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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I have put my name also to the amendment. I believe that the provision that removes the right of overseas pensioners to an annual uprating in line with those who are resident in this country is one of the most mean-minded pieces of legislation that has ever been placed on the statute book. These are people who worked in this country; they paid their national insurance contributions in this country; and they paid tax on their earnings in this country. They are surely as entitled to a full state pension for the period while they worked in this country as anyone else.
The fact that they now live abroad, and perhaps pay taxes abroad, is irrelevant. Indeed, if it has any relevance it can be said to strengthen the argument for giving them the full pensions to which they are entitled on the ground that by deciding to live abroad they have removed themselves from any obligation on this country to provide care for them through the National Health Service or through the publicly-funded social services.
I can see no justification in logic for saying that people who live overseas, and who are drawing pensions which they have earned by their contributions in this country, should see those pensions decline in real terms year by year. It is not as though the pensions were earnings linked in which case one might say that there is no logical reason why they should share in the increased prosperity of this country. But to remove their right to maintain their pension in real terms seems intolerable.
If there is any logic in the decision, it lies solely in the fact that few of these pensioners have votes and the issue is, therefore, irrelevant to a future general election. I regard that as a wholly inadequate ground of objection. It is time that the pensions of overseas pensioners were restored; and, if not restored, at least restored to the extent proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, so that at least in future they will receive the uprating along with anyone else who is entitled to it in this country.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I too support the amendment. I go a little further than my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in hoping that Amendment No. 79 will be considered as linked very relevantly with Amendment No. 78 because, after all, Amendment No. 78 calls upon the Government to consult other governments. Amendment No. 79 would require--when consultation has been successful presumably--that the Act of 1992 should be amended in the way proposed.
I hope that no Members of your Lordships' House will think that people who go to spend their retirement abroad should not have sympathy. Indeed, in my opinion they should have plenty of sympathy. They may be British citizens who have married people abroad. There may be those who have served in our Foreign Service for many years, whose service, perhaps for the last 20 years, kept them in one country and they may feel that is the country in which they would like to end their days. There are those who have been in business abroad and done great things for this country in that regard who have a house and home abroad and they want to remain there. Of course, there are those--and we are familiar with the situation--who, for health reasons, have been advised that they should live in a warmer climate than we have consistently here. There could be other reasons also. I hope that there will be no lack of sympathy on the part of the Government in this matter.
There are two other things I should add. There are a good many foreigners living here in retirement, and we welcome them. Perhaps it is too vague a proposition to mention, but we should bear in mind that increasingly this is becoming one world.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I should like to support the amendments presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. This is a question of equity, and quite a lot of people in this world look to the House of Lords to deal with questions of equity. This question has been on the table a very long time. We should at least launch the possibility of correcting the current situation.
For myself, I find it hardly possible to defend a situation in which British pensioners living overseas are deprived of any uprating on their pension. It is not necessarily a world-wide problem because it does not arise in the European Union; it is mainly a problem in a certain number of major Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada. What we are talking about are people who have worked all their life in the United Kingdom, or a lot of it, and then decided that they wished to reside for the latter part of their life in those countries, perhaps because they had or have had family there.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I have found myself working around the world most of my life. This has been the issue that has been raised again and again by British nationals abroad. It is, in part, the money. Your Lordships may be aware that in some parts of the world even the Church is seeking to help impoverished British elderly gentlemen and women. They made a decision at a particular time in their lives, most of them with great patriotic feeling, where they had served either in the Commonwealth or in this country, as to where they would be safest and best for their twilight years. They had no knowledge of the economic incompetence of successive governments that would lead to the desperate devaluation of sterling, and they suffered there. They had no knowledge of the extra benefits that were beginning to accrue to the elderly.
For example, this morning I received an extremely kind letter suggesting that, as I was approaching the age of 75, I might no longer have to pay for a television licence. I know that the average age of your Lordships' House is rising, but I am still just below the average age. I receive letters from airlines suggesting that, as I have reached a certain age, I might be able to travel free provided that I do not talk about it, or travel cheaply on certain airline flights.
There are many countries that look after their elderly. Why should we, who have our elderly more widely spread than any other nation, desert them? It is true that we do not think about them. We do not care. It is communication that is of importance. Many of them are on the breadline. That feeling of poverty becomes worse when there is a happily married couple who have joined their children in a particular country and those children move on and one of the couple dies and the other is at a loss, still in a way in a strange land. We know the names, we know the addresses; they are easy to find. We should think of ourselves as a caring nation rather than uncaring one.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I intervene only briefly because my noble friend Lady Fookes has made the case so eloquently, as have other Members in other parts of the House. This is an issue that has been going for very many years; I feel bound to say, for as long as I can remember. The sense of injustice has not diminished and to some extent has been exacerbated by the extraordinarily random way in which uprating takes place. Out of something like 840,000 pensions paid, about 460,000 are not uprated. The division between the countries where they are uprated and those where they are not can only be described as bizarre. They include the European Economic Area countries; not the European Community countries. They include, quite arbitrarily, Norway, Iceland and
Amendment No 78 has a great deal to be said for it, not least because the arrangement which has been standing for 46 years with Australia appears to have been terminated or is about to be terminated. The noble Baroness shakes her head, in which case no doubt she can clarify the position since the time when she made an announcement back in April. If there has been a change, I imagine that the House will welcome it.
At all events, if my noble friend Lady Fookes does not press the amendment to a Division today, I hope she will consider very carefully bringing back Amendment No. 78 at a later stage, because there seems to be a considerable argument for consulting rather more broadly on this issue with countries of such varied natures that are either included or excluded.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, given the noble Lord's "on the one hand" and "on the other hand", I was trying to work out where he was standing. However, I am happy to give him the information he requested about Liechtenstein. It is true that we have a reciprocal obligation with that country and, as far as I know, it affects all of 10 citizens. Therefore, it is not such that it would swamp our finances.
New Clauses 78 and 79 have a familiar purpose. They attempt to redress the situation where more than half of UK pensioners who live overseas do not receive annual cost of living increases in their retirement pensions. We have discussed the issue on many occasions. I am aware that many of your Lordships have strong views on the subject and that there is strong feeling among many UK pensioners overseas. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, said that she could make my speech for me--I am sure that she could make it better than I can--but I anticipated the arguments which she would bring before the House.
Amendment No. 78, which commits the Government to consultation, is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, seemed to suggest, a modest one. I believe that it is shrewd and clever and subtle and ingenious, but it is not a compromise or first step. As the noble Baroness will know, on all occasions the relevant governments--in particular Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where most people with frozen pensions live--have been pressing
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