HC Deb 16 July 1980 vol 988 cc1556-77

At the end of subsection (1A) of section 8 of the Taxes Act (Personal reliefs) there shall be added the following paragraph; and (c) in relation to a claim by a widow who does not come under paragraphs (a) or (b) of this subsection and whose income includes earned income of her own, as if the sum specified in paragraph (b) were increased by the amount of such earned income or by £445 whichever is the lesser.".—[Mr. Durant].

Brought up and read the First time.

Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we shall consider amendment No. 6, in clause 22, page 13, line 33 at the end insert— '(e) In subsection (1A)(b) (age allowance-single) there shall be inserted after the word "upwards" the words "or in the case of a single woman or widow that she was of the age of sixty years or upwards" and subsection (1)(c) above shall apply accordingly

Mr. Durant

The purpose of the clause, which is also in the name of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), is to give widows an allowance in addition to the personal allowance that they receive as of right. The amount is the difference between what widows would receive in the personal allowance and what they would receive if they were over 65. It is a complicated provision, in an attempt to allow widows to have more earnings relief.

The all-party group of which I have the honour to be chairman decided this year to approach the Government in this way rather than to seek to disallow 50 per cent. of the widows' benefit, which we have done in previous years, because the Government are moving towards taxing all benefits. Therefore, we felt that we should take a different tack and move towards more allowances. We believe that that would find sympathy from the Government.

We are pleased that the Government have taken action in the Bill. The bereavement allowance in clause 23 is a welcome step. I was delighted that the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), obtained a concession to make this allowance run for the entire year. This has been a great help. The widows are particularly pleased about this benefit.

Mr. Lawson

I am the last person to decry the Liberal Party, which is not now represented in the Chamber, but it is fair to say, because he is not here, that the amendment that I accepted was tabled and moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page).

Mr. Durant

I withdraw what I said. I read the newspapers rather than the Official Report of the proceedings, and the papers have misled me. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page), for whom I have great regard.

I repeat that widows are delighted with that move forward. However, the widows' lobby strongly believes that there is a need to do more to encourage the working widow, who has to create a new life, a new beginning, having lost her husband. Going out to work is an essential part of that. She wants new contacts and a new environment.

The present tax system tends to work against that, because the widow's allowance is taxable. Therefore, it often pays the widow to take the allowance, obtain social security and stay at home rather than go out to work. There is a marginal advantage in going out to work, depending on the salary, but the earnings tend to be small, and when the cost of food, travel and so on are taken into account we see that there is a deterrent to the widow to go out to work. The matter needs to be examined.

We have tried in the best way we could to provide an allowance in line with the allowances given to old-age pensioners. I shall probably be asked how big the problem is. There are about 3 million widows in this country, but 2½ million are over 60. I am not so concerned about them in the clause, but amendment No. 6 covers them. There are about ½ million who could be working. However, I suggest to the Government that the number who would benefit from the new clause is about 30,000. The reason for that is that many of them have young children, and obviously at that stage they do not wish to go out to work.

I am, therefore, particularly concerned with the woman of, perhaps 40 whose children are grown up and who is trying to create a new life for herself. She may not have many skills to offer and the work that she can get is usually not highly paid. But it is psychologically right for her to go out and build up a new life for herself, my new clause would encourage her to do that.

6.30 pm

We debated the situation of widows last year. During that debate the Minister of State, Treasury—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees)—was kind enough to say that the Government were looking at the matter. They have obviously done so in making new amendments this year and I hope that they will also look at the situation of the working widow. That question needs to be examined because the working widow needs encouragement. I believe that the suggestion of myself and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East goes some way to achieve that end.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

I wish to speak to amendment No. 6 which stands in my name and in the names of hon. Members on both sides of the House and which has been linked with new clause 20. It might be helpful to the Chair if I indicate at this stage that we may wish formally to move this amendment and divide the House on it at the appropriate time.

My amendment addresses itself to a similar problem, though in a different way. It seeks to extend the age allowance to women who have retired at the age of 60 rather than, as at present, from the age of 65. You will be aware Mr. Deputy Speaker, as will the House, that the age allowance has been granted to those over 65 for two reasons. One is that those who are old naturally incur additional costs by reason of age and infirmity and the other is lack of mobility. Therefore, it is reasonable for us to recognise the additional costs that have to be borne as a result of age.

If that were the sole ground for the age allowance it would be logical that it should start for both sexes at a particular age—in this case at age 65. But there is another reason why the age allowance is granted. It is granted because it is recognised that at the point of retirement the income of most taxpayers declines. For that reason, their capacity to meet the taxes which other economically active individuals may be able to pay also declines.

Interestingly, it is for the latter reason that the Treasury recently justified the payment of the age allowance. I have a letter dated 13 June from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury addressed to the director of Age Concern. The letter states that "The additional relief…" that is the addition to which the age allowance goes beyond personal allowance— recognises that the onset of old age does in some measure, reduce the taxable capacity. That is correct. The onset of old age does that because at that point either most people retire or those who remain in work work to a lesser degree.

For women the point at which their taxable capacity diminishes is not at the age of 65 but at the age of 60. They become eligible for the State pension at 60 when many of them retire and many of them are obliged to retire at 60 by employers who use that point as the age beyond which they will not employ women. If the rationale of the age allowance is that it recognises the reduction in the taxable capacity it is surely logical in the case of women, to date it from the age when they cease to be in the economically active section of the community and when they are normally expected to be retired and drawing retirement pension only.

It is for that reason that this amendment is supported by a wide variety of organisations concerned with single women and with the elderly. For a start it is supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission which has pointed out that this discriminates against women because women must wait five years after retirement before they qualify for the age allowance. The amendment is supported by the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants because of the large number of single women living in poverty exacerbated by their failure to obtain the age allowance. It is also supported by Age Concern.

I emphasise that my amendment addresses itself to single women only. It addresses itself to those most likely to find themselves suffering hardship as a result of the operation of the age allowance system. I prefer my own amendment to the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) because I am not particularly enamoured of the idea of creating additional tax distinctions between those who are single because they are widowed and those who are single for other reasons.

It is small consolation to tell a woman of 62 or 63 who has never been married, or who may have become divorced from her husband, that because she is single for reasons other than widowhood she will not obtain the same tax advantages as are extended, rightly and understandably, by the House to those who are single by reason of widowhood. Therefor, I prefer my approach which treats the problem of single elderly women as just such a problem and not as one that stems from the particular method by which they became single women.

This is a real problem and it is shared by widows and by others. I must tell the House that I have been advised by Age Concern that as a result of the failure of the present rules to extend the age allowance to single women over 60 there are women who have retired at 60 who draw small pensions of about £5 a week from a private superannuation source and who, because of their low income, qualify and obtain a supplementary pension in certain circumstances and are still liable to taxation on the superannuation received from the private source.

I cannot believe that that result was intended by the Treasury or that it is a result that the House is prepared to condone. It is plainly anomalous that the same person should be able to claim a supplementary pension by reason of a definition of a poverty line laid down by the House and simultaneously be liable to taxation because of the failure of this House to extend the appropriate tax allowances in those cases.

The ideal would be to create a retirement allowance rather than an age allowance. That retirement allowance would extend to everybody from the point of retirement which is, after all, the point at which their taxable capacity diminishes. That should apply irrespective of sex. I have not approached the problem from that particular angle because, quite candidly, I realise that it would double the cost of the amendment as there is now a growing number of men who retire before the age of 65.

I have confined the amendment to single women, many of whom have no option but to retire when they reach retirement age. In any case the House has continued to insist that there should be a separate and junior age of retirement for women. It seems only right that the House should recognise the special position of women in that age group.

There would still be a cost to this amendment. In 1978 the Treasury estimated the cost of such a provision as £35 million. I do not know what the current figure would be. No doubt the Minister has been briefed on that, but I imagine that a figure of £50 million would not be far out of range if we uprate the figure of £35 million of two years ago. I do not wish to undervalue the effect of £50 million being lost to the Treasury, but that £50 million is obtained from single retired women between the ages of 60 and 65. There does not appear to be any justification for us, as a nation, to assist in that sacrifice by a group which is in no position to afford it and which by all reasonable lights should have extended to it the same protection that we afford to men from the age of their statutory retirement.

Mr. D. A. Trippier (Rossendale)

New clause 20 deserves serious consideration by the Government. The Minister of State will recall that I spoke on matters related specifically to this issue in an Adjournment debate on 4 March this year. I do not intend to repeat all my arguments. Instead, I shall confine myself to the new clause.

The reason why a widow goes out to work is irrelevant. She should not be penalised by being taxed on every penny that she earns. The suggestion has been made that a special tax allowance should be introduced to take effect approximately half way between the single person's tax allowance and the married man's allowance. I accept that that suggestion is too vague. The new clause is more definite and equitable.

The Government must recognise that in the years after her husband's demise the widow still has as many overheads as existed when her husband was alive. She still has to pay the rent or mortgage and the domestic rate; she will still have to feed and clothe herself and pay for the heating and lighting. That is where I differ from the approach of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook).

Thanks to legislation, cognisance is now taken of the special problems facing widows in the tax year of her husband's demise. It is known as the bereavement allowance. Cognisance was also taken in the first Budget of the new Government of the problems faced by war widows. We must express our sincere thanks for that. The National Association of Widows is appreciative of that legislation.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

Since the Government took action in relation to war widows is it not reasonable that they should take action in regard to widows in general? A woman who is rendered a widow by an industrial accident, for example, should not be placed in an inferior position to a war widow.

Mr. Trippier

I agree. I made that point in my speech in the Adjournment debate. I said that it does not seem to matter how a woman is made a widow. A woman who is made a widow as a result of an industrial accident has to face the same problems as other widows.

There is no recognition of the fact that the financial commitments of the family home still have to be met. The husband might have died when at the peak of his earning capacity. I commend the new clause to the House and ask the Financial Secretary to realise that widows do not want charity. They want to maintain their spirit of pride and independence and to take their rightful place in society.

Mr John Cartwright (Woolwich East)

I support new clause 20. I remind the Financial Secretary of the undertaking that he gave to the House during proceedings on the Finance Bill 1979. He rejected all the proposals put forward from both sides of the House but said that the problems of widows were being reviewed. He said: The question of widows is one of many aspects that are under review".—[Official Report, 9 July 1979; Vol. 969, c. 160]. Hon. Members waited with interest to see what the review would produce. It produced only the bereavement allowance. That is a step in the right direction. It gives some help. However, it does not go far enough.

Figures given in parliamentary answers suggest that the cost of the allowance is about £2 million and that about £1 million has been added as a result of concessions in Committee. The cost of the bereavement allowance is about £3 million a year.

Through the Social Security (No. 2) Bill the Government intend to reduce, and then to remove, the earnings-related supplement to the widows' allowance which is paid during the first six months of bereavemenet. I tabled questions to find out how much the Government were saving and discovered that the saving in 1981–82 will be £4 million and in1982–83, £16 million. The Government are making a profit out of suddenly bereaved widows. They are giving away £3 million with one hand and taking back £16 million with the other.

6.45 pm

The bereavement allowance makes no real, lasting contribution to working widows. New clause 20 deals with the problems of working widows. The working widow is the poor relation of our tax and social security system. She is regarded as a single person by the Treasury and is taxed as such, but the Department of Health and Social Security takes a different attitude. If a widow decides to act as a genuinely single person in her personal relationships her pension is liable to be removed rapidly.

Time and time again hon. Members on both sides of the House have tried to convey the bitterness which working widows feel about the way in which they are affected by taxation. The single person's personal allowance is swallowed up by the widow's pension. That means that they start paying tax on the whole of their earned income. What annoys them more than anything is that a working widow, working alongside a married woman, pays more tax than the married woman, even though the married woman has a husband who makes a contribution to the household.

On many occasions the Government have said that they wish to encourage people to work. Many widows would rather go out to work than live on supplementary benefit. They would rather contribute to the nation's wealth than live off it. Often it is better for them to go out to work than to stay at home where there are sad memories. Yet the taxation system actively discourages widows from working, and many feel that it is not worth the effort.

I support the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) to the widow who is over 60. However, his amendment does not tackle the problem of the working widow under 60. I accept what he said about single women who become single through other causes but the widow will argue that there is an element of choice about divorce or separation. There is an element of human intervention whereas widowhood arises from something over which there is no control. The widow is plunged into a situation, often without the possibility of tackling the problems, whereas separated or divorced women can perhaps cope.

Mr. Cook

I accept that my amendment relates to widows over 60 and that the new clause relates to widows under 60. My hon. Friend should take on board the fact that the House decided to change the divorce laws. It is now possible to be divorced through no wish of one's own.

Mr. Cartwright

I accept that. However, divorce is a result of human intervention and personal relationships. One cannot claim that of widowhood, over which one has no control.

A number of proposals have been made. We have sought the part or entire exemption of the widow's pension from taxation. We have suggested giving a working widow the married woman's personal allowance. We have suggested the introduction of household allowance for widows. All the proposals have been rejected by Governments.

All that we are suggesting today is that the widow under the age of 60 should be given the same tax benefit as the widow aged over 65 and that the same earnings relief shall apply to working widows as to people who work after the retirement age. That means that they could earn up to £445 a year—or £8.75 a week—before paying tax.

The proposal is modest. However creaking our economy is, I do not believe that it will be brought crashing down if the Government accept our modest proposal. I hope that we shall have a friendly reception from the Government Front Bench. Even if we do not, the problems of widowhood will not go away from the House. Many of us on both sides of the Chamber will argue the case for the widow in successive Parliaments until finally justice is achieved.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemp-town)

I rise briefly to support amendment No. 6. The very fact that the age allowance is higher than the personal allowance is an acceptance that the retired should receive extra tax concessions as a recognition that income is likely to be lower at that time of life. The fact that the age allowance affects women between 60 and 65 years in that they do not receive it must mean that there is considerable hardship for widows and divorced and single women. It can be argued strongly, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) has argued, that there is direct discrimination against that group.

It would be much better if the allowance were called a retirement allowance. On that basis a much more logical outcome would emerge. Linked with that one could argue that there should be an equalisation of the retirement age for men and women. It may be that one day the Government and the House will get round to considering that issue carefully. Many problems would be eliminated if there were joint retirement age of, say, 63 years.

We are talking about a group that needs additional help. Amendment No. 6 would be a fair and equitable way of giving such people some extra assistance.

I comment briefly on an intervention that was made concerning war widows. In my view, they form an exceptional category and group. They are not in the same category as any other group of widows. Their husbands have given their lives in the service of this country in Her Majesty's Forces.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

So what?

Mr. Stan Thorne

What about coal-miners?

Mr. Bowden

That is the attitude that we expect from certain extremists on the left on the Labour Benches. They do not give a darn about those who serve in the Forces and they never have done. I contend that war widows are a special case. They have been recognised as such by responsible Governments of both major parties. I know that right hon. and hon. Members who occupy the Opposition Front Bench will reject the attitude that we have heard expressed from the Opposition Benches below the Gangway.

Many forms of compensation are available to widows generally but not to war widows. Compensation is available through insurance and through legal action following accidents. There is a world of difference between those who died in the service of Her Majesty's Forces in defending this country and those who died in other circumstances.

Mr. Hooley

I have a good deal of sympathy with new clause 20. There is no doubt that many widows feel extremely bitter because they are taxed—sometimes they are regarded as being heavily taxed—to an extent that they consider disadvantageous when compared with the taxation of married women. Secondly, they do not consider it right that a fairly modest income should be taxed. I do not go along with the argument that the income of widows should not be taxed at all, but undoubtedly there is a problem.

A widow has to carry the overhead expenses of the home. The total of rates and heating and lighting charges is not very much different for two persons from what it is for one person. It is probable that there will not be a mortgage charge as sensible persons will have insured against that. Probably widows have to meet the same overhead housing costs as a married couple or a married person who can obtain the married person's allowance. Undoubtedly that causes a great feeling of unfairness and imposes a genuine burden on the widow who alone and with one income has to pay the rates and all the other outgoings for her home.

I am slightly uneasy because the clause refers only to earned income. It would, therefore, exclude any benefit the widow had in addition to her pension—for instance, the residue of a small works pension or superannuation money that she had taken over from her husband's superannuation arrangements. That is quite common with employment pensions. A widow can probably inherit part of her husband's pension. Usually that does not amount to a very large sum, but it can put the widow in the tax bracket.

If I understand the clause correctly, a person in that position, notwithstanding that her income over and above her basic pension was a good deal less than the income of a working widow, would gain no advantage from the clause. It will probably be said that we have to deal with one thing at a time, especially when we are trying to get money from the Treasury for deserving cases. I fear that the clause as phrased could create further anomalies.

I accept that working widows would benefit, and I hope that the clause will be accepted for them. However, the widow who in addition to her basic pension inherited a small superannuation income from her husband's payments would get no advantage. I am inclined to the view that the solution lies in what has been described as the household allowance, where the person—a married man, a widow or anyone—responsible for all the basic outgoings of a home, such as rent, mortgage payments and rates, should receive a tax allowance as recognition of that fact. A taxpayer who was not a house owner, or who did not rent a house or dwelling, would not require such an allowance.

My inclination would be to pursue the issue in that direction. I am entirely sympathetic to the new clause as it stands. It is a move in the right direction. If the issue is forced to a Division, I shall support the clause.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

I speak briefly in support of new clause 20, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant). I echo the comments of the co-sponsor of the new clause, the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright).

I recently met a group of members of the National Association of Widows from within my constituency. They expressed their support for the clause in no uncertain terms. They welcomed the increased earnings relief that the working widow would receive under the new clause. However, it was pointed out to me that the widow has a new independence thrust upon her unexpectedly. That is independence for herself and a responsibility for members of her family for which she could not reasonably have made full provision.

I accept that some provision may have been made. As the good lady said on the occasion of the meeting, the purpose of the clause is to reinforce the ability of the widow to accept the independence that has been thrust upon her and to give her the opportunity to accept the new, unexpected and unwanted challenge that widows accept with such courage.

I commend the clause. It has aroused strong and enthusiastic support in my constituency.

7 pm

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I rise to support new clause 20. It might make some improvement in an area that I, since becoming an hon. Member, have found least able to defend. That is the incredible amount of tax that widows find they are paying, often on incredibly low earnings. Many have not worked for a large part of their lives and have reached no great position of stature or earning capacity. They find themselves working beside someone who is married and who appears to be in the position that they themselves wish they occupied and yet they are paying more tax. Of all our tax laws, I have never found any cohesive arguments to convince these widows that the situation is proper and right. This sum of £445 would do something to remedy it.

I agree, personally, with the solution mentioned by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), who talked about a householder's allowance. The one group in our community that is relatively lightly treated for tax purposes is the single person living at home with the family. Those who are relatively hard hit are single persons running a home, who would be helped to a certain extent by amendment No. 6, although the argument could be made for single persons in general, as opposed to widows in particular.

I shall vote for new clause 20 if there is a Division. It is a useful provision. I congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), who have campaigned so vigorously over a long time. I recollect that while addressing a widow's meeting with both hon. Members—I am often invited as the statutory Liberal—I advised widows that they should chase those Conservative Members with small majorities as the only way to make progress. They have clearly been taking my advice. I hope to see those hon. Members in the Division Lobbies with me tonight.

Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)

I support the comments made from all quarters of the House. I welcome the bereavement allowance that the Government generously brought forward in the Budget. I should like to reiterate two points. First, widows, whether they like it or not, have costs that are normally associated with a couple or a family. They cannot avoid that. Secondly, there are good social, as well as economic grounds for encouraging widows to go out to work. That is seen particularly in parts of my constituency which rely on part-time female labour, much of it provided by widows as a way of adding to their weekly income. Many of those widows are only marginally better off from having done a part time job.

I commend the new clause to the Government. If it is pressed to a Division, I shall support it.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I add my support to the new clause. The more one listens to the argument in favour of it, the more difficult, it seems, is it for the Government to refute it. For too long, we have taken the view that widows can be placed at the bottom of the list for help. The Government now have an opportunity to take urgent action. All the arguments have been advanced. I merely wish to indicate that I shall support the new clause in the Division Lobby if the Government are so unwise as to turn down its modest proposals.

Mr. Peter Rees

I am sure that the House will be unanimous in feeling that we owe a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) for providing us with an opportunity to have an extremely interesting and compassionate debate. My hon. Friend has allowed the House to consider a whole range of problems but not problems entirely associated with widows. I recognise the considerable contribution that he has made both to the all-party group and to the National Association of Widows. I am sure that almost every hon. Member who has taken part in the debate has made his particular contribution in this sphere.

My hon. Friend introduced his new clause on the basis that it was designed to encourage widows to go out to work. Whatever the intentions, honourable and compassionate though they were, underlying the new clause, it does not achieve that result because earned income is not necessarily confined to the income earned by the particular taxpayer. To take up the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), it could cover the benefit of a works pension awarded to the deceased husband. It covers every category of income other than investment income. It could cover some kind of pension that the widow had achieved by virtue of her own contributions and work during her lifetime. One understands and respects the objective, but it will not be achieved by the new clause.

The whole House is concerned with my hon. Friend's objective, but we should also consider the problems of single persons and lone parent families. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) was disposed to point out that there was an element of choice about divorce. I would do no more than rest on the rather sharp intervention of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). I do not think for a moment that members of the Gingerbread group would accept that formulation of the distinction. There is, of course, a particular problem associated with single people with family responsibilities. It is not confined to widows. It is a problem that must be recognised.

The problem, viewed on a narrow or a wide basis, will not be resolved by the new clause introduced by my hon. Friend. The debate has at least enabled hon. Members to ventilate some of the problems that deserve consideration, although not perhaps on this occasion. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central raised a different point. This has been a far-reaching debate. I expected that we should have to consider the allowances offered to married women, which raises a problem to which this Administration hope to address their minds in due course, although not in this Finance Bill. The hon. Gentleman suggested in his amendment that the age allowance should be reduced for women, but not for men, to 60. I cannot say that I found his argument compelling.

The hon. Gentleman went so far as to say that the present situation discriminated against women. I cannot accept that formulation, since the age allowance is awarded impartially at 65. According to his argument, age allowance is conceded on a theoretical basis as an award to compensate for diminution in earning capacity. His test for diminution of the earning capacity was the award of the old-age pension—more properly, the retirement allowance. I find that a rather theoretical basis for determining the moment at which a person, whether a man or a woman, suffered a diminution in capacity to earn and to maintain himself. It was only by starting from that shaky and doubtful premise that the hon. Gentleman could possibly construct an argument—

Mr. Cook

The test of diminution of income is not an award of retirement pension but the fact of retirement, from which the retirement pension follows. It is a fact of reality as well as an economic fact of society that the act of retirement, in most cases if not almost all, results in a diminution of income. The age allowance was first invented in answer to that problem.

Mr. Rees

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but there is a gap in his logic. He is saying that the award of the retirement pension in every case marks the retirement of the person concerned. It must be a matter of common experience on both sides of the House that that is not so. I respect the way in which the hon. Gentleman put his case, because he is a man of keen intellect and he studies these matters. The predominant experience in his part of the world is, it seems, that women retire when they receive the retirement pension. I cannot say that that experience is mirrored in other parts of the United Kingdom. I think that he would be very hard put to produce compelling evidence that that was the case.

If one removes that premise, the hon. Gentleman's elegantly constructed arguments that developed from it fall to the ground. It is pushing the case hard to say that the existing situation involves discrimination against women. A much better case could be made for saying that, since the retirement pension is awarded at 65 for men, rather than 60, there is discrimination in the existing system against men. I believe that his amendment would accentuate that discrimination. I do not want to develop this debate on a sexist basis. I only hope that the House will look at these matters with a clear and unprejudiced eye and determine whether the hon. Gentleman's amendment would remove or accentuate discrimination between the sexes.

I come back to the more powerful considerations that hung on my hon. Friend's new clause. I hope that he will accept that, however well intentioned his clause—and I entirely respect his motives and the eloquent way in which he developed them—the clause would not achieve its objective. I hope that the House will also accept that if a case exists it certainly extends beyond the bounds of widowhood.

I hope that the House will recognise, from whatever position the problem is approached, that the Government have certainly honoured the undertaking, if it should be dignified with that description, given by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary last year in revealing our intentions in respect of clause 23 in this Bill.

I made a particular note of the telling phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) that a widow finds that she has a new independence thrust on her unexpectedly. My hon. Friend put the point in an attractive and compelling way. I hope that it is precisely in recognition of that sad circumstance that it will be recognized that the Government have introduced clause 23. No politician should ever be rash enough to expect gratitude or plaudits. I hope that at least the Government's sincerity in this sensitive area will be recognised on both sides of the House. On that basis I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North will not be disposed to press his clause to a Division.

7.15 pm
Mr. Durant

I am slightly disappointed with that reply in the sense that my hon. and learned Friend has given no hope that this matter will at least be further considered. He seemed rather to be shutting the door, and that causes me concern and disappointment. I fully accept his point about the technical nature of the clause and the point that it would not entirely achieve what I am seeking. Therefore, on those grounds I feel that I ought to withdraw the motion. I am sorry that the reply was not as helpful as I had hoped. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Hon. Members


Mr. Cook

The Minister replied to my amendment in the course of dealing with the new clause and I should like to respond briefly to his remarks. He based his case on the ground that discrimination rested with my amendment rather than with the present practice. I have on my side the Equal Opportunities Commission which has found the existing arrangements to be discriminatory—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to make another speech. He may make one point and then sit down.

Mr. Cook

Then I shall make one point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and finish. In the light of the Minister of State's disappointing reply it may be for your convenience to know that we may wish to press my amendment to a Division when we reach the appropriate point.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 155, Noes 273.

Division No. 405 AYES 7.1pm
Abse, Leo Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lester, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Allaun, Frank Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Alton, David Eggar, Timothy Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Anderson, Donald Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Lyon, Alexander (York)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) English, Michael McElhone, Frank
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Beith, A. J. Evans, John (Newton) McKelvey, William
Bendall, Vivian Fitch, Alan MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Flannery, Martin Maclennan, Robert
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) McNally, Thomas
Bidwell, Sydney Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McTaggart, Robert
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Ford, Ben Magee, Bryan
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Forrester, John Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)
Bradley, Tom Foster, Derek Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Maynard, Miss Joan
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) George, Bruce Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Ginsburg, David Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gourlay, Harry Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Canavan, Dennis Graham, Ted Newens, Stanley
Cant, R. B. Grant, George (Morpeth) Ogden, Eric
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hamilton, James (Bothwell) O'Halloran, Michael
Cartwright, John Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Parker, John
Cox, [...]om (Wandsworth, Tooting) Hardy, Peter Parry, Robert
Crowther, J. S. Heffer, Eric S. Pendry, Tom
Cryer, Bob Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Penhaligon, David
Cunliffe, Lawrence Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dalyell, Tam Home Robertson, John Prescott, John
Davidson, Arthur Homewood, William Radice, Giles
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Howells, Geraint Richardson, Jo
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Huckfield, Les Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Deakins, Eric Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Janner, Hon Greville Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Dempsey, James Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Dewar, Donald Johnson, James (Hull West) Robertson, George
Dixon, Donald Jones, Barry (East Flint) Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Dobson, Frank Jones, Dan (Burnley) Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Dubs, Alfred Kilfedder, James A. Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Duffy, A. E. P. Kilroy-Sllk, Robert Ryman, John
Dunnett, Jack Lambie, David Sandelson, Neville
Sever, John Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East) Wigley, Dafydd
Sheerman, Barry Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Silverman, Julius Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Winnick, David
Skinner, Dennis Tilley, John Woodall, Alec
Soley, Clive Torney, Tom Woolmer, Kenneth
Spearing, Nigel Trippier, David Wright, Sheila
Stallard, A. W. Urwin, Rt Hon Tom Young, David (Bolton East)
Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles) Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Straw, Jack Watkins, David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West) Weetch, Ken Mr. Tony Durant and
Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth) Welsh, Michael Mr. Frank Hooley.
Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Adley, Robert Farr, John Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Alexander, Richard Fell, Anthony Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Alison, Michael Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Finsberg, Geoffrey Loveridge, John
Ancram, Michael Fisher, Sir Nigel Lyell, Nicholas
Arnold, Tom Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) MacGregor, John
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles MacKay, John (Argyll)
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Fookes, Miss Janet Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Forman, Nigel McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Banks, Robert Fox, Marcus McQuarrie, Albert
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Madel, David
Bell, Sir Ronald Fry, Peter Major, John
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Marland, Paul
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Garel-Jones, Tristan Marten, Neil (Banbury)
Best, Keith Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mates, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Glyn, Dr Alan Mather, Carol
Biffen, Rt Hon John Goodhart, Philip Mawby, Ray
Biggs-Davison, John Goodlad, Alastair Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Blackburn, John Gow, Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Mayhew, Patrick
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Gray, Hamish Meyer, Sir Anthony
Boyson, Dr. Rhodes Greenway, Harry Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Braine, Sir Bernard Grieve, Percy Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Bright, Graham Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Miscampbell, Norman
Brinton, Tim Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Brittan, Leon Grist, Ian Moate, Roger
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Grylls, Michael Monro, Hector
Brooke, Hon Peter Gummer, John Selwyn Montgomery, Fergus
Brotherton, Michael Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Moore, John
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morgan, Geraint
Browne, John (Wincheser) Hampson, Dr Keith Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Bruce-Gardyne, John Hannam, John Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Bryan, Sir Paul Haselhurst, Alan Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Mudd, David
Budgen, Nick Hawkins, Paul Murphy, Christopher
Bulmer, Esmond Hawksley, Warren Neale, Gerrard
Butcher, John Hayhoe, Barney Needham, Richard
Butler, Hon Adam Heath, Rt Hon Edward Nelson, Anthony
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Heddle, John Neubert, Michael
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Henderson, Barry Newton, Tony
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Normanton, Tom
Channon, Paul Hicks, Robert Nott, Rt Hon John
Chapman, Sydney Hill, James Onslow, Cranley
Churchill, W. S. Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Holland, Philip (Carlton) Osborn, John
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Hooson, Tom Page, John (Harrow, West)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hordern, Peter Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Colvin, Michael Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Cope, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Parkinson, Cecil
Cormack, Patrick Hunt, David (Wirral) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Corrie, John Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Patten, John (Oxford)
Costain, A. P. Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Pattie, Geoffrey
Cranborne Viscount Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Pawsey, James
Critchley, Julian Jessel, Toby Pink, R. Bonner
Crouch, David Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Pollock, Alexander
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Porter, George
Dorrell, Stephen Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Dover, Denshore King, Rt Hon Tom Price, David (Eastleigh)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Knox, David Prior, Rt Hon James
Dunn, Robert ([...]artford) Lamont, Norman Proctor, K. Harvey
Dykes, Hugh Lang, Ian Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Langford-Holt, Sir John Raison, Timothy
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Latham, Michael Rathbone, Tim
Emery, Peter Lawrence, Ivan Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Eyre, Reginald Lawson, Nigel Rees-Davies, W. R.
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lee, John Renton, Tim
Fairgrieve, Russell Le Marchant, Spencer Rhodes James, Robert
Faith, Mrs Sheila Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Steen, Anthony Waller, Gary
Ridsdale, Julian Stevens, Martin Walters, Dennis
Rifkind, Malcolm Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Ward, John
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire) Warren, Kenneth
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Stokes, John Wells, John (Maidstone)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Stradling Thomas, J. Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman Tapsell, Peter Wheeler, John
Scott, Nicholas Taylor, Teddy (Southend East) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Tebbit, Norman Whitney, Raymond
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Temple-Morris, Peter Wickenden, Keith
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills) Thomas, Rt Hon. Peter (Hendon S) Wiggin, Jerry
Shersby, Michael Thornton, Malcolm Wilkinson, John
Silvester, Fred Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath) Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Sims, Roger Trotter, Neville
Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton) Vaughan, Dr Gerard Winterton, Nicholas
Speed, Keith Viggers, Peter Wolfson, Mark
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset) Wakeham, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire) Waldegrave, Hon William Younger, Rt Hon George
Sproat, Iain Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)
Squire, Robin Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Stainton, Keith Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and
Stanbrook, Ivor Wall, Patrick Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Stanley, John

Question accordingly negatived.

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