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Volume 450: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

Given the large number of women who will reach basic state pension age by 2010, does the Minister share my concern that women in the same generation will not all be entitled to the same basic pension rights as the rest of their peer group?

I will answer the question. There is a popular Labour policy and Conservatives want to jump on the back of it—of course, we welcome their support. The Conservative party does not have a policy of introducing changes before 2010. Our policy will increase the proportion of women who get a full state pension from 30 per cent. to 70 per cent. by 2010. If the hon. Gentleman continues to ask about the issue, we will point out to people outside the House that, before 1997, the last thing that had been done to increase coverage for women was Barbara Castle’s introduction of home responsibilities protection in 1978. The policy has been welcomed by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Fawcett Society. It is a major move forward in coverage for women and the hon. Gentleman should welcome it.

Will the Minister confirm that up to 250,000 people, mostly women, currently pay additional voluntary contributions towards their pensions, but that, under the Government’s proposals, they will receive no benefit by doing that? Should not the Government come clean with those women now and tell them the true position as soon as possible or is the Minister prepared to risk another misinformation scandal and demands for compensation by those affected?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. When we issue forecasts, we make it clear to people that the policy is changing. On Second Reading of the measure, we want to work with his party on exactly how the information can be made clear to people. However, I do not believe that his party’s policy is to return those contributions to those who made them. It is a traditional principle in the social security system that one makes payments under the rules. If the rules change, people are not reimbursed for that.