New clause 18 - Pensions for life

Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 26th February 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

'Widows, widowers and registered unmarried partners currently in receipt of any form of forces family pension shall retain that pension for life.'.—[Mr. Gerald Howarth.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 20—Post-retirement marriage—

'With effect from 6th April 2005 Forces Family Pensions shall be payable to all widows regardless of the date of their marriage.'.

New clause 28—Spouse or nominated persons benefits—

'(1) Any benefits awarded to a member under section 1 shall upon the member's death be payable to—

(a) the member's lawfully married spouse,

(b) any person nominated by the member.

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1)(b) above a member must inform the administrators of the Armed Forces Pension scheme of the name of such person or persons the member wishes to receive any benefits payable to the member under the scheme upon the member's death (whether or not in service).

(3) A person nominated under subsection (2) may only be changed once every 10 years.'.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 9:30 am, 26th February 2004

We are back in the territory that we visited at the outset of the Committee. I apologise to the Minister for that. He may recall that the way in which we initially tabled amendments made it difficult for me to separate out individual issues and address them in detail. There will be a certain amount of repetition and I beg your indulgence, Mr. Griffiths. It is complex territory but I will do my best to master it.

New clause 20 concerns post-retirement marriages. The widow of such a marriage currently receives either no pension if her late husband retired before 1978, or a part-pension based on her late husband's post-1978 service. In the latter case, that widow would lose even that part-pension if she were to remarry or cohabit. That is a double whammy. New clause 18 seeks to correct that inequity, but not for those who have already married as they are no longer widows.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

So that I am absolutely clear about the purpose behind the clause, will the hon. Gentleman clarify the matter? Is he suggesting that if people move to the new scheme they should then get the benefit, or that if they are under the old scheme they should get the benefit of the new scheme?

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am talking about those who are currently widowed, for whom adequate provision has not been made in all cases. I will take the Minister through the details. I make no bones about it, the

matter is complex; it deals with the details of attributable and non-attributable part-pensions and full pensions.

I will deal with the first issue that is raised by new clause 18. Under the new scheme, all future widows will retain their widow's pension if they remarry or cohabit; but existing non-attributable widows—and those who are widowed between now and the time when the arrangements come into force—will continue to be excluded from the benefits available under the new arrangements. The purpose of the new clause is to correct that anomaly.

In December 2000, the Government introduced a concession that enabled attributable widows—sometimes known as war widows—to retain their pensions on remarriage or cohabitation. That included those currently in receipt of attributable forces family pensions—that is existing widows—but did not include those who had already remarried and who were, by definition, no longer widows. It was not retrospective. In the new scheme, that concession will be extended in future to all future widows from the date of entry into the new scheme, but it will exclude existing non-attributable widows.

The MOD estimates that there are only about 130 new non-attributable widows each year of whom about half might be expected to remarry, so the numbers of people affected by this exclusion are very small. The MOD has conceded the principle that surrendering a widow's pension on remarriage is outdated: it has included all existing and future attributable widows, and it now intends to include all future non-attributable widows. It would be a small, magnanimous and entirely appropriate step, in line with the Government's equality agenda, to include existing non-attributable widows. That would prevent the wilful and unnecessary creation of another disadvantaged small group of widows who deserve better.

There is another class of widow whose predicament would be addressed by this new clause—war widows whose husbands died before 1973 and who, upon remarriage or cohabitation, surrender their pension entitlement. Many of these ladies are now very elderly. The president of the RAF Widows Association, Jenny Green, told me that many of them have the opportunity to share their old age with a companion but are terrified of sharing their home in case they lose their pension. She said that the result is that they choose to live alone, sacrificing the joy of companionship. They see the Government dispensing the entire range of benefits to cohabiting couples now serving, while they—some of whom will be the widows of those who fought for Britain in world war two—continue to be discriminated against.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is proposing. He is making an important statement on public pension policy from the Conservative Front Bench. I would like him to state that he has the full support of the leader of his party and the shadow Cabinet in making this retrospective pension announcement today.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am advancing the case that has been put to me. I think that it is a good case, and the Government should respond to it.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman does not have the authority.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I have not discussed this matter with the leader of my party, but these issues need to be addressed and this Committee is the place to address them. Not one of the Minister's Back Benchers has tabled a single amendment. The Minister will not raise this matter so we are raising it, and we are perfectly entitled to do so without the Minister asking whether I am announcing a new policy that my party would introduce.

I am sure that the Minister wants to remind me that when the Conservative party was in Government for 18 glorious years we did not address this issue. As time passes, the group of people whom we are addressing becomes increasingly small. The Minister is a bit younger than me so he may not be able to cast his mind back to the days when Mr. Anthony Barber was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He provided special pensions for widows over the age of 80. There are other groups in that diminishing category of people.

If the Minister were to say how much this would cost, I would be happy to put the matter to my colleagues to ascertain whether we could achieve some cross-party support on it, but for him simply to challenge me in the way that he did is not entirely fair.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

My point is that what we are discussing is not just about this scheme. The hon. Gentleman is talking about public pension policy in a way that appears very different from a position in government where we look at all the public sector schemes. That is what we are talking about if we start to go down the route of retrospection, as this proposal does.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has spoken to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) or any other members of the small shadow Cabinet, and I do not think that he has wider support. That is all that I am trying to establish.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

As I have said, my intention is to probe the Government.

I must challenge the Minister on his point that proposals have to fit in with wider Government policy. No other scheme provides early departure payment for those who are required to end their service at the time of Her Majesty's Government's choosing. I know that our argument has an echo on the other side of the Committee; I am not trying to monopolise for my party concern for the well-being of our armed forces. There is genuine cross-party support for them. In addressing the Government's desire to take a clean piece of paper and start again, the Committee wants to make sure that we find the best possible solution.

I am referring to one of the legacy issues, as they are called. If the Minister says that such a proposal will cost £350 million and asks me whether I am willing to stump up that amount from the shadow Chancellor next year, fair enough. I shall happily have a word with my right hon. Friend. In the meantime, will the

hon. Gentleman cost such action and come back to me about it?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I am listening with intense interest to my hon. Friend. It is extraordinary that anyone should say that we should not discuss such matters. I am personally involved in such a case to which I shall refer later. It is also a matter of a small number of people to whom we owe a debt and for whom everyone in the Room and outside it has enormous sympathy. Such matters must be examined whether or not the new clause is accepted.

Mr. Caplin rose—

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

At the outset of the Committee, we said that we would not misquote each other. I cannot let the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) get away with it. I have not said that we should not discuss the matter. I am trying merely to establish parameters within which the hon. Member for Aldershot and his hon. Friends wish to discuss these matters in the context of public pension policy.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I repeat my point that, had we not tabled the new clause, there would have been no discussion about the matter. It would be disingenuous of the Minister—and he is not a disingenuous person—to say that he was about to raise the issue rather than inform the Committee why it would not be part of the new arrangements. Wisely, he has not sought to make that claim. Therefore, it is down to the Opposition to do so. With due deference to the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, whom I much respect, almost all the amendments have been tabled by Conservative Members. I do not want to prolong the discussion because we have much business to get through today. I do not want to detain the Committee longer than is necessary. Having resolved that matter, I hope to the Minister's satisfaction—well, certainly to that of the Government Whip—I shall resume my place.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Shadow Minister, Defence

It is important that such an issue has been raised. Those of us who tried to grapple with it before we came to Committee recognised that some small groups were disadvantaged under the system, and the new clause provided an opportunity to address that problem. The financial implications are not of any magnitude and they will not have huge implications for the whole of the public society pension scheme. Several provisions in the proposals do not apply elsewhere because of professional circumstances.

The Government have rightly tried to create fairness in some aspects, not least for unmarried partners. Long-standing inequity has been exposed. It could be dealt with now, and it is a shame that the Government did not take the opportunity of the Bill to deal with such a small group of people—which is becoming smaller—who have been disadvantaged for a while. The new clause is entirely sensible.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support and I agree with what he said.

The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that from the introduction of the new scheme, widows and future widows—when I use the word ''widow'' I refer also to

widowers—who were previously denied a pension, or a proportion of a pension because their marriage took place after their spouse left the service, will receive a full pension. Pensions for widows and widowers of post-retirement marriages were introduced on 6 April 1978 to comply with the Social Security Pensions Act 1975, but the change benefited only those serving at that date, and only service from that date qualified.

The new scheme announced on 15 September 2003 introduced full dependant's benefits for unmarried partners with effect from 6 April 2005. Those who retired before 6 April 1978 and married for the first or subsequent time post-retirement have no widow's benefit at all. Those who retired after 6 April 1978 have widows' benefits based on only post-1978 service. For example, a serviceman who served a full career with half his service pre-1978 and half post-1978 would leave his post-retirement marriage widow on a pension of 12.13 per cent. of his final salary as opposed to 24.25 per cent. for a pre-retirement marriage widow.

New cases will continue to arise on a diminishing scale until 2015, by which time all service will be post-1978. Some of those who bought into the half-rate widows' pensions in 1973 lose that money if they contract a post-retirement marriage.

Unmarried partners, who are effectively cohabiting, will in future attract full dependants' benefits, while those who elected to marry their partners in the past will not.

I hope that it will help the Minister to address our concerns, and find an echo with Labour Members, if I state the special factors that apply to service personnel that are not applicable to any other group of employees. These are: first, the pattern of service life mitigated against early marriage; servicemen were stationed abroad for long periods with limited opportunities to meet suitable potential future spouses and they therefore tended to marry later, in many cases after having completed their military careers. Secondly, early marriage was formally discouraged for officers right up until 1973 by the denial of allowances and quarters—an officer who wanted to marry before the age of 25 was severely frowned upon. Thirdly, the strains on marriages resulting from enforced separation and exposure to danger led to the incidence of divorce being higher in the armed forces than elsewhere. Fourthly, the services' normal retirement age of 55 is well below the norm of 60 or 65 elsewhere, and furthermore the vast majority of service people are forced to retire at or below age 40 because of service manpower policy.

The consequence of those factors is that the probability of service people marrying for the first or subsequent time after they have left the armed forces was, and remains, higher than elsewhere. The post-retirement marriage pension rules bear heavily and unfairly on the armed forces, whose unique conditions of service make them a special case. I emphasise that they have already contributed; through the abatement they have paid for the range of benefits available to members of the armed forces, but they are not entitled to the one that we are discussing.

Since its introduction, the parliamentary pension scheme has provided pensions for the legal widow of an MP regardless of the date of marriage. The Ministerial Salaries and Members' Pensions Act 1965, which introduced the scheme, did not distinguish between those Members who married during their time in the House of Commons from those who married after ceasing to be a Member. There is thus a precedent close at hand. The change that we propose would not breach Government policy on retrospection. The proposed new clause may be technically deficient, but since the Government do not propose to write any details in the Bill, the Minister needs only to accept the principle and incorporate the appropriate language in the measure that sets out details of the scheme.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby 9:45 am, 26th February 2004

I shall address my remarks primarily to new clause 28, but first, I declare an interest in respect of new clauses 18 and 20. New clause 18 raises an extremely important issue that should be aired. My mother is one of the people who would be affected because she was widowed as a result of the battle of Arnhem, in which her first husband was killed. She subsequently married my father and therefore lost her widow's pension. She is now a widow again and has my father's pension, but not the war pension that she would have had.

I am not arguing one way or the other, but there are a small number of people—my mother is now 84—who are suffering hardship and who, perhaps without primary legislation, require special dispensation and care from the Government because of what they have suffered due to their spouses serving in the second world war and possibly subsequently.

Another side to the matter was raised by my constituent, Joan, who was married to a bomber pilot who was killed over Germany during the second world war. She had just one child, I think. She has said to me that she would be very upset if it transpired that she could have retained her widow's pension and remarried. She said that she did not remarry because she had a widow's pension and she wanted to bring up her child. She worked as a teacher throughout her career and is now in her 80s. She feels that she stuck with it because she could not keep her widow's pension and also remarry. I do not necessarily use that case to argue one way or the other, but we need to acknowledge that the issue is complex. I shall say no more about new clause 18.

I have a particular interest in new clause 20. If pressed to a Division, I could not vote for it. I am in receipt of a military pension and am therefore such a person as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot described. I spent a lot of my service abroad and never met a suitable young lady. I came back from the first Gulf war, and the weekend I left the Army I met my wife. We are still married. She does not therefore qualify for my pension, although I am indebted to my hon. Friend because I had thought that she did not qualify for any pension at all. I now understand that

she qualifies for a pension based on my post-1978 service.

New clause 28 is important. There is so little that is concrete in the Bill, and we need to have clarity on what should be in it. We should know what is intended and have that in the Bill so that there can be no doubt about what it means. We hear a great deal from the Government about how they are extending pensions and benefits to unmarried and same-sex partners. Personally, as Committee members probably know by now, I would restrict benefits to married spouses. However, that is not what the new clause is about; it is about clarity.

We hear a lot about nomination—about registered partnerships—and I believe that a civil partnerships Bill may come forward. Let us put what we mean about nomination in the Bill. I have the Defence Council instruction from the Select Committee report, which discusses partnership nomination schemes. In paragraph 12, it says:

''Nominating a partner for the payment of pensions benefits will not be compulsory''.

That is quite wrong; it should be compulsory. Let me give an example. Galloping majors from the cavalry are much in the news at the moment. Suppose that there were a notable philanderer.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

I hope that my hon. Friend is not referring to me.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Certainly not. Suppose that there were a notable and quite well-off philanderer, to whom I shall refer as Major X, who never married and got killed in Iraq. He had had an affair with a Miss Y for a year—quite a substantial period. He had told her that he loved her and that he wanted to live with her for ever. He had put her in a flat that he owned, bought her a car and paid her an allowance. [Interruption.] He could indeed be a viscount, but he is a mythical figure, so we do not need to dwell on that.

Miss Y already has a child—not by Major X, but by someone else. Over the last year, Major X has treated the child as his own, buying him expensive presents and talking about adopting him. Sadly, Major X has for the past five years shared another flat that he owns with Miss Z.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I hear cries of ''typical Tory'', but Major X is well known as the radical in the officers' mess and he makes a point of voting Labour. [Laughter.] Notwithstanding the cheap laughs from the cheap seats, I am making a rather important point. Although Miss Z knows of Miss Y, she believes that Major X really loves her and her two children, both from an earlier relationship. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but these are the problems that I promise will arise. Major X has nominated his next of kin, as he has to, and that is his mother. He has also made a will, as he is encouraged to, and it leaves everything to his mother.

The major has never indicated that he wanted Miss Y or Miss Z to have any money from him, but when he dies, both of them, under the criteria put forward by the Government, will have a claim on his estate and his

pension benefits. That is the point. They will both apply, which will be a legal nightmare. That is why I say to the Minister that if we are to have such provisions, let us have nomination, as is suggested in the Defence Council instruction. However, it must be compulsory. If people do not believe in marriage that is fine, but I am sure that everyone believes in clarity.

The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) is not here, which is a pity, because in an earlier sitting he mentioned the very sad case of Bombardier Brad Tinnion, who was killed in Sierra Leone in a regiment of which I am a former member. No one knows what that sad, dead young man wanted for the future. It is important to know that he had a child. The child requires looking after from his estate—that is absolutely certain—but no one knew what Bombardier Tinnion wanted. I understand that there have been many ructions over that.

I do not want to make any political points about an emotional and sad case, and I do not think that anyone else should either, but if there is no clarity such details will arise when people are killed. There should be clarity in the nomination. If someone wants to nominate some other person that is fine, but they must nominate that person.

The new clause also says that there should be only one change every 10 years. Government Members may find it amusing, but I know from personal experience—I can see on the Labour Benches at least one other person with recent military experience who will also know—that, funnily enough, young men and women in the armed forces are fairly free with their favours from time to time. They do not show the fidelity that po-faced legislators might wish them to. That is a fact of life, not a moral judgment. If the provisions are not clear, there will be so much trouble from mothers, fathers, girlfriends and wives as well as so many legal fees.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

When I was a member of the Royal Bank of Scotland's scheme, I was required to make such a nomination, and I naturally nominated my wife. The trustees of the scheme made it absolutely clear that although they would respect that advice, they would treat my nomination as only advisory, because if I had other legitimate claimants—other children by another marriage, or whatever—they would take that into account. I think that is quite proper.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

My hon. Friend makes an important point—that is why it is important to have clarity in the Bill. There are often children who have a claim on maintenance from an estate, but only one widow or unmarried partner can receive a pension.

We have a duty to put clarity in the Bill. We already know—the Select Committee has told us—that there are a few winners from the provisions, but many losers. Let us try to ensure that things are as clear as possible, and that the wishes of dead servicemen are requested before their death and respected after it.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

I shall restrict my remarks to new clauses 18 and 19. I see them as of a piece. A shocking case was brought to my attention, although I doubt that it is the only one of its kind. A lady, who was

married to a serviceman throughout his career, became a widow and subsequently remarried. She therefore lost the pension to which she had been entitled. She married another former serviceman, but after his retirement. He too died, but she had no entitlement to his pension, having married him after he retired. As a result, she had no pension at all, which strikes me as a shocking injustice.

There is undoubtedly a legacy of such injustices, which is appreciated by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. The key issue is the extent to which we say that it is right to breach the principle of retrospection, and say that we should spend money, and how much that ought to be, on putting right former injustices. My hon. Friends have said that the numbers of people experiencing injustices are diminishing. However, I still find it shocking the number of cases that come to light in my postbag. About four or five people a year write to me who suddenly discover that they are in a situation that they were not anticipating.

On 22 January 2002, I put a question to the Secretary of State asking him

''if he will estimate the cost to the Armed Forces Pension Scheme of providing widowed spouses of post-retirement marriages with a pension based on all the pensionable service of the service men and women.''—[Official Report, 22 January 2002; Vol. 378, c. 726W.]

The right hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) was the Minister who replied. He said that it would be one-off cost, based on an actuarial estimate, of £50 million. Is that ballpark figure still broadly correct?

The Minister went on to say that the cost implications for all public service pensions would be about £500 million. The Minister in Committee has already said in interventions that we cannot talk exclusively about the armed forces pension scheme; we must talk in terms of public sector pensions in their entirety. I do not see that as a necessary corollary. We are entitled to say that the armed forces are special. If we decide that there are a few cases in which retrospection should apply, we should be entitled to ring-fence them and say that that applies only to the armed forces because of the special way in which we want to treat them.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence 10:00 am, 26th February 2004

I am grateful to hon. Members for this rather strange debate. We have heard a series of announcements about pension policy, which do not seem to have wider support. I shall be interested in whether we have a Division on new clause 18, which refers to a significant amount of public spending.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) cannot have it all ways. He cannot say that he wants to do something, but also wants to ring-fence a small group of people. Successive Governments of both colours have made it clear that retrospection is a matter of public pension policy. He cannot come into a Committee to propose a single item, and then say that he believes in it. I am happy to tell Committee members that the cost of what the hon. Member for Aldershot proposes in new clause 18 would be £500 million. That is a significant public spending pledge,

and I fail to see how it accords with the various announcements that we have heard—

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

Just a second. Over the past few days, we have heard various announcements from members of the Opposition Front Bench. I am more than happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but he must confirm whether his proposal is Conservative Party policy.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

No. The Minister needs to confirm whether the £500 million relates simply to ex-service personnel or the whole public sector.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

I have made it clear that I am reflecting public pension policy for Her Majesty's Government. Is the idea that one can somehow pick off part of it and say, ''Oh no, that doesn't matter because it is the armed forces''?

Mr. Swayne rose—

Mr. Robathan rose—

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

Are Conservative Members saying, ''That is a policeman, that is a firefighter, that is a doctor.''? It does not make sense. The hon. Member for Aldershot loyally supported the Conservative Government for 18 years. They had plenty of opportunity to do that, or to propose doing that. I cannot recall whether any proposals were put forward to that end but, if there were, I am sure that they were responded to in a negative way by the Conservative Government over those 18 years.

Mr. Swayne rose—

Mr. Robathan rose—

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

I am spoilt for choice, but I will go with the hon. Member for Blaby, who has tabled a new clause.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

As I do not speak for the Opposition Front Bench, I can say what I like. I would like the Minister to clarify two points. He says that the cost across the public sector would be £500 million—a huge cost—so can he illustrate that with other examples? I do not know of any other profession in which people put their lives on the line in quite the same way, with the same number of repercussions. Of course, police officers get killed in service, but I do not think that as many police have been killed in service as, for instance, the number of armed forces personnel who were killed during the second world war. I am unsure where the Minister extrapolates the new clause—to which I am ambivalent, to a certain extent—to other parts of the public sector.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

The £500 million that I have been talking about is only part of what the cost would be. I can only cost the armed forces part of the proposal. We think that that amounts to about £500 million. The impact on the wider pension policy will be billions of pounds.

I accept that the hon. Member for Blaby, as he is on the Opposition Back Benches, can say what he likes, as do many of my hon. Friends, at times.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

They have said quite a lot in various debates over the past few months. That is perfectly legitimate. However, on the Government Front Bench, we have to be clear whether the £500 million has the support—just for the armed forces—of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex or the shadow Chancellor, who seems to be delving into spending issues on behalf of the Conservative party. I do not believe that there is that level of support. In that case, the Opposition should withdraw new clause 18 and not force it to a Division. However, I would be more than happy to go to a Division on new clause 18, believe me.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

The parliamentary answer to which I referred the Minister stated that the cost of the armed forces pension scheme would be £50 million, but the implications for public policy, in terms of extending that to the public sector, would be about £500 million. I am thoroughly confused by the figures that the Minister is bandying about.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman does not have to be confused. We estimate that the cost for the armed forces' element of retrospection is £500 million.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

Yes. Non-attributable armed forces dependants' benefits would amount to £500 million if we were to accept retrospection. The £50 million that was mentioned is for post-retirement marriages, referred to earlier by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that that is clear.

I do not want to spend a long time on these amendments. We have already discussed most of these issues in Committee. However, I had to make clear the Government's position. We cannot accept retrospection in public pension policy. That is financially unacceptable as it is unacceptable in pension policy. People accept that their pensions are dealt with at the time that they enter into the pension scheme. That is the Government's position. We have no plans to change it. That also covers new clause 20.

New clause 28 was tabled by the hon. Member for Blaby. He has raised an interesting point about compulsion in the context of nomination. In preparation for this debate, I read the information on the new civil service pension scheme, which we will send to Members later. That scheme does not require nomination to give entitlement to the partners, so we have decided to be consistent with the new civil service scheme.

If there is no nomination, there will be a ''judgment made'' on those who are seeking a claim. We have had to do that already, because we have used the rules on six occasions on Defence Council instruction—I referred to that in the House of Commons on 22 January. I know that in at least one case we had to make an ultimate judgment on the benefits. I hope that that clarifies the point. I do not think that we need to go into further detail.

I am always happy to debate with the hon. Gentleman extending benefits to unmarried partners, but we have already had a long and detailed debate on that issue. Suffice it to say that the hon. Gentleman

was unable to force a Division on that issue, much to my regret. We would have been more than happy to have one. However, we have clarified in the Defence Council instruction, which I attached as a memorandum to the Select Committee on Defence in December, how we will deal with unmarried partners, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Has the instruction been published? It does not have a number in the document.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

I assume that it has been published because I gave it to the Defence Committee in December.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

It does not have a number.

Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

That is possibly because it was attached as a memorandum, but I am sure that it has been through the normal process for a Defence Council instruction.

This has been an interesting debate, but one that we have had before. Given my points about public pension policy and various other schemes, including the new civil service scheme, new clauses 18, 20 and 28 are unnecessary. I am more than happy that there should be a Division, but I have a sneaky feeling that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion on the new clause.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Minister said that I supported a Conservative Government for 18 years. I was a Member of the House of Commons for nine of those years, and I certainly supported the Conservative Government previously, although I would have had some difficulty in the 1992 Parliament. It was probably to the advantage of the then Government Whips that my constituents in Cannock and Burntwood thought that it would do me an enormous favour to have a break. It also released me for deployment to Aldershot, which is the finest constituency in the country and suits my interests.

The Minister is trying to pin a cost on our new clause. That is fair game, and I do not criticise him for doing so. Indeed, as Lord Bach said last week at a Defence Procurement Agency conference, tough choices have to be made, and we know that they are being made in the Ministry of Defence. The idea that we are looking at prudent spending decisions in isolation is bizarre given that the MOD is in complete panic about budget overruns, freezes on recruitment and project movements. The Government face many problems with the MOD's budget, and we know about the work strands.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I will in a moment.

The Minister is trying to say that to make any of these changes would cost X, and of course there is a price to pay. What has this exercise been about over the past six years, if not establishing and rearranging priorities? This is not a new pension scheme that has been designed simply to provide the best for the armed forces. The scheme certainly had that objective, but that has been subordinated to the greater objective of cost neutrality.

The Minister is saying that all the priorities that he has established are the right priorities, that those who are paying the price are right to do so, and that the Government are right to give the benefits to those who they have chosen. However, it is no good saying that any change that we propose will have repercussions throughout the public sector, whereas changes that he proposes will not. The hon. Gentleman is trying to advance an inconsistent argument. When we discussed these matters earlier, regarding attributable widows, the Minister said that I

''will be aware that in October 2000 the attributable widows were allowed to keep their pensions for life on remarriage or cohabitation. That group was seen as being exceptional because of the nature of their spouses' deaths.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 10 February 2004; c. 54.]

So that group was exceptional. He was not telling the Committee then that the Government acted knowing that that would apply right the way across the public service, because it did not.

This is a stand-alone scheme. Everything about it is specific to the armed forces. Parallels have been made, and favourable examples have been drawn, with firemen and policemen, and unfavourable comparisons have been made with other schemes. If the Minister said ''Yes, we recognise that there is a case to be made there, but we have decided it is not a priority case for us; much as we would like to do so, we cannot afford it, and we have chosen other priorities'', that would be fine. However, for him to argue in defence of his position that any change that he has not proposed will have consequences throughout the whole of the public sector is simply disingenuous and, frankly, does him a disservice.

The Government have decided to extend benefits to unmarried partners, which will bear a cost, and some other groups say ''Well, they have decided to make their judgment at our expense.'' The legacy cases amply illustrated by my hon. Friends deserve consideration, and that is what we are drawing to the attention of the Committee and proposing for wider public debate.

In December 2000, the Minister's predecessor considered the attributable cases as being warranted. We feel that the scheme should have paid attention to the unattributable cases as well, and to the issue of post-marriage retirement. That is the basis upon which we have proposed the new clauses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby made an extremely good point concerning new clause 28, and gave an extremely colourful explanation of the difficulties into which the Minister's Department might find themselves getting at some point. That was reflected in the fact that the Minister acknowledged that there was a case for compulsory nomination. I am glad that we have had that debate. It does not matter that the civil service does not have it because, as my hon. Friend vividly set out, different conditions apply. The Minister ought to consider compulsory nomination, not least because it would be to his advantage, and to the advantage of the Ministry of Defence. It would probably eliminate a lot of hassle. I leave it on the table for the Minister to consider, but I suspect that he is already favourably disposed to the

idea. He may be prepared to give it due consideration on Report or on Third Reading.

I do not propose to press new clauses 18 and 20 to Divisions, not because of the Minister's comments but because I would like to hold back for consideration on Report to see how the Minister will respond to the arguments that have been advanced, and to see whether there is any scope to include exceptional cases, as his predecessor regarded the attributable widows' case to be in December 2000. It is simply grown-up politics to acknowledge that we in the public arena all face difficulties in matching our constituents' desires for spending money and taxes. That is a normal position: it is known as having one's cake and eating it. That is what every member of the public wants, and what we all want, individually. As politicians, we have to exercise judgment, but that is not easy.

We do not believe that the Government have been entirely straightforward about the figures, although I do not say that they have been dishonest. Perhaps, therefore, we could explore the precise costing of these issues on Report, and see whether there might be scope, even within the Government's cost-neutrality constraints, to go at least some way towards meeting the concerns and complaints of the two legacy groups.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

First, although I understand the Government's desire to make public pension policies standard, I do not think that the fact that all civil servants have that type of pension is a good justification to impose it on the armed forces. Members of the armed forces have a disproportionately high chance of suffering an untimely and violent death. I do not say that to knock any other public servants, but it is the case. If—God forbid—we were to go to war, we would remember that. Perhaps we do not remember it otherwise. Iraq is a good example of that.

Secondly, because of the chances of untimely and violent death, if there is no clear nominee when servicemen and women die, there will be unhappiness, bitterness, rancour, argument and legal division. I regret that such situations will be chaotic and will not reflect well on the armed forces or the Ministry of Defence. Clarity would be to the advantage of all members of the armed forces who put their lives at risk.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.