Clause 103

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 19th February 2008.

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Polish resettlement act 1947: effect of residence in poland

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

Ever since I first saw the Bill, I have been fascinated by this clause and been determined to say something about it. I initially wondered whether the official printer had not made a mistake and incorporated something from wholly different legislation into the  Bill, so I am keen to find out what lies behind it. I am sure that there is a story, and it is important that the Minister shares it. Why just the Poles for a start? What is the magic significance of 1 May 2004? Indeed, for that matter, what is the magic significance of 1947? I assume that the provision was designed to stop payments being made to former members of Polish forces who fought valiantly and alongside us in many theatres of the second world war, but who decided to chose to return to communist post-war Poland. I may have got it completely wrong, but there is a chunk of history here that deserves its moment in the sun—in Committee Room 10.

Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

Well, the hon. Gentleman asked for it, so here comes the history.

Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

Almost. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving us the opportunity to visit the question, and I shall give him the history that he asks for.

The Polish Resettlement Act 1947, which is why the clause refers only to Poland, permitted a scheme to be made to award pensions to members of the Polish forces injured or killed during service under British command in the second world war. It provides an equivalent to the main war pension scheme for those forces. The current Pensions (Polish Forces) Scheme 1964 was set up on the basis that at some point after the end of the war, the Polish Government would take responsibility for members of the Polish forces. No Polish Government have, therefore pensions continue in payment for those individuals.

A European Court of Justice ruling in October 2006, on a reference from a Dutch court, found that similar residence restrictions in a Dutch scheme for paying benefits to second world war civilians were contrary to the principle of EU citizens’ freedom of movement between member states, as set out in article 18 of the European convention on human rights. That was notwithstanding member-state competence to make rules for the payment of war pensions. The ECJ held that although the objective of the residence condition of restricting benefits to those connected to Netherlands society was legitimate in principle, the condition was not a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate objective. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is following this.

Advice received from Ministry of Defence lawyers and Cabinet Office legal advisers confirmed that the residency provision in the 1947 Act cannot be justified in relation to beneficiaries who were EU citizens and had moved to Poland after Polish accession to the European Union on 1 May 2004, unless they received the same amount from Poland as they used to receive in the United Kingdom. The Polish system of war pensions is more restrictive than that provided under the 1964 Scheme, and it therefore does not provide the same benefits. The number of beneficiaries under the Polish scheme is, unfortunately, shrinking fast. It was 730 in 2007, and most beneficiaries are elderly and well settled in the UK. They may be in Eastbourne, in which case they will live quite a long time. It is highly unlikely,  therefore, that significant numbers will chose to return to Poland in the remaining years of the scheme. However, some might, which is why the clause is important. The number of beneficiaries who have moved to Poland since 1 May 2004, and who have had their pensions withdrawn, is understood to be fewer than 10. That is the history. That is the reason. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Eastbourne will understand why the clause is in the Bill.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale 12:45 pm, 19th February 2008

I am now even happier that Polish plumbers, electricians and builders are contributing income tax and social security payments ensuring that  we can continue to afford such pensions being paid to Polish citizens in Eastbourne well over 100 years of age.

Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

That is a perfectly valid point and an appropriate note on which to end our brief sojourn into Polish-UK relations.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 104 to 108 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. David.]

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to One o’clock till this day at Four o’clock.