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Viscount Slim: My Lords, in Grand Committee I asked whether we could keep the rulings simple. The excellent exposition that the Minister gave was quite difficult to understand. Thinking of an elderly claimant or a claimant in the middle of Sierra Leone who is being transported back home, or whatever, we must keep the paperwork simple so that straightaway he can get his claim on the books.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Viscount says, but the whole point of the tribunal system is that it is supposed to be in the language of the layman. I am afraid that that cannot always be said for the courts.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his support. The cost of appeals is an issue of great concern to the Royal British Legion. I am grateful to the Minister for his very detailed reply on that issue and on the issue of tribunals. I shall consider the Minister's response carefully with the Royal British Legion before deciding what to do next. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"PRE-1973 WAR WIDOWS' PENSIONS ON REMARRIAGE
(1) Article 42 of the Naval, Military and Air Forces etc (Disablement and Death) Service Pensions Order 1983 (S.I. 1983/883) is amended as follows.
(2) After Article (1A) there is inserted
"Article 42(1) does not apply to a widow or widower of a member of the armed forces whose service terminated before 31st March 1973, and any pension or allowance paid to such a widow or widower (including a pension or supplementary pension paid under Article 29) shall continue whether or not the widow or widower marries or lives with another person as the spouse of that person.""
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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his kind and generous words and all noble Lords who have spoken for me and for my ladies. I particularly want to thank my noble friends Lady Dean and Lord Astor for their magnificent support. I and all the war widows are deeply grateful. In view of the Minister's kind promises and assurances, and bearing in mind that we still have Third Reading next week, I shall not move the amendment.
"BURDEN OF PROOF IN CLAIMS FOR BENEFITS IN RESPECT OF DEATH OR DISABLEMENT
The power in respect of the provision concerning pensions and other grants for disablement and death due to service made pursuant to section 12(1) of the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1977 (c. 5) (exercise by Order in Council of existing powers relating to benefits for death or disablement through service in the armed forces) may not on any occasion be exercised in any manner which would or might alter either the onus on any person of proof in respect of claims for entitlement to awards as provided for by Article 4(2) or the benefit of reasonable doubt as provided for by Article 5(4) of the Naval, Military and Air Forces etc. (Disablement and Death) Service Pension Order 1983 (S.I. 1983/883) as appropriate."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, by explanation of my intention not to move this amendment, and in courtesy to the House, it might be thought that my approach in tabling both amendments was one of belt and braces. Certainly the amendment that the House has already so emphatically approved this afternoonAmendment No. 1is a robust safeguard of the existing burden of proof; and as I do not wish to detain the House further this evening and can, if necessary, return to the issue at a later stage, the amendment is not moved.
As of 6th April 2005 widows, widowers and surviving registered unmarried partners of all service personnel shall receive a full widows' forces family pension based on their spouses or partners length of service and final salary regardless of the date of marriage or registration."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 16 and to support Amendment No. 17 to which my name is attached. This is one of a number of legacy issues that we have discussed at some time at earlier stages of the Bill in relation to slightly different issues. I know that the Minister will say, in those immortal words, "I resist this most strenuously", and I know that were I to press this amendment at this late stage of the day I would have no joy whatever. I intended considering pressing this amendment, but due to the lateness of the hour and the fact that our troops have all gone home, and I would not be able to gloat over the result, it is not appropriate for me to push this matter.
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Although I am being slightly flippant, the issue is a serious one and it needs to be aired. It is also one to which we shall return at a later stage of the Bill as there are a large number of pensioner widowers who have found themselves in the very problematic position of marrying post-retirement. They could be married for a number of decades and when the partner who was a member of the services dies no provision is made for them. Therefore, such people find that they may not have simply a reduced pension, but no pension at all. The difficulty is that the person who was in the services made no provision for such a partner after he died. Therefore, such people become caught in the rather difficult position of not having been able to make provision in the past.
To introduce such legislation retrospectively would produce many of the problems that retrospection has in legislation. I know that the Minister would have difficulty with that. Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 put forward the concept of a pension being enacted from 6 April 2005. Amendment No. 17 plays with semantics and tries to make the pill less bitter to swallow for the Minister, although I know he will not swallow it anyway, which is unfortunate. However, it is important to note that there are a large number of mostly women who find themselves in this position. Many are in their 60s or 70salthough not necessarily of that ageand many find themselves in a difficult position.
At an earlier stage the Minister said that the Government would be looking at legacy issues. I very much hope that that is not just a form of words and that the Minister can think again. Of course this is some years after the constraints of the schemes to which the servicemen signed up and good practice now means that certain people are not caught by this situation. I beg to move.
Lord Freyberg: My Lords, Amendment No. 17 in my name is along similar lines to that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. It differs in one crucial respect in that it imposes an added age restriction. I should like to explain the reasons for that and stress that those who stand to benefit from the amendment are elderly service widows and widowers in their 70s, 80s and 90s who feel let down that their spouse's years of service have not counted towards their pensions. I believe that it is the responsibility of government to right injustices inadvertently created by previous legislation, and that is certainly the case here.
At present, widows and widowers of pre-1978 post-retirement service marriages receive no service pension. In this they are at a severe disadvantage to their equivalents in other public services. That is because the majority of those who served in the Armed Forces at this time were obliged to retire at or around the age of 40, while the vast majority of those in other public services retired at 60. Thus, public servants who retired in the late 1970s with the requisite pensionable years of service were able to marry or remarry up to the age of 60 and pass on a widow's pension when they died. However, during the same period, of those who
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retired from the services, the majority had to have married by the age of 40 to be able to pass on their pension. In that respect the Armed Forces were uniquely disadvantaged.
In Grand Committee and in a subsequent letter to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, the Minister seemed to be under the impression that we are asking for special treatment for PRM widows. Not so; we are asking for a greater degree of parity. Is it so unreasonable for someone working in the Armed Forces to have equal rather than inferior employment rights to civil servants who never have to put their lives on the line for their country? It is worth remembering too that forces personnel have always been obliged to live for long periods in far-flung parts of the world, which puts strains on marriages not endured by those living at home and makes it harder to find marriage partners in the first place.
The reason for proposing 60 as the cut-off age for pre-1978 PRM widow's pensions is twofold. First, it would give service widows the same cut-off age as others in the public sector. Secondly, 60 is the limit for recall liability. By making the cut-off age the same as that for civil servants, the possibility of an expensive read-across is significantly reduced, something that I know concerns the Minister. Sixty is also the age limit for officers and other ranks to be called up for service even after retirement. Moreover, until 1973, when a large proportion of those we are discussing were serving, anyone who failed a recall could face severe consequences.
Prior to 1975, members of the Armed Forces had to serve for 22 years in the case of other ranks and 16 years for officers to qualify for pension rights at all. In the Minister's letter of 30 July 2004 to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, the Minister stated:
"Those with substantial periods of service who married after retiring would be the main beneficiaries [of the amendment], but it could not be argued that this group merited exceptional treatment as against other similarly affected pensioners in the UK".
That seems a bizarre assertion. Of course those with the greatest periods of service deserve to benefit most, while his statement that there are other groups of similarly affected pensioners in the UK is demonstrably false. The police and the fire service have the earlier-than-average retirement age of 55, but only the Armed Forces forcibly eject personnel at around the age of 40 and have long periods of service abroad. Furthermore, although the retirement age for officers is 55, only 5 per cent reach even that target.
I should like to address the Minister's assertion in Grand Committee in July that this amendment would cost £50 million. The Government have been unable to give a basis for this in spite of many requests over more than a decade for research into costs and the number of personnel involved. For example, earlier in the year, in another place there was a request for a breakdown of the £50 million calculation. No such breakdown has been forthcoming, nor has any effort apparently been made to calculate the number of personnel. In Grand Committee in this House, a series of sums greater than £50 million were announced and then corrected and
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revised down in a subsequent letter to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. In the absence of evidence on where the figures have come from, one can only assume that the actuaries' estimates are little more than guesswork. What one can say with certainty is that the cost of the amendment would be enclosed and diminishing, as well as just.
The widows and widowers are puzzled and angry that they are being financially penalised for marrying later in life, but no later than many in the Civil Service at this time who were then able to claim a widow's pension. The Labour Party recognised the justice of this cause when it supported an amendment on the subject in the House in 1995, led by the esteemed noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. The facts are the same 10 years on, and the costs involved have decreased. I hope that this Administration will do the decent thing and not turn their back on the injustice that they rightly perceived.
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