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Earl Russell: I should like to congratulate the Minister on that speech. It is one of the best I have heard her make. The pride and egalitarianism behind it reminds me vividly of my noble friend Lady Seear at her best.

I understand and admire that emotion. Its annunciation is a major step towards the achievement of equality and I am pleased to hear it for that reason as well as for its rhetorical and intellectual quality. But it is not quite the whole story.

I hear what the Minister says about there being more widows than widowers in work. I also hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, says about statistics on equal pay. Those are both facts. We need to put these together before we have any sort of coherent figure.

I take the point of the reproach to me by the Minister about the woman not being in work and going out to work. I understand that this is no longer the normal picture. I accept that, and I welcome it. But I think all of us, including the noble Baroness, would agree that

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there still are in the whole country many such people who have not yet come into the cultural change in which the noble Baroness has been quite rightly rejoicing.

So the question between us here comes down to one of timing. There I think there are some real issues. The pace of change, especially when it is a major cultural change of this sort, and the legislative steamroller driving it, is something on which we need some thought. I hope it is right that it should be a male voice saying this and a female voice resisting it. I think that is a good thing.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her promise to think about this again. I would be happy to take part in any discussions, formal, informal or otherwise, that may take place, and I await the results with a great deal of interest.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I disagree very profoundly with a number of the statements that she made. I was not speaking against equality. On the contrary, I am in favour of equalising the benefits. What I am not in favour of is taking benefits away in order to equalise, which is what is happening here. I suggested that it would not cost an awful lot to equalise on the basis of my amendment.

I do not agree that things have changed as much as my noble friend apparently thinks they have. I gave a number of instances of low pay and the disparity in male and female earnings which still exists. I also drew attention to the fact that many women before they are widowed have spent time out of the workforce, often looking after disabled or ill husbands. That is a very common experience.

It seems to me that a number of the points I made were not taken proper account of. There is also the very strong point that this is a contributory benefit, as I said earlier, and husbands contribute in the belief that if anything happens to them their wives will benefit. I disagree with its simply being removed as yet another snip away at the system of social insurance, which we have lived with for a long time and which I support.

Of course, it is not my intention to press the amendment to a vote this evening, but I shall consider carefully what has been said, because I certainly intend to return to it on Report.

Baroness Crawley: I thank the Minister for her reply. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that my noble friend is indeed a great and robust champion of equality, and always has been. I particularly appreciate the sympathetic way in which she said she could perhaps look again at our amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 83 to 89 not moved.]

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 90:

Page 57, leave out lines 26 to 32

The noble Lord said: The amendment would effectively remove subsection (5). This is an extraordinarily precise provision, suggesting that the

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weekly rate of bereavement allowance payable to a person who is under the age of 55 at the time of the spouse's death should be reduced by 7 per cent multiplied by the number of years by which that person's age at that time was less than 55 and, even more precisely,

    "any fraction of a year being counted as a year". It is curious that subsection (5) states that the allowance shall be,

    "reduced by 7 per cent. of what it would be apart from this subsection". I simply do not understand how that provision is expected to work. I beg to move.

Baroness Amos: The age-related scale which this amendment would remove is a longstanding arrangement. It was first introduced in 1971. Those who are aged 55 on bereavement, subject to the entitlement conditions being met, receive the full rate of widows' pension. Those aged between 45 and 54 on bereavement receive a percentage of the full rate. That follows a principle that has long underpinned the widows' benefit scheme. Those who are widowed later on in life have less opportunity to build up their own provision for retirement. Therefore, they may need more financial help than those widowed at a younger age.

We have considered the options carefully and believe that, for a number of reasons, it is right to carry over that arrangement to the new bereavement allowance. It is likely that it will be more difficult for those in the older age groups to adjust and the age-related scale provides extra help for them to do so.

Bereavement allowance will give them the breathing space they need before supporting themselves through occupational pensions and other income before returning to work. Of course, we are not expecting them to do it alone. For those younger widows and widowers who are not in work, our welfare-to-work programme

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offers a comprehensive range of help and support, including advice on employment, training and benefits which will help them to return to, or seek, work.

Our reforms focus help from the state where and when it is most needed, while helping those who can support themselves to do so. I do not believe that this amendment is consistent with those aims and I urge the noble Lord to withdraw it.

Lord Higgins: I understand the longstanding tapering arrangement to which the noble Baroness referred. I am not clear why subsection (5) includes the words,

    "of what it would be apart from this subsection".

Baroness Amos: Subsection (2) provides for the weekly rate of bereavement allowance. Subsection (5) applies to bereavement allowance the rules which relate the amount of benefit to the age of the claimant when the spouse dies. The full rate of benefit is reduced by 7 per cent for each year that the claimant is aged under 55 at the date of bereavement. I should be happy to write to the noble Lord with examples of how that would work.

Lord Higgins: I still do not understand why it says,

    "of what it would be apart from this subsection". That seems to me to be inconsistent. Perhaps the Minister, in writing, will spell that out to me in some detail. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 91 not moved.]

Clause 50 agreed to.

Baroness Amos: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at two minutes before midnight.

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