14 January 2013
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As the President of the United States and President Karzai met last week and were reported to have discussed accelerating the process of the withdrawal of troops, will the Government consider following the policies of the Netherlands and Canada and bring our troops home earlier?
Mr Robathan: We work in close co-operation with the Americans and other ISAF allies, and we have a sensible trajectory to withdraw all our combat troops by the end of next year. We are already not involved in the face-to-face operations in which we were involved two years’ ago, and we are witnessing a thankful reduction in our casualties. We do not intend to bring our troops out early. We think that that would be a great disadvantage to peace in Afghanistan.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Will the Minister emulate the splendid example of Barbara Castle in 1975, who secured all-party support for the introduction of SERPS? Will he also consider a reform whereby retirees who are fortunate enough still to be in work while receiving the basic pension should continue to pay national insurance? That would be fair, affordable and acceptable and would bring in between £2 billion and £3 billion a year.
Steve Webb: I would certainly warmly welcome all-party support. I have tried to approach the issue in as constructive a way as I can, because we want an element of stability in the pension system. I am not convinced that levying national insurance contribution on working pensioners is the way forward. Clearly, what we want is some flexibility in retirement. We want to get away from this cliff edge where people are either working or retired. We are interested in a model of phased retirement, partial drawing of pensions, deferring retirement and part-time work. As soon as we say, “You are either working or retired; you pay national insurance or you do not”, we get back to the cliff-edge model that we are trying to move away from.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Why us again? We have no post-colonial obligations to Mali. Even without mission creep, we are already exposed to possible terrorist reprisals because of the actions that we have taken. We have seen 618 British lives lost in two wars where there was little direct threat to British interests. Why are the Government so eager to put at risk the lives of British citizens in order to become the policeman of the world?
Mark Simmonds: The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not share his analysis. As we have discussed, there are serious concerns not just in the UK, but in Europe and the rest of international community. China and Russia are concerned about what is happening as well. We are right to provide limited logistical support to the French, who are taking the lead because of their historical links with Mali. The two main reasons we are doing this are security and to support the region in ensuring that the conflict does not spread.