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Members' Fund (Grants)

Volume 640: debated on Monday 15 May 1961

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asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will make a statement about increased provision for retired Members of Parliament and their widows.

Yes. Sir. Following representations from hon. Members that the maximum grant which can now be made from the Members' Fund is an insufficient provision for Members who retire after long service to the House and who have little or no other means, the Government have made a careful examination of possible changes in the existing arrangements, in consultation with the Trustees of the Members' Fund.The Government have considered afresh whether a pension scheme should be introduced. They have however come again to the conclusion that, apart from the difficult question of principle whether membership of the House of Commons should be regarded as a pensionable occupation, a scheme of pensions as of right would not be practicable owing above all to the uncertainty of the lengths of service of Members and their widely varying private circumstances. It is therefore their view that the right course is to increase the resources of the Members' Fund in order that its Trustees may be able to make larger grants to retired Members and their widows (or widowers), these grants being as at present discretionary and subject to an assessment of the other means of the beneficiary. The Government's view is that the Fund, which is in essence a benevolent fund and not a pensions fund, is an effective and well-tried instrument through which selective provision can be made for those Members who have been unable to make suitable provision for their retirement.They have therefore agreed with the Trustees of the Fund upon certain modifications in the present arrangements. The principal changes are (1) that while the basis of grant for retired Members over the age of 60 with at least 10 years' service continues to be not more than £500 as at present, the Trustees shall have power at their discretion to give grants of up to a maximum of £900 having regard to length of service and need; provision for widows and widowers being correspondingly increased; (2) that the annual subscription of Members will be raised from £18 to £24; (3) that an additional Exchequer contribution of £12,000 will be made to the Fund annually.The first two changes will require a detailed Resolution of the House which will be submitted shortly by the Chairman of the Fund. The Treasury contribution requires an order under Section 1 (3) of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act, 1957, which will be laid before the House soon.If the proposed Resolution is approved by the House it is proposed that the new scheme will come into operation on 1st June.