Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

2. Letter to the Chairman from Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General, on

National Insurance Contributions Bill

Thank you for your letter of 22 May concerning the compatibility of the National Insurance Contributions Bill with human rights and Social Security Directive 79/7/EEC.

As you say, the imposition of the additional rate differentiates between men and women on the ground of sex. In line with the rules applicable to primary Class 1 contributions and Class 4 contributions the liability to pay the additional rate will cease at 65 for men and 60 for women, their respective State pension ages.

Taking your questions in order—

1.  It is agreed that the provisions of the Bill may engage rights under the ECHR Article 14, taken together with Article 1 of protocol 1.

2.  It is agreed that the justification for the differential treatment of men and women must take account of the fact that the product of the additional rate will be allocated to the National Health Service. As you will be aware, the link between National Insurance Contributions and state retirement ages, and the arrangement for a proportion of the revenue from contributions to go towards the cost of the National Health Service, have been in existence since the scheme was established in the 1940s. It is also necessary to take account of the Government's policy on the equalisation of pension ages and the complex knock on effects of that policy.

3.  The levying of public revenue is an area of government in which the courts give the greatest deference to the legislature—see The National & Provincial Building Society and others v. United Kingdom (judgement of 23 October 1997 at paragraph 80). The Government concluded that the best way to raise the additional money which is necessary to fund the National Health Service is through additional National Insurance Contributions, and to continue the link between National Insurance Contributions and the National Health Service, mentioned above.

Having chosen to raise the additional money through the National Insurance Contributions system, the Government was of course aware that this would mean that the additional contributions would cease to be payable by men and women at their respective State pension ages. The Government considers that this is consistent with the decision which Parliament made back in 1995 when it decided to equalise State pension ages, and consequently the contribution periods for men and women, over a long period of time. The differentiation in relation to the additional contributions will therefore work itself out of the system over the next few years as the contributions periods for men and women gradually equalise.

The Government considers that the approach which has been taken is objectively and rationally justifiable and is compatible with the Convention rights.

4.  The Government takes the view that the National Health Service is not a statutory scheme to which the Directive applies. The Directive does not extend to cover contributions funding the provision of universal health services.

In the light of my response to your fourth question, your fifth and sixth questions do not arise.

Finally, you ask whether we have received any other representations on human rights issues in connection with this Bill. Apart from a letter from PARITY on the issues you have raised, which was passed to me by Matthew Taylor, we have received no other representations.

11 June 2002

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