New clause 8 - Transition arrangements

Part of Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 24th February 2004.

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Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 4:15 pm, 24th February 2004

I do not want to detain the Committee too long on this issue, but our armed forces, especially those in command, are concerned about how far they can give orders. The Government will have to address that issue, as we will when we return to Government next year. In the meantime, we must deal with what we have. I remind the Committee that in the summer of 2002 the Minister gave the House of Commons an undertaking that comparative statements would be provided, although the hon. Gentleman may have tried to distance himself from such a commitment at the Defence Committee's last sitting. We need to know about those comparative statements, assuming that they will be given. What does the squaddie do then? If the buck stops with, say, the major, the major will say, ''Look, I am not an independent financial adviser. I can't give you advice.''

The consequences are twofold. First, where should the squaddie go to obtain advice? Who will point him in the right direction? Secondly, his respect for his superior officer will be diminished if that officer cannot give him any advice on this important matter of his welfare. Those in the chain of command are never short of giving advice to those in their charge. Sometimes, that advice is given abruptly. At other times, the relationship will be cosier. In this case, however, any officer who holds himself out as an adviser to a squaddie may find himself in great difficulty. I suspect that he will be deeply reluctant to tell someone what they should do.

So what do the Government propose to do about the providing of advice? Do they, for example, propose to set up a panel of approved independent financial advisers, on whom service personnel can call? Will they have surgeries at fixed bases? Will they send people on to ships, to RAF stations and into barracks, to brief people on the implications of this measure? If they are proposing to do that, whom will they authorise to give this advice? Will they have a

bidding process, and invite the IFAs to nominate themselves as suitably qualified to give this advice to members of Her Majesty's armed forces? The Government appear to have given scant attention to these issues, unless they are simply keeping us in the dark. The Ministry might consider drawing up a list of approved financial advisers who could help. If the Government did that, they would go some way to meeting their duty of care, and they would be facilitating rather than giving advice. At the end of the day, if those in the chain of command hold themselves out as being in a position to give advice and things go wrong, the Minister knows where the buck will stop: it will stop with him.