We keep being asked this question.” They keep being asked the question because they keep making unfunded promises. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor pointed out that last week’s Opposition amendment cost £20 billion. Today’s would cost another £11 billion and, as the man once said, “Soon you’re talking about serious money.”

The Government amendments are, as the Chair of the Select Committee graciously said, a huge achievement, which is to say that at a time when the public finances are, if anything—because of the global economic situation—under even more pressure than they were at the time of Second Reading back in June, to identify £1 billion is an important sign of the Government’s commitment to fairness in pension reform.