It was a privilege to hear Mhairi Black move the motion, and it was an honour for me to join her in approaching the Backbench Business Committee to request the debate. There have been some powerful contributions from a number of Members who have campaigned on this issue in this and, indeed, the last Parliament.
We have heard much reference to the former Minister Steve Webb, and to what he has recently said. The question that now arises is this: if the Minister himself was subject to some misunderstanding or misapprehension—if he was in some way misled or misinformed—was the House in turn misled and misinformed in 2011, when he made various statements about impact assessments both in the Chamber and in Committee?
I often hear in the House about the principle that one Parliament cannot bind its successor. We are talking about an issue, and a choice, for this Parliament. Those who were not here in 2011 but are here now cannot wash their hands and say, “It is nothing to do with us.” This is a choice for us. The fact is that if the Minister was not fully aware of the facts by the time the Bill had completed its passage, other Members were not either, and the people who are directly affected by these changes certainly were not. Given that they are now so active and animated through the WASPI campaign, it is clear that if they had been aware of the facts much earlier, they would have been active much earlier.
It is insulting for Conservative Members to suggest that perhaps people had been informed and simply did not know, and if they did not know they should have known. These women have demonstrated that had they known about the position, they would have done something about it, both in terms of their personal circumstances and in terms of the public policy challenges that they would have issued. Conservative Members also came out with the nonsense that there was no alternative: that they were seeking transitional arrangements leading to pension equality, but none had been proposed. We heard from my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley about the “hard shoulder” arrangements that had been introduced in other countries. Moreover, as I pointed out in an intervention earlier, additional transitional measures were proposed during the Bill’s passage in 2011, but were voted down by the Government.
In May 2011, during a debate in Westminster Hall, I said that if the Minister did not indicate that he would revise the proposals in the Bill because the women involved were an unintended anomaly, those women would have no choice but to conclude that they had been calculated as the victims of an intentional injustice—a drive-by hit on their pension rights. That is how things stand. If we fail to pass this motion, we will be saying that those women are an acceptable casualty on the way to equality, and we cannot accept invidious treatment in the name of equality.