Police: Pension Rights - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 21 March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour 2:46, 21 March 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy with regard to the pension rights of spouses and civil partners of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, in January 2016, this Government changed legislation to the benefit of widows, widowers and civil partners of police officers in England and Wales who have died on duty. As a result, from 1 April 2015, those survivors who qualify for a survivor pension will now continue to receive their survivor’s benefits for life, regardless of remarriage.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

My Lords, I declare an interest as the serving police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. I thank the Minister for her Answer and for seeing me earlier today to discuss these matters with her and her officials. On 15 August 2002, two Leicestershire police officers—Police Constables Andy Munn and Bryan Moore—were brutally killed by a criminal driver on the A42. They not only both died in the same incident but both left young widows and small children. One widow remarried seven years later in 2009 and lost her police widow’s pension. The other widow remarried in 2015 and, because of a change in the law, has kept her police widow’s pension. How in all conscience can it be right that two women, both of whose husbands were killed while bravely fighting crime and in the line of duty on the same occasion, can be treated so differently by the country that owes so much to both of them? Will the Minister please look at this case again? Does she not agree that such obvious unfairness offends against every principle this House believes in?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank the noble Lord for his Question, for the way in which he has always constructively engaged with me, and for coming to see me this morning. I pay tribute to him as Parliament’s only PCC. Without talking about individual cases, I say that it is absolutely tragic that police officers are killed in the line of public duty. When it happens, we should honour the officers’ memory and sacrifice. That is why this Government have changed the rules so that all survivors of police officers who die on duty do not now face the prospect of losing their pension on remarriage. That is a change that no previous Government have felt able to make. However, we must continue to have regard to the wider implications of a change to public service pensions. It is the duty of government to ensure that any policy changes are legally and financially sound. I do not pretend that the judgment is always easy but it is one that we must make. Successive Governments have maintained a general presumption against retrospective changes to public service pensions, and I am afraid that that remains in place.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I declare my interest as an honorary member of the National Association of Retired Police Officers, which has been instrumental in championing this campaign. Should the Government not recognise the principle that the widows and widowers of police officers who have given their lives in service to the community should receive pensions for life no matter when their partners were killed?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I agree with the noble Baroness that the Government recognise the principle and that is why we made these changes back in 2016, to be applied from 2015. But as I have said, the retrospective judgment is not one that is made across the public service.

Photo of Lord Kinnock Lord Kinnock Labour

My Lords, may I recommend to the Minister the principle of “When the facts change, I change my mind” as wise guidance in issues like this? Does she accept from me that the principle of no retrospection, although applicable in many circumstances, simply does not meet the moral obligations that arise from cases like those which have been raised properly by my noble friend?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I agree with the noble Lord that, when the facts change, the Government change their mind. That is why in 2016, after decades of widows who remarry not being able to claim the survivor’s pension, the Government did indeed change their mind. The issue of retrospection in something about which no Government have changed their mind.

Photo of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Non-affiliated

My Lords, I declare my interest as a current police pensioner. I have often heard Ministers both in this House and in the other place, and indeed at conferences, committing the Government to giving priority to the victims of crime. Does the Minister agree that in homicide cases the definition of victim by necessity applies to the spouses and partners, in this case of police officers who have died in the line of duty? Is there not therefore a justified need to reflect that in the pension arrangements for those officers?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I certainly recognise the difficulties faced by the families of members of the Armed Forces, the police service and the fire service and how they could be seen as the indirect victims of crime themselves. The noble Lord talks about provisions for death in the line of duty. There most certainly are awards under the police injury benefit arrangements which ensure that higher benefits are payable when an officer is killed in certain circumstances. These are broadly if death resulted while seeking to apprehend a suspect, protecting life, or if the officer was targeted for the reason of being a police officer. I take this opportunity to recognise the incredible public service that police officers, fire officers and our Armed Forces make to public life.