Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): We warmly welcome the Deputy Prime Minister to the Dispatch Box. We understand that the Prime Minister wants to spend time with the newest member of his family, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending him and all members of his family our warmest wishes.
Has the Deputy Prime Minister actually read the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, which will be warmly welcomed by
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pensioners up and down the country? Does he agree with the view of his right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)? He welcomed our policy and said:
Pensioners will be pleased with the news that one of our major parties is saying that we should give money in the form of pensions and not in one-off payments.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's warm remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--the House will certainly accept them.
Although the right hon. Gentleman says that pensioners will welcome the Conservatives' proposals, it is clear that the shadow Chancellor does not. That is a start. As for the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), if he is happy with proposals that abolish the winter fuel allowance, free television licences and free eye tests--all considered to be gimmicks--I wholly disagree with him. That is the kind of unthinkable thought that I do not accept.
Sir George Young: The Deputy Prime Minister should know what Downing street said when his right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead was appointed:
Tony has enormous regard for his abilities.
All pensioners will be better-off under our proposals. If the Deputy Prime Minister cannot endorse the views of his right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, does he agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle)? [Interruption.] He said:
Pensioners believe the winter fuel payments and concessionary TV licences are a diversionary measure . . . What pensioners want is an increase, week on week, in the basic pension. That is not just a matter of economics; it is a question too of pensioners dignity.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may be promising to do things for pensioners, but it is fair for us to point to the record of the previous Government: 18 years--[Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. The House must now come to order. I have heard enough from both sides. I want to hear the questions and answers.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I want to deal with some of the killer facts, Madam Speaker.
During 18 years of Tory Administration, 1.5 million pensioners were living in poverty. The Tories scrapped the earnings link with pensions, which is one of the major complaints. They scrapped free eye tests and check-ups. They also presided over the pensions mis-selling scandal, at a cost of £3 billion. The pensioners and the country will measure the record of performance of this Government against the Tories phoney promises built on phoney money.
Sir George Young: I am sure the Deputy Prime Minister did not mean to commit his party to restoring the link with earnings.
I am slightly surprised that the right hon. Gentleman does not agree either with his right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead or with his hon. Friend the
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Member for Walton. When the Deputy Prime Minister appeared on "On the Record" with John Humphrys on 7 May, he expressed some sympathy with the policies that are being put forward today.
Instead of the paternalistic gimmicks of the Government, we will give all pensioners an increase in the basic pension of at least £5.50 a week. All pensioners will be better-off under our proposals. Is it not time that the Government learned the lesson of their local election defeat and started to give pensioners the dignity, choice, independence and respect that they deserve?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman can come to the Dispatch Box and still make those promises when they were rejected by the shadow Chancellor within two hours of their announcement.
On the question of the minimum income guarantee, we were the party that guaranteed that for pensioners. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the earnings link. We are providing more than £6.5 billion, which is more than would be given under the earnings guarantee, and we have already linked the minimum income guarantee to earnings. We have produced for the pensioners. It is absolutely clear that a minimum guaranteed income for 1.5 million pensioners was produced by Labour; free television licences for those aged over-75 were produced by Labour; free eye tests for the over-60s were produced by Labour; and a winter fuel allowance of £150 was produced by Labour. The Tories believe in conning pensioners; we believe in helping them.