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Injured Service Personnel (Compensation)

Volume 475: debated on Monday 28 April 2008

The armed forces compensation scheme was introduced in 2005 for personnel who are injured as a result of service in the armed forces. For the first time, our personnel can claim compensation while they are still serving, by way of a tax-free lump sum for illness or injury, up to a maximum of £285,000. Those more seriously injured will, in addition to a lump-sum payment, receive a tax-free, inflation-proof guaranteed income payment which is paid on discharge and monthly thereafter for the rest of their lives. The payment is not capped and may, over a lifetime, be worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

I can also inform the House that in January this year I ordered a further review of the armed forces compensation scheme, and that Ministers expect to receive a report in May.

I thank the Minister for his response and, in particular, for the information about the review that he is conducting. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, asked:

“What on earth are we to make of a system where the secretary who gets a wrist injury typing the orders receives more compensation than the soldier who loses his legs following the orders?”

Can the Minister justify that appalling imbalance, regardless of the fact that the serviceman receives a continuing pension and the civilian does not? I hope that it will be taken into account for the purposes of his review.

The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. This is a no-fault scheme, and the claim to which he refers was a negligence claim. Armed forces personnel can claim against the Department for negligence, but the key point is that, for the first time ever, armed forces personnel can be paid, while they are still serving, a sizeable lump sum in addition to any lump sum that they could claim under the war pension scheme after leaving the service. Moreover, the lifelong guaranteed income payment for those most seriously injured is worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds. This is a significant improvement on the previous scheme.

What support is the Minister giving the families of service personnel undergoing extensive long-term hospital and medical treatment? How are those families managing financially?

There is support enabling the families of injured personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq to stay at Selly Oak and to receive expenses. We have also been working with the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association to provide improved accommodation at both Selly Oak and Headley Court.

Financial compensation is, of course, extremely important, but so are the recovery and rehabilitation of injured servicemen and women before they receive that compensation. Is the Minister not rather ashamed that, apparently, the swimming pool, physiotherapy centre and relatives’ accommodation at Headley Court must wait for a charity pop concert rather than being provided by the Ministry of Defence now?

I am certainly not ashamed. Headley Court is a world-class establishment, and has been recognised as such by the Select Committee on Defence. We pay for treatment and facilities at Headley Court, which already has a number of gyms and a rehabilitation pool. We welcome the idea of people being able to raise additional resources to complement what we provide. We do so for a number of reasons, not least because it gives the British public a chance to show their support for the armed forces.

We will continue to invest in Headley Court and in medical facilities. Only last year, I opened a new ward at Headley Court.

Before the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004, there were no lump sum payments in the 18 years in which the Conservative party was in power. When the Act came before the House—I was on the Bill Committee— not once were the objections now being raised by the Conservative party brought up. The only thing that was raised in the Select Committee was the objection by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) to my amendment to extend these benefits to unmarried partners.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. When the statutory instrument was laid to set out the new compensation scheme, the Opposition parties did not object and did not pray against it. It is a bit rich for them, this far down the road, suddenly to start to criticise a scheme that they did not object to at the time.

Are the comments attributed to General Sir David Richards—that payments to injured soldiers will rise threefold—in yesterday’s The Sunday Telegraph correct? When does he expect this to happen and when does he expect our serving personnel to receive similar compensation to that of civilian personnel?

The House would not expect me to say at this stage because we have not yet received the report, which we expect to receive in May. We will consider its recommendations and information before we make any further announcements.

In the light of the welcome comments by Commander in Chief, Land, over the weekend, the Minister might like to express his regrets for the inadequacies of the 2005 armed forces compensation scheme that General Richards has found so wanting, and as the current review implies. Meanwhile, the Adjutant General continues to push private insurance schemes such as Pax that cost the private soldier a month’s pay to cover risks run on our behalf in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. Why does this month’s gimmick—the armed forces benefits calculator, designed to convince service men that they have never had it so good—completely ignore the disbenefit of having to take out personal insurance to cover occupational risk?

As I said, that is a bit rich from the Conservative party, which, let us be clear, supported the armed forces compensation scheme. This is the first time that compensation of this scale—up to £285,000—is payable while serving. That is a significant step forward. The guaranteed income payment is index-linked, tax-free and paid for life. Unlike the previous war pension scheme, it is not capped, changed or withdrawn if the injured serviceman or woman improves at some point. The Conservative party did not introduce any such scheme during its 18 years in power. The scheme should be kept under continual review, which is why we made the changes last year in terms of motor injuries and why we are reviewing it now in the light of experience.