I congratulate Mr Donohoe on securing the debate. We have a common interest in quality pension provision, fairness and making things simpler for people. I entirely accept the premise that we have allowed the pension system to become bafflingly complicated. I entirely accept his point—not only do not all of our colleagues understand the pension system, but why should a member of the public understand contracting out, guaranteed minimum pensions and all the rest of it? A central drive of the state pension reform—I am grateful to him for his positive comments on that—is to sweep a great deal of that away and to have a single, simple, decent state pension set at a rate that people know. They will get that pension for 35 years in the system, contributions or credits, with no contracting out and no differences if they have been in a company scheme. That is the world that we are moving to.
Clearly, the hon. Gentleman’s constituents have spent their working life in a very different world. I want to say a word about one of the reasons why some of them—without full details it is difficult to comment on individual cases—might be getting less state pension than their neighbour. They might think that that is unfair, but it may not be unfair, because there is something else going on that they are not really aware of, namely the whole business of contracting out, which is about to be abolished. A number of his constituents, whom he mentioned by name, worked for firms that had a workplace pension scheme.
Under the principle of contracting out, the operators of the scheme, not the individual, decided that the scheme would be contracted out of the state earnings-related pension scheme. As a result, the scheme would pay less national insurance and, crucially, the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would pay less national insurance than their neighbours who worked at a factory that was not contracted out. Imagine there are two factories side by side, one of which has a company pension scheme and the other of which does not. At the factory with the company pension scheme that chooses to contract out of SERPS, all the employees in the scheme pay less national insurance than the employees at the factory that does not have a workplace pension scheme.