HC Deb 27 June 1978 vol 952 cc1296-317

'For subsection (1) of section 14 of the Act of 1972 there shall be substituted the following subsection:— Subject to the provisions of this section, the widower of a woman who has died on or after the passing of the Act of 1978 shall be entitled to receive a pension under this section when he reaches retirement age or, if, at the time of her death, he was incapable by reason of bodily or mental infirmity of earning his own living and if at that time either—

  1. (a) she was entitled to receive a pension under section 7 or section 9 of this Act, or under both those sections, or
  2. (b) she was not so entitled, but had an aggregate period of reckonable service (whether as a Member or otherwise) of not less than four years and either had been a Member of the House of Commons on or after 1st January 1972 or had elected to be a participant under section 2 of this Act in respect of one or more periods of tenure of reckonable office."'.

7.0 p.m.

Mrs. Castle

The Committee will see that a considerable number of my hon. Friends are associated with this amendment.

We are all conscious of anomalies and injustices which appear to occur in any pension scheme such as the one to which reference has just been made. But the purpose of this group of amendments is to mitigate one of the most astonishing injustices of all, which we have tolerated for years in our pension scheme, by making a modest improvement in our provision for widowers.

As I have been round the House discussing this group of amendments with my hon. Friends, I have been surprised to discover how few hon. Members know what is the provision for widowers. That is a very natural state of affairs when we come to think of it, for most hon. Members, being men, have rested happy in the knowledge that provision was made for their own widows.

Pensions for widows are now an automatic part of practically every pension scheme. In our scheme, widows will get, as of right, half their husbands' pension entitlement, regardless of their age when the husbands die, regardless of whether the widows have means of their own, regardless of whether they have children, and regardless of whether they have been earning a livelihood of their own or were financially dependent on the former Members of Parliament.

This seems automatic justice to Members of this House, and it is these comprehensive provisions, as of right, for which we women Members of Parliament have been paying to give widows financial security. I do not regret it. I think it is absolutely right. But what are the men Members of this House paying for our widowers? It is an amount so minute that it would be impossible to measure it.

What provision do we make for widowers under our pension scheme? The criteria are laid down in Section 14(1) of the Parliamentary and other Pensions Act 1972. If I were to hold an examination among hon. Members as to the provisions for widowers, I doubt whether 20 per cent. would get the answer right. Most of the 20 per cent. would be people whom I have approached and to whom I have pointed it out. The criteria for a widower to receive a pension are if, at the time of her death, he was incapable by reason of age or bodily or mental infirmity of earning his own living and was wholly or mainly dependent on her". The widower has to be incapacitated by age or infirmity at the time of her death. Later on it makes no difference how incapable of earning his own living he may be. In addition, he has to prove that his wife was supporting him. I should have thought that in this modern age of the Welfare State that second condition— wholly or mainly dependent on her"— would be almost unprovable when he had a pension of his own, as he almost certainly would have.

I doubt whether we have had a single case of a widower's pension being awarded under the criteria that we have laid down, yet women Members of Parliament will have their contributions increased under the scheme to provide, among other things, improved short-term benefits for widows, under Clause 7. Once again, widowers can get these improved benefits only if they meet these demeaning and almost impossible criteria. A woman Member will continue to be levied extra contributions to pay for benefits which are a solace merely to one sex in this House.

We are introducing these new proposals and perpetuating these out-of-date criteria for widowers at a time when we have made great steps forward in sex equality. Since the 1972 Act was passed, the thinking of this country on equality of the sexes has been revolutionised. The Equal Pay Act 1970 has come into full force. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 has gone on the statute book. The Equal Opportunities Commission has been set up. As Secretary of State for Social Services, I carried through this House a new State pension scheme which for the first time gave women equal opportunities, equal obligations and equal rights, yet here we are adding to our own pension scheme and levying on Members a higher contribution to pay for it, and continuing to embody in that scheme a piece of in-quality against the male survivors of women Members of this House which is ludicrously out of date. It just will not do.

New Clause No. 8, therefore, seeks to amend the criteria for a widower's pension in the 1972 Act. Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are consequential, in that they apply the new criteria to the short-term pensions proposed in Clause 7. I shall explain to the House the new criteria that we propose. Logically, of course, we ought to go for complete sex equality. We ought to go for a survivor's benefit. That is the only fair and logical treatment when the contributions and salaries and conditions of service of men and women in this House are identical. If salaries are identical, if contributions are identical, and if conditions of service are identical, benefits ought to be identical. For anything else to obtain is nothing short of actuarial robbery.

I am a realist and I know that we have to phase in sex equality, just as we have had to do it, to a certain extent, in the State pension scheme. What I am pleading, and what my hon. Friends who have signed the new clause and the amendments are pleading, is that today, in this Bill, at least we should make a start in rectifying what can be held without dispute to be the most gross injustice in our whole pension scheme. The start that we are proposing—because we want the Government to listen, because we want the House to take this seriously, and because we want to practise the art of the possible—is a very modest one indeed.

First, we suggest that the widower of a Member of this House should receive the same pension as does the widow—that is, half her spouse's pension entitlement—when he reaches retirement age and not before. For example, if an hon. Member such as my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) were prematurely to die, which we all profoundly hope she will not, her husband would not immediately draw the equivalent of the widow's pension, as he would if the sex arrangement were the other way around. He would have to wait until he was 65.

Secondly, in order to provide for those cases where a husband may be incapacitated or incapable of earning his own living, we urge that he should receive the widower's pension on the death of his wife, whatever his age, and that he should not have to prove that he was wholly or mainly dependent on her.

We propose that these conditions will apply to the existing widower's pension and to the proposed new short-term one. Why did we fix on the retirement criterion? Because our modest proposals fall far short of logical equality. We chose the retirement criterion because we know that the time when the widower has retired is the time when he will most need financial help, but also because we know the argument that will be made against us. It is that our scheme must not get too far out of line with other schemes, and that we cannot just legislate for ourselves entirely new concepts which might seem interesting or convenient.

The retirement principle is the basis of the modest advance which the Government made on widower's pensions in the new State pension scheme. Under that scheme, a widower who has retired from employment will be entitled to have his pension recalculated on the same basis as his widow's retirement pension would have been if he had died first. Under the State scheme we make a provision that a widow aged 60, if she has worked and contributed, can add 25 per cent. of her own earnings above the base level to the pension which she draws on her husband's record, subject to the provision that her total pension may not exceed the maximum payable on one record under the scheme. But under that new State pension scheme we say that the widower will in future be able to do exactly the same and increase his own pension through his wife's record. That is a new breakthrough. Under the State scheme, it applies only to the widower who has retired.

In trying to find a fair analogy for us to make a starting point, it struck me that we could legitimately take this first step towards a survivor benefit of equal rights under our own scheme.

Of course, the two schemes are by no means identical. There is no ceiling of reckonable earnings under our scheme as there is under the State scheme. But what matters is the principle, and the principle which we spelt out in the White Paper "Better Pensions" which I myself presented to the House, was: An important new proposal is the recognition of the financial needs of widowers". Therefore, under the State scheme, the widower can benefit from his late wife's earnings when he has retired. We are not putting forward on our own behalf an entirely new principle; we are using one embodied in the State scheme, which we seek to adapt to our own type of scheme and our own circumstances.

Nor, I would point out, under the State scheme does the widower, in order to benefit from his late wife's earnings, have to meet the humiliating criterion of dependency; he gets it as of right. If we do nothing else in this Bill, we ought to remove the out-of-date concept that in order to get anything a widower would have to prove that he had been wholly or mainly dependent on his wife. That is a condition which in a modern welfare State would be unprovable to all intents and purposes.

7.15 p.m.

Therefore, in the changes which we propose, we are not trying to get ourselves out of line with principles that are applied generally. Indeed, we shall still be leaving ourselves well out of line to our own detriment with the best private pension schemes. There is nothing to prevent occupational pension schemes from introducing a full and equal widower's benefit, and the best ones do. It is merely a question whether the members of those private schemes are willing to pay for this type of benefit, as I hope the House would be, just as I am prepared to pay an increased contribution for hon. Members' widow's benefits.

If they resist these amendments, which I hope they will not, no doubt the Government will put before us a case which has nothing to do with the merits of our arguments. In fact, they have already given away their case. In reply to a Question on widower's benefits that I put to him recently, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Privy Council Office said that the changes would create a precedent for comparable public service pension schemes. He did not say that the idea was ridiculous, outrageous, unjust or extravagant; he said that it would create a precedent. I challenge that. Are those public service pension schemes completely comparable with ours? We know that they are not. We know that there are variants between their provisions and ours. Some of them, at any rate in certain parts, are non-contributory, whereas ours is contributory. Others make better provision than ours in certain details.

Indeed, in the report of the Review Body on Top Salaries, Lord Boyle went out of his way to say: we do not regard the provisions of other public service pension schemes as an absolute standard for the Parliamentary scheme. Nevertheless, the improvements which we have recommended will bring the benefits of the Parliamentary scheme close to those provided in public service schemes generally. Close, but not exactly equal, and in many cases not as good. At another point in the report, in paragraph 55, Lord Boyle insisted on this scheme. He said: We should add that our references to the provisions of other public service pension schemes do not imply that these schemes should provide a rigid measure of the pension benefits that would apply to Members of Parliament: this would clearly not be appropriate in relation to particular features of the job. Nor do we imply that the provisions of pension schemes in the private sector in general are irrelevant. If private sector schemes are not irrelevant, we can surely follow some of them in beginning to make better provision for widowers, just as we are doing in the State pension scheme. This would be a fitting step in a year when we are celebrating an earlier historic step towards sex equality.

We are not asking for anything extravagant, unfair to other people, or excessively generous to ourselves. On many issues this House has been the policy maker. It is time that the logic of the widower's benefit was faced universally. We cannot do it all at once. All sorts of things must be considered, but we can begin to stand up for the principle.

When hon. Members vote tonight to increase the contributions of women Members, I hope they will spare a moment to think, if not with sympathy at least with shame, of the inequality of the benefits that they impose upon us. Having done so, I hope that they will support the amendment that we press tonight.

Mr. Paul Dean

I rise to support the amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). It is not often that she and I agree on pension matters. I do not think that I can recall an occasion when we have agreed before, but the time has now arrived.

I shall be extremely brief because the right hon. Lady's arguments were wholly convincing. There is no need for me to repeat them. However, I wish to put to the Government two particular points that she made.

First, I do not believe that if this amendment were accepted we should be providing privileges for ourselves which are not generally acceptable outside. I have argued before, and no doubt I shall argue again, that we are in a special position in the House of Commons. We decide our own pay and our own pensions and therefore we must be very careful that we do not provide ourselves with the sort of things that are not accepted as normal outside.

The concept of a survivor's pension, which is written into the main State legislation, is becoming common practice in occupational pension schemes as well. Only this morning a pension scheme of which I am a trustee was considering whether the widower should be included on the same basis as the widow. I am sure that when we make a decision shortly we shall do just that. Therefore, if the Government accept this amendment, they will not be open to the criticism that we are providing privileges that are not generally provided outside.

Secondly, the Minister emphasised on Second Reading—quite rightly—that it is very unsatisfactory to formulate our detailed pension arrangements through main legislation. That is probably one reason why we are in such a mess. The Minister said that he looked forward to the time when our pension arrangements were in rules. This is more flexible and it would mean that they could be altered as easily as trustees can alter a pension scheme outside.

If we are to achieve this highly desirable objective we must have legislation which is as tidy as we can get it and which is not lagging behind in any respect before we translate the legislation into scheme rules. On these grounds I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. If they feel disposed not to do so, and the right hon. Lady divides the Committee, I shall vote with her.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I know from long experience that it is very often best to get one's words in before the Government spokesman has made the fatal commitment one way or the other.

We all agree that in any ordinary justice the widower should be treated exactly like the widow. However, the whole structure of our society in the past has been inimical to that idea. It was always assumed that the man earned the income and looked after the woman, and therefore on his death she was the one in need. In the great majority of cases that was true then, but it is far less true now.

Male members of the House must admit that there is a certain amount of male chauvinism in us all, but we do our best to control it. That male chauvinism leads us to think that there is something slightly disreputable in a widower claiming benefit. There is a feeling that it is all right for the widow to be looked after, because she is just the poor little woman, but for a man it is considered that it is not quite equal to his manhood.

About 30 years ago, when I was Under-Secretary of State for War, I had to try to persuade the House to agree to certain financial provisions for both men and women in the Army, which contained a reference to widowers. Some of the remarks made at that time suggested that it was beneath the dignity of a man even to be thought of as a widower at all. But that was a generation ago. We have got rid of that sort of thinking now and we accept the idea that we should move towards complete equality in treatment of widows and widowers.

As my right hon. Friend wisely pointed out, it would be no good trying to go the whole way at once. But the step that she has proposed tonight is very modest. Her provision has this advantage—it accepts the proposition that the widower, unlike the widow, must, for the time being, have a pension conditional on certain things, and not absolute. When one makes a pension conditional one should draw the conditions as precisely as possible and not saddle the trustees with a great many awkward decisions on difficult matters of opinion.

My right hon. Friend's proposal removes from the trustees the tiresome and difficult business of asking whether a widower was wholly dependent on his wife in her lifetime. Also, on the question of age it replaces the necessity for the trustees to give an opinion whether the man was, by reason of age, incapable of earning a living with the definite fact of the actual age that he had reached. These are the incidental advantages of my right hon. Friend's proposal.

We all know what is worrying the Government. They are afraid that use could be made of this in arguments with public servants. Normally, one hesitates to advance the famous argument of the girl who had an illegitimate baby, and who said "But it is only a little one." But in this case the number of persons concerned and the sums of money involved is so small that it is relevant to the argument, especially as the concept of the widower's pension, and the approach to equality is already being accepted widely.

We are not doing any great violence by introducing a totally new principle. Therefore the fact that we are doing it on so small a scale is relevant. The number of women Members of this House is small —I agree that it would be an advantage if it were larger—and we do not expect it to be very much larger for a considerable time. The number of women Members of this House who die leaving widowers will be even smaller. Therefore, the amount of money affected will be microscopic.

1.30 p.m.

It would be a grudging kind of person who said "No, you cannot have this until the provision of equality for widow and widower is accepted universally throughout the public service." The argument to the effect "We cannot do this because it might set a precedent" would be all very well if legislation about our pensions and legislation affecting the pensions of the public service generally proceeded simul- taneously or hand in hand, but they do not. It will be a considerable time before there is another Bill on this subject before the House.

What will happen? Arrangements will be made in the public service giving more generous treatment for widowers than that proposed in the amendment, or that which is already in the Bill. Therefore, we shall have to wait to catch up with them until it happens to be convenient to have another Bill on this subject. That is another reason why we cannot argue that everything that we do in respect of Members' pensions, even so tiny a matter as this, could always be infallibly and decisively quoted in an argument about public service pensions.

I ask the Committee to consider what is involved. What is envisaged is that at some future date there will be an argument with public servants. They will put forward a proposal and the question will be whether they are to base their argument on the incredibly modest amendment put forward by my right hon. Friend. Indeed, I am not at all sure that the next time this matter comes to be argued on the public service generally they might regard my right hon. Friend's amendment as a great deal less than they would be prepared to consider as justice.

We are not opening a door to a great cascade of claims. We are recognising that since we cannot go the whole way required by natural justice, it would be a mistake to throw away the opportunity of this Bill to take one modest step nearer to natural justice. That is what I am asking the Minister to consider.

Mr. McCrindle

I shall detain the Committee for only a few minutes. I wish to lend my weight to the arguments which have been advanced from both sides of the Committee in favour of the amendment.

The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), with whom I have been in combat on pension matters since I came to this House and with whom I have not always seen eye to eye, is at least consistent. Whatever one might say against her—and there are those of us who have said quite a lot against her—I must emphasise that the right hon. Lady is consistent to the extent that when she was. Secretary of State for Social Services, she took a major stride towards sex equality in one direction, and today she has come to the House with an extremely modest stride towards sex equality in the opposite direction. I find myself instinctively urged to support her amendment.

Members of the Committee may know that in the past I have had a fairly close association with occupational pensions schemes. On many occasions I have contrasted the provision of good occupational schemes with, on the one hand, the State scheme and, on the other hand, public service schemes—and yet again with the scheme adopted for Members of this House. Nearly always the comparison has been extremely favourable towards the practice of good occupational pensions schemes.

The developing practice in occupational pensions is to accept that, in a period of increasing equality, the number of married women who might well become senior executives in a company is growing. There is a tendency for provision for widowers to be made in occupational pensions schemes.

Once again, I am forced to contrast what is done in occupational pensions schemes with what is done in schemes provided for hon. Members. I hope that the Minister will not adopt the line adopted by his predecessors—that he has to be careful not to set a precedent. It has also been said by his predecessors that we should not seek to lead in our own interests. If I thought that there was the slightest chance of leading in any respect in the pension provision for hon. Members, I would be pleased, but there is no chance of that happening. Yet here is a tiny opportunity to begin in that direction.

It is not as though the right hon. Lady is advancing an unreasonable proposition. There are those who think that, if anything, the proposition is too modest. But this is perhaps a first opportunity for us to show the way in the practice of a pension scheme for Members of this House. This may blaze a trail for the occupational pensions schemes to which I have referred and for the public service pensions, which I feel sure will be brought into account by the Minister if he feels that he must resist this amendment.

This is all a question of comparing what is proposed by the right hon. Lady with what already exists in occupational pensions schemes, within the State scheme and within other public service schemes. If the comparison is with occupational pensions schemes, there is no reason whatever for the Government to resist this amendment. If the comparison is with the State scheme, I believe that the whole ethos of that scheme in respect of sex equality gives the Minister no opportunity to resist it on that account. Therefore, he will have to fall back on the comparison with other public service schemes.

Earlier in the debate I underlined my feeling that the scheme for Members of Parliament is unique, but on that occasion the Minister was unable to accept that argument. Let us assume for the moment that it is not unique in quite the sense that he may have interpreted the word. It is certainly unique in not being an over-generous scheme. I believe that the Minister and the Government tonight have an opportunity, at very small cost, to accept this modest amendment without in any way undermining the continuing advantages of many public service schemes as opposed to the scheme that exists for hon. Members. Whether the comparison is with occupational schemes, with the State scheme or with other pub-lice service schemes, I believe that the Minister's ability to resist must be small. I hope that within his brief he has the flexibility to allow that opposition to disappear completely because if he does not do so I shall feel inclined to join the right hon. Lady in the Division Lobby, if she chooses to divide the Committee on this amendment.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

I should like to support the amendment, largely on the grounds of financial fairness.

To the best of my knowledge, the emoluments of Members of this House have always been identical for male and female Members. That being so, I believe that the consequential matters relating to pensions and other entitlements should be strictly on a fair financial basis as well. It is intolerable that a woman Member should be expected to contribute for 10, 25 or 30 years the figure of 5 or 6 per cent to the pension fund and yet her husband should not enjoy under the conditions set out in the Bill a pension comparable with or identical to that which would be enjoyed by the widow of a male Member. On the ground of financial fairness alone, the amendment should be supported and should be accepted by the Government. If there is a Division, I shall certainly support my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle).

I deny that there can be any question of precedent. Hon. Members are in a unique position. We are not in an occupation which is comparable with professions outside. The manner, terms and mode of our work are special and different from those of other occupations. I would resist any argument by the Government that if this modest proposition is accepted it will be quoted all over the place as a precedent for other groups. Other groups are perfectly able to argue their own cases in their own way. The proposition contained in the amendment should be accepted on its merits. I strongly support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn and others.

Mr. John Smith

I have listened with much interest and sympathy to the arguments put forward with a great deal of eloquence and logic by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and other hon. Members. I take into account the fact that all hon. Members who have spoken have supported the amendment. Important issues of principle are raised by the amendment and I am sure that it is right for them to be debated in the House, particularly since the implications of our decision will inevitably be widely discussed.

The Government have much sympathy with the general objectives of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn. As she aptly reminded us, we are the Government who introduced the Sex Discrimination Act, and more strides have been taken under this Government to break down the traditional barriers of sex discrimination than in any other period, even including the period in which universal suffrage was implemented. There is still a long way to go, but I hope that hon. Members will accept that the Government's commitment to the abolition of sex discrimination is genuine. My right hon. Friend has played a notable part in achieving the objectives that have already been reached.

The provisions in the parliamentary scheme, which confer benefits on all widows but only on dependent widowers, are the traditional provisions which carried over in the 1972 Act from the 1965 Act. However undesirable they may be, those provisions are still common form in occupational pension schemes in the public and private sectors. My right hon. Friend said that there were widowers' benefits in the best private pension schemes, and that view was supported by the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) who has great experience in these matters. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) went still further.

However, in many of the public and private sector pension schemes, widowers have an entitlement to pensions only on a dependency basis. It would require an analysis of all public sector schemes to find out how many other cases exist, but many of the public and the private sector schemes have benefits for widowers only on a dependency basis.

Abolishing the dependency test entirely, which is not what my right hon. Friend is urging, would create negligible additional costs for the parliamentary scheme. However, that is not the only question that has to be considered. We have to ask whether the parliamentary scheme should take the lead in such a matter—hon. Members have said "Yes"—and if so, should the same provision be made available to the rest of the community". If so, does this alter the hitherto accepted role of occupational pensions schemes? Does it add to them an element of life insurance, as well as a provision for those who are left without support when their spouse dies? These are important matters.

It is interesting to note that the Occupational Pensions Board considered the whole question of equal treatment for men and women in its 1976 report. It concluded that while it would be desirable to move to a position where treatment was entirely equal, progress should be made only as resources permitted. Though an obviously sensible approach, this left a major problem still to be considered. Should schemes where the financial implications of granting equal treatment are small—such as the parliamentary scheme—improve matters for their widowers before or at the same time as improvements were made by larger schemes? This is a particularly difficult problem in the public service where the objective has been to try to keep schemes broadly in line. I recognise that it is not always achieved, and certainly the relationship between the parliamentary scheme and other public sector schemes sometimes gets a little adrift to the disadvantage of those in the parliamentary scheme.

The Government's conclusion hitherto has been that it would not be right for small schemes to introduce such changes on an ad hoc basis since to do so would be inequitable to those in larger organisations where the cost implications would be substantial.

7.45 p.m.

It is estimated that to abolish the test of dependency completely for future pensions in the public sector only would give rise to an extra cost of £15 million per annum for future service and of double that for all service. To abolish the test throughout the public and private sectors—and it must be remembered that improvements for public service employees quickly lead to pressure for the same treatment in the private sector—would cost £25 million for future service and the cost would be doubled to about £50 million for all service. I recognise that this is not what the amendment proposes, but it is useful for the House to have these figures.

Mrs. Castle

There is not much point in giving the House those figures without giving the figures that are appropriate to our proposal. What would be the repercussive effect of that proposal?

Mr. Smith

I am coming to that, but we have to consider that if adopting this change led to a full dependants' benefit, the costs to which I have referred would be incurred.

Since my right hon. Friend put down her amendment last night, I have tried to establish what would be the cost of limiting the proposal to the age of 65, but I have not yet been able to do so. That is why I shall be making a suggestion later in my speech. My right hon. Friend made a specific request that I should try to get the figures. In the short time available—time that was shortened still further by the fact that the Bill came on fairly smartly today—it has not been possible to obtain the information which she requested and which I agree is a relevant consideration.

Hon. Members have made short speeches and I do not want to go into a long argument about whether this change would lead us towards a change in the underlying philosophy of pension schemes. It may be that there would be implied an underlying philosophical change pushing schemes towards life insurance rather than just providing for people left without support. Some people would argue that there was an element of that involved in the proposition, but I shall leave it to one side.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn wishes to level the provision upwards at increased cost to public expenditure generally and to individual contributors. She accepts that if the scheme were introduced in the public sector employees would have to pay more. That does not apply in our scheme. The cost here would be negligible because the number of widowers who would qualify is very small, but in other public sector schemes the same consideration does not apply. There are large numbers of women employed in the public sector and a much bigger cost might be involved.

The other queston is whether, even if the broad principle is conceded—and I fully understand the logic of my right hon. Friend's position—this is the best way to achieve what she wants. If we dealt with this matter on the basis of accepting the logic that there should be no sex discrimination, the logical thing to do would be to make all widows' benefits available to all widowers, as my right hon. Friend said. However, she recognised that we must go one step at a time, having regard to public expenditure.

There is another way in which we could go. We could change the provisions for widowers to make them acquire rights in the scheme provided that they satisfy the dependant test. That would achieve sex equality, but I do not propose that. I doubt whether the Committee or any public body would want to move in that direction. It would not be to the advantage of most widowers.

Between the two opposite ends of the logical spectrum we could make a lower level of benefits available to both widows and widowers if we wanted to achieve equality. However, in all other schemes apart from the parliamentary scheme—if we live in the real world we must realise that there is bound to be a drift between the parliamentary scheme and others—there would be a consequence for the rates of contribution. It may be that men would have to pay a little more. I believe that that happens in some private schemes. That would be necessary to provide acceptable benefits for widowers.

I hope that I have said enough to indicate that we are dealing with far-reaching and fundamental matters. I must ask the Committee's forbearance in allowing me to develop the arguments at some length. I cannot accept my right hon. Friend's amendments as they stand. There are some technical deficiencies. I make nothing of that, as we could sort out the drafting in another place, if nowhere else. However, the issues that they raise are issues that I wish to consider further in consultation with colleagues in other Departments who have an interest.

I have attempted to have some consideration made of these matters since my right hon. Friend tabled her amendments last night. That was the first time that the proposition that they contained was put forward, limiting benefits to men who have reached the age of 65 years. I regret that in the short time available it has not been possible for the Government to consider that issue carefully, or even to assemble the information that would tell us how many people would be involved and the cost of such a scheme as opposed to the cost of conceding across the board. If my right hon. Friend had tabled an amendment to the effect that widowers were to be put in exactly the same position as widows, I should have been forced to resist such an amendment. There has to be phasing for repercussive and public expenditure reasons.

I can assure my right hon. Friend that as it has not been possible for us to consider all these issues in the time scale available, which necessarily has constricted her and us, and we are moving at some pace with the Bill, we shall reconsider the matter carefully and sympathetically with an open mind to ascertain whether any changes can be made which would not be unacceptably costly or repercussive.

I indicate to my right hon. Friend that we are prepared to consider whether restricting the benefits to widowers over 65 years is the best way of giving justice to widowers. It may be that it is not. I throw this out of the top of my head without having considered it with care—we might give consideration to a reduced rate for widowers of all ages, a rate not restricted to those who are 65 years. There are a number of possibilities which we would like to consider as a Government and which we have not been able to consider in the time scale to which we have had to work.

I cannot promise that the Government will, in the light of their further examination, table amendments that will satisfy my right hon. Friend. However, I can assure her that we shall re-examine the matter thoroughly. What is more, we shall come forward with our decisions before the Bill is considered in Committee in another place, so that the Government will be able to reveal their decisions before another place makes its decisions in Committee. Therefore, the opportunity to table amendments will not be denied to those who support my right hon. Friend. No doubt she will find support in another place as she has found it in this place.

As I am not guaranteeing to meet my right hon. Friend, I find it difficult to ask her to withdraw the amendment. I cannot ask her to do so in the light of a Government assurance. However, I have been putting my cards frankly on the table. We shall give consideration to these matters to ascertain whether something can be done. My right hon. Friend must make up her own mind whether she wants to press the amendment to a Division.

Mrs. Castle

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the promise of consideration. I believe that he is a man of his word. I do not believe that he would say that the Government will give the matter their consideration merely to get the Government off the hook. It is a solemn pledge and he and the Government will be bound in honour to take his promise seriously. May I have my right hon. Friend's assurance that there will be another parliamentary opportunity to effect the decision?

Mr. Smith

I have thought about that myself. Of course, there is another parliamentary opportunity in another place. I have tried to secure the rights of those who will support the amendment in another place. As for there being another opportunity in this place, that rather depends on the amendments that another place returns to this place. We hope to finish the whole of the Bill tonight. The only way in which we shall have an opportunity further to consider the matter will be if a suitable amendment comes back from another place, which could occasion further consideration. I cannot predict that that will happen. I am doing my best to preserve the right to criticise whatever the Government propose.

I am not asking my right hon. Friend to surrender completely and to throw herself into the Government's lap without having the opportunity of recalling us. Whatever decision we reach will be made known before the matter is debated in another place. I give that absolute and categorical undertaking to my right hon. Friend. That is probably the best that I can do to preserve the rights that she might have.

As my right hon. Friend said, a matter of honour is involved. We shall do our best to reconsider the issues fairly. As she will understand, it is a matter for collective Government consideration. I and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House are not in total control of the situation. However, we shall look again at all the issues. I hope that what I have said will assist my right hon. Friend to make up her mind and assist other hon. Members in reaching a conclusion if she chooses to put the matter to the test in a Division.

Mrs. Castle

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the spirit in which he has replied. There are no two governmental laps into which I should be more willing to throw myself than those of my right hon. Friend the Lord President and his Minister of State. I have faith in their honour, in their good intentions and in their influence on their colleagues in Government. Therefore, in the confident belief that we shall have something before us at a later stage when the Bill is returned to us from another place that will give us another chance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Mr. John Smith

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in Clause 7, page 10, line 8, leave out from 'above' to end of line 10.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this we may take the following: New Clause 7—Children's pensions—and Amendment No. 11, in Schedule 2, page 20, line 6 column 3, at end insert— 'In section 15, in subsection (2), the words "the next following subsection and to", subsection (3) and, in subsection (4), the words from "and if" to the end of the subsection.'.

Mr. Smith

On Second Reading the Trustees of the Parliamentary Pensions Fund, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and the hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher), argued persuasively for further improvements in the pensions for dependent children of deceased Members and office holders. The Trustees first submitted these proposals as part of their evidence to the Top Salaries Review Body. That body did not accept the proposals on children's pensions saying that with the improvements in widow's pensions that they recommended the parliamentary scheme would provide a satisfactory level of pension for widows and dependent children. In view of the Trustee's comments, the support that they received in the House in the debate and the fact that the provisions for children that they have proposed are fairly modest, the Government have decided that they should be included in the Bill.

The amendments, in effect, implement the Trustees' proposals. They provide that the pensions of children of deceased Members should be based on quarters rather than eighths of an hon. Member's pension entitlement, up to a maximum of two rather than four. They also provide that they should be paid automatically up to the age of 17 years. The increase to the age of 17 years will bring the parliamentary scheme into line with other public service schemes and will not affect children who continue in full-time education beyond 17 years. Although it will affect only very few children, the basing of children's pensions on quarters will represent a significant improvement for the children and their guardians.

The further improvements go beyond the recommendations of the Review Body. The number of such pensions paid under the parliamentary scheme is very small and the cost will be negligible. I hope that the House will give them its full support.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

8 p.m.

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