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Hugh Robertson: One of the remarkable aspects of our debates on the Bill has been the degree of cross-party consensus. Let me record, in particular, my appreciation of the work of the Select Committee, which has enabled us to have a much more informed debate than we could have had otherwise.

Much of the Bill is welcome. I am especially pleased about the commitment in the explanatory notes to the continuation of the final salary defined benefits scheme, which I think particularly appropriate to service in the armed forces. I also welcome the equal treatment afforded to officers and other ranks, while adding the caveat that it can only go so far, as the two groups have different levels of responsibility and exposure. I also greatly welcome the increase in death-in-service benefits, the increase in widows' benefits and the Minister's movement on the AFPRB. However, as I said earlier, I wish that he had gone further.

As several hon. Members have said, it is fair to make the point that a number of issues remain of serious concern. The first is the fact that the Bill is only an enabling measure, but there is also the fact that the payment of pensions will be deferred from the age of 60 to 65. That is unfair when the retirement age remains at 55 and given that the increase in longevity is not yet five years.

There is a lack of opportunity for anyone to earn a full career pension. If one serves until the age of 55, one will accrue 35/70ths and, if one adds on the lump sum, one can get only 62.5 per cent. of one's salary. That, of course, is in the best-case scenario.
6 May 2004 : Column 1571

As other hon. Members have remarked, the impression runs through the Bill that it has been drawn up on a cost-neutral basis and not on the basis of what the armed forces deserve. As we heard earlier, there are also changes to the proof of entitlement to compensation. That is particularly damaging, because it is bound to encourage a compensation culture when the guiding principle should be that the United Kingdom owes a strict duty of care to those injured in the service of their country.

I am afraid the impression remains that the one certain winner from all this will be the Treasury. It will benefit from cost neutrality, the deferment of the payment of pensions and, on top of that, the overall decrease in service numbers, which means that fewer pensions overall will have to be paid. Elements of the Bill have attracted adverse comment from bodies as diverse as the Defence Committee, the Forces Pension Society, to which we all owe a particular debt of gratitude, the Royal British Legion and a number of other veterans' organisations, including the widows who presented a petition in Committee Room 14 yesterday.

The House has a special duty of care to the armed forces. Cost neutrality should not have been the basis of the review, because improvements in some areas are inevitably matched by savings elsewhere. At a time when our armed forces are so widely deployed and in so much danger, I believe that that is an entirely inappropriate message to send. On that basis, we shall vote against the Bill on Third Reading.

5.47 pm

Angus Robertson: I express the appreciation of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru for the work done by our servicemen and women. I also wish to put on record our commendation of the Government for certain changes in the Bill, not least the death-in-service lump sum, the widows' or widowers' pensions and what are known more generally as equality issues. Those are major improvements.

It is disappointing, however, that improvements to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, the burden of proof, full career pensions and widows' and partners' pensions that have been discussed in the context of the new clauses have not been taken on board. Any one of those reasons, or all of them collectively, would be enough for me to vote against Third Reading. However, I shall vote against Third Reading because of an issue that I raised on Second Reading and in discussion with Ministers. It relates to the impact of the early departure scheme.

Ministers and other Members are aware that certain parts of the country, which have low-wage economies and which are dependent on the contribution that retired service personnel make, are underpinned by the current pension arrangements. Not long ago, I caught first sight of the figures. They were shared with the spokespeople for the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats, but not with the major opposition parties in Scotland or Wales or any of the political parties from Northern Ireland. I hope that the MOD will take that point on board when other important information is made available.
6 May 2004 : Column 1572

In the letter to the Chairman of the Defence Committee, it was pointed out that, under the new scheme, annual payments to retired personnel under the early departure scheme would be halved. That will have a detrimental impact in my constituency and in many others. The Minister said earlier that no detailed work had been done on the question, and that fact alone is enough for me to vote against the Bill on Third Reading.

5.50 pm

Mr. Hancock: Every Member who has spoken has paid tribute to the men and women of our armed forces, and rightly so. We recognise the debt that the nation currently and historically owes to them. Today's debate has touched on many of the issues that this House has neglected to deal with in the past. We had an opportunity today to put right a number of wrongs, but we have chosen not to do so.

Like others, I welcome the improvements made in respect of equality—long and hard have they been fought for—but we missed the opportunity to take the initiative, and to offer pension benefits to members of the Territorial Army who, in some cases, have been deployed on active service as frequently as three times in two years. That issue could and should have been recognised, and the Minister could have responded positively this afternoon. I regret the fact that we were unable to vote on it. It was worthy of voting on, so that the Government could measure the depth of feeling.

This legislation is supposed to be complimentary to the men and women of our armed forces, and it is on compensation and the burden of proof that I draw a line in the sand. It is already extraordinarily difficult to fight the Ministry of Defence successfully in compensation cases: the burden of proof is already stacked against the individual concerned. The Minister suggested that the situation will improve, because medical records will be better kept and readily available, but in response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed), he said that he was talking about the future, and that the many servicemen and women affected by Gulf War syndrome will not be covered. Their medical records do not exist, and they have no clear way forward in proving that the burden of proof lies with the MOD. We are going to make it incredibly difficult for people to fight cases in future. Even the Minister suggested that fewer claims for compensation will be made because of the way in which the burden of proof is being shifted. That must be reason enough not to vote for this legislation.

I hope that there will be a significant vote against the Bill on Third Reading, and I shall join those Members who do so. I cannot possibly vote for the Bill, given that many of my constituents and others are already proving unsuccessful in making their compensation cases. Such claims should not be made even more difficult to make.

We also missed an opportunity to put right the obvious mistake that was made with the widow's pension; indeed, we missed such opportunities in the 1970s, the 1980s and the early 1990s. Sad to say, despite the fact that every Member probably recognises the justice of the widows' and widowers' case, this Government have again failed to recognise the mood of the country, which is that the House should support such people, and that they should get what most reasonable people believe that they deserve.
6 May 2004 : Column 1573

In common with other hon. Members, I welcome the movement that has been made, but sadly, there has been far too little of it for us to accept that the legislation is worthy of the men and women whom we have praised so highly here today. The measure of our support for them is not how often we pat them on the back when they are fighting on our behalf, but the way that we treat them throughout their careers and afterwards. It is also the way that we respect and treat their families when, tragically, our servicemen and women do not return from the actions that we have sent them on. I ask hon. Members to reject the Government's position and to put down a big marker by saying that the Bill is simply not good enough.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 113.

Division No. 163
[5:55 pm


Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Atherton, Ms Candy
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blizzard, Bob
Borrow, David
Bradshaw, Ben
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Breed, Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Burstow, Paul
Byers, rh Stephen
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Caborn, rh Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Fife)
Caplin, Ivor
Carmichael, Alistair
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Corston, Jean
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Darling, rh Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Foulkes, rh George
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Grogan, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Holmes, Paul
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lamb, Norman
Lammy, David
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
MacDougall, John
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahmood, Khalid
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, rh Peter
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, rh Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Alan
Moffatt, Laura
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Organ, Diana
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Soley, Clive
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thurso, John
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Robert N.
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:

Charlotte Atkins and
Mr. John Heppell


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, John (Billericay)
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burns, Simon
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Evans, Nigel
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Forth, rh Eric
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, rh John
Hancock, Mike
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Hendry, Charles
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howard, rh Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Jack, rh Michael
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Mackay, rh Andrew
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mates, Michael
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Portillo, rh Michael
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Spring, Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Tredinnick, David
Viggers, Peter
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Wilkinson, John
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Hugo Swire and
Mr. John Randall

Question accordingly agreed to.

6 May 2004 : Column 1576

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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