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Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : My right hon. Friend said that all the people that he spoke to in Hong Kong about his package of 20 December were disappointed that the number of people to be allowed to come here was not greater. He will note that I have a motion on the Order Paper for debate on Friday. It completely supports the Government's proposed package but expresses a similar concern about the number. Has my right hon. Friend's package of 20 December had time to begin to restore confidence, or does he think that he may need to increase the number?
Mr. Hurd : I made it clear in Hong Kong that I did not see any possibility of increasing the number. Members of the business community, civil servants and many others who raised the matter with me on Monday would have liked the number to be greater, but they accepted that it was as much as we would be able to implement. They made clear that my proposal of 20 December would be of substantial value in keeping key people in Hong Kong.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : I am sorry that it has not been possible to call all the hon. Members who wished to participate. I shall carefully note the names of those hon. Members who have been rising and will give them some precedence when we debate this matter again.
Sir John Wheeler, supported by Sir Marcus Fox, Sir Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. Ivan Lawrence, Mr. Michael Shersby, Dame Janet Fookes, Mr. John Greenway, Sir Eldon Griffiths and Mr. Tony Worthington, presented a Bill to require the creation of an inspectorate to regulate the employment of uniformed guards and personnel in the security industries ; and for purposes connected therewith : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 26 January and to be printed. [Bill 55.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a statutory code of practice for adoption agencies ; to amend the Adoption Act 1976 ; and for connected purposes.
In seeking the leave of the House to amend the Adoption Act 1976, I recognise that I am in a privileged position. I am the father of three small children and in 10 weeks' time I shall be the father of a fourth. We are lucky to be able to have children more or less to order while many couples are desperate to have children of their own and are not so blessed.
Just before Christmas, I visited Basildon hospital to play the role of Father Christmas. I was taken to the special baby care unit and shown eight babies. One of them had been born at 24 weeks and I am delighted to tell the House that that baby is doing well. In another cot was a big bruiser of a baby weighing 9 lb 15 oz. He had no name on his identification tag. The nurse told me that he had been born only that day and that a couple had been found who would give him their love. That certainly put the Christmas festivities into context for me.
The latest figures for England and Wales show that in the past year 69,249 children were in care and 7,390 children were adopted. Behind those stark figures lies in every case an individual human being who perhaps experienced the loss of both parents or a broken home, or who is simply unwanted. We tend to hear about the sensational cases of children being taken into care or of couples seeking to adopt. Those cases grab the headlines and tend to concentrate one's mind. I am concerned about the vast majority of cases--those that may be described as the ordinary cases.
I am anxious that the present system should overlook no one. It is difficult for people with their own children to imagine the heartbreak that childless couples can experience during the adopton process. It can be a traumatic time for couples who have been trying to have their own baby for a number of years, and who are ruled out of consideration as adoptive parents because of their age. Most organisations involved in adoptions agree that the greatest demand is for babies and that there are not enough babies for those who wish to adopt them. Although there are enough children to meet the demand for them, sadly they do not always meet the requirements of prospective adoptive parents.
One would have to be very hard not to be moved by the details in the files of children waiting to be adopted. The smiling photographs are usually accompanied by personal details, and the overall message is of asking a family to give their love. There must be room for improvement in a system in which a boy of eight has been moved 38 times ; in which some children spend all their time in care and are never matched to prospective adoptive parents ; and in which other children are simply overlooked.
The overriding consideration in approving adoptive parents is the extent to which the adoption agency is satisfied that the applicants have the capacity for love, understanding, patience and flexibility that are required to meet not only the universal needs of a growing child but the specific needs of the child in question. Such considerations can include a child's physical or mental
Column 306handicap, or degree of emotional disturbance, or behavioural disorders. A child may need assistance in understanding his or her origins in an unhappy or unsavoury relationship, and may also need help in learning about his or her racial or cultural origins--which may be very different from those of the adoptive parents. Adoption agencies, rightly, wish to satisfy themselves as to the health, vigour, imagination and other capacities of the adoptive parents during the subject's childhood. But I much regret any discrimination on the ground of age, especially when it is directed at grandparents. I pay a warm tribute to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who has been active in representing the interests of grandparents. Age is certainly being used as an instrument of control by some adoption agencies. My parents may have been considered by some as relatively aged, but I do not believe that I suffered from it.
Adoption law is complicated. The Children Act 1975 was consolidated into the Adoption Act 1976. A requirement of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 1983, which came into force in 1984, was that an adoption panel be set up. The new structure comprised seven family placement panels, each serving two adjacent social service areas. The linking was based on geographical proximity and attempted to amalgamate areas with a high population of children in care with those with a smaller number.
The panels have several functions which include fulfilling the criteria laid down in the regulations regarding the adoption of children, approving or rejecting applications from all families and individuals offering permanent substitute family care, ensuring that the child's feelings and wishes are taken into consideration and that she or he is appropriately prepared for placement, and examining all short-term placements that are expected to exceed two months' duration.
The Bill will require adoption panels to produce regular reports to the adoption agency which will include a review of their policies, range and volume of work and, perhaps more importantly, will require that the children's cases are reviewed, ensuring that in future no child is overlooked. As the system operates now, there is no uniformity among adoption agencies. They should publish widely their policies and practices, and the range and volume of work that they have undertaken annually. Sadly, there are children, particularly in inner-city areas, who have no individual attached to their case. The code of practice that I suggest would require those with responsibility for such matters to report back regularly on progress in finding homes for the children ; then appropriate action would be agreed.
The temptation for some individuals, remembering the graphic pictures of children in Romania, is to go abroad, bring the children into the country and then seek adoption orders. I am advised by adoption agencies that that practice is causing particular difficulties.
The specific purpose of the measure is to improve the efficiency of matching prospective adoptive parents to suitable children. As I believe that I am the last Member to have spent the night seeking the privilege of introducing a ten-minute Bill, I can think of no finer cause for legislation. I very much hope that the House will support the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Mr. Tony Banks, Mrs. Rosie Barnes, Mr. Harry Cohen, Sir
Column 307Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Ken Hargreaves, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. Simon Hughes, Sir Charles Irving, Mr. Ray Powell and Miss Ann Widdecombe.
Mr. David Amess accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for a statutory code of practice for adoption agencies ; to amend the Adoption Act 1976 ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 March and to be printed. [Bill 56.]
[Relevant documents : The Review Body on Top Salaries' Report No. 26, Review of Aspects of the Parliamentary Pension Scheme and other Matters (Cm. 362), and the Report of the Government Actuary on the Valuation of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund as at 1st April 1987 (HC 317, Session 1988-89).]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : As colleagues will know, I had hoped that it would be possible to hold this debate well before now. Indeed, on several occasions last year, we tried to arrange it, but other business meant that it had to be put back. I apologise for that. Now that we have a chance of considering these important issues, I look forward to hearing the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
As the House knows, parliamentary pensions are a matter of extreme technicality. I do not pretend to understand their more subtle aspects, so perhaps my speech will be longer than it should be. I apologise for that.
There are three distinct topics to consider. The first is the Top Salaries Review Body report on the parliamentary contributory pension scheme. The second is the TSRB recommendations on the pensions of certain office holders--the Prime Minister, you, Mr. Speaker, and the Lord Chancellor--and on ministerial severance pay. The third is the Government Actuary's report on the state of the parliamentary pension fund with its recommendation for a reduction in Exchequer contribution.
Before dealing with the recommendations in the TSRB report, I should like to put the matter in context by reminding the House that the parliamentary pension scheme is generally regarded, by United Kingdom standards, as a good scheme, providing a reasonably generous return for hon. Members. I do not claim that it is the best that could be found, but in most respects it is on the right side of the average. As the House is in the position to set its own terms--with a significant contribution from the taxpayer--that is the right position to adopt.
Under our scheme, benefit accrues faster than under most other public and private schemes. It is right for us to consider the scheme from time to time, as we are doing today, and I attach considerable importance to hearing the views of hon. Members. In July 1987 my predecessor invited the TSRB to undertake a review of the parliamentary pension scheme, the pensions of certain office holders and ministerial severance pay.
The recommendations that resulted fell into two categories--first, those solely affecting the parliamentary scheme on which the trustees were consulted and which are capable of being implemented by secondary legislation ; and, secondly, those relating to Ministers and office holders which we accepted in May 1988 but which require
Column 309primary legislation before they can come into effect. I shall also mention the consequences of the recent Government Actuary's valuation report.
When I do that I shall be honouring a commitment given in 1987 to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) that all reports by the Government Actuary on the parliamentary pension scheme will be debated. The right hon. Gentleman is the chairman of the trustees of our pension scheme. We are all grateful for the work that he and the other trustees do on our behalf. In some respects, the recommendations of the Government Actuary take automatic effect under section 5 of the Parliamentary and other Pensions Act 1972. In 1987, hon. Members from both sides of the House raised a number of points on the scheme, which were put specifically to the TSRB. They included early retirement arrangements, resettlement grants, service as an MEP and hon. Members' contributions. The TSRB largely restricted its review to those issues. In paragraph 56 of the report, it took the view that the parliamentary pension scheme was basically a good one. However, it recommended two important improvements intended to ensure that it continued to meet the special circumstances of parliamentary life and remain consistent with good practice elsewhere.
First, the report recommended that the death-in-service gratuity should be increased to two years' salary. After consulting the trustees, I am maintaining the proposal of my predecessor that that change should come into effect from 1 May 1988. That date ensures that all deaths during the present Parliament are covered. Although that issue was not originally put to the TSRB, its recommendation brings the scheme into line with practice elsewhere. It also offers practical help where it is most needed. I know that hon. Members from both sides of the House are concerned about the position of widows. I warmly commend that change.
The second change recommended by the TSRB concerns early retirement arrangements. As the House may know, at present a pension may be paid earlier than the age of 65--the normal retirement age--providing the retiring Member is at least 50 years old. The pension paid is less than the accrued pension payable from 65, to reflect the longer period over which it is expected to be paid. If a Member retires at a general election, subject to fulfilling certain conditions, those arrangements may be modified.
Concern has been expressed about what are felt to be anomalies in these arrangements. Differences of treatment can occur in the level of pension arising from small differences in age and length of service, and that is why we asked the TSRB to examine them. The TSRB recommended revised early retirement arrangements for those retiring at a dissolution under which a full accrued pension would be payable. When the pension is brought into payment before the Member reaches pensionable age, it will be subject to an abatement to be calculated on a broadly actuarial basis, and that achieves a desirable and fair tapering.
The TSRB also suggested that the House consider whether those arrangements should apply at times other than at a dissolution. My predecessor met the trustees last year and agreed that there should be a single set of arrangements for those retiring at a dissolution and at other times. I endorse that and believe that this rationalisation represents not just a simplification of but a useful improvement to the scheme.
Column 310The TSRB also considered whether service as an MEP should count towards the qualifying period for early retirement. The House may recall that several Members raised that issue during the passage of the 1984 Act. The TSRB noted that although periods of service as an MP and an MEP may be aggregated for the purpose of establishing entitlement to a pension, they may not be so counted for the purposes of the qualifying period for early retirement. It took the view that the essential purpose of the early retirement arrangements for MPs should be to assist those whose parliamentary career had been exclusively in this House, and it concluded that an extension of the arrangements would not be appropriate.
Several hon. Members have made representations to me arguing against the view of the TSRB and arguing that, as service as an MEP can be counted for all purposes except early retirement and that because the nature of the MEPs' and Members' pension schemes are so similar, the current arrangements are anomalous.
That point is reinforced in the minds of those who advance the argument by the fact that the European salaries and pension arrangements for MEPs from this country are consistently kept in line with those of Members of this House, rather than with those of other Members of the European Parliament.
I have gone into the matter in detail because I shall be interested to hear the views of the House on that issue before finally deciding whether, in this respect, to accept the TSRB's recommendation.
Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington) : The essential point appears to be made on page 6 of the TSRB's report, where it says : "It can be argued that the occupation of MP and MEP are so closely allied".
That seems to accept that the two jobs are closely allied--that MPs and MEPs are doing similar jobs, are taking similar risks and are working under similar conditions.
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will also examine appendix G relating to resettlement grants for MPs. If an MP and an MEP spend 15 years in the parliamentary process and the MEP has spent five years in the European Parliament, he will receive only half the resettlement grant. It seems ludicrous that if two people came into politics in 1979, one should get twice as much as the other.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : That may be a valid point, but the hon. Gentleman's intervention and its detailed nature confirms my initial wisdom in deciding not to give way during my remarks. I did so on this occasion only because there appeared to be a natural break in the proceedings. The hon. Gentleman's point deserves consideration, but I wish to deal at this stage with the scheme itself.
A further point, not considered by the TSRB, is the problem of excess contributions. Some Members continue to make contributions even though they have bought the maximum number of years to which they are entitled and thus cannot benefit from their extra contributions. That arises from the 1984 Act, which provides for a limit on the annual amount of pension of two- thirds of final salary. That is the limit with which all non-statutory occupational pension schemes must comply to qualify for tax relief.
When my predecessor met the trustees in June last year, he promised to consider the matter. Several possible ways to alleviate the problem suggest themselves, although I hesitate to define, let alone explain, them. I have examined
Column 311a number of them and none is without difficulty. Further consideration is necessary, and I propose to pursue the matter with the trustees in search of a satisfactory solution.
Apart from parliamentary pensions, the TSRB was invited to undertake a review of the pensions of certain office holders and of ministerial severance pay. The TSRB recommended the introduction of severance pay for Commons Ministers on broadly the same basis as that already provided for Ministers in the other place. That represents a simple recognition that an abrupt and significant financial adjustment may have to be made by an hon. Member on relinquishing ministerial office in whatever House and for whatever reason. The TSRB's proposals would involve a single payment of a sum representing three months' net loss of parliamentary income on loss of office for whatever reason except death in service. In cash terms, that will be between £3,000 and about £7,000, depending on the rank of the Minister concerned. It is right to emphasise that that proposal was supported by both sides of the House when it was put to the TSRB as well as by the TSRB itself. As my predecessor made clear in May last year, the Government endorse these proposals. Three senior office holders--the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker and the Lord Chancellor--are not members of the parliamentary pension scheme. They have their own arrangements under the 1972 Act. For some time we have been aware that their arrangements contained anomalies. The TSRB has recommended that the pensions of all three of the great office holders should be fixed at half final salary, that the Prime Minister and Mr. Speaker should be able to participate in the parliamentary scheme and that restrictions on pension increases should be uncapped.
We have accepted that package of recommendations, which are not directly part of the parliamentary scheme. Their implementation, along with the proposals for severance pay for Commons Ministers, requires primary legislation, which we shall introduce in the near future.
The main issue in the Government Actuary's report is the recommendation that the Exchequer contribution should be reduced to 4.4 per cent. I shall try to assist the House by sketching out the background to that proposal, although I approach documents prepared by actuaries with considerable foreboding.
Under section 5 of the 1972 Act, every three years the Government Actuary must make a valuation of the assets of the parliamentary contributory pension fund specifically for the purpose of determining the residual Exchequer contribution. The current report, laid before the House on 27 April last, reports a significant improvement in the finances of the fund. On that basis, the Government Actuary has calculated that the notional standard contribution should be 20 per cent. of salary.
On that basis, the Exchequer contribution, after deducting the 9 per cent. of salary payable by Members, would be 11 per cent. That 9 per cent. plus 11 per cent. is not much different from the 22 per cent. recommended by the Government Actuary in his preceding report. It is the long-term total cost of the scheme to keep liabilities and assets in balance.
The Government Actuary is not required to make any recommendation about the level of Members' contributions. The increase to 9 per cent. in 1983 was made to take
Column 312account of the improved rate of accrual in the scheme and, as hon. Members on both sides will recall, the House approved a rate of 9 per cent. Collectively, we accepted that because we believed it to be a realistic level, given the estimated cost of the scheme after incorporation of the improvements suggested by the TSRB. That level of contribution was included in the 1984 Act and is generally in line with other fast accrual schemes in the public service.
The fund has now accumulated a significant surplus. There are two reasons for that : first, the performance of the fund's investments, for which the skill and care of the trustees and their agents are to be highly commended ; and, secondly, the very high level of contributions made by the Exchequer in recent years, for reasons which I shall explain, to a total of 18 per cent.
In determining the Exchequer contribution required, the standard contribution of 20 per cent. can and should be adjusted to take account of the surplus. By long-standing convention--not just in this scheme but in the overwhelming majority of similar schemes--such a surplus is normally used to reduce the employer's contribution-- [Interruption.] That is the position. In this case, that is the standard contribution payable by the Exchequer. The Government Actuary has recommended an Exchequer contribution for the year beginning April 1989 of 4.4 per cent. of salary, and has recommended that that rate should be maintained for the next eight years. As a result of the provisions of section 5 of the 1972 Act, the recommendation took effect automatically from that date.
There have been some misunderstandings on this question, and it may help if I explain the background more fully. Section 5 provides for the Exchequer's contribution to be calculated in accordance with the Government Actuary's evaluation. My study of the statute, about which I hesitate, confirms that. Under that section, the recalculation of the Exchequer's contribution takes effect when the Government Actuary's report is laid before the House. In the present case, the Government Actuary's report covered the three years from 1 April 1987, and recommended a lower contribution with effect from 1 April 1989. As far as I am aware, in previous years there has been no suggestion that the recommendations of the Government Actuary should be altered or rejected. The 1972 Act does not provide for that possibility. However, I acknowledge that we have not previously been confronted with a surplus in the fund--certainly not on this scale--or with a recommendation that the Exchequer should reduce its contribution. With that in mind, my predecessor gave the commitment that the House would have an opportunity to debate the Government Actuary's report before any decisions were taken.
I regret that that may have misled the House into believing that the Government Actuary's recommendations would not take effect in the usual way. It appears that that is not the case and, although we are having a debate on the subject, the recommendations automatically took effect for the year starting April 1989.
Column 313Sir Geoffrey Howe : I would not like to give an estimate, but I think that I am right in saying that the surplus was £7.4 million. The reduced contribution is not designed to eliminate that, but to bring it back to a level that would sustain a contribution of 11 per cent. from 1989 onwards.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : No. The total surplus to be reduced over the next eight years is £7.4 million, after which a normal contribution of 11 per cent. would be introduced. An Exchequer contribution of 18 per cent. for several years generated the balance, and has resulted in the recommendation that its contribution should be lower from now on.
Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East) : Does the Leader of the House agree that the anomaly is that the Government Actuary can look only at the Exchequer contribution and not at Members' contributions? If the Actuary had been able to consider both contributions, he could have come up with a more sensible proposition.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Actuary is permitted to look only at the Treasury contribution as a result of the provisions of the 1972 Act. However, I would not want him to conclude that a dramatic change would necessarily result from the scrutiny of both contributions. If the greater part of the surplus was accumulated because of the high contribution of 18 per cent. by the Exchequer, that would have to be reflected in any recommendations from the Actuary.
I readily acknowledge that we are in dangerous waters on this issue. Against the factual background, I shall offer hon. Members some insight into the considerations which I think were taken into account in the most recent redesign of the system. Whatever hon. Members may say now, under the 1972 Act the Exchequer contribution was clearly intended to be the residual. It is normal for valuation changes to reflect on the employer's contribution rate since that is normally regarded as the residual, rather than the employee contribution.
In our case, the employer is the Exchequer, and its contribution was designed by the legislation to be the variable and to take account of any changes in economic trends. The Exchequer contribution has been as high as 18 per cent.--13 per cent. plus a 5 per cent. deficiency payment--since the previous evaluation report. The proposed dip to 4.4 per cent. to keep the fund in balance can be seen--this is the argument behind the legislation-- as a temporary compensating relief for the higher Exchequer contribution of earlier years. The contribution was assessed in 1984 with the same aim--to keep the fund in balance.
During contribution holidays--as they are described--the bulk of public and private schemes leave employee contributions unchanged, as it is generally agreed that fluctuations in the employee rate are undesirable because they give rise to uncertainty.
Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham) rose --
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Before I give way to my hon. Friend, I appreciate that the House may argue that the figure of 9 per cent., which was an advance on the originally recommended figure of 8 per cent., suggests that there may have been some over-enthusiasm of judgment on the part of the House.
Sir Peter Hordern : I accept what my right hon. and learned Friend says about the role of the Government Actuary, and about the 1972 Act. However, the Review Body on Top Salaries has a different attitude. In successive reports it has been suggested what the relationship between the Treasury contribution and the employee's contribution should be. It has recommended the level of Members' contributions, and that level has differed from time to time. Last year's TSRB report was unusual because it accepted 9 per cent. as though it had no power to recommend otherwise. If it had recommended, as I think it should, that Members' contributions should have been significantly lower, which would have been proper according to the Actuary, all would have been well. Perhaps we shall have the opportunity to debate that later.
In favourable economic circumstances, it is not unusual for the employer's rate to fall and to be lower than the employee's rate. That certainly happens in the private sector and the public sector. The question is whether the right balance has resulted from the original legislative provisions, and the impact of the Government Actuary's report and the TSRB recommendations.
I have given in full the arguments for following the Government Actuary's recommendations, as we have done in the past. I do not think that they are likely to be set aside, but my mind is not closed. I should be foolishly over-confident if I closed my mind on any aspect of this matter. If the House expresses a clear view or preference for any improvement in the scheme, including changes in the contributions structure, I and the Government accept that the TSRB should be invited to consider all such suggestions for improved benefits.
I emphasise that any consideration by the TSRB would have to include the central question of who is to pay and what is the fair basis for payments in the long term. I think the whole House would wish that.
I hope that the process of considering possible future recommendations in the light of today's debate will not stand in the way of implementing the outstanding recommendations of the TSRB's 26th report. I visualise, after this debate, the relatively early introduction of two pieces of legislation : first, regulations to implement the TSRB recommendations for all Members of Parliament, including the revised early retirement arrangements, the improved death-in-service grants, and any other recommendations that result from tonight's discussions--for example, revised arrangements for Members of the European Parliament ; and secondly, a Bill to implement
Column 315the changes affecting the three most senior office holders and severance pay for Ministers and office holders, except for the Prime Minister and Mr. Speaker.
I wish to ensure that, after the passage of those two pieces of legislation, any further changes that might arise from the next round of TSRB considerations can themselves be implemented by secondary legislation to avoid the need for more than one Bill on the subject in the current Parliament. I am anxious that we should give ourselves the freedom to proceed through secondary legislation : it may already be in our power, but I am not confident enough to say so in terms. We have a good scheme, and we should build on it as the TSRB report recommends. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House clearly hold strong views on some aspects of the scheme, and--as I said at the outset--I look forward to listening to those views with care and attention.
Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East) : I thank the Leader of the House for his introductory speech. I remind him and the House that we are discussing a House of Commons matter, not a party-political matter. The House has overturned recommendations and decisions made by past Governments, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have often had to make difficult decisions themselves. Public reaction is often ill-informed, and it is therefore important that we examine this matter in some detail.
I consider the TSRB report disappointing and negative. It does not take account of the problems faced by Members and the staff of the House, and by their dependants. Far from improving matters, the report--coupled with the Government Actuary's report--makes them worse. When I gave evidence to the TSRB, I presented what I considered to be relevant but modest proposals on behalf of hon. Members who are asking not for benefits in excess of those given to other sectors, but to be treated on an equal basis with both the private and public sectors. There is no need for me to apologise for such a request ; compared with the salaries and pensions in other European and Commonwealth Parliaments, our proposals are extremely modest. The Leader of the House said that we had improved our position, and so we have. It was only in 1964, however, that a pension scheme for Members of Parliament was initiated, and we all know of hon. Members on both sides of the House who left after that time and experienced considerable financial difficulty. Slowly, we built on the scheme, and I hope that we shall continue to do so.
Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : Is not one of the most disappointing features of the report its failure to deal adequately with widows' pensions? Many hon. Members do not come to the House until they are in their 30s or 40s, but the widow of an hon. Member who was here for 15 years may be left, in her early 50s, expecting no more than £3,900. The figure should be doubled so that widows receive a realistic pension. That is what worries us most of all.
Column 316I hope that the Leader of the House will take note of the strong feelings of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Before I deal with the more contentious issues, let me say that the proposal to increase the death-in-service grant to two years' salary is a welcome improvement. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it should be retrospective to the beginning of the Parliament. I support the view of the House of Commons trustees that it is not necessary to have two schemes to deal with early retirement : that, in my view, would lead to confusion. A single scheme should apply, whether the retirement takes place during a Parliament or at its dissolution. Again, I feel that any scheme proposed by the TSRB should be retrospective to the beginning of the Parliament. Normally, the TSRB reports only once in each Parliament. In this instance representations were made very early in the Parliament, but only now--when, as the Leader of the House has acknowledged, we are nearly halfway through the Parliament--are we discussing the report. The limited proposals regarding ex-Ministers, the Speaker and former Prime Ministers are indeed very limited, and should have been part of a package dealing with the central issue of Members' contributions and pensions. I shall say more about that later. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) mentioned widows' pensions. Widows' and widowers' pensions are still extremely low--lower than the normal industrial level. I could quote cases of real hardship among hon. Members on both sides of the House, and in some instances that hardship is still being experienced. I believe that the pension should be increased from half the amount of the pension for which the former Member was eligible to a minimum of two thirds of that amount. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)--who is chairman of the trustees--catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will no doubt develop that subject further.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : The report talks of increasing death -in-service grants and widows' pensions from one to two years' salary but refers to payment of a Member's salary for one year "or" repayment of the contributions made. Does that mean that those who receive the repayment will not receive the increase, or that someone whose spouse receives a lump sum will lose the repaid contributions?
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : We all realise that the pension scheme does not give widows a fair deal. If the Lord President had said at the Dispatch Box that the Government's contributions would not be reduced from 11 per cent. but that widows would be given a bit more, he might have been rather better off. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that the staff of the pensions department, Mr. Jim Dobson and Mr. Tony Lewis--whom I welcome back after his illness--are doing a first-class job on our behalf?