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Lord Freyberg moved Amendment No. 191B:

Before Clause 131, insert the following new clause:

("War widows' pensions

. The widow of a deceased member of Her Majesty's forces whose death was adjudged to be attributable to service shall continue to be entitled to a war widows pension regardless of any subsequent change of status.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 191B, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 191C and 191D.

The reason for these amendments is to rectify three long-standing inequities in war and service widows' pensions. It is extremely important to act now as many of the widows worst affected are over 70 years old—the majority are very much more—and the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War is a timely opportunity to restore their dignity and to ensure that their last years are spent living above the poverty line.

The first of these amendments, Amendment No. 191B, concerns the right of a war widow to a pension for life. At the moment, there are just under 50,000 war widows who receive a war widow's pension. They fall into two categories. Those widowed before 1973 receive the DSS war widow's pension plus a supplement that was won as a result of the 1989 parliamentary campaign. Those widowed after 1973 receive an MoD attributable forces family pension and the DSS war widow's pension but without the supplement.

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The pensions are generous in themselves but come with a cruel and financially punitive sting. Both the DSS and MoD pensions are removed if a war widow remarries or is discovered cohabiting. That is particularly serious for the most elderly and for widows with small children. In the case of a widow with dependent children, should anything go wrong with her second marriage—divorce or a second bereavement—she will be left high and dry. It is unreasonable to expect a second husband to bear all the costs of the children of the first marriage, especially when he is likely to have children of his own. The DSS war widow's pension is never restored, while the MoD pension is only restored subject to an uncertain and demeaning means test. That deters most widows from applying and others from even considering remarriage. In 1993, only one in 100 war widows under the age of 60 remarried.

Such treatment is outdated and hard to reconcile with practice elsewhere. Indeed, 84 per cent. of current UK occupational schemes pay a pension for life regardless of marital status. Moreover, among comparable armed forces schemes abroad, the UK is isolated in respect of its treatment of war widows. Of the 14 schemes studied by the Officers Pension Society, eight give a pension for life. In Europe, only the UK fails to restore war widows' pensions after a second bereavement or divorce. That should not be allowed to continue.

The second amendment (Amendment No. 191C) concerns the pensions of service widows of post-retirement marriages; that is, widows who married their husbands after they had retired. At the moment, those whose husbands retired before 1978 receive no service pension. Servicemen are in a unique position. They retire far earlier than any other profession. Typically, other ranks retire at 40 years of age, while most officers retire between 45 and 55. Those are not advanced ages for marriage or remarriage, but if a serviceman who retired before 1978 marries or remarries, his years of service (typically 34 for an officer and 22 for other ranks) count for nothing so far as concerns provision for his wife. He is therefore being penalised for the age at which he has chosen to marry.

The change of regulation in 1978 allows a fraction of a pension for post-retirement widows, but only on their husband's years of service after 6th April 1978. For officers' widows, each year of service after that date earns 1/34 of his service retired pay, while for other ranks each year counts for 1/22 of his pension. Today, 16 years on from the ruling, an officer will have earned for a post-retirement wife 16/34, or half of his pension. That is slightly less than a quarter.

It will not be until 2012 that an officer who retires and then remarries will have earned the maximum half rate pension for his wife. For pre-1978 post-retirement widows —those over 70—the situation is bleak. Very many receive no pension. The amendment asks for no special privileges, only that a pre-1978 serviceman's length of service be allowed to contribute towards his wife's pension. There is virtually no problem with precedent.

In the early 1970s virtually all civil servants worked to the age of 65. The amendment will put servicemen of those years on a par with civil servants of the same

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period. It asks that, provided the serviceman's post-retirement marriage took place before his 65th birthday (the end of his recall liability) and has lasted for at least three years, his widow should be given a pension related to the number of years in the forces—a minimum of 22 for other ranks and 16 for an officer.

Of the 14 comparable armed forces schemes every one, except that of the UK, makes pension provision for widows of post-retirement marriages. A woman in Suffolk has written to me saying:

    "My first husband who had paid all his life into the Widows and Orphans Fund, died aged 60 in 1969 and for 12 years I received his widow's pension".

She remarried and lost that pension. Today, if predeceased by her second husband, who had also paid into the widows and orphans fund all his life, she would receive no pension from either husband. Surely something should be done to rectify such an injustice.

My final amendment (Amendment No. 191D) seeks to rectify an unjustifiable anomaly for service widows whose husbands retired or died in service before 31st March 1973. That date marks a crucial difference to the rate of pension the widow can expect. I shall explain.

Widows of servicemen who joined the Army after 31st March 1973 automatically receive a pension of 50 per cent. of their husbands' retired pay. Widows of servicemen who joined earlier but who retired or died after that date had the option to buy into a scheme for a 50 per cent. pension for their wives. Widows whose husbands died or retired before 1973 receive only a 33 per cent. pension and had no option to buy into a higher one. That is dramatically lower than any other comparable armed forces scheme in Europe, the USA or Israel. None of those countries pays any of its service widows less than a 50 per cent. pension. In France, the figure is 50 per cent.; in the USA 55 per cent.; in Germany 60 per cent.; in Australia and Belgium up to 67 per cent.; and in the Netherlands 71 per cent. Our 33 per cent. is out of step. Do we really think so much less of the men who fought for this country's freedom? It is mean, inadequate and a disgrace.

For example, there is a widow living in Oxford whose late husband was a Fleet Air Arm pilot. He flew throughout the war, including the famous raid on the "Tirpitz" in Alten Fiord. His death at 37 of a massive heart attack while still serving as a pilot was not judged to be attributable to service, and after tax the MoD pension to which his widow is entitled amounts to £29.6 a week. Were she to receive a 50 per cent. pension (about £44 a week), she says that that extra £1,000 a year would make all the difference.

Again, it is the most elderly and vulnerable widows who are being made to suffer. Most are over 75 and many are in severe financial difficulties necessitating income support —not a cost-effective or dignified way of looking after them. My amendment proposes that their pensions be raised to 50 per cent. in line with post-1973 widows and the rest of Europe.

To conclude, most of the widows for whom the three amendments are sought watched their husbands go to war. On the Government's own figures, some 80 per cent. are over 70, with most aged between 75 and 85.

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Many war widows are living lives of loneliness, dictated by the character of the pension regulations. Most service widows are in severe financial difficulty, necessitating various forms of government expenditure through income supplements. The true cost of honouring them in this victory anniversary year would be modest compared with the £5 billion saving being made by the Government through their retrospectively applied deferment of state retirement pensions for women. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Seear: I support the amendments so ably and fully moved by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, following his most excellent maiden speech, which impressed us all so greatly. The question will be asked—this is the only objection that can be raised—as to why war widows should be treated differently from other widows. There are a large number of widows who have suffered bereavement, perhaps in industrial accidents or in pits or in a great many other ways. Why then should we treat war widows differently? That is the question that may be asked.

My mind goes back 50 years, as will the minds of many Members of the Committee. I recall a conversation with a friend who had just come off the Murmansk convoys. He made a remark—it was in no way critical of his fellow sailors —that when the chips are down and the danger is great, it is impossible for a married man not to have in his mind the idea that his wife will suffer grievously if he carries the full burden of that fight. He was not suggesting, and I am not suggesting, that in those circumstances men would be any less brave, but surely the least we can do is to see that, when they are in those circumstances, they can be fully assured that their widow, if she is to be a widow, will be looked after properly. So I am glad to support the amendments.

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