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Earl Russell: My Lords, we on these Benches have supported the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, at every stage of proceedings and we continue to do so. We think that the present treatment of war widows rests on a series of assumptions about the position of women which, in this day and age, are totally indefensible. Because I have repeated that argument at every stage of the Bill, I shall not repeat it now. I hope that the House will take it as read.
I shall instead turn my attention to the reply given at the previous stage when we considered this matter by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who I am happy to see present. She argued that it was absolutely impossible for the MoD to do what was wanted. If she will forgive my saying so, she reminded me of one of my academic colleagues some 40 years ago. The college said then that it was absolutely impossible for it to pay the staff more often
I wondered whether some such remark as that might possibly apply to the defence of the Ministry of Defence, for in effect its argument was that it did not really deny that what was being done to war widows was an injustice; it said that it could not rectify that injustice for fear it might have to rectify some other injustices too. That is the defence of the Crewe limerick:
The key question here is: is this amendment ring-fenced? The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, has dealt with that point; I shall deal with it a little further. It is, of course, true that the essential injustice of denying a widow the right to remarry or cohabit extends beyond war widows. On the other hand, it is equally true that it has been recognised, I think in every century, that the widows of members of the armed services killed in the line of duty have a quite special claim to consideration.
The noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, invoked the fire service, the police and the Civil Service. I know that members of the Civil Service have a thankless job, but it is not normally regarded as part of their responsibility to be killed in the line of duty. Members of the fire service and the police may sometimes end up being killed in the line of duty. I am sure that they have a great claim on our consideration when they do, but it is not of the very object of the exercise that some of them will. You cannot go to war without contemplating casualties in your own forces; not even in the days of sanitised war by Cruise missiles can you do that. If the object is to send people into a situation where you expect some of them to get killed, you must have a special consideration for them. The reason you must do this is essentially that otherwise you do not succeed in recruiting.
I was interested in an item which appeared in this morning's newspapers. The text I have here is from the Independent although the article also appeared in other papers. The article states that there are,
I listened to much of the debate in the other place. One could say that, in a sense, this amendment was considered. But it was grouped with a great many others and any consideration it received was properly described as cursory.
This is not even a case of asking the other place to think again; it had a great deal to think about last Wednesday. I should like the other place to think about this matter. If the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, chooses to press the amendment to a Division, we will support her.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, about a very simple point of construction. Can she clarify whether the proposed entitlement in subsections (1) and (2)--
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I think it does. If people are discovered to be cohabiting or living together, the pension is taken away from them. Whether they are remarried or cohabiting, in either event they lose the pension.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, perhaps I may speak as, I think, the only diocesan Bishop in the Church of England whose father was killed during the last world war. Therefore, my mother, as a war widow, brought up her only child in the kind of difficulties which many Members of your Lordships' House will understand. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, for the enormous sympathy and understanding that she has consistently shown to those families which have found themselves in this predicament.
I welcome also the contribution made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his plea that this House should specially consider the particular situation in which those who have suffered because of things which have been done on behalf of all of us find themselves. They should receive from us all--in this House and as a nation--the utmost consideration.
I shall listen very carefully to how the Minister responds to this part of the debate. If, as I think I heard rightly, there may be some way in which consideration is given further to this matter, I hope that I shall find myself able to accept the Government's stance. But if that is not the case, I hope that every consideration will be given to those war widows who, through no fault of their own, often find themselves in a most difficult situation--emotionally and economically--for the simple reason that their husbands have given their lives for their country.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, yet again, I wish to strongly support the amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said almost all of what I wished to say from the service point of view. However, I should like to make two further points.
My first point is that the problem the Army and the other services have at the moment is not so much one of recruitment--although that certainly exists--but one of retention. This is one of the issues on which retention will be judged--whether people stay or go.
My second point is that it is all very well to say, "Let us wait for the review". First, we all know that reviews take a very long time; and, secondly, if the amendment were to meet the approval of the Commons and become law, it would not matter what the review said. If we do not pass this amendment and the review later discusses the question and says, "What a nice thing this would be", there would be no legislation to support it. Ways would be found by the Treasury not to have the legislation. This is a matter of money.
As we are offering the other place a new amendment--yet more ring-fenced than before--I strongly urge that we should consider the effect on the services. This is an extremely important issue by which they will be judging the Government and the country.
Lord Freyberg: My Lords, it is extraordinary that in the same week in which so many of us are wearing poppies to commemorate those who died in the service of their country-- and in the same week that the Prime Minister and other Ministers will lay wreathes at the Cenotaph--the Government are refusing to provide current servicemen and those recently deceased with the kind of pension that will offer their widows and families lasting security.
The Prime Minister has declared that he is keen on promoting the family and keen on modernisation. This is one area where modernising the terms of the pension of a uniquely dangerous profession in line with modern-day occupational pensions would be extremely welcome. As was said, unlike almost any other profession, the military expects those serving to train for and partake in combat and to put their lives at risk on a regular basis.
Sadly, some young families will inevitably lose their fathers--several have in the last month. Such an eventually should be properly catered for, especially as it affects a very small number. Instead, if a war widow
My noble friend Lady Strange has forcefully articulated these arguments. I support her more than ever after reading last week's debate in the other place and the Government's worryingly poor command of the figures thrown up by this amendment. I hope that the Government will think again and not take constant refuge in the delaying tactic of a pledge to look at the matter after a review. The reform of the Armed Forces main occupational pension scheme is a longer-term project which may not address the immediate position of the small, ring-fenced group with which the amendment is concerned. Many young children could be settled into new family units. They should not be asked to wait any longer.
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