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Lord Carver: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the report to which she referred as if it was produced solely by academics was chaired by a distinguished US Army general who is one of the most distinguished former Supreme Allied Commanders Europe in NATO, General Goodpaster, and that the body that produced it included another senior Army general, two senior US Air Force generals and a former US Defense Secretary? The report concluded unanimously that the total elimination of nuclear weapons, provided that it was carried out in stages and properly verified, would be in the security interests of the United States.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I certainly did not intend to imply that only academics were involved in the Stimson Centre report. Certainly there were a number of eminent US academics involved. There were a number of former politicians as well as former leading members of defence forces.
However, the clue to what the noble and gallant Lord said was in his last remark. This agreement will be of use to the free world only if it is properly verifiable. Although the report is not specific about the timescale of the
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, we are all agreed that any agreement reached must be verifiable. It is easy to lose sight of the real horror of weapons of mass destruction. Is the noble Baroness aware that unless the instability of the present situation is carefully borne in mind, the Government give the impression that they do not take the matter seriously?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, that really is nonsense and the noble Lord knows it. We have always made it clear that we have been negotiating for a test ban treaty, not a treaty banning nuclear weapons, however much the noble Lord is after that. One can put the point briefly. Most responsible governments are working for ban the bang and not ban the bomb. I believe that that is absolutely right. Of course we want a test ban treaty. We have worked towards that for a long while. But we cannot link CTBT to wider issues. I believe that we shall be making a perfectly correct sacrifice, but nevertheless a sacrifice, in order to contribute to non-proliferation.
Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, will the noble Baroness say what steps the Government are taking to make sure that the United Nations eliminates the nuclear weapons which it is now revealed Iraq has before it starts testing them?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as the noble Lord well knows, we still have the team in Iraq doing its best not only to find but also to give us the information that we can use with Iraq to make those weapons non-effective in the future. But you cannot do it until you have compliance in other countries as well.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, in answer to an earlier question from the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, I believe that I used the phrase "looking for constructive consensus". I said that the text before us at the end of June was broadly acceptable at first sight. We would like to see the text strengthened. We are not saying that we cannot sign up to anything but we do not have the right text at the moment.
Lord Carver: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that interesting reply. When introducing a new scheme, can he ensure that the opportunity is taken to remedy the anomalies and injustices of the current scheme which would have been remedied by the amendments tabled to the Pensions Bill by my noble friend Lord Freyberg? They were accepted by this House but regrettably rejected in another place on the Government's advice.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I fully understand the concerns expressed by the noble and gallant Lord. We aim to reach our own view on what is required in the areas covered in Sir Michael's report. We are giving all his recommendations the most careful consideration. However, I need to sound a note of caution on the specific point raised by the noble and gallant Lord. Sir Michael Bett's recommendations were essentially aimed at the needs of the services in the future. The outcome of the Government's consideration of his report is unlikely to affect our position on retrospective changes to the existing scheme.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, will my noble friend agree that any change to the time when full pensions are paid to servicemen and women on completion of 22 years' service could bring about an exodus of well-trained, senior NCOs from all three services?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for sounding that note of warning. We have taken no decision about when service pensions should be paid, and certainly no decisions about whether we should stop paying service pensions at the age of 40. We are still examining Sir Michael's recommendations about the career incentives which he suggested should underpin his recommended career structures, and his recommendations about changes to the current Armed Forces pension scheme, alongside all the other recommendations.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, when the Government pronounce upon the Bett proposals will they clear up the apparent misunderstanding about whether or not forces' pensions are contributory? Although the contribution to the pensions is deducted from remuneration at source, apparently these are not regarded as contributory pensions. I wonder why that is. Will the Government ensure that people in the forces have a properly funded pension scheme similar to that which applies outside the Armed Forces?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I believe that there has been a certain amount of confusion between a contributory pension scheme and a funded scheme. All serving members derive benefits from the current Armed Forces pension scheme. The longer the service, the greater the
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, in his Answer, the Minister stated that the Government would be making a statement shortly on the recommendations of the Bett Report. Does "shortly" mean before the House rises for the Summer Recess, or does it mean that the statement will be made possibly on the August bank holiday?
Earl Howe: My Lords, we are aiming to make an announcement before the House rises. However, I am not in a position to make any promises in that regard. We are working hard to meet the deadline about which your Lordships are aware. I cannot be more specific than that.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I understand my noble friend's concern on this question. Your Lordships have engaged in a number of powerful debates on this issue in the past. It is difficult to look at retrospective adjustments on cost grounds. It is also difficult to do so as a matter of principle. It is fair to say that none of the improvements introduced into the pension scheme in the 1970s could have been afforded if they had had to be extended retrospectively to recognise previous service; and that remains the case today.
Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, will the Government ensure that any new scheme takes full account of the special needs of the Armed Forces for a full pension at an earlier age than other government services, in order to keep the services younger, able and fit to fight?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount. Any new scheme that we create will have to meet the needs of the services. It will need to bear comparison with equivalent schemes outside the services.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, following divorce, will the wife of a serviceman receive a share of his pension for life? Would it not be reasonable in equity that the widow of a serviceman should receive the attributable forces family pension for her life, regardless of her future marital status?
Earl Howe: My Lords, as the noble and gallant Lord will be aware, pensions for life for widows are an issue which Sir Michael Bett raised. It is also an issue which affects all public service occupational schemes. The cessation of widows' pensions on remarriage, with discretion to restore them as and when that remarriage ends, is already common to all public service schemes.
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