Clause 99

Part of Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 19th February 2008.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 11:45 am, 19th February 2008

Time moves more slowly in this Committee. I think that Albert Einstein would have said something about serving on a pensions Bill Committee. Time appears to move slowly here. However, broadly speaking, we all end up in the same place, whether we are sitting in a Committee, in the Chamber or in our offices, which would make a nice change from sitting here.

The big issue is how we deal with this new development. It is very encouraging that, thanks to the foresight and wisdom of successive Governments, life expectancy has increased. Of course, we know that the state pension age of 65 for men was borrowed from Bismarck, who came up with it in the middle of the 19th century. That was a time when few people made it to the age of 65 and certainly not far beyond it, although I think that Bismarck did. How do we factor that in?

I was about to say that one could argue that, if the extra costs are £75 billion, so be it. That fact must be built in to pension schemes more generally. However, it is bound to be a factor in the attitude of sponsoring employers to keeping their existing pension schemes open to new or existing members. In the same way, to take an example, FRS 17, introduced at exactly the wrong point in the economic cycle in my opinion, had an effect on undermining that commitment.

Yes, it is important that we clarify that the regulator has those powers, but it is not the Committee’s job to argue whether the EU directive was sensible in the first place. As a Committee, we need to put all this in a broader context, which is the dramatic increase in life expectancy. Ultimately, matters such as obesity and selling off playing fields will have an impact on slowing the increase in longevity, but short of a massive pandemic it seems to go up and up inexorably, which is enormously encouraging.

I have a constituent who is 111 years old. Of course, Eastbourne tends to have a slightly older population than average, but it is remarkable how many 100th birthday parties I get invited to; sometimes two a week. That says something about the health service and all sorts of related matters, such as better nutrition. It also brings a different reality with it, which is how we pay for the very long periods of retirement that people will increasingly be enjoying—hopefully that is the right word—based on a reasonable income to do so.

Therefore, the clause seems relatively modest and inoffensive, but behind it lurks the elephant in the room—to use a marvellous and much over-used analogy—which is the question of rapidly increasing life expectancy. I would be fascinated to hear what the Minister has to say on those matters.