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David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con):
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On a major constitutional Bill, which the Secretary of State said would define the Government of Wales for a generation, it cannot be satisfactory that so much time for debate is lost, even giving regard to the Minister's need to eat. If the programme motion had allowed us to move on to the next set of amendments,
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pressure that might be exerted on tomorrow's business would automatically have been relieved. Large parts of a major constitutional Bill will now go unscrutinised.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is an additional point. People outside will feel that we have had too much time and have not been able to fill it. The real problem, however, is that the way in which it has been apportioned means that we have had too little time in certain areas and too much in others. Dealing with that would be a great help.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am shocked. We cannot win on this matter. We give sufficient time for proper scrutiny, but when the Opposition do not take up that time, we are criticised for giving too much time. It is up to the Opposition to table amendments and scrutinise the Bill. We have given them sufficient time to do it, and they have decided not to take up that time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I sense that I have been a little generous in listening to those points of order, because it was starting to become a debate. The Chair can only point to the fact that the House passed a programme motion earlier, and we are governed by that motion, which could only have been effected by negotiations with the usual channels beforehand. The motion that we had was approved, however, and that is what controls proceedings.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): For many, public transport is not an optional extra but essential. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know how difficult and damaging it is when a bus service is cut, especially for vulnerable, older and disabled people who rely on it. This petition was compiled by Mr. Howard Norton, a worthy campaigner, and it comprises around 500 signatures. I congratulate and thank everyone who signed it and sincerely hope that it will be successful.
Declares that the Petitioners wish to formally record their objections to the removal of the No. 12 bus service from Pitsea to Benfleet by First Essex Buses Limited because there is no alternative service and the removal will cause great inconvenience and hardship to those residents who rely solely on public transport and that this loss is unacceptable and particularly hurts vulnerable people in our community.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): There is a new political and public acceptance that road safety for all, particularly older people and children, must come before motorists' convenience, especially around schools and shopping areas and where there are fast roads to be crossed. I am delighted to present a petition with about 1,000 signatures, which was organised by Mrs. Margaret Finch, a lady who cares about people and about her community. It was signed by many people, to whom I pay tribute and give sincere thanks.
Declares that the petitioners are deeply concerned about road safety around the parade of shops at the seafront end of Furtherwick Road. And further declares that the petitioners are aware of the relatively high speed of traffic and a number of near misses and great danger, especially for elderly people and children and notes that there are no reasonably accessible means of crossing the road at this point.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons call upon the Government to impress upon Castle Point borough council and the Highway Authority the importance of serving local people by providing a pedestrian crossing to improve road safety, particularly for children and elderly people on this stretch of road.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): The circumstances of tonight's debate, and the timing thereof, remind me of another happy occasion some years ago, in the early 1990s, when I was fortunate enough to secure an Adjournment debate on opencast mining. On that occasion, too, the House's business had finished rather earlier than expected. I am pleased to report that we did a thorough and proper job of scrutinising the issue and that the Minister rose to reply at the appropriate time of 10.15 pm. I am sure that the thought is now crossing the Minister's mind that there is a way for him to prevent a similar fate from befalling him tonight. He need only intervene on me at any point to satisfy my requests to be assured of an early night so that he can get on with revising for his intensive Committee work tomorrow.
This is a serious matter, which affects thousands of people in our country today. It involves the pension arrangements for civil service widows and widowers under the co-called classic pension scheme which operated before the introduction of the premium pension scheme in October 2002. Under the classic scheme, if surviving spouses of civil servants remarried or decided to cohabit, they would automatically lose all rights to a civil service pension. At least, that would happen unless their new relationship also unfortunately ended as well, in which event I understand the pension could be reactivated. The current arrangement, the so-called premium scheme, allows for a pension for life. Widows or widowers of civil servants who remarry or cohabit in future will not lose their civil service pensions. The fundamental problem for which I seek redress is that someone can be married to a civil servant, go through life with that husband or wife, lose that person, be entitled to a widow's or widower's pension, butif owing to changed circumstances he or she decides to remarry or cohabitlose the pension at some future date.
A number of principles are involved. The situation, which is of serious concern to many widows and widowers, was drawn to my attention not by a civil service widow but by one of my constituents, Mrs. Gillan Cooper, who happened to be the widow of a police officer. She wrote to me at the time. When people go through life with a partner, whether they are married or not, they live their lives together, but often also live their jobs together. By the very nature of a partnership, they experience all the travails, worries and difficulties that people encounter in their daily work. That is shared with a partner; it is something that partners go through.
At the end of the relationship, when a partner dies, it is impossible to wipe out at any stage in the future the fact of the marriage or partnershipthe fact that the two lived their lives together and were involved in a job together. One person may have undertaken the jobwhether as a civil servant, a police officer or a member of the armed forcesbut the other had lived with that person as a partner and had experienced all the concerns and heartaches of job as well. They supported their
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partner in their activities and their work, and are thus entitled to a pension as a widow or a widower. When someone who has lived with their partner for a long time and who has experienced their job is widowed, they are entitled to a pension. There is something fundamentally wrong if, as a result of the act of remarrying or cohabiting, all that history, everything that they have been through and their entitlement to a pension, is suddenly removed at a stroke by the enforcement of a pension regulation. That is very unfair indeed.
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