|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Earl Russell: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Goodhart, who is detained in a meeting of the Freedom of Information Committee, and for my own part, I strongly support the amendment. Wearing my other hat, in the course of research I have had the experience of reading the wills of innumerable 17th century gentlemen. One after another, they made settlements on their wives, "on condition that she shall live sole, chaste and unmarried". I know that in the course of doing research one must sit on one's emotions, but one does not stop having them. Every time I read those words, I am struck with the reflex, "What an impertinence!". I use the word "impertinence" in both its abusive and its technical sense. Once the man is dead, it is simply none of his business. If it were his business, he might well hope that the woman would be privileged to find happiness, as one hopes, for a second time.
If that were not enough, the world has changed. Our perceptions have changed. Support for a widow is not a badge of ownership. It is not a dog collar and lead. It is a recognition of her having put a share into the running of a household. Therefore, support is owed to the woman in justice and equity because of what she has done during the period of the marriage, regardless of what she may see fit to do thereafter.
The case of war widows is of particular importance. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, about "war widowers" is also well taken and will be supported by the European Convention on Human Rights. I do not think that any woman's consent to her husband going off and risking his life in war is happily given. It may be freely given; and it is our national fortune sometimes that it is. But for it to be given happily is extremely rare. That that consent should be given is nationally vital. If there is not an adequate arrangement for the support of the widow, that consent will be rather harder to come by. It is to our national benefit.
Finally, in this, as in child support and many other issues, there is a Treasury interest to be considered. If the Treasury considers its own interest with proper enlightenment--that is a considerable proviso--we might find, for once, that the Treasury is on the side of the angels--because a widow not properly supported by the Treasury will inevitably become dependent on income support. We know that that is not what the Minister wants, and we do not want it either.
Lord Higgins: As so often in this House, one speaks with diffidence on certain issues because of the long-standing commitment of other Members of this place. In opening the debate, my noble friend Lady Fookes referred to the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, in regard to war widows. That is of considerable significance.
As has rightly been pointed out, there are two separate types of pension. There is the pension administered by the DSS, and there is that administered by the Ministry of Defence. I listened with interest to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, regarding the position of the Treasury. Its record on war widows over the years has been somewhat varied.
The crucial point that underlies these amendments is remarriage. In effect, if in present circumstances someone remarries the Treasury gains as a result because the pension that it has previously paid will cease. Therefore, it would be helpful if the Government made a general statement about their policy with regard to pensions and remarriage. The ramifications go a good deal wider than war widows, of whatever type. As my noble friend Lord Campbell pointed out, from time to time that definition can cover people in rather different circumstances. What is the position of the Government in regard to pensions and remarriage?
In the course of the debate it was said that the normal practice in regard to occupational pensions was that if someone remarried she retained the pension. That slightly surprises me. My impression is that, while that
There is also the complication that nowadays the status of marriage is supplemented--that is not the right word--by those who live as husband and wife without being formally married, as the amendment suggests. The amendment seeks to cover both circumstances. In many other areas the Treasury, Inland Revenue and so on carry out extensive investigations to determine the exact position. I am not at all clear whether, if a war widow has not formally remarried but is living in a relationship, which is described in the amendment as "husband and wife", she loses the pension. Perhaps the Minister can clarify that particular point.
This matter gives rise to a broad issue of policy, and it would be of assistance to know the attitude of the Government with regard to remarriage and the definition of those circumstances in which a war widow's pension may be withdrawn. More broadly, I would have thought it undesirable from the point of view of public policy to create a situation in which effectively there is a deterrence to marriage. As the noble Earl pointed out, someone who has been widowed may want to remarry but the financial disadvantages can be substantial.
A further problem may arise if, having remarried, she is widowed a second time. It may be that the second husband, in contrast to the first, has little or no pension rights. Therefore, if she decides to remarry not only does she lose her own pension but if her new husband is older than herself, as may well be the case, she may suffer a considerable disadvantage in later life in that she has neither her own pension nor a pension of any great significance from her second husband. I believe that the Committee would be assisted if the Minister could set the whole of this issue in the broader context of remarriage and pensions.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I shall try. Like other Members of the Committee, I pay tribute to the work of the War Widows Association, with which I have worked closely over the past couple of years as both a Minister and in opposition. The association has always been eloquent, reasoned, consensual and persuasive in its arguments. A good deal of Treasury stiffening is required to resist a number of amendments for which the association argues. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who moved the amendment on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, referred to the latter as "my noble friend". I am sorry that the noble Baroness cannot be here. I, too, hope that outside the Chamber, particularly when it comes to espousing widows' causes, we are indeed her friend and she ours.
We all accept, as movingly described by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the change in status from marriage to widowhood, especially war widowhood, is not easy. It is traumatic if one's husband is a serviceman and every day one lives with the fear of widowhood, particularly when, as now, so many of our Armed Forces are deployed in the Balkans. I have met many
This amendment is an example of the improvements sought by the association. It seeks to provide a war widow's pension from government funds during the lifetime of a war widow regardless of the particular family circumstances following remarriage. In effect, it would introduce government-funded tax-free supplements to the incomes of the second families of war widows which do not take into account the income levels enjoyed by those families. As it stands, the amendment refers to the DSS war widow's pension. The fundamental principle of that pension is that it compensates the widow for the loss of financial maintenance by a husband who has died as a result of service. It is not an occupational pension.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, I cannot comment on the position of the Ministry of Defence. But a pension that is paid by the DSS as a result of widowhood stops when the individual ceases to be a widow. Therefore, in so far as it affects the DSS the Government cannot accept the amendment. Should a war widow be unfortunate enough to become widowed again, or a second marriage ends in divorce, she is eligible to have her war widow's pension reinstated. That amendment to the Pensions Act 1995 was fought for by many in this Chamber, led by the Cross-Benchers. That principle was established for the DSS scheme and therefore applies also to the MoD scheme. The department took on board the decision of this Chamber that a war widow should be able to resume a war widow's DSS pension, and therefore it also applies to the occupational pension. My understanding is that the War Widows Association did not seek to amend the DSS war widows' scheme--it wrote to us to that effect--but to probe the situation with regard to the MoD's occupational pension scheme, even though, technically, that is perhaps slightly beyond the scope of this Bill.
Cessation of widows' pensions on remarriage, with discretion to restore on second widowhood, is a feature of most public service pensions. I was pressed by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, about how widespread was the ability of a widow to retain an occupational pension on remarriage. The position differs from scheme to scheme. It is much more likely to apply in the private sector. My information is that in the public sector it ceases on remarriage or cohabitation--which are treated as the same--in the police service, the fire service, the National Health Service, the Civil Service, unless an additional premium is paid, and for MPs, but not for local government, where the position has recently changed, or universities. The vast majority of public sector schemes do not allow an individual to continue to retain an occupational pension once she ceases to be a
My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces announced last September that the Armed Forces pension scheme would be the subject of a major review. We expect recommendations to emerge around the turn of the year and to be the subject of public consultation. These points and others will be taken up in that review. I have no doubt that the War Widows Association will contribute to that consultation, and I shall draw this debate to the attention of my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. Their work will examine widows' pensions, including the question of whether they should continue to be withdrawn on remarriage.
Given that the original intent of the amendment was to probe the Government's thinking on MoD pensions and whether we were reviewing the situation, I can assure the Committee that we are. The amendment was not originally intended to apply to the Department of Social Security, although the DSS tends to follow movement elsewhere. At the moment, it is separate. I hope that in the light of the explanation and assurances I have given, the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page