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Mr. Gerald Howarth: We have done it, and I pointed out the case in which it was done.

Mr. Hogg: The case has been made, but it is not a justification in principle. My hon. Friend must give us a principled argument as to how one can properly make a distinction between the surviving spouses of servicemen and the surviving spouses of other individuals in thousands of other public sector occupations. it is very difficult to make that distinction as a matter of principle. As it happens, I would like to be able to benefit that group of surviving spouses but we have to understand the consequences of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot has not dealt satisfactorily either with the point about retrospection or with the point about read-across. Unless he can do so, I shall not support him.

Mr. Caplin: Perhaps I could begin where the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) ended. There seems to be some confusion in the House in relation to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) about the single change that Tom King made when he was Secretary of State for Defence. I want to try to clarify that. There was a change to the war pension scheme, which is not an occupational scheme. It does not raise
15 Nov 2004 : Column 1052
the same issues that we have debated this afternoon. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, the benefit is not in relation to the terms of service, which were set separately for service personnel at the time of their service, and there is no direct pay adjustment.

Furthermore, the war widows already had an entitlement to benefit in 1989 and all that happened was that the value of the benefit was increased for pre-1973 widows. That was an honourable thing for the Secretary of State at the time to do. It was also the right thing to do. The post-retirement marriages measure that we are debating today and that has been debated in the House of Lords would introduce a completely new entitlement. That is why I ask the House to disagree with their lordships. It is a completely different area. It is not right to make a comparison with the change that Tom King made at that time.

I wanted to start on a point of consensus in winding up this short debate. I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Aldershot about our inclusion of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body and of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) in relation to the Bill in general. I want to say how much I have enjoyed the "trio debates" that we have had for the best part of eight months. When this Bill got into Committee in February, I did not expect us to be debating it in the last week of the Session, but there we are.

I want to try to make it absolutely clear where I stand in relation to post-retirement widows. The House will recall from our previous debate that I had a meeting with Lord Freyberg and the Forces Pension Society. I hope that I can build on the comments that I made then with some further comments. I make it clear that I remain open-minded on the possibility of a measure that may make further improvements for particularly vulnerable groups of armed forces widows, in particular some of those who are older and less well provided for. As I have already indicated to the society, I am prepared to meet it and Lord Freyberg once the Bill has received Royal Assent to consider the issues raised throughout our debates. I hope that the House will accept that commitment from me on behalf of the Government and, in consequence of it, will allow the House to disagree with the Lords and send a clear message back to their lordships on this issue.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am aware that the Minister had a meeting with Lord Freyberg and others. I find it surprising that the Minister, having said at the outset of the debate that, if the amendment were insisted upon, the Bill would have to be pulled and all these benefits to the armed forces would be lost, chooses at the end of the debate, when there is no real opportunity for us to reply, to say that he is open-minded about it and willing to reconsider.

If the Minister is saying that he is prepared to consider righting this injustice at some point in the near future, that is fine; but if he is saying that he is prepared to talk, but in fact there is nothing new to say, frankly, I do not see what purpose there is in his talking further. Can he give us some more definite commitment?
15 Nov 2004 : Column 1053

5 pm

Mr. Caplin: I have given a clear commitment both today and in what I have said previously. My words have been carefully chosen and reflect a further conversation that I had with the Forces Pension Society last week. I am saying that I am open-minded on the possibility of a measure that might make further improvements for especially vulnerable groups of armed forces widows, and in particular some of those who are older and less well provided for. It seems to me that that is clear and unambiguous, and it is a matter that we can discuss afterwards.

The hon. Gentleman knows, as we have already debated it today, that this is an enabling measure. It is right and proper to discuss these issues. He said to me in Committee when the matter was raised on, I think, 22 February, that it was a probing amendment. We did not divide on it then and he did not appear to wish to pursue it further. That is a normal consequence of House business, but in these circumstances I am trying to make it clear to the House and to the other place that there are opportunities for further discussions, and I am not ruling anything out and remain open-minded. He will simply have to accept that that is as far as I can go in making a commitment today.

Mr. Howarth: I am afraid that, from what I have heard so far, I do not feel sufficiently confident that there is a real intention to deal with this issue. I welcome the idea that the Minister is prepared for further negotiations, but I find what he has said so far unpersuasive, and unless he can give a certain commitment I am likely to seek to divide the House on this issue, because he has shown nothing but intransigence thus far, so I cannot place huge reliance on his delivering if he comes to further negotiations.

Mr. Caplin: I did not use the word "negotiations", and I reject the charge of intransigence. That was not a sensible point to make, and in fact the concession that we made to the pre-1973 widows, at a cost of more than £20 million, was welcomed by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall and should perhaps have been welcomed by the hon. Gentleman, too.

I want to respond briefly to two points, the first of which concerns the Civil Partnerships Bill and retrospection—the two are not the same, and it is worth my placing on the record why that is the case. The regulations under that Bill will provide equality, as they will allow registered same-sex partners to accrue survivor pensions in public service schemes from 1988. That puts registered same-sex couples in the same position as married couples. This new legal status is akin to marriage and inevitably produces corresponding benefit rights. That is different from the issues relating to any retrospective improvements for pension benefits that have arisen in debates on our Bill both today and previously.

Secondly, it is simply not true that the Lords amendment would cost £7 million. The Government Actuary has confirmed that limiting the threshold for payments to age 75—I made this point in my opening remarks—does not reduce significantly the one-off cost, which I have stated clearly throughout this debate is in
15 Nov 2004 : Column 1054
the region of £50 million to the Ministry of Defence, and the read-across of that is the other figures that we have heard: £300 million to £500 million.

Mr. Howarth: Are those costs net of social security payments that will be saved?

Mr. Caplin: It really was not worth my giving way. The Government Actuary works the figures out, and I have given the House a clear understanding of them. It is not £7 million; it is much, much more. Reading across to the public services and rectifying all the legacies, we would be talking about billions of pounds. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would expect any Government to present such a case.

We have now discussed this matter on seven occasions. I believe that the House should disagree with the Lords, and I urge it to do so by rejecting the amendment.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:-

The House divided: Ayes 260, Noes 160.

Division No. 319
[5:05 pm


Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Bailey, Adrian
Banks, Tony
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beard, Nigel
Berry, Roger
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Byrne, Liam (B'ham Hodge H)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Colman, Tony
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cranston, Ross
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Etherington, Bill
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Grogan, John
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hodge, Margaret
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Illsley, Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
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
McCafferty, Chris
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWilliam, John
Mahmood, Khalid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Merron, Gillian
Milburn, rh Alan
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moffatt, Laura
Moran, Margaret
Morley, Elliot
Morris, rh Estelle
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Rooney, Terry
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Straw, rh Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Robert N.
Watson, Tom
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Iain (Hartlepool)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Nick Ainger and
Mr. John Heppell


Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Ancram, rh Michael
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Barrett, John
Beith, rh A. J.
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burnett, John
Burns, Simon
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Cameron, David
Carmichael, Alistair
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Clappison, James
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Curry, rh David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dodds, Nigel
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Duncan Smith, rh Iain
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flook, Adrian
Forth, rh Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Hague, rh William
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heath, David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Hendry, Charles
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howard, rh Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Jack, rh Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, rh Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mackay, rh Andrew
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Pickles, Eric
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Pugh, Dr. John
Redwood, rh John
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Rosindell, Andrew
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Teather, Sarah
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Tyrie, Andrew
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Wilkinson, John
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wishart, Pete
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Crispin Blunt and
Mr. John Randall

Question accordingly agreed to.

15 Nov 2004 : Column 1057

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Liz Blackman, Mr. Colin Breed, Mr. Ivor Caplin, Vernon Coaker and Mr. Gerald Howarth; Mr. Ivor Caplin to be the Chairman of the Committee; three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Vernon Coaker.]

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