asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what percentage of average industrial earnings the retirement pension for a married couple represented on 1st March 1975; and what was the comparable percentage figure on 1st March 1974.
I regret that information about earnings in March 1975 is not yet available. In March 1974 the figure was 29·4 per cent. of average gross earnings and 39·4 per cent. of average net earnings.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a steadily increasing gap between earnings and the pension level? Is he satisfied that the proposed increases, which come into effect in April, will go a sufficient way to restoring the ratio between the average earnings of people at work and the pensions of those who have retired?
My hon. Friend will recognise that between July 1974 and April 1975 this Government will have put pensions up in money terms by almost 50 per cent. That clearly represents a significant increase in the value of pensions in April this year.
Will the Minister of State concede that the non-availability of the March 1975 figures has enabled him to obsure the fact that the percentage asked for is probably no greater and may even be less than it was in March 1974? Does he accept that the percentage is likely to get worse because the new uprating is based on out-of-date figures up to August last year which are far below the present level of the increase in earnings? Finally, does he accept that the failure of the social contract will mean that over the coming year the real position of pensioners will deteriorate vis-à-vis the friends of the Labour Party in the big unions in heavy industry?
I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's general proposition. For the first time in legislation, the present administration have provided that pensioners will receive increases in their pensions by the level of the movement in wages or prices, whichever is the greater. In addition, we are providing two up-ratings this year. We are doing far better than anything that was done by the previous administration. Furthermore the pension, expressed as a percentage of national average earnings, is certainly higher under this administration, comparing October 1973 with July 1974, than anything done by the previous Government.