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Armed Forces: Compensation

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 12 November 2008

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name. In doing so, I draw attention to my non-pecuniary interest in the Register of Interests.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in any future review of levels of compensation awarded to service men and women who are disabled in the course of their duties, they will take into account differences between awards to civilians and to members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and the costs of continuing care and of housing adaptations.

My Lords, future reviews of the Armed Forces compensation scheme will not take account of levels of civilian awards as the scheme is being adjusted to recognise the special nature of current military service. Ours is a no-fault scheme and it is not necessary to prove negligence to receive an award. Awards do not include costs of continuing care or housing adaptations because these are provided separately through existing state benefits.

My Lords, while appreciating that improvements have been made and the opportunity for flexibility that a future review will bring, will the Minister bear in mind that with developments in medical science, there are many service men and women alive today who would not necessarily have survived in former conflicts, but who merit extremely high levels of compensation for continuing care as well as other needs as a result of the extreme nature of their injuries?

My Lords, the Armed Forces compensation scheme will be adjusted with respect to the lump sum before Christmas. The maximum award will double from £285,000 to £570,000. The issue of how servicemen are looked after when they leave the service is a matter for existing state benefits. Matters were brought together in Command Paper 7424, which is about how all departments look after families and veterans. The end of that document states:

“Every five years all Government departments and their Devolved Administrations will undertake a full review of progress … The outcome of this review will be reported to … the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary. the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales … and Northern Ireland … it will be published”.

My Lords, in the light of Cm 7424, does the Minister agree that, when the review of the treatment of servicemen who claim injury takes place, it should be for the Secretary of State to prove that they were not on duty and reject an award, rather than for the distressed serviceman to prove that he was on duty when injured?

My Lords, that will be part of the review in 2010 of the Armed Forces compensation scheme. We are sensitive to what we will learn from individual cases. We believe that the burden of proof required under the present scheme is fair but, if there have been difficulties in the five years, we will take that into account in reviewing the scheme.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many service personnel are still getting much less than civilians for the same kind of disability, which cannot be right? Failure to hold a thorough review of the issue will lie with the Government and nobody else. There has to be an urgent review of all benefits for civilians and the armed services. Can my noble friend help on that?

My Lords, I am afraid I cannot. It is not appropriate to make a simple comparison between civilian awards and awards under the compensation scheme. An important point is that servicemen continue to have the right to bring an action against the Ministry of Defence in the civilian courts if they wish to prove appropriate negligence. It is a harsh and expensive proof. This scheme is a no-fault scheme. It is very generous in the amount paid for pain and suffering. It is a mechanical scheme that produces ongoing income throughout the life of the injured serviceman and, as I openly say, it looks to the state to provide for the serviceman’s housing and health needs in future. I believe it is a fair balance, but it will be reviewed in 2010.

My Lords, my understanding is that the DWP counts war pensions as income with only the first £10 of that pension disregarded when means-testing for benefits. The Royal British Legion is campaigning to have all war pensions disregarded when calculating means-tested benefits. Would acceptance of that not simplify the procedure and usefully improve the overall financial package for the war pensioner?

My Lords, that summary—that only £10 is disregarded—is quite correct. It is a harsh fact of life that, in determining means-tested benefits, virtually all sources of income are taken into account. That is what “means-tested” means. It is how society uses its limited resources to apply benefits to the most deserving cases. I cannot promise any review. I can see why the Royal British Legion would campaign for it, but we believe the balance is fair.