Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I wish to make a quite different point, also in support of the amendment. We must consider the message we are sending to the forces today. Their morale is already low and if we were to show after all this that we were unable to contemplate the proposal, it would send a most unfortunate and wrong message to them.

Baroness Jeger: My Lords, I am glad that we have this proposition, but I should like a widening of the definition of a war widow. I was at a casualty clearing station in the East End of London and my late husband was the main casualty officer in Shoreditch. There we saw firemen, police officers, bus drivers and other people who just came out of their shops who all worked to dig casualties out. I was there and I have never been absolutely clear about the definition of "war widow" for the widows of those who have served overseas. When we mention war widows, could we not sometimes think of widows of firemen, police officers and even the doctors who worked during the Blitz in London? I can only speak of that because that is where I was and sometimes I had to tell a fireman's wife that he would not be coming back. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for saying that I care greatly about those memories and when we talk of war widows I hope that we shall expand the definition to include the extra pensions.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, it was not my intention to intervene to prolong the debate because I thought that all that needed to be said had already been dealt with. However, one or two points have been made this evening which dismayed and depressed me and I feel the need to mention two. The most important to me is the idea that somehow we must not accept the measure which is implicit in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, because other people are not treated similarly.

We have heard about air raid wardens, policemen, oil rig workers, miners and so on. It is true that they become injured and lose their lives in the course of their duty. But I would not have thought it necessary to argue in this House, of all places, that a soldier who took up arms against an enemy in time of war was different from all those people. At Committee stage I used the phrase "unlimited liability". That is precisely what the soldier accepts when he takes up arms and faces the enemy.

It is not that he risks his life but that he offers his life. He is to give his life in the service of his country. In my view, this makes the soldier, whether the professional or non-professional soldier caught up in a world war, different from anybody else. I believe that the promise that we make to him when he goes to war is different from the undertakings that we give to anybody else. It would be a shame—I mean that word literally—if tonight we said that we would not treat war widows differently from, and better than, the widows of others.

I mention the question of cost. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has already mentioned that we are perfectly entitled to agree to this amendment, whatever it may

14 Mar 1995 : Column 778

mean for the financial arrangements in the other place. Of course, it will be a costly measure. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that she could think of one or two other budgets from which this money could be taken. I can probably think of a greater number than she has in mind. I believe that we should leave this decision to the other place and subsequently to the Government. This is a matter of honour. I believe that my noble friend Lord Freyberg has done a great service to this House and to the country in raising these matters. In the end, the basic point that has worried me as the debate has proceeded this evening is that the soldier, male or female, who takes up arms to defend his or her country is different from anybody else and should be treated differently from anybody else.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Wolfson: My Lords, I should like to support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, whose historic name commands universal respect. This is a matter of honour, conscience and priority. It is a modest way of saying thank-you to those who have laid down their lives and fought for our freedom and justice against one of the most horrible tyrannies in history. It is also a practical policy. Out of a social service budget of £80 billion or so, it should be possible to find this money as a priority. As a businessman, I would be happy to help find it without harming other people.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Dean and other noble Lords, for a brief time I was responsible for war pension matters in the DHSS some 12 or more years ago. Later on, when I served in the Ministry of Defence, I met these problems at first hand. Therefore, nobody recognises the importance of the case that has been put so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, than I do. But I am not sure that I go the whole way with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. Although it is the case that soldiers, sailors and airmen offer their lives when they join the colours, I believe that people like merchant sailors and firemen in the Blitz in London are no less deserving of your Lordships' concern than are members of the Armed Forces who are alone the subject of these amendments.

Is it proposed that, for example, the widow of a civilian bomb disposal officer, working in dark and dangerous circumstances and expecting any minute to be blown to smithereens—perhaps later on indeed being killed—is somehow less deserving than the widow of someone who happened to join the Armed Forces and was sadly killed, though perhaps in much less demanding circumstances? I do not accept to the extent that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, suggested, the distinction between the two. As my noble friend Lord Dean said with such eloquence, I believe that those people, too, are worthy of concern. Sadly, the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, are silent as far as those individuals are concerned. The effect of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord is to create a new injustice. I believe that your Lordships should pause before doing such a thing.

14 Mar 1995 : Column 779

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, speaking with his usual eloquence and persuasiveness, told us of his experiences as Minister for Pensions. I suggest to my noble friend that when he assumed the position of Chief Secretary, as he did, he might have taken a rather different line. The fact of the matter is that these amendments involve very considerable expenditure, as my noble friend Lady Young pointed out. I can assure my noble friend Lord Wolfson, who with the greatest of respect has not had, as I recall, responsibility in government for deciding the allocation of budget matters, that it is a good deal less easy than he may imagine. To find £100 million or £200 million from a particular budget is not straightforward. My noble friend Lady Young rightly pointed out that somebody would lose if these amendments were carried this evening.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, will on reflection agree that his amendments will unintentionally create as many injustices as they solve. I hope that in those circumstances he will not press them.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have had a long and interesting debate, as we did in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, has revisited the subjects that he raised so ably at Committee stage and on which he took the views of the House. We are looking now at four new clauses which either repeat those that we debated or are variations upon them. I am sorry that we have to deal with each separately. I apologise if I repeat some of my arguments in the course of the next hour or so as we debate them, especially as those of your Lordships who are interested in the pension arrangements for all our people have now had one very long day on Report and are likely to be here pretty late this evening.

The amendment would restore a DSS war widow's pension previously awarded to the widow of an ex-serviceman but withdrawn on her subsequent remarriage should she be unfortunate enough to become widowed for a second time, or should her second marriage fail for any reason. This amendment does not go as far as the earlier amendment that we debated and disagreed to in Committee. That amendment sought to amend war pensions legislation so that such pensions, once awarded, would be inviolate regardless of any change in widows' marital status.

Your Lordships will recall that I said that the cost of the earlier amendment would be at least £60 million a year. Some surprise was expressed at that figure. Indeed, supporters of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, suggested that I was wrong. They stressed that, whilst there would be costs in war widows' pensions, there would be savings to my department on other benefits like retirement pensions which would not be payable in addition to war widows' pensions. In the light of that, my officials, on my instructions, revisited their calculations and estimates and brought them to me. (Some of your Lordships know that I have a passing interest in figures.) They found that the figure was indeed wrong.

14 Mar 1995 : Column 780

Perhaps I may take the House through the calculations and assumptions that we have made. We start with the one figure that we know for a certainty. About 90,000 war widows have remarried since 1939. As an aside, I must say that that rather negates the noble Lord's argument that they have been prevented from remarrying because of these pension arrangements. We estimate that about half of those will have died and have assumed that some 30,000 still living will claim the war widows' pension if it becomes payable for life. The headline cost of such a restoration will be £220 million; that is, £140 per week times 52 weeks times 30,000.

When the estimates were first made it was assumed that about 70 per cent. of that gross cost would be offset by savings in other benefits. That was the figure that the noble Lord and others invited me to look at again because they thought that I had rather underestimated it. That estimate was based partially on the assumption that most of those reclaiming the war widows' pension would be in receipt of full retirement pension and other income-related benefits. That figure led me to the £60 million that I quoted. In fact, we now believe that about half of those women will still be living with their second husbands or divorced or separated from them, and their offset will be mainly the married women's retirement pension based on their husband's contribution. That means that the offset is about 40 per cent.

So after looking more carefully, as I was invited to do, at the savings which would come from the full restoration, we have concluded that the headline total of £220 million would reduce by 70 per cent. for half the ladies, and about 40 per cent. for the other half. That would lead to a total cost of £100 million, if the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, had been successful a fortnight ago. I go through the arithmetic of it because I want to be sure where I am coming from on this issue. The amendment before us would allow restoration of war widows' pensions only where the second marriage had come to an end. That would cost, as noble Lords who followed my calculations will appreciate, £40 million a year.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page