CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

TOPICAL QUESTION – WAR WIDOWS' PENSIONS – 18 February 2019

Dr Julian Lewis:  Will the Secretary of State for Defence make a statement on his departmental responsibilities?

The Secretary of State for Defence (Gavin Williamson): I announced to NATO Defence Ministers last Wednesday a significant increase in our commitment to the alliance, making the UK contribution to the enhanced forward presence in Estonia the largest of any nation. At the Munich security conference, I met counterparts from the global coalition of countries tasked with defeating Daesh, and in Norway, I had the opportunity to further our discussions with the Norwegian Government about how we can enhance our security in the high north.

Dr Lewis: The Secretary of State is far too modest: I was sure he was going to tell us about his dip in the icy Norwegian waters.

On a very much more serious issue, the Secretary of State knows that there are between 200 and 300 war widows who lost their war widows pension on remarriage and who, if they were to divorce or lose their husbands now would have it restored and it could not then be ​taken away, but who have not had it restored and are therefore in the perverse situation that if they want to get quite a few thousand pounds a year more, they should divorce and remarry their husbands. Everyone agrees that that is an absurd and indeed disgraceful situation, and I know that the Secretary of State wants to do something about it. The war widows have been to see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and she has expressed sympathy. When will this matter be dealt with? What is holding it up?

Gavin Williamson: The next time I go to Norway, I will be sure to bring my right hon. Friend along so that we can go for a dip together.

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, and it is one that has been ongoing for a very long time. I have had the opportunity to meet a large number of those affected, and we are keen to work across the Government to find a solution. This is a burning injustice, and I know that those women feel it very deeply. I am committed to finding a solution, and I very much hope that we can deliver that across all Departments.