Defence Questions: 24th November 2014

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con)
T4. We are the only country in the world to pay legal aid to foreign nationals to sue our own soldiers. The MOD spends many millions more defending these claims. Is there anything more that the Secretary of State can do to divert these millions of pounds away from the legal profession on to the equipment budget? [906172]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Anna Soubry)
I agree with some of the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. There is no place, in my view, for European human rights law to come into any of this. We have a Geneva convention and we have good strong international law that should determine these matters. I am concerned, however, about how some solicitors act. All solicitors, like those in all professions, are guided by strict codes of conduct and if anyone thinks that a firm of solicitors or an individual is not abiding by that code, they should absolutely report them to their professional body so that swift action is taken. They should at all times behave with complete integrity.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con)
T6. I sincerely welcome the Government’s recent decision to grant pensions to forces widows who remarry. However, there are still 126 divorced spouses, including one of my constituents, who are denied access to their anticipated pensions due to an administrative error by an agency of the Ministry of Defence. In the light of the recent decision, will the Minister reconsider these cases and see what can be done across government to put this right? [906174]
Anna Soubry
The short answer is yes. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on his constituent’s case. He can be assured that I am aware of the ruling. Consideration is being given by lawyers from both the MOD and the Department for Work and Pensions. I am very happy to continue to work with him and to help his constituent.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)
I have pressed Ministers previously about the increase in pension age for MOD police and firefighters, who merely want parity with their civilian counterparts. Will Ministers look at this again given the very high costs associated with redeploying older workers and people having to be retired early on heath grounds?

Anna Soubry
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Negotiations continue, but the MOD Police Federation takes the view that it is looking for retirement at 65. It is not quite as simple as straight parity with the civilian forces, but we continue to negotiate with everyone.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
As a friend of the Forces Children’s Trust, which you, Mr Speaker, very kindly host in your apartments every year, may I ask the Secretary of State whether the children of service widows will have a guaranteed pension until the age of 18 despite the fact that their mothers may have remarried?

Anna Soubry
I do not know if I can give an answer to that; it is a new one on me, if I may say so. No doubt my hon. Friend will want to discuss it further with me, and I am more than happy to do so. Again, this is where the power of the covenant comes in, because if people can establish a disadvantage, then the covenant can deliver justice.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab)
Today in Craigneuk in my constituency, the first sod will be cut on the building of new homes for ex-service personnel. Will the Minister join me in congratulating all the local volunteers who have been working so hard to ensure that this much-needed project goes ahead?

Anna Soubry
Absolutely. I congratulate my hon. Friend—I hope he does not mind me calling him that; he knows exactly what I mean, because he is a friend in this regard—on the work that he is doing to support such great schemes. These schemes are doing remarkably good work, not only in delivering better homes but, invariably, enabling the veterans who get involved to learn skills and helping those who have been damaged in any way to restore themselves and get back into the world of work.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As we approach the 200th anniversary of Gurkha service in the British Army, will my hon. Friend look with sympathy on the recommendations made by the all-party group on Gurkha welfare so that we do right by these veterans of the British Army too?

Anna Soubry
A short yes is the answer to that, but I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend and her group for the fantastic work that they have done and the excellent report they produced.

Mr Speaker
I do not like seeing patient colleagues disappointed, so let us speed on. I call Mr Alan Reid.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD)
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that negotiations with defence police and firefighters are still ongoing, but time is running out because the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 comes into effect on 1 April. Will my hon. Friend ensure that these negotiations are concluded to the satisfaction of both sides well before then?

Anna Soubry
Yes, we need to make good progress and we need to make it quickly.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
In welcoming the announcement about war widows, may I ask whether it is the case that a war widow who lost her widow’s pension on remarriage but who has subsequently become single again is eligible to have it reinstated and never taken away under any circumstances thereafter?

Anna Soubry
I believe the answer is yes, but I have to be cautious and say that if I am wrong I will, of course, inform both the House and my hon. Friend.