HC Deb 30 October 1996 vol 284 cc162-3W
Mr. Ainger

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) if he will make it his policy that widows of Japanese prisoners of war will not have their pensions reduced because their late husbands may have died from smoking-related illnesses; [907]

(2) how many widows have been affected by changes in the regulations controlling the level of pensions for widows of Japanese prisoners of war; [908]

(3) how many widows of Japanese prisoners of war are currently receiving pensions; how many are receiving pensions which (a) have and (b) have not been reduced by the change in regulations related to death due to smoking-related illnesses; and how many are receiving a reduced pension as a result of those changes. [909]

Mr. Heald

Contrary to news reports, there has been no change in rules regarding pensions for war widows whose husbands died of smoking-related diseases.

A war widow's pension may be awarded where the late husband's death was due to, or is substantially hastened by, any service in the armed forces. There is no automatic entitlement to a war widow's pension because the late husband was a war pensioner.

The war pensions scheme was never intended to compensate for the effects of a personal habit such as smoking. Policy on this has not changed. Over more than 40 years that has been the policy of successive Governments; it has applied to all those who served in the armed forces, including those who were prisoners of the Japanese during world war two.

The law does however provide for awards in respect of smoking-related conditions where there was a severely disabling mental condition—itself attributable to service and assessed for war pension purposes at a minimum of 50 per cent.—which rendered the late husband incapable of exercising personal choice and prevented him giving up the habit.

Additionally, if there was more than one cause of death, one being smoking related and the other not smoking related but still linked to service, a war widow's pension will still be payable.

Information on the numbers of war widows pensions in payment to the widows of former prisoners of the Japanese is not available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.