4 Lord Davies of Brixton debates involving the Ministry of Defence

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, whenever an item appears on the Order Paper with the word “pensions” in, it will always get my undivided and close attention. I obviously read the papers for this Bill and put my name down to make a few remarks, not totally uncoincidentally along with the following Bill, which we will be considering in more detail. There is not a lot to be said; little more than thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, for his efforts on this Bill. But I also wanted—there is a little more to be said—to press the Minister. The widening of the scope of these committees is clearly important. I very much hope that they will take the opportunity to look at an issue that has not been given the attention that it should have had up to now: post-traumatic stress disorder within the military and veterans. I take the opportunity of having the Minister’s attention to ask her to indicate that it is a key issue that will be considered in the ongoing work of these committees. I fully support the Bill and I am sure it will get the support of the House.

Ukraine

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Friday 25th February 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I want first to say how much I have valued the opportunity to listen to your Lordships’ House and gain from the experience and profound knowledge of what has taken place. I join everyone in being clear that Putin’s attack on Ukraine is an unprovoked and unjustifiable violation of international law, for which we hope he will in due time be held accountable. It breaks multiple treaties and international commitments, including the founding principles of the UN charter, which we all support. The attack on Ukraine is an attack on democracy.

We have no choice but to support the Ukrainian people, so our job today is to make that support clear and unambiguous. Conclusions on what lessons can be learned from how we arrived at this situation can be left until later but, in offering our support, it is crucial that we are honest with the Ukrainian people and with our own people. We need to tell people about the costs that will be involved. What price are we prepared to pay? What price are the people of the United Kingdom prepared to pay to support Ukraine? There is no doubt that there will be a cost, so let us not pretend otherwise. I very much welcomed the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, who highlighted that issue. Effective sanctions will impact on us as well as on the Putin regime. They will have a cost. A financial cost will fall on all of us, and not just from even higher energy costs; there will also be an impact on jobs and individual incomes as effective sanctions impact on us as well as Putin.

I want to make it clear that I believe we should be prepared to meet these costs in the interest of freedom and democracy, but they must be shared fairly and the heaviest burden must fall on those with the deepest pockets. What this requires is redistribution of the burden, and this can be achieved only by higher taxes on those who can afford to pay the most to help those with the least. We should look to those who have profited from the Covid pandemic; not least, we should look at the oil and energy companies that stand to make even greater profits from the new crisis. The case for a windfall tax is even more compelling. When the Government talk about effective sanctions, they have to make clear that they are prepared to will the means as well as the ends, while protecting those least able to pay.

There is, however, another cost that we might be asked to pay: a human cost in terms of death and injury. Without taking this issue too far today, I have considerable concerns in this area, particularly given Putin’s unambiguous threat to use nuclear weapons. We have treaty obligations that we must fulfil but we need deep and careful thought before we go any further. History teaches us that it is all too easy to stumble into conflict with devastating consequences.

Queen’s Speech

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Wednesday 19th May 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I was not able to speak on Monday, which might have been my more natural home, but I am pleased to speak today and refer to two issues under this general heading.

First, the gracious Speech states:

“My Ministers will implement the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.”


I am with the review where it refers to

“sustaining strategic advantage though science and technology”.

I am glad that, in her introduction, the Minister referred to soft power and the importance of science in maintaining our security. But the review goes on to refer to “systematic competition” between states and claims somewhat tautologically that countries which establish a leading role in critical and emerging technologies will be at the forefront of global leadership. We know the importance of science, medical science in particular, from the acknowledged success in developing and delivering the Covid-19 vaccine, but the emphasis on national competition in this context is simply wrong. Scientists compete to be first, of course, but in this context their nationality is irrelevant. We know this from the vaccine programme. Co-operation between actors public and private from many different parts of the world has been crucial to its success: a truly international effort in which international co-operation has been the foundation, not competition.

Unfortunately, this reflects the Prime Minister’s “global Britain” rhetoric—just sound and bluster with no substance. When he attributed the vaccine success to capitalism and greed, he was wrong. The idea that private ingenuity and naked competition produced the vaccines is a misleading fantasy. The infrastructure that produced the Covid-19 vaccines and that helps to secure our greater security was nurtured in publicly funded universities, public institutes and heavily subsidised private labs.

Secondly, I refer to the statement that:

“Measures will be introduced to provide National Insurance contribution relief for employers of veterans”.


This will be provided for in the National Insurance Contributions Bill currently before the Commons, and which this House will consider in due course. It is far from clear from any of the published material what exactly this concession is expected to achieve. How effective in promoting employment among veterans is it likely to be? It is therefore right that, initially at least, it is being introduced for a limited period, up to April 2024. It would be helpful if the Minister could give an assurance that proper research will be undertaken as to its effectiveness before it is extended. Crucially, does it lead to a net increase in employment among veterans and, to the extent that there are more jobs, what sort of employment?

Perhaps the Minister could also confirm that this is just relief for the employer in terms of secondary class 1 contributions and not released to the veterans themselves. Perhaps it should also be made clear that the relief is only for a single year. What we are talking about in cash terms, in respect of someone on median earnings, is a one-off saving to an employer of about £3,000: a substantial sum, but not that substantial if it is intended to provide a job for 10 or more years. We also need to know whether the payments will lead to permanent and not short-term employment.

Finally, it would be appropriate for the Government to give an assurance that they remain committed to providing adequate pensions for those who made their career as a member of the Armed Forces. It would be wrong if this is a harbinger of the intention to expect our veterans to rely more than they currently do on further employment.

War Widows Pensions

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Thursday 10th December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I pay tribute to her commitment and passion on this issue and I understand her frustration. It might help her if I explain the nature of the complexity. Quite simply, it has been the policy of successive Governments not to make retrospective payments by government to individuals. That has been an established position and I think that many Members of your Lordships’ Chamber who have been Ministers will understand that. It means that, although I, the Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff all personally want to try to find a solution to this, we are not able to act unilaterally. We are investigating a number of options, but as yet none of these has been confirmed as avoiding the challenges to which I have referred.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, what bearing does the Minister think the Armed Forces covenant has on this issue? The covenant, quite rightly, says:

“Families … play a vital role in supporting the operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces.”


So our moral obligation is not just to members of the Armed Forces; it is also to their families. Times and attitudes change. Rules from the past are no longer regarded as acceptable. We should not let concern about retrospection be a barrier to what we all now regard as the right thing to do.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con) [V]
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Of course, I reaffirm that the Government recognise the unique commitment that service families make to our country and we remain sympathetic to the circumstances of those who remarried and cohabited before 1 April 2015. But the Ministry of Defence is not able to act unilaterally because, in doing that, it could well compromise the position of other government departments and it might unintentionally interfere with or prejudice active litigation in which other departments are involved. That is why I thought it important to explain to the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, the nature of the complexity. This is not something that the current Government have dreamed up and it is not an artificial obstruction that the Ministry of Defence has created; it is, I am afraid, the consequence of established policy covering such matters as payments when a request is made to make these retrospectively.