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Department of Transport, in particular, to provide better street lighting and safer public transport, especially on the Underground. Those are just a few of the achievements of the ministerial group on women's issues. I shall send further information to the hon. Member for Barking if she is interested. By comparison, all that we have had from the Labour party today have been vague, uncosted promises. Just you wait until the shadow Chancellor gets his little calculator out and gets to work on the promises that the hon. Member for Barking made today, Mr. Speaker. She proposed a full and integrated system of child care. How will that be brought about? The electorate will want to know. By when will it be introduced, and how much will it cost? Such vague promises will vanish like mist on an autumn morning when we come to a general election. Such promises will be treated with contempt by women, who do not want to be treated as a minority special interest group by the Labour party.

I was fascinated by the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), who is not in his place because he has gone north- east to relish his triumph, flushed out of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) something of the emerging Labour party plans for the constitution. They were dismissed in two or three sentences by the right hon. Gentleman. Those plans have been largely hidden in the debate. I suspect that I am one of the few Members to have looked at the Labour party's policy review and read the chapter on the constitution. I bet that there are not many Labour Members who can hold up their hands and say that they have read it. [Interruption.] I cannot see one--I see only the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), a Welsh Nationalist, whom I congratulate.

The review suggests that there will be a new upper House. We are not told how it is to be elected or what the franchise is to be. We are not told what right to representation in that House a voter will have. We are given only a promise--that this new upper House will "reflect the interests and aspirations of the regions and nations of Britain."

That will be a gerrymanderer's charter. If one reads on, one sees that the electoral practice suggested is more characteristic of Panama city than of the United Kingdom. What proportion of the members of that upper House will be elected? What electoral system will be employed? The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook does not like such questions being asked because he has no answers. Will the elections be at the same time as those for the House of Commons? A host of questions need to be answered.

The questions become more interesting when we turn to Scotland. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) said in his brief speech that he looked forward to seeing a regional assembly for Scotland as early as possible, but very different suggestions were put forward today by the Labour Front Bench. Sometimes it was said that such an assembly would be announced in the first Queen's Speech of a Labour Government and sometimes it was said that it would be brought in later in the lifetime of a Parliament. The electoral system is unspecified in the muddled, intellectually incoherent package brought forward by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. I suppose that, logically, many hon. Members would think that the addition of new democratic rights in Scotland would automatically entail a reduction in Scottish seats in

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Westminster, but that is no part of the package. It is constitutional painting by numbers in the interests of one political party.

The most blatant political chicanery of all is yet to come. I hope that hon. Members will pay attention to this because it is important for the future of democracy. According to the policy review, our parliamentary boundary system contains some "obvious anomalies". There is something up with our totally independent parliamentary Boundary Commission. The proposal is to relieve the commission of its independent status.

Mr. Heffer rose --

Mr. Patten : I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, much as I should like to do so.

It seems clear that while enlightened self-interest has some charm, transparent fraud practised on the electorate has not one redeeming feature. Such suggestions from the Labour party show that the right that it assumes is for a Government to rig the system as best they can and that the responsibility that it assumes is for a Government to feather their own electoral nest. If the Labour party goes ahead with those proposals, it will deliver us a great electoral plus. The people would not wish in any circumstances to have our independent electoral system interfered with in the way that the Labour party wishes.

Nor do people want our police interfered with--on this I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who made a splendid speech. According to the policy review, Labour seems to want to introduce the political control of police authorities by politicians. That would be incompatible with impartial law enforcement. I give this pledge--that we shall resist with determination Labour's plan to interfere with the operational independence of the police. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge is satisfied with that.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook also talked about the need for crime prevention and I agree with him on that. However, he then lectured us about the state of Britain's prisons, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). I can tell the House when some of the problems about the state of Britain's prisons began. It was in the period 1974 to 1979, when the only bigger cut than the cut that the Labour Government imposed on the prison building programme was the cut imposed on the hospital building programme.

Turning to more rational speeches, we also had an excellent speech from the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor). I listened carefully to what he had to say because I hold him in great respect. He once canvassed me in the high street at Hillsborough when I was a very junior Northern Ireland Office Minister--I suppose that all new Northern Ireland Office Ministers look the same to Ulster Unionist politicians--and I was tempted to vote for him. He complained about something that one of our new Conservative candidates standing in the Castlereagh council election in Northern Ireland had recently said. Although the right hon. Member for Strangford may not have liked what he said exactly, it must have been sad for the Ulster Unionist party to see their candidate pushed into third place by the Conservatives.

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Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Patten : No, I have only a few minutes left.

Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I can say that the Government accept, as do most hon. Members, that direct rule is not a satisfactory method of government in Northern Ireland. That is the point that the right hon. Member for Strangford made, and that is why we want to make progress towards better arrangements that would involve more fully locally elected representatives from both sides of the community in the Province. The best way for Ulster Unionists such as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) to address their concerns is to talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whose door is open to them at any time if they want to talk to him. I move sadly but naturally from Northern Ireland to terrorism. The most fundamental right of all, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary alluded, is the right to protection against terrorist attack. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) was correct in what he said on that, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was right yesterday when he condemned the

"unjust, merciless, brutal and cowardly killings at Deal." According to a report in The Times, the archbishop continued : "By murdering 11 men and injuring many others, these people have polluted yet more the very cause they claim to be serving." As my right hon. and learned Friend told the House earlier, the Government do not intend to allow the IRA further to pollute this country with terrorism. The prevention of terrorism Act is vital in that task. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, we shall not drop our guard. Alas, for reasons that I cannot understand, the Opposition, by opposing the prevention of terrorism Act, wish us to drop our guard. There have been many recorded cases over the years in which the use of the Act led to the arrest of those who wished to murder and maim, and to the discovery of bombs that would otherwise have been used for carnage throughout the country, including Scotland.

I cannot for the life of me understand the Opposition's extraordinary attitude, and I beg the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his colleagues to think again. How can the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook direct the House, as he attempted to do in his brief discussion of the prevention of terrorism Act, towards a discussion of responsibilities when he patently refuses sometimes to take responsibility for his own Back Benchers who do not sufficiently condemn terrorism? If the right hon. Gentleman truly wants to debate rights, why is he also unable to recognise that the repeal of the prevention of terrorism Act would detract substantially from the right to protection that our armed forces and civilians deserve? One of the greatest British freedoms is the freedom not to be blown to smithereens. Our citizens want that freedom and it is our responsibility to ensure it. The British people will reject the Labour party's policy which, by default, will make it easier for terrorists to strike men, women and children in this country. Between now and the next general election we shall lose no opportunity to point out the way in which the Labour party will weaken the defences of the British people against terrorism from wherever it comes.

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In the short time left, I shall turn to broadcasting. We were treated--

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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War Widows (Pensions)

Motion made, and Question proposed , That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Fallon.]

10 pm

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : This debate is about the deep sense of injustice and distress felt by more than 53,000 war widows, many of whom live in poverty and on means-tested benefits or charitable help. Often the most needful are prevented from seeking such help by their pride. Instead of having to beg for assistance, they crave the dignity of a basic income as of right. Their poverty is demeaning to them and shaming to us all.

Their husbands were, for the most part, killed in the two world wars and they want this House to secure equality of incomes and status for them with the widows of men killed in the conflicts of Northern Ireland and the Falklands. As of now, the widow of a private soldier killed in the Falklands receives more than £124 a week, while the widow of a private killed in the second world war gets less than £57.

In their letter to The Times yesterday, the six surviving ex-chiefs of the defence staff and three former chiefs of the air staff described that sharp difference in entitlements as "cruel" and "unjust", and strongly condemned the division of war widows into first and second-class citizens. Most people will think that their language is not too strong to describe the plight of elderly women who, having been widowed while they were young, live in poverty now they are old.

The former chiefs' letter will be widely contrasted with the Earl of Arran's recent ministerial statement in another place when, referring to the debt of gratitude we owe to those who died in the two world wars, he said that the Government considered that the debt was adequately reflected in the preferential treatment given to war widows under the DSS scheme.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Will my right hon. Friend remind the House not only that he has all-party support for the motion, but that the Prime Minister has specifically referred to a promise in the Conservative manifesto to remove this anomaly as soon as possible?

Mr. Morris : I have not heard my right hon. Friend's point refuted, nor do I believe that it will be in this debate. The fundamental issue tonight is about settling a debt not just of gratitude but of honour to the widows of men who gave their lives for this country before the armed forces pension scheme took effect in 1973. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said, the issue is not one that divides Conservative Members from Opposition Members. The divide is between most Members from both sides of both Houses of Parliament and the Government. A clear majority of this House supported the early-day motion calling for equal provision for all war widows. With 350 signatories, it became the most widely supported such motion of this Parliament, and many more Members would have signed had they not been debarred from doing so by the positions they hold. To their honour, we are also backed tonight by forthright campaigning in the media as a whole. Like the vast majority of the British people, the media insist that equality of treatment for the pre-1973 war widows is now an urgent imperative.

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The Leader of the House, in a speech at Blackpool in October, urged his ministerial colleagues to do more listening. I want the Ministers to whom we appeal in this debate to take his advice. Merely to listen to the plea of Britain's widows of the two world wars is to understand its poignancy. To understand is to want to help. More than 40,000 of the pre-1973 war widows are now over 70 and their problems multiply as they grow older. Many of them are chronically sick and disabled. Their claim to equal compensation for equal sacrifice is, by common consent, now unanswerable.

In one among dozens of parliamentary questions that I have tabled on their behalf in recent weeks, I asked the Secretary of State for Social Security for his Department's total expenditure at 1979 prices on war widows' pensions in each of the past 10 years. The reply on 2 November was that spending in 1978-79 was £116.7 million and that by 1988-89 it had fallen to just over £91 million. That disclosure of a £25 million fall in spending on war widows' pensions since 1978-79 means that widows of two world wars could have been paid substantially more in recent years without increasing public spending.

While public backing for the war widows' case has grown year by year, the Government's total spending on them has fallen. That recent disclosure is crucially important in this debate. Also important is the disclosure, in a further parliamentary reply, of the extent to which war widows now have to rely on means-tested benefits in trying to make ends meet. No fewer than 20 per cent. of them have to rely on housing benefit.

Between 1978 and 1988, more than 38,500 war widows died. The average annual death rate from 1985 to 1988 was 3,247, and it will rise year by year as their average age increases, thus further reducing the Government's spending on war widows' pensions. Sadly, an average of 10 war widows now die every day, taking a deep sense of injustice with them to the grave.

It is the Government's own disclosures of the number of deaths among pre- 1973 war widows--I speak as the son of one of them--that call into question their estimate of the costs over future years of giving all war widows the same entitlements and the same status. They must do their sums again and also concede that settling the pre-1973 war widows' claim is not a problem of resources but one of priorities. If they make the change that we seek tonight, they will have the guarantee of summary parliamentary approval and the backing of post-1973 war widows.

Some of the most moving contributions to recent public debate on the issue have come from the widows of men who died in the Falklands or because of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Dr. Cathy Dent, whose husband died at Goose Green in the Falklands, wants equality for pre-1973 war widows. She will be remembered for the dignity that she showed when walking with her 7- year-old son at the end of this year's Albert Hall remembrance service. Her husband was a captain and her pension is more than £211 a week, including a £30 allowance for her son. Too young herself even to be the daughter of a service man killed in the second world war, she says with simple eloquence : "I think the widows of those who died in the world wars have been very badly treated."

Among many others, she is strongly supported by Tina Smith, whose husband was murdered just four months ago by the IRA. Tina and other post-1973 war widows were

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shocked and angry to learn of the striking disparity in benefits. They have given powerful backing to the impressive campaign for equal pensions for war widows mounted by the ex-service organisations under the leadership of Major General Laurie Gingell. I know that he would want me to pay tribute both to the war widows' associations and to the sustained support given to the campaign by the hon. Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam).

The ex-service organisations had a sensitive decision to make. Of course they want better treatment also for the disabled ex-service man, but their top priority is the urgent need for proper financial provision for the elderly war widows.

Even the Ministry of Defence must now concede that the unequal treatment of pre-1973 war widows is no longer justified. Their much lower entitlements were, for many years, justified by an insistence that the armed forces pension scheme of 1973 was an "occupational" pension scheme. Now the Ministry of Defence accepts that a pension paid under its scheme to a post- 1973 widow is not an "occupational" pension but a compensatory payment, with no length of service or any contribution requirement, for loss of a service man's life and loss of quality of life for the bereaved family.

New rules adopted for the armed forces pension scheme, which became effective from June 1988, to take account of the right to opt out in favour of personal pension provision clearly state that service men who used their right to opt out still qualify for attributable death benefits and pensions for widows and children. The newly revised rules of the scheme state :

"Any serving member or new entrant has a right to opt out of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme and to join a personal pension scheme of his or her choice. Individuals who take this option will not be eligible for the benefits of the scheme, except that they or their dependants will remain eligible for invaliding or death benefits where the cause of injury or death is attributable to service." That change in the rules blew a hole the size of the Grand Canyon in the argument that death benefits under the 1973 scheme are those of an occupational pension scheme. They are not, or at least are not now, as the new rules make very clear, and discrimination against the pre-1973 war widows is palpably no longer defensible.

Any attempted defence now of the disparity in entitlements paid to war widows is also totally undermined by the Northern Ireland ex gratia payment scheme for the widows of men killed or who died as a result of injuries inflicted between 1 August 1969 and the coming into effect of the improved benefits of the armed forces pension scheme in 1973. The Northern Ireland scheme is still in operation and, while its benefits may not be called "pensions", they are index-linked annually and are pensions in everything but name. That scheme, too, destroys the case against equality of treatment for widows of the two world wars.

All of us here know that the older and poorer war widows do not seek retrospection in lump sum back payments ; nor do they ask for parity with the war widows of Germany or Japan. All they want is equal pensions and equal status for all British war widows while they are still alive and able to benefit from more adequate provision. That requires a positive response from the Government tonight and, in particular, an acknowledgement that it is

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not where or how or when a service man died that matters most in determining his widow's pension, but just the fact that he died in the service of his country.

Dame Vera Lynn said last weekend, when looking forward to this debate :

"If the Government say no, we will just go on until they change their mind."

Like all of us, she hopes that tonight, by saying yes, the Government will bring some much-needed happiness into the lives of elderly widows whose unmerited penury and distress is of growing concern to the millions of British people now backing their plea. I have naturally had a great many letters from elderly war widows who live all over Britain. In conclusion, I quote but one. She says :

"We have suffered humiliation with patience for too long. May we now see justice before it is too late?"

10.15 pm

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South) : It is almost two years since I had the honour to introduce a similar Adjournment debate. I am delighted to be able to participate in this debate by kind permission of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I am delighted also that there is a great deal more interest in the subject on this occasion. No fewer than 36 right hon. and hon. Members are in their places, including my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland. It is clear that the matter is attracting considerable interest. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister expressed her concern as early as 1983. She said :

"I do very much share your concern for our war widows ; they are indeed a very special group."

We must ensure that everyone who knows about the issue presses for proper justice.

I have said before that no service person goes into a recruiting office with his solicitor. It is useless, therefore to talk about changed conditions of service. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe has explained that a prime anomaly in the pension scheme no longer exists. It is possible now to opt out of the scheme and still be entitled to benefit if one is killed in action.

We should not pretend that parity would lead to the expenditure of £600 million a year ; it would be about £160 million or less. The war widows are a special case, and we have been assured by the war disabled that they do not wish to ride on the coat-tails of the widows. They consider that these women have suffered severely as a result of being without their husbands for so many years, sometimes for 50 years or even longer. They have had to go through life without the essential support of a partner that so many others have enjoyed. In the evening of their lives they have to pay heavily for everything to be done for them. Every time a washer has to be changed, for example, or any other small job at home has to be done, they have to rely upon outside labour. Of course, that is a heavy burden. The very least we owe them is the dignity in their last few years of not having to worry always about the money that that costs. The Officers Pensions Society, under the leadership of Admiral Sir Peter White and direction of Major General Laurie Gingell, has brought the issue very much into the open in recent weeks. The forces sweetheart, Dame Vera Lynn, has also done her bit. Now that so many more people realise exactly what is involved, I am sure that they will appreciate that service personnel give their all in the service of their country without any thought of their own

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safety. We in turn owe them a great debt. When they were called upon to lay down their lives on our behalf, I think that they expected us to do the just and honourable thing. I hope that that is what we shall do very soon.

10.18 pm

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon) : I shall not take much more of the Minister's time because we are all hanging on what he has to say. I wish merely to say that the Government have made great play of their repayment of the national debt and that the war widows represent a national debt that they must repay. We are talking of a debt to ladies whose husbands made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. I hope that the Minister will say that if the cost is £160 million or £200 million, it is only a tiny proportion of what the Government boast every year that they repay in reducing the national debt, and that they will meet it.

10.19 pm

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on securing this debate and on selecting this very important topic. I am well aware that it is a matter of great concern, shared by many Members of this House and in another place, that the special position of our war widows should be recognised. The Government fully acknowledge the great debt that we owe to those women who lost their husbands fighting in the defence of freedom, or perhaps many years later as the result of their injuries. I congratulate the right hon. Member on the eloquence with which he argued their cause. The issue has already led to a great deal of discussion--indeed, to emotion. That is perfectly understandable. I want first to concentrate on the root cause, as I perceive it, of disagreement on this matter. The main argument put forward for treating pre-1973 war widows in the same way as post-1973 widows is one of fairness. Why should those people be treated differently, the argument goes, just because they are widows of men who served before or after 31 March 1973?

To answer that question we must consider what changed on that date. In common with other employers in the public sector in the early 1970s, in 1973 the Ministry of Defence made enhancements to its armed forces occupational pension scheme. Those enhancements included increased benefits to service men discharged on medical grounds and to widows whose husbands died from causes attributable to their service. Although the scheme is technically non-contributory, adjustments are made each year in the recommendations from the Armed Forces Pay Review Body that have the effect of creating notional contributions.

Effectively, the armed forces have from March 1973 moved into a new pension scheme that gives higher benefits, but that also costs them more. If that had taken place in the private sector, or elsewhere in the public sector, no one would dream of suggesting that the enhanced benefits of a new pension scheme should be made to work retrospectively and paid out to dependants of people who never contributed to the scheme in the first place.

It is important that the House does not confuse the fact that the war pensions scheme, under which all war widows

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receive payments, is quite separate from the longstanding armed forces pension scheme, and it was that which changed in 1973. The war pensions scheme is administered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. It is not confined to members of the armed forces and their dependants and it provides pensions and other special payments to anyone suffering disabilities or to the dependants of anyone who has died as a result of war injuries or, in the case of the armed forces, from any cause that is attributable to service in the forces.

Of course, arguments against applying the post-1973 provisions of the armed forces pension scheme retrospectively have been deployed before in this House and I can put it no better than an earlier Minister who was responsible for these matters. He said : "The main factor in the Government's decision not to equalise the benefits of the War Pensions Scheme and the Armed Forces Pension Scheme is the essential difference between the two Schemes." He went on to say :

"The possibility of introducing retrospective payments into the Armed Forces Pension Scheme has been considered ... However, it is a standard principle of occupational pension schemes in both the public and private sectors that any improvement will apply only to those, or the widows of those, actually serving at the time of its introduction.--[ Official Report, 18 December 1975 ; Vol. 902, c. 1760.]

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe might recognise those words. He certainly should because it was he who uttered them.

Mr. Alfred Morris : I made it pikestaff plain tonight that everything changed with the June 1988 amendments to the 1973 Act. Death benefits are payable now, irrespective of opting out. That is a fundamental change. I also said that there had been a £25 million reduction in real terms since 1978-79, which would itself have allowed improvements in war widows' benefits.

Mr. Hamilton : We would, of course, expect the overall cost of the scheme to have changed because the number of recipients has dropped. When the right hon. Gentleman made his speech in 1975 there were 91, 000 recipients, while now there are about 54,000. He is right to say that many things have changed and the benefits that have been introduced by this Government have actually improved. Matters have not stood still since that date and we might now consider some of the facts involved. I have placed a document in the Library this evening entitled "War widows pensions--the facts".

People have claimed that war widows are the victims of a cruel injustice in the way that they are treated by the Government.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) : If my hon. Friend is taking credit for what the Government have done for war widows, I support him completely because they have done more than any other. But if he is saying that that is enough, we do not agree. Those campaigning for the war widows will not give up and we have public support. The Government have two options : one is to give in gracefully, and the other is to fight and to give in eventually. I urge the Government to give in gracefully.

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Mr. Hamilton : I shall explain to my hon. Friend the implications of what he calls giving in. I am not sure whether people fully understand what is involved.

The Government have recognised the great debt that we owe to our war widows and that is why in 1979 the Government made the whole widows' pension completely tax free. During the time of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe only half was tax free. In 1984, real improvements were made in age allowances including extra help for the over-80s. In April next year, the statutory disregard of war pension for those claiming income-related benefits is to be doubled to £10. At the same time, age allowances are to be increased by more than inflation. For those over 80 the increase is 30 per cent. There are some 56,000 war widows. They fall into three main categories. The first is those whose husbands served in the armed forces, who receive only the DSS war widows' pension. There are some 52,000 of them. Secondly, there are the widows of men who were not serving in the armed forces, for example merchant seamen, but whose death resulted directly from war. They too receive only the DSS pension. There are about 2,500 of them. Thirdly, there are those who, in addition to the DSS pension, receive the Ministry of Defence occupational pension as a result of the improvements dating from 1973. Their number is small--some 1,200

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hamilton : No, I shall not give way any more because it will take all the time available to complete my speech.

I emphasise those numbers, for they are important. We are being asked to extend the schedule which currently applies to only about 1, 200 widows to more than 50,000 others. Although the overall number of war widows is, of course, declining, I must point out that there are still many new cases of pre-1973 widows' benefit being awarded--some 1,500 in the last full year. That number is greater than the total number of widows who have come on to the new scheme since 1973. Forecasts show that, even at the turn of the century, there may still be about 30,000 pre-1973 war widows.

All war widows receive benefits considerably in excess of the basic state widows' pension--some, as I shall show, considerably in excess. From April 1990, a war widow will receive £60.95 per week from the DSS as a basic minimum, and that is tax free. By contrast, a widow in receipt of the basic state pension will receive £46.90, which is taxable. Therefore, a war widow is already some 30 per cent. better off. Even at the most basic level, her war pension is appreciably higher. The vast majority receive even greater benefits.

Although we do not have a complete profile, what we can say is that about 30 per cent. of pre-1973 war widows' are aged 80 or more ; about 70 per cent. of them are aged 70 or more ; and over 85 per cent. of them are aged 65 or more. All war widows over the ages of 65 receive one of the special age allowances which increase with age. The war widows' pension and those age allowances are all tax free. On top of that, war widows are able to receive a state retirement pension in addition to their war widows' pension, if they have been employed and made contributions--some 75 per cent. receive an extra pension that way.

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What does all this mean in terms of the rates that will apply from April 1990? It means that a war widow aged between 65 and 70, if she has earned a full state retirement pension, can receive almost £115 per week--£60.95 war widows pension, £7 age allowance and £46.90 retirement pension which is dependent on her making all the contributions. Unless she has additional income she will pay no tax. On comparable figures, for a war widow aged 80 the figure will be £128 per week.

I remind the House that the majority of the widows from world war two, and all those from world war one, must be in one of those age groups where the age allowance is paid.

I do not believe that that is evidence of disregard and neglect on the part of the Government. The Government have taken some important and valuable measures to help

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war widows, and to direct help where it is most needed, to those war widows who are getting older and whose needs are greater. When considering the question of retrospection, difficulties are created by the knock-on effect upon other groups. It has been said that the war widows are a special case. I accept that. But were retrospection to be conceded for them, what of the case of service men who were injured and needed to be invalided from service? It was said that we need not include the disabled, but that is not true The motion having been made at Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Ten o'clock.

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