HC Deb 03 April 2000 vol 347 cc771-7

  1. '.—(1) The Secretary of State shall review the operation of this section when—
    1. (i) a report on the armed forces pension scheme has been laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State for Defence; and
    2. (ii) the results of any public consultation upon a report as cited in subsection (i) above have been published;
    and a report of any review carried out under this section shall be laid before Parliament.
  2. (2) Subject to subsection (3), a widow in receipt of a widow's pension under any of the enactments mentioned in subsection (4) ("the DSS pension") and in receipt of a pension paid under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme shall on remarriage or when living together as husband and wife with a member of the opposite sex only retain the Forces Family Pension (attributable).
  3. (3) Subsection (2) does not apply to a widow in receipt of a basic pension under section 44 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992; and a widow in receipt of such a pension who has remarried or is living together as husband and wife with a member of the opposite sex may not retain the Forces Family Pension (attributable).
  4. (4) The enactments referred to in subsection (2) are—
    1. (a) the Naval, Military and Air Forces etc. (Disablement and Death) Service Pensions Order 1983, and any order re-enacting the provisions of that order,
    2. (b) the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme 1983, and any subsequent scheme made under the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act 1939,
    3. (c) any scheme made under the Pensions (Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile Marine) Act 1939, or the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 applying the provisions of any such order as is referred to in paragraph (a),
    4. 772
    5. (d) the order made under section 1(5) of the Ulster Defence Regiment Act 1969 concerning pensions and other grants in respect of disablement or death due to service in the Ulster Defence Regiment.'.—[Mr. Willetts.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Willetts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

War widows have a long-standing grievance. When they remarry, they lose their armed forces family pension. We propose, as we have before, that approximately 2,500 post-1973 widows of men killed in the line of duty should retain their right to that pension even if they remarry.

This cause was particularly close to the heart of Michael Colvin, the late hon. Member for Romsey. He contributed an enormous amount to this subject, drawing on his own expertise in the armed forces. It has also been pursued vigorously by Baroness Strange in the other place. Indeed, the Minister of State has previously made encouraging sounds about it, and has made it clear that his heart was with us on this reform. In Standing Committee, he may been over-excited when he said: I may be putting myself in the hot seat by saying this, but if I were a Back Bencher, I would go for it. As a Minister, I shall, of course, explain why we should not proceed down that road.—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, Tuesday 7 March 2000; c. 751.1 As there are many Back Benchers in the Chamber, on both sides, I hope that the Minister will encourage them to vote for the new clause, which would rectify an injustice at modest cost. We understand concerns about the need to ring-fence the provision; we accept that, but the provision should be made to protect a narrow group of war widows. In the light of the review currently being undertaken, I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept our proposal.

Mr. David Heath

This is the third time that we have debated an amendment of this sort during the past six months. As the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said, there are clear reasons for doing something about the group of war widows involved. It would provide justice for them and their families, enabling them to rebuild their lives and get on with normal life without losing out. The cost to the Exchequer is minimal. Indeed, given the limited number of people involved, the change might even be beneficial because of the effect that it would have on morale in the services. We all know of the current recruitment and retention problems. The attitudes displayed by the current arrangements are frankly out of date in treating widows as chattels of their late husbands. We should not tolerate that any longer.

12.30 am

As the hon. Member for Havant said, in earlier discussions the Minister of State virtually told us that we were right but that he was not allowed to say so. I hope that he will reiterate that intimation this evening. I hope that we shall not hear figures bandied about from the brief as we have on previous occasions. At one point, we were told that this rather modest measure would cost £3 billion. I do not believe that to be the case, or that anyone believes that to be the case. It may have been an inappropriate suggestion.

I am very glad that the Secretary of State for Defence is in the Chamber. I know that he will be listening carefully to what is said and will wish the new clause to be pressed to a Division to assist his deliberations in the review.

We have been entirely consistent on this matter. If I have one small criticism of Conservative Front-Bench Members, it is the fact that I do not recall two consecutive debates in this and another place in which they have taken a consistent position. [Interruption.] Sadly, that is the case. Before 3 November, the Conservative Front-Bench team in another place voted against; when the measure came to this place, the Front-Bench team voted for; when it went back to the Lords, the Front-Bench team abstained; when it came back to this place, the Front-Bench team voted for again.

I hope that the hon. Member for Havant will communicate to his colleagues in another place the importance of the amendment; that the House will support it tonight; and that, even if it is not passed tonight, it will return to us from the House of Lords and we shall be able to put it into law.

Mr. Quentin Davies

I think that it will be in accordance with the mood of the House if I am extremely brief. This, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said, is a cause that has been with us for some time, and which the late Mr. Michael Colvin made his own. He did a magnificent job.

I want to speak to this issue both from the point of view of justice and from the point of view of practicality. From the point of view of justice, there is no doubt that the present situation is illogical, anomalous and, frankly, hypocritical. It has never been suggested that widows should wear their widows' weeds permanently. A widow who formed, for example, a permanent lesbian relationship or a widow who had a kaleidoscopic series of heterosexual relationships would be allowed to retain her pension, but a widow who forms a permanent relationship or gets remarried loses the totality of her pension. As a constituent who is a war widow put it to me, "We really have a choice between celibacy, dishonesty"—that is to say, concealment of the actual position—"and promiscuity." That is an absurd situation in which to place war widows. From the point of view of justice, there is absolutely nothing to be said for the present situation, and it is shameful that it has not already been righted.

From the point of view of practicality, the issue of cost always arises—quite rightly—but in recent wars such as the Falklands war, Operation Desert Storm and so on, the number of our casualties has been very limited, so, fortunately, the group of war widows with which we have to deal post-second world war is relatively small and, we trust, will remain that way. It therefore seems to me that the cost of justice is not very great; and when the cost of justice is not overwhelming, there is absolutely no excuse for the House not to choose the road of justice.

Mr. Rooker

About eight hours ago, when I was discussing national insurance contributions, I alluded to the fact that at that time I was speaking on behalf of my right hon. Friends in the Treasury, and that later in the day, I would be doing the same for another Department. I have been asked to be really brief. This is the time when, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, I have to tell the House that this matter is under consideration and that the situation has not changed since we last spoke. I am not going to bandy about figures. The cost of the new clause is £3 million for the 2,500 war widows.

My right hon. Friend will report to the House. I have raised the matter personally with him, as I said I would in November 1999, when I drew the short straw during consideration of Lords amendments to the Bill that became the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. Defence Ministers take the issue extremely seriously. The review will come to the House this summer. There will be adequate consultation on it, and I hope that we can reach a satisfactory conclusion on behalf of this very important group of people. I do not want to enter into the debate about how we feel about them, but there is a serious issue to be dealt with, and I hope that it can be dealt with as soon as possible.

Mr. Willetts

We appreciate that the Minister believes that there is an injustice that needs to be corrected. To help him on his way and in his negotiations with the Ministry of Defence, we propose to press the issue to a vote to show how strongly we feel that war widows are entitled to a better deal.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided:Ayes 141, Noes 265.

Division No. 140] [12.35 am
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Fabricant, Michael
Amess, David Fallon, Michael
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Fearn, Ronnie
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Flight, Howard
Beith, Rt Hon A J Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Bercow, John Foster, Don (Bath)
Beresford, Sir Paul Fox, Dr Liam
Body, Sir Richard Fraser, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Garnier, Edward
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia George, Andrew (St Ives)
Brady, Graham Gibb, Nick
Brake, Tom Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brand, Dr Peter Gray, James
Brazier, Julian Green, Damian
Breed, Colin Greenway, John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Grieve, Dominic
Browning, Mrs Angela Gummer, Rt Hon John
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Burnett, John Harris, Dr Evan
Burstow, Paul Harvey, Nick
Butterfill, John Hayes, John
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Heald, Oliver
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Chope, Christopher Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Clappison, James Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hunter, Andrew
Collins, Tim Jenkin, Bernard
Cotter, Brian Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Cran, James
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Key, Robert
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Kirkwood, Archy
Day, Stephen Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Duncan, Alan Lansley, Andrew
Duncan Smith, Iain Leigh, Edward
Evans, Nigel Letwin, Oliver
Faber, David Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Soames, Nicholas
Livsey, Richard Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spicer, Sir Michael
Llwyd, Elfyn Spring, Richard
Loughton, Tim Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Steen, Anthony
Maclean, Rt Hon David Streeter, Gary
McLoughlin, Patrick Stunell, Andrew
Malins, Humfrey Swayne, Desmond
Mates, Michael Syms, Robert
May, Mrs Theresa Tapsell, Sir Peter
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Nicholls, Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Norman, Archie Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Oaten, Mark Tredinnick, David
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Trend, Michael
Page, Richard Tyler, Paul
Paice, James Tyrie, Andrew
Pickles, Eric Viggers, Peter
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Wardle, Charles
Prior, David Waterson, Nigel
Redwood, Rt Hon John Webb, Steve
Rendel, David Whitney, Sir Raymond
Robathan, Andrew Whittingdale, John
Robertson, Laurence Willetts, David
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Ruffley, David Yeo, Tim
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
St Aubyn, Nick
Sanders, Adrian Tellers for the Ayes:
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Mr. Peter Luff and
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Mr. John Randall.
Ainger, Nick Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clelland, David
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Clwyd, Ann
Atherton, Ms Candy Coaker, Vernon
Atkins, Charlotte Coffey, Ms Ann
Austin, John Cohen, Harry
Banks, Tony Coleman, Iain
Barnes, Harry Colman, Tony
Barron, Kevin Connarty, Michael
Bayley, Hugh Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Beard, Nigel Corbett, Robin
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Benton, Joe Cousins, Jim
Bermingham, Gerald Crausby, David
Berry, Roger Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Blears, Ms Hazel Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Dalyell, Tam
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bradshaw, Ben Darvill, Keith
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Browne, Desmond Davidson, Ian
Buck, Ms Karen Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Burden, Richard Dean, Mrs Janet
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Dismore, Andrew
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dobbin, Jim
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Donohoe, Brian H
Campbell-Savours, Dale Doran, Frank
Caplin, Ivor Dowd, Jim
Casale, Roger Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Caton, Martin Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Cawsey, Ian Edwards, Huw
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Ennis, Jeff
Clapham, Michael Field, Rt Hon Frank
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Fisher, Mark
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara Mackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McNulty, Tony
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) MacShane, Denis
Foulkes, George Mactaggart, Fiona
Gardiner, Barry McWalter, Tony
Gerrard, Neil McWilliam, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Mahon, Mrs Alice
Godman, Dr Norman A Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Godsiff, Roger Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Goggins, Paul Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Golding, Mrs Llin Maxton, John
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Miller, Andrew
Grocott, Bruce Moffatt, Laura
Grogan, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Morley, Elliot
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John Mountford, Kali
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Heppell, John Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hill, Keith Norris, Dan
Hinchliffe, David O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Olner, Bill
Hope, Phil O'Neill, Martin
Hopkins, Kelvin Osborne, Ms Sandra
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Palmer, Dr Nick
Howells, Dr Kim Pearson, Ian
Hoyle, Lindsay Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Perham, Ms Linda
Humble, Mrs Joan Pickthall, Colin
Hurst, Alan Pike, Peter L
Hutton, John Plaskitt, James
Iddon, Dr Brian Pollard, Kerry
Illsley, Eric Pond, Chris
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pope, Greg
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pound, Stephen
Jamieson, David Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jenkins, Brian Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Prosser, Gwyn
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Quinn, Lawrie
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Roche, Mrs Barbara
Keeble, Ms Sally Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Rooney, Terry
Kemp, Fraser Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Rowlands, Ted
Khabra, Piara S Roy, Frank
Kidney, David Ruane, Chris
Kilfoyle, Peter Ruddock, Joan
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Ryan, Ms Joan
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Savidge, Malcolm
Laxton, Bob Sawford, Phil
Lepper, David Sedgemore, Brian
Leslie, Christopher Short, Rt Hon Clare
Levitt, Tom Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Singh, Marsha
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Skinner, Dennis
Linton, Martin Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Lock, David Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Love, Andrew Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McCabe, Steve Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McDonagh, Siobhain Soley, Clive
Macdonald, Calum Southworth, Ms Helen
McDonnell, John Spellar, John
McFall, John Squire, Ms Rachel
McGuire, Mrs Anne Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Walley, Ms Joan
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Ward, Ms Claire
Stoate, Dr Howard Watts, David
Stringer, Graham White, Brian
Stuart, Ms Gisela Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sutcliffe, Gerry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Winnick, David
Wood, Mike
Temple-Morris, Peter Woodward, Shaun
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Woolas, Phil
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Worthington, Tony
Touhig, Don Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Trickett, Jon Wright Dr Tony (Cannock)
Truswell, Paul Wyatt, Derek
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Tellers for the Noes:
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Mr. Clive Betts and
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Mr. Graham Allen.

Question accordingly negatived.

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