Pensions Annuities (Amendment) Bill

May I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) on raising this important issue? There is some disappointment that Labour Members are trying to talk out the Bill.

Mr. Gardiner rose

Mr. Field

No, the hon. Gentleman has had more than enough time.

Although the Labour party makes a great fuss about its role as the friend of the pensioner, Labour Members’ constituents will realise that its position is weak.

Nothing is more likely to induce a glaze across the eyes of most hon. Members than a detailed analysis of pension-related policy. I wanted to say much more, but I shall keep my comments brief because time is tight.

There has been a healthy consensus within the United Kingdom political spectrum over the past couple of decades about encouraging individual saving for retirement. An integral part of that policy has been the generous taxation treatment of such personal contributions. I accept that the principle of an enforced annuity has been a quid pro quo for the generous taxation treatment. However, the element of compulsion lies in a bygone era.

Over the past few weeks and months I have been trying to conduct a small focus group perhaps I am heading the same way as Labour Members. I asked people in one ward of my constituency about their views on pension-related issues. Having received 25 or so responses, I can only describe my research as qualitative rather than quantitative. There was universal opposition to the idea of an enforced annuity provision. Indeed, the pearls of wisdom from my Knightsbridge-based constituents include: no one should be forced into schemes that are provided by insurance companies; annuities are an outrage; we should allow any pension fund to be moved by a pensioner with transparency and full rules of reporting.

It was also the view that annuities are a strong disincentive and put people off saving for their retirement because the yields have recently fallen to such a low rate, as many hon. Members have commented. Above all, there was an overwhelming desire on the part of many of the constituents who got in touch with me that we encourage people in their 20s and 30s to start saving now. However, the problem with Equitable Life and other companies has affected confidence in the savings and pensions industry.

The final word from my constituents is a little more depressing. One local resident wrote to me and simply said:

"The Tories are as much to blame as Labour for the mess of the pensions industry the entire issue is much too complicated for the average voter."

I hope that we all play our part, not just in this debate, but in the months and years ahead. Only if the pensions industry is made much safer can we possibly contemplate compelling people to place their trust and their hard-earned cash and savings into it. If legislation forces us to hand over hard-earned cash to the incompetent, there is little incentive for anyone to save. Amid the debate on this issue and the worthy objectives of the Bill, which many of my hon. Friends addressed, we need to realise that no amount of new legislation will overcome the fact that, as Labour Members have said, many of our fellow countrymen are too poor to save adequately for their retirement.