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Clause 32 — Commencement

Part of Concessionary Bus Travel (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 9:17 pm on 18th October 2011.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 9:17 pm, 18th October 2011

My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East answered that question earlier in the debate. Our view is that there have been too many changes and we would not propose yet another. The hon. Lady needs to explain the justification for picking out this particular group of half a million women and treating them more harshly than everyone else whose state pension age is being raised only by one year. For a third of a million women, it is being raised by a year and a half, and for half a million, it is being raised by more than a year. We have had no explanation and no attempt at a justification. Is it an accident or some kind of mishap? It certainly should be put right, and sadly it has not been put right in the changes that the Government have made.

There are other problems in the Bill. It dilutes the plan for auto-enrolment that was supported across the House. The proposals will leave many low-paid and agency workers outside auto-enrolment, and we think that they should not be left behind. Moreover, the gains from these exclusions, in lower costs for employers, will be small. It would be quite wrong to exclude people just because they work for small companies, as the Conservative party donor Adrian Beecroft is apparently arguing. I greatly appreciate the assurances that we have had about that during the debate, and I hope that Ministers will continue stoutly to resist any such moves if they are promoted from elsewhere in the coalition. The Pensions Commission made it clear that extending the benefits of pensions saving to more people who work for small firms is one of the prizes from this reform, and we must not throw it away.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right to argue that this is a pro-growth, not an anti-growth, change in making it possible for more people to save for a decent retirement. Of course it is right to be concerned about the plight of small firms in the zero-growth economy that we seem to have. I commend to the Government the national insurance holiday for small firms that take on additional workers that is proposed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor. We remain strongly supportive of the policy of auto-enrolment. We are disappointed, however, that the Government are seeking to water down the proposals around which the all-party consensus was hard won.

We welcome the consensus on the basic building blocks for a more sustainable pensions system, but the Government are quite wrong to load the cost of change so disproportionately on one group of half a million women. For a long time, they did not listen to those women at all. When they did, they came forward with a half measure. The sense of grievance that they have instilled in the women affected will not be readily dispelled. We are pleased to have won a concession, but many people will still be deeply disappointed. For that reason in particular, I urge Members to decline to give the Bill a Third Reading.