Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
Chairman: Gentlemen, welcome to the first public
session of our inquiry. In an hour and a quarter we have about
15 questions to put to you so there is a need to be brief. I have
to make a declaration of interest. I am honorary adviser to the
Royal British Legion.
Syd Rapson: I have a non-pecuniary interest
to declare. I am a member of SSAFA Forces Health. I was appointed
by the Secretary of State for Defence in the previous Parliament,
and I assume that I shall hold that position until I retire.
Rachel Squire: I am honorary vice-president
of the Dunfermline branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland.
1. You have done a good job of penetrating the
Committee. The review of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme was announced
as part of the Strategic Defence Review. The process started in
the autumn of 1998 with the intention that the review would take
about a year. A review of compensation arrangements was conducted
at the same time with the then Department of Social Security.
The process took much longer than anticipated and the Defence
Committee in the previous Parliament commented a number of times
on the delay in publishing the review findings, most recently
in February last year in our report on the Policy for People.
We expressed the hope then that the outcome of the two reviews
would demonstrate that the MoD was moving closer to being "the
type of caring and effective employer" that we expected it
to be. The current inquiry into the review proposals will enable
us to decide whether the new schemes which the MoD is proposing
meet the high standards which we expect, and which Armed Forces
personnel deserve. The findings of both reviews and proposals
for the new schemes were published as consultation documents in
March 2001 with an initial deadline for comments by the end of
July. But the consultation process in turn has been dogged by
delays and, a year on, it appears that the MoD is still considering
some of the major areas of the pension and compensation proposals.
We will have a chance to question the Minister about this when
he gives evidence next week. Today we shall be exploring with
the Royal British Legion and the Forces Pension Society, as two
of the key organisations representing ex-Service personnel, what
they think of the compensation and pension proposals. Colonel
English. would you like to make a terse introduction?
(Colonel English) I am the Controller of Welfare for
the Royal British Legion. On my left is Tom House who is head
of our War Pensions Department and on my right is Steven Coltman,
who is a legion member and a member of the staff of BLESMA.
In his final appointment in the Army he was on the Army staff
responsible for preparing evidence for the compensation review.
The Legion is very grateful for being invited to provide evidence
to the Defence Committee regarding the MoD's joint compensation
review. I want to make the point that although we are representing
the Royal British Legion today, the views expressed have been
considered and accepted by the executive committee of the Confederation
of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations (COBSEO). Therefore,
we believe that they genuinely represent the overall views of
the ex-Service community. In our initial comments relating to
the paper, there is only one point that we wish to stress: the
paper completely ignores the special status of war pensions and
war widows and is seeking to put the ex-Serviceman or woman on
the same level as civilians and those injured in criminal activities.
That belief is the fundamental flaw in much of what follows in
the paper: levels of compensation; no mention of a welfare service;
and no priority in the National Health Service for those injuries
received as a result of service. The status of individuals as
war pensioners or war widows is important to society, and its
impact should not be under-estimated. Service personnel are required
to serve anywhere in the world at a moment's notice, irrespective
of the local political situation, climate or exposure to civil
disobedience. They are on call for 365 days a year. These factors
alone differ from those involved in the emergency services, where
responsibilities are usually confined to their own localities.
Additionally, Service personnel are subject to military law and
far harsher penalties for disobedience for minor infringements.
Their social situation is also far different as they are required
to move house as often as every two years and periods of long
separation from family and friends are the norm. Leave, until
recently, was a privilege and not a right. Ultimately, as part
of their service, even on peace-keeping duties, they can be called
upon to sacrifice their lives in situations that arise following
government policy. These factors combined give Service personnel
a very special status which should be reflected in the compensation
packages available to them when their health and well-being are
adversely affected as a result of service to their country. In
the Legion's response to the MoD on the joint compensation review
the point was made that in its current form as a package it was
unacceptable and that certain key areas could be improved upon.
We believe that the ex-Service community will expect nothing less
for its personnel, and those who will join the ex-Service community
in the future will expect to be at least as well looked after
as their predecessors. I believe that the majority of other points
that we wish to make will follow from our response to questions
that we believe you will ask us this morning.
2. Thank you. You have answered four of them.
On the consultation process, the reviews of both pension and compensation
arrangements have been characterised by delays. The MoD has now
informed us that they are re-examining a number of "major
areas" of the proposals and do not expect firm proposals
to be put to the Cabinet until the autumn. What are your views
on the message that this continuing delay sends to the Armed Forces
about the relative priority that the MoD gives to their pension
and compensation arrangements?
(Colonel English) Chairman, we waited at least two
years for this paper to emerge. Any further delay disappoints
us. However, we believe that the war pensions scheme is robust
enough to stand up to the delay. We hope that the delay has been
caused by the points that we have raised with the MoD and that
they are being addressed. I have been assured informally by senior
civil servants in the MoD that that is the case.
3. Colonel English, the MoD's proposals are
predicated on the assumption that one scheme will be better than
two. You do not appear to agree or to share that view, from the
written evidence that you have given us. What advantages do you
think there are in the current scheme that creates separate benefits
under the war pension scheme and the Armed Forces pension scheme?
(Colonel English) Essentially, the war pension scheme
gives the ex-Serviceman or woman the opportunity to make a claim
for a disability that arises through his or her service or if
the condition is made worse through service, the right to claim
well past the point when they leave. Only a few years ago we had
people who made claims through the Royal British Legion who had
served during the First World War, so I believe that the war pension
scheme is robust and provides that facility. The other schemes
apply more to those who are currently serving or who have recently
left and provide that opportunity to start a claim while they
are serving. There are aspects of that that we believe could be
drawn together. We are not totally averse to a single system as
long as what evolves is not worse than the systems combined together
4. What do you think are the current faults
of the system that we have today? What needs to be rectified?
Do you think that the Government's new proposals address your
(Colonel English) I believe that they could be moving
in that direction, but as far as the scheme is concernedwithout
going into detailone of the great problems, with which
I think we can identify here, is the complication of trying to
penetrate what each scheme means. Very often we find that Servicemen
do not understand when they are entitled to a medical discharge,
when it is to their advantage, and so on. As a result, they fail
to initiate claims early on. As far as war pensions are concerned,
the very name "war pensions" can cause confusion. Many
believe that they have to be involved in a war to make a claim.
As a result, they do not claim until years afterwards. I can give
one example of someone claiming 50 years beyond the point when
they left. That is happening every day. That is one disadvantage.
Hand in glove with that goes the lack of advertising of the schemes.
Some five years ago the Legion initiated a campaign of war pensions
awareness. That was carried out by my colleague, Tom House, and
the result was a 1,000 per cent increase in the claims that were
forwarded through the Legion to Norcross. I am very happy to say,
that we believe that at least 50 per cent of those were successful.
It is knowing what a war pension is about and who is eligible
to claim. Those two areas are the ones that I would highlight
as being faults in the current system. I have to add, that we
have been searching for another title for "war pension"
for as long as I have been associated with the Legion and we cannot
find a better one.
5. In terms of serving personnel getting to
know exactly what they are entitled to and how the system works,
do you think the present system is satisfactory? What suggestions
do you have to ensure that people know more about what they can
claim? To me that seems to be vitally important if people are
to receive what they are entitled to. They should know what the
system is when they join up.
(Colonel English) Perhaps I can start to answer and
then I shall ask Steven Coltman to come in as he has been very
closely associated with this area recently. The most important
point is to publish and to advertise the existence of the schemes
and to ensure that Servicemen know what they are all about. There
are aspects of personnel matters that receive regular publicity
within the Services. That needs to be improved. Externally the
same thing applies.
6. When you start another job you get a pack
often on the pension scheme, the healthcare benefits and so on.
Do the forces have a system like that or is it left to hearsay?
(Colonel English) Normally the Services are very good
at producing packs; ensuring that people read them is the problem.
I shall ask Steve to add a few words.
(Lt Col Coltman) One of the biggest difficultiesI
speak mainly from the perspective of the Army, having left it
in 1999is that when a young man joins the Army he has a
tremendous amount of information overload, which is understandable,
and the last thing that a young man will think of at that stage
is pensions and war pensions. There has certainly been a big improvement
in bringing information to the attention of those who are medically
discharged, which amount to about 1,000 a year. Those are either
the most seriously disabled who cannot be employed or normal recruits
and the Army has quite a good pamphlet on that. That brings the
information on war pensions, and in the case of those medically
discharged, a link to the Service pension system, which is a link
that is not well understood by many. The difficulty exists in
that for many of those who are discharged normally, the information
is there and sometimes it is brought to their attention, but not
always. One difficulty is that very few people understand the
linkage between the war pension system and either Service-invaliding
pensions or Service-attributable pensions. I do not want to make
it any more complicated.
7. In the opening comments that you submitted
to us and repeated in the comments that you made this morning,
you said that the view that underpins everything else is that
clearly you see service in the Armed Forces as being different
from other forms of employment in the public sector.
(Colonel English) Yes.
8. You say that that is not given proper account.
Certainly when the Committee was in the United States recently,
we noticed that their view of veterans is quite superior to the
view that we take in this country. In what way are the proposals
deficient in that respect? How would you like to see them changed
to reflect properly the commitment that Service personnel make
in this country?
(Colonel English) Within the proposals themselves,
certain things are contained in the current arrangements that
appear to be omitted from the current proposals in that most importantly
there is no mention of the welfare provisions provided by the
War Pensions Welfare Service. We do not like the proposals to
move essentially from an income stream system to a tariff-based
system. We have seen the difficulties that arise there. Recently,
after the South Atlantic war, for example, we had a number of
Servicemen who were given lump sum payments. That was mismanaged
by many and they had to come back to us, to the ex-Service sectorthe
charitiesfor assistance. We have seen the same sort of
thing happen with arrangements that are currently in place. As
you will know, on the Service pension side, officers up to a certain
pointit is being phased outcould life-commute part
of their pension. Of those who were successful in doing that,
as many were unsuccessful and they are facing considerable hardship.
That is an area that we believe to be weak as well. We believe
that in the proposals there is inadequate recognition of deterioration
of an individual's condition after they have left the Service;
that is deterioration that goes beyond the normal ageing process.
These are gaps in what is being proposed.
9. We shall return to the welfare issue and
the tariff issue later on in our questions. Do you think that
a better way forward would be for a new compensation scheme to
distinguish between injuries sustained during active service and
those that occur in everyday occupations, more comparable to civilian
work, possibly with higher payments for those people?
(Colonel English) No, I think that would be very limiting
on the individual. You have to bear in mind that the majority
of a Serviceman's time is training for the operation in which
he will take part. Probably the majority of injuries occur in
training. That can happen from the outset. Recruits can damage
their limbs through the high level training that they do, which
is excessive to them. That can cause an injury that can last a
lifetime. We would prefer to stay with the compensation given
for duty in service.
10. You do not want a distinction to be made
for the nature of the work that they do, but for the fact that
they have to put themselves on the line by joining the Armed Forces?
(Colonel English) Yes.
11. Do you believe that a Serviceman who plays
football for his unit and who is injured on the sporting field
should be entitled to the same benefits as someone who sustains
an injury in Afghanistan?
(Colonel English) Someone who looks at the situation
objectively always picks on this point and says, "Is this
the flaw in the system?" Sport plays a very important part
in the training programme for Service personnel. Not only does
it enable a chap to keep fit, or a lady to keep fit, but it also
develops team spirit and the aggressive spirit, which is so important
to the job that they are required to do. It has to be organised
sport. The commanding officer has to agree that this is part of
their fitness programme and it is not just kicking a ball about
outside the barracks. It should be recognised as that.
Mr Howarth: That is helpful. I shall pass that
on to the Minister for Sport in my constituency. I declare an
12. That is not true, is it? I am dealing with
a constituent who had an injury just mucking around on the base
taking part in casual sport.
(Colonel English) The commanding officer has to agree
that the sport is organised and that it is part of the fitness
13. It is the interpretation of the rules. If
it had happened while he was on holiday he would not have been
covered, but because he was on the base when it happened, he is
(Colonel English) Yes, absolutely, if it was part
of his training.
14. No, it was not part of his training.
(Colonel English) Then he should not qualify. These
cases are not dealt with simply. I promise you that war pensions
are not given away. A case like that would go up to the agency,
and would probably go to appeal and it would be looked at with
great scrutiny. I believe that the number who receive a war pension
for sport is a veneer. That can act as a red herring to a real
15. Pursuing this a little further, I believe
that in the public's mind there is probably a lack of recognition
that taking part in a football match is comparable to active service.
I take the point about sporting activity being essential to maintain
(Colonel English) Yes.
16. As far as you are concerned, you would make
no distinction? You think that providing that it is broadly within
the requirements of Servicemen or Servicewomen to take part in
that activity to maintain fitness that they should be eligible
(Colonel English) The key phrase is "on duty".
It has to be part of that programme. I say again that war pensions
are not given away lightly. A case like that would probably go
to review with the War Pensions Agency and the MoD would give
its decision on whether or not it thought this was appropriate.
17. What about someone who is injured while
travelling to work?
(Colonel English) I am not trying to cop out of these.
I know that these are difficult areas. In cases like that, generally
speaking, if the individual is travelling as the crow flies from
where he lives to where he works, it is the case that War Pensions
Agency will consider, and they will make a decision on, whether
they consider that to be off-duty or not. I believe that the Army
rules state that home-to-duty travel is not covered, but such
cases are forwarded to the War Pensions Agency for decision. Very
often they rule in favour of the applicant.
18. So there is an element of discretion?
(Colonel English) There appears to be.
19. How would that compare with comparable civilian
schemes? Suppose someone employed by Marks & Spencers was
travelling to work as a shop assistant and was injured. Would
he or she be eligible for compensation?
(Colonel English) It would depend on how it happens,
and what the provisions are in that particular instance. It is
difficult to consider a hypothetical war pensions case, because
war pensions are not given willy nilly. All the circumstances
are investigated. How did the chap get injured? Was he in a staff
car going from home to duty? Was there a faulty vehicle? Was the
driver implicated? All those things will come into play. It would
be wrong of me to give an overall judgment on that. I believe
that there are circumstances in which home-to-duty travel should
be covered and it has been in the past.
1 British Limbless Ex- Serviceman's Association. Back