New clause 8 - Transition arrangements

Part of Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 24th February 2004.

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Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence 4:30 pm, 24th February 2004

I shall consider new clauses 8, 12, 13 and 22 in some detail in a few moments. I shall start where the speech by the hon. Member for Aldershot ended: what arrangements have we put in place? Of course, if my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West has any ideas, we will be more than willing to hear them. I shall reserve judgment on the hon. Member for New Forest, West just in case he returns to new clause 5 too quickly.

A full project team is at work at the Ministry of Defence. It is managing the overall project on the armed forces' pension and compensation schemes. We also have teams working in the agencies, such as the Veterans Agency. They are preparing for the role that they will play in delivering the new services. A substantial number of staff are considering communications. That is important and I shall say more about it as we continue. We intend to build up the number of such staff in the coming weeks and months as we head towards April 2005.

The hon. Member for Aldershot made a point about advice for the squaddie, as he calls it. I am sure, although I have not been able to find this in the three Hansard reports of our proceedings, that I dealt with that issue. I probably did so when we debated clause 1. I have been clear about the role that will be played: we at the Ministry of Defence are not licensed, nor are commanding officers, but we are going to look at how advice is provided. That is clearly our responsibility within the confines of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.

Of course, the ultimate decision will be down to the individual members of the forces. They will be given an offer to transfer with the relevant form. Yes, we have to have a computer system and we have to get the right information out to them, even those who are on service overseas—I will deal with that in a moment. We are looking at the possibility of setting up helplines, and, as I have said before, at a range of independent financial providers and associates who might be able to assist.

Current service personnel will have a choice about which scheme they belong to—I have been very clear about that from the moment I announced it on 15 September. As I indicated, transfer arrangements are developing, which is a phrase I would like to use today. Such arrangements will include consideration of the transfer value of service under the current arrangement, and I can assure the Committee that all this information will be available in good time for current members of the armed forces to make a properly thought-through decision.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a couple of other questions. The first was about the date of joining the scheme. We have concluded that, to be fair and equitable, the date of joining the pension scheme will be the date of joining our armed forces, which is not the current situation.