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22 Jan 2003 : Column 405—continued

Mr. Dalyell rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 53.

Division No. 59
[6:59 pm


Tellers for the Ayes:

Andrew Bennett and
David Taylor


Abbott, Ms Diane
Austin, John
Barnes, Harry
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Breed, Colin
Burden, Richard
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Clapham, Michael
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Cohen, Harry
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Dalyell, Tam
Etherington, Bill
Fisher, Mark
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Galloway, George
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hancock, Mike
Hermon, Lady
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Llwyd, Elfyn
McDonnell, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Morgan, Julie
Organ, Diana
Owen, Albert
Page, Richard
Perham, Linda
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Salmond, Alex
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Wareing, Robert N.
Weir, Michael
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Wishart, Pete
Wood, Mike (Batley)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins and
Sue Doughty

Question accordingly negatived.

22 Jan 2003 : Column 406


Natural Health Products

7.10 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. There is further business to complete. Will hon. Members who are not staying please leave quickly and quietly?

Mr. McLoughlin: I wish to present a petition collected by Mr. Parker in Ashbourne and its surrounding areas.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

22 Jan 2003 : Column 407

Overseas Service Pensioners

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

7.12 pm

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

22 Jan 2003 : Column 408

of Zimbabwe, what may have seemed a good pension is now worth pennies a week. That is a terrible way to treat people who have served us so well.

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.

OSPA, the representative association of these pensioners, was founded in 1960. As it says in its briefing, since then,

by which it means the home civil service and the diplomatic service. It refers to a number of advances that its pressure, and that applied by the House, has helped to secure.

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.

OSPA believes, and in this it goes along with modern good pension practice, that the position of widows and dependants in the various schemes should also be fairly aligned. It says that

That brings me squarely to the case of my constituent, Mr. Hodson. His first marriage ended in divorce, but many years ago. He remarried 14 years ago, and has one young daughter of that marriage. Understandably, as he is now in his 60s, he is anxious to safeguard his family's position.

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

22 Jan 2003 : Column 409

marriages for service after April 1978 only. There is therefore discrimination between the oldest and often neediest pensioners in various Crown pensions and people with later service.

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 islands—I use the colonial name—the 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

Although data are scarce, any contingent liability for such cases would not amount to more than a tiny fraction of the departmental budget.

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