HL Deb 14 April 1976 vol 369 cc2198-245

1.53 p.m.

Lord CHELWOOD rose to call attention to the inadequacy of war widows' pensions and the wide disparities in their pension income; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I greatly welcome this chance of drawing attention to the inadequacy of war widows' pensions and to the wide disparity in their pension income. I understand that if I stick strictly to my time limit, and if the noble Lord the Minister takes his full time, there will be a good ten minutes for other noble Lords who have been good enough to indicate that they wish to speak in this debate.

My Lords, this subject is very complicated, and I can only try to explain it in outline in my twenty minutes. I should like to say that where the war widows themselves are concerned they simply cannot understand why there is such inequity between the treatment of one war widow and another. I feel strongly that it is high time that the confusion was cleared up and that initial steps were taken to put war widows' pensions on a more straightforward, more understandable and more equitable basis.

I am very glad indeed to say that this question is not in any way bedevilled by Party politics, as too many things are; but I think that we must all accept that successive Governments—successive Parties, perhaps I should say—have made promises in general terms when Elections have been in the offing and then not carried them out as fully as many of us feel they should have been carried out. Today, at a time when public expenditure must not only be curbed but cut and cut hard, it would be unrealistic and irresponsible for me to ask for anything more than token extra expenditure. I therefore beg the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, when he comes to reply, to view this debate as an exchange of ideas, on a non-Party basis, on how best to achieve an object which I believe we all share.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not asking for parity, which has so often been asked for in the past. I am not asking for it now or even in the foreseeable future. Parity I think is the ideal, but I recognise that it is beyond the nation's means at present, so it must be ruled out, at any rate on cost, though I was very sorry that in another place the Government appeared to rule it out in principle as well. With that I do not agree. I am not asking, either, that war widows' pensions should be made tax free. There are probably many noble Lords who think that this should be so. It is the case in many countries in Western Europe and in all the old Commonwealth countries, and I certainly do not rule out this possibility, but I am not asking for it today.

I also want to make it absolutely clear that I am only concerning myself today with the pensions awarded to war widows, that is to attributable pensions awarded to Service widows. The very term "war widows" is itself misleading. It refers to the widows of officers and other ranks whose death is accepted by the Department of Health and Social Security as resulting from or being hastened by their service in the Armed Forces. I hope that is exactly right. It is as well to know what we are talking about. Six months ago, I gather, there were about 91,000 such war widows. Roundly, 25,000 of them were widowed in the First World War—and they must all be 75 years old or more—or between the wars, and some 66,000, I think, from the 1939–45 war and the years since. It would be interest- ing to know the latest figures. Inevitably, of course, these figures are naturally declining, I believe by about 3,000 a year.

May I try to give a brief, though I fear inadequate, outline of the main changes in the pattern of war widows' pensions over the past 30 years, not an easy task. Until the early 1950s a war widow's pension, that is an attributable pension, was at a reasonably generous level. I recognise that without any doubt at all. In 1948 the National Insurance widows' pension was introduced, first at a low rate but gradually increasing, and in 1950 the Forces Family Pension Scheme started. A war widow who lost her husband before these new schemes were introduced was not entitled to either of those pensions in addition to her war widows' pension. Therefore, though there is still a differential, as I shall explain in a moment, between a war widow and other widows, resulting, I suppose, from what is commonly called overlapping benefits, the differential began to be eroded, the former not being entitled to overlapping benefits.

I should like to spell out four reasons why, as a matter of principle, I think that war widows should expect and indeed deserve to get special consideration, and I do not think that there is any conflict of opinion between the three main political Parties about these points. The only difference of opinion would arise over how big the differential should be. First of all, members of the Armed Forces are servants of the Crown; they are not, like civil servants, Government servants. They cannot sue their employers—that is to say, the Crown—for instance, for wrongful dismissal, nor can they appeal to the Ombudsman. Therefore, their widows, unlike other widows, cannot sue their late husband's employers. Secondly, they cannot expect to be covered by insurance schemes which accept the risk of death attributable to conditions of their work. Thirdly, with the unique exception of Northern Ireland, they cannot seek civil compensation through the courts. Lastly, some war widows were married to men who voluntarily accepted not only the risks inherent in service in the Armed Forces but the duty of accepting an order which could endanger their lives; but, on the other hand, many other war widows were in fact married to men who were conscripted under National Service and had no choice at all in this respect.

May I now try to describe the position of a war widow whose husband died before 1st September 1950. Her present basic war widow's pension paid by the Department of Health and Social Security is £17.20 per week, compared with the National Insurance basic widow's pension of £13.30 a week. So recognition of her special circumstances is expressed by a differential of £3.90 a week. On 15th November next these rates will change, and I understand that the differential will then rise to about £4.50 a week. But I think we should bear in mind—and I do not want to make a partisan point—that the increases that are going to be given across the board are not going to compensate for the inflation we have actually suffered, as the rises will be in the nature of 15 per cent. and not of 22½ per cent. Worse still, war widows' pensions will of course be subject, as they always have been, to taxation, whereas the increases given to the unemployed will not be so subject. I do not wish to introduce into this non-Party debate any element whatsoever of Party conflict; I only want to explain the position where war widows are concerned.

The pre-1950 war widow, with one minor exception, is not entitled, by the way, to any addition to her war widow's pension apart from the age allowances. I think that these started in a modest way in 1958, or round about then. They now amount to £1.70 a week for those over 65, rising to £3.40 for those over 70. No doubt these figures will be going up next November. It is unfortunately true, and very sad, that a considerable number of these war widows from before 1950, to whom I have been referring, who are entitled only to the DHSS pension, are so in need that they have to apply for supplementary benefits. The same is true of war widows bereaved between September 1950 and March 1973; quite a number of them as well have to apply for supplementary benefits. I wish to be quite outspoken here and to say that I think it is absolutely scandalous that any war widow should be reduced to seeking supplementary benefits in order to meet essential expenses.

From 31st March 1973 a war widow became eligible for an attributable forces family pension in addition to her war widow's pension, and this new attributable pension is not tied in any way to length of service. I want to ask, how can anyone begin to explain, or even try to explain, to a war widow whose husband served a number of years, why she should be far worse off—I emphasise, "far worse off"—than another war widow whose husband perhaps served for one week before she was bereaved in similar circumstances? I do not think there is a logical or proper explanation.

There are many other complications where war widows' pensions are concerned; many exceptions, many absurdities, many illogicalities, and many things which are not easy to understand, but I cannot go into them now in the time available. I can, however, give an example or two of the glaring anomalies that have been created. The widow of an Army major with 20 years' service killed in the 1939–45 war receives no pension from the Ministry of Defence, only her war widow's pension from the DHSS of £987 a year. But if this Army major died today from attributable causes, his widow would receive a pension of £2,505 a year in addition to her war widow's pension—a total of £3,399, or three and a half times as much as if her husband had been killed in the 1939–45 war. That really is an incredible and unjustifiable situation.

The same kind of figures apply to a war widow of a sergeant killed in 1943 compared with the war widow of a sergeant killed yesterday—perhaps in Northern Ireland. The same sort of figures apply also to the widow of a private soldier. Where the former, the sergeant, is concerned, today's pension is roughly two and a half times what it would be if he had been killed in 1943; and where the private is concerned it is rather more than twice as large. These are very great anomalies indeed.

It is unfortunate that responsibility for war widows' pensions is divided between two Ministries. The Department of Health and Social Security is responsible for paying small pensions to which war widows are entitled by reason of their husband's attributable death, but the Ministry of Defence pays the modified forces family pension, and the attributable forces family pension as well. I cannot help saying, after having been a Member of another place for some 29 years or so and trying to help war widows in a variety of ways, that I have found there has been quite a lot of buck-passing between the two Government Departments concerned. Incidentally, I did not mention in connection with a widow of a man whose death is attributable to service in Northern Ireland that, unlike any other war widow, she may sue for civil compensation, so that accentuates matters still further. There is no time to explain the anomalies existing between the widows of those who died before 1st September 1950, and those who died between that date and 31st March, 1973, and those who died after that date. I have just touched on this subject, and I can assure your Lordships that the distinctions are arbitrary and unjust, and regarded as such by the war widows concerned.

I have a number of questions that I should like to have answered. I have taken the liberty of sending them to the noble Lord the Minister who is to reply. I am sorry that it was rather late in the day. He has been kind enough to tell me that he has got them and will do his best to answer them fully. To save time, I shall not go through them now. They refer to the number of war widows in receipt of supplementary pensions. There is a question about how many war widows are receiving the modified forces family pension in addition to their war widow's pension, and a number of other questions as well.

I come to my suggestions, my quite modest requests on behalf of war widows, to which I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will give encouraging answers. First, I suggest that there should be an end to this division of responsibility between two Government Departments for the payment of war widows' pensions, and a return to single responsibility, which worked much better. I suggest that this responsibility should now be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Ministry of Defence. This would mean streamlining the system and would surely result in a saving in administrative costs. Secondly, I suggest very strongly indeed that in some appropriate form, and soon—in time, shall we say, at any rate, for the next Session—the facts and figures relating to war widows' pensions should be made public. They have been concealed behind a cloak or a smokescreen—I do not know exactly what to call it—and they have been so difficult to get at that to put the whole story together is an incredibly difficult operation. I feel that we are entitled to know exactly the position.

Whether these facts and figures should be published as a White Paper, whether there should be a Select Committee or whether there should be an inter-Departmental publication, I do not particularly mind; but I am absolutely sure that the facts and figures are all available in the two Departments concerned and that they should be made public. Perhaps at the same time some comparisons might be made, where they are valid—and they are not by any means always valid—with other EEC countries, bearing in mind that it is part of the Treaty of Rome that the social services should be harmonised gradually upwards, and there is no doubt from the investigations I have made that, on the whole, war widows are much more generously treated in other EEC countries than they are here.

Thirdly—in some ways this is the most important; this is my only suggestion for expenditure—I feel very strongly indeed that the basic war widow's pension should as of right be at such a level and kept at such a level, as the cost of living rises, as to ensure that no war widow ever again has to depend on supplementary benefit to make both ends meet. She should not have to appeal to charity, which many are too proud to do. I received a letter this morning from my noble friend Lord Haig who reminded me of this point and who asked me to mention it.

I conclude by summing up the three suggestions I have made. I should like Her Majesty's Government to put this whole question on a far better and sounder footing. This is long overdue. I am asking the Government, first, to give one Ministry sole responsibility; secondly, to spell out in detail the present position, warts and all, perhaps in a White Paper—that might be the most appropriate method; and, thirdly, to make a token gesture in the very near future by helping our neediest war widows. I believe that, if all three of these things were done, it would do a lot to restore faith in the Government's good intentions. Then, later on, when our feeble economy begins to recover through the creation of new wealth, as we profoundly hope it will before long, those war widows with the smallest pensions must be given the highest priority as, step by step, justice is done and the great anomalies, some of which I have described, are gradually removed. The suffering, anxieties and sacrifices that have to be endured by war widows and their families are inevitable, but the shabby treatment meted out to those who are the neediest is not.

2.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will he grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, for raising this important matter today. This question of war widows' pensions gives rise for concern in all quarters of the House, a concern which I am sure is fully shared by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who will reply to the debate for the Government. To be fair to the Government, we must recognise the fact that the basic war widows' pension has been raised from £10.10 to £17.20 during the lifetime of the present Government and, as Lord Chelwood said, it will rise to £19.80 in November. Lord Chelwood referred also to the age allowances of £1.70 at age 65 which will go up to £1.95 and £3.40 at age 70, which will go up to £3.90, and there are certain allowances as well which are tax free.

As I understand it, the basic war widow's pension has been kept consistently at about 30 per cent. above the National Insurance level. It has, therefore, been increased to offset inflation in the main. It has been increased in line with the increases of other benefits, but we know that the basic National Insurance pension itself is inadequate and that about one-third of the recipients have to rely on supplementary benefit. I believe that about 5 per cent. of the recipients of war widows' pensions also rely on supplementary benefit, and the question is whether the 30 per cent. above the National Insurance level is a proper level for a war widow's basic pension. We know that it is lower than the pension paid in many countries—I believe that in the Netherlands the war widow's pension is £52 a week—and clearly the Government do not think that this level is enough, since in 1973 they set up the armed forces pension scheme, under the Ministry of Defence, which is virtually an occupational scheme for Servicemen. Under this, those war widows since 1973, their husbands having been killed on active service, receive in addition to the war widows' pension, as Lord Chelwood said, another pension which probably about doubles the total amount and there is provision for a lump-sum payment as well.

Should the pension of the pre-1973 widows be increased to the post-1973 level? Lord Chelwood obviously thought that in principle it should, although he made it clear that he was not pressing for that at the moment. The Government say, or have said in the past, that they cannot make a new occupational scheme retrospective; that an employer would not be expected to make provision for employees already retired if he were introducing an occupational scheme or widows already widowed. But I think that the Government cannot be regarded as having no more obligation in this matter than an ordinary employer. If the State expects some of its citizens to run the risk of death on active service, then it has a very particular responsibility to the families of those citizens in the event of their death. The Government say, quite apart from the question whether this should be done in principle, that there is the question of cost. I believe that it costs about £86½ million to provide the war widows' pensions at the moment and that to give parity to pre-1973 widows would cost a further £100 million. But the Government say—and one can see the point—that, if there are not to be two levels of war widows, the same must apply to disablement pensioners, and this would bring the total cost up to £250 million. But I am not clear whether in computing that sum the Government have taken into effect the amount which would be clawed back in tax. Perhaps the noble Lord can give us further enlightenment on that point.

Mention of taxes raises the whole question, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, of whether the war widows' pension should be taxed. Personally I have no objection to pensions being taxed, provided that the tax threshold is at a reasonable level. At present, as a result both of inflation and of not increasing the personal allowances to match inflation, we are in the position where the threshold is far too low, and many widows and others on low incomes have been brought into the tax net, but should not be there. The task is to raise the threshold to a proper level and then, I suggest, index the personal allowances so that they would rise automatically as the cost of living rises. I believe that the increases in social security benefits, announced last week, cost another £1,390 million as a whole, which we understand is covered by the recent increases in contributions.

I mention that figure in order to put in perspective the figure of £250 million. I realise the current financial limitations, and I wish to take a responsible attitude to them. But I can recall many things in the past which have been said to be too expensive and yet eventually have been found possible, even essential. Therefore, while appreciating all the economic factors militating against it, I will continue to press for the establishment of parity for war widows at the earliest possible date.

2.22 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Chelwood for introducing this debate this afternoon and for explaining the case so very clearly. He is an expert on this question, and I very much wish to support the suggestions he has made to the Government. The three of them are valuable, because it seems to me that the divided responsibility between the Department of Health and Social Security and the Ministry of Defence must make for administrative expense, if not the general difficulties that always arise when there is a need to consult two Departments over the affairs of one particular group of people. I hope that we will see either a White Paper or a full inquiry into this whole question, and that we see this within a measurable length of time. I should say that a period of six months would not be unreasonable, because it seems to me that the more one looks at this matter the more confusing and the more difficult it is. Although it is not for us on this side of the House to make proposals about the level of war widows' pensions, having looked at the matter I am convinced that something ought to be done about it.

I come to this debate not at all as an expert, but as somebody who has looked at this whole question in considerable detail for the first time only in the past few weeks. I do not flatter myself that I am good at doing very many things, but years of experience in public life have, I hope, taught me to read White Papers and to learn the subjects upon which I am about to speak. I have found this to be one of the most difficult and complex subjects I have looked at, and therefore it is hardly surprising that for the people involved it is totally unintelligible. I speak not only for this side of the House but for the country as a whole when I say that it is quite disgraceful to have allowed such an extraordinary situation ever to arise.

I understand that it is thought that there are 91,000 war widows, of whom approximately 2,500 receive an additional pension from the Ministry of Defence. These 2,500 are divided into four separate categories, and I understand that their pension may be based on the date either of the death of their husband or of his service. Therefore it will be readily apparent that there are at least five categories of war widows receiving five different levels of war pension, and receiving within those categories some differences as well. Small wonder, therefore, that everybody is confused; and small wonder that people must feel resentful that because of some arbitrary quirk of fate they are so much worse off than somebody else, whereas they have all suffered as much as any woman can expect to suffer by losing her husband.

Therefore, there is the case of the anomalies. Then there is the case of the unfairness of it. I can well appreciate, as can anyone who has ever taken positions of responsibility, the dislike of special pleading. But, after all, war widows are a special case, and they have been recognised as a special case by Government Departments in two respects. In the first place, they are paid 30 per cent. more than other widows, which makes them a special case, and, I understand, they are paid an extra amount at age 65, and a further extra amount at the age of 70. Neither of these two categories applies to other widows. I do not understand why the figure of 30 per cent. was arrived at, and I have been unable to find anyone who can tell me what it was based on. But if it was based on some decision about 25 years ago I should have thought that it was at least open to question that it should be reviewed now. After all, in the past 25 years nearly all of us have undergone a rise in our standing of living; certainly we have had a rise in our expectations. It seems to me quite wrong that this group of people, who have suffered through no fault of their own, should have been left with this quite arbitrary scale, to fend for themselves in a world in which they see other people prospering.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Chelwood. I regard it as a national scandal that 5,000 war widows should be receiving supplementary benefit. I do not think that anyone interested in this subject can rest until that is put right. What we do not know is whether the war widows' pension has risen in real terms at all since first institued. We know that it is subject to tax, and we know, furthermore, that the war widows' pension, being linked to other pensions, now suffers from this curious anomaly as seen in the most recently published figures on pensions (in the Budget Statement) whereby those receiving pensions have got a slightly lower proportionate increase than those receiving unemployment benefit. It is difficult to argue between one group of people and another. But the fact is that if the basis of the calculation is altered at very short notice, a great many people will be worse off; and just as, relatively speaking, retirement pensioners are worse off, as are widows and others, so, of course, are the war widows, too. Thus it seems to me only right that because this situation is anomalous and unfair the matter should be looked at.

I wish to turn to the group of people who receive supplementary pensions from the Ministry of Defence. When looking at the figures I was aghast to see how little some of these people get. Let us take one case as an example. A widow now aged 91 is living on a total income of £957 widows' pension, plus £176.80 age allowance. She is therefore living on just over £21 a week and she only survives because of a charity. Another very similar case is that of a widow of 89 who is, again, living on between £20 and £21 a week. She lives in a nursing home and, again, is supported by charity. There must be many of these very hard and tragic cases. I believe that, if one looks at such cases, one can appreciate their situation very much more forcibly than if one simply talks about numbers and about people in general.

I should therefore like to suggest to the Government—and they will, I am sure, say that it is very hard to have special cases and, as the noble Lord, Lord Banks said, very hard to have legislation which works backwards in relation to people who have accepted a scale and who then find it impossible to manage on it so that another scale has to be produced for them—that there is a similarity between the case of these war widows and that of pensions for the over-80s. The arguments have quite a number of similarities. That group of old people were too old to join the scheme in 1948 and they were therefore left out. An Act of Parliament gave them pensions, and I was pleased to see, on looking at the list of retirement benefit increases, that the over-80s group are included and will get, as will everybody else, an increased pension under the Budget proposals.

One of the arguments in favour of pensions for that group was that they are a diminishing group. It seems to me that, in so far as one can foresee anything, elderly war widows in particular must also be a diminishing group and that there are some marked parallels. I should have thought that it ought not to be beyond the wit of two Government Departments to find a way of using this case as a precedent to help the war widows. I put this forward as a constructive suggestion which might be used in the argument.

Others who are far more experienced than I have spoken but I believe that, when we have looked at the admistrative case of these poor, unfortunate people and have studied the anomalies and unfairness of their situation, we should all remember that it is because they and their husbands have sacrificed everything that we are in a position to debate any benefits at all for our society.

2.34 p.m.


My Lords, I ought to declare an interest straight away, in that I am president of the Officers' Pension Society and am therefore very much interested in this subject. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, is to be thanked for drawing this subject to your Lordships' attention, as are the other speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I agree with everything they have said. However, if I highlight the position of the war widows, it is only because I feel that they have not done so. In my opinion, it is scandalous that as many as 5,000 war widows who are being paid £17.20 a month at the moment should have to go to supplementary benefit in order to sustain life. Last weekend, I saw a well-to-do widow who is 95; what she has to put up with, quite apart from the money, is terrible. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, we have unfortunately produced a system which one must be a genius to understand. I should like to underline what the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, said: these war widows who are paid by the Department of Health and Social Security cannot sue their husband's employer because that employer is the Crown. They cannot cover the possibility of their husband's death by insurance and they have had the courts highlight the possibility of civil compensation to a terrific degree in Northern Ireland.

To turn to the Ministry of Defence, four types of pension exist and one must be quite a clever widow in order to discover which one is entitled to. There is the forces family pension fund, the modified force's family pension, the attributable forces family pension, which is dated from 31st March 1973, and the ex gratia payments. The only one we are interested in is the attributable pension which relates to cases where the husband has died since 31st March 1973. Before that date, the fund to which a widow could apply depended on the date of her husband's death or service or when she became a widow and she must be quite a clever woman to know which is which.

The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, gave three conclusions. I should like to suggest that, although this is a very bad time to ask for extra money—indeed, we cannot do it—the Government could at least sort matters out as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has suggested and could arrange priorities for the better time which is coming. Meantime, these widows are dying at the rate of 3,500 a year, and there are very many old ladies-25,000 —whose widowhood dates from before World War I or up to World War II. That is over 30 per cent. of the 91,000 widows of whom we are speaking.

The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, made a very interesting suggestion when he proposed that the Government should review these complicated pensions which are most unfair, and suggested that the very fact of publication of a review would, it itself, have a good effect. Lastly, I should like to suggest that the DHSS, which pays the war widows' pensions, ought to pay £10 or £12 a week more to war widows. After all, they suffered the factors which I mentioned earlier and they ought to be completely free. It is an absolute scandal that they have to go to supplementary benefits or to charity.

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, for giving us this opportunity today to debate war widows' pensions and the many anomalies which exist in that area. I strongly support his suggestion that there should be a White Paper now to up-date and identify the exact situation with regard to these regulations, which have grown over the years like Topsy and can now best be described as "a dog's dinner". A very large proportion of the 91,000 war widow pensioners who have been referred to receive no pension of any sort at all except the one war widows' pension from the Department of Health and Social Security. So although we are not debating the affairs of a very large group of people, they are nevertheless very important, and people we cannot afford to forget.

There are very many anomalies in the war widows' pension scheme, but I am going to stress only one of them. It is an anomaly in itself, and it is the tax that a war widow receiving the basic standard war widows' pension has to pay. It is that on which I propose to base most of my arguments today. The case has been argued many times before, but in my view the situation has changed radically so that it is now imperative to lift the preferential element of these pensions out of the controversial area of wages and incomes negotiations by making them tax-free. To do this would mean a reduction in revenue, according to my calculations, of £7 million a year. It is not practical to compare the fiscal arrangements of one country with those of another, but, nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has said, there are 18 countries, including the United States, France, Germany, Canada and Japan, who award their war widows' pensions free of tax.

Admittedly, in step with the standard National Insurance widows' pension, the standard war widows' pension has risen since October 1974 from £10.10 a week to £17.20 a week and, as announced in the Budget, it will rise again on the 15th November to £19.80 a week, or just on £1,000 a year. But this pension is designed (and, as some noble Lords have already said, fails) to keep pace with inflation, and it is liable to taxation at the rate of £1.50 a wek, or £78 a year. The tax threshhold excludes from tax the standard widows' pension and the industrial widows' pension, but it does not exclude the war widows' pension, and that is what I want now to get excluded from tax. It therefore happens that the war preference element of a war widows' pension, which stands at just under £4 a week and has been maintained successfully by successive Governments at about 30 per cent. above the National Insurance standard widows' pension, is reduced and eroded by taxation down to 18 per cent.

The matter is further aggravated by the fact that the rise in the tax thresh-hold, forecast in the Budget, from £675 to £725 will, I understand, be subject to the current negotiations between the Government and the trade unions over tax and wage restraint. I do not wish to involve the House in other controversial matters, particularly when we are debating this subject, but I must say that it is from these controversial areas of negotiation that I would wish to exclude the war widows' pension. We live in times of powerful and active pressure groups. War widows are not powerful, and they cannot apply much pressure, but they want to share with their fellow countrymen the good things which they see all around them and which would have been theirs had their husbands not died on service. I think it is necessary to remind ourselves, as a number of noble Lords have done, of the reasons why the preferential element of the war widows' pension should be respected. When these war widows' pensions were first awarded in World War I and World War II (they were also awarded subsequently, but at that time), those two wars were still going on and were fresh in the minds of the public. At that time the nation felt not only a debt, but a strong sense of responsibility to these women. Time should not allow this sense of responsibility to be dimmed.

When I asked a Question on this subject last May and drew attention to the fact that a war widow living solely on her war widows' pension was now subjected to tax at the rate of £1·50 a week, I described the war widows' pension as "a memorial to her husband and his service to the country". That is exactly what it is. But these are sentimental arguments, and I believe we must find more practical arguments if we are going to justify any major adjustment in their pension. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has outlined most of these, but I should like to stress that in most cases a war widow's husband died or was killed in the war in very special circumstances. In most cases he was doing his duty and obeying orders which he was not in a position to disobey, and under conditions which were utterly without parallel in normal civilian or industrial life. As a member of the Armed Forces he could play no part in negotiating his terms or conditions of service, nor in his rates of pay or pension.

The other point which the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, mentioned merely emphasised the need to respect this war widows' pension element. How can you justify it to a war widow that the little extra pension that a man or woman receives as a result of losing a limb through service is tax-free, whereas the little extra preference which she gets because her husband was killed on war service is taxed? The whole problem was caused, in my opinion, by a bad ruling given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1919—the year in which I was born, incidentally—when he said that, "war widows' pension was paid in augmentation of income diminished by death". Of course, it is much more than that, as I have tried to point out. Incidentally, the Royal Warrant which deals with pensions, including war widows' pensions, spells it out that the pension is compensation for death or injury. That would not appear to be in agreement with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in 1919. What I am trying to argue is that the war widows' pension in general and the preference element in particular should be tax-free, and I regard this as a debt of honour owed to these women by the nation.

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, for raising this matter. He made an attempt to do so on a previous occasion, when it got rather mixed up with supplementary benefit, and the issues did not come out so clearly then as they have done today. The term "war widows" suggests to many people today a legacy of the past rather than a current and continuing claim upon the sympathy and resources of the nation, and it is the latter that we must keep before people today. While paying tribute to the sacrifices and the valour of those who fought, in war, for freedom, the dreadful consequences, the legacies of loneliness and bereavement, are easily forgotten. There are many clamorous voices in the economy today and the reasonable claims of war widows should not be overlooked.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, was altogether too modest and restrained. One should not let feelings about public expenditure mute the demand for justice. After all, the whole of the Government's pensions policy, notwithstanding the economic difficulties of today, is to uphold the position of those who no longer are able to recover falling values in their domestic resources by demands for pay increases and for additions to emoluments of various kinds. War widows are heavily dependent on the State. They cannot get benefits from increased National Insurance contributions of others. It is therefore upon public expenditure that the war widows must rely. The economists are now drawing a distinction between expenditure which makes a demand on resources and expenditure which is a transfer payment, a transfer of purchasing power from one part of the community to another. So I do not think that we need be unduly afraid of public expenditure in this connection.

May I, however, make a comment for a moment on a matter which I do not think provides the remedy, and that is taxation relief. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, mentioned it a moment ago and it was referred to in earlier speeches. There is no administrative difficulty about this. It is just as easy to exempt a war widow's pension as to exempt a disablement pension—and a disablement pension is exempted. Moreover, we realise that the taxation systems of many other countries provide for tax exemption of war widows pensions. It is, perhaps, that we have a convention of relativities and comparative justice which it is extremely difficult to overcome. We are more sensitive to degrees of fairness, perhaps, than one sees in the systems of other countries. One raises the question of the exemption of war widows' pensions: and immediately there is the question of the police pension, of the fireman's pension, of the industrial injuries pension and all deaths which are violent or caused by disease consequent upon one's vocation or service, other pensions in the public services due to death on duty by accident or even more violent treatment by vandals and others.

This is the problem. It does not stop at the war widows in the sort of atmosphere in which we look at comparative justice in our tax system. Moreover, tax exemption benefits only those who are tax liable and many of the war widows are not tax liable so that tax exemption would confer nothing on them. If we are going to have a tax exemption system as a part remedy for the problem of war widows, we must go to the Government's proposals for a combination of pay increase and tax reliefs so that those who do not get the benefit of tax relief get the benefit of tax money. I am sure that we would not wish to translate that complicated exercise which will occur in another place for some weeks to come and transplant it into the field of war widows.

In my opinion it is better to discard the tax exemption concession in this connection. We have debated it time and time again. We never get anywhere with it. With great respect, I am sure it is no good raising it now in the hope that therein lies the remedy. It does not. It lies in the straight movement towards adjustment of the amount of pensions so that we know what they are and taxation can take its part of the additional resources in the ordinary course of the incidence of taxation of citizens generally.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, made an extremely penetrating speech on this complicated subject in the space of a few minutes. I wish I could do it as succinctly and as briefly; but I shall not keep your Lordships very long. The real mischief of the complexities of the war widow's pension scheme is that it represents the failure of successive Ministers of Defence to overcome the resistance of the Treasury. It represents the Treasury view of remedying things for the future without giving corresponding benefits to the existing people. This is the old way in which the Treasury introduce reforms for future beneficiaries and do nothing for the people who are already claiming their pensions. That is very largely the explanation. Ministers of Defence have not been able to get a comprehensive reform and they have had to put up with piecemeal changes which benefit future and not the past beneficiaries. I believe that this question of war widows pension should now be looked at by a small and independent committee so that they can report to the public what condition these pensions are in—which is pretty dreadful.

I sympathise with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in trying to understand what is the real significance of these pensions. We have an attributable forces family pension. What is it? It is payable to all widows whose husbands gave service on or after 31st March 1973 and whose death in service was attributable, or whose death after attributable invalidity was attributable. What do you make of that? Yet this is the brief definition of a form of war widows' pension. It means that if you have got an invalid pension which is attributable to war service and you die then, at the end of it, you may get this extra pension for your death being attributable to a attributable condition of invalidism arising from war service. My explanation is just as intelligible as the original definition.

My Lords, I will conclude by saying that we should not, in my view, confine ourselves to what the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, called a token gesture. With respect, we do not want a token gesture. We want a revision of these pensions which will bring intelligibility and justice into an extremely anomalous code of war widows' pension. I think that that is what we ought to press for. I hope that this short opportunity of giving support to the noble Lord will excite a renewed interest in this subject, fresh determination to get something down, and impress that view firmly on the representative of the Government on the Front Bench here.

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am delighted to have this opportunity to take part in this very important debate. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, outlined, as have so many other speakers, the problems which must be solved. If I may say so to my noble friend Lady Young, I was delighted to hear her speech and I would remind her that sooner or later she will be in a position—if we have not won the battle before then, which I hope we shall—a distinguished and able position, to be able to see that our Manifesto, at any rate, deals with this matter in detail. I have always believed that Part of the problem of dealing with injustices is that sometimes they are forgotten when Manifestoes are being drawn up; or if Manifestoes are drawn up something happens and they are not implemented. So I say to my noble friend that I hope she will see that when our manifesto is drawn up, if we have not won the battle, that it will be included; and then if we have the chance—which I hope we shall—it will be implemented.

I am in favour, as a matter of fact, of a tax reduction. I have lived a long time and remember very well both world wars. I also understand that at the end of the First World War the recommendation was that war service widows' pensions should be tax-free. That is a very long time ago and we never implemented that recommendation, which I find very disturbing and very distressing.

I also want to repeat—because this is important—that 18 countries, both those who were our allies and our enemies, pay their war widows their pensions free of tax. That is a very good idea. Because I like giving credit where credit is due, one other point is that several noble Lords mentioned the over-80 pensions, which were introduced fairly recently, I think the date was about 1958. I should like to say—sometimes I like to "bump up" my own Government—that that was as a result of a Private Bill introduced by Airey Neave in the House of Commons. The fight he had with my Government to get that is unbelievable.

Though I am a good supporter of my own Government, there are occasions when I am not such a good supporter, and I never mind saying it because everybody has their own priorities and has to fight for them; nothing comes easily. If all the facts that have been outlined today from both sides of the House were really presented to the country, I am certain that the country as a whole would be in favour of action.

I am now going to be a little immodest, because I remember a number of years ago when I was in another place, where I was a Member for 38½ years—I do not think I was a traditional Member of another place any more than I think I am a traditional Member of this distinguished House—a debate took place on this issue in your Lordships' House. I cannot remember whether anything emerged from it. It was when my Government were in power. I remember thinking how galling it was that when really good debates took place which dealt with injustice and matters on which the country wanted action taken, hardly anything which was said in debates in the House of Lords appeared in the Press.

I thought then that I must do something to try to help those who were then debating the pensions issue in the House of Lords. I walked down to the House of Commons and sat on the Government Front Bench. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, who happened then to be my Chief Whip in the other place, came down and looked at me—I was sitting in the Prime Minister's place—and said, "Have you lunched too well?" I replied that I had not. He said, "Have you gone mad?" I said, "No." The House of Commons were discussing passports and I was then grateful to a Member of the Labour Party (who were then in Opposition) because a Member said, "Could the Foreign Secretary kindly say what sort of a passport has been handed to the honourable lady to entitle her to sit on the Govern- ment Front Bench?" I had sat on the Front Bench because I knew that at any rate would interest the Press. Of course as soon as I left the Chamber—I did it all very politely and quietly—the Press surrounded me and I said, "I am trying to ensure that the debate in the House of Lords on Service pensions will be properly reported, and I am giving them support in taking this rather unconstitutional action." And indeed the debate in the Lords was reported in the Press.

That was very many years ago. Here we are today, all these years later, still having to ask for justice for war widows' pensions. This distresses me enormously. The work which has to be done to deal with an injustice depends so much on how much the country knows, because the country is very realistic. It will support wholeheartedly any action to remedy injustice if it knows about it. I have been delighted to hear so many of my noble friends say today that we ought to have a White Paper and we ought to have proper Press coverage. Perhaps one of these great firms which always seems to be advertising things could be persuaded to advertise the position of the pensioners. We might then get a result from that. That is all I have to say on that. But, after all those years during which I was trying to help noble Lords, I suddenly find myself in this House, and I am very honoured to be here. Yet I wonder what I can now do to add to the representations and requests that have been made.

I am not a very emotional person and so cannot do a great deal to encourage the Minister; but I should like to say this about tax relief which has been adversely referred to by several speakers: surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer has brought into focus the advantages of tax relief. He has already created a precedent in that way, and if a precedent has been created by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, even though one may not very much like his other policies, by this means he has the chance to let people know that the tax relief, where it is due, is very good for people. Certainly, those people who cannot obtain tax relief must have increased pensions.

My Lords, that is all I have to say, except to repeat how glad I am to be here and how proud I was of the title that I achieved in another place of "Irene-Small-Fixed Incomes"! I believe that, if we can all work together to do away with this particular injustice, all of us will have made a contribution that will be welcomed by the country as a whole and by many people who really deserve to have whatever the country can afford to give them.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Chelwood asked me to support this Motion, I told him I should be delighted to do so but that I might be no more than a voice from the past. Though I did a certain amount of work on this subject when my Party were in Opposition at the time of the Attlee Government, I must confess that in the years between I have "somewhat wearied in well-doing" even in this good cause. But then I console myself by thinking that this problem of pensions probably follows the French proverb to the effect that, "The more things change the more they remain the same:" Every word I have heard so far in this debate convinces me that is absolutely true.

My noble friend Lord Chelwood gave an extraordinarily clear outline of the problem, though time did not allow it to be more than an outline. Perhaps that is just as well, because in my opinion the Floor of this House is not and never has been a place where one can attempt detailed arguments on rates and differtials of the sort that win or lose the day when a subject like this is concerned. The only place where that can be done is inside a Department and the only people who can do that are the civil servants who discuss these complicated details with the outside bodies, whose duty it is to monitor the cases of people who ought to have pensions.

Of those bodies, the two most important ones are the Officers' Pensions Society and the British Legion. Only those who have seen this sort of work done at close quarters can have any idea of the complexity of the work and of the patience required to get the solution one wants without interfering with all sorts of other impacts which the decisions may have. I know a little about this, if only for the reason that just after the Armistice in the First World War I was at a Brigade Headquarters where I met a sergeant in the Royal Fusiliers: one of the clerks, whose name was A. G. Webb. We made friends and never lost touch. He became one of the original permanent officers of the British Legion specialising in pensions, and it was through his skill, devotion and patience that the code for dealing with the Ministry of Pensions, as it was then, and the British Legion was built up. I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the standards he set and the lines he laid down, which have not altered very much in the years between.

These pension problems can range over a very wide field. Those who were in the House listening to the recent Motion concerning Far-East Prisoners of War moved by my noble friend Lord Gridley, will probably have realised that most of the cases brought up were one-off cases. They were individual cases, most of which could probably be dealt with by exercising discretion in the Department. Then one goes to the opposite extreme with a case involving a major principle. The one which comes to my mind happened some years ago—I believe it was a judgment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. This went by the name of "Fit for service, fit for pension" and there was every sort of pension case in between. Thus, with the best will in the world, the pension machinery gets out of gear, if it has not been overhauled in recent years, just like any other machine.

There are various forces at work which cause this to happen. One is the ordinary matter of inflation another is the fact that two Departments are concerned with the administration of pensions. This is done largely by the Department of Health and Social Security, but also, as my noble friend Lord Chelwood has pointed out, by the Ministry of Defence. Here I may raise a query about what he said, because I am not certain that the Ministry of Defence is the right Ministry on which to centralise these matters. That may need a careful look, because I hate the idea, which I have met before, that if a matter is dealt with by the Ministry of Defence one gets ludicrous arguments raised as to the relative importance of doing justice to war widows and supplying the British Army with tanks.

There is another matter which, every now and then, causes trouble; that is, the difference between certain pensions being administered under Statute and others being administered under the Royal Prerogative. If a pension is administered under the Royal Prerogative it means, in practice, that it is entirely under the control of the Treasury. So that, as former speakers have already said, this points to the need for regular reviews of the position and regular consultations with outside bodies. If I am right in believing that the last review—if it really was a review—was in 1971, then surely the time has now come for another. I do not mean appointing a time-wasting committee; I mean Departmental discussions of the kind that I have tried to indicate. If those discussions are not properly carried out, then the White Paper, if it appears, will be worth no more than the paper it is printed on.

But such a procedure will stand or fall—and it always has stood or fallen—on how hard Ministers have it in mind to make their civil servants try; how hard they mean to beat down the delaying arguments of the Treasury, which is what the Treasury are there for. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was absolutely right in what he said in his speech. In my experience, there has been not too much difference in the attitudes of Ministers of Governments of either Party to this problem. I wish I could say that, in my opinion, my own Party when in Government have always succeeded in overcoming the resistance of the Treasury. I hope that when they are again in Office they will do so, and that, in the meantime, the present Government will proceed in the way I have tried to indicate. If Ministers feel that Parliament is behind them, then I have no doubt that they will be fortified in dealing with this task—and I appreciate the difficulty and toughness of it—of forcing people inside the Departments to get on with the job, and produce a result which they will be proud to announce in this House.

Before I end, may I give a tail-piece? I sometimes wonder whether these short debates would be better if they were related to each other, which the present two debates are not. If, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, had moved a Motion to call attention to alleged squandering of public money on social security, we should have had two very interesting debates which we could have compared with each other, and the moral might easily have turned out to be one of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

3.18 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, first may I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, on choosing this subject for this short debate. I should also like to thank him for the years in which he has taken an interest, not only in this part of the service but in all parts, and we have benefited from his period in the other House. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, about not having the benefits administered by the Ministry of Defence. It would be very much better to leave them with the Department of Health and Social Security, because they handle the other benefits and could therefore combine the two. If the benefits are administered by the Ministry of Defence, they will obviously have to keep in touch with the other Department, whereas if they are administered by the Department of Health and Social Security they will be able to calculate all the benefits together. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for joining in this debate, because by doing so not only do we have the benefit of his wisdom—and I agree with what he said about pensions and taxation—but he has also made this debate into an all-Party one, which is essential for this kind of discussion.

I should like to draw attention to a debate which I initiated on 2nd August 1972, and which is reported at column 567 of the Official Report, on this very subject. That, too, was an all-Party debate and I was very glad when an ex-Minister for the Navy joined in. I should also like to draw attention to what was said by Mr. A. V. Alexander, as he then was, on 11th May 1949. He said: As honourable Members are aware"— this was said in the other House— a review was initiated some time ago into the long established scheme of non-contributory pensions for the widows and orphans of regular members of the Armed Forces. While this review was in progress His Majesty's Government decided to promote a family pension…. Agreement has been given in principle to the introduction of such a new and comprehensive scheme for the Forces and details are being worked out as quickly as possible."—[Official Report, Commons, 11/5/49; col. 1850.] That was 27 years ago. I hope that we shall not have to wait another 27 years before we put this matter in order, because it is very important.

May I draw attention to another aspect. In the past it was possible to give compensation. Following, for example, the sinking of HMS "Sansomarez" and HMS "Volage" off Corfu, pensions were awarded to the widows and orphans of the officers and men who lost their lives. These pensions were paid in accordance with the rates laid down in the Order in Council of 4th June, 1946. However, these payments were considered to be not pensions but compensation, and this was another anomaly.

I am very glad, of course, that ex gratia payments have been made to the widows of men killed by terrorists in Northern Ireland, but the difficulty arises of those men who were killed in Malaysia, in Aden and in Indonesia. Regrettably they have not been so well treated. At a Royal British Legion Conference which commemorated 50 years of the work of this excellent organisation Lord Mountbatten said: It is painful to sit here and realise that we are behind every Commonwealth country in the treatment of widows. Why is it that year after year Governments are so hard-hearted about it? We are considering the matter again today and I hope that we shall not be hardhearted. It has been stated more than once by Ministers of both Governments that, Hardship should at least be mitigated by supplementary benefits, by rebates and other provisions. This statement was made on 26th January, 1970, in col. 972, Volume 794, of the Official Report. These benefits, however, are limited and do not work out very adequately. For the Navy there is also what is known as the Greenwich Pension Fund. I have applied many times for that Fund, but have not always been successful. If, therefore, we have to go outside pensions and supplementary benefits to other voluntary funds it shows that if they qualify, as they often do, for the Fund these people are very hard up.

Another point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, with regard to pensions related to a man who loses a limb. If a man has bad lungs as a result of a war wound and receives a 100 per cent. pension, his widow loses that pension when he dies because he did not die at the time of the injury. This causes great hardship for the widow. As I understand it, there are at least five categories of Service widows pensions, with two cut-off dates. There is one cut-off date for pre-1950 widows and another for 1950–1972 widows who receive what is known as a half pension. Another difficulty arises. For example, a man was killed in 1943. Had he lived for another 2½ months he would have completed six years on active service, but as he did not live that much longer his widow receives no pension.

The people for whom we are pleading today are very proud, and all that they are asking this House to do today is to consider what they consider to be their right. These widows did not have the usual type of married life. The older wives of men in the Navy were often separated from their husbands for at least three years at a time, and many of them had to move home time and time again. In the early days, pay was very low, so few of the older ones had the chance to save any money at all, while others were unable to accumulate money because of the extra expense of educating their children. If we do not pay to widows an adequate amount of money, it may eventually interfere with recruitment, for who will go into the Services? Obviously the time will come when a man wants to get married. He will realise that even in these days he may easily be killed while on duty. Then he leaves his widow in a very unhappy situation as compared with her civilian friends. This does not help with recruiting.

When a similar debate was held in another place the Minister ended by saying: I know that again I have disappointed the House on this problem. I assure my honourable friends and honourable gentlemen opposite that I have looked at this again with great care and sympathy. I suggest that today we do not want just sympathy, we want action. When the noble Lord replies, I hope he will tell us that he intends to set up a Committee to review the whole situation, so that when the time comes we are prepared to take some action.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I too should like to support my noble friend Lord Chelwood and all those who have spoken so eloquently in this short debate in bringing to the attention of the Government a matter which most urgently requires their investigation and redress. In the past I have done some research into the particular issue raised in regard to exemption from taxation, referred to by several noble Lords and especially by my noble friend Lord Cathcart.

If I may have the attention of the noble Lord the Minister who is to reply, I am holding in my hands a very important document. This document contains the First and Second Special Reports of the Select Committee on Pensions which met in 1919. I think it would be for the benefit of future research into this subject if I were to put on the current public record the comments which arise on this particular issue, appearing on page LVI. They said this: We recommend that all wives', widows', children's and dependants' flat-rate pensions and allowances being in fact payments on account of disability should, so far as not at present exempt, be freed from tax, and that in the case of alternative pensions an analagous allowance be made. This is an important recommendation. It was one of the earliest made and it is a matter of special interest to your Lordships. I listened with interest to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who said that he did not particularly mind whether or not pensions were exempt provided the thresholds of tax were right. In that I very much agree with him, and I believe that in this respect he and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who cast doubt on the merit of this particular case, would come to one purpose.

It seems to me that there are two ways of setting about it. Nevertheless, I believe that this recommendation of the Select Committee on pensions as long ago as 1919 is a very important one. Governments have consistently ignored it and other kindred matters, no doubt for reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. Nevertheless, I feel that this is a matter worth investigating and I join with other noble Lords in recommending to the Government that there is a very strong case for an Interdepartmental Working Party to examine the situation in much greater detail and to report.

If I may draw your Lordships' attention to a particular matter mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bridgeman, it is the conflict over the two Departments concerned; and if I may concentrate it still further, it is the question of whether a pension arises from an Act of Parliament, that being a statutory right, or under a Royal Warrant, that being a bounty. It is a matter of history that during the First World War there were no less than five Acts of Parliament which dealt with this and a very large number of Supplementary Orders, hence the complications, the thickets and the enormous amount of bureaucratic entaglements with which we have to deal. I think there is the strongest case for returning to a comment made, again in the Second Report which, with your Lordships' indulgence, I should like to quote, which brings this matter into focus so far as the widow is concerned. At paragraph 2184 the evidence says: As a matter of substance when a Royal Warrant says that a man is to have something, provided the machinery is good for carrying out that order, it really does not matter to the man whether the right rests on Royal Warrant or an Act of Parliament". Here is a very important conflict. It is a matter of fact that when a Royal Warrant is issued, it cannot be amended or altered; it is supplemented at a later date by a future Warrant, and that those who were entitled under the previous Warrant are not to be entitled except under special provisions of a later piece of legislation. Herein lies much of the complication once again.

My Lords, I should like to make one final comment which relates to what my noble friend Lady Young said. She quoted the particular cases of two widows, now respectively 89 and 91 years old, who formed part of that very small class, about 25,000 in number, of widows from the First World War and subsequently. Their numbers may be small, but it should surely be a matter, as the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, said, which would be a question of a debt of honour for this country to remedy.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, may I commence by apologising to the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for rising in my seat earlier. I am afraid I had missed his name. May I further say how much I agreed with the last thing he said in his speech. I should also like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, for having raised this matter, and for having worked so hard in this sphere for so many years, both in this House and in another place where we used to sit together. For my part, I find myself in very great agreement and support what he said.

I do not believe exemption from taxation is an answer here. While we have progressive taxation, exemption from taxation always means that we give most to those who have most. I do not think it is the right way to deal with this problem. I revert to the principle which I have always held, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, referred at the end of his speech: that is, that it is dishonourable for a Government to pay its obligations in bad money. That is what the principle of parity is about. Governments pay their obligations in bad money, and they pay their most sacred and oldest obligations in their worst money—for those are the ones who receive the money which has most depreciated.

If one takes just as an example the position of the young widow of a colonel who may have been killed the other day in Ulster, and compare her with the very old lady whose husband, also a colonel, was killed on the Somme, I do not think our obligation to the younger widow is five times our obligation to the older. But that is the difference in the pension. This, I believe, is a matter of honour. When and if, as I hope it will be, this matter is reconsidered, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, says, the question of parity should be considered very strongly indeed. It may be, perhaps, that so many of those old ladies having now died, it is cheaper to be honourable. But I think this is still a matter of honour, and one which Her Majesty's Government ought to recognise.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this stage and not putting my name down to make a full speech at the beginning of the

day. I was not certain that I could be here, because of a long court case, to hear the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Chelwood. I think perhaps I am right in saying that I am the only person here today who, albeit for only a short time, has been a war widow. My first husband was killed at the very beginning of the Second World War.

My Lords, I wanted to add a few words to the many words of wisdom that we have heard this afternoon, and particularly to thank all those who have not perhaps had the experience of being war widows for all that they are doing on their behalf now. I do not include just the Members of your Lordships' House. There are many other organisations helping, from all ages and all kinds of people, and I think the widows themselves owe these organisations and your Lordships a very great debt of gratitude.

I have heard, through many letters that I have received, of the enormous number of anomalies in the pension system, and I think that this has come out very clearly in the debate this afternoon. I hope that the Government will take note of the various ideas that have been put forward; that they will have either a committee to look into it, or in any case to bring into public recognition the fact that these people are in many cases in very great need and trouble. I hope that this debate today will prod the Government into doing something for the war widows in particular.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, for many years the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, has championed the cause of war pensioners and their families, and I do not think I have heard him more eloquent than he was today in putting forward the case for war widows. I have read, he may be surprised to know, the Hansard of your Lordships' House and of another place where he has raised this matter over a number of years. I want to say that I am sure that he speaks for everybody, because we agree basically and fundamentally with the things that he has said, with the sentiments he has expressed.

I want to try to show that successive Governments have given special treatment to war widows, although it is a truism that no Government are ever able to do all that they would like to do to assist those groups of people who look to them for help. Reference has been made by my noble friend Lord Houghton to the penetrating analysis which, I was going to say, my noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench, Lady Young, made. I think I would quarrel with her in only one way. When they speak the Front Bench opposite are getting into a very bad habit, of always implying that the faults of the present time lay with this Government. The noble Baroness is no exception. She said, in a quite determined way, that something ought to be done; she said it is quite disgraceful that this situation should have arisen, and that it should be reviewed now.

But since the war we have had no fewer than 18 years of Conservative Governments. At one period they had nine successive years in Office. What happened? Was there any special review? Was there any special committee set up? Was any sincere and sustained effort made to try to deal with this situation? I realise the difficulties that have faced this country for a good many years, probably ever since 1945, and I do not lay that at their door, but they must not lay it at our door, either. If by any chance I should ever find myself on the other side of this Chamber, I shall take the earliest possible opportunity of reminding the noble Baroness of that and asking what she is doing about it.


My Lords, would the noble Lord say whether, at any time during those years he mentioned, inflation has ever reached 20 per cent. and 25 per cent?


My Lords, I do not know whether I can ask the noble Lord whether, at any time prior to this Government, any serious attempt was made in granting pensions to see that they kept pace with the cost of living and inflation. I think I know what the answer is.

I do not want to talk about eligibility for pensions because the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, dealt with that in considerable detail. What I want to say is that the latest available figures show that pensions are drawn by about 90,000 war widows, including nearly 4,000 who are resident outside the United Kingdom and all of whom get the benefit of increases in pension as soon as they are payable in Britain. Approximately 24,000 are widows of the 1914 war.

The noble Lord's Motion states that the present pensions are inadequate. As I have said, no Government are ever able to help worthy causes as much as they would like. When we consider the provisions made for other groups, all competing for limited resources—and I think that we must keep this in the forefront of our minds—and the continuing, almost ever-growing demands that are being made by other sections in the community who are less fortunately placed than many of us, it is not possible to do all that one would like to do. But I cannot agree that the war widows have been left behind to such an extent as is believed, I think, by certain noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. I do not think that it is generally appreciated how much provision is made for war widows, nor the extent to which they receive preference over other groups who look to the State for help.

Taking the standard war widow's pension (of which I think the noble Lord, Lord Banks, reminded us) payable to the widow of an Army private, the present rate is £17.20 a week. This is £3.90, or again, as the noble Lord reminded us, 30 per cent. higher than the pension payable to a widow under National Insurance. So there is this extra amount of money, and I am not complaining about that. It is, as I said, £3.90 or 30 per cent. higher. That figure will go up to £19.80 in November of this year. I think we could argue that this is not sufficient, but at least it shows that we and, for that matter, previous Governments, because of the 30 per cent., have always tried to do something a little more and a little better for war widows.

What have not been mentioned this afternoon—at least I do not think so, and I think I have heard every word of the debate in your Lordships' House—are the additional allowances. There is, for instance, an additional allowance of £6.70 a week payable for the first dependent child, with a slightly lower rate payable for subsequent children, for whom family allowance is also payable. A widow who has title to allowances for children may also be entitled to a rent allowance of up to £6.70 per week, and an educational allowance of up to £120 a year. These are additional allowances, all tax-free, and neither the rent allowance nor the education allowance has any counterpart whatever in the National Insurance Scheme. When one is assessing the situation one must take into account these additional allowances.

Reference has been made to older widows. It may be argued that it is all very well for the younger widow with children—and perhaps I should say that we are still paying allowances for about 7,000 children—but what about the elderly widows, those in the twilight of their lives who are no longer able to go out to work even if they wish to do so? I suggest that they have not been forgotten. They receive an age allowance, which is another unique preference for war widows. As has been mentioned, on reaching her 65th birthday she receives an extra £1.70 a week. This is doubled, to £3.40, when she reaches 70, so that the 70-year-old war widow is receiving at present at least £20.60 a week. I am not saying that that is a princely sum; I am saying that it is appreciably higher than widows who are receiving the widow's pension under National Insurance. These allowances will go up in November.

On top of this, it is estimated that about two-thirds of war widows over 60 also receive two State pensions; that is, their war widow's pension plus the age allowances for 65 and over, and a retirement pension based on contributions that they have paid during their working life. That is as to 60 per cent. their number. That, too, has to be taken into account if we are to look fairly and squarely at the situation. That, briefly, is an outline of what war widows get from the War Pensions Scheme administered by the Department of Health and Social Security.


My Lords, why is it, then, that the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and I both used the word "scandalous" when pointing out that 5,000 of these war widows go for supplementary benefit?


I shall be dealing with the question of supplementary benefits before I finish, my Lords, and I shall also refer to that figure of 5,000. If the noble Lord will be patient, he will see that I do not run away from that question. First, however, I want to say something about the Armed Forces Pension Scheme, a matter which was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers. We come now to what I believe to be the crux of the noble Lord's argument today and the cause of the wide disparity in pension income to which Lord Chelwood refers. I referred to the additional pension payable to the younger Service widows of today by their late husbands' employer, in this case the Ministry of Defence. I must stress right away that this pension has no connection, as noble Lords know, with the Government's War Pension Schemes and it is in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said, an occupational pension scheme.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, asked about who would join the Army today having regard to what is paid out. It is precisely to deal with that kind of situation that the Ministry of Defence introduced the Armed Forces Pension Scheme. It was to enable the Services to offer a worthwhile career to recruits. The Ministry of Defence revised the terms of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme in 1970 so that the occupational pension available to all ranks of the Regular Services was on a par with the best occupational schemes in the public and private sectors. Because it is an occupational scheme, the normal pension is related to rank and, therefore, earnings and the length of service and is, as I have already said, confined to Regular Servicemen.

This was done in order to encourage men to make the Army a career and to see that their widows and children were adequately provided for. As the revised scheme was introduced only in 1973, your Lordships will appreciate that, at present, it is mainly the younger widows of Servicemen killed in the Northern Ireland troubles who are benefiting from enhanced terms for dependants. Your Lordships may be interested to know that, at the last count, there are about 150 of these widows receiving a war widow's pension. I realise that the widows of the 1914–1918 and 1939–1945 wars must often wonder why the present-day war widows seem to get so much more money than they ever got. I believe the answer is that the good pension scheme for present-day Servicemen is provided by their employers, and not by the DHSS or any other Government Department.

It has often been asked why the scheme could not have been made retrospective to include the elderly widows from the earlier wars. It is, however, a basic principle of occupational schemes in the public service that improvements which are introduced from time to time apply only after the date of introduction. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, will agree that that is so. If we had to give complete retrospection every time a new scheme was introduced, there would never be any advance, given the available resources existing at the time. In making improvements to pensions, therefore, there is a basic choice between, on the one hand, giving a relatively large increase to those now serving (or who will serve in the future) and their dependants or, on the other hand, giving smaller benefits which are not confined to these groups, but are extended backwards to those who have already retired or their dependants. In practice successive Governments have consistently adopted the first course; that is, they have opted for better improvements which are not made retrospective because of the cost involved. This has been the policy not only of the present Government but of a succession of Governments. It may be something which ought to be looked at and it may well be that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, something ought to be done about it, but it is principle which underlies and has underlain the granting of war pensions.

Noble Lords will know that, as retrospection has been ruled out, the possibility of equalising payments under the two schemes in various ways has been considered from time to time. However, the view has always been taken that this cannot be done, mainly because we are not comparing like with like. I have already explained that the Armed Forces Pensions Scheme compensates a Regular Serviceman or his dependant for the loss—and that is what is important—of a Service career. On the other hand, the War Pensions Scheme is concerned solely with disability or death from Service causes. Perhaps it can be summed up by saying that the Ministry of Defence has inaugurated a scheme for the benefit of what I shall describe as the professional soldier and that the DHSS is the Government Department responsible for looking after the dependants of such a soldier or, in the case of the soldier himself, if he is disabled, the wartime Serviceman. I believe that that is probably the distinction.

Apart from the essential difference between the two schemes, the cost of equating them would be about double the present cost. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, gave the figures. He will not mind if I say that they were accurate; I would not expect them to be otherwise. To give parity to all war widows would cost about £100 million a year. Clearly we could not equalise war widows' pensions without doing the same for war disabled pensioners, which would mean that the combined cost would be about £250 million a year. The question would arise as to whether in that case we ought not to do something precisely the same for civilian disabled, because they would say that their position was on a par with the war disabled. At the moment I do not know where it would stop.

It has been suggested that if we cannot give full parity, the matter could be resolved by giving war pensioners and widows a sizeable increase in their pensions. This still does not get over the fact that the two schemes are entirely different. To give increases in pensions under the war pensions scheme would not reduce the disparity in pension income, because even those widows covered by the new occupational scheme, and already receiving a higher income than the older war widow, would also receive the general increase. So disparity is not overcome at all. Your Lordships know that the Government have ensured that all State beneficiaries have kept ahead of inflation by increases in the rates of pensions and allowances, and war pensioners have also maintained their preference. There need be no cause for concern about that, as my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State made clear in her Statement in another place on 7th April.

Any additional money available in the past few years has been used to introduce new benefits for all severely disabled people and their helpers; for example, there has been the attendance allowance, the mobility allowance and the invalid care allowance, which is shortly to be introduced. Some severely disabled people, some who have been like that from birth, had no benefit at all to help to make their lives a little less difficult. This, too, is a matter which any Government who are concerned about the way in which some people live, and the difficulties under which they exist, must take into account. I do not think that anyone would suggest that these people should have to do without some financial help. We see the plight of such people around us; most of us could think of two or three immediately. The Government—I do not say this in any pious sense—would like to do more for all the people who look to them for help, but the age old problem of never having enough resources to satisfy everyone is still with us, and will be for some time. I am sure that it always will be, to a certain extent. But the more resources become available, the more we can meet unmet needs. It must be our priority from new resources to try to meet unmet needs.

I do not know whether I can say very much on overseas comparisons. I do not know how one makes comparisons when perhaps standards of living, incomes and overhead expenses are all different. But the relevant factors are such items as the purchasing power of the pension, the full range of compensation provided, and the availability of social services and I am talking about medical and hospital treatment. It is these things which ultimately determine the real value of one's income. We cannot close our eyes to that fact. Therefore I find it difficult to make comparisons with the situation overseas.

It was not my intention to say much about the tax position, but it has been mentioned and so it might be helpful if I say something about it. As the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, pointed out, the tax policy is entirely the responsibility of the Chancellor, and the subject will no doubt be considered in another place quite extensively—probably too extensively—in the weeks to come. In recent months most war widows have come into the tax field because the regular increases in pension have meant that, even if their only income is their war widow's pension, their income outstrips their tax allowances. The Government have been faced, as were previous Governments, with renewed demands to take war widows' pensions out of taxation altogether. Our view—it certainly is the Government's view at the present moment, and it accords with the view taken by our predecessors when they were in Office—is that this would not be justified. The view has not changed since 1919, which was the year that the noble Earl mentioned, when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer decided it was necessary to distinguish between war disablement pensions, which were untaxed by analogy with workmen's compensation, and the war widows' pensions, which were regarded as maintenance payments payable, not for disablement, as the noble Earl said, but in augmentation of income diminished by death and, therefore, in the view of the Chancellor, properly chargeable to tax.

We can understand the feelings of those who take a contrary view. Indeed, early this week my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Treasury discussed the whole subject of taxation of war widows' pensions with representatives of the Royal British Legion; and, in case noble Lords think that nothing much has been done in this matter, my honourable friend the Minister for the Disabled had discussions on the 8th September 1975 with the Joint Committee concerning the level of war pensions; with BLESMA on the 18th October 1975; and with the Royal British Legion (Scotland) on the 19th November 1975, a meeting for which I think the noble Earl was responsible. He also had discussions on the 3rd December last with the Officers' Pensions Society. So in the last few months he has not let the matter go by default; there has been a good deal of discussion. But, of course, every one of us is concerned with what comes out of these discussions. We can all have discussions; but, as I say, discussions are pending, and my honourable friend is very much alive to the situation.

Our income tax system is based on the general principle of spreading the burden of tax as fairly as possible over the community by relating each individual's tax liability to his or her ability to pay as measured by total income and family circumstances. This is the criterion. A war widow's pension is part of her total income, and the Chancellor has made it clear that in his view it would not be right to fix a war widow's tax liability at a lower level than that of other widows or single people who are no better off financially. However, as I said earlier, among these matters of taxation which are to be discussed during the coming weeks, this will be one.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I thought he would probably refer to the proposal of the Chancellor to increase the age exemption for persons over the age of 65, so that many war widows who are now within the tax bracket will be tax-exempt under the extension of age exemption proposed in the Budget resolutions.


My Lords, I deliberately avoided going into the matter too deeply. I have gone into it superficially because these are subjects of discussion at the present moment and I do not want to presume to express any comment or opinion on the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, did, as he said, "at a late hour"—but I am not complaining about that—send me a note of one or two matters on which he would like to have answers. His first question will take a little time to answer; but, as we have time, I hope that I shall have the indulgence of the House to reply. His first question was to know at the latest available date how many war widows were in receipt of supplementary pension; what proportion this was of the total number, and what is the estimate of the effect in this regard of forthcoming changes in the pension rates.

I think that the first thing I want to say—and it was touched on by what Lord Bourne said a moment ago—is that I do not understand the stigma which seems to be attached these days to applying for and drawing supplementary benefit. This is something that one has as of right; it certainly is not a charity. I know that there are large numbers of people, old-age pensioners particularly, who decline to draw it because they still think of it in terms of national assistance. We have moved a long way from national assistance. The attitude is different, the approach is different; this is part of a kind of insurance scheme which provides that if you have not got enough money coming in to meet essentials and to maintain a reasonable standard of living, you are entitled to apply for supplementary benefit. I see no stigma in that. I wish that we could encourage more and more people to apply. The benefit is part of a comprehensive social security scheme. Everyone has a right to claim and receive the benefit, and I hope that they will continue to do so.

The latest available figure from an inquiry made in November 1974—and the figures for 1975 are not yet available—is that some 5,000 war widows, the vast majority over pensionable age, were receiving supplementary benefit. I think that this works out to roughly 5 per cent. Undoubtedly many of the 5,000 are eligible for supplementary benefit only because of the special disregard of up to £4 of their widow's pension. I do not know how many over and above the 5,000 feel that they cannot manage on what they are getting; but I should like it to go out from this House that this is part of a comprehensive social security scheme; that people are not applying for charity; that they are getting what the State provides because it considers it an absolute essential.

The noble Lord asked how many war widows were receiving a modified forces family pension in addition to the war widows' pension. I am sorry that this information is not readily available. I am told that it could not be provided without disproportionate expense. I am informed, however, that the number is extremely small. I recognise that that is not a very satisfactory reply; and if there is any possibility of getting a figure that could be regarded as adequate I will write to the noble Lord and let him know.

He also asked how many war widows, bereaved before 1st September 1950, are receiving forces family pension, because this is more beneficial to them than the war widow's pension. I understand that the number is about 200. The fourth question is: What would be the extra cost of paying an attributable forces family pension to all war widows who at present receive a modified forces family pension under the same terms as apply to those war widows whose husbands gave service on or after 31st March 1973? In view of the answer to the previous question, where I said about 200, and based on the lowest rank, the costs would be in the region of £200,000; but this would assume that the Armed Forces' Pension Scheme is retrospective, which at the present moment it is not.

The noble Lord also said that the responsibility for their pensions should no longer be divided between two Departments, but preferably made the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. I think I have already dealt with that. The Ministry of Defence, as employers of Regulars, is rightly responsible for their own occupational scheme. The War Pensions Scheme administered by the DHSS covers a wider field not being restricted to Regular Servicemen. The two Departments work closely together on the question of pensions and rationalisation. There are discussions taking place quite often on this matter. At present the transfer of inter-war cases from the Ministry of Defence—and I mean precisely that, in between the two wars—to the DHSS is under discussion.

Then I was asked that the facts and figures relating to pensions and also to war widows under existing schemes should be published. Details of war widows' pensions are contained in the Report on War Pensions which is published each year by the DHSS. Whether it is full enough or informative enough for the noble Lord, I do not know. The overall cost of the MOD scheme is given in the Defence White Paper, but it is only diagrammatical and just shows a little section representing the total cost of the whole. That may not be satisfactory from the noble Lord's point of view; but if there is anything I can do in respect of either, perhaps the noble Lord will let me know. He may prefer to get in touch with the Ministry of Defence himself to see whether he can get the diagrammatical information translated in terms of money.

The last point was that the basic war widow's pension should be increased in all cases where no additional pension is payable, and it should be maintained at a level relative to the cost of living so that no war widow ever has to depend on supplementary benefit in order to make ends meet. All war widows' pensions are regularly increased to keep ahead of the rise in the cost of living. It would not be feasible to ensure that no war widow ever had to claim supplementary benefit. The supplementary benefits scheme is an extremely flexible one geared to the needs of the individual and not to any specific classes within our society. Many war widows will be receiving supplementary benefit solely because of the high cost of their accommodation. I should like to emphasise here that some people find it necessary to claim for supplementary benefit because if they are in rented accommodation, as some of them are, the high cost of rent does not leave them sufficient of their pension for them to live in a reasonable way. More often than not, the claim is due to the high cost of rent.

It would not be possible to be certain that even large general increases in pension would cover every individual's need unless the increases in pension were so astronomical that they would cover everyone's needs. Then we should have a situation where a large number of people would be receiving, as it were, money in excess of their needs. This is something that must be taken into account. As less than 6 per cent. of the 90,000 war widows receive supplementary benefit, it must be remembered that this is only a small proportion, because some one-third of the 8 million National Insurance pensioners receive supplementary benefit.

I think I have answered most of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, even though perhaps not as adequately as he might have wished. However, if my answers do not go far enough, perhaps the noble Lord will let me know and I will try to give him any additional information he might want. This debate today, if I may say so, has been very helpful and revealing. This is only the second short debate in which I have had some interest where all the speakers have been able to keep within the time limit and even allow two more speakers to intervene and fill the gap. This has been a model way of conducting a short debate.

It may be, even after what I have said, that many of your Lordships will feel I have not extended a great deal of encouragement. But I want to do that, and I shall make a point of conveying personally to my right honourable friend the strong feeling that exists in this House. Although he will read the account of the debate for himself in Hansard, it is often helpful to cross the t's and dot the i's. I should like to convey the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Houghton, which has been approved by a number of other speakers, that perhaps some committee could be set up to inquire into this subject. Noble Lords will realise that at the moment I am not in a position to do more than convey, which I will most faithfully, your views and opinions to my right honourable friend.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a very valuable debate of high quality and there have been some very moving speeches. Every single speaker has spoken from first-hand knowledge of one kind or another. I should like to thank the noble Lord the Minister for the care and detail with which he has replied to the many questions raised, although I must confess, to use the noble Lord's own words, that his replies did not give me much encouragement. I think it will be agreed that this has been a suitable time for this subject to be given a proper airing; and it has had one. There have been many constructive suggestions made and many questions asked, and as I have said, the noble Lord has done his best to reply to them.

However, during the debate there has been one very remarkable and pleasing feature to note; that is, the general agreement between speakers from all three Parties in your Lordships' House. It seems to have been agreed by everyone that serious anomalies exist; they have grown, and in many cases they are unfair and unjustified. It also seems to be agreed between all noble Lords who have spoken that war widows are in a special category. This fact has been recognised for many years by successive Governments through the differential, although whether it is high enough is perhaps to be disputed.

I made three suggestions, one for an inquiry, and I should like to say here that I was disappointed with the noble Lord's reply, although he left the door open. I do not feel that the published information is nearly sufficient. I think there is a strong case for a thoroughgoing and widespread review so that the whole subject can have a public airing, which I believe would benefit the war widows very considerably. So far as one Ministry having responsibility for war widows' pensions is concerned, I listened to what the noble Lord said and I must confess that I was disappointed with that as well, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government also have an open mind about that.

The noble Lord was not able to meet me on my third suggestion that no war widows should, in any circumstances, have to apply for supplementary benefit. I have never been one of those who think that any stigma attaches to those applying for them, but I feel that the debt we owe to war widows is such that the worst-off should not be put into the position of having to apply for supplementary benefit. I do not think that is right, and I do not think it is meeting our debt of honour. At one time, the noble Lord said he felt that war widows applied only because they were not receiving what is essential. What I and other noble Lords were suggesting was that the war widows' pension itself should meet their essential needs, without having to apply for supplementary benefit.

So I should like to thank everyone who has been good enough to contribute to this debate. The Government have been left in no doubt about the strength of feeling, and about the need for action. I feel sure that the voluntary bodies such as the Royal British Legion, the Officers' Pension Society and BLESMA will follow up these matters energetically, and I was pleased to hear that discussions on certain aspects of them are still continuing. But I must say again—and this is where I want to conclude, because I do not want to overshoot my time—that when the noble Lord said at the beginning of his speech that the Government basically and generally agreed with the case I made—which I think are the words he used—I was rather hopeful that he was going to meet me and other noble Lords at least halfway on some of the points. The fact of the matter is that he did not feel able to do so. So I can only conclude by expressing some considerable disappointment with the reply, while thanking the noble Lord for the care with which he went into all the questions that were asked, and by thanking all my noble friends, if I may so call them, especially today, for contributing to this debate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I, on behalf of my noble friends, wish noble Lords in all parts of the House a happy Easter and a restful Recess.