Previous Section Index Home Page

Since the 1974 Act, the law on the Welsh language has changed. Historically Welsh was used in the courts both before and after the Acts of Union with the infamous clauses essentially banning the use of Welsh in the official domain. Given that most Welsh people up to the middle of the 19th century spoke only Welsh—they did not speak English—the use of Welsh in the courts was inevitable. Indeed, it was essential for the administration of justice. However, the clauses in the Acts of Union were in force until the position was clarified by the Welsh Courts Act 1942, which provided that Welsh might be used in some circumstances. That position was modified by the Welsh Language Act 1967 introduced by the then Labour Government, which established the principle of equal validity, which means that if something is done in Welsh it is as valid as if it were done in English. However, it also provided that when there was a discrepancy between a Welsh and English text, the English text would prevail. As was noted at the time, if it was said in Welsh that two and two was four and in English that it was five, it would be five. The situation was addressed again by the Welsh Language Act 1993, brought in by the then
16 Jan 2007 : Column 657
Conservative Government. The principle of that Act was that Welsh and English were to be treated on the basis of equality where that was reasonably practical and appropriate in the circumstances. And that is the current state of play in respect of the Welsh and English languages. In general and in the courts, Welsh and English are to be treated on the basis of equality.

In respect of Welsh cases, a wide variety of cases, up to and including cases of murder, are heard in Welsh. Sometimes each member of the jury is wholly bilingual, sometimes not, and simultaneous translation is widely used. But even though the standard of English-Welsh simultaneous translation is high, I contend that hearing evidence in translation is not the same as hearing and understanding that evidence, with all its nuances, in the original language. After all, juries are often told to judge a witness not just by what they say, but by how they say it. Much is communicated by other means than directly through language. Needless to say, were this Bill to be enacted, simultaneous translation would still be available for others attending the courts.

The point is that at present there is no guarantee that each member of the jury is able to understand Welsh—only that they understand English. That is simply not just. Welsh and English are not treated on the basis of equality, even though it would be reasonably practical and appropriate in the circumstances for them to be so treated—as the 1993 Act provides.

In Sir Robin Auld’s review of the criminal courts of England and Wales in October 2001, there was a suggestion that bilingual juries should be given further consideration in the interests of ensuring that each defendant has a fair trial. The result was the consultation paper of December 2005 produced by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform. This posed five questions in respect of bilingual juries, which were: would they be justified in principle; could they be reconciled with random selection; how would the power to order a bilingual jury be exercised; what were the wider implications for Crown Court trials in Wales; and what were the preferred options for the summoning of juries?

I do not have time today even to begin to discuss those matters, but I have seen some of the responses to the consultation paper. I want to refer to the opinions of the legal profession, as expressed by the Standing Committee for Legal Wales, which includes the
16 Jan 2007 : Column 658
presiding judge for Wales and many other individuals and institutions. I have also seen the responses provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and by Mr. Gwynedd Parry of Gray’s Inn and the university of Swansea.

Those responses provide a comprehensive and compelling set of answers in favour of bilingual juries. However, the problem that we face stems from the Government’s lack of response to the consultation, and their inaction. The action that the Government should take is clear, and I humbly suggest that my Bill would offer a way to ensure that the Juries Act 1974 was properly amended. I trust that the Government will take heed.

In conclusion, I want to refer to the well known story of Dic Penderyn, hanged for his part in the Merthyr uprising. Dic Penderyn, of course, is emblematic to many Welsh people of all that was wrong with our systems of government and justice. On the scaffold, Dic is reputed to have said, “O Lord this is an injustice.” What he actually said was, “O Arglwydd dyma gamwedd.” Penderyn was tried in English but was sent to his death speaking Welsh.

Today, it would not be right for a defendant to face a life sentence unsure that the members of a jury had understood his evidence as perfectly as they might. Neither would it be right, in the case of an acquittal, for the family of a victim not to be wholly confident that the quality of the evidence against the defendant was apprehended in full by the jury. On both those counts, the case for bilingual juries is overriding. My Bill would ensure that neither of those two eventualities need prevail, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Hywel Williams, Dr. Hywel Francis, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Dai Davis, Mr. Roger Williams, Michael Fabricant, Mr. Angus MacNeil, Andrew George, Nia Griffith, Adam Price and Mr. Dan Rogerson.

Bilingual Juries (Wales)

Hywel Williams accordingly presented a Bill to amend section 10 of the Juries Act 1974 to provide that in certain cases all members of a jury be bilingual in Welsh and English; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 2 March, and to be printed [Bill 46].

16 Jan 2007 : Column 659

Orders of the Day

Pensions Bill

[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report of the Work and Pensions Committee, Session 2005-06, on Pension Reform, HC 1068-I, and the Government’s response thereto, Cm 6956.]

Order for Second Reading read.

3.43 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill takes forward the key recommendations for pensions reform made by the Turner commission in 2005. These reforms will help to lay the foundations for a sustainable and affordable pensions system marked by significantly less means testing and greater personal responsibility for ensuring financial security in retirement. They will also provide a fairer deal for women and carers.

The Bill makes important changes in five key areas. First, it will establish a simpler and more generous state pension that will provide a solid platform on which people can save, while continuing to target resources on those most in need. Secondly, there will be new rules on eligibility for the basic and second state pension which, for the first time, will properly recognise the social contributions that people make. In doing so, it will deliver fairer outcomes for many women and those with caring responsibilities.

Thirdly, the Bill will pave the way for a new system of personal accounts that will make it easier for more people to save for their retirement, thus sharing the responsibility for pension saving more clearly between individuals and Government.

Fourthly, the Bill will facilitate a streamlined regulatory environment that will strengthen existing pension provision, reduce the burden of regulation and help employers who already provide good workplace schemes. Finally, it confirms a higher state pension age for the future, which will keep the proportion of life spent receiving the state pension broadly stable for each generation, and help to secure the long-term financial stability and sustainability of the state pension system.

The Bill represents probably the biggest change to our pension system since Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour Government implemented the Beveridge reforms. Thanks to the work of the Pensions Commission and to the national pensions debate, I hope and trust that these reforms will enjoy widespread support both in the House and outside. Those of us in the House today, when, as I hope, we support the Bill later tonight, have the opportunity to cement that consensus and, for the first time, to offer all our constituents a framework of long-term stability on which they can plan for their retirement with confidence.

The Bill comes after 10 years of progress, since the Government came to office, in reducing the poverty that had all too often become associated with old age.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Secretary of State tell us what the increased cost will be in the first full year of implementation? Does the big
16 Jan 2007 : Column 660
increase mean that the Chancellor is blocking early implementation of the measure and delaying it until well after the next election?

Mr. Hutton: The figures have all been set out, but in relation to the right hon. Gentleman’s point, the Government are presenting the legislation and the Government are behind the reforms. He might like to look at the last page of the Bill to see which Ministers support it.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): We are all aware that it was the Conservative Government who broke the earnings link in the first place, and that in statements in the past the Opposition have made it clear that they are proud of that fact. Can my right hon. Friend inform the House about the work he has done to forge a new consensus on this significant issue?

Mr. Hutton: It is important that there should be consensus, if possible, about long-term reform of our pension system. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister established the Pensions Commission in 2002. It has done sterling work in helping to forge agreement across the parties about the future of our pension system, which is a good thing. My hon. Friend draws attention to the actions of the Conservative Government in relation to pensions, and I want to say one or two words about that in a second.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): So do I.

Mr. Hutton: We all look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s rewriting of the history of that issue. I know that he was a supporter of breaking the link to earnings, so perhaps he will provide his justification for that later. It certainly had the effect of reducing public spending—obviously so—but it created the legacy of pensioner poverty that we had to address when we came to office, and in relation to which we have made significant progress.

In 1997, one in four pensioners faced the indignity of living below the poverty line. Many had to live on as little as £69 a week. Change to put that right was our first priority, and rightly so. Since 1997, 1 million pensioners have escaped from relative poverty, and more than 2 million from absolute poverty. We are spending £10.5 billion a year more—nearly 1 per cent. of gross domestic product—on pensioners than we would have done had we continued the policies that we inherited in 1997. We have increased the basic state pension by significantly more than inflation, equivalent to more than £350 a year extra for a single pensioner. The poorest third of pensioner households will, on average, be £2,000 a year better off in 2006-07 than under the system of 10 years ago. As a result of all those measures, pensioners are, for the first time in a generation, less likely to be poor than any other group in society.

Our second priority was to improve confidence in the private pensions market, which is why we acted to clear up the pensions mis-selling scandal and why the Pensions Act 2004 created the new pensions regulator, the Pension Protection Fund and the financial assistance scheme.
16 Jan 2007 : Column 661
However, despite those important changes, real and obvious challenges remain for the long-term future of our pension system. That is why, as I have already said, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister established the Pensions Commission in 2004 to assess what further reforms might be necessary to meet them.

The commission identified four major issues. First, people were not saving enough for their retirement. Secondly, by 2050, there will be 50 per cent. more pensioners than today, while the ratio of those in work to those in retirement will have halved. Thirdly, as a result of a historical legacy, the current state pension system is, as we all know, complex and delivers unfair outcomes, especially for many women and carers. Finally, if we maintain current indexation policies, the basic state pension will be worth only £35 in today’s earnings terms by 2050 and more than 70 per cent. of pensioner households could be eligible for pension credit.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Secretary of State is right to say that many pensioners are, thanks to the Labour Government, much better off today, but the Pensions Commission recommended the restoration of the earnings link by 2010 or 2011, and Government proposals do not introduce that measure until 2012 at the earliest. Is not my right hon. Friend concerned that that is too late to improve incentives and it may also mean that the value of the state pension could continue to decline—in the view of Age Concern, to the equivalent of only £75 a week?

Mr. Hutton: My hon. Friend is right, but she will also be aware that Lord Turner and the pension commissioners have welcomed the Government’s proposals for taking the commission’s conclusions forward. We have always made the point—and this is particularly incumbent on those who hold ministerial office—that it is important to make it clear to our electorate that we will carry out the reforms when we believe them to be affordable. That is rightly a judgment for the Government and Ministers to make. It should be challengeable, as it is in the House and elsewhere, but we believe that we are taking a prudent and sensible course of action. I do not believe that restoring the earnings link in 2012 will materially affect any of the calculations or assumptions that underpin the Turner report, particularly in respect of those who are most likely to benefit from the reforms.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Although the restoration of the link is welcome, how does the Secretary of State respond to the National Pensioners Convention, which argues that the link is not being restored to its previous level? Previously, the Secretary of State had the option of making a link to either earnings or prices—whichever were more beneficial—but the pension is being linked now only to earnings. Why not return to the previous position?

Mr. Hutton: There is some flexibility in the Bill with respect to the issue of prices or earnings, which I believe is right. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) has found the time to join us today, as I thought that he was busy celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Union— [Interruption.] I am sure that many of his constituents are.

16 Jan 2007 : Column 662

I believe that the Bill addresses all those crucial challenges head on. Crucially, it does so in a way that promotes personal responsibility for dignity and security in old age with outcomes that are fair, simple, affordable and, above all, sustainable. Part 1 provides for a simpler and more generous state pension, a simplified state second pension, new rules on eligibility that will give women and carers a much fairer deal, and a higher state pension age.

Mr. Redwood: I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way again. Will he tell us why restoring the earnings link is affordable after 2012, but not affordable today?

Mr. Hutton: Because it is linked with our policy for increasing the state pension age. I have to say that I am not going to give way to the right hon. Gentleman again in this debate— [Interruption.] No, the questions are certainly not too difficult. In fact, I am now tempted to give way again, but I know that the right hon. Gentleman will make his own speech in his own way later, as he always does, but I understand that he is one of the few Conservative Members opposed to the principle of automatic enrolment and mandatory employer contributions. I suspect that we will see the right hon. Gentleman take issue with his own Front-Bench spokesmen later in the debate.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): The Secretary of State has indicated that the delay in making the earnings link is because of the link with the higher state pension age. Does he agree, therefore, that if the Government decide to delay the improvement of the earnings link until beyond 2012, there should logically be a delay in introducing the higher state pension age?

Mr. Hutton: No, I do not accept that. I will come to those points later, because the issue of the state pension age is important.

As proposed in the pensions reform White Paper last May, the first three clauses reduce the number of years needed to qualify for the basic state pension to 30 and also replace home responsibilities protection with a new deal of weekly credits for carers. For the first time, a life of social contributions will be properly recognised and rewarded on an equal footing with work.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): The measures that my right hon. Friend is announcing are important, but will he also look at the position of people who work in a number of part-time jobs and do not pay national insurance? If they worked in those jobs cumulatively, they would pay national insurance. They might miss out on a state pension in later life. Will he look again at whether something can be done for people in that position to enable them to pay national insurance or to deem national insurance to have been paid?

Mr. Hutton: We have been looking closely at that issue. My hon. Friend has raised it with me on a number of occasions. It certainly came up during the work of the Turner commission. I have to say honestly that what she proposes would be extremely difficult from an administrative point of view. However, we are more than happy to continue to look at the issue. She
16 Jan 2007 : Column 663
might want to discuss that with me. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions Reform will deal with that issue in Committee.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con) rose—

Mr. Hutton: If the hon. Gentleman will just give me one moment, I am trying to make an announcement, but I do not seem to be getting very far. Some people who have paid voluntary national insurance contributions since the publication of the White Paper last May might have chosen not to do so if they had been aware of the proposed changes on eligibility entitlements. That applies most obviously to someone due to reach state pension age after April 2010 who already has 30 qualifying years. I can announce that the Government will make arrangements whereby individuals in that position will be eligible for a national insurance refund.

Sir John Butterfill: A lot of the welcome changes that the Secretary of State has just been talking about represent a great improvement in the condition of women and will benefit women. However, there is one area where women are disbenefited: in relation to the Pension Protection Fund. As I understand it, on divorce, pensions paid from the Pension Protection Fund are not regarded as pensions. When is a pension not a pension? When it is compensation from the PPF. That means that those payments are not available for adjustment between the parties to a divorce. Will he do something about that?

Mr. Hutton: These issues are generally very complex. The PPF is not actually the subject of the Bill, although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to table some amendments—I am not trying to help him out there. My understanding is that it is perfectly appropriate for a court to take PPF income into account during the process of finalising the financial arrangements on settlement, so I think that there is a way through on that one. It might be more helpful if I were to write with more detail, setting out the position more fully.

I hope that the announcement that I have made about national insurance contribution refunds will be welcome to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Today, less than a third of women reaching state pension age get a full state pension. In 2010, as a result of the Bill, the figure will reach 75 per cent. By 2020, it will reach 90 per cent. That means that in 2020, more than 300,000 extra women will be entitled to a full basic state pension when they retire, rising to almost 500,000 more by 2025. That will be a major step forward for women in our society.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend considered the issue of widows who inherit their husbands’ pensions?

Mr. Hutton: Yes, we have looked at that issue carefully and it has been a major concern for us. The proposals in the Bill and the other reforms that we are taking forward will be of some assistance.

Next Section Index Home Page