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Earnings-Related Pension Scheme

Volume 77: debated on Thursday 18 April 1985

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4.1 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the Government's plan, which has just been revealed, to axe the state earnings-related pension scheme."
The matter is specific because the clear and explicit intention of the Government is reported in the Daily Telegraph of today in an article which is clearly based on Government briefing. It states:
"The Government has decided to scrap the SERPS."
The decision is specific in another sense. It specifically contradicts the explicit and unequivocal pledge that was solemnly given by the Prime Minister, conveniently before the general election, in a letter of 20 May 1983 to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). She stated:
"Nor are there any plans to change the earnings-related component of the state pension."
The matter, also, specifically and in terms, contradicts the equally binding pledge given by the Secretary of State for Social Services to the House when he said:
"My aim in setting up an inquiry is not to call into question the fundamental pensions structure that was established in the 1970s with all-party agreement, and to which I was a party." —[Official Report, 23 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 360.]
The matter is important and, indeed, vital because it will drastically worsen the standard of living of millions of pensioners. Only the SERPS, which the Labour Government introduced in 1975, will take 2 million of the poorest pensioners above the state means-tested poverty line. The Government's alternative of private pensions will never do that. The state earning-related scheme was introduced precisely because of the failure of the private sector to provide adequate pensions in the past.

The matter is also important because billions of pounds earmarked for future funding for pensioners is now to be clawed back by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide a further bonanza of tax handouts for the rich. The report states that the Government claim that the SERPS cannot be afforded. It is vitally important that the matter is fully debated, especially as that claim is directly contradicted by the Government Actuary and, as the Government's Social Security Advisory Committee recently stated:
"At this distance of time we do not think there can be solid grounds for altering the scheme now for fear of all the worst outcomes occurring steadily for 40 years."
It is important that the matter is fully explored to expose the inconsistency between the Chancellor's projection of future growth of 3 per cent. —when the Government wish to crow about economic success —and the projection for future growth of the Secretary of State for Social Services of 1·5 per cent.—when the Government want the nation to believe that decent pensions cannot be afforded.

The matter is urgent because this is the first unambiguous sign that the Government would carry through by far the most serious and damaging attack yet on pensioners in the radical dismantling of the welfare state, on which the Government are now hell-bent. The SERPS is a central arch of the welfare state. It would increasingly become the sole protector of millions of pensioners against poverty and the indignity of dependence on means tests. To destroy it now—the best deal that pensioners have ever had—would be a sin against the British people and, therefore, I earnestly request a debate at the earliest possible opportunity.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the Government's plan, which has just been revealed, to axe the state earnings-related pension scheme."
I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, but I do not consider that the matter is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10, and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you confirm that if you had ruled in favour of the Opposition's submission it would have required 40 or 50 Back-Bench Members to rise in their places, yet only 26 Labour Back-Bench Members are present?