HL Deb 03 March 1976 vol 368 cc1009-12

2.55 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are now in a position to give a considered reply to the question (Hansard, 10th December 1975, cols. 938–942) about pensions paid to widows and dependants of the TAVR soldiers who lost their lives in the Trent Weir disaster and to what extent their pensions vary from those payable to dependants of soldiers of the Regular Army killed in similar circumstances.


My Lords, I have already given, in my Answer on 10th December, the main details of the awards made. In the case of a Regular Serviceman, the Service is his main employer and the source of his income, and any pension payments made are essentially part of an occupational pension scheme designed to compensate the Serviceman or his widow for the loss of a military career. The same criteria do not apply to the Reservist. However, recognising the special nature of a Reservist's role, Her Majesty's Government decided that the war widow's pension and other attributable benefits payable by the Department of Health and Social Security should be supplemented from Defence Votes.

I think I should stress that it is the war widow's pension which represents the industrial injury benefit for members of the Regular and Reserve forces, and that this benefit, which, incidentally, is rather greater than the normal industrial injury benefit, is the same for Regulars and Reservists.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does it mean that pensions paid to widows and dependants of members of the TAVR who are killed on service still fall short of those paid to widows and dependants of regular soldiers killed in similar circumstances? If there is still a shortfall, it is difficult, is it not, to feel that the situation is satisfactory, but if in fact there is no shortfall, may I thank the noble Lord for his reply?


My Lords, this is a most difficult and complex subject, and I should like to write at length to the noble Lord to give him the precise details. The basic problem is that most Reservists are in pensionable employment. To give an example, if a member of the TAVR who is also a member of the Civil Service were killed in the course of his duties, not only would his widow draw the various figures which I have already mentioned but she would also draw a Civil Service pension. The ultimate result of a man being killed on active service while he was with the TAVR would depend in part on whether he was employed by a good employer. In addition to the Service pension, there would also be a normal employment pension from his employer at the time.


My Lords, the noble Lord has promised to write to my noble friend. Does he recall that on 10th December he promised to write to me on the same subject, since when Christmas has come and gone, we are in the middle of Lent, the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has asked his annual Question about a fixed Easter, the daffodils are out and the swallows will soon be here? When can I expect my letter?


My Lords, I shall load the noble Lord down with paper. I do assure your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government are not stingy in this matter.


My Lords, does the Minister not think that, in regard to this question, the Ministry of Defence has an absolutely parsimonious attitude? If a man is in employment and heis called up by the Army and is killed in the service of the nation, is his widow not entitled to receive a pension as if he had been in the Army?


My Lords, he, or rather his widow, does receive a pension, but the pension received from the Ministry of Defence is in addition to anything which may be received from his civil employment. What is received from his civil employment depends upon whether his employer is a good or a bad employer.


My Lords, while appreciating the Minister's considered replies to the supplementary questions, may I ask him whether he is aware that every ex-Servicemen's association in the country would like the Government to inquire into the anomalies in the payment of pensions to the widows and dependants of Servicemen of any kind who have given their lives for their country?


My Lords, we are all in sympathy with this point of view. This is a subject that we might discuss either on an Unstarred Question or during the defence debate which is looming in the immediate future. I am not trying to minimise this subject. All I am saying is that it is extremely complicated, and that perhaps there might be an opportunity to discuss it at a time other than Question Time.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he will be kind enough to forget the general principles about pensions which are involved, and will deal with the specific case under review? Are the widows and dependants of men who belonged to the TAVR and who lost their lives worse off than they would have been had their husbands been in the Regular service?


My Lords, may I say that that is why I should like a rather wider discussion than Question Time will allow? Some will be better off and some will be worse off. It depends on the situation of the men's civilian employers.


My Lords, in view of the nature of the questions regarding this position, can my noble friend say whether the payment to those widows is governed by Royal Warrant? If so, what is the next step that one can take to forward applications on behalf of these people instead of having to put down Questions to Her Majesty's Minister to ensure that the Government give consideration to the issue?


My Lords, this is complex. May we perhaps discuss it at rather greater length in a different context, such as that of an Unstarred Question?


My Lords, would the Minister not agree that the difficulty —and the difficulty he is in today—arises because a fundamental and long standing question has not been faced up to; namely, that a Regular soldier receives his pay and his pension by grace and favour? That is to say, it is paid under Royal Warrant and not under Statute. In fact, here, where the Minister is dealing with the Territorial or the Reservist who is embodied for a short period, he will receive his pension as a civil servant as a result of a Statute. Is it not time, after the passing of centuries, that those who, like myself, receive a Service pension in respect of other rank service, should receive it at the hands of the Commissioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea? That is the fundamental cause of the trouble, and always has been the cause of trouble and of the many injustices ofthose of us who have served in the Regular Army and which we uncomplainingly suffer from.


My Lords, my noble friend's experience is far greater than mine. Perhaps if we had a discussion of this important matter he would make an important contribution to it.