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Mrs. Lait: This is becoming a routine, but I am pleased about the amendment, and pleased that the Government have included in the Bill the requirement that people with service experience should be members of the tribunals. We discussed the matter in Committee and tried to persuade the Minister to accept our amendment to that effect. He was conciliatory, and said that he hoped that people with such experience would serve on the tribunals, but he did not suggest that he was prepared to rewrite the Bill. I am therefore enormously grateful to the other House for persuading Baroness Hollis to accept the amendment, to ensure that service personnel will continue to be members of tribunals.
(a) a report on the armed forces pension scheme has been laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State for Defence; and
(b) the results of any public consultation upon a report as cited in paragraph (a) above have been published;
and a report of any review carried out under this section shall be laid before Parliament.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), a widow in receipt of a widow's pension under any of the enactments mentioned in subsection (4) ("the DSS pension") and in receipt of a pension paid under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme shall on remarriage or when living together as husband and wife with a member of the opposite sex only retain the Forces Family Pension (attributable).
So that there is no room for doubt, I should make it clear that we announced last week that we would introduce such a proposal by another route. I shall not spend a great deal of time on the amendment, but it is important to put a couple of points on the record. Members of the armed forces enter into a unique contract with the state. In effect, they agree to die for their country if necessary. They are commanded to go into situations where they might be killed. It goes without saying that the people of this country, especially those of my generation, who were born during the war, are extremely grateful to them for their dedication, service and sacrifice.
As the Government have said before--I have said this several times since becoming a Minister at the Department of Social Security--we have examined the case for changing service occupational pensions as part of the current review of the armed forces pension scheme. That review--that long-standing review--is considering the whole package of pension benefits available, and the outcome will be subject to full consultation. I am pleased to be able to advise the House that one of the recommendations of the review will be that all widows or widowers of service personnel covered by the pension arrangements that will be introduced following the review will be able to keep their service pensions for life.
As is normal with changes to pension arrangements, the change will apply to future service only, but we have listened to the concerns of groups such as the War Widows Association, which have campaigned for the attributable armed forces pension to be paid to widows for life, including widows who currently receive a pension and who wish to remarry. Hon. Members have expressed the concern that those widows should be able to rebuild their lives and get on with normal life without losing the attributable service pension. I have said more than once that I have considerable sympathy with that view, and several of my colleagues in the Government have also made such statements, but the question is how, within the Government machine, to take a decision.
In the exceptional circumstances when a spouse's death is attributable to service, we have decided that widows and widowers who already receive an attributable armed forces pension should be allowed to keep it if they
Such matters are not straightforward. I am told that each service has its own regulations, and Orders in Council may be required. I am not certain whether the regulations will require the negative or the affirmative procedure. The negative procedure has the advantage that we could quickly establish a start date once the regulations are introduced, and if they wished, widows could remarry and get the benefit. If the affirmative procedure were used, there would be a delay to allow hon. Members to decide whether to pray against the regulations and force the House to debate them. That is why I cannot give a start date, but I hope that the Ministry of Defence will produce the regulations in the autumn, before the end of this Session. I do not know the date because we have not yet announced the date of the Queen's Speech, but we all know when the House will return after the recess, and work is going ahead.
Lords amendment No. 26 would require the attributable pension to be withdrawn if the widow or widower qualified for a category A DSS retirement pension. However, there is no reason why widows who have reached retirement age should not be allowed to keep their pensions if they remarry. Another reason why I ask the House to reject the amendment is that it does not go far enough.
I shall not detain the House, but I must say that no one, least of all the Government, wants to gloat; all parties have raised the issue and pressed the case for change. I pay tribute to Baroness Strange and those on whose behalf she has worked--the war widows who receive an attributable pension. The change is little enough and it has come late, but I am glad to be able to say that we want to introduce it as quickly as possible later this year.
Mrs. Lait: We are pleased that the Government made the announcement at the end of last week, and we support them in disagreeing with the Lords so that the matter can be put into the correct legislative order. We look forward to further clarification in the autumn. As the Minister has said, everyone has welcomed the change. I should like to put on record my appreciation both of the work done by Mr. Michael Colvin, the late hon. Member for Romsey, in pressing the issue on behalf of the War Widows Association, and of the work done by Baroness Strange in the other place. I congratulate the Minister on espousing the issue. He has worked hard to achieve a resolution.
The Minister clarified how the proposals will be handled, but I want things put in words of one syllable. Is it correct that two separate sets of statutory instruments will be introduced--one for those who will be widowed
Mrs. Lait: The Minister agrees, and I am grateful to him for that. I am not carping, but I should like him to give further clarification. He has referred to those widowed since 1973 who have not remarried, but are there any proposals for the 20 to 30 widows who have remarried? I should be grateful to him if he could give an answer, either now or in due course.
We realise that such matters are the responsibility of the MOD, and we look forward to its final review of all pensions. I recently received a parliamentary answer that said that the review would take place this summer. I suspect that the definition of the term "this summer" is about as good as the DSS definition of the word "shortly", but we look forward to the review, which we shall scrutinise closely. We welcome the announcement, and I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify that small point in due course.