Mr. Osborne: The Financial Secretary seems to be suggesting that the public sector will look at the
Column Number: 648tradition of policemen retiring early and so on, and take that all into account. What about those in private sector occupations where there is a tradition of retiring early?
James Purnell: Tory MPs.
Mr. Osborne: Well, there are going to be a lot of Labour MPs retiring in the next few years, and it is going to be of interest to them as well. Is there going to be a special consideration for those in the public sector?
Ruth Kelly: Yes. I believe the Opposition have been sent the draft regulations on public sector schemes, which suggest that we preserve early retirement ages in certain circumstances, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks at them.
The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the tradition of early retirement ages in the private sector. We will probably re-run this debate on Tuesday, when we come to discuss the transitional provisions. Certain representations have been made to me and to Treasury and Inland Revenue officials that certain professions would have liked to see themselves being carved out and treated differently, for a variety of reasons. We are considering each case on its merits to decide whether there is an objective justification for special treatment.
Mr. Osborne: Will the Financial Secretary at least give me an assurance that, in respect of the normal minimum retirement age, the Government will not treat public sector employees any differently from private sector employees? I think that private sector employees would be outraged if they were forced to work longer, while the privileges of the public sector were protected.
Ruth Kelly: Given his involvement in all areas of pensions across Government, the hon. Gentleman should know that public sector schemes have begun to move in the direction of age 55. We have been in negotiations with public sector schemes for a number of months, if not years, to arrive at sensible solutions that command the support of both our vital public services and the Government's policy agenda.
It is a different situation for private sector schemes. Certain private sector schemes have a tradition of early retirement. Perhaps it would be better to say that they have a tradition of an early cessation of a particular occupation, before people move into a different occupation.
Footballers fall into that category. I had strong representations on behalf of his members from Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers Association. We are considering the points that he made and investigating whether there is a way to accommodate his concerns in the pensions regime. I suspect that that will prove difficult. We are also looking outside the pensions regime to see whether the Professional Footballers Association, for example, might be able to continue its highly redistributive pension scheme without the tax reliefs associated with pensions, which tend to benefit footballers about the age of 35. The same considerations apply to other sporting professionals, members of Equity, ballet
Column Number: 649dancers, deep-sea divers and so on, all of whom have early normal pension ages.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): The hon. Lady says that she would like to continue the discussion about transitional arrangements for specific occupations on Tuesday. That is fine, but it may, under your stern chairmanship, Mr. McWilliam, be difficult to carry forward to Tuesday the issue of the cut-off that will take place in the year 2010 and the falling-off-the-cliff effect—the fact that, on one day, people will be allowed to retire at 50 and someone who was born a day later will not be able to retire for another five years.
Will the hon. Lady be able to address that point this afternoon and tell us whether there might be any flexibility in the Government's attitude on that point? I think that a genuine anomaly is being created and that it may not have been created on purpose.
The Chairman: Order. That was more a point of order. What we are coming on to is specific and I would not rule out this afternoon's debate having any effect on the issue on Tuesday. I am also conscious that we are talking about 2010. It is 2004 and my sums tell me that 2010 is six Finance Bills away.
Ruth Kelly: Mr. McWilliam, you make an excellent point. There is a considerable time before 2010. We consulted on the best way to bring in the provisions. Those we consulted suggested allowing schemes maximum flexibility. As the hon. Member for Tatton said, there was a mixed response, but there was significant support for the position that we took. It was not the case that more were in favour of the prescribed approach, which was the alternative. I suspect that the debate will continue at length on Tuesday. I commend the clause to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 265 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: For the record, I am going to retire at the next election, so that is six Finance Bills that I will not be chairing.
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