Under the 2005 pension scheme, widows and widowers retained their benefit for life. The older schemes are of course subject to Treasury rules, which is no doubt one of the reasons why the previous Government did not amend them. If we were to make changes for our service personnel, we would have to do so for all public service pensions, and it has been estimated that that would cost about £3 billion. I know that this has disappointed many, but I can see no prospect of the rules changing.
I thank the Minister for that response, but there is real confusion among widows, with many unclear about which scheme they are under. What steps are the Government taking to provide widows with the information they need to make informed decisions on their future?
There are all manner of helplines and organisations available to any widow and widower who is in any way confused about what scheme he or she may be under. I urge the hon. Lady and other hon. Members who have constituents with such complaints to come my way, but an extensive system is available through the various charities and the armed forces to ensure that everybody is fully informed.
Lord Astor recently revealed that it would cost in the region of £250,000 a year to put this matter right, and that the Ministry of Defence spends about £50,000 a year enforcing the current rules. I appreciate that there are concerns about the impact on other pension schemes, but there is support and agreement across the House for special provisions to be put in place, where necessary, for the armed forces community. The Minister will appreciate the difficulties for armed forces spouses in building up their own pension pots, so may I urge her to look again at this matter?
I can assure the hon. Lady that this is a matter I am always considering, because I know of the representations from the Forces Pension Society and the War Widow Association of Great Britain. The difficulty is that this is not within our gift; it is a matter for the Treasury. The very important point to make is that if this is done for the armed forces, others will come forward. Presumably, that is why the previous Government did not do it. One could imagine that the widows and widowers of police officers and fire officers would make just the same sort of case.