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Clause 32 — Commencement

Part of Concessionary Bus Travel (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 9:31 pm on 18th October 2011.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 9:31 pm, 18th October 2011

Rationing, oddly enough, did a lot for people’s health and well-being. For some people in Britain at that time, it did not represent a worse standard of living, although it may have done for others, because during the 1930s many families struggled to put food on their tables because of unemployment.

The point that I was making is that the vision was not constrained by the debt. Things were difficult in many ways in the post-war period, but the Government of the day were nevertheless of the view that one had to plan for the future. I am not a great pessimist about debt. I feel that the whole thing has been grossly misrepresented by Government Members. In the early years of the last decade, the Government reduced the debt. Debt was very high in the period of the last Conservative Government, which people appear to have forgotten. It is not the case that the last Labour Government simply set about building up that debt in some sort of systematic way, to the detriment of future generations, as is suggested.

Of course we have to address how to cease having annual financial deficits, and then in the medium to long term we have to reduce debt. However, at the moment the signs are at the medicine that the coalition parties are applying is not working. The chances are that, the way things are going, we will get to the end of this Parliament with a greater debt. We are already borrowing more than was projected last year, which is indeed quite frightening, but it means that we need to consider what we want to do.

I am not going to make too much of this point, because various people have made it earlier, but all Governments make choices about what they spend money on. We do not believe that the choice to accelerate the pension age rise for women is the right one. There are others that could be made, and we would be making them if we were in government. It has been said in this debate and others that if we cannot immediately identify some cut equivalent to any spending that we suggest is justified and fair, we are somehow being irresponsible. I do not accept that.

I suggested earlier a couple of things that I thought we could do, for example not ending the 50% tax rate, as some Government Members seem keen to do. The idea keeps being floated. We could also consider how we provide tax relief on the pension contributions of people on higher-rate tax earnings, because that is a huge giveaway to those who are already better off. There are a number of choices that we could make. I know that this is not the view of everyone on the Labour Benches, but personally I am not in favour of going ahead with Trident. Some of my colleagues agree with me and some do not, but the important point is that there are always choices.

I was going to say that we had driven people out of the Gallery in this debate, because when I started to speak it was completely empty. However, people have now obviously come in to hear me. People often see the subject of pensions as a bit of a bore and not very exciting, but it is hugely important. I regret greatly that the very good pensions legislation that Barbara Castle introduced, which brought in the state earnings-related pension scheme, was completely destroyed by the last Conservative Government. Had that not happened, many people would be very much better off now.

Although I very much agree with auto-enrolment, I am afraid I do not see it a complete substitute for that legislation. However, we must not move away from auto-enrolment, and I very much welcome the guarantees from the Secretary of State and the Pensions Minister that they will not agree to any delay in its rolling out. Nevertheless, for the reasons that my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms gave, I am not in a position to support the Bill tonight.