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Armed Forces and Reserve Forces (Compensation Scheme) (Consequential Provisions: Primary Legislation) (Northern Ireland) Order 2013

Volume 748: debated on Tuesday 15 October 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces (Compensation Scheme) (Consequential Provisions: Primary Legislation) (Northern Ireland) Order 2013.

Relevant document: 7th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, I greatly welcome the opportunity to open this important debate. I am introducing this legislation specifically for those seriously injured service and ex-service personnel resident in Northern Ireland who are entitled to an Armed Forces independence payment, or AFIP for short. This legislation provides access to additional benefits, schemes and services, known as passported benefits.

Noble Lords will recall that I led a debate on 25 March this year introducing similar legislation for service and ex-service personnel residing in other parts of the United Kingdom. Today’s debate will ensure that AFIP recipients resident in Northern Ireland have similar access to passported benefits.

The changes to be debated are closely linked to the Government’s commitment to uphold the Armed Forces covenant, the key principles of which are to ensure that members of the Armed Forces community are not disadvantaged compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services, and that special consideration should be given, as appropriate, in some cases, especially to those who have given the most—for example, the injured and the bereaved.

The covenant applies to the whole Armed Forces community, comprising service and ex-service personnel and their families wherever they are located, and the Ministry of Defence is keen to see it implemented widely. We recognise that the circumstances for the Armed Forces community in Northern Ireland are different, for reasons that are well understood.

For example, wounded, injured and sick personnel in Northern Ireland benefit from an extra level of support from the Personnel Recovery Unit based in Northern Ireland, and are currently part of a trial under which the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish (Home Service) Regiment Aftercare Service provide welfare for them after they are discharged.

We are putting in place support and help for those who have suffered serious injury in the line of duty, and these provisions will further enhance that support. To explain the need for these regulations, it may be helpful if I provide noble Lords with some background.

In July 2012, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would simplify and enhance financial support for members of the Armed Forces who have been seriously injured, as part of the measures to uphold the Armed Forces covenant. My department worked closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to implement AFIP on 8 April 2013 across the UK, at the same time as the personal independence payment was brought in to replace disability living allowance as part of the welfare reform programme. The MoD also introduced a number of consequential amendments to put in place access to additional benefits and services for AFIP recipients in England and Wales. On 11 June 2013, similar legislative provisions were put in place for AFIP recipients resident in Scotland.

While the AFIP payment has been available to seriously injured service and ex-service personnel resident in Northern Ireland, the legislative changes to provide access to passported benefits have not been implemented. This debate will begin this process, with a second legislative amendment to follow in due course.

In order to establish access to two important “passports”, we are required to amend two other parts of primary legislation. That is what we will debate today. These minor but important legislative changes are in respect of, first, carer’s allowance and, secondly, the Christmas bonus.

The legislative change in respect of carer’s allowance will ensure that those who provide invaluable support to seriously injured members of the Armed Forces in receipt of AFIP have access to carer’s allowance in Northern Ireland from the Department for Social Development. Carer’s allowance is currently £59.75 per week. This change will make provision specifically for those who devote their lives to support our seriously injured people, providing some financial support for doing so. It is only right that a person caring for an AFIP recipient should have access to the carer’s allowance.

The provisions relating to the Christmas bonus will ensure that all recipients of AFIP automatically qualify for the tax-free, lump-sum Christmas bonus of £10, which is paid annually in Northern Ireland by the Department for Social Development.

By putting in place the provisions to enable AFIP recipients resident in Northern Ireland to access the additional benefits, schemes and services offered by other government departments, devolved Administrations and local authorities, the Government are giving them equal treatment to that offered to service personnel and veterans resident elsewhere in the UK. This is another example of the Government’s commitment to uphold the Armed Forces covenant.

It is important that we address these issues in order to meet the principles at the heart of the covenant across all Administrations for members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are seriously injured. I commend the order to the Committee and I beg to move.

My Lords, I welcome the order. It is a very worthy measure. Everyone in Northern Ireland is delighted that it is extending to Northern Ireland. I was not present when this was debated for the remainder of the United Kingdom. When the Armed Forces covenant first appeared, it was very welcome, but there was perhaps a little doubt about how it would benefit people and how it might be implemented, especially in Northern Ireland. The covenant was a stepping stone—or a foundation stone—for extending other things and showing better care support for all our soldiers, especially those who have been injured.

One could go into how difficult it was in Northern Ireland, but it is better to look at it the other way: thank goodness it has become slightly easier to introduce this in Northern Ireland. We know that there were issues with talking to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and it is most welcome that the talks went well and that we are now getting to the stage where we are able to give our soldiers, and especially our veterans, support that is equal to what they have here.

I was interested to hear the Minister refer to the aftercare service as being a “trial”. That was the first time that I had heard it talked about like that. I hope that he thinks that it is being tried because certain aspects might be very beneficial in the remainder of the United Kingdom.

Overall, this is a most welcome measure. We should not highlight the problems and how difficult the process was, but should welcome it as a great step forward.

I thank the Minister for the explanation of the need for, and purpose of, the order. As he said, it seeks to give seriously injured service and ex-service personnel in Northern Ireland who qualify for the recently introduced Armed Forces independence payment similar access to passported benefits to that of those who qualify for disability living allowance or the personal independence payment. As the Minister said, the Armed Forces independence payment was introduced in April this year. The statutory instrument providing for the payment covered all those eligible throughout the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland. The payment is to cover the extra costs that seriously injured personnel who meet the eligibility criteria may have as a result of their injury.

Two further statutory instruments enabled recipients of the Armed Forces independence payment to receive additional passported benefits to which they were entitled. However, as I understand it, these further statutory instruments did not include amendments to the related Northern Ireland passported legislation, which I believe related to allowances for carers and the entitlement of pensioners to a Christmas bonus. The Minister made reference to this. This point was the subject of a discussion that established that, in this instance, the relevant Northern Ireland legislation could be amended using powers under the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Act 2004, subject to the consent of the relevant Northern Ireland Ministers.

I have one or two questions to put to the Minister. I told him about them literally two minutes ago, which was somewhat remiss of me, so I fully accept that the answers may not be forthcoming this afternoon. I would be interested to know exactly how numerous or few are the relevant Northern Ireland Ministers whose consent has had to be sought and given. It would also be helpful to know how many seriously injured service and ex-service personnel will be covered by this order relating to Northern Ireland when it comes into force on 28 October.

I assume that the additional expenditure will be small, but perhaps the Minister could confirm that the cost will be borne by UK taxpayers as a whole and also say from which department’s budget the additional costs will be met. I notice that the title of this order refers to the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that there is parity of treatment under the terms of this order between the two forces mentioned.

We want to see the spirit and intention of the Armed Forces covenant, and its commitment that members of the Armed Forces will not be disadvantaged by the nature of the responsibilities and role they undertake, applying in Northern Ireland, and we support the order.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, for his support. I was heartened by what he said about the very positive changes in Northern Ireland. Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for mentioning the Opposition’s support for this order.

The noble Lord asked some questions and I hope that I am able to answer them. First, he asked how numerous or few are the relevant Northern Ireland Ministers whose consent has to be sought and given. The answer is five, plus the Minister of State for Northern Ireland. The noble Lord asked whether the costs will be borne by UK taxpayers as a whole. The answer is yes, it will. He asked how many seriously injured service or ex-service personnel will be covered by this order relating to Northern Ireland. The answer is fewer than 20.

The title of the order refers to the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces. The noble Lord said that it would be helpful if I could confirm—I wrote this down—that there is parity of treatment under the terms of the order between the two forces. The answer is yes.

In summary, I will restate a point I made when I opened this debate. The changes debated today are closely linked to the Government’s commitment to uphold the Armed Forces covenant. It is only right that we provide access to additional benefits, schemes and services for the most seriously injured, wherever they are resident in the United Kingdom. I believe that these changes will go some way to achieve this.

Motion agreed.