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Viscount Slim: My Lords, I cautiously welcome some of the schemes the Government are putting in place. I know that we have been talking about what will happen in the future, but I should like to go back a little to the past. I believe that a grave injustice continues to the widows who receive only a one-third pension.
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I take your Lordships to the 31 March 1973. Anyone serving before that was not allowed to pay in to extend his pension to half his final salary and emoluments. I think that was a very grave injustice. That really means that the Government, previous governments, and particularly down the corridor in another place, are all satisfied that the one-third payment is fair.

Of course a lot of flak is put up by governments, politicians, Members of Parliament and civil servants, saying that the issue is a bit of a dead duck because no one has worked on it and particularly that the European Court has ruled against any change on the technical side. But I see this as a moral issue. We are saying that everyone is happy that this bunch of widows are still receiving only one third of a pension. There is no Member of Parliament whose widow will receive one-third of a pension. These days, I cannot think of many widows or pension schemes where one third comes in.

So, I ask the Minister what we are going to do about this. It was suggested—and it is a good suggestion—in December I think by the Forces Pension Society that a little compassion should be shown in this area and that pre-31 March 1973 widows should be given the same advantage of being able to opt in and turn the pension into a half, like the post-1973 widows.

I should have thought that in this year of the veteran—2004–05—something innovative could be done about this. It will not cost the Ministry of Defence anything because it will be getting money in. Some widows will be unable to pay, some will not wish to pay and some will pay. It is really a gesture of opportunity to enable them to feel once more that they are wanted a little more than they have been in the past and that they are thought about and cared for.

When the Ministry of Defence took over the whole panoply of caring for and looking after veterans and widows and their pensions, there was quite a lot of trumpet-blowing about what it would watch and do. However, I still see little sign of compassion in the area. The suggestion that may have been put forward by the Forces Pension Society is a good one. What has the Minister been doing about it since it was made in December, and why cannot we hear some innovative idea? Let us do something.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as a serving TA officer. Sadly, I have no MoD pension entitlement. Service pensions used to be DHSS business but have been returned to the MoD, which is why it was the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who moved the Second Reading. I have no experience in pension matters, unlike my noble friend Lord Hodgson, and I do not intend to make a comprehensive response to the Bill.

The Armed Forces are far more joint and PC than anyone in the Westminster village realises. When I refer to junior ranks, I include Royal Navy ratings and RAF airmen. My arguments apply to all three services, and to servicemen and servicewomen equally. When I use the term "TA", I include all volunteer Reserve Forces.
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The Minister told us about the time window for deciding to join the new scheme, but the period affected by operational commitments can be quite long and should certainly include the time spent preparing for operations, the time actually on the operations, and the post-operational tour leave period. It might be better to have a substantial period of education for servicemen, and that could include time on operations. The Minister is rightly concerned with having too long a decision-window, because that might result in procrastination on the part of servicemen. The matter would benefit from detailed discussion in Committee, as I think the Minister hinted.

The Minister and others referred to parliamentary scrutiny by means of the negative procedure. We will have to wait and see what the Delegated Powers Committee decides, but it may be preferable to have the first order subject to the affirmative procedure. The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, suggested subjecting all the subsequent amending orders to affirmative procedure, which might be overdoing things a little.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson talked about the challenges of obtaining civilian employment on leaving the services. The Minister told us about transferable skills, but I have seen highly trained warrant officers from my own corps—the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers—struggle to secure a civilian job of equal salary and status. I am particularly worried about the position of junior NCOs and servicemen who are severely disabled on exercises and operations. I urge noble Lords not to forget that bad accidents occur on exercises as well as operations. That is frequently overlooked, but the Minister nods his head; I am sure that he is very well aware of it.

If a junior NCO is severely disabled, he is awarded a substantial lump sum plus a war pension, but at a junior NCO rate. I am not convinced that the scheme will meet the Minister's aspiration for generous financial support for families if the worst should happen. The career expectations of junior NCOs may be to reach warrant officer rank, or even to get a commission and become a captain or major. They may marry on the basis of being young men with prospects. But that career would be stopped dead by a severe injury, along with all of the expectations. It may not be realistic to have any significant civilian career after an injury. Yes, there would be a lump sum payment, but that might be needed to cope with the results of the injuries and it would not cover lost earnings. That would not be a major problem for me if I was disabled as a result of an exercise, because I would receive a major's pension. If one happened to be injured as a "one star" and could no longer work, it would be more like early retirement.

The Minister will point out that the same problem arises in civvy street. But severe disablements in civilian life are unusual and often someone has been negligent and is liable to pay compensation. Many noble Lords have skilfully referred to the unlimited commitment of our Armed Forces. But the Armed
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Forces are the only people to engage in a mission where it is probable that some will be killed or seriously injured. No other group in our society would do that. However, it is possible for a junior serviceman to have his career prospects taken into consideration if he claims compensation for negligence. But I think that it is highly undesirable for junior servicemen to claim compensation for negligence by their superiors during operations, or even on exercise.

However, we live in an increasingly litigious society. In negligence compensation cases career expectations can be taken into consideration. I accept that it is not easy for the service authorities to make an objective forecast. However, unless a serviceman makes a serious mistake—that is, a career limiting move—he will normally meet the expectations. Often, performance improves with increasing maturity. Casualties often arise on operations through pure bad luck, but also as a result—I put it as delicately as possible—of a poor tactical decision.

I shall give your Lordships an imaginary example, because the real one that I know from Operation TELIC is toe-curlingly and embarrassingly stupid. Fortunately, the price was never paid, but taking that risk without complaint or question is part of the unlimited liability that many noble Lords have talked about. Supposing a commander is leading a patrol in a dangerous operational area and he returns to base by the same route six times through possible ambush locations. Due to weak leadership or possible lack of moral courage, the commander follows the same route back to base yet again. Tragically, the patrol is ambushed and a junior soldier is severely disabled. That could lead to the junior soldier claiming compensation for negligence; and it could easily succeed, as no reasonably competent, responsible officer would have taken such a course of action and made such a tactical error. I believe that it is highly undesirable for junior servicemen to claim compensation; however, he would have to do that to secure the financial position that he would have enjoyed but for his commanders' error.

My final two points relate to Territorial Army pensions for non-mobilised service. When I joined the TA from school I did not realise that TA service attracted any pay at all and my first girocheque was very welcome, because it was several times the recommended pocket money for the term. I have never regarded my TA service as part-time work—in other words, moonlighting. I regarded it as being on Her Majesty's service. I felt that that made it acceptable for my performance on Monday mornings to be a little below par and I am sure that my employer would have accepted that view if I had put it to him.

It has been suggested, as a result of recent case law, that members of the TA are entitled to some form of retrospective pension. I do not accept that view because it was not a deal to which I agreed when I started my TA service. Therefore, I have resisted all suggestions to pursue the matter in your Lordships' House, and I hope that the Minister draws some comfort from that.
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However, I believe that the Minister should examine the possibility of some form of pension scheme for TA personnel. The TA has significant turnover and any scheme need not click in until, say, one has been certified as having served efficiently for 12 years. It needs to be remembered that TA personnel forgo significant weekend overtime earnings, and few TA personnel are immediately usable on operations before their third year of service. The training bounty helps retention, especially vis-à-vis the families, but a pension could be a very useful complement.

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