§ 6. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
What recent representations he has received on the level of the state pension; and if he will make a statement. 
§ The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Darling)
I receive many letters in relation to the state pension.
§ Miss McIntosh
Does the Secretary of State regret the fact that he did not raise the state pension more when it was recently increased? That insulted pensioners, as the cost of petrol was increased more than the amount given to pensioners, thus saving his Department £90 million this year alone. Is he not embarrassed that the Conservative party is setting the agenda on pensions, and that pensioners realise that they will be better off under the next Conservative Government than they are under this Labour Government?
§ Mr. Darling
If anyone should be embarrassed, it should be the hon. Lady. She may not even have read her own party's manifesto, and may not recall that her party, in common with all the other principal parties in this country, stood on the commitment to increase the basic state pension in line with prices. The difference between us and the Tories is that we are doing more than that, spending some £6.5 billion more on supporting pensioner incomes than they propose to do. We are making sure that nearly half of that goes to the poorest third of pensioners, because we wanted to deal with the problem of pensioner poverty that has arisen in the past 20 years. An increase across the board would not have helped the poorest pensioners. We are reforming and strengthening SERPS, especially for those with low earnings. Frankly, when it comes to pensions, fairness and 13 doing the right thing for the pensioners of today and tomorrow, the Conservatives have nothing whatsoever to say.
§ Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has just said. I am delighted to hear that our party will continue to speak up on behalf of poor pensioners, which is why the minimum income guarantee is welcome in my constituency, as is the winter fuel allowance, which is certainly not regarded as a gimmick. That money is most welcome when it comes through to pensioners in December. If any Member does not want pensioners in his or her constituency to get their so-called gimmick, the pensioners in my constituency certainly need it. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the winter fuel allowance of £150 will be paid before Christmas this year, as that is, of course, the time when pensioners most need the money?
§ Mr. Darling
Yes, this year the payment will be made in December again. My hon. Friend is right, and pensioners in Motherwell, and elsewhere, will remember that the legacy of the Conservative Government was to double VAT on fuel. The winter fuel of payment of £150, which Conservative Members intend to scrap, is of great help, especially to those on low incomes.
I remind the House that no matter what the Conservatives say about their pensions policy, they should remember what the shadow Chancellor—who, it seems, is now in charge of all policy matters in the Conservative party—said about Conservative pensions policy:it is a one-off policy. It is money which is already being spent…There is no new money.
§ Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)
In a rural area such as mine, public transport does not run everywhere and the car is essential. Will the Minister answer a simple question that is frequently put to me by my pensioners? Why was the price of petrol put up on the basis of an inflation rate of 3.3 per cent., while their pension was put up on the basis of an inflation rate of 1.1 per cent.?
§ Mr. Darling
If there is no public transport in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I wonder whether he has explained to people that the Conservative party's policy of bus deregulation in the 1980s was largely responsible for damaging the public transport infrastructure.
As for the indexation of pensions, the increase has been based on the September retail prices index for many years—under the Government whom he supported as well as under ours. I hope that he will take the opportunity to tell the pensioners in his constituency that all the Tory party pensions policy will do is take away money that they are receiving at the moment and give it back to them, and that the maximum that they can expect is 42p before they start paying tax, and before 2 million of them start to lose benefit.