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Mr. Riddick: It is indeed a fine organ. My hon. Friend the Minister has obviously heard about that excellent newspaper. The Huddersfield Daily Examiner quoted the spokeswoman as saying that Corporal Stott's case highlighted a major loophole in the UN's peacekeeping operations. The article stated:
"She said the UN was discussing new rules to make the Government which calls in UN forces liable for compensation claims if soldiers are hurt or killed."
The newspaper then quotes her as saying:
"There is a crying need for this kind of arrangement. The UN is now involved in 17 peacekeeping missions worldwide."
It would seem that the UN itself feels that something should be done on that front and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could tell the House whether any progress can be reported. A new precedent would not be created if the United Nations was to provide compensation. The United Nations compensation commission was set up after the Gulf war of 1991 and while the eligibility of the scheme was quite precise, a number of British service men lodged claims for compensation under it.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has told the House of Commons Library that the United Nations, although not offering compensation itself, reimburses states which themselves pay compensation of that kind. Indeed, that is in line with the standard United Nations
Column 119practice of defraying the cost incurred by contributing states during peacekeeping operations. I believe, therefore, that the British Government should make strenuous efforts to ensure that soldiers who are injured in Bosnia receive proper compensation and, indeed, that the families of soldiers who are killed in Bosnia also receive compensation.
It is not as though those soldiers have been putting their lives at risk in defence of their own country--quite the reverse. I accept, of course, that the soldiers have been carrying out an extremely important humanitarian task, and I pay tribute to the courage and dedication of all our service men and women who are carrying out a difficult job extremely well in difficult circumstances in the former Yugoslavia.
As for compensation, I must tell my hon. Friend that Corporal Stott and another local soldier from Mirfield near Huddersfield, Lance Corporal Douglas Stroyan, have received enormous support from people living in and around Huddersfield. A petition containing 25,000 signatures was handed in to 10 Downing street on 7 November, calling for compensation for soldiers injured in Bosnia. I hope that the Government will not ignore such a demonstration of public opinion. I understand also that the Royal British Legion fully supports Corporal Stott and Lance Corporal Stroyan in their efforts to receive proper compensation.
I make the additional point that the failure to pay proper compensation to those soldiers is in marked contrast with the large sums of money which the Ministry has been forced to pay to former service women who left the services as a result of becoming pregnant. My hon. Friend disclosed to the House on 22 November that such compensation had already cost the Ministry £32 million and that the final sum could be around the £50 million mark. Many of my constituents were appalled, as I was, at the large amounts of money which were paid in those circumstances.
Corporal Stott hopes that, next weekend, the steel pins in his leg will be taken out and that, if all goes well, his leg will then be put into a cast for a number of months; he will then receive some physiotherapy. However, the reality is that Corporal Stott will almost certainly have to carry with him for the rest of his life the disability of having one leg an inch and a half shorter than the other. Having known clearly what he wished to do on leaving the Army, Corporal Stott now faces an uncertain future.
In the circumstances, we really should see whether we can provide Corporal Stott and others who find themselves in a similar situation with more generous compensation than will be available under the pension arrangements. Local public opinion certainly supports that view. Compensation has been payable in certain circumstances in the past, so we are not talking about a novel situation. A spokeswoman of the United Nations itself feels that compensation should be paid. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to provide some comfort and encouragement for Corporal Stott and his parents, and I look forward to my hon. Friend's response to the points that I have made this evening.
Column 12010.13 pm
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) on securing this debate on a subject of concern not only to the House but to the public at large. I thank him for his great courtesy in alerting me to some of the points that he wished to raise tonight. I hope, therefore, to be able to make a fuller reply than I otherwise might have.
My hon. Friend has taken great interest in this matter. I am aware of his correspondence with the Ministry of Defence, which I have most vigorously reviewed. He has also made several important points, with which I shall try to deal.
The safety of British forces on the ground in Bosnia is of paramount and cardinal importance to the Government and is clearly something that we must, and do, take extremely seriously. Our troops are very well trained and are extremely well led. They are well equipped for the demands of their mission, and we keep their position under close and constant review. I know that the whole House has profound admiration and respect for their achievements and that hon. Members wish to commend all those who have served, or are serving, in the former Yugoslavian theatre for their courage and fortitude in carrying out vital tasks, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances, with distinction and skill. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen at first hand their quite outstanding work and I am unswerving in my admiration for and my gratitude to them.
Sadly, however, it is an inescapable fact of life that in an operation of this type it is more than likely that casualties will be sustained. I should like to take this opportunity to say how deeply sorry I was to hear about Corporal Stott's injury, which he sustained in March when a mortar round landed within the perimeter of his base.
A number of other soldiers have been injured while serving in Bosnia. I hope that we will never forget that 12 British service men paid the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives since operations began in the region. I offer, once again, my heartfelt sympathy to the families, friends and colleagues of those people. Although I realise that it is small comfort, I hope that they will feel justly proud of the brave sacrifice made by those men in helping to save thousands of innocent lives and in the cause of peace.
My hon. Friend will understand that I am constrained for reasons of medical confidentiality and I cannot comment in detail about Corporal Stott's current medical condition. I can say, however, as my hon. Friend well knows, that he is making satisfactory progress from his leg injury and that he continues to respond to the care that he is receiving from the Army medical service. None the less, it is still too early to tell whether his leg will improve sufficiently to enable him to resume active Army service and whether he will be able to continue with his Army career, should he wish to do so. Whatever the case, I am sure that hon. Members wish him well.
The Government will ensure, as we do with all service men who leave the armed forces, that Corporal Stott receives everything to which he is entitled should he be invalided out of the service. He will of course be entitled to all the benefits of the armed forces pension scheme, which includes an immediately payable index-linked pension, together with a tax- free lump sum equal to three times the annual rate of pension. In
Column 121addition, if the Department of Social Security accepts that the injury was attributable to his service, Corporal Stott is eligible for an award under the DSS war pensions scheme.
My hon. Friend made a point that has caused concern among many people--what they see as the gross injustice of service men who are injured while serving their country receiving less, at least in terms of a lump-sum payment, than some women who have been discharged from the services on the grounds of pregnancy. I fully understand the sense of outrage and unfairness felt when such widely different awards are given, but however unfair that may seem, the two issues are entirely separate under the law.
The legal basis for compensation is the extent of our legal liability. That applies to women discharged on grounds of pregnancy and to service personnel who are injured because of some negligence on the part of my Department or someone acting on our behalf. My hon. Friend will recall that, since the repeal of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987, service personnel have been in the same position as civilians in respect of the payment of compensation for personal injury arising out of their employment. The level of compensation is determined in accordance with the same legal principles, no matter whether the case involves a woman discharged because she was pregnant or a service man grievously injured in a training accident caused by the negligence of someone for whom we are responsible.
Several factors have conspired, however, to result in what obviously appear as awards to the pregnant service women that are out of all proportion to the amount of money that a service man such as Corporal Stott, and those like him, are likely to receive should they be invalided out of the service.
In pregnancy cases, we are dealing with past losses. The principal loss is loss of earnings and, associated with it, loss of pension rights. This can add up to a considerable sum. To it must be added a further amount for interest as some of the claims may go back to events 10 or more years ago. The addition of interest can, of course, have the effect of almost doubling the original compensation award. An injured service man, on the other hand, discharged now because of his injury, will receive his compensation now so the same considerations of interest will not apply, although some interest may be payable if it takes some time to agree the full amount of compensation. That is unlikely to compare with the sums awarded in pregnancy cases. Similarly, as my hon. Friend knows, an injured soldier will receive his pension now although, again, he may receive additional compensation to take account of the fact that his pension may be smaller than it would have been if he had served his full engagement.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be relieved to know that following my Department's recent appeals to the employment appeals tribunal on several of the pregnancy cases, tribunals are in general making lower awards in accordance with the tribunal's very helpful guidelines. Indeed, as I told the House recently, the current average award is about £10,000, and the average of all the 3,235 claims settled so far--about 70 per
Column 122cent. of the total--is also about £10,000. By way of comparison, in the past 12 months we have settled 235 cases of personal injury. The average settlement has been £30,000, with nine awards in excess of £200,000. The maximum was for £l,000,000.
My hon. Friend also referred to what he considered to be an anomaly between payments made to service men injured in Bosnia and other war-like operations and those injured in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that the fact remains that Corporal Stott is not entitled to an ex gratia payment under my Department's discretionary scheme, which pays criminal injury compensation for members of the armed forces and their dependants who are victims of crimes of violence while serving overseas.
The purpose of that particular scheme is to give comparable levels of compensation to that which would have been awarded by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board had the incident occurred in Great Britain. However, criminal injury compensation is not payable where injury to, or death of, service men and women occurs as a result of war operations or military activity by warring factions. Current operations in Bosnia obviously fall into that category. In those circumstances, members of the armed forces who are invalided from service receive for life the tax-free and index-linked benefits of the armed forces pension scheme and the Department of Social Security war pension, to which I referred earlier.
As my hon. Friend knows well, members of the armed forces in Northern Ireland provide military support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the fight against terrorism, so they are not deemed to be involved in war operations while serving there. As terrorist acts are a criminal offence, soldiers and civilians injured in such attacks would be entitled to apply to the Northern Ireland compensation agency, which funds awards of criminal injury compensation in Northern Ireland.
All criminal injury compensation awards for service people in the United Kingdom and overseas, and for civilians in the United Kingdom, are reduced to take account of pensions accruing as a result of the injury.
My hon. Friend referred to an article in his excellent local newspaper, which mentioned alleged United Nations plans to seek to recover compensation payments from countries where UN troops are deployed. I was grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me notice of that matter, which I have been able to follow up for him. As attractive a proposition as the idea may sound--certainly from the UN's point of view--I can confirm, having consulted the UN in New York, that there is no substance to the rumour.
There is absolutely no question of us simply abandoning Corporal Stott, or others like him, should they be invalided out of the service. We acknowledge that some ex-service personnel have special requirements as a result of their service with the armed forces. Of course, we recognise the particular needs of disabled ex-service people, for example, and the Government have not only preserved the preferential provisions of the war pensions scheme, but done much to enhance it.
Column 123War disablement pensioners are given priority when referred to the national health service for treatment of their pensioned disablement, both as out-patients and in-patients, subject only to the needs of emergency or other cases.
My Department has developed a comprehensive resettlement package, which includes an extensive range of briefings and training courses, incorporating arrangements for on-the-job training and the introduction of national vocational qualifications.
Service personnel due to be invalided out of the armed forces on medical grounds are eligible for the full range of resettlement provisions after only one year of reckonable service. That is a concessionary entitlement for disabled personnel, as the resettlement package is normally available only to those who have completed at least five years' reckonable service.
Personnel who are medically discharged are given priority over all other service leavers for places on resettlement briefings and training courses and, in addition, a medically discharged service person may seek further resettlement and employment advice for up to two years after discharge.
Column 124As my hon. Friend knows, the many veterans' organisations, including the regimental associations, the Royal British Legion and others, continue to provide advice, help and support. Her Majesty's Government are very conscious of the tireless work undertaken by the dedicated teams of voluntary workers throughout the country and of the highly professional way in which they assist their former colleagues. We very much value their advice and hold in high esteem the work that they undertake.
I would simply like to close by repeating my assurance that those members of the armed forces who are injured in action will be given every assistance, both monetary and otherwise, that it is possible for my Department to give.
Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on advancing his case in such a measured, sympathetic and compassionate manner. We will continue to ensure that Corporal Stott receives the very finest care that is available to us. We have first-rate service men and women and it is important that we do all that we can to assist them when they most need our help.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Ten o'clock.
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