Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (5 November 2001)
Thank you for your letter of 25 October enquiring about the timetable for the pension and compensation reviews.
As you noted in your letter, our timetable has been revised. The period of public consultation which was due to end formally at the end of July was extended informally to admit some late replies. We are currently analysing the responses with a view to identifying significant issues and deciding how we might respond to these. This will require detailed discussions to agree responses that meet our recruitment and retention needs, but that are also consistent with wider public sector pensions policy. In addition, we intend to engage in further discussions with the ex-Service community during this process, to discuss their particular concerns and explore whether we can satisfy them whilst still meeting our fundamental policy objectives. This approach means that it is not possible to set a definite timescale, but our current plan is that we should aim to conclude our internal work on the review by late spring of next year.
Taking your more detailed questions in turn:
Intention to publish an analysis of responses. We have always intended to publish a report on the comments received during the consultation process. We believe that the most meaningful approach is to report when we are able to offer not only a breakdown of the issues raised but also an explanation of our response to them. This will need agreement both within MoD and with interested Departments elsewhere across Whitehall. At this stage, as I explained above, we cannot be precise about the timing of this report but on current plans I would expect to have an agreed position on the points at issue by late spring next year.
Second round of consultation documents. As explained above, during the period of analysis of the responses, we intend to discuss our response to the consultation internally with the Services, across Whitehall and with the ex-Service community through such groups as the Forces Pension Society and the Confederation of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations. This approach reflects our continued desire to achieve a robust and enduring solution, as well as for openness and transparency during the process of developing proposals for new pension and compensation schemes. We do not believe there will be a requirement for further written consultation documents. We will make public the points raised in the consultation phase and our responses to them, as well as our overall decisions on new pension and compensation schemes. I believe that this will fully meet our responsibilities in this respect.
Timetable for final decision. Taking account of the time required for analysis and for wider consultation and staffing, I would expect to be able to submit final proposals to Cabinet for approval in late spring of next year (for planning purposes we are working to a date of the end of May). Implementation of the new schemes is likely to take place around 2004-05 but this will depend in part on wider decisions on associated IT systems and on achieving the necessary legislation.
I appreciate your desire to ensure that the Committee receives reasonable notice to allow it to plan effectively its examination of the outcome of the reviews. We have tried to retain the flexibility to develop our conclusions in consultation with the various interested parties, and in particular with the veterans community who have raised a number of substantial and complex issues. Following the consultation and the case of Anna Homsi, we will also need to look again at our position on unentitled partners; you will appreciate the difficulties involved here. Overall, the new schemes can be expected to have to last for several decades and it is important that we get things right on the points at issue. I would like to be in a position to give evidence to the Committee before the summer recess next year but I have to recognise that we have a number of complex issues to address and that obtaining the agreement of other Government departments to our proposals may not be straightforward. Significant risk would therefore attach to planning an evidence session for this time. Consequently, it may be safer for you to plan on a later date, perhaps immediately after the summer recess.
I appreciate that this is somewhat later than you were expecting and, more generally, I am conscious that both reviews are somewhat behind the originally advertised timescale. I think it is fair to say that we underestimated the complexity of the issues involved and I would only add that the delays in no way reflect a lack of priority for this work. We attach considerable importance to ensuring a satisfactory outcome to these reviews and would wish to remedy the shortcomings of the existing schemes as soon as practicable.
We also recognise the importance of being able to take proper account of your own work. You will appreciate that we want to be clear in our own minds about how we would wish to take issues forward before giving evidence to the Committee. Nonetheless, the time allowed for implementation will enable us to take full account of the Committee's findings before we finalise the schemes for implementation.