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Lord Alli: I hope that I may ask a simple question: why did not the noble Lord do this when he was in office?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thought that I had explained that, but the noble Lord was not present when I did so. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, I was the Minister responsible for social security and I had to deal with the MoD on this issue. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness will have written a few letters to the MoD on this matter; I wrote a few myself. However, all the response I obtained was that there was a review. That is the short answer. Therefore I am aware of the prevarication that arises. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is as convinced as I was with regard to this issue. However, the only way that the noble Baroness will be given a sword in her hand is through this Chamber putting the amendment on the face of the Bill. Contrary to the advice I gave last year, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, will press her amendment to a Division and that Members on all sides of the Committee will support it.

Lord Renton: It comes as no surprise that perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and, at one time, my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, with their ministerial responsibilities had it in mind that they had to be fair to widows other than war widows. However, my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and others who have spoken have already pointed out that war widows are in a more difficult and, indeed, often a more desperate position. I hope that I may emphasise the reasons for that. I do not think that it is unjustifiable to attempt to generalise. One reason is that war widows are nearly always younger than other widows. Another reason is that they and their late husbands have had less chance to build up some savings for their retirement. As has been mentioned, war widows are often left with young families and no husband to support them. They must do their best for their families. If we were to evade the proposals put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, we would place war widows at a disadvantage which they do not deserve. Therefore I, too, earnestly hope that the Government will be sympathetic towards her amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I am sure we are all sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who is the Minister responsible for defence, is not present. However, I remind the Committee that the Long Title of the Bill includes the following words:

This Bill is about war pensions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, who is the Minister responsible for social security, speaks for the whole Government when she replies to this Bill. Therefore we do not want to be told that because the Minister

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responsible for defence cannot be present this is an inappropriate matter to discuss. I hope that the Minister will not persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, to withdraw her amendment. I believe that it is perfectly appropriate to move this important amendment at this stage. I shall support it if the noble Baroness presses it to a Division.

Lord Davies of Coity: I certainly applaud the confession of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, when he expressed regret at sentiments that he had expressed on this issue in the past from the Front Bench of the previous government. Nevertheless I do not believe that the argument he proposes with regard to the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Social Security holds as much water as he thinks. At the end of the day Cabinet decisions and government decisions are taken. I suspect that the Government adopt exactly the same stance as did the government of which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was a member, and for exactly the same reasons. Therefore I expect Members of the Committee on the Benches opposite to act tonight as they did when they were in government and support the Government on this issue.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Elton: I did not intend to speak but I was astonished to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, has just said. It is only noble Lords on the Front Bench who have any official capacity in this debate. The rest of us are free to do what we like. It is not the case that everyone who has held office must think that they have always been right and that if they were wrong they must still maintain that position. My noble friend has described a situation with which I am familiar. About a decade before the time of which my noble friend spoke I sat in that rather dreary office in Alexander Fleming House and faced the same problems. Interdepartmental squabbles are nothing whatever to do with this Chamber, or with the Front Bench opposite because the Front Bench opposite answers for the Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, has rightly said, the issue we are discussing is one to be resolved in Cabinet. The function of Parliament is to control the executive, not to give it free rein. If it needs a steer, I should have thought that the Committee is in a good position to do so this afternoon.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Support for the amendment has been expressed on three sides of the Chamber, and, indeed, from this side. I lend my voice to that support. I should not want it to be thought that the Labour Benches were not sympathetic to the aims of the amendment. I know that many of my noble friends on these Benches are indeed sympathetic to those aims. I sincerely hope that we can achieve them. My noble friend was certainly in favour of this kind of amendment when we were in opposition. I feel sure that she has not changed her mind. Even if my noble friend cannot accept the amendment, will she give all sides of the Chamber,

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including these Benches, an assurance that before we conclude all stages of the Bill a provision can be inserted in the Bill, either by herself or by someone else, that will achieve the objective of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The proposed new clause raises an issue that was debated last year during the passage of the then Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill. As the Committee has noticed, it was not then--as it is now--a matter for the DSS, but for the MoD. At that time my noble friend Lady Symons explained that the Government have enormous sympathy for the widows who would achieve a lifetime award of a pension as proposed in the amendment. She sends her apologies to the Committee. As has been said, she is in Washington on government business and regrets--as I do, obviously--that the amendment is having to be discussed in her inevitable absence. This longstanding engagement is one that she cannot break. However, we are only at Committee stage, we still have the Report and Third Reading stages. As my noble friend will certainly be present at those later stages to discuss noble Lords' concerns and will perhaps be able to respond to them in greater detail than I can tonight--

Lord Astor of Hever: Does not the Minister accept that she is answering for the Government at this point?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes, but the Bill concerns DSS pensions and the pension we are now discussing is an MoD attributable war pension. Of course I speak on behalf of the Government. However, the whole push of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was that the department that has to be persuaded of the merits of the amendment is the MoD. I therefore expressed, perfectly properly, my regrets and those of my noble friend that she cannot be present this evening. I suggest that Members of the Committee may consider it prudent to put their arguments to my noble friend when she is present at Report or subsequent stages of the Bill. I note that two noble Lords wish to speak. I give way to either or both.

Lord Elton: I do not wish to be unpleasant or personal; I am speaking about offices, not people. The proceedings of the House were adjourned this afternoon because the Minister was not able to be in the Chamber when the Committee wished to proceed with business. For her to then argue that any decision on the business in hand should be deferred because another member of the Government--who shares that responsibility, but not the responsibility of the Dispatch Box--cannot be here to answer in person is beginning to make the House of Lords look as though it is dependent on the convenience of government Ministers in order to pursue its business. I am sure that is not the noble Baroness's intention. I repeat that there is nothing personal in this, but we have to defend the dignity of the House--and that is now in issue.

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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I shall be a little gentler than my noble friend, who makes a valid point. If we are to be asked to wait until the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, can be here, either on Report or at Third Reading, can we have a guarantee that we shall hear, not that there is to be another review, but that she will come forward with an amendment that will do what the Committee wishes to be done?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps I may return to this point later. Let me carry on with what I was going to say and let us see whether it deals with the points raised.

As I said, my noble friend explained last summer that the MoD is currently undertaking a review of the Armed Forces pension scheme. I understand that an announcement is due to be made during the summer. The review will include consultation with all parties with an interest in the pension arrangements for the Armed Forces. I am sure that those who speak for the War Widows Association will put their case eloquently and forcefully, as has been demonstrated today.

The review of the Armed Forces pension scheme has to be wide ranging and comprehensive. There are many different pension schemes in the public and private sectors and we need to consider how the best elements of these schemes can be incorporated into providing a pension scheme that meets the needs of all servicemen and women. As the Committee will know, in many respects private sector schemes are nowadays very different from public sector schemes; they have different arrangements for widows who remarry and, to respond to the point made by my noble friend Lord Alli, they have different arrangements for trustees, for example, to allow named dependants--including same-sex partners--to inherit a widow's pension. So there are obviously those considerations. As I say, we need to see how the best of those schemes can be incorporated into building a pension scheme that meets the needs of all servicemen and women.

In his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made two points in particular. First, he said that this was unfair to the widows of servicemen when compared to the pension sharing of divorced wives. It is true that, under pension sharing, pension rights are to be treated as property and that a divorced wife will keep her pension share, regardless of whether she remarries later. But she will not necessarily be better off. The widow whose husband dies as a result of service receives an attributable pension, which is paid at a higher rate than the normal Armed Forces pension as it includes an element of compensation. So it is more generous than a divorced wife would get from a share of her husband's occupational scheme. Secondly, a widow receives a pension from the time of her husband's death, whereas a divorcee would have to wait. Thirdly, of course, even when a widow remarries the pension that she would get for her children--which is again relatively generous, and rightly so--continues.

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