§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
I beg to move,That this House endorses the proposals to give the trustees of the Parliamentary Contributory Pensions Fund power to provide a scheme by which Members may enhance their pensions by making additional voluntary contributions, and to appoint a provider for the scheme.I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following motion:That this House endorses the proposal to consolidate the regulations governing the Parliamentary Contributory Pensions Fund in one set of regulations, and to incorporate amendments to the scheme implementing past Top Salaries Review Body recommendations and certain provisions of certain Social Security and Finance Acts.Before turning to the details of the proposals for regulations that the House will consider, perhaps I should remind hon. Members of the slightly unusual procedure that we use for dealing with amendments to the pension scheme.
Since 1987, the parliamentary pension scheme has been contained in regulations, changes to which are made under the negative procedure with the consent of the Treasury and after consulting those likely to be affected, in particular the trustees of the scheme. But so that the House has an opportunity to make its views known on the proposed changes, a debate on an amendable motion is held before the regulations are made—and this is that debate.
I should add that the documents that the House has seen are proposals for regulations and it may be necessary to make some further minor refinements before they are laid. If there is any question of significant amendment, I shall of course bring it to the attention of the House. I hope, in any event, to begin the making process before the end of November.
Before reaching this stage, there has been detailed consultation with the trustees of the scheme and I am glad to tell the House that they are happy with the proposals now being considered, as I hope the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) will confirm.
I take the opportunity on behalf of all hon. Members to pay a warm tribute to the trustees and their chairman, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe. There is no doubt that they do sterling work on behalf of present and former Members and their dependants, in which they are greatly assisted by Tony Lewis and his staff in the Fees Office, who have earned the gratitude of all of us for their efforts.
I turn now to the proposed regulations and, first, to those for setting up a scheme to enable members to increase their pensions by paying additional contributions. The House will remember that last year, when we were debating pay restraint, some concern was expressed about its possible effect on pensions. I suggested that the trustees should examine the possibility of introducing an additional voluntary contributions scheme, known to the technicians in the field as an AVC scheme.
Quite simply, the idea is to increase pension benefits within Inland Revenue limits and to make full use of the tax concessions available for this kind of saving. If an AVC scheme is provided through an occupational pension 543 scheme, as distinct from being free standing, there are many advantages in simplifying administration and keeping costs down. I said last year that, if the trustees felt that it would be helpful to explore the possibilities more fully, I would be happy to assist.
Following the debate, I had a meeting with the trustees, at which we agreed that an AVC scheme could offer Members benefits that would outlast any period of pay restraint. I shall leave them, and in particular the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, to explain the many months of work that ensued in choosing a suitable pension provider and in deciding what benefits should be made available to those who wanted to contribute. My part is limited to the regulations that are before the House today.
The regulations provide for the establishment of an AVC scheme to provide benefits within Inland Revenue limits for such Members who choose to contribute, and so improve on benefits available under our scheme. The regulations describe how membership of the scheme will operate and the limits on contributions, which are in line with current Inland Revenue limits. The type of any maximum allowable benefit that may be provided by an AVC scheme are set out in the regulations, but I should make it clear that this is permissive.
When the chairman of the trustees speaks to the motion, should he catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will no doubt explain the particular benefits that can be arranged through the contract with the pension provider. In the unlikely event of that provider's insolvency, the fund would pay the benefits earned by the contributions.
I shall not say more about the AVC scheme, as my part has been quite a small enabling role to ensure that the trustees have regulations within which they can operate the scheme. I know that the House will be extremely grateful for the work that they and the Fees Office have done in setting it up.
I turn now to the proposals covered in the second motion on the Order Paper for consolidating and amending regulations. By 1987, the rules of our pension scheme could be found in seven statutes, with subsidiary rules in six statutory instruments. To make further changes entailed amending already complicated legislation, and it was not always easy to find parliamentary time for primary legislation. The Parliamentary and Other Pensions Act 1987 deemed the rules of the scheme to be in regulations and gave me, the Leader of the House, the power to amend the scheme by making further regulations.
At the time, we expected to be able to consolidate the scheme's existing provisions fairly quickly, but a further Top Salaries Review Body reference led to more proposals for changes. The work of consolidating previous provisions and incorporating changes agreed since that date has been considerable, and again I must pay tribute to the efforts of the trustees and the Fees Office in what has proved to be a very large task.
The new proposed regulations will now give us a single document incorporating all the current provisions of the scheme. In consolidating, we have taken the opportunity to eliminate from the regulations any obsolete provisions and those that apply only to former Members and survivors have been put in schedules. Old provisions that may still determine the rights of pensioners will be adequately saved.
The regulations have also incorporated some changes in Inland Revenue rules and other overriding legislation—for example, a right required by the Social Security Act 1986 544 for Members to be able to opt out of membership. Perhaps the House would find it most convenient if I were to go briefly through the scheme as it stands and point out significant changes.
I turn first to part C, which deals with membership and which has some new features. Social security legislation requires occupational pension schemes to give members a right not to belong to the scheme—to opt out. It is for schemes to decide the details of how the option should be made and how frequently it can be exercised. Members can opt out at any time, but because of the special features of parliamentary life, it has seemed sensible to give Members the opportunity, within three months of the date of a general election or by-election, to make the decision.
We have provided that a Member who has opted out can apply to rejoin as from the date of any general election or by-election at which he is elected to the House. I hope that the House will find the arrangements satisfactory. There is no change for the arrangements for the supplementary scheme for Ministers and other office holders, which were always voluntary.
There is another change in part C that I should mention. Following a TSRB recommendation in 1988, the Ministerial and Other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991 made provision for Prime Ministers and Speakers, who until then had been excluded from membership, to join the fund with effect from 28 February 1991—the date of the passing of the Act. Part C provides for that.
Part D deals with contributions and the only change to which I should draw Members' attention is a new limit on contributions required by Inland Revenue rules, which applies to schemes generally. Members joining the House from 1 June 1989 may not contribute in any year on a salary higher than the maximum permitted by the Inland Revenue. However, if Members feel that this is in some way threatening, I should say in view of yesterday's debate that they may find it ironic that the permitted maximum at the moment is £75,000 a year. I do not imagine that this provision will cause huge difficulty for Members.
Part E, which deals with pensionable service, and part F, pension entitlement, are essentially unchanged, except again that a maximum pension provision now applies for Members joining the House after 1 June 1989. The maximum pension for such Members cannot exceed two thirds of the permitted maximum.
Part G provides for those retiring to take part of their pension in a tax-free lump sum. There is no change to this, except that, for those joining the scheme at 1 June 1989, the maximum pension limit will serve to limit the lump sum.
Part H deals with early retirement and early abated pensions, and part J deals with ill-health pensions. There is no change to those provisionssmall,. In part K, which deals with pensions for widows, widowers and children, we have taken the opportunity to eliminate a small discriminatory provision, which, I am happy to be able to assure the House, has never been invoked. The children of deceased female Members are now to be treated in exactly the same way as the children of male Members, instead of equal treatment depending on the trustees' discretion.
Apart from being desirable in itself, it can be included in consolidating regulations because it is understood to be required by European law with effect from 17 May 1990, or the date of the celebrated Barber judgment with which I wrestled for a long time as the Secretary of State 545 for Social Security. Indeed, my successor is, in a sense, still wrestling with the consequences of that judgment, as are the courts in various parts of Europe.
In part L there is no change to the provision of a gratuity payable on death in service, except one following the imposition of the permitted maximum.
Part M is entirely new. The House will remember that in 1991 the Top Salaries Review Body recommended—and we accepted—that, if a former Member died during the first five years of retirement, a Member's pension should continue to be paid to the surviving spouse for the remainder of the five years. This part of the regulations implements that recommendation.
When the other regulations were laid in 1991, arising from the TSRB report, my predecessor, the then Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House, who is now the Secretary of State for Transport, and who has had other things on his mind recently, explained that the recommendation had proved difficult to implement, but gave a commitment to introduce regulations at a later date. The regulations will apply with effect from 1 April 1992, which is when the other recommendations in the TSRB report of 1991 took effect.
The reason for the guarantee is, essentially, to ensure that beneficiaries receive value for contributions paid. The regulations provide that if the total of any pension payable to the dependants of a Member who has died within the first five years of retirement is less than the pension payable had he lived, the difference shall be paid to the spouse. The amount of the Member's pension includes any annual increase under the Pensions Increase Act to compensate for inflation.
The remainder of part M deals with other possible events during the five years of retirement, and it is necessarily complex. If the spouse also dies, any balance due under the guarantee should be paid to the spouse's estate. If there is no surviving spouse, any eligible children will receive the benefit of the guarantee. If there are no survivors at all, the amount due under the guarantee is payable to the estate. I understand that the proposals are acceptable to the trustees, and I hope that they will also be acceptable to the House.
I pass briefly over part N, which covers refunds, part P which covers transfers, and part Q, which covers added years. They are technical sections in which there is only one change of substance, with which I shall now deal.
As I said, the membership of the Prime Minister and the Speaker is one of the outstanding TSRB recommendations falling to be implemented. The TSRB reviewed the Prime Minister's and Speaker's pension arrangements in 1988. It thought it unfair that Prime Ministers and Speakers could not remain in the parliamentary fund on taking office. As the House will know, Prime Ministers and Speakers are entitled by virtue of their office to a special pension from the Consolidated Fund. The TSRB thought that they were still at a disadvantage when compared with Ministers, as they were not able to contribute to a pension scheme on their parliamentary salary.
The amendments that I am proposing would put that right with effect from 28 February 1991, the date of the passing of the enabling Act. The proposals would allow for a Prime Minister or Speaker who wanted to stay in the scheme to keep any deferred pension in the supplementary 546 scheme earned on service between 28 February 1991 and the date of appointment. They would also mean that any contributions that he or she had made to the fund before that date must be used to buy added years if he or she wishes to stay in the fund, of must be returned immediately. A further issue has been raised by the provisions, which we are currently examining. If anything of substance emerges I shall, of course, return to the House with the details.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
Before my right hon. Friend concludes, may I mention a matter that I know is not wholly within his powers? This morning I attended a meeting of Maxwell pensioners. Can my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that the accounts of the Members' pension fund for the year to 31 March 1992 have been audited only in the summer of 1993, some 15 or 16 months after the event? I believe that that is worse than Robert Maxwell's record on his own pension fund accounts.
That suggested—on examination, I found it to be true —that the administration of our scheme is not kept up to date with common practice in the private sector, although there may be attempts from time to time to keep up to date the benefit and other arrangements. Could we perhaps ensure that greater priority is given to the organisation and administration of our scheme so that it is brought up to best private sector practice? Perhaps we might even set the standards of organisation and administration that we should like the rest of the country to follow.
§ Mr. Newton
I am aware that my hon. Friend has tabled five parliamentary questions on such matters. I have not yet been able to reply to him. I can tell him, however, that I hope shortly to be in a position to do so. My understanding is that the delay to which he referred is, at least in part, due to the special work needed to calculate pensions arising from the result of the 1992 election. I shall provide him with full answers as soon as possible. I also observe—I hope not rashly—that I would find it hard to see a parallel between the late Robert Maxwell, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Mr. Tony Lewis, our accountant.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I am most grateful to the Leader of the House for the warmth and kindliness of what he said about the work of the managing trustees of the parliamentary contributory pension fund. The House will expect me, as chairman of the trustees, to give their views on both sets of regulations. First of all, however, I want to respond to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman about the possibility of some redrafting or, in his word, "refinements". I see no difficulty in what he proposes; nor, I am sure, will any of my fellow trustees, two of whom are with us in this debate.
In my intervention in the pay debate yesterday, I drew attention on behalf of the trustees to the erosion of pension benefits payable to Members and, more particularly, to their dependants, when there is a freeze on parliamentary pay. I recalled then that the untimely death of our much respected former colleague, Judith Chaplin, set the problems of dependants in very sharp relief. That sad event underlined the fact that, if a Member dies during a pay freeze, the effects on the incomes of his or her dependants can be lifelong, since pensions and other benefits are based 547 on the parliamentary salary in the deceased Member's last year of service and take no account of any subsequent increase in salary to compensate for the freeze.
As the Leader of the House indicated in his speech on parliamentary pay on 25 November 1992, the problems that arise from death in service during a period of pay restraint can be met, to an extent, by introducing an additional voluntary contributions scheme. This is why, since that debate, the managing trustees, in conjunction with the Leader of the House, who has been unfailingly helpful, the secretariat of the parliamentary contributory pension fund and the Treasury, have been working on the details of regulations to facilitate the setting up by the trustees of such a scheme. The regulations now before the House are the result of our labours.
The regulations will empower the trustees to appoint a provider or providers for a wide-ranging additional voluntary contribution scheme. Although the final details have yet to be confirmed, it is expected that Members will be able to purchase additional death benefit equal to twice the Member's salary, thus doubling the current benefit, and additional widow's and widower's pensions to take their overall benefit to two thirds of the Member's pension, which is the Inland Revenue maximum. There will also be a money purchase scheme in which Members may, within overall Inland Revenue limits on pension contributions and total benefits, purchase additional pension for themselves.
The managing trustees are content with the provisions of the scheme which the regulations offer. It will enable Members to provide extra benefits for their widows and widowers in keeping with the efforts made by the trustees over many years to provide more assistance to dependants. We were successful in obtaining an increase in widows' and widowers' pensions from one half to five eighths of the Member's pension, and will go on seeking new ways of helping them in the future.
I turn now to the consolidating regulations. These regulations amalgamate all the governing legislation of the pension fund into one document and are mainly designed to reflect the scheme as it now exists. The regulations also take account of overriding social security legislation, as the Leader of the House made clear, and of recommendations in the last report of the Senior Salaries Review Body—formerly the Top Salaries Review Body—which still await implementation. The alterations to the fund were commented on briefly in my recent briefing note to all hon. Members, which I hope will have been of help in explaining the practical effect of all that is now proposed.
In today's debate, I want to elaborate on the changes recommended by the Senior Salaries Review Body. One of its most welcome recommendations, which is now to be implemented, was the introduction of a five-year guarantee for widows' and widowers' pensions. This will mean that, if an ex-Member dies within five years of the commencement of his or her pension, the widow or widower will be guaranteed a pension equal to that payable to the Member until the end of the five-year period. That will be of considerable assistance to widows and widowers as they adjust to their altered financial situation at what can be a most stressful time.
The SSRB also recommended that Prime Ministers and Speakers should be allowed to retain membership of the parliamentary contributory pension fund after assuming those offices. That will be on the basis, as we have heard from the Leader of the House, of the relationship between the reduced Member's salary and the full Member's salary 548 and, on current rates, means that they will accrue around three quarters of a year's pensionable service for every full year of actual service. I can report that the trustees agree that membership of the PCPF should now be available to Prime Ministers and Speakers.
The trustees of the pension fund have had considerable success in improving the scheme. As well as the increases in widows' and widowers' pensions, there have in recent years been improvements to the death-in-service lump sum benefit, in the provisions for ill-health retirement and in reducing the Member's contribution from 9 per cent. to 6 per cent. We will, of course, keep abreast of current developments in pension provision and will not hesitate to press for further changes to the scheme that can be of benefit to Members.
I listened to what the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) said about his parliamentary questions. There are very particular problems in a scheme like ours. As the Leader of the House said, the timing of the general election in April 1992 was a complicating factor. I do not want to anticipate the answers to the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary questions, but I am absolutely certain that he will be well satisfied with those answers when they are given.
The trustees support and endorse both these sets of regulations, which they believe will give Members wider choice in their pension provisions and, most importantly, enable them to provide additional benefits for their widows or widowers and other dependants. I commend the regulations to the House. As before, the trustees wish to place on record the invaluable help that they and those they seek to assist have received from Tony Lewis, the Accountant of the House of Commons, and among others Alan Marskell, Michael Fletcher and Neil Crawley of the Fees Office. I am sure that their work, to which the Leader of the House referred so warmly, is deeply appreciated by the House as a whole.
§ Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)
I add my thanks to those of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) to our Accountant and his assistants in the Fees Office for looking after our pension fund and—this may not be so generally known in this place—the beneficiaries of the Members fund.
When the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and I first came to the House, there were no pensions for those who had just retired. The Members fund was instituted to help those who had no means from the House to provide for a pension. That fund still exists. The right hon. Gentleman and I know from our respective knowledge on both sides of the House of the considerable assistance that the Members fund has offered to those ex-Members of the House for whom there was formally no provision.
I want to follow the comments of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, not so much with regard to the provisions of the additional voluntary contributions, which are welcome on both sides of the House, as in reflecting the background to the provisions and what I hope might be in store for us later.
The House recognises that we should not award extra benefits to ourselves unless they have been earned through our own parliamentary fund and have been recommended as extra benefits by the Top Salaries Review Body, which I believe has now changed its name to the Senior Salaries 549 Review Body. The problem is that Government Departments are always changing the names and it is sometimes difficult to keep up. I think that the SSRB will seek evidence in the coming year from hon. Members about what might be done in respect of our salaries and our pensions and other benefits. We must all welcome that.
I believe that the SSRB's recommendations will be based on the valuation of our scheme as at 1 April this year, in respect of which the Government Actuary will, for the first time, pronounce on the level of contribution from Members and from the Government. Formerly, the Actuary had the power only to make recommendations about the Government contribution. Members were stuck with their own contribution, which, so far as I am aware, was the highest contribition of any pension fund in the country. Although that contribution has been reduced substantially from 9 to 6 per cent., it is still very much on the high side.
Generally speaking, in company pension funds the provision is normally two thirds by the employer and one third by the employee. When the Government Actuary examines our fund again and sees the scale of the surplus that I anticipate will be available, I hope that he will recommend a higher contribution by the Treasury—I am sure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will have some difficulty in negotiating that—and a reduced contribution by Members. Six per cent. is still very high.
Not all hon. Members may be aware of the fact that, when the TSRB last made recommendations, it included a provision for those Members who had made capital payments towards buying extra years. As it happened, the provisions of our pension fund were improved so that it was no longer necessary to have purchased those years. Quite rightly, the TSRB recommended that those who had made those extra contributions should get their money back. The House will not be surprised to learn that that was regarded as disgraceful retrospective legislation, and we were not allowed to have back the £3 million of what I regard as our money.
I stress that this is not the Government's pension fund; it is ours. We have every right; as long as the Senior Salaries Review Body recommends that we should have an extra benefit, that is how it should be. If, on the ground of retrospection, the Government believe that that would not be suitable because it would create all sorts of precedents in other fields, which I also quite understand, that £3 million should be available to us, or our wives and widows, in some other manner. Therefore, I ask the Leader of the House to bear that in mind, because it is certain that we shall come back to the SSRB with just such a recommendation in due course.
That is not the only recommendation that we shall make. We should have had, by right, a provision for widows of two thirds rather than five eighths. The House will note that we are only now able to have two thirds by means of additonal voluntary contribution. The more normal provision in the private sector is for a widow's pension of two thirds, and that is what we should have, if the fund can stand it and if the SSRB so recommends.
It is important to make the point that our scheme is rather peculiar, in that it is a late entry scheme. That has disadvantages for Members, because they must make their contributions in a greater way than they would if 550 contributions extended over a longer period. It is important to recognise that Members need to make provision for their old age and for their widows in a comparatively short period. The SSRB should take further account of that. Many hon. Members may be able to think of other recommendations that the body should consider, and I hope that they will. When the SSRB comes to taking written or oral evidence, I hope that it will think seriously about how Members who retire, and their dependants, can best be provided for, perhaps by looking carefully at the provisions in other schemes in the private sector.
I very much hope that, when the Government Actuary considers our scale of contributions, he will come to the conclusion that the Government should be paying more and that Members should be paying less. That is what the right of the matter is. I will give evidence to the SSRB to that effect, and I hope that other hon. Members will, too.
It is a shame that there are a number of hon. Members who do not appreciate that ours is a funded scheme, not a pay-as-you-go scheme, and we have had material benefits from having such a scheme. Although they must be recommended by the review body, the surpluses that arise should go to Members and their dependants. There is scope for more generous treatment for those who have already retired from the House, and for their dependants. They should not be as dependent on the Members fund as they are at the moment.
The Members fund, quite properly, is dependent on careful means testing before any benefit can be paid. If possible, I should like to see provision incorporated in the next SSRB for extra benefits to be paid to Members who have retired, and to their dependants, as a right. That matter has not been covered before. I mention it in the context of a fund which, in my opinion, has been well managed and should show a substantial surplus from 1 April this year when the Actuary comes to consider it next year, and when the SSRB considers the Actuary's report on what provisions are necessary.
I hope that, when the time comes, all hon. Members will make their views known to the SSRB, not just for our sakes but for those who have already served as Members of the House, and for their dependants, too.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern). In the few moments that he spoke, he touched on matters about which all hon. Members feel strongly, irrespective of which side of the Chamber we sit.
Some of my comments will centre on the point that the right hon. Gentleman rightly made about ex-Members and their families. In addition, I congratulate the Leader of the House on his clear outline of the proposals. That is of great benefit to us. I welcome the debate. All of us know that hon. Members on both sides of the House—my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) is one, but there are many others—have had years of service in the House and have always been in the forefront of looking after the interests of their colleagues. On issues such as this, we are colleagues. This is not a party political issue on which we attack each other; it is a matter of crucial importance to all.
Like other hon. Members, I pay warm tribute to Mr. Lewis and his staff. I have often been to see him to talk about an issue, to which I shall come in a few moments. I 551 do not think that any Officer of the House is more understanding or more willing to meet us and explain issues that, at times, can be complex. I thank him and his colleagues most sincerely, as I am sure does every hon. Member when, as they often do, they come into contact with him.
Every hon. Member, irrespective of what his job may be, looks to the day when he will receive his pension, and we are obviously concerned about what that pension will be. For a long period, in the House and doubtless elsewhere, when salaries were low, the fact that one day people would receive a pension was crucial to them and their families.
I take part in the debate not only because, as a Member, I am interested in the kind of pension that one day I hope to receive, but because I am an officer of the parliamentary Labour party benevolent fund. The issues that we are discussing are of particular interest to me as an officer of that fund.
The right hon. Member for Horsham, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, the Leader of the House, I and perhaps others have been Members of the House for a long time. All of us know of colleagues who loyally served the House as Members for many years. They were superb parliamentarians and great friends of ours, regardless of party. Sadly, they had a pretty rough deal when they ceased to be Members and, in many cases, they have passed on. The widows and families of those ex-Members still have a rough time.
I know ex-Members who were not here for long. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe touched on that point. They were not here for long, but they left young families; that is why I very much welcome the inclusion of the five-year proposal, which will give widows and widowers a guaranteed amount of money for which they qualify.
Former colleagues who, sad to say, were not here a long time—my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe mentioned one of them—would have served for many years had they wished to. The lack of provision for those people presented, and in some cases still presents, hardship to their wives and families. Therefore, I welcome the change.
The debate provides an opportunity to remember ex-colleagues and their families. I know six former Members who were not here long and do not have family dependants, who have found it virtually impossible to find employment, basically because of their age. That happens in many walks of life. In his superb speech, the right hon. Member for Horsham said that we need to consider that problem.
Through the parliamentary Labour party benevolent fund, we pay a small grant twice a year, the main beneficiaries of which are the widows of former Members. Some of those ladies are now 80 or 90 years old. Their husbands were Members for many years at a time when salaries were deplorably low and, as other hon. Members have said, there were no pensions.
As I have said in many debates, I have the greatest respect for the Leader of the House, because he is one of the few Ministers who listens to what is said in the House and takes note of it. I mean that sincerely, and he knows it. I realise that it will not be easy, but I beg him to give attention to our ex-colleagues who are still alive and feel that they have had a rough deal—some of them are angry about that. The right hon. Member for Horsham gave an 552 idea of how the matter might be considered. I also ask the Leader of the House to consider, in particular, the widows of former Members, who are now elderly ladies.
I pay tribute again to the support that I often received from Mr. Lewis when I went to see him about the pitiful cases of wives of former Members whom we knew. We may have met those wives in the House—we all bring our wives here from time to time. We now hear and see the pathetic financial state in which those ladies find themselves, and I believe that we have to consider their situation.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to draw our attention to the compelling claims of the widows of former Members who live in circumstances of hardship. I am grateful to him for having drawn my attention to a number of cases with which he has been dealing as an officer of the benevolent fund of the parliamentary Labour party.
There are two points to make. First, an enormous amount of help has been given via the House of Commons Members' fund to people living in circumstances of hardship. Secondly, we want to do very much more, as the right hon. Member for Horsham (Sir. P. Hordern) said. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) has made an extremely powerful contribution to the work of the parliamentary Labour party benevolent fund and the House of Commons Members fund. I can assure him that we would like, in contact with him, to do even more for former Members and their dependants, who at present, without many people knowing about it, live in hardship.
§ Mr. Cox
I thank my right hon. Friend for that comment. The widows of former Members are on very low incomes, but they have pride. They do not want to let people know about their sad circumstances. I am sure that we all understand that. We may tell them it is silly and that they should not feel that way, but they do. We have a duty to respect their attitude. We must consider the issue afresh. We are not talking about vast sums of money. The outgoings of an elderly person are less than those of young people with young children.
I paid tribute to the Leader of the House, and I beg him to look again at the sad and, in some respects, pathetic cases. We know the people involved and want to help them. Will the Leader of the House look seriously at the comments made, not only by me, but by the right hon. Member for Horsham, who made a superb speech, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Whythenshawe.
§ Mr. Newton
I need respond to the debate only briefly as I sense that the speeches of both my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) and the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) were primarily designed to mark the cards of various people—myself, the Treasury and the Senior Salaries Review Body—rather than elicit an immediate response. I hope that I was right to read their remarks in that way.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Tooting for his kind words about me. I shall try to continue to earn his commendations, as receiving such marks is a relatively rare experience for someone who has been on the Front Bench for as long as I have. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman said about the widows of ex-Members.
553 I was mildly puzzled by the reference of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham to spouses' pensions, as the proposal to increase the proportion from five eighths was specifically rejected by the Top Salaries Review Body in June 1991. It said that our provisions compared favourably with occupational pension schemes generally, 80 per cent. of which continued to provide a spouse's pension of only half the Member's pension. No doubt the SSRB, the successor body to the TSRB, will consider the suggestions of my right hon. Friend and others when it considers the subject following the Government Actuary's valuation of the scheme.
I have had brought to my attention a quotation of which I was previously unaware. Whatever criticisms may be made of, or further improvements sought in, our scheme, as a result of improvements over the years, the scheme is now quite good, and much better than it was. I was mildly amused to read a piece that was thrust into my hand during the debate from an unknown quarter—in fact, a known quarter, but one to which I am not allowed to refer. The piece appeared in "Pensions Today" in July 1991 under the heading "New ideas from Meacher"—it takes us back a little.
§ Mr. Newton
The Opposition Front-Bench team do not want to comment on new ideas from Meacher, which is perhaps understandable.
The extract contained a footnote which stated:Messrs Meacher and Newton"—it takes me back a bit——and all MPs for that matter—will see their 9 per cent. Parliamentary Pension Scheme contribution tumble to 6 per cent. next April. High accrual rates to reflect what can be foreshortened pensionable careers, plus public sector indexing, make this a splendid bargain.At least we have some things going for us, even if the House would like to see more being done.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House endorses the proposals to give the trustees of the Parliamentary Contributory Pensions Fund power to provide a scheme by which Members may enhance their pensions by making additional voluntary contributions, and to appoint a provider for the scheme.