Orders of the Day — Parliamentary and Other Pensions Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:58 pm on 27th April 1987.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud 8:58 pm, 27th April 1987

I wish to add only a few words to those of the right hon. Members for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). As they have just said, the present scheme is said to be too complex. The Bill will enable us swiftly to alter arrangements and to take them through the House easily without the long debates and delays which have characterised our past legislation. That may well be, and to that extent one welcomes these new arrangements, but it implies that new arrangements are desirable and that changes will be made. In several respects, which have already been alluded to, these changes are certainly necessary.

I should like to deal principally with two items. The first is the gratuity or resettlement grant — I am not sure which to call it — at the end of one's service in Parliament. I should declare an interest in this matter because I am over 65 and shall not receive one. The gratuity or resettlement grant has never been payable to one who will receive a pension. Originally, if an hon. Member retired or disappeared from the House, he did not receive a pension until he was 65, so there was a gap when he received no parliamentary pensionable income. Therefore, it was fair that there should be some payment to tide him over until he was 65 and could receive a pension. However, as a consequence of one or two hard cases which will be present in the minds of right hon. and hon. Members, first, we gave a gratuity to people younger than 65. Then one could receive one's pension at the age of 62, and now one can receive it at the age of 60. One can even receive a reduced pension and a gratuity at the age of 50. If one is over 65, however, one cannot receive a gratuity.

The reason for the arrangement to tide over those who have not reached the age of 65 has now disappeared, so it is reasonable to discuss whether those over 65 should also receive a gratuity or resettlement grant or whether the others should not because they receive a pension. There is no logic or fairness in the present position and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House or anyone in his position will wish to consider that soon.

My second point relates to our contributions, which are now 9 per cent. of salary. I understand that, historically, the reason why we pay 9 per cent. of salary is because we made no or too low contributions before 1964, so we have to make up time. As has been said, the Exchequer reviewed the position and decided that its contribution and ours were unnecessarily high to maintain the fund, so it reduced its contribution from 3·3 times hon. Members' contributions to 2·3 times—a prudent financial move. But why are we left paying 9 per cent.? Should not our contribution decrease proportionately? I do not understand the logic of the present position. Will my fight hon. Friend the Leader of the House say why we still pay 9 per cent., yet the Treasury has reduced its contribution so remarkably?

If we pass the Bill, as we undoubtedly shall, it will be possible for my right hon. Friend to make changes in our various arrangements quickly. Is that not important in view of the political situation? Admittedly, the Bill must pass through all its stages and that will take time, but if we are to have a general election, as we read in the newspapers, perhaps nothing can stop my right hon. Friend, as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent, introducing regulations to make all sorts of beneficent changes which will gladden the hearts of more than 100 right hon. and hon. Members who will retire before the general election.

If we continue in our Sessions and our Parliament and we go beyond 1 January next year, for many people the position will be transformed. We will then go to a salary of over £21,000, linked to the chief veterinary officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—which, of course, will enable us to be very important people. But unless we reach 1 January 1988 we will not receive that. At the end of perhaps next week, when we get rid of the Bill, it will be possible for the Treasury to introduce various regulations to improve matters.

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe spoke about widows. Is it possible to imagine that the widow of a Member who served over 20 years in this House will get a pension of £2,000 a year less than one can get from the Department of Health and Social Security if one applied over the counter? It is an absolute disgrace that this should be tolerated and even to speak of it ought to give one a sense of shock.

Such changes, which will not cost very much money—the usual plea of a Back Bencher to the Front Bench—nevertheless ought to be made in the short time that may be available to us before Parliament is dissolved.