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Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I rise briefly to support one or other of the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Redesdale and the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. I do so simply because, to my surprise, I received a number of letters on the subject. I do not know why; I am not a pensions or defence expert.
In our democracy people wonder whether it is worth writing to Members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. When they take the trouble to do so and not to send circulars, I think that one should pay some attention.
I want to take issue with my noble friend Lord Redesdale in suggesting that all the troops have gone home. I do not understand how he can say that sitting in front of our most gallant noble friend Lord Gardena very distinguished trooper indeednot to mention myself and my noble friend Lord Thomas, but we will take issue with him later.
I said I would briefly support the amendment because I understand we are not pressing the matter and hope to return to it on another occasion. I should like to quote from one of these letters which illustrates in a personal way exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, said. I shall not give the name and address of the person but he is a retired squadron leader. He said:
"I served continuously in the Royal Air force from 1938 until 1971. I married in 1939 and my wife was with me throughout my Service and when I retired in 1971. She died in 1975, 4 years after I retired. I remarried in 1977. If my present wife is widowed she will not get any related widow's pension.
"Throughout my Royal Air Force Service my pay was adjusted at source . . . to pay for the Armed Forces Pension Scheme, which includes widow's benefits. Therefore, throughout my Service, I have 'bought' an entitlement for my widow to receive a pension irrespective of the date of my marriage. Since, by their very nature, my contributions can never be refunded, my widow's pension rights must always remain 'bought'".
That is a telling example and it is a matter of financial as well as general justice in comparison with others in other walks of life as the noble Lord said. I
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hope the Government will therefore give this serious thought before the issue comes before the House again.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I rise also very briefly to support the amendment. I have already drawn attention to the fact that the parliamentary pension scheme does not prevent the widow of an MP getting a pension regardless of when she marries her late husband. The Armed Forces are in a special category when it comes to pensions because of reserve commitments after retirement, much earlier retirement and, sadly, the greater likelihood of premature death. We should try to do something regarding pensions for post-retirement marriages.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I know the strength of feeling on this long-standing issue. I am surprised that we have had a debate about it today given that, as I understood it, the matter was to come before the House later in the Bill. But there has been a debate, so I am afraid that I must answer it. I do not resent answering it on the grounds that it is not a serious questionit is a very important question; I appreciate that. But if the amendment had been withdrawn straightaway, we could have had this debate and, if the noble Lord wanted to see it to a conclusion, we could have voted on it on the next occasion.
I resist both amendments, I am afraid. Post-retirement widows' pensions were introduced following government-wide changes in policy through the Social Security Pensions Act 1975. Provision was made in the current Armed Forces pension scheme for the payment of pensions to widows of service pensioners who married or remarried after retirement, but this change benefited only the widows of those giving service on or after 6 April 1978. Subsequent government policy changes to provide widowers with the same post-retirement provision were introduced later, but this change benefited only the widowers of those giving service on or after 1 October 1987.
Amendment No. 16, if carried, would have three effects. First, it would allow all service widows and widowers to qualify for a post-retirement widows' pension regardless of the date of their marriage. Secondly, it would increase the rate of post-retirement widows' pension for those widows and widowers who currently receive a post-retirement pension based on only that part of their spouse's service after the changes were made. Thirdly, it would improve the benefits of unmarried partners who currently receive benefits only if their partners are attributably killed in servicethat is, their death is due to service.
Amendment No. 16, if carried, would not have the impact that the noble Lord who moved it intended that it should have. The principal underlying rationale was that the current position unfairly penalised those who might have been encouraged to delay marriage but then left after a relatively short period of service and therefore married after retirement. Many of those whom the measure is designed to benefit would have no entitlement to a pension, even if this change were carried. The overwhelming majority of the widows
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affected would have spouses whose career in the Armed Forces pre-dated not only April 1978, when post-retirement widows' pensions were introduced, but also April 1975, when preserved pensions were introduced.
There was no legal requirement to preserve pension rights before that date for those who left before completing enough service to qualify for a pension22 years for other ranks and 16 years for officers. This position was not unique to the Armed Forces and affected most other public service and private sector workers. Those with substantial periods of service who married after retiring would be the main beneficiaries, but it could not be argued that this group merited exceptional treatment as against other similarly affected pensioners in the United Kingdom.
As the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, has said, the Government Actuary has estimated that there would be a one-off cost in the order of £50 million to extend post-retirement widows' and widowers' pensions to all current and deferred AFPS pensioners. The noble Lord asked for the figure to be broken down. I cannot do that at the Dispatch Box today but I shall ensure that the noble Lord is written to next week with an attempt at a breakdownhe was justified in asking that question. It will cost around £50 million. The cost would increase if unmarried partners were to be included, but it is difficult to estimate given the limited information on the number of partners who might be eligible. There would be no future annual cost.
I explained in Committee that there is no distinction between Armed Forces personnel and other public service employees with regard to the fact that the post-retirement widows' and widowers' pensions are available only to the spouses of those with service on or after a specific date. It has been the long-standing policy of successive governments that changes to improve the benefits from public service pension schemes should be implemented from a current date for future service only. To extend the post-retirement marriage concession only to survivors of service pensioners would therefore put pressure on all public service occupational schemes. Extending the provision to all public service occupational schemes would cost between £300 million and £500 million.
Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, graciously acknowledged, the amendment would be in breach of the principle of retrospection, which has been followed by governments of all colours throughout the agesand immediately denied by opposition parties when they get into government. I do not say that with any relish, but it is just the way it happens, I am afraid.
Amendment No. 17 would limit the benefit to those marrying before the service person's 60th birthday. It would still mean that there was a significant cost, both to the MoD and to other public service schemes, because we could not treat Armed Forces personnel differently on this issue, as I have attempted to explain.
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For those reasons, and with no joy in my heart, I resist the amendments, which were so ably moved. The noble Lord has said that he may return to the matter at a later stage. If he does, I hope that I will be in a position to speak on the amendment again. But I am afraid that I cannot give out any hope at all that our position will change; it would set an unfortunate precedent. The noble Lord says that the Government have made no concessions on legacy issues. I am afraid that I dispute that: our concession on Amendment No. 14 was on a legacy issue. The difference between Amendment No. 14 and this amendment is that the former is not retrospective.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I know that it is not an easy issue; nor is it a party-political issue on which points could be scored. The issue affects many people. I understand that Amendment No. 14 has very few cost implications, which is one of the guiding principles whereby it can be agreed, whereas the other legacy issues cannot be accepted. I wished the issue to be aired today. It was useful for people to put their points across because, if the issue will never be solved, that must be stated in the House without giving the impression that this or any government will change the situation without fundamental changes to the whole way in which pensions are looked at. I may return to the matter, but I thank the Minister for his reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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