HL Deb 28 November 1963 vol 253 cc751-2

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are yet able to report progress in dealing with the need for improved pensions for ex-Service widows.]


My Lords, since this question is still under consideration, Her Majesty's Government regret that they are not yet in a position to make a statement.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for his Answer, might I ask whether he realises how strong is the feeling in all ex-Service quarters that the time has come when something should be done to improve the lot of this very deserving class, ex-Service widows; and, furthermore, how strongly the opinion is held that it should be possible, given good will on all sides, to reconcile the maintenance of the principle of immutability of pensions with the need to improve the lot of the ex-Service widow; and how much all ex-Service organisations in the country support the view that I have just put forward?


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, may I humbly say that, for what my opinion is worth, I strongly support my noble friend?


My Lords, I think I have been asked two questions. In answer to the first supplementary question I would reply that I am aware of the depth of feeling in this matter. I am indeed acutely aware of it, since I notice that there happens to be one pre-Grigg widow over 75, a widow of an Admiral of the Fleet, and I am exposed to a certain amount of personal pressure apart from public pressure on this matter.

As regards the wider issue which my noble friend raised, he will, of course realise that there are a number of complicated matters involved here, of which the Service widows happen to be only one part. But I will, of course, see that the views which he and my other noble friend have expressed in this regard are brought to the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it would not be true to say that a good deal of the trouble comes from the strict adhesion, through the Treasury, to the 1919 Code, although in many cases there are widows now of men who went back into the Services and served right through the last war? Although there have been some increases in pensions they do not seem to be adequate in relation to the rise in the cost of living. Ought we not to consider in general the widow who is pressed in a great number of regards? This matter was debated by my noble friend Baroness Summerskill on the Opposition Amendment introduced last week. I hope that the Minister who is answering the Question will give us some hope that we can get a more general statement, including the one mentioned, quite rightly, by the noble Viscount.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for his reply, may I remind him that the difficult is that which can be done at once, and the impossible is that which takes a little longer?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the reminder. I should like to look carefully at what the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition has just said, but I would make it quite clear that this matter is regarded by Her Majesty's Government as not only an important but also an urgent one.