§ The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mrs. Barbara Castle)
At present, pension rights are specifically excluded from the scope of the Equal Pay Bill. I said during the Report stage of the Bill that I would consider the possibility of bringing these rights within the scope of the Bill. In making this commitment, I indicated the considerable difficulties in the way of providing for the equal treatment of men and women in regard to pension rights and the complexity of the provisions that would need to be made in the Bill. I drew attention to the fact that this was a very late stage at which to attempt to deal with this difficult subject in the present Bill.
In accordance with my commitment, I considered very carefully the possibility of amending the Bill by means of a Government Amendment in the House of Lords. I have had the advantage of a meeting with the T.U.C. to hear its views. I had reluctantly to come to the conclusion that it was too late to deal with this complex matter in the Bill.
I considered, in particular, the suggestion made on Report that power might be taken in the Bill to make regulations in regard to pension rights later on. However, the extension of pension rights under employers' schemes to women who do not already enjoy them would be a significant and important development. I came, therefore, to the conclusion that it would not be right to make such a major change by means of regulations.
The Bill takes a great step forward in introducing equal pay for men and women. The Government recognise that it is anomalous not to provide safeguards against discrimination between men and women in employers' pension schemes. While it is not considered feasible to do this in the present Bill, the 1789 Government accept that legislation must be introduced in due course to tackle this problem.
We intend, therefore, to introduce such legislation into Parliament before the Equal Pay Bill comes into force at the end of 1975. The legislation will prescribe a suitable date for equalising men's and women's pension rights, taking due account of any inherent differences between men and women in regard to pension needs.
§ Mr. R. Carr
Is the right hon. Lady aware that, to put it mildly, we still think it a great pity that this very important issue was not dealt with until this very late stage, rather than earlier? Is she further aware that, nevertheless, we are grateful for her statement and for her recognition of the seriousness of this problem? May I assure her that a Conservative Government will give this important issue very serious attention?
§ Mrs. Castle
It is rather unusual for an Opposition spokesman to condemn himself so effectively out of his own mouth. Indeed, so great was the interest of the right hon. Gentleman in this matter that, during the whole course of the passage of the Equal Pay Bill in Committee, he never put down an Amendment on pension rights. The entire initiative on this matter came from my hon. Friends, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), who moved the Amendment on Report.
It was as a result of his and their representations that the Government undertook to reconsider this matter with a view to seeing whether, even at this late stage, an Amendment might be introduced in the Lords. For the reason that I have given, we have decided that it is better firmly to commit ourselves to legislate in the next Session of Parliament.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is the right hon. Lady aware that she will have the full support of the Liberal Party on this matter, if she has the opportunity of introducing this legislation, and that at least it is something of an advantage to hear pleasure expressed from both sides of the House, such as that which we have heard 1790 from the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), since this means that there is a slightly greater chance of its being implemented?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am delighted to know that I shall have the hon. Gentleman's support when I introduce this Measure in the next Session.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman
As the right hon. Lady was absent from the Committee a great deal, will she refresh her mind and see how often hon. Members on this side raised this very point during the course of the Committee proceedings?
§ Mrs. Castle
As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, I kept in close touch with the Committee proceedings. He will also be aware that, as I said, in Committee no Amendment was tabled by the Opposition on this matter.
§ Mr. Holland
Does not the right hon. Lady recall that I urged the inclusion of pensison rights on Second Reading and that, on Report, I supported her hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) on this matter?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman spoke strongly on the matter, and he will be aware that we had a meeting of minds on a number of points during the passage of the Equal Pay Bill.
§ Sir T. Beamish
How did it come about that this little matter slipped the right hon. Lady's mind when the Bill was being drafted?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sorry to say that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is as inaccurate as usual. I referred to this matter during the Second Reading of the Equal Pay Bill. I said that I had given careful attention to the inclusion of pension rights in the Bill and that I accepted in principle that it was entirely desirable.
1791 My point was that the inclusion of pension rights would have greatly lengthened and complicated the Measure, and that I was anxious to get it on the Statute Book as soon as possible, as I hope to be able to do this afternoon.
§ Several Hon. Membersrose—