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I agree with a certain amount of what Mr McFadden has said. I am delighted to hear from him and other Opposition Members a gentle—or, in some cases, not so gentle—movement towards accepting that the saving public, the pensioners, should be allowed to choose their own vehicles to finance their retirement income.
I introduced a private Member’s Bill in 2003, entitled the Retirement Income Reform Bill. It was designed to lift the compulsion to purchase an annuity at the age of 75. The then Government opposed it, but it so happened that I got a majority of more than 100 on that Friday in the spring of 2003. These things happen on Fridays when Government Members are elsewhere. Eventually, however, the Government talked the Bill out. It was defeated on the basis that the public were unable to make their own decisions on the funding of their retirement. It was said that they would waste the money, or simply not do what the Government wanted them to do with their retirement funds. I happen to take the view that the Government are a poor parent, a poor business man and a poor manager of people’s old age. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the then Government talked out my Bill. The number of private Members’ Bills that get talked out is too big to worry about.
I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announce in the Budget statement last week that he intended to liberalise the way in which we deal with pension income. I was even more interested when the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves, announced that her party and her Front Bench were coming round to accepting that the public should be trusted with the management of their own financial affairs in retirement. She made that announcement rather half-heartedly, but she made it none the less. I think that that is practically and philosophically the right thing to do.
In the course of this afternoon, I have smelled the burning rubber of handbrake turns from Labour Back Benchers who are beginning to realise that they need to catch up with those on their Front Bench, who in turn are deciding that they need to catch up with those on our Front Bench and with public opinion that is in favour of greater liberalisation of the pension and retirement income system. The fact that criticism has been made of the banking system and of the financial services sector does not undermine the practical and philosophical benefits of liberalising the system.