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Armed Forces Personnel: Vexatious Claims

Volume 671: debated on Monday 3 February 2020

1. What steps his Department plans to take to tackle vexatious claims against armed forces personnel. (900535)

5. What steps his Department plans to take to tackle vexatious claims against armed forces personnel. (900539)

24. What steps his Department is taking to tackle vexatious claims made against armed forces personnel. (900559)

My thoughts are with the injured victims of the Streatham attack and their families, and I express my sympathy and support on the Government’s behalf. I also pay tribute to the brave police officers who so speedily confronted and dealt with the attacker and to the other emergency services who assisted the victims and others.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our armed forces, who perform exceptional feats to protect this country in incredibly difficult circumstances. While our servicemen and women are rightly held to the highest standards of behaviour, we must ensure that the law is applied consistently, promptly and fairly.

With Combermere barracks and Victoria barracks in the Windsor constituency, we are proud to be home to the Irish Guards, the Welsh Guards and the Household Cavalry. Following their many years of service to our nation, I want them to feel safe and secure in the knowledge that they will not be hounded and harassed by vexatious litigation for decades to come. How soon will our veterans be able to stand at ease?

As Her Majesty said in the Gracious Speech, the Government will shortly introduce a legislative package to ensure that our service personnel and veterans have access to the legal protections they deserve. That will build on the consultation held last summer on proposed legal protections and measures for armed forces personnel and veterans who have served in operations outside the UK. We expect those measures to be brought forward soon.

We owe an immense debt of gratitude to our armed forces, who should never face malicious or unfair treatment after their service when there is no reason to do so. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on all Members to back our troops and get behind our plans to tackle vexatious claims?

Many Members of this House support our troops, and I hope that they will be able to support all the measures that we bring forward to protect personnel from vexatious claims and inquests.

What action is being taken to halt the prosecutions currently under way in Northern Ireland of those who served in our armed forces and in the police during the troubles while a review is being undertaken?

My hon. Friend will know that it is obviously not for the Executive or the Government to interfere once a prosecution is under way. Prosecutions are a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions, either here or in Northern Ireland. However, no one must be above the law where there is genuine evidence of wrongdoing, but when the process is abused for vexatious purposes, it is right that the Government step forward with measures to stop that happening.

Protecting veterans is a priority for this Government, but their families are just as important. Changes to the war widows’ pension scheme mean that, while the majority of war widows receive a pension for life, a small group, some of whom live in my constituency, whose husbands died after 1973 and who themselves remarried before 2005, fall outside the scheme. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to address that injustice?

The Government recognise the unique commitment that service families make to our country and remain sympathetic to the circumstances of those widows who remarried and cohabited before 1 April 2015. However, the Government currently have no plans to reinstate war widows’ pensions for war widows who remarried between 1973 and 2005—before the 2015 changes took effect. However, I hear my hon. Friend’s call, and my colleague the Minister for Defence People and Veterans has already met representatives from the War Widows’ Association, and we are examining alternative methods to see whether we can mitigate the impact.

The Opposition’s thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by yesterday’s attack in Streatham, and I pay tribute to the police and emergency services for all their heroic work.

The Government have repeatedly promised to take action on vexatious claims against personnel and veterans, but we are yet to see any concrete plans. I heard what the Secretary of State said today, but will he give us the exact date on which the Government will introduce legislation?

The Government made a commitment in our manifesto and in other statements to bring forward measures within 100 days to deal with vexatious claims against our veterans. That 100-day period ends towards the end of March, which is when the timetable will be in place.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment regarding our armed services personnel and look forward to that working out in the fullness of time. Will he ensure that other Cabinet colleagues are aware of the implications of vexatious claims for police officers who served in Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. I served alongside RUC Special Branch in my time, and I have the highest regard for the RUC officers, many of whom lost their lives in fighting during the troubles. Obviously, we will look at what we can do around other Crown servants to make sure that they are protected from that same vexatious industry that is going on at the moment in Northern Ireland.