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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Before the noble Baroness leaves that point, I do not think that she has put up a good argument. While of course a divorcee will have to wait until she reaches retirement age to receive the pension, she will still receive the pension even if she remarries. The lady whose husband is killed in action loses her pension for ever the moment she remarries--unless, of course, she is widowed for a second time. But she will lose it for ever as far as her marriage to the serviceman is concerned. Even though I accept that her pension starts immediately and is, rightly, far better than that of a divorcee, that does not alter the fact that a divorcee keeps the pension on second marriage.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes, but the widow, of course--as your Lordships expressed against the advice of the noble Lord on an earlier occasion--is able to regain it following, possibly, the end of a second marriage. That was a decision of your Lordships.

The point I was making is that that is one of the reasons why the war widows' pension is more generous than the settlement of a divorced wife of a serviceman. It reflects the different circumstances in which she finds herself, including the fact that she loses her pension on remarriage. However, she keeps the pension for the children. I do not think we disagree on those facts.

The second point of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay--from his experience as a former Minister for war pensions--challenged the notion of the costs involved. We know, for example, that if we were to ring-fence a figure it would be based on something like 2,500 war widows below the age of 60. Based on their historical remarriage rates--I am sorry to use such a cold phrase--the additional costs would be about £3 million per year, but buying back the superannuation liability in retrospection would cost some £400 million a year. The read-across to the public service--including the fire service, the police and so on, as the noble Lord suggested--would cost about £150 million a year. Again, if it were to be made retrospective, the cost would grow. In other words, the cost for the narrow group ring-fenced in this amendment is relatively modest, but I do not think that it would be right or proper to confine any such amendment to that very narrow group. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said, the read-across costs are quite significant.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. There is a point relating to the read-across which she has not addressed. She has made no attempt to argue the read-across on the pension being restored on second widowhood, as far as I know. If it has been ascertained, I should be interested to hear it. That is a major point. I urge caution on the noble Baroness. I remember the figures I used for restoration on second marriage, all cleverly obtained by the Treasury. The noble Baroness herself, in her usual very able way, rubbished my figures to such an extent that I went back and had them checked in my presence.

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Frankly, the figures were out of all proportion to the £40 million that restoration actually costs. So I do not, frankly, believe the figure of £400 million.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It is £40 million. The noble Lord is quite right. None the less, the read-across to the rest of the public sector is calculated to be £150 million. I think it was the figure that the noble Lord gave to the House when he was on these Benches. He has said nothing today to suggest that those figures are not correct.

We believe that if we are making provision for one group of people, it is right that others should be considered; in other words, there is a wide Treasury interest as well as an MoD interest. The Armed Forces pension review is working with other pension providers to ensure that, where appropriate, the Government's approach to pension provision is fair and even-handed.

The Committee has put its points strongly. Those points have been heard by the Government in this Chamber and in another place. I am asking the Committee to wait for a few more weeks until the review has been completed and my noble friend the Minister who answers for Defence in your Lordships' House--who is, unfortunately, absent today--is in a position to respond in the kind of detail that the House and the War Widows Association have a right to expect. As I said, we are at Committee stage now; we have a Report stage and a Third Reading to go. I ask my noble friend Lady Strange--I call her my noble friend because we have together, on many occasions, tried to do our best for war widows and for the War Widows Association--to withdraw her amendment. I shall ensure that the MoD receives the concerns of the Committee and that my noble friend is fully briefed should we wish to return to this at Report stage.

I suggest that with a review to be published by the MoD only a matter of a few weeks away, which will then go out to consultation, it would not be appropriate for the Committee to pre-empt that review and that consultation exercise. As I say, that will come before your Lordships' House at the appropriate time. The Committee will be in a better position to make an informed decision as to how this matter should progress after my noble friend has returned and after the forthcoming review and the consultation that will follow it. In the light of that, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Elton: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I shall do nothing to persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, to stay her hand today. It would be easier for her to come to a conclusion if the Minister, who has held forth inducements to delay--including the expected return of her noble friend, a review, and a consultation on that review--could tell us what stage the Bill will have reached by the time the consultation is concluded so that we know what the Government are going to do. Will it be on Report or at Third Reading? If the Minister cannot answer "Yes" to either, I see no reason to wait at all.

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5 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: If a review is to be published in the next few weeks--in June is my understanding--and with the possibility that the Bill will have concluded its stages in your Lordships' House by the end of July, is the noble Lord really suggesting that the consultation exercise, which involves full consultation with all the servicemen's organisations, the War Widows Association and possibly other organisations as well, should be compressed into the space of two, three or four weeks in order to meet that request? That would make a mockery of the consultation. The organisations out there, for which noble Lords have spoken today, have a right to be heard.

Lord Elton: I have made no such suggestion. Unless something very unusual happens, we will not prorogue before November. We have the whole of the spill-over for Third Reading. This is a Bill brought from the Commons. It has no further stages there except consideration of our amendments to it. I am suggesting nothing extraordinary or hasty but simply that we should know that the House's decision will not be deferred beyond the point at which the noble Baroness's arguments cease to have force.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It will be in your Lordships' hands as to when the Bill leaves your Lordships' House. I am saying that the review is due to be published in the next few weeks. Those are the words I have been given and I have no reason to believe that there has been any slippage on that. As a result, it will then go out to consultation. I cannot tell the noble Lord how long is envisaged for that consultation exercise. It is usually a minimum of three months, particularly over a summer period possibly when members of organisations may well be away. But it would not be unreasonable for your Lordships to have that information in mind. Clearly, in the light of what the noble Lord has said, it would be up to the MoD to try to expedite the consultation exercise. However, given that this is such an important matter, with such read-across effects to other public sector bodies, it would not be reasonable to compress that consultation in order to meet the timetable here today.

Different stages of the Bill are due to be taken. If your Lordships are not happy with the review and the consultation exercise and the MoD and government response to it, there is ample opportunity for your Lordships to revisit the issue. But I would hope that when the review is published and goes out to consultation it will embody positions which your Lordships might feel address some of the concerns expressed today. As a result, your Lordships might wish, in an individual capacity or representing organisations, to put forward evidence to that effect. As a result, that would carry extra weight with the Government. That is the point I was making about timetables.

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Lord Elton: The noble Baroness made the point that we would be able to return to the issue after those processes were completed. The point that I hope your Lordships have seized is that there will be no ability to return to it effectively if the Bill is already on the statute book. All I am asking the noble Baroness is whether the reasons she is offering us for delay are valid, because if the processes she has described are complete after the Bill is out of our hands, they are not relevant.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am in a dilemma here, too. Your Lordships know perfectly well--certainly someone as experienced as the noble Lord, Lord Elton--that, if a review document is going out to consultation, there is usually agreement with the organisations concerned as to how long that consultation period will be, particularly when that consultation document is being issued over the summer. Given that, I really do not think that I can go beyond what I have already said to your Lordships.

I wish to make one final remark. At the end of the day, I am not arguing about the merits or otherwise of the proposal. That argument has been well addressed and aired in previous discussions in your Lordships' House. What I am saying is that, with a review document due to come forth fairly quickly and with the consultation process following, it is not in my view appropriate for your Lordships to seek to prejudge the issue. Your Lordships are entirely free to do so, but it would seem to be wise to respect the nature of a consultation exercise, which, as I have said, I would expect to take place over the summer.

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