Sir Julian Lewis: What assessment has the Secretary of State for Defence made of the adequacy of his Department’s implementation of the lump-sum payments for war widows who previously lost their pensions after remarrying or cohabiting with another partner.
The Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families (Dr Andrew Murrison): I was delighted to announce the war widows ex gratia payment scheme last month. A specialist team is being stood up to deal with applications and assist and advise widows when the process opens. This will ensure that people are treated with the care they deserve and that their individual needs are met. The scheme will start as soon as possible, and in any event by this autumn, and will be open for two years. It will not erase their loss, but I hope that this payment will offer some comfort to those affected. I again pay tribute to the staunch, dignified campaigning of the War Widows Association, which has brought us to this point; I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who has been absolutely four-square behind the campaign.
Sir Julian Lewis: In return, I would like to thank Ministers for persevering with the matter in the face of many obstacles erected by the Treasury. There is just one last hurdle to surmount: the question of taxation of the ex gratia payment. As war widows’ pensions are a recognition of sacrifice and not a benefit, they are not taxed. If this ex gratia payment is taxed, some war widows will get only slightly more than half the lump sum concerned. Will my right hon. Friend use his very best endeavours to avoid that unintended and unfortunate result of an otherwise successful initiative?
Dr Murrison: I fully understand the point that my right hon. Friend is making. He will know that the payment was uplifted to take tax into account. I appreciate that it may not be taking care of all tax in many, if not most, circumstances. What I will say to him, without setting any hares running, is that I am having a conversation with colleagues, but I emphasise that it is around how we deal with tax on this payment. I cannot really give him any more comfort than that.