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Before Clause 114, insert the following new clause:

("DSS War Widows pensions

. A widow of a member of Her Majesty's forces whose death in service or retirement was adjudged to be attributable to service, who presently loses or has lost her War Widows pension on remarriage, shall on second bereavement or failure of the second marriage have her DSS War Widows Pension (and in the case of a widow of a deceased member of Her Majesty's forces who retired or died in service before 31st March 1973 also her DSS ex gratia supplement) restored automatically.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this new clause stems from an earlier one which was narrowly defeated in Committee. It proposes a cheaper option in that it seeks not a pension for life but to alleviate the severe need of war widows who have remarried, been widowed again or divorced. While many war widows receive a more than adequate pension, these have no pension at all, let alone an adequate one. They are mostly older war widows, and many are in severe financial difficulties simply because they sought the security of marriage.

The proposed new clause asks that a war widow who remarries and loses her husband a second time should be granted the automatic restoration of the DSS element of her war widow's pension. Presently, there is no provision whatever for the restoration, let alone the guaranteed restoration, of the DSS war widow's pension. It would be more in line with the lowest provision throughout Europe—that is, in comparable armed forces pension schemes—though still far beneath the provisions of the vast majority of occupational pension schemes, where a pension for life is the norm.

Today there are around 48,000 war widows who receive a war widow's pension. Twenty five years ago, there were about 112,000—more than double that figure. Ten years later—fifteen years ago—that number of 112,000 had dropped to 74,000. That was because during the 1970s most First World War widows reached their seventies and eighties. In the next 10 years we can expect a similarly dramatic reduction in the number of war widows because today's 48,000 war widows, the vast majority of whose husbands served in the Second World War, have also reached their seventies and eighties. About 80 per cent. of them, almost 40,000, are over 70 years old, and about 40 per cent. are over 80 years of age. As they die at an inevitably ever increasing rate, the cost of war widows' pensions will also sharply decrease.

The Minister quite correctly stated that once a war widow remarries she ceases to be a widow. He also said on 2nd March in reply to a Starred Question that he assumed that the second husbands of war widows would make some provision for them. Underlying those statements, and the pension provisions themselves, is the dangerous assumption that a war widow's remarriage will last and that she will not be bereaved again for a considerable period of time. That lays a heavy burden

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on the widow considering remarriage. She has already suffered a profound trauma in losing her husband, usually in violent circumstances; but now she is expected to choose between the possibility of future happiness and the certainty of pension earned by her husband's death. That is a cruel pressure to put on anyone. Such are the uncertainties of personal relationships that it is impossible for her to know whether she is making the right decision.

Sadly, a large number of remarried war widows will be widowed again, some after only a short time. Most of the former war widows about whom we are speaking are from a generation who stayed at home and relied on their husbands for their financial well-being. Who can be assumed to look after them when they are on their own, if the Government have taken away their first, prematurely-dead husband's legitimate pension? On the other hand, in other allied and European countries with comparable war pension schemes that problem does not arise. Britain, alone, refuses to make any provision for the guaranteed restoration of the basic DSS war widows pension for the remarried war widow should she divorce or be widowed a second time.

Of the 14 comparable pension schemes, eight countries—Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Holland, Italy, New Zealand and South Africa—give their war widows a pension for life. Five others—Spain, France, Germany, Israel and Norway—automatically restore their war widows' pensions after second bereavement or divorce. Those countries, quite properly, recognise the special nature of what those war widows have endured.

Perhaps this is a good moment to remind ourselves why members of the Armed Forces are in such a unique position. First, a serviceman's liability is unlimited in that he is routinely expected to put his life on the line. With the risks so high, it is only reasonable that the safeguards should be too. Instead, at the moment, a war widow enjoys less security than the widow of anyone with an ordinary occupational pension. The reason is that 84 per cent. of occupational pension schemes grant a widow a pension for life regardless of marital status. There is no such provision for the war widow under either the DSS war widows' pension or the MoD occupational pension scheme.

Furthermore, the serviceman is required to adhere to a special discipline code which produces restrictions on personal liberty. He cannot leave his job at will by giving a month's notice. He cannot take part in an active trade union and has no right to strike. He is subject to postings at short notice every few years, and in practice these last for 18 months or less. This poses enormous strains on wives and families, with long periods of compulsory separation. Indeed, the life of a service wife is governed far more by the restrictions on her husband than in any other profession and in this way she herself contributes to her husband's pension.

Moreover, thanks to the constant moving that her husband's profession requires—26 times in 30 years is not untypical—service wives do not have the freedom to pursue their own careers and secure their own pension rights—something most civilians take for granted. This is particularly the case for overseas postings, which

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were far more numerous 25 years ago than today, and which affect members of all branches of the Armed Forces. Not only was it hard for wives to find work locally but even those who did would not have been able to make the normal national insurance contributions. It is this generation of war and service widows with whom we are primarily concerned today.

The Minister has described at length the generosity of most war widows' pensions. This is not, and has never been, in doubt since the Government were obliged by parliamentary and public pressure to improve the pensions for older service war widows in 1989. Pre-1973 war widows had to wait 44 years after the end of the Second World War for a rise to an acceptable amount. Prior to 1989 such widows received only £62.80 a week. The inadequacy of this amount was recognised and put right thanks to a powerful public campaign orchestrated by the Officers Pension Society.

Since 1989 war widows have been able to enjoy an old age without fear of poverty but only as long as they remain single and do not remarry. It is time for us to recognise the plight of the bereaved and the divorced widows who attempt to rebuild their lives by remarrying in order to find a family unit and a father figure for their children. The present legislation cruelly discourages war widows from remarrying. The vast majority of them are too frightened even to contemplate it, such is their concern at losing all control over their financial well-being. If they remarry, they have to be completely dependent on their new husband. Incidentally, if the Minister were to suggest that automatic restoration should be means tested—a contradiction in terms—I have to tell him that this would be wholly unacceptable to war widows of all ages. By definition, the provision would no longer be automatic and it is precisely the uncertainty that means testing introduces which persuades war widows not to take the risk of remarrying.

The Government therefore condemn a war widow to a life of solitude. I am sure that this was not the purpose of the legislation but, sadly, it is the result. In 1989 only 22 war widows remarried; in 1990 there were 60; in 1991 there were 48; in 1992 there were 23, and in 1993 there were 34. This is out of a total of 48,776 war widows. This clause seeks for a war widow who has lost her husband a second time the chance to live with dignity. Restoring part of the war widows' pension is normal practice for all our European and allied counterparts. Does Britain really think so much less of those who fought and died in her name that she will not protect their widows? I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I am glad to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. Even if there were no special reasons for recognising the situation of these widows, there would still be the comparisons with other countries which the noble Lord has spelt out. Many of those countries were our allies in war-time, and indeed are our allies still. But there are special reasons for this provision. We are all here today able to speak freely because of the sacrifices made by our servicemen and their families—sacrifices which are still being made year by year. The least we can do to repay the debt is to make sure that, in addition to their

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damaged lives, the widows of those who were lost do not have to remain lonely for the rest of their lives because of the risk of financial need.

I understand that cohabitation as well as remarriage leads to the loss of the pension. The principle behind this amendment is already accepted in the United Kingdom in relation to other pensions. I understand that, without any question of a means test, the widows of police officers and firemen who have their pensions removed on remarriage invariably have them restored if the marriage ends. Surely we should not do any less than that for these war widows. I am glad to support the amendment.


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