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Legal Claims

Volume 586: debated on Monday 20 October 2014

The Ministry of Defence conducts a wide range of activities, many of them inherently dangerous, and faces many legal claims arising from them. It is an absolute priority that when we accept liability, we get on and settle the case, and, equally, that when we resist it, we do so with vigour.

Does the Minister agree that human rights reform should include curtailing the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court, which, by expanding in unprecedented ways human rights on to the battlefield, where international humanitarian law already applies, has created legal confusion and operational distractions, and diverted precious public money away from investment in our troops?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is completely lost on me as to why the European Court of Human Rights should be involved, when, as he says, there is already international humanitarian law and, of course, the Geneva convention, both of which are tried and tested. That is how we make sure that things are done properly; we do not need the ECHR in this respect at all.

On the subject of legal claims, I am sure that the Minister has seen the Royal British Legion’s 2015 manifesto, which brings to light a breach of the principles of the armed forces covenant whereby veterans who contracted mesothelioma as a result of their service before 1987 are unable to sue the MOD and instead apply for 100% war disablement pension. That means a difference of over £100,000 less in the possible total payments to those veterans compared with their civilian counterparts, because the newly established compensation scheme for civilians pays a lump sum, whereas the war pension scheme does not. Will she review this matter urgently to avoid unnecessary legal action and to ensure that the principles of the covenant are being applied across Government?

I do not need to review it urgently because the review is under way. Indeed, I have had a meeting with my officials in the past few weeks, so I am very much alive to the issues. The situation is a bit more complicated than the hon. Lady has explained it, because further complications are involved. However, I hope to be in a position to be able to explain the conclusions that we hope to come to very swiftly.