HC Deb 26 July 1978 vol 954 cc1744-7

Lords amendment: no. 1, after clause 5, in page 14, line 14, at end insert new clause A—

"A.—(1) In section 14 of the Act of 1972 (pensions for certain widowers), after subsection (1) (qualifying conditions) there shall be inserted as subsection (1A)— (1A) Subject to the following provisions of this section, the widower of a woman who was a Member of the House of Commons at any time after the passing of the Act of 1978 shall, if at the time of her death she fulfilled any of the conditions specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) above (as it apples in her case), be entitled to receive a pension under this section—

  1. (a) as from the day following the date of her death if at the time of her death he had attained the age of sixty-five years or was incapable by reason of bodily or mental infirmity of earning his own living; or
  2. (b) where the preceding paragraph does not apply, as from the time when he attains the age of sixty-five years or, before attaining that age, becomes incapable as mentioned in that paragraph;
and subsection (1) above shall not apply in the case of a widower to whom this subsection applies.

(2) In the case of a widower to whom subsection (1A) of section 14 of the Act of 1972 applies, subsections (3) and (4) of that section (Trustee's power to terminate or restore pension in certain events) shall have effect with the following modifications, that is to say—

  1. (a) the references to subsection (1) of that section shall be read as references to subsection (1A) thereof; and
  2. (b) so much of subsection (3) as relates to the termination of a widower's pension in the event of his ceasing to be incapable as there mentioned shall not apply after the widower has attained the age of sixty-five years;
and where his pension has been terminated under subsection (3) of that section on his ceasing to be incapable as there mentioned before attaining the age of sixty-five, that fact shall not affect his entitlement to the pension as from the time when he attains that age."

11.49 p.m.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

In speaking to this amendment, I shall also speak to amendments nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5, which are consequential. These amendments, inserted by the Government at Committee stage, in another place, are intended to improve the pensions for widowers in the way suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and other hon. Members when we discussed the matter in this House.

At present, the widower of a lady Member or office-holder receives a pension only if he was dependent on his wife at the time of her death. No such dependency is required in the case of widows, although all Members pay the same contributions to the basic parliamentary scheme. As a result of these amendments, the dependency test for widowers will be removed. Widowers who are over 65 at the time of their wives' death, or who later reach age 65, will receive the same pension entitlement as widows. In addition, widowers under 65 will receive a pension if, at the time of the Member's death, they are incapacitated to the extent that they cannot earn their own living or if they subsequently become so incapacitated.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will welcome these amendments since their provisions are in line with those she herself suggested. They introduce into the Parliamentary Pensions Scheme the concept of a "survivor's pension", which, as she reminded us, is already a feature of the new State scheme.

As my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal explained in another place, these changes to the Parliamentary Pensions Scheme are also consistent with the conclusion reached in the 1976 report of the Occupational Pensions Board on equal status for men and women in occupational pension schemes. The Occupational Pensions Board considered that, while progress towards equality was desirable, progress should be made only as resources permitted. In the case of this particular step towards equality which we are considering this evening, the cost will be negligible.

I therefore hope that the House will readily agree to these amendments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

Order. I inform the House that the amendment involves privilege.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

I should have been very sad, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you had not given me this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend very warmly for fulfilling a promise that he made to me in Committee in the Commons when I moved my amendments on the widower's pension. He told me then that he could not give a guarantee that the Government would be able to accept them but that he would consider them very seriously. That he has done, and he has handsomely responded to my amendments by putting them in full, though in a technically more correct form, I understand, in another place.

I echo what my right hon. Friend said. This is an important step forward on the road to sex equality—not only women's rights, but the rights of both sexes and the equalisation of those rights. I hope that this is only the beginning and that we shall move forward systematically in every pension scheme towards the concept of a survivor's benefit which recognises the rights of both sexes. I thank my right hon. Friend very warmly.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) said and make one other point. I do not want to be pernickety, but my copy of the Lords amendments paper shows that the amendment is being made in page 14 of the Bill. When I look at the Bill, it find that it appears to be made in page 6. This is an amendment of such value that I would not want it to fail in its purpose by being put in a part of the Bill where it does not make sense.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should have advised the House that with Lords amendment no. 1 we are taking Lords amendments nos. 2 to 5. I do not know whether any hon. Member wishes to speak to those amendments.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Perhaps I may ask one simple question. We are not actually introducing equality, are we? A widower gets his pension only if he attains the age of 65. I think that a widow gets her pension before that.

Mrs. Castle


Mr. John Smith

My hon. Friend is quite right. As was pointed out, this is no more than a step towards equality.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 5 agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Lords amendments nos. 3 to 5 involve privilege. I shall see that the necessary insertion is made in the Journal in relation to privilege.

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