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Lord Elton: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how he will explain to recipients of the new pension arrangements which he has described for the Armed Forces the reasons for treating them less favourably than Members of the House of Commons?
Baroness Strange: My Lords, is the Minister aware that as president of the War Widows Association of Great Britain I, and all my ladies, agree totally with all that my noble and gallant friend Lord Vincent said and, also, with all the things that he did not have time to say? Is he also aware that George Washington once said that the strength of a country's armed forces was directly relevant to the way in which it treated its service pensioners and its war widows?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am well aware that the noble Baroness, with her experience and close interest in this field, will have much common feeling with the noble and gallant Lord who asked this Question. It is important to point out that our view is that the overall schemenot just the death in service benefit but the other items that I have attempted to set out in shortrepresents an above average way of dealing with this problem compared to other public services.
Lord Acton: My Lords, would my noble friend explain, in relation to the overall scheme which he described to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent, which family an actuary would say is better off? Would it be the family of a member of the Armed Forces, the family of a member of the police or the family of a member of the fire service? I could not understand it.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I could not say which family would say they were better off. I have said that the fact that the death in service benefit is less at the present time for widows in this field is countered, to a considerable extent, by the increase that there is in pensions and the tax position, too.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will the review of the pension scheme take full account of deaths in action in peace-keeping and similar operations which are not necessarily regarded as war against an enemy?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am happy that at last I can confirm a question put to me. Yes, I can confirm that. Indeed, members of the Armed Forces who lose their lives in training, let alone in peace-keeping operations, are eligible for the death in service benefit and the
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have heard only once from the Labour Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, has been very patient. I suggest we hear from him and then hear from the Cross Benches.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is aware that, in industry generally, if an employer or one of his servants is neglectfully responsible for the death of another employee, considerable insurance payments are made in compensation. Can the Minister say whether any such approach is taken in respect of soldiers killed as a result of so-called friendly fire?
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, how can the Minister possibly say that the Armed Forces scheme is as generous as the parliamentary scheme? As he has admitted, the Armed Forces scheme is cost neutral whereas the costs of the parliamentary scheme fall on the Exchequer.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not think I said that it was as generous as the parliamentary scheme. I do not think I have commented on that one way or the other. I am saying that the present scheme is being altered and that the intention is to alter it for the better. We shall have to see how that turns out.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. In so doingwith no offence intended to the MinisterI regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is not in her place today. I understand that she is ill in hospital.
The Minister will know that the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, intends to take forward the Sinn Fein request that Northern Ireland's politicians should be allowed to participate and vote in certain debates in the Dublin parliament. Does the Minister agree that this rather offensive proposal is intended to undermine the reality of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland? Does he further agree that such a proposal is in complete conflict with the Belfast agreement, central elements of which are the principle of consent and the acceptance by all sides of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom? As such, will Her Majesty's Government undertake to make strenuous representations to the Irish Government that this would be an unwelcome move on their part?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's remarks about my noble friend Lady Farrington. We all share his feelings. I have read the transcript of the debate in the Dail to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, refers. Her Majesty's Government are not responsible for what the Taoiseach says in the Dail and are in no position to answer for him. However, as I understand it, what is proposed would be a voluntary arrangement. It could not and would not intrude on the territorial and constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland. If the Irish Government were to reach a conclusion together with all parties in the Oireachtas, we would expect them to consult us when they arrive at such a position. They have not done so.
Lord Laird: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the one commodity that is missing in Northern Ireland at the moment is trust? We are short of trust on every side. Does he agree that this kind of activity by the Dublin Government, on top of their changing of the Belfast agreement in the Dail on 19th November to allow them unilaterally to cut budgets for cross-border implementation bodies, is a very serious breach of trust? Does he further agree that if we wish to bring trust back into the equation in Northern Ireland, then the less talk we have of Dublin running an agenda which is contrary to the Belfast agreement the better?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can hardly disagree with the observation that we could do with much more trust in Northern Ireland. That is clearly the case. But we are talking about a proposition within the Oireachtas which is the result of an all-party committee on the constitution which reported last year. It is a matter for them how they respond to the report of the all-party committee. As I say, if they reach a conclusion on the matter we would expect them to consult us. In anticipation of that, I cannot comment on the other points made by the noble Lord, Lord Laird.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, we associate ourselves with the concerns expressed for the indisposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. I was reassured when the Minister said that this is a matter for the Dail. Does he agree that, in the meantime, one of the best steps forward would be to do everything possible to encourage the Ulster Unionists to participate in the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body?
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, one of the items in the Good Friday agreement is the need for human rights legislation north and south of the border and east and west of the Irish Sea. We have kept our part of that bargain very well. In negotiations with the Irish Government, will representations be made to ensure that the human rights legislation promised in the Good Friday agreement will be enacted in Ireland so that there is equal protection in both islands?
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