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The BBC's Norman Smith
"Pensioners groups want action"
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Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer
"I'm going to take the argument right into the country"
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banner Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 01:39 GMT 02:39 UK
Brown will not budge on pensions
Chancelllor Gordon Brown
Mr Brown told unions on Monday: No compromise
Chancellor Gordon Brown has said the government will not change its policies on pensions, despite suffering an embarrassing defeat on the issue at the Labour Party conference.

On Wednesday, delegates voted by a majority of three-to-two in favour of a motion calling for the basic state pension to be linked to average earnings.

The chancellor and Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling tried all day to prevent the resolution reaching the conference floor, but Unison leader Rodney Bickerstaffe defied the pressure and forced the vote.

This is an absolute shambles

David Willetts, Shadow Social Security Secretary
Mr Brown said the government would not be swayed by the result, which he said reflected the pre-arranged views of the unions.

"It is not for a few composite motions to decide the policy of this government - it is for the whole community, and I'm listening to the whole community," he told the BBC.

There was reportedly a strenuous behind-the-scenes-effort to forge a compromise and persuade Mr Bickerstaffe to back down on the vote.

'Total humiliation'

Responding to the vote, Shadow Social Security Secretary David Willetts said: "They've (the government) put more effort in the past 48 hours into fixing these votes than they have ever put into looking after the interests of pensioners.

"This is an absolute shambles."

Rodney Bickerstaffe
Bickerstaffe: under pressure but refused to back down
Conservative leader William Hague described the vote result as a "total humiliation" for the government.

"This dreadful defeat for Mr Blair follows a day of abortive deals in smoke-filled rooms between Labour leaders and union barons" he added.

Although union and constituency representatives voted finally in favour of withdrawing their motion, Mr Bickerstaffe vowed to force the issue to a vote.

Impassioned speech

He also faced an impassioned conference speech from Mr Darling, who said the government's proposals would mean "more, much more" than restoring the earnings link for Britain's poorest pensioners.

Mr Darling pledged that funds would be made available for "transitional arrangements" in the pre-Budget report, confirming the minimum income guarantee for pensioners would be raised to 90 a week.

But Mr Bickerstaffe told conference delegates restoring the link was his union's policy.

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See also:

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