HC Deb 16 July 1969 vol 787 cc619-21

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the National Insurance Act, 1965, by reducing the pensionable age for men to sixty. My proposed Bill has one simple provision, to reduce the pensionable age of men to 60 and thus remove an anomaly which has been with us for about 30 years. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides would wish to make the pension ages of men and women the same, although perhaps not all would agree with the age I have chosen. Some might feel that a common pensionable age of 65, or even 70, would be more appropriate. But I believe that the majority of hon. Members feel that the anomaly which has been with us since 1940 should be removed.

It is unfortunate that I am seeking to introduce a Bill of this kind at this late period of the year. The reason is that, like many other hon. Members, I had believed that when we saw the Government's White Paper we would find that in looking ahead to the later years of this century the Government were thinking in terms of equalising the pension ages. I was horrified to find that we are still sticking to the same pattern of 60 for women and 65 for men.

The argument in the Appendix to the White Paper, at page 54, is that most men reaching the age of 65 are married, and that, on average, their wives are about three years younger than they are. But that argument in favour of keeping the present discrepancy between men and women is actuarial nonsense. It may be true that at present there is a three-year gap on average between a man retiring at 65 and his wife. But in married couples below the age of 30 the gap has almost disappeared, and it is becoming narrower as the years go by.

There are many countries where the age of retirement for both men and women is already much lower than it is here. I shall not bore the House by listing them all, but in France, Italy, the Soviet Union, Hungary and many other countries, for example, the pension age is 60, and in Yugoslavia it is 55.

We should make the change I propose because there is no actuarial, commonsense reason for the present gap. Even if both men and women retired at 65, women could expect on average to enjoy a retirement pension for four years longer than men. The tragic situation at present is that when a woman retires at 60 she can expect to live for 19½ years, whereas a man who reaches 65 and retires can expect to live for only about 12 years. This means that a man can expect to draw only £3,200 in pension during his retirement, whereas a woman can expect to receive £5,100. Therefore, the present situation makes no sense from the point of view of sexual equality.

I now turn to some of the other arguments for such a change. As I have said, some hon. Members might agree that there is a case for equality, but feel that the equality should be at a higher pension age. Some might feel that 70 or 65 would be a more appropriate common age. Although the short-term tendency is for people to work longer, I believe that in view of the nature of technological change it is wrong for us to plan for a society where people tend to work longer weeks or to have longer working lives. My party was put in power to make people's working conditions better and make life easier, and we have done so to some extent. We should accept the technological argument and look forward to a lower pensionable age for men.

There is no suggestion here that men must retire at 60; the suggestion is merely that they could do so on a pension at that age if they wished. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends are very young at 80, whereas some of us are old at 40.

Associated with the Bill is a great humanitarian argument for allowing earlier retirement. There are many occupations in which people are forced to retire in their sixties because of the pressures of very hard work. The statistics of retirement in the 1961 census showed that of 128,000 men who had already retired only 41,000 were under 60. The suggestion is that the great majority of men were retiring in their sixties, owing to ill-health, even if they did not then qualify for a pension.

I have had hundreds of letters from men all over the country who feel that they can no longer continue to work after 60. I have received about 2,000 letters on the Bill, not only from men in that age group but from many trade unions and from young people. Some of us who are cynical about young people should reflect on the number of them who have written to me expressing concern that men should have to wait until 65 to retire.

The only argument against the Bill is that of cost. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has estimated that it would cost £450 million if the present pattern of retirement were maintained. But that does not allow for reductions in medical costs or for a possible change in the retirement pattern. It is all a question of priorities. The present Government have already—

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that he is introducing the Bill under the Ten Minute Rule.

Mr. Roberts

As many of my hon. Friends would agree, the Government have already taken steps to allocate more resources for social security, but here is another direction in which they should move in the not too distant future.

It may be that my right hon. Friend does not feel that he has the money or resources to accept this proposition this year or next, but I appeal to him to ensure, in a White Paper or in any proposals looking towards the end of the century, that this anomaly, this gross discrimination between the sexes should not remain with us.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gwilym Roberts, Mrs. Joyce Butler, Dr. Shirley Summerskill, Mr. Frank Allaun, Mr. Norman Atkinson, Mr. Albert Booth, Mr. Alec Jones, Mr. Brian Parkyn, Mr. Stanley Orme, and Mrs. Renée Short.