Last night, we had just had our first vote on the Pensions Bill, narrowly won by the Government. (The main point of the Pensions Bill is to move both sexes to a state pension age of 66. This will happen over a 5-6 year period and was planned in principle by the former government. The Coalition is bringing forward the plan by two years after having examined the financial implications of the more relaxed timetable and considered the impact in taxation on the future working population.) We were about to embark on the next amendment tabled by Baroness Greengross. This was an important ‘half way house compromise’ to assist those women who will have to work for one or two years longer for their pension and which could have a negative impact on poorer women out of work. I knew Lady Greengross had put an enormous amount of work into getting a sensible compromise that would not be too expensive…the savings over many years would be £2bn rather than the £10bn the Government was aiming for. And I also knew that the Opposition were going to support it if the first amendment was lost and some Lib Dems might also join in. It was important to have it tabled and debated. I had spoken briefly in support of the idea at Committee Stage. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110301-gc0001.htm#11030159000106
The Deputy Speaker Lady Pitkeathley called out ‘Amendment 3, Baroness Greengross’ but we looked round in consternation to find Lady G was not in the Chamber. She’d been there only two minutes earlier so I guessed she must be nearby…the only thing to do was leap up and speak to move the amendment before it was lost. Which I duly did….. the main problem being I could not understand a word of her amendment, which was “Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 3 to 6 and insert-“, followed by a long list of birthdates from 1953-54. Fortunately Lady Greengross hurried into the Chamber as I was speaking and was able to pick up the threads after I had moved the amendment. A brief debate ensued during which the Clerk (David Beamish, who is soon to become our new Clerk of the Parliaments) passed me a note to point out that whoever moves an amendment must also respond to the Minister. This means responding to the various points made in debate and deciding whether to move to a vote. Lord German, no slouch, had already plotted out the birthdays and found a kink in the graph. He wanted to know why there were kinks. I hadn’t the foggiest idea why there were kinks. Lady Greengross passed me an almost but not quite legible note and I could tell the Chamber was in a mood for a vote….so I called one. The Minister Lord Freud had said his hands were tied by European directive no 79/7 which deals with the progressive implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in matters of social security. It provides that there shall be no discrimination on grounds of sex in relation to the benefits. When the Pensions Act 1995 was passed, the UK legislated to end gender discrimination in the state pension age by April 2020. I thought it wasn’t beyond the wit of the Department of Work and Pensions to come up with a compromise to help these women even if it was not this one in the amendment, but no indication of that was forthcoming.
We lost the vote but it was narrow…Contents 203; Not-Contents 215. The debate is at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110330-0001.htm#1103311001222
Lady Greengross and I have been friends for thirty years since she was a campaigner with Age Concern England (now part of AgeUK) and I was a trainee doctor working with older people. She is always very, very busy and is also moving house this week. I was glad to be able to help her out a little.