HL Deb 08 June 1982 vol 431 cc100-3

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Kimberley

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 how long the widow of a soldier killed on active service is allowed to remain in married quarters.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Viscount Trenchard)

My Lords, the widow of a serviceman is allowed to remain in married quarters for a minimum of six months.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask him two questions? If hardship could be proved, would that rule be allowed to be waived? Also, is it possible for my noble friend to elaborate on whether there are any further benefits which the unhappy widow would be unable to obtain?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, my noble friend will have noticed the use of the words "minimum of six months". The services do extend that period if there is a need for it to be extended. If in the end a married quarter was very much needed and the widow still had not found a place to go to, I should point out that the local authority could be required to find a place. So far as other benefits are concerned, it may interest the House to know—and my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye asked me a question following a statement last week—that the widow of a serviceman gets full pay for 91 days if there are no children, and for 182 days where there are children. At the end of that period she receives two pensions: one from the Ministry of Defence and the other a war widow's pension from the Department of Health and Social Security. The latter is tax free. Both pensions are index linked. In addition, she is paid a substantial lump sum by the Ministry of 'Defence. Perhaps I could give an illustration of this because I think it would interest the House, especially in relation to the tragic situation of some families concerned with the South Atlantic. A widow of a petty officer would receive pensions totalling over £8,000 per annum and a lump sum of over £10,000.

Lord Renton

My Lords, when my noble friend says that the local authority can be required to provide accommodation for the widow, does he mean only the local authority in the area where the widow was being housed by the services, or does he mean the local authority in an area where the widow wishes to go and live with her children?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, if I may, I will write to the noble Lord on that question; but I would point out that we do not envisage this situation arising to any great degree, bearing in mind the totality of the benefits and the fact that the six months period is a minimum. Indeed, it is perhaps doubtful whether it would ever arise, but I will let the noble Lord know about that.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, could the noble Viscount say at what point the local authority would be required to find alternative accommodation? Would he inquire into that as well when he is investigating his noble friend's point?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I understand that this situation would only arise after the minimum period of six months, extended if the married quarters are not urgently required—which it would be. Only at that stage does the situation arise where, under our normal requirements on local authorities, they would be required to find accommodation. I want to assure the House that there really is not a chance of the widow of a serviceman being evicted in any cir- cumstances which can be foreseen as far as I can see at the present time.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is there not some misunderstanding about the Question? The Minister referred to widows with children. On the other hand, the Question refers only to widows. Surely in the case of widows with children there can be no hard and fast rule'? It is not only a matter of how many children there may be, but the condition of the children has to be taken into account and whether they need health care or not. Moreover, there are a variety of other circumstances which might be involved.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I did not in fact mention children in relation to the accommodation question. I mentioned children in relation to the length of period for which the widow receives full pay after her husband is killed. Only in that context is there a difference. There is no difference in relation to accommodation. The full pay continues for 91 days if she has no children, and for 182 days if there are children.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we have already spent 20 minutes on three Questions and I think really we ought not to take more than three further supplementary questions. I suggest that we take supplementaries from the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, from my noble friend Lord Balfour and my noble friend Lady Macleod. Then I suggest that we should move on to the next Question.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, would the noble Viscount be kind enough to explain further the mechanism whereby a local authority could be required to provide a place, bearing in mind that some local authorities do not have any places to provide?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I realise that this is not an instantaneous solution, but neither is the question of requiring the widow's accommodation an instantaneous one.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye:

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he will accept grateful thanks for all the information he has given arising from my previous reply? May I ask him this: would he possibly consider summarising, perhaps in an official report, all the concessions and benefits which a widow gets, coupl ed with those which would go to her in respect of her children? In that way the House would get a wide view not only of the residential benefit but of other forms of benefit which we try to give to those who are deprived of their husbands.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, perhaps we might look at the official record. I think I have covered the vast majority of it, but if I find on consulting my officers that I have not, I will certainly find a way of doing what my noble friend suggests.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the £1 0,000 lump sum is taxable?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I will have to look at that and let my noble friend have the answer later. I believe it to be tax free, but I will confirm that.