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Volume 507: debated on Wednesday 17 March 2010

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on support for pensioners in Wales. (321808)

Let me first pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is standing down after many years’ service in the House.

Labour policies since 1997 have provided generous support for pensioners in Wales and across the United Kingdom, and nearly 900,000 fewer of them are now living in poverty.

As my right hon. Friend has said, I shall, sadly, be standing down at the next election and beginning my retirement in Wales.

Far more sadly, I shall shortly be staring the state pension age in the face; I know that that is hard to believe. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the real benefits enjoyed by pensioners in Wales are maintained, especially winter fuel payments?

My hon. Friend’s young appearance will be sadly missed, particularly the bow tie, which is almost unique in the Chamber. I agree with him that winter fuel payments—introduced by this Government, and increased by them to £400 a year for those over 80 and £250 a year, tax-free, for those over 60—are a vital support measure, as are free bus passes and free prescriptions, especially in Wales. All those benefits would be under threat, if the £20 billion cuts promised by the shadow Business Secretary were introduced, which is what we would expect from a Conservative Government.

Many Welsh pensioners would now be enjoying a considerably more comfortable retirement if the then Chancellor, the current Prime Minister, had not decided in 1997 to abolish advance corporation tax credits for pension funds. Does the Secretary of State think, 13 years later, that that £100 billion raid on pension funds was right?

The truth is that pensioners are a great deal better off under this Labour Government. Pensioner households in Wales will be £1,500 better off this year, and the poorest third of pensioner households will be £2,100 better off. Why does the hon. Gentleman not stop his party, and its candidates and Members of Parliament, attacking policies such as free bus travel and free prescriptions for pensioners in Wales?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that the free bus pass has not only given pensioners a new lease of life, but has had the environmental benefit of getting people out of their cars and making rural buses more viable. Will he talk to his counterparts in the Welsh Assembly to ensure that funding for rural buses continues, so that they are available to the pensioners who want to use them?

I will certainly do that, but policies such as free bus travel for pensioners can continue only if the Welsh Assembly Government receive support from the Government in Westminster. If the cuts promised by the shadow Business Secretary yesterday are implemented—an extra £20 billion of cuts are planned over the next few years—the Welsh Assembly Government will not possibly be able to fund free bus passes for pensioners, free prescriptions, and free breakfasts for primary school children. All those things will be under threat.