Clause 8 - Commencement

Part of Armed Forces – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 24th February 2004.

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Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 10:30 am, 24th February 2004

I do not want to delay the Committee on a two-line clause, particular as new clause 8 deals with the transitional arrangements, which are of concern to all hon. Members. However, consequences flow from what the Minister announced.

It is true that the Bill is simply enabling legislation. It has been confirmed to the Committee that the coming into force of the legislation has been fixed at 6 April 2005, but nothing in the Bill says when it is intended that it should come into force. We have only the Minister's word for it. The Minister is being ambitious in seeking to bring in pension arrangements in April next year. I should be grateful if he would give us some indication of how he reckons to organise their coming into effect.

On 7 April 2005, the Minister will be faced with those who have newly joined the armed forces, who will be subject to pension arrangements under the new scheme; but everyone else—about 200,000 other people—will be subject to the arrangements that apply under the present scheme. However, he will be in some difficulty at one point—it is not an insuperable difficulty, as it can be dealt with by fiat and ex gratia payments or similar means.

If we happen to be engaged in hostilities, it is unlikely that those who join on 6 April next year will be sent straight to the front line, but in three or four months' time they may be. A new recruit who is killed when on operations—or even if he was killed in a training accident, which could happen even sooner—would give rise to an attributable benefit. If two soldiers are injured or killed and one had just joined up and had no alternative but to come under the new system but the other was already a member of the armed forces and had not yet had the option to change to the new scheme, their widows would be eligible respectively for a one-and-a-half times salary death-in-service benefit or a four times salary death-in-service benefit. That will clearly give rise to substantial anomalies, which will be picked up by those who follow such things.

We shall go into the transitional arrangements in more detail later, but now that we know that 6 April 2005 is the decisive date, it would help if the Minister were to say how far he has proceeded in drawing up the rules and how much time he will give people to decide. That is not much of a problem for compensation, but it clearly is a problem for pensions. If he can give the Committee an early indication now, it would be helpful. After all the delays to the implementation of the new proposals, I do not complain that the Minister is trying to make progress swiftly. I have publicly

acknowledged that he has grasped the nettle on the matter, so I shall not chide him unduly for continuing at a pace. However, he will recognise that some practical issues must be addressed. It would be helpful if he could tell us how he plans to put the procedures in place in order to meet the commencement date that he has just cited.