Armed Forces: Pension Scheme — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 22nd July 2013.

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Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour 2:51 pm, 22nd July 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many soldiers made redundant since the Strategic Defence Review have reached full pension age.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, no soldiers fall into this category as full pension rights are granted only at the completion of a full military career. Personnel within the last three years of their engagement were ineligible for consideration under the redundancy scheme. The redundancy scheme that we have implemented is designed to ensure that all those made redundant leave by 31 March 2015, and personnel requiring full pension rights by that date would therefore normally leave anyway.

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour

My Lords, following our last exchange on this matter on 20 June, I received an e-mail from a 35 year-old soldier who joined the Army as a boy of 16. He served in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan and was told that he had a future in the Army. Indeed, two months ago, he was promoted to WO2.

While he was convalescing following surgery, his wife attended an army wives’ event to discover by chance that he was to be made redundant; he had not been told. Further inquiries revealed that he was to be made redundant 24 days before he qualifies for full pension. He is set to lose £10,000 a year in pension. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing him well in his appeal against redundancy.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour

When he returns to his department this afternoon, will the Minister review the redundancy package and, if necessary, come back to the House and reassure us before we break next week that no soldier who is prepared to put his life on the line in defence of our country will be made redundant in this cheapskate sort of way in order that the Treasury can save what amounts to no more than a few bob in petty cash?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but we have no plans to review this. When selecting personnel of the Armed Forces for compulsory redundancy, no consideration was given to the proximity of the immediate pension point. I can tell the noble Lord that only 1.2% of those made redundant are close to their immediate pension point. As we reduce the size of the Armed Forces, our priority is to ensure that the services maintain the correct balance of those skills and experience across rank structures that are required to deliver operational capability now and in the future. That is what has determined our redundancy criteria.

Photo of Lord Ribeiro Lord Ribeiro Conservative

My Lords, what support will be made available for members leaving the Armed Forces, in particular for those members who are in danger of committing suicide?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, my noble friend asks a very important question. The majority of service personnel make a successful transition to civilian life. All service leavers are entitled to some form of resettlement assistance. The Career Transition Partnership has proved successful in assisting service leavers to find work and a recent defence statistics survey shows that of the service leavers in 2011-12 who have a known employment outcome, around 85% are employed within six months of leaving the Armed Forces. Our resettlement arrangements are kept constantly under review to ensure the needs of service leavers are met.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, did I hear the Minister correctly? Did he really say that, in making people redundant, no account was taken of the proximity of the retirement date and that only 1% were so affected? How can he have the bare face to come to this House and make a statement like that?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, I did say that only 1.2% are affected. The redundancy schemes recognise those who miss out on immediate incomes by paying them significant enhanced tax-free redundancy compensation lump sums. Those who leave before the qualification point will get preserved pensions and further tax-free lump sums at the age of 60 or 65, depending on the pension scheme they are in. Armed

Forces pensions remain among the most generous in the public or private sector. We recognise the unique role and sacrifice of the military, which is why the Armed Forces continue to benefit from non-contributory pension schemes.

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, what impact does the Minister consider has been made to Army morale since the announcement of the third round of redundancies on 18 June this year? What conclusions about morale does my noble friend the Minister draw from the increased proportion of voluntary redundancies in the recent tranche of Army redundancies, up, reportedly, from 72% to 84%?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, there is no evidence that morale in the Armed Forces has been adversely affected by the redundancy programme. The number of applications for redundancy is not an indicator of the state of morale because the Army has deliberately set out to maximise applications. Recruiting for the Armed Forces remains buoyant.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, it is the Minister’s case that no cognisance is taken of the proximity of a decision in relation to redundancy and a pension date. How does it come about that the Ministry is able with such precision to say exactly what proportion is applicable in this case?

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My Lords, because of the complexity of pensions calculations, establishing the exact number of Army personnel who fall into this category would require manual analysis of the records of those selected for redundancy. This could be undertaken only at disproportionate cost. However, to ensure the redundancy programme is fair, selection criteria have been published by each service and, while rank and seniority are reflected in selection criteria, length of reckonable service is not. This means that individuals might be made redundant either just before or just after the length of service at which they qualify for an immediate pension. Redundancy criteria are based on the future needs of the Army. Exempting personnel because of proximity to pension point would be contrary to this principle and would mean selecting others instead.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, the mood of the House in response to the Minister’s answers is one of considerable concern. It is no answer to the serious example spelt out in detail by my noble friend Lord Touhig, which seems to show a grave injustice, to say that this grave injustice applies to only 1.2% of the people affected. It is a grave injustice to them and, at the very least, I would appeal to the Minister—who listens carefully to what is said by the House—to go back to the department and say that there has been a very unhappy response to the answers he has given today.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I will take on board what the noble Lord says. I cannot make any promises, as we have spent a lot of time considering this scheme and it has been very carefully thought out.