My Lords, the review of the Armed Forces compensation scheme currently being chaired by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, continues. The latest phase of the review ended on 19 November and sought views from members of the public and the Armed Forces. Responses are currently being analysed and it is expected that the final report will be presented as planned in a few months.
My Lords, I am grateful as ever to my noble friend. Will the review’s findings be published before the Ministry of Defence makes any decisions and can he say by when he expects this House to be able to debate them? The closing date for written submissions having passed, will oral evidence be taken from war-afflicted veterans and bereaved families still wishing to have their voices heard? Finally, does my noble friend accept that the compelling justification for all possible help for our Armed Forces from this review is that they, alone in this country, contract with the state not only to risk but to lay down their lives in its service, as they have been doing so bravely day by day for months now in Afghanistan?
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the noble Lord’s contribution over many years to the welfare of former members of the Armed Forces. The review will report to the Defence Secretary and will be published by him with an indication of the steps that he intends to take as a result. It will of course be for the usual channels to determine whether and how this should be debated in your Lordships’ House. The review’s public engagement phase was widely publicised, with many and varied responses solicited and received, including through a number of focus groups held with Armed Forces personnel and their families. That phase ended on 19 November. On the noble Lord’s third point, in last year’s service personnel Command Paper, the Government clearly articulated their recognition of the unique nature and demands of military service and how this sets our Armed Forces apart from others who serve and protect society.
My Lords, is it not the case that Her Majesty’s Government have already had to increase or even double inadequate levels of compensation, have had to go to the Appeal Court to resolve the meaning of poorly drafted secondary legislation and have been virtually panicked by public pressure to bring forward the review from next year? Is it not also the case that experts maintain that the scheme is based on the wrong principles and cannot, for example, take full account of the continuing effects of disablement? Does the Minister not agree that the present scheme is unfit for purpose and must be replaced after a thorough, independent inquiry to restore public confidence?
My Lords, I think that there were some six questions there, but I shall do my best. We were always committed to review this scheme after five years. Incidentally, I have studied it a number of times and I do not accept that it is not fit for purpose. We have brought the review forward by a year because of interest in the scheme. The process is to look at the whole scheme, to make sure that the principles on which it was based with regard to fairness, feasibility and sustainability are working and to make recommendations for change. The court case was brought about to ensure that the scheme was properly understood. The decision of the MoD to proceed with the appeal has been vindicated by the Appeal Court judgment by Lord Justice Carnwath, who said that,
“the Secretary of State was in my view entirely justified in bringing the appeal … It seeks to clarify some important and difficult issues relating to the construction of the scheme”.
It is entirely proper that we considered the scheme, that we introduced some improvements and that we continue to consider it. However, we must strike a balance between being fair to our Armed Forces, which is paramount, and representing the proper interests of the taxpayer.
My Lords, in supporting the call of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for the report to be properly debated in this House, may I ask the Minister whether he knows how many submissions have been received, particularly from serving members of the Armed Forces?
My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have that information at hand. However, there was an open invitation for contributions. An important contribution was the decision by the review and its independent chair to use a focus group technique to better understand in depth the concerns of those currently serving in the Armed Forces and those who had left the Armed Forces. It is important that the review is bringing new issues into consideration—for instance, the burden of proof and mental illness—and a new depth to yet further improve the scheme.
Can the noble Lord confirm that plans to compensate victims of terrorism overseas were dropped from the gracious Speech because Ministers could not agree how they might relate to compensation paid to wounded service personnel, given that such payouts backdate only to 2005?
My Lords, I hate to reveal the extent to which I was not consulted in the drafting of the gracious Speech. Proposals in relation to victims of overseas terrorism are being actively considered and consulted on across government. I am not going to apologise for the fact that the Government are participating in joined-up government.
My Lords, the public image tends to be of injuries to people who have suffered mutilation and loss of limbs, but people also suffer from the long-term residual effects of combat, such as combat stress, which appear years after the combat is over. Are their interests also being considered by the inquiry?
My Lords, I am always enthusiastic to have these issues debated in this House, if only for the number of noble and gallant Lords who contribute. However, I repeat that it is a matter for the usual channels to determine whether a debate should take place.