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State Pension Age

Volume 606: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2016

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make a statement on the Government’s review of the state pension age.

Yesterday we announced the appointment of John Cridland to lead an independent review of the state pension age. The review will make recommendations for the Government to consider, to ensure the future state pension age is fair and affordable in the long term.

The review will report by May 2017. I want to stress that the review is independently led and evidence led. Evidence will be put forward for Sir John to consider in his important considerations about the future of the state pension. The review will consider changes in life expectancy, as well as wider changes in society.

It is useful at this point to remind the House why this kind of review is necessary. In 1945, a man expecting to retire at 65 had a life expectancy of between 60 and 63. Men’s life expectancy rose from 14.27 years in retirement after their pension age to 27 years under the present forecast and existing timescales. Women have gone from 18 years in retirement after their pensionable age to 29.5 years in retirement.

Future generations, therefore, would rightly expect that we reflect those changes in how we set the pension. They would not thank us—we very rarely hear anybody talk about future generations—if we did not take the right decisions at the right time and did not have the courage to ensure pensions are sustainable, to avoid people having to pick up an increasing bill, which would make their lives even more difficult.

I want to make clear what this review is not about. It does not cover the existing state pension age timetable—it picks up from April 2028. We have already provided legislation for this, and the review will not look to change the state pension age up to that point.

It is worth reminding the Opposition at this point that when the Labour Government were last in power, they first legislated for state pension age rises beyond 65, but without any commitment to a special independent review, which we have undertaken. When we brought forward the Pensions Bill in 2013, the then Opposition seemed to have had a change of heart, and they—quite legitimately and reasonably, I thought at the time—agreed with us on the need for a regular independent review of the state pension age. Let me quote what the then shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), said during the course of the Bill’s passage:

“The Secretary of State and I have no difference of opinion on the need regularly to review the state pension age.”—[Official Report, 17 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 661.]

It is worth reminding everybody that in that Bill was a statutory provision for a regular set of reviews of the pension age. Yesterday’s announcement is simply in line with that statutory requirement. That is what we are now doing, and that is what the then shadow Secretary of State said in agreement. I also remind the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) that at the time Labour made no amendment to change the nature or scope of the review; nor, I recall, did it have anything in its manifesto to do with that.

Under the legislation, we are required to appoint an independent reviewer who will make recommendations on future state pension age requirements. We have appointed Sir John Cridland to lead this work. The legislation also requires us to report on this in 2017. I can assure the House that we will report back to the House in an oral statement and a written statement on whatever comes forward from that review.

This review is part of the Government’s reforms to pensions to ensure that they are affordable for the long term. It is right that we recognise those who have reached their pension age and who have worked hard, done the right thing, and provided for their families. I believe that this Government are delivering for those very people. As a result of our triple lock, pensioners will receive a basic state pension over £1,000 a year higher than at the start of the previous Parliament and under the previous Government. We have provided greater security and more choice and dignity for people in retirement, while also ensuring that the system is sustainable for future generations.

May I start by welcoming the Secretary of State back to the Dispatch Box? We have missed him in recent months and are grateful that he is gracing us with his rare presence today.

Despite the statement we have just heard, I think that people travelling to work this morning will have been shocked to learn that the Government are planning yet another review of the retirement age and, in the immediate future, of when they can claim their state pension, with a clear implication that, as was the case with the women’s state pension, they intend to increase it further and faster than we, or the people of Britain, were expecting. People will also have been shocked to read this morning the Pensions Minister’s statement in another place, in response to the news of this review, that under the Tories the state pension age should no longer be considered as “a retirement age”. In other words, people will be able to retire only if they are rich enough or have a fat private pension; otherwise they will have to keep working—working until they drop, as one pensions professor warns this morning.

So could the Secretary of State try to clarify exactly what his Government’s long-term economic plan is for pensioners? Is it, as was the case with the botched reforms of women’s pensions, and as was implied in the terms of reference for this review, that people can expect the Government to ratchet up the retirement age much faster than expected? Can he guarantee that even if this review is not considering the planned increase to 67 by 2028, his Government will not bring forward that change? If that promise is not ratted on, can he confirm that his Government are considering speeding up subsequent rises, with increases to 69 or 70 being considered for people currently in their mid-40s? Could he also confirm that this will be a double whammy for those pension savers, as under his reforms everyone aged under 43 will have a worse state pension? Does he agree with his pensions colleague in the Lords that in the light of his reforms, the state pension age should no longer be considered as the retirement age, and so in future only the wealthy will have the luxury of retiring, while the rest will just have to keep on working?

Finally, what does the Secretary of State think is the upper limit for the state pension age? Is it 75, 76 or 77—or is it 80, as his former Pensions Minister colleague warned today? Is not the truth that the new pension promise is not the 75p that the Tories are always banging on about, but the 75 years that people will have to work and wait under this Tory Government before they get their state pension?

Well, all I can assume from that rather pathetic response is that the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) did not think that his urgent question would be granted and that, after he heard that it had been granted, he scribbled away massively, because it was utter idiocy. I want to be kind to him, because he has made a career out of being Mr Angry at the drop of a hat. I remind him—[Interruption.] Labour Members do not want to hear this, but I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. Let me remind him of exactly what his party was about before he took over as the Opposition spokesman. Let me—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] Order. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) ought to know better, because he is a statesman—or, at any rate, a statesman of sorts—and should not conduct himself in an unseemly manner. As for the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell), I have told him before to be careful: if you have that hot curry too often, it tends to have an effect upon your demeanour in the Chamber.

I am also worried about the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell). He has been here a long time and I want him to have a very good retirement, but he needs to calm down or he will not make it at this rate.

I remind the Opposition that the questions that the hon. Member for Pontypridd asked were all answered by his party when it was in government. It was the Labour Government who raised the state pension age—[Interruption.] Labour Members do not like being reminded of that. They did not have an independent review before they did it. They did it arbitrarily and set a set of dates, but they did not ask an independent reviewer to look at them. We are doing that now. That is what we were asked to do, and I think we are being reasonable about it.

It is also worth reminding the hon. Gentleman of what the then shadow Pensions Minister, Gregg McClymont, said when this statutory review—it is, I repeat, statutory—was passed by the Pensions Act 2014. He said—

Yes, I am doing it, but the hon. Gentleman’s party agreed with it. He should calm down, or he will never make it to state pension age. Gregg McClymont, the then Opposition spokesman, said at the time,

“we do not oppose the Bill”.—[Official Report, 29 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 870.]

That was Labour’s position on the statutory requirement to review the state pension age. Baroness Sherlock said:

“It is vital that the way the state pension age is reviewed is…seen to be fair”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 December 2013; Vol. 750, c. 146.]

That is exactly what we are doing.

It is Labour that instituted the rises in the state pension, raised women’s state pension age and went for the equalisation of state pension age. In government, it started to do the responsible things, but in opposition it is utterly irresponsible and pointless.

I have one final comment to make to the hon. Member for Pontypridd. As I stood up, somebody said to me—[Interruption.]

Order. The shadow Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) are both rather cerebral academics. I cannot believe that they would conduct themselves in this manner in a university seminar. If they would not do so there, they should not misbehave here. Whatever they think of what the Secretary of State is saying, they must hear it.

Exactly, Mr Speaker, thank you. I say to the hon. Member for Pontypridd that, as I stood up, somebody told me—rather unfairly, I thought at the time—that he is shallow. Sadly, I now think that he gives shallow people a bad name. His response was pathetic and the urgent question was asked by an Opposition who have no policy and who jump around opposing everything and racking up spending commitments. No wonder they haven’t a hope in hell of being in government.

Every western democracy surely has a responsibility to review its state pension age on a regular basis and in a totally non-tribal, non-party political way so that its people know, a long time ahead, what changes will be made to the state pension age. If, in the past, we took too long to change the state pension age and then moved too quickly, surely now the cross-party consensus that was reached shows us that the right thing for the House to do is to set up the review, and that it should report back next year.

My hon. Friend, who has spoken about the matter on a number of occasions, is right, and I thought that we had that consensus. We certainly had it during the last Parliament, because the Liberal Democrats in the coalition agreed with us. The hon. Member for Pontypridd has mentioned the former Pensions Minister, who was keen to get a state pension age review. The Pensions Commission has said that increases in the state pension age are essential and that an independent body should be established to review them. We are doing exactly that.

Life expectancy in Scotland still lags around two years behind that in the rest of the UK. That gap persists across all social demographics and costs the average Scottish pensioner around £10,000. However, I am just as concerned about healthy life expectancy, which determines the age at which people start to experience illness and disability that limit their capacity for work. Healthy life expectancy is not rising at the same speed as life expectancy; in fact, the gap between the two is widening. Given the Government’s reductions in support for sick and disabled people of working age—we are due to discuss those changes later today—can we have any confidence that further increases in state pension age will not simply condemn thousands of older people with serious health conditions to an impoverished old age on state benefits prior to their official retirement?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her tone, and she has asked a legitimate question. The whole reason why we have instituted an independent review is so that people can raise such questions. I encourage her and her party to submit to the review and to Sir John Cridland their concerns about the different demographic issues in Scotland. They are well known, and it is quite legitimate for the hon. Lady to raise them with him. The point is that because Sir John is independent, he can look at the whole question—including aspects such as demographic changes or changes in the work that people do—and take a view about it. He may recommend that we make no changes, or he may come back to us with recommendations for change. I do not prejudge that, but I recommend that the hon. Lady make all those points to him.

In 1995, when I was Chancellor, I was among those who recognised that the old system was unaffordable. We thought that we were being courageous in giving 20 years’ notice of our intention to raise the retirement age. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in hindsight, we underestimated the remarkably welcome improvements in life expectancy and in the number of women who qualify for a full pension, and that we should have gone faster? Does he also agree that, inevitably, there will be loud complaints from those who are unlucky enough to be born at a time when they are just affected by the change, but that a Government have a duty to proceed in the interests of the country and in the interests of future generations of working taxpayers, who will not be able to afford to sustain our system unless we respond to reality?

My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. I thought that the position of successive Governments was to take that as a non-party political point and agree on the need to make those changes, the pace of which should be decided independently. We have done that. It was brave of the Government of whom he was a part to start the process of change, but it was always going to be necessary to review the matter in line with demographics. Recent demographic shifts have been rapid, so we are carrying out such a review now. I regret the fact that the Opposition have chosen to play political games rather than supporting this necessary change.

Does the Secretary of State accept that millions of people, having seen what the Government did in respect of the equalisation of the state pension age for women born in the 1950s, will look at the proposal and be worried that they are about to repeat those mistakes? Will he set out what transitional arrangements he expects for the changes, and whether that opens up the opportunity to look again at the injustice that has been done to those represented by the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign?

It is a legitimate concern to ensure that we give people plenty of notice, and Sir John Cridland will be looking at that carefully. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a submission to the review about transitional arrangements, it is absolutely possible for him to do so, and I encourage him to do just that. This Government did not introduce those changes, but we introduced a transitional change for those who were affected to improve the lot of a large majority of those who would otherwise have been adversely affected.

At the moment, there are three people paying national insurance for every person who receives a state pension; by 2040, if nothing changes, there will be only two people paying national insurance for every person who receives a state pension. There are more people in higher education than there have been in the past, and life expectancy has increased. Surely, in the long term, it is only common sense to match the retirement age to life expectancy in some way. We cannot enter the labour market later, leave it earlier, live longer and expect the state to pick up the bill.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is worth putting that into the context of what we have already done to sustain and support pensioners in the longer term. First, we have introduced more saving through automatic enrolment. More than 6 million people are saving for a pension. Secondly, the introduction of the single tier puts pension payments above the means test, allowing people to save in the knowledge that they will always hold their savings. Thirdly, the state pension is more than £1,000 higher than it was when we came into office. That is why we need to get the demographic changes right. We are going to be fairer to pensioners and support them as other Governments have never done.

I am not going to get angry, but I gently point out to the Secretary of State that he is quite wrong to say that there is a consensus on the matter. Indeed, he has broken the consensus that he established with the excellent former Pensions Minister, Steve Webb. The agreement was that independent reviews would look every five years at life expectancy and fairness for those who were paying in, but the Secretary of State is introducing affordability, which was not part of the original proposal, as well as bringing the review forward. Will he acknowledge that that is a change from what he agreed with Steve Webb and what the coalition Government delivered?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chooses to find a difference, because I do not think that there is one. No one has more respect for the former Pensions Minister than I do; he is a good personal friend and I thought he did a brilliant job as Pensions Minister. As coalition partners, we worked well together. He and I agreed to introduce the independent review in the Pensions Act 2014. Sir John is quite capable of looking at the matter in the round, as we have asked him to do, and making a decision on the basis of “robust, evidence-based analysis”, as set out in the terms of reference. He may yet say, “I see no need to make any change,” but I am prepared to back him on that.

Our population is growing year on year, principally through immigration, so it is right that we look to the future. Will the independent review look at two scenarios, in which Britain either can or cannot control its immigration, depending on whether we remain in Europe? Will my right hon. Friend be able to see any of the information that comes through on both those scenarios?

Tempting though it is to involve the review in other areas, it is focused on the need to figure out whether, given the circumstances, demographics and affordability, the state pension age should rise and what it should be in years to come. I am happy for the review to be limited to that.

There are 2.6 million women who feel that they have not been given enough notice of changes to their pensions. I implore the Secretary of State to be straight with young people today about the fact that those of them who are born in areas of low life expectancy will be dead before they receive a pension.

I am not sure that the hon. Lady came into politics to decide that the future for people is so bleak that nothing can be done. Our role in this House is to make the changes necessary to improve people’s life chances and lengthen their life expectancy, so that they may enjoy the fruits of that life expectancy, having worked hard and saved hard, in a decent time of retirement. I am an optimist about Britain; she is a pessimist about Britain.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government intend to review the pension age every five years and to give people the opportunity to know their retirement age with a long lead-in time, so that they can plan for a secure future for themselves and their families?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Essentially, the commitment made in the 2014 Act was to have a review in every Parliament. That will allow every Parliament to make decisions, and I hope that any changes, by the time we make them, can be done on a non-party basis. That would be the way to do it, and that is what we are engaged in.

This review was always known about. For those who are suddenly complaining that they had not noticed it, today’s written ministerial statement was down to be made yesterday. I do not recall their doing a single thing to bring it to anyone’s attention until a couple of newspapers wrote articles, after which a request for an urgent question was suddenly sent in.

I think everyone recognises that we need to review pension arrangements, especially given the demographics in the United Kingdom, but all such reviews throw up difficult cases and anomalies, not least in relation to differences in life expectancy across the regions of the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the review looks at such discrepancies, and that things are properly built in to make sure that information is given out when changes are made?

Much as I said to the spokesman for the Scottish nationalists, I say to the hon. Gentleman that, yes, it is recognised that there are issues about such areas. The point is that it is within scope of the review for him or anyone in his party to raise such issues with Sir John Cridland, and it is certainly within its scope for him, or anybody else he wants, to give evidence to the review.

My right hon. Friend has given some very cogent figures to the House, particularly the change in the number of years people can expect to spend in retirement from 14 to 27. Will he confirm that the independent review will be conducted in an impartial manner? Is not what we are hearing from Opposition Front Benchers and their friends in the SNP simply scaremongering?

I will repeat the figures. They are backed by what our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the Chancellor in a previous Conservative Government, once said with great foresight. The fact is that life expectancy for a man who retired in 1945, when the pensionable age was 65, was between 60 and 63. With the same retirement age, the expected period in retirement has risen to about 27 years. We must take that into consideration. I want more people to be able to work longer, and it was me and the then Pensions Minister who raised the default retirement age to stop companies telling people that they could not work past 65. Such people can now carry on working. We have done a lot, and this review is all part of that process.

The Secretary of State said that he wanted to reward those who work hard and do the right thing. He did not do that for women born in the 1950s, many of whom were given only three years’ notice of the acceleration in their state pension age. Will he now give the House a commitment that he will not, as he did in the Pensions Act 2011, further accelerate the changes in the state pension age that are due to come in up to 2046?

I accept that the hon. Lady raises a legitimate point but I wish that, in doing so, she would encompass the fact that she sat on the Labour Benches under a Government who raised the pensionable age and that accusations of “no notice” can very much be lodged at the door of the previous Labour Government. I simply say to her that, during the last Government, we made changes to improve the lot of many of those affected. As I have said, the independent review will look at all of that post-2028 and make recommendations about the best way forward. I hope that she will give evidence to the review if she has such concerns.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that countries around the globe are being forced to confront the impact of rapidly rising life expectancy levels, and it appears that only Opposition parties are in complete denial about the need for a sustainable state pension age?

That is a fact. Many of our neighbours have already equalised pensionable ages and are accelerating the move to a later pensionable age ahead of us. Germany, Norway and various other countries around the world have done so, and it is only right that we should do so as well. Otherwise, we will place a burden on our children and our children’s children, who will not thank us for not taking the brave decisions that are necessary.

I am 33. Will the Secretary of State tell me and others in my age cohort the age at which we will be entitled to retire?

I can tell the hon. Lady that it is very clear when she and those her age will retire. It is very clear that the independent review will make recommendations. If she wants to make her position clear and give her view, she should give evidence to the independent review. We will have a review in every Parliament. I do not understand why her party is against having a review. Surely we want an independent review so that it can be fair and balanced. I would have hoped that she welcomed that.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the advantage of an independent review in every Parliament is that we should be able to give greater visibility to when changes will happen? Will he commit to not having a change with less than 10 years’ notice for those affected?

That is exactly the flow of timings at the moment. Sir John Cridland has to consider that, and we want him to look at making sure that such a process happens. We want people to have plenty of notice, and I know recommendations have been made about that. As I said earlier, he will look at that under his terms of reference, as will the next review and so on. I would simply say to my hon. Friend that if he has an issue, he should put it to the review.

The Secretary of State claims to be an optimist, but I see precious little to be optimistic about. We have had the stock Government response that, in raising any concerns, we are scaremongering. Does the Secretary of State agree that many of my constituents will, because of regional variations in life expectancy, die before they receive their state pension and have an absolute right to be scared?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady takes that view. We have rising life expectancy. We have people earning more in jobs. We have more people in work. We have more people saving, and preparing for their retirement, than ever before. We have a pension coming in that means they will not get means-tested. I have to say that I am optimistic on those grounds. I do not, however, blame her for being pessimistic because if I was sitting on the Labour Benches today, I would be really pessimistic.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents approaching retirement age that the headlines splashed across this morning’s papers—in one case, saying that people will be required to work until they are 81—have no basis in fact whatever, given that this is just the start of the review and that no conclusions have been made, let alone agreed by the House?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The reality is that this independent review will look at all of that. The papers have to make their own decisions—I will not be critical of them—but I would simply say that they cannot extrapolate from the announcement of a statutory independent review and say that it will somehow have certain implications for the retirement age going forward. All I would say is that it is necessary to get the balance right between people who are paying for those who have retired and people who have retired and are saving. It is the job of the Government to get that right, and I hoped it would be approached more consensually across the Floor of the House.

I want to raise another anomaly with the Secretary of State. People who worked in Northern Ireland when they were 14 and 15 paid national insurance contributions between 1947 and 1957, but those contributions did not count towards their pension entitlement because the school leaving age in Britain was a little higher. Can that anomaly be raised with Sir John Cridland and addressed so that it can finally be rectified?

As I understand it, that specific issue is not within the scope of the review, but I am certainly happy to talk to the hon. Lady about it. In general, the point about the review is that it is the first time—I would have hoped this would therefore be welcomed—that someone has asked an independent body to review such anomalies. I am very happy to speak to her if she wants to come and see me.

This is a policy on which there should be consensus and cross-party support. The evidence is that we are living longer and healthier lives, and not just in Mid Dorset and North Poole, so there should be optimism across the country. Does the Secretary of State agree that the responsible thing to do is to have an independent review, follow the statutory regime and examine the evidence and all the options, rather than scaremongering and using phrases such as “working until they drop”?

I must say that I was slightly surprised earlier today when I saw the Opposition spokesman tweeting the most inflammatory comments about people retiring. I can understand that those in opposition need to try to get attention, but to start worrying and scaring people without foundation or reality is nothing short of appalling. I wish the hon. Gentleman would get up and apologise for that.

The review will consider variations in pension arrangements between “different groups”. Will the Secretary of State give more detail on whether “different groups” refers to occupations, such as shift workers or, to give an example from my constituency, bus drivers, who get chronic bladder conditions? The life expectancy and health of those groups deteriorates as a result of their occupation. Will those issues be raised in the review?

It is certainly within scope for that matter to be raised with the reviewer. He and his team have the power to review it. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman raises that concern. It is up to the reviewer to what degree he looks at it.

Notwithstanding the antics of the Labour party, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to underscore the national importance of this issue and I commend the approach that his Department has set out. Despite the depressing and dispiriting response from the Opposition parties, will he undertake to continue to try to build a national consensus and a consensus across the House on this issue, as it affects all our constituents and should be above party politics?

I agree with my hon. Friend. My door is always open and I am always ready to see somebody, even if they then change their mind. I have found the tweet that the shadow Secretary of State sent this morning—strangely, not after he had seen the statement, but only after he had seen the newspapers. It states:

“Pensions Minister scraps retirement for all but the rich and those lucky enough to have a good private pension!!!”

How ridiculous is that? This is the announcement of a statutory review that his party agreed with in 2014. He really needs to apologise.

The Secretary of State and all of us here are fortunate to have satisfying, well-paid jobs, but many of our countrymen and women work just to survive. Will the review look at whether it should always be the presumption that living longer means working longer, or might we look at alternative ways of funding the basic state pension so that people are able to benefit and live fulfilled lives in retirement as a result of better healthcare and the fact that we are living longer?

Again, that is a wholly legitimate question for the hon. Gentleman to raise. As I said to his party’s spokesman, that matter is within scope for the reviewer, if he wishes to raise it. The reviewer and his team will have to decide how to get the balance right. It is certainly within scope for the hon. Gentleman and his party to ask the reviewer to look at that balance and to see whether some of the presumptions are necessary, and I urge him to do so.

The Secretary of State has been a champion of pensioners with the triple lock, the single-tier pension and automatic enrolment, which is now benefiting more than 6 million people. Does he agree that, in the light of the cross-party support for an independent review in 2014, it is rank hypocrisy for Labour Front Benchers to try to make political capital out of it today?

I genuinely regret that the consensus that was achieved for the 2014 legislation has been tossed aside in a matter of hours by the Opposition, apparently over breakfast this morning. [Interruption.] I urge them, instead of chuntering away on the Front Bench, to remember what their spokesman said in 2014. He said categorically:

“we do not oppose the Bill”.—[Official Report, 29 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 870.]

They agreed with the regular review. I urge the Opposition to get back to the sensible position of wanting to co-operate over changes to the pension age.

May I ask the Secretary of State about different occupations? Certain professions, such as those who serve in the armed services, the fire brigade and the police, require a lot of physical strength. We should even think about surgeons, who will have to operate on people later on in life. Has Sir John Cridland been asked to look at those people’s retirement ages?

That is another legitimate question. It is within scope for the hon. Lady to raise it with John Cridland and I urge her to do so. A number of similar points have been made. Of course, he will have to make the final decision about the balance of his review within the terms of reference, but this matter is certainly within the terms of reference. I wish those on the Front Bench of the hon. Lady’s party had taken such a positive view.

I have listened to this discussion for 45 minutes and, setting aside the bluster from some of the Opposition parties, the only point of divergence that I can see is on whether the Government have included a requirement for this five-yearly statutory inquiry to consider affordability. If that is the case, does my right hon. Friend agree that affordability should definitely be part of any inquiry into our pensions system?

Given that we have a national debt of £1.7 trillion or £24,000 for every man, woman and child in this country, it would be a crime for the Government not to consider whether our pension age is affordable. I hope that the other parties will reconsider, particularly Labour and the Lib Dems, given that this was the only point of difference that their spokesmen could raise.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I thought that there was consensus on this matter, but it has apparently been torn up. I urge those on the Opposition Front Bench to change their minds and engage with the review. Of course affordability will be considered. I do not know of any Government that would genuinely say, “We will make some change and not think about whether it is affordable.” Hang on a second—the last Labour Government did that, actually. I am sad to hear that the Opposition are following their usual trend, which is to shout a lot and make commitments they could never possibly meet if they were in government.

Will the Secretary of State rule out the prospect of the retirement age being increased to 84 as a result of the review, as was predicted by the previous Pensions Minister, Steve Webb? Are the Government prepared to set any upper limit on the state retirement age?

The hon. Lady should not grab on to and believe everything that is printed in the newspapers. They have their own legitimate reasons for publishing stuff. There is nothing in the review that talks about that. I have said categorically that John Cridland will review, within the terms of reference, where we should go with state pension ages and look at other aspects, such as affordability, within the context of what people have done and what their details are. If the hon. Lady has a particular issue she wants to raise, she should raise it with him.

What is untenable is that the hon. Lady’s party opposes an independent and regular review of state pensions. Why would anybody do that? [Interruption.] I hear the shadow Secretary of State shouting, “Rigged.” The only thing that was rigged was the way that he got on to the Front Bench to be the Opposition spokesman.

As someone who accepted the rise in his own pension age to 68 in 2007 on the basis of the evidence presented by the Labour party, it has been disappointing to hear the tenor of the Opposition’s comments today. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that the review will be independent and that it will take into account factors across the country, not just in London and the south-east, that affect life expectancy? Will he assure me that we will seek to have constructive engagement with the Opposition? If we cannot get it with the shadow Secretary of State, perhaps we should try to get it with the shadow Pensions Minister instead.

I agree. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The important thing is that there is an independent review and that we own up to the decisions that we have to take. I wish the Opposition would accept that they took decisions about the state pension age. They have collective amnesia about anything that happened not just pre-2010, but apparently pre-2015. I expect that they will shortly forget everything pre-2016 and that it will go on like that. They should wake up, smell the coffee and get on with being an Opposition in the hope of being in government, not perpetually in opposition.

It is concerning and disappointing that further changes are being considered, given that the Government have not even fixed the botched mess they made of the transition for women born in the 1950s. Several of those women have come to my constituency surgery and some of them face losses of up to £30,000 as a result of the unfair transition. I wonder how many of the WASPI women have gone to the Secretary of State’s surgeries or those of his Ministers and what message he has had for them.

The terms of this urgent question and the review are to look beyond 2028. I accept that there are demographic issues in Scotland, such as a faster ageing population, that cause particular issues. I would therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman and his party welcomed an independent review by an independent individual that can look at any aspects and problems in Scotland that they wish to raise. I urge them to do that. I take it from the nodding of his head that he welcomes the independent review, unlike the Labour Front Benchers.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Cridland review moves the indicator from life expectancy to health—mental as well as physical health—particularly for post-menopausal women, and that people can have quality of life post-retirement, so that we can gain from that social capital and people can look forward to their retirement?

The hon. Lady raises a wholly legitimate set of issues and concerns. We must consider how we deal with people who retire and their quality of life in retirement. I therefore agree with her, and urge her to talk to the review and ask that it finds some way to look at those issues, which we need to consider anyway.