The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) set out his misgivings about the Bill. I share some of his trepidation about the effects on the group of women that we have discussed, but I shall be supporting the Government because I disagree with the hon. Members for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) and for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson), who sought to set out our financial position and compare our debt to that after the second world war. I wish that our financial context was as simple as just the size of the national debt. I have the figures and charts on my iPad: shortly after the second world war the Government were running a surplus—the second largest run since the second world war. It was beaten only in 1970.
Labour had attacked the Government’s plans, earning the Secretary of State’s condemnation of their cynicism:
I simply say to the Opposition that I understand the rules of opposition—goodness gracious, we spent enough time in opposition ourselves—and the temptations that come with opposition, but realistically they should be saying to all those women that we have made a major move. We are prepared to spend an extra £1 billion to make sure that those who were excessively caught in that trap are not any more. I think that is fair and reasonable and that the Opposition need to explain to women up and down the land why they are making a big fuss about this when they know, cynically, that they would not overturn this if they came to government. That is a very cynical position to be in—to whip up this emotion outside and then calmly and quietly say, “Of course, we can’t change it.” I am afraid that is bad politics and bad decision making.
Not for the first time, I was disappointed that a subject so important had been so politicised. Two Labour members sought to compare our situation with that after the Second World War, with reference simply to the national debt. The situation is not so simple of course, as I set out in my speech.
I am glad that the Government has found a billion pounds to cap the increase in the time women must wait for their pensions at 18 months. The situation is still highly undesirable, but it is a consequence of decades of weak politics in this area which has led us into this dreadful financial position.
The slides which I used in debate are available here.