HL Deb 15 May 1973 vol 342 cc671-7

2.47 p.m.


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 will clarify the statement made on the 2nd May 1973, regarding improvements in the Armed Forces' Occupational Pension Scheme and widows' benefits, and more particularly indicate whether any of these benefits, including the increased widows' allowances, will apply to First and Second War persons, for example, the blinded ex-Servicemen and their widows who are under the care of St. Dunstan's and the Scottish National Institution for the War Blinded.


My Lords, the improvements in the Armed Forces occupational pension scheme announced by my noble friend the Secretary of State for Defence on May 2 apply, as he then stated, only to those who give service on or after March 31, 1973. They do not apply to Servicemen disabled or killed in the World Wars whose disability or widows' pensions are the responsibility of my Department.


My Lords, while thanking Her Majesty's Government and, for that matter, all Governments in the last fifty years of all Parties for the special consideration they have given to these categories in whom I am interested, may I ask whether it is not likely to be thought to be discrimination or invidious to give the young men so much more than the veterans, bearing in mind that both suffer the same disbility and both have to meet the same costs of living?


My Lords, I think we are all somewhat in the same condition, in that there are the two forms of pension: there is the National Insurance pension, which is a flat-rate pension, for which anyone who has contributed to the National Insurance Scheme is eligible, and then there are occupational pensions which are related to the earnings of the man in his career; and in all occupational schemes any benefits normally date from the time when increased benefits are made. I think this case is exactly the same situation: that the Scheme has been amended for the better but only people who are in the Scheme from March 31, 1973, will benefit.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware (in support of the noble Lord, Lord Fraser, whose work for the blinded ex-Servicemen everyone in this Chamber admires) that BLESMA, the limbless ex-Servicemen, that FEPOW, the Far Eastern prisoners of war, that AJEX, The Association of Jewish ex-Servicemen, and the great Royal British Legion itself, warmly congratulate Her Majesty's Government on this signal improvement in the condition of the ex-Servicemen and their widows after May, 1973; but that, having said that, it places the widows of the ex-Servicemen of the two World Wars in a less favourable position than the widows of Servicemen after May, 1973? Will he look at the whole problem of the position of the widows of the ex-Servicemen before May, 1973?


My Lords, I should like warmly to welcome what the noble Lord has said about my noble friend's service for the blind ex-Servicemen. I am also grateful to him for speaking of the welcome given by various organisations to this new arrangement. But I would point out that war pensions have gone up a great deal in the last three years. I think we have done more than any Government to increase the pensions of the war pensioners. On the subject of the widows, of course this Scheme relates in the same way to the widow of any man who has an occupational pension scheme. When improvements are made in an occupational pension scheme it benefits those people who are in the scheme at the time when improvements are introduced.

So far as the widows of ex-Servicemen are concerned, there are plans to make it possible for a man who has hitherto been on the old Scheme to buy himself into the new Scheme, as it were, and to make it possible for his widow to receive the 50 per cent. benefit that the new Scheme offers rather than the one-third benefit that is possible under the old Scheme.


My Lords, while regretting the somewhat disputable claim that this Government have done more for ex-Servicemen than any other Government, which is not a matter we wish to argue about, except to say that it is highly dubious, is it not a fact that the Occupational Pension Scheme will not have an immediate effect because it is something that is essentially built up over a period, except where widows' benefits are concerned? And while we are moving in this respect on to a new system of pensions, and one in which I believe the Government are going the right way, is it for consideration as to whether some additional sympathy should be given to those who are nat able to get the benefit of this kind of scheme? We tend to leave behind the old who lived in a less just age. Could this matter be considered at the time of the annual review of pension rates?


My Lords, all these points are considered annually when reviews are made of all pension rates, and certainly, as I said before, in the last three years vast improvements have been made. A 100 per cent. pensioner from the last war who is married and getting unemployability supplement and full invalidity allowance, will be over £11.50 a week better off this October than he was in 1970. I think the present war pensions scheme has been greatly improved and I think the new Ministry of Defence Scheme, which has been so widely welcomed, is a great improvement.


My Lords, while paying tribute to all Governments, of all Parties, is it not still the case that it is the "take home" money that counts, and that the young fellow or his widow will take home more money than the veteran? Can the Government look at this matter again please?


My Lords, as I was trying to explain to my noble friend, I am afraid this is common to all occupational pension schemes. It is exactly the same in the Civil Service, as it is in the Services of the Crown, that pensions have been improved recently and new occupational schemes have been introduced from which only those who have joined the scheme at that point are able to benefit.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he can clarify one point about the new arrangements? Is there any precedent in the history of war pensions whereby, when some new arrangement is brought into effect, those who have in fact been drawing pension under various old schemes are not brought up to the level of the new? Secondly, my noble friend referred to a serving man being able to buy himself into the new arrangement in certain circumstances. Is there any way whereby a widow, who no longer has a husband, is able to transfer from the old to the new Scheme?


No, my Lords. In reply to my noble friend's first question, there is, as I have been trying to explain, every precedent whereby people who have been working under one pension scheme do not change into a new pension scheme when it is introduced.


In the ex-Service world, my Lords?


My Lords, what I was trying to explain about the widows' pensions was that where a man is now serving and his pension scheme therefore allows for his widow to receive one-third of his pay in the event of his death, we are trying to find arrangements which would allow him to improve that to the 50 per cent. payment which is available under the new Scheme.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he can say what the amount would be if in fact the new pension arrangements were applied to pensioners of the First and Second World Wars?


My Lords, the amounts involved would be very large. I cannot give an exact figure, but certainly if one had to bring up to the standard of new schemes all those who were on previous schemes I doubt whether we should ever be able to afford to introduce a new scheme.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that it is somewhat anomalous that a war pensioner who receives a pension because of service in the First World War should be worse off than a pensioner who receives a pension because of service in the Second World War? Is that not the whole point?


My Lords, I think there are many other people who would say the same. It is not only the ex-Serviceman. There are a number of people working in industry and in the Civil Service, who, during the time they were serving were on one pension scheme and who are not so well off as those who may be currently serving on a new pension scheme.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is not correct that the war pension is governed by Royal Warrant as against the other types of pensions to which he has referred? If such is the case, is it too much to ask that it should be submitted again for consideration by his noble friend?


My Lords, I take deep note of what has been said to-day in supplementary questions on this matter and I will certainly report to my noble friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and particularly what has been said by my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, and perhaps also the noble Earl the Leader of the House, would consider whether we might again debate the anomalies. This is an immensely complex field with different types of pensions coming into effect now. Would the noble Lord agree that there is a feeling in the House, a feeling which I share and which I do not doubt that he himself appreciates, that in regard to those who have missed out—covering a very large number of people, including Members of Parliament—from earlier pension schemes, some further consideration might be given to an amelioration of their lot, and particularly in relation to the disabled from the First World War?


My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House has taken note of what the noble Lord has said and I am sure that if it is his wish a debate could be arranged through the usual channels.


My Lords, may I ask one question? The noble Lord has just said that were we to do this for earlier sufferers it would possibly have made us unwilling (or I think he said "unable") to introduce the later Scheme because we should then have become aware of the enormous cost. If the noble Earl the Leader of the House is to consider whether we should have a debate, would the noble Lord give us some evidence as to the assertion he has made? I have some doubts about it. I am in no position to assert those doubts, but he did assert his belief. Therefore, before we have a debate would he give us some figures that we could consider?


My Lords, if I can, I will most certainly give the figures. I think there are something like half a million war pensioners and presumably all of them would be affected.


My Lords, if the noble Lord is going to consider a debate to deal with the anomalies of pensioners, would he bear in mind that non-complaining class, the ranks of the Regular forces in between the wars, who are always left out because their pensions are given by grace and favour and not under a pension warrant? They do not complain but they happen, like myself, to have been born somewhat too early.


Yes, my Lords, I will certainly bear that point in mind.


My Lords, when we had the debate about the pensions for Civil Service officers serving overseas, a tribute was paid to the previous Government and this Government for their generosity, and I readily acknowledge that. But left in everybody's mind was an uncomfortable feeling that widows had not been sufficiently taken care of. In discussing this matter with his honourable friend, would not the Minister bring out the Civil Service aspect of this matter?


My Lords, I shall have to speak to my other noble friend on that point.