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22 Jan 2003 : Column 405continued
Tellers for the Ayes:
Andrew Bennett and
Abbott, Ms Diane
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Wareing, Robert N.
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins and
Question accordingly negatived.
Declares that consumers in the UK have for many years maintained good health by choosing to take safe vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal remedies; and fears that the European food supplements directive and the proposed European directive on traditional herbal and medicinal products would severely restrict the number and range of such products on general retail sale in the future.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons requires that the Secretary of State for Health does all in his power to protect the rights of UK consumers by ensuring that such European legislation does not unnecessarily and unacceptably restrict the availability of natural health products.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): The British empire, excluding what were often known as the old dominions, was, by and large, wound up quickly in the 30 years after India and Pakistan were granted independence in 1947. Those who had served it, by which I mean both the colonies and the home country, often did so with great distinction and sometimes at risk to their life and creature comforts. They were progressively repatriated and almost all of them have now returned. No one would, or indeed does, begrudge them a pension. Indeed, the various arrangements made post-independence have been achieved to secure and make certain the pensions of those involved. In many cases, they are paid through what is now known as the Department for International Development, and I am delighted that its Minister, who is also my constituency neighbour, is to reply to the debate.
I should explain my interest in the matter. As so often in my experience, it arises from the case of one of my constituents, in this case Mr. Douglas Hodson of Byfield, who has given me permission to quote from his file. I have come to admire him for his articulacy and persistence, which he has demonstrated over the years since I first heard of his case in 1999. He got me involved with the Overseas Service Pensioners Association, with which I had not dealt before. Its secretary, Mr. David Le Breton, has provided invaluable and exemplary briefing on the wider aspects of the matter.
The association provides a focus of interest and representation for the distinctive interests of colonial pensioners and presses for equitable treatment alongside that available for home civil servants in the principal civil service pension scheme, of which I was fleetingly a member. For completeness, I add that, more recently, I have held some Front-Bench responsibilities for issues relating to pensions generally.
The wider matters raised by issues of colonial pensioners, such as the revised principal civil service pension scheme and the anomalies in armed forces pensions, which I know greatly concern my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who is also involved with OSPA, would perhaps overload this debate, so I do no more than flag them up and emphasise that they are relevant to the pursuit of equity. Equally, I shall do no more than touch on some of the special problems of pensioners with colonial service in the then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and congratulate him on securing this debate on such an important topic. To be frank, I knew little about this issue until one of my constituents, Mr. Arnold Woolley from Buckley, who served in Rhodesia, informed me of the pension received by him and many of those who served with him. I was struck by the fact that because the pension is linked to the local currency, and we all know of the current state
Mr. Boswell: I very much agree. I have at least one constituent who is in that situation. All those people have lost out badly, and the Minister may want to clarify their situation when she responds to my remarks.
The important principle underlying the concern of anyone who attends this debate should be that, as far as possible, those who have served the Crown in whatever capacity should be treated equitably. It remains incumbent on Ministers to identify, monitor and iron out any anomalies wherever possible.
Those include the extension of indexation to colonial pensioners in the 1960s, the Overseas Pensions Act 1973, which allowed for the central takeover of such pensions to ensure their continuing payment, and, in the 1980s and 1990s, important concessions to war service credit. Most recently, in 1996, the Government agreed to a special safeguard scheme for colonial pensioners who had served in Hong Kong. I shall refer to that service in a minute.
Under present arrangements, as Mr. Hodson's remarriage took place after his retirement, his pension will die with him. What he finds particularly galling is that although he saw many years of service with the colonial police, first in Uganda, then Fiji and finally Hong Kong, he knows of cases in which the widows of other colonial servants in Hong Kong are receiving a discretionary pension from the Chinese authorities, even though the remarriage was also post-retirement.
Leaving aside the oddity of a communist Chinese regime being more generous to former servants of the Crown than Ministers of the Crown, there are important anomalies in the treatment of home civil servants. A concern for those civil servants and their unions is the fact that in introducing the new principal civil service pension scheme in 2000, the Government decided not to make any change to the rule added to the old scheme in 1978, but without retrospective effect, thus allowing pensions for widows of post-retirement
Another anomaly, which bears directly on Mr. Hodson's case, is that the 1978 decision was applicable only to civil servants, not colonial servants. However, Mr. Hodson, unlike a large number of colonial servants, was still in service in Hong Kong at that time, as the colony was our main outstanding colonial commitment, although officers may have been serving in the Gilbert and Ellice islandsI use the colonial namethe Solomon islands, the New Hebrides and British Honduras, which did not achieve independence until just after 1978. The old colonial pension schemes had a different funding basis from the home scheme, but I cannot help but agree with OSPA, which says that