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Patrick Mercer (Newark): I thank the Minister for the grace and generosity of his apology. Will he assure those members of the 3 Military Intelligence Battalion who have been called up that their pension rights, the pension rights of any widows that may result from their being called up, and their tax position are properly explained to them?
Dr. Moonie: We have improved the system of call-out of volunteers and compulsory call-out of personnelboth are involved in that battalion. We have carefully considered the call-up of members of the Territorial Army and other reserve forces. The information given is much more carefully explained to them now than it was in the past. I shall certainly ensure that they are in no doubt about their rights. In their entirety and probably throughout this deployment, they will be based in this
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I wholeheartedly welcome the Minister's resolution of one of the many injustices and anomalies in the service pensions system, but he will have the support of Members in all parts of the House if, as Minister responsible for veterans, he now addresses other service pensions issues so that we properly recognise the debt we owe to our ex-service men. In particular, will he institute an independent actuarial review of the consequences of reduced pension payments for those who served between 1949 and 1975?
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Minister agree with the thrust of what was said by the hon. Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) and for Hereford (Mr. Keetch)? For many years, has there not been a culture of resistance in the Ministry of Defence to questions in regard to which matters concerning pension rights become controversial? Will the Minister consider looking again at some of the outstanding issues in relation to which that controversy persists?
I am thinking particularly of a case advanced by the Forces Pension Society involving serving officers who marry after their term of service has ended, usually because of the nature of their careers, and then find that their widowsshould their wives outlive them, as will probably be the casewill be entitled to nothing from the pension contributions that they have made. Might not Ministers do better to be a little more sceptical about some of the advice that they receive from their MOD officials on such matters?
Dr. Moonie: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we consider all such issues carefully when they are raised. Obviously we do not spend all our time considering them, or we would not be able to do our other jobs; but we review them periodically to see whether anything can be done.
Contrary to belief, when the MOD is clearly liable it makes no bones about paying compensation. As for the specific issue mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, it is a while since I considered it. I will have another look at it.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I thank the Minister for his statement and, indeed, for his apology. It is clearly important for what is wrong to be put right as quickly as possible, especially as I suspect that those still affected are likely to be the most elderly and vulnerable pension holders. Will the Minister therefore give two guarantees? First, will he ensure that all the necessary resources are put at his disposal in order to solve the problem? For instance, will he be able to contact all the regimental associations, which often hold much better records than the MOD? Secondly, will he undertake to write to the Treasury himself to ensure that the formula that is applied is not the one normally used when tax is being back-paid, and that a realistic interest payment is made to reflect the period during which people have lost money?
Dr. Moonie: I agree that the net should be spread as widely as possible, and I think that surviving widows probably are the most vulnerable group. I recently had discussions with representatives of pensioners, who told me that many women of that generation do not know much about the system according to which they are paid; they relied on their husbands when they were alive, and assumed that what was done was correct. We will do all that we can to encourage and help such women to come forward and claim what is due to them.
Mr. John Baron (Billericay): While praising the Minister for coming to the House and for making the apology in the manner in which he did, may I respectfully point out that it appears that the MOD has dragged its feet on this issue, as, perhaps, with other issues? Although I accept that there has not been a cover-up, will the Minister instigate an inquiry to ensure that such matters are dealt with properly in future by the MOD, and that loss and suffering are minimised for those who are very vulnerable with regard to this aspect of pensions?
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may be aware that yesterday the BBC "Today" programme put into the public domain a letter from the chief executive of the south east region of the NHS indicating that the NHS would overspend in that region by some £60 million this year. That figure was accepted on the programme by the Secretary of State.
In a reply dated 14 January to a parliamentary question, the Minister indicated a projected overspend of £7.5 million, an almost tenfold difference. Both the letter and the reply are dated 14 January. Given that the Minister must by now know that there is a serious difference in the answer given to Parliament and the answer given to the region and to the public, has there been any indication from the Minister of any attempt to come to the House to explain the discrepancy between the two?
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was the hon. Member who tabled the question that received the answer to which my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has referred. Can you investigate the discrepancies, which clearly led to incorrect information being given to me? That has added insult to injury. It took the Department of Health some six weeks to give me any sort of reply to a question that I had tabled back in November, and I have discovered that my own health authority, Buckinghamshire, was predicting a deficit on publicly available material in November and December last year that was significantly larger than the deficit for Buckinghamshire that the Minister gave me in the answer received on 14 January this year.
Mr. Speaker: I am governed by the rules of the House, and I am not responsible for the content of answers. The hon. Members for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) can seek further clarification through parliamentary questions, by correspondence or indeed by asking for a meeting with the Minister, but I repeat that it is not a matter for me.
Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On two occasions yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health made comments that were grossly insulting to hon. Members from Wales and indeed to the people of Wales. Will you take the opportunity to point out to the Secretary of State that he has responsibility in a range of areas for issues covering Wales, not least one of the issues about which he was asked yesterday? Will you also point out that comments such as
I am seeking to promote a serious debate that goes beyond the relatively superficial matters covered in some previous discussions. However, I pay tribute to the serious discussion that has taken place. For instance, reports from the Select Committee on Home Affairs some years ago, and from the Data Protection Commissioner, are notable in that respect. The matter was also given serious consideration in a draft report from the Information Commissioner, which I have seen as a result of my membership of her informal advisory group.
I am also pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) will put the case against the Bill. That will allow us to have a full debate. With a little luck, we may also have the opportunity to discover the view of the House.
Why is the Bill needed? The main objectives are to reduce low-level crime and disorder, to help prevent inappropriate purchaseof alcohol or fireworks, for instanceand to discourage all fraud based on impersonation. Such fraud includes benefit fraud and electoral fraud.
The Bill contains four main provisions. First, it provides that all residents should be issued with a smart ID card. It would be compulsory to own such a card, but not to carry it at all times. Similar provisions apply to driving licences. So far, I have not encountered anyone who thought that the requirement that drivers own a driving licence was a great imposition. On a similar principle, it should be possible for residents of Britain to be able to identify themselves if necessary.
Secondly, the Bill would authorise the police to request identification, but only if a person were considered to be behaving suspiciously, or had entered an area temporarily or permanently designated as high-security. An example of such an area would be that immediately surrounding a military base.
The Bill would mean that an ID card would be sufficient to satisfy such a request. Therefore, any British resident carrying an ID card would be able to satisfy police inquiries by producing it. If the ID card were not available, the police would be allowed to request alternative identification. If they could not satisfy themselves about a person's identity, officers could, if necessary, accompany that person to his home and look at the card there. In addition, another person with an ID card or a driver's licence could be asked for confirmation of a person's identity, or some other means of identification might be available.
The key point is that the Bill would give police the power to ask for identification that they lack at present. The other day, a police officer in my constituency told me that he often stops people who he believes to be joy riding. They give him a name and address and say, "Sorry, officer, we haven't got our driving licence with us." The officer is forced to take at face value the name and address
Similarly, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that it would be impossible for you to be caught loitering in Beeston high street at 2 am examining shop fronts, but it is possible that I could be there. If I were, a policeman might ask what I was doing and who I was. At present, I could give some explanation and any name or address without being required to offer proof. At the end of such a conversation, I could commit a crime when the policeman moved on, secure in the knowledge that I had not been personally identified.
The police should be required to log all such requests. That would act as a deterrent. People who have been identified by the police, and know that the police have logged that identification, are less likely to commit a crime in the same vicinity soon afterwards. It would also be a security measure. Most hon. Members will recall the controversy over the sus law as it applied in Brixton. Perfectly law-abiding people used to be stopped several times a week, simply because they lived in Brixton and were black. We must ensure that such behaviour does not happen again. The Bill foresees an independent audit each year of the number of requests made by each police force, to discover whether any police force is using the power much more than others, and to give those conducting the audit the power to investigate why that should be the case, to ensure that only genuinely suspicious behaviour results in requests for identification.
All local authorities would be provided with a networked card printer, which would replace a lost or stolen card and register with the network that all previous versions of the card for that person were invalid or stolen, so that attempts to misuse identification would meet swift retribution. That provision is necessary. In Sweden, there have been many cases of identity being stolen, with fairly drastic consequences, so it is important that if one's card is stolen there is a local office where one can immediately obtain a replacement and ensure that all previous versions of that card are recognised as invalid.
Finally, I propose that the smart card have sufficient capacitytechnically, that is no problem nowto cover a wide range of possible additional services for the holder. I envisage in the long run incorporating the driving licence, the asylum seeker card that is now being introduced, the card that many people have proposed for benefits recipients, and identification for other Government and local government services. It is important that we make it clear that it is not a card that we give to asylum seekers and benefits recipients only, in some way stamping them as requiring special supervision, but a card that each of us has, to register which services we are receiving from Government and local government.
In addition, the Bill foresees the possibility of other organisations and companieslocal transport bodies, financial institutions or retailersrenting space on the card's memory for voluntary use by their customers. That would greatly enhance the usefulness of the card to the user and it would provide a secure and well supported ID system for vendors and help fully recover the cost of the scheme.