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War Widows

Volume 588: debated on Monday 24 November 2014

16. What steps he is taking to protect the pensions of war widows who subsequently remarry or cohabit. (906193)

I am sure the whole House warmly welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement on 8 November that from April next year, the armed forces pension scheme ’75 and the war pension scheme will be changed to ensure that war widows will be able to continue to claim the pension when they remarry or cohabit.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on resolving this issue, ensuring that all those entitled to an armed forces pension retain it for life. But may I press her a little harder on what steps individuals affected by this most welcome change have to take to ensure that they benefit from it?

The simple answer is, of course, that I always want to help people if I can, but if they call Veterans UK on 0808 1914 218, they will be able to receive all the advice they need.

My constituent, Mrs Stella Weatherby, herself a war widow, sends her sincere thanks to the Government, as does the Royal Air Force Association club of Newark, which wrote to me to say that, should the Secretary of State find himself again in Newark—not in a by-election, I hope—he should drop by for a drink or two. Having made this welcome decision, will the Minister encourage her ministerial colleagues to consider the same treatment for widows of police and emergency service workers who have been killed on active service elsewhere?

The Secretary of State and I are always happy to go to the RAFA club in Newark to enjoy a couple of sherbets. Answering my hon. Friend’s question as posed, in blunt terms, the decision was made using the covenant. The view was taken, quite properly, that this section of our armed forces—those widows—suffered a disadvantage by virtue of, usually, their husbands’ service. That is why we did this under the covenant. No Government have ever supported retrospective changes—as would be required for the widows of police officers and members of our fire brigades—in pension plans. I understand the injustice—I absolutely get that—but it would require retrospective changes, which are not a good idea. As I say, the changes made were done quite properly under the covenant, which this Government introduced and put into law.

What action have the Government taken to help local authorities identify ex-service personnel and their families, including war widows, who are entitled to state support?

I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman’s question, as I did not quite understand all of it, but local authorities should always make sure that they invoke the covenant. Having all signed up, they are the ones who can deliver on it. I am keen to ensure that that happens.

As one who said some 10 years ago, when I was shadow veterans Minister, that the next Conservative Government would implement this welcome change, I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State on having delivered something that is of huge benefit and has righted an injustice. Is this not a very good example of the Government’s implementation of the military covenant?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank him for all the work that he did to support the campaign. These women have campaigned for decades for justice, and it has been possible to achieve it precisely because we put the military covenant into law and are now delivering on it.