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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the attempts made by Her Majesty's Government to engage the Burmese have met with resistance. I believe that that is known to all in the House. Burma has set its face against proper engagement. Therefore, we have done all we can to make sure that Burma is aware of the strong disapproval of Her Majesty's Government for its actions. I regret to say that there is little we have been able to do so far to change its obdurate stance.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in recent years both the British press and indeed the British Government have striven to have released men and women who perhaps should have stayed in prison under any jurisdiction? However, in this case we are dealing with two young people who have acted with great courage and in the highest traditions of British commitment to liberty and freedom. In her first reply the noble Baroness said that the Foreign Office was doing everything that is proper. I think that the feeling of the House is that the Foreign Office must do more than what is proper. It must strive with everything at its disposal to make clear that we want an extra effort on behalf of these young people.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, perhaps I may respond by saying that Her Majesty's Government have never sought the improper release of any person. I do not accept one of the first statements made by the noble Lord in that regard. Your Lordships' House should be clear that it is not within Her Majesty's Government's gift to secure the release of these two young people. I say without shame that this Government will always act with the utmost propriety. If the noble Lord seeks to persuade us to cross that line, I regret to say that we will not hear his siren call. We are pursuing with vigour every avenue open to us to ensure that both James Mawdsley and Rachel Goldwyn have the best consular support we can provide. We are assisting both of those young people and assisting their families in every way we know. I do not think that either of the families could say that Her Majesty's Government were failing to do anything that they can properly do to assist them.

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Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take action to discourage Russian troops from entering Grozny and to protect the civilian population of Chechnya.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are deeply concerned about the situation, and the reported civilian casualties. If the Russians enter Grozny, they risk increasing the human suffering and getting dragged into a military quagmire. Russia has the right to fight terrorism, but its response must be directed solely at those responsible. The Prime Minister has expressed our concern to Prime Minister Putin, a message repeated by Finnish Prime Minister Lipponen at the EU/Russian summit.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. Is she aware that there is great concern about refugees? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to alleviate their suffering?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are aware of, and are concerned about, the plight of refugees. Many of those refugees--about 150,000 of them--are crossing the border. Her Majesty's Government have plans to route any assistance through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or the Red Cross. What the EU gives depends on need, but 1.2 million euros of EU money is available. We have successfully lobbied the Russians to allow an international needs assessment mission to go to the region to look at the requirements.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that to describe a whole region as terrorist is perhaps a rather dangerous definition to enter into? Given how much the Russians weigh their membership of the Council of Europe--it is something they hold very precious--will Her Majesty's Government consider raising this matter with the Council of Europe through the Assembly in order to warn the Russians that their actions, if they involve large-scale deaths of civilians in Grozny, would conflict with their commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, to which they are now of course a party?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is quite improper to suggest that all Chechens are terrorists. Furthermore, Her Majesty's Government will give full and proper consideration to the noble Baroness's very pertinent point.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government, together with our European Union and NATO partners, have received any requests from Chechen leaders--for this is fast becoming a major refugee crisis--either to mediate or to intervene in the current conflict in Chechnya? Can

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she say against which criteria the Government would weigh such a request in view of NATO's intervention in Kosovo on humanitarian grounds?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have received no such request. At this stage perhaps I may respectfully suggest that it would be proper for us to await such a request before speculating on the basis on which we would respond.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the indiscriminate use of force by the Russians is in the long run likely to be self-defeating because it will fuel Islamic extremism and put at risk the Russian minorities in central Asia?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, right. We have made very strong representations to the Russians that any response made by them should be proportionate and that they should direct their attention at those who are responsible for the incursions and not at others. They should also be very much aware of the civilian casualties that may flow from any such response. We have also made it plain that a military response will never adequately address the issues that are alive and present in this dispute and that that is not an appropriate way forward.

Lord Rea: My Lords, can my noble friend assist me with a case that has come to my notice? Chechen President Maskhadov's representative in Moscow, whose name is Mai erbek Vatchagaer, has been arrested on what appears to be planted evidence. Can our embassy be asked to follow up this case to ensure his safety and a fair trial? I declare an interest in the case because this man ensured my safety and provided generous hospitality during a rather perilous visit that I made to Chechnya four years ago.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are aware that the President's envoy has been arrested. The allegation, as far as we have been notified, is that he had an unlicensed firearm. We do not know the precise facts of the matter and we shall continue to monitor the situation.

Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill

3.19 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Read a third time.

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Baroness Strange moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 19, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) A widow in receipt of a widow's pension under any of the enactments mentioned in subsection (2) ("the DSS pension"), and in receipt of a pension paid under the Armed Forces Pension scheme shall on remarriage or when living together as husband and wife with a member of the opposite sex, only retain the Forces Family Pension (attributable).
(2) The enactments referred to in subsection (1) are--
(a) the Naval, Military and Air Forces etc. (Disablement and Death) Service Pensions Order 1983, and any order re-enacting the provisions of that order,
(b) the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme 1983, and any subsequent scheme made under the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions Act) 1939,
(c) any scheme made under the Pensions (Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile Marine) Act 1939 or the Polish Resettlement Act 1947 applying the provisions of any such order as is referred to in paragraph (a),
(d) the order made under section 1(5) of the Ulster Defence Regiment Act 1969 concerning pensions and other grants in respect of disablement or death due to service in the Ulster Defence Regiment.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, 59 years ago I was visiting my aunts in Lambeth. They were both ARP wardens. The street in which they lived had been heavily bombed the night before. There were broken houses, bricks and debris lying everywhere. Walls stood on their own; the rest of the house had been torn away, leaving the bare upstairs fireplace surrounded by pink flowered wallpaper. There was of course no furniture left for anyone to cling to. I could only trust that the occupants were sitting safely in their shelter. It was the end of so many hopes, fears and endeavours, a place once loved, now gone. The corner shop had also had its windows broken, although they still had sticky tape bound across them to minimise the blast. But there was a smile from the shopkeeper, and in the corner a small, very British notice, "Business as usual". I think that small vignette describes how we all feel today.

It is so short a time since I moved a similar amendment that I shall not weary your Lordships further with detail. This amendment does not refer to the pension that all war widows receive from the DSS. It refers only to the attributable forces family pension which post-1973 war widows receive if their husband's death is attributable to his service life: fighting for his country in time of war or working as a peacekeeper, or in training for those activities.

It is a fact that the lives of servicemen are constantly at risk. Since I last spoke on this subject on 11th October, there have been three aeroplane accidents and four young men have lost their lives. It is also a fact that their widows, many of whom may be young, with children, and wish to remarry will lose both the DSS pension and the pension to which their husbands contributed if they remarry. There is an interesting lack of logic here, in that they will also lose the pension if they cohabit. On the other hand, a lady who cohabits before her husband is killed will not be entitled to a pension after his death because she is not married. One of the young Lossiemouth

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pilots left behind a fiancee who was expecting a baby, but because they were cohabiting rather than married she is not entitled to a pension. There is an anomaly of some kind here. We hold that the attributable pension should be for life, regardless of future marital status.

I have said that the amendment would affect about 2,700 ladies. There are in fact in this group only 2,650. Of those, on 1st April this year, one was under 20; 62 were under 30; 394 were under 40; and 806 were under 50. There were only 1,263 under 50 in total, and of those only 457 under 40. I feel that I am beginning to sound like a marriage bureau consultant. However, the point is that there are not many ladies involved. The proposal would cost the Government no new money, and might indeed save them something.

Last Monday, some of those younger ladies came to London with their children for a tour of 10 Downing Street to which the Prime Minister had kindly invited them. We all enjoyed the privilege very much. Later, we came to Westminster Hall, where we all picnicked together, and the ladies also had the privilege of meeting some of your Lordships. They will have put their case much more powerfully and poignantly than I could.

The War Widows Association holds that the attributable forces family pension should be for life, regardless of future marital status. My noble friend Lady Dean described the situation as clearly wrong. She is right. I beg to move.

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