I shall comment to the extent that I recognise that there would be a potential inequity in that instance. This is a problem that can be solved completely, with the avoidance of any anomaly within the social security system, only if we move away from the basis of treating married couples as a single unit. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's views are on that, or what view the Labour Administration would have taken had the same suggestion been put to them. Whatever view we take in principle, the practicalities and financial consequences of moving to a position in which all married couples are paid benefit—for example, the retirement pension, the supplementary pension or any other benefits that might be touched upon—as if they are two single people are very great. In my view that is not a practical option at present.
I am not pretending that there are not possible anomalies and inequities of a kind other than those that I have put before the House. However, for what I take to be good and sufficient reasons, one of the concerns of the benefit system is to be fair as between married couples living together and couples living together who are not married. I find it difficult to see a solution to the problem that the right hon. Gentleman has brought before the House along the lines that he has suggested.
I shall reflect further on what the right hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon. However, on the judgment that I have been able to make in thinking about the case, including my thinking while he was speaking, I am not in any sense optimistic that we can find an answer to the difficulty that has arisen in this case by means of the change in the regulations which he has suggested.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that I have genuinely examined the case as sympathetically as possible, given the constraints on my scope for action as a Minister. I have tried genuinely to advance the broad case for the regulations as they stand. I hope that he will recognise that there is a real problem to which there is no easy answer.