HL Deb 28 April 1977 vol 382 cc685-8

3.7 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what evidence there is for the assumption in the D.H.S.S. publication Pension Age, that if the retirement age for men is reduced to 60, "the retirement pattern of men between 60 and 65 would be the same as that exhibited at present by men between 65 and 70.".


My Lords, any estimate of how people will behave in a situation which does not yet exist is bound to be arbitrary and, I would recognise, open to question. As a working assumption, it was decided to take the retirement pattern which men follow in the five years after their present minimum pension age, and subsequent work has examined the implications of the alternative assumption that the same proportion of men would remain at work between the ages of 60 and 64 as do single women of those ages. However, as I say, I recognise that this is an assumption and that it is open to question.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Would he not agree that it is quite extraordinary that important social policies should be based on grounds so flimsy as those he has given us—so flimsy, for example, as the assumption that men at the age of 60 will, in their retirement habits, behave in the same way as single women, for which assumption there is no scientific basis whatsoever? This assumption affects policy regarding an equal retirement age for men and women and also employment. We badly need a more scientific study to determine what reasonable expectations there would be if changes of this kind were brought about.


My Lords, I accept entirely what the noble Baroness has said, but in an attempt to find out how much it would cost to bring in an earlier retirement age one is faced with the fact that there are two extremes: that no man would take advantage of a reduced pension age to retire earlier than at present and, at the other extreme, that all men would retire at the new pension age of 60. We know that neither is likely to happen. There is no guide in any other country of the EEC as to how this cost could be calculated. With all its limitations and imperfections, this was a sincere attempt to try to get an answer. It may not have told us anything, but we are in the process of preparing a Paper on this very matter for an organisation with which the noble Baroness is associated.


My Lords, the Minister has been good enough to admit the total illogicality of the assumption which has been made. Is he able to tell my noble friend whether or not the Government will initiate a new scientific study to find out what should be the basis for social policies regarding the pattern of retirement if this change comes about?


My Lords, as I tried to point out, we are not unaware of its limitations and I can only say—and I really mean this—that we are looking at this matter because we recognise its limitations. But at the moment I cannot say along what lines that will be done, other than that we arc not ourselves altogether happy about it.


My Lords, would it not have been possible to make a number of alternative assumptions, thus giving an indication of the possibilities with regard to cost?


Yes, my Lords, if we could be sure of the nature of the assumptions that we can make. I say very sincerely that if the noble Baroness or the noble Lord have any thoughts on this matter we should be glad to hear them.


My Lords, in order to maintain the standing that a Government publication ought to have, if the Government do not know, is there anything wrong with them saying in their publications that they do not know?


My Lords, surely that is precisely what the Government have done and that is what the complaint is about. We have recognised that it is arbitrary and we have said so very clearly.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, instead of thinking about spending extra Government money on giving pensions at 60, they will perhaps consider it more desirable to increase the rate of pension for those who are over 70?


My Lords, we are aware that there is a substantial body of opinion which would like to see an earlier retirement age, whether it be at 60, 61, 62, 63 or 64. We have been trying to assess what that is going to cost, because, as noble Lords will know, it is difficult to pitch at a particular age unless one knows what the cost involved will be.