HC Deb 27 April 1976 vol 910 cc172-4
6. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received in 1976 in connection with respective pensionable ages of men and women.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Stanley Orme)

All the representations received by the Department of Health and Social Security have taken the form of letters. Records are not kept of the total number concerned with each specific subject, but in the first quarter of this year 163 letters about pension age received personal replies from Ministers at the Department.

Mr. Roberts

My right hon. Friend will remember that a target date was set for equal pay for women. Will he give a 10-year target date for reducing the pensionable age of men to 60? Will he put forward proposals for reducing the pensionable age of men year by year until that target is reached? Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is deplorable, now that we haxe sex equality, that we are not prepared to move—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I appeal to the House? As the House will have noticed, in the past two sitting weeks I have deliberately allowed hon. Members to go on longer with their supplementary questions. But supplementary questions are getting longer and longer and that is unfair to other hon. Members who have Questions on the Order Paper.

Mr. Orme

The ratio of people of working age to people of pensionable age is at present about 3½:1. The reduction of the men's pension age to 60 would bring the ratio down below 3:1, and the net cost would be more than £1,000 million a year.

Mr. Roberts

In 10 years' time.

Mr. Orme

I understand what my hon. Friend said, and I see the need for creating more employment prospects, but, because of the difficulties, it is not possible to make a forecast.

Mrs. Knight

Will the Minister take an early opportunity to explain to the country precisely why the Government cannot regularise the retirement age, in view of the expectations aroused by the principles and the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act?

Mr. Orme

Is the hon. Lady advocating a further £1,000 million a year public expenditure? That is the corollary of what she said. The Government have considered regularising the pension ages, but at the moment it is not possible to move from the retirement age of 60 for women and 65 for men.

Mrs. Bain

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the bad feeling that exists among pensioners about the differential levels of pension paid to men and women in view of the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act? Will he give an early commitment to eradicate this differential?

Mr. Orme

When the new Pensions Act comes into operation in 1978, many of the difficulties referred to by the hon. Lady will be eradicated.

Mr. Greville Janner

In estimating the net cost of bringing down the pension age for men to the present pension age for women, has my right hon. Friend taken into account that about 750,000 jobs would be left free to be taken up by people who are today employed, who are ready, anxious and willing to get work, and who would not then receive unemployment or social security benefit for their families?

Mr. Orme

I am aware of my hon. and learned Friend's concern about this matter and about the unemployed. We have considered this factor, but one of the major difficulties is that my hon. Friend's suggestion would not necessarily have the effect he desires.

Mr. McCrindle

In the interest of true sex equality but keeping an eye on public expenditure should not the Government he reducing the retirement age of men to 64½ while raising that of women to 60½ and working gradually in six-monthly periods so that eventually every one retires at 62½? What possible objections could the women of this country have to that suggestion?

Mr. Orme

The hon. Gentleman might find that some women would object very strongly indeed. It is an interesting suggestion but it does not meet the basic fact that the Government have to face—the increased cost at this time.

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