Major puts retirement age move 'on hold'

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JOHN MAJOR overruled plans by Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, to equalise the retirement age for women at 65, writes Colin Brown. The Prime Minister's office said yesterday that no decision had been reached about the Government's policy on the retirement age, after the European court ruling that the current limit of 60 for women and 65 for men was discriminatory.

A White Paper on the proposals is to be published soon, but there was no suggestion from Downing Street that Mr Major will want to abandon the policy, which had been agreed by Mr Lilley and his social security ministers. The Prime Minister ordered the idea to be put 'on hold' as part of the Government's strategy for restoring its popularity, when the Cabinet yesterday agreed the main ingredients for legislation in the next session of Parliament.

Mr Major, a former social security minister, decided that requiring women by 2010 to carry on working until 65 would inflict further damage on the Government.

By refusing to allow Mr Lilley to go ahead with a Bill in the autumn, Mr Major effectively has put off legislation until after the next general election.

However, the issue will not go away. Mr Lilley and his ministers decided to equalise the retirement age at 65 because it would save an estimated pounds 3bn. Equalising retirement at 60 by lowering the male retirement age would be prohibitively expensive.