§ 11. Mr. Matthew Taylor
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement about pension levels.
§ The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
We have maintained the real value of the basic retirement pension since we took office in 1979 and we are pledged to continue this policy.
§ Mr. Taylor
At my weekend surgery three pensioners came to see me in considerable distress because of the difficulty that they faced in paying their water and electricity bills and other bills from private utilities following the large price increases. Is it not time that those pensioners, including the one who told me that she was keeping warm during the day by clutching a hot-water bottle because she could not afford heating bills, were given a decent state pension as of right, without the humiliation of a contributory test, which involves means-testing for those who are in greatest need?
§ Mr. Scott
If the hon. Gentleman examines the incomes of retirement pensioners since the Government took office, he will find that they have increased substantially. From 1979 to 1988 they increased by about 34 per cent., and there have been further improvements since 1988. Under this Government, the income of retirement pensioners as a whole has increased more in each year than it did throughout the Labour Government's administration.
§ Mr. Dunn
Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate as to the impact on pensioner living standards of the suggestion that petrol prices be increased by 50p per gallon, and especially the impact on pensioners who live in the country and who need a motor car for shopping and other aspects of life? Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that the 50p tax on petrol is a Liberal Democrat idea?
§ Mr. Meacher
In the light of the current Conservative "Newsline" pledge that the Conservative party, if it wins the election, will "target social security" so that it isnot a handout to those who do not need it",will the Minister confirm that that is a Tory pledge to means test pensions after the election? Will he also confirm that that is exactly what a previous Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer—the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson)—said that he intended to do during a notorious private briefing? Before the right hon. Gentleman issues a denial, will he confirm that before the previous election the Tories said that they would continue to pay child benefit as before—only to freeze it immediately for three years when they took office? Does he recall that before 1979 the Tories said that they would maintain the value of the retirement pension in line with rising living standards—a pledge which was promptly broken when they took office? As a result, a single pensioner has lost £17 a week under the Government while a married couple have lost £28.
§ Mr. Scott
I can say unequivocally and without a shadow of doubt that the Conservative party has no intention whatever, when it is returned to office, to means test the basic retirement pension. As I have already said, we have pledged ourselves to maintain the pension's real value. What we shall do, as we have done over the past three years, is to ensure that poorer pensioners—those who have not benefited from the result of our general policies towards pensioners which have increased pensioners' real living standards by over 34 per cent.—will be helped. To that end, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has already said, we have contributed about £350 million since October 1989.
§ Mr. Speaker
I call Mrs. Alice Mahon. I call Mr. John Evans. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I call Mrs. Teresa Gorman.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Sometimes you shout out the names of hon. Members who are caught up in British Rail delays. It is most unreasonable—[Interruption.]