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Baroness Strange: My Lords, as President of the War Widows Association of Great Britain, I apologise to your Lordships that I was not present in Committee. However, the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, moved the amendment so very powerfully. With his speech today he has just achieved a treble in notable speeches. His amendment in Committee was lost by seven votes. If the noble Lord has to move the amendment again today, I shall hope to reduce that figure to six. I hope that there may be more than six noble Lords here who will change their minds due to the logic and deep felt emotion of all noble Lords who have spoken.
I speak especially for the plight of the older ladies who have remarried, seeking the help, society and comfort which are among the true purposes for which matrimony was ordained. If the second marriage ends in death or divorce, those ladies are not only without the spiritual benefits, they have also lost their pensions.
Another wrote that her second marriage having failed she now had only a partial DSS pension, and she was old, ill and often very cold as well. One wrote of how 50 years on she can only think back to her two year-old son asking where his daddy was. He had been blown to smithereens on his ship.
Baroness Young: My Lords, we have all listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, said in his very moving speech when moving the amendmentthe other amendments are linked to itjust as we listened to him at Committee stage. I clearly recall his maiden speech because I spoke immediately following him. He raised the matter then.
I appreciate the strong feelings of the House. No one could listen to what has been said without being moved. My noble friend Lady Strange has quoted many tragic circumstances. It is therefore hard to have to say that I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, will not press his amendments, in particular when he has listened to what has been said.
I, too, have a serious point to make. I am old enough to remember the Second World War. I am old enough to have lost people I loved in the Second World War. It is therefore not a theoretical matter. However, I believe that one has to consider the role of the House of Lordsa point that my noble friend Lord Dean touched on, and an important one. If I may say so, it is not simply that this is a House of Lords' issue that we should pass. We have already attained agreement on one major issue. But in this specific case there are two reasons why we should be careful. First, it is retrospective legislation. I do not need to rehearse all the arguments about that because one gets into great difficulties. Secondly, such a provision amounts to quite a lot of money.
I have re-read what my noble friend Lord Mackay said at Committee stage. With considerable understanding he set out the cost. I can see that no one wishes to hear that. But the truth of the matter is that if
That is not to say that one is not sympathetic. Quite properly war widows receive better treatment; and I believe that they should. However, it would be wrong for the House of Lords, occupying the constitutional position that it does, and able to undertake a great number of measures of great value, to decide this afternoon to commit the Government to considerably more expenditure.
Some people have said that that does not matter: that we are always spending money. It is a very different proposition as regards a Bill which has a price-tag attached to it under the provisions. Everyone knows the cost, and one debates an issue within those parameters. I suggest that it is a different proposition which unexpectedly adds a considerable sum, great though our sympathy may be for the cause. For that reason, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, will think carefully before pressing his amendment.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, I wish to support my noble friend Lady Young. She has hit the nail on the head that this is an emotive subject and it has been so for many years. As my noble friend Lord Dean said, successive governments, including that of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who had responsibility for pensions, have set their face against extending the concessions to war widows.
Lord Clark of Kempston: Yes, my Lords. I congratulate my noble friend on his generosity. However, the tax concessions and the increase in pensions for war widows have been carried through successive governments. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter reminded me and the House of the increases that he made.
The point to the taxpayer about the amendment is that the giving of the pensions and concessions to war widows ceases on remarriage. That is what we are arguing about today, not the pensions. I was in the Army during the war. I quite agree that the loss and death of a loved one is very emotive and tragic, but we must also remember that not only are war widows' pensions paid to the widows of soldiers or other servicemen who die on active service; there are also payments if there is an accident, for disability while the person is in service or if through some disease they have to leave the service. We must get the issue in perspective.
As my noble friend Lord Dean said, if we go down this roadand we are not arguing about the basic pension; we are talking only about remarriagewhy exclude policemen, prison officers and merchant navy personnel? The knock-on effect of the provision would be so great that, as my noble friend Lady Young said, the cost would be enormous for the taxpayer.
I do not wish to digress, but if a widow remarries, obviously she ceases to be a war widow and her new husband should be in a position to keep her. I got married over 50 years ago, but I did not do so until I could keep my wife. Consequently, I believe that that is a basic point.
I conclude by saying that, if we continue the provision for war widows on remarriage, whether it is the first or second remarriage, we cannot exclude other public servants such as firemen, merchant navy personnel and the rest. We cannot afford this provision and, reluctantly, I shall resist the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. It has not been thought through as regards the eventual cost for the taxpayer.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly as I have taken up too much of your Lordships' time this afternoon. I want to make clear our support on these Benches for this and the next amendment.
I wish too to pick up some of the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Dean and Lord Clark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The first concerns whether we have a constitutional right to pass the amendment. My noble friend Lord Carter drew page 121 of the red book, the Companion to the Standing Orders, to my attention. It makes it clear that:
The second point was cost. We can afford what is a very modest proposal. It is that, following the end of a second marriage, war widows should be able to revert to their former pension. We are talking about a small number of elderly women; we can and should be able to afford the pension.
The third argument concerned precedent. Obviously one can compare the Armed Forces with an array of other occupations. However, the relevant ones are the disciplined forces: the police and fire fighting forces. They are similarly disciplined and may undertake life-threatening activities without the right to industrial negotiation. The widows of police officers and firemen lose their pensions on remarriage, but the local authorities invariably restore the pension, according to the National Association of Retired Police Officers and the National Association of Retired Firefighters, should the woman become a widow a second time. Far from war widows being over-privileged in comparison, at the moment they do not receive what the widows of those in the other disciplined services receive. Are we this afternoon going to treat our war widows less decently
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