HL Deb 03 June 1992 vol 537 cc889-91

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will top up the value of the New Zealand war widow's pension received by some British war widows resident in the United Kingdom to a level which would give parity with the British war widow's pension.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, the pensions paid to the widows of men who died as a result of service in the New Zealand armed forces are a matter for the New Zealand Government.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his sadly disappointing reply. Is he aware that these ladies are all British; that they all choose to be resident in their own country, although if they lived in New Zealand they would have more benefits; and that there are only about 30 of them, a number that is unlikely to go much higher? Does he agree that a caring Government, such as we have, should be mindful of the plight of even very small minorities such as these unfortunate ladies?

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble friend says that there are something of the order of 30 of these ladies. However, my advice is that there are possibly only 20 of them. Nevertheless, it would create a precedent to award pensions to those whose entitlement to pension is as a result of service in another power's armed forces. One should stress that New Zealand was an independent country at the time of the last war and its armed forces were under its own control. Therefore, it must be a matter for each individual and independent country to provide pensions for those who have very sadly been widowed or disabled through service in those armed forces.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, how much would it cost to put right this injustice?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not accept the second part of the noble Lord's question; I do not see that there has been an injustice. As regards cost, to top up the war widow's pension for these ladies and to include the Ministry of Defence special payment would cost something of the order of £100,000 per annum. But, as I stressed, that would create a precedent. We do not see it as right to start paying pensions for those whose service was in another country's armed forces.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, is it not a fact that, when these schemes were considered, anyone joining the UK forces in the United Kingdom was entitled to what is known as a Crown pension and that anyone joining the forces of a country abroad would be entitled to the provisions of that pension overseas?

Lord Henley

My Lords, we are talking now about war pensions and not Crown pensions. Service that has resulted in disability or death in the United Kingdom's armed forces will give entitlement to a United Kingdom war pension or war widow's pension. Service in another independent country's armed forces will, similarly, give a right to a war pension or a war widow's pension under that country's scheme.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, can my noble friend say how much the sum of £100,000 might be widened if the precedent was set and there were other widows of other countries in the same position as these New Zealanders?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot answer my noble friend's question. It would depend very much on how many other widows or disabled former servicemen there were who had served in the armed forces of other countries during the last war and since that time. It would also depend on the level of pension paid by those countries and what that pension was translated into, after passing through different exchange rates, when it was paid to the individual in the United Kingdom.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that war widows of the old Commonwealth countries have pensions in line with, or more generous than, those of the UK—as I understand it, New Zealand is the only exception—and that, therefore, the question of a precedent which has been much mooted does not arise? Is it not the case that the sums of money mentioned by the Minister in answer to my noble friend Lord Strabolgi are not very great so that the question of cost does not arise? Further, as the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, said, given the fact that in some cases we are talking about war widows of British men who happened to be in New Zealand at the outbreak of the war and who selflessly enlisted there, would it not be right as well as compassionate to bring their pensions up to the level of British war widows?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I said, I believe that this should be a matter for the New Zealand Government. It is not the case that it is only New Zealand that has a lower war widow's pension than the pensions that exist in this country. For example, if one takes into account the special Ministry of Defence payment which was introduced some years ago, the Canadian war widow's pension is certainly lower than the war widow's pension available to war widows in this country. It is difficult to compare the different pension provisions in different countries.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, while I accept that New Zealand forces were under separate command from British forces, is it not a fact that those forces came to the aid of British forces?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lady is obviously right. Indeed, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all those who gave their lives or suffered dreadful injuries in the cause of freedom. But, as I said, we believe that it must be a matter in all these cases for each individual and independent country. One must stress that at the time New Zealand was an independent country and should therefore make its own provision for its war wounded and disabled.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, can my noble friend and kinsman say what discussions there have been with the New Zealand Government on this matter? Is he aware that for many years the integration between New Zealand and Great Britain in defence matters has been considerable? While only a small number of people are involved this would be an opportunity to enhance relations between this country and New Zealand, which are already very good.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not aware of any particular discussions with the New Zealand authorities on this issue. We do have fairly regular meetings with our opposite numbers in New Zealand on all social security matters.

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