Clause 3 - Accrued rights

Part of Armed Forces(Pensions and Compensation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 10th February 2004.

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Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 4:45 pm, 10th February 2004

Indeed, that is a problem. My hon. Friend knows that we intend to address that issue more specifically in new clause 22 and to invite Committee members to give us the benefit of their thoughts, which they will have refined over the week of the recess.

People will say, ''Well, I want to stay in the present scheme because it gives me better benefits than the new scheme in some respects.'' However, spouses will strongly suggest that the death-in-service benefit of four times a person's salary should not be discarded lightly by anyone with family responsibilities. There will be much discussion in military households up and down the country about which scheme will suit each family best. For those who have family responsibilities, there will be enormous pressure to move to the new scheme, even though, for some people, it will mean giving up the immediate pension point and other benefits under the existing scheme. There will be much argument up and down the land and a lot of pressure applied to servicemen and women who are deciding which scheme to go for. The proposal that we have tabled, which gives people the opportunity to mix and match, will be advantageous.

Just in case you use your prerogative to canter through the clause stand part debate, Mr. O'Brien, I will make my observations on the clause now. I suggest that hon. Members have copies of the Bill in front of them because I want to take the Committee through it. Clause 3 states:

''The power of the Secretary of State to modify''

a scheme

''may not on any occasion be exercised . . . unless

(a) the consent requirements are satisfied . . . or

(b) the scheme is modified in the prescribed manner.''

Subsection (2) states:

''The consent requirements are those prescribed for the purpose of obtaining the consent of members of the scheme to its modification.''

Subsection (3) refers to

'' 'prescribed' means prescribed by an order under section 1''.

So, to understand the clause we have to go back to clause 1, which states:

''The Secretary of State may by order establish schemes''.

That is an absolute power. The whole thing is completely circular.

The Secretary of State is conferring on himself an enormous blank cheque. We have no explanatory notes on the clause so I am still open to guidance from the Minister, but I put it to him that there is clearly a difficulty in understanding the purpose of the clause. What is it about? Why is there no guidance in the explanatory notes? We are all interested to know the answer, even though it may not leave us any better informed or wiser.