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Lord Renton: My Lords, although every citizen of the United Kingdom is obliged to obey every word of the law, is the noble and learned Lord aware that many details of the law do not come to the notice of those who must obey them? What steps will the Government take to alert the people who must obey this provision?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is not about a change in the law; it is about giving effect to existing law. What is being said is that people must still apply for a licence, but the question is how the information is recorded. If there are administrative changes to the application process, no doubt a means of telling people about them will have to found. This does not involve a change in the law; it involves a change in the management of the process.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I acknowledge entirely the obligation in Section 39. On previous occasions in the House, my noble friend Lord Bassam and I have given detailed explanations of what happened and why it has not been brought into force before August 2004. The basic answer is that steps were taken to work up a proposal to bring the provisions into force, but then other priorities relating to the police national computer superseded them.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I cannot give a precise figure at present because the tenders have not yet been accepted. But, subject to commerciality and confidence, I will notify the noble Lord of the figures. Applicants must already pay for a licence, and, so far as I am aware, the price will not increase.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, further to the question by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, is it really the case that the Minister cannot tell us the percentage of those convicted of gun crime who were in lawful possession of a gun? Would it be reasonable to assume that practically none, if any, was in lawful possession of a gun? I should have thought that that information would be readily available.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is to be congratulated on pressing his amendment in 1997. One of the purposes of a national licensing management system, which is what he sought, was to provide precisely that sort of information. I can provide no information at this precise moment, but I shall ask if I can provide more information.
Lord Vinson: My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord agree that we are possibly tackling this problem from the wrong end? Can he give any indication of how many unlicensed guns will remain unlicensed when this system is in place?
Lord Vincent of Coleshill My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as vice president (unremunerated) of the Forces Pension Society.
Lord Vincent of Coleshill: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Given that members of the Armed Forces accept a unique commitment by putting their lives at risk whenever and wherever they are sent on operational dutyas was demonstrated this year with 35 of them dying in operations associated with Iraqdoes not the Minister agree that the death in service benefit paid in respect of those killed serving their country in this exceptional way, which is currently set at no more than twice their annual salary, should at least be as good as the related benefits paid, for example, to firemen, Members of Parliament and policemen, where the present rates vary between three and five times their salaries?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with what the noble and gallant Lord said about the bravery, courage and dedication to duty shown by all our Armed Forces. We think particularly of those who died in the service of this country. As far as our obligations are concerned, of course we all owe them much more than, frankly, we can ever pay. But I have to say that while the death in service benefit for the Armed Forces is, as the noble and gallant Lord said, below that of, for example, the police and fire service schemes, it does need to be seen in the context of the other benefits available under our compensation arrangements.
For example, although the police and fire service pension schemes pay a short-term widow's pension equal to the officer's pensionable pay for a period of three months, the Armed Forces scheme pays a short-term pension for six months. That means that the serviceman's widow sees no reduction in the household income for a further three months. The police and fire services long-term widow's pension is comparable to an Armed Forces widow's pension. However, the Armed Forces widow's pension is paid for life and, of course, this is increased annually with inflation, unlike the police and fire schemes which cease on remarriage or cohabitation. A pension for life is, of course, extremely valuable for young widows with children.
A serviceman's widow receives a tax-free war widow's pension under the War Pension Scheme. However, this ceases, as the noble and gallant Lord will know, on remarriage or cohabitation. The widow may be also eligible for rent allowance under the War Pension Scheme. Children's pensions are comparable but there is an additional tax-free children's allowance payable under the War Pension Scheme. I am sorry that I have taken so long to answer the noble and gallant Lord's question, but he raises a very important point.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the reason that we did not raise that benefit at this particular time is because we think it best to wait until the new scheme, which it is hoped will be announced before the Recess, comes into effect. Once one starts tampering with one side of the benefits that make up this compensation, one has to start tampering with the others. Although it is hard, we consider it best to stay where we are until we can produce a comprehensive new scheme. That is the reason why we behaved in the way that we have.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, can the Minister give the House an indication as to whether this long and protracted MoD pension review is required to be cost neutral, bearing in mind, for example, that when the death in service benefit for Members of Parliament was raised in July 2001 from three to four times basic salary, it was stated that,
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, can the Minister say when the Government will actually start the reviewing process for unmarried partners? Obviously, the issue affects quite a few service personnel. Will it take place in the next year or so?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that on 20th March this year the Minister for Veterans, Dr Lewis Moonie, announced that ex gratia awards, equivalent to benefits paid to a surviving spouse under the Armed Forces pension scheme, may be awarded to their unmarried partner where the service person's death is as a result of conflict and the relationship is deemed to have been substantial.
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