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Mr. Djanogly: I shall add to the previous point that I raised with the Secretary of State and I would be grateful for his answer. I understand that the current unlimited period for applications will be reduced to five years. The Royal British Legion has approached ex-servicemen to remind them of their right to claim, but why should people who have been injured in the service of their country be subjected to a time limit?
Mr. Hoon: I hope that I have dealt satisfactorily with the hon. Gentleman's previous point. It is important that we explain the changes to service personnel. I am willing to give him another opportunity to state why he believes that the existing test should continue, given that it is at variance with practice before 1943, widespread practice throughout occupational pension schemes and, crucially, the practice of the courts.
Mr. Djanogly: There is great suspicion that the reason behind the change is that it will cut out 60 per cent. of potential claims and therefore provide a cost-saving opportunity rather than a solution to the specific problem of ensuring that people who are injured during the course of duty get their just deserts.
Mr. Hoon: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the change is not financially driven. Moreover, there is an entirely independent system for determining such claims. If service personnel are dissatisfied with the situation and can prove negligence in an appropriate case, they have the opportunity to pursue their case through the civil courts. They would have to prove that case on a balance of probabilities, so there is absolute consistency in the approach that the Government are recommending to the House. I hope that he will appreciate that consistency when he examines the proposals in more detail in due course.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): The Secretary of State seems to accept that the system represents a tightening of the rules for compensation. It is thus likely, as he said, that more ex-servicemen and women would pursue their claims through the civil courts. Given that the civil courts usually tend to award larger sums than the Ministry of Defence has, and that that encourages the compensation culture that many of
Mr. Hoon: I could give the hon. Gentleman a long lecture on the problem of no-fault schemes, but I will not. He needs to recognise that there are two approaches to the problem of compensation: either, essentially, a no-fault scheme that recognises that the claimant should receive compensation as of right, by virtue of their status as a member of the armed forces, or a scheme that requires people to choose to go to court and prove faultnegligenceto win compensation.
Members of the armed forces have the best of both worlds. They may be able to satisfy the terms of the no-fault arrangements and derive the compensation available under that scheme, but if they so choose, they can go to court to win, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, higher compensation, should that be justified, on the basis of proving fault. That is an admirable arrangement, and I would not want to deprive members of the armed forces of that second opportunity. It seems to me that they should have the same right as any other citizen in our society to prove fault, if it exists, and win compensation.
Hugh Robertson: The Secretary of State is effectively outlining a double-track system, but I am saying that the Ministry of Defence owes a primary responsibility to those who are injured as a result of their service, so the MOD should be their first port of call. The Secretary of State should try to look after ex-servicemen and women primarily in that way, not by changing the rules in the way that he is suggesting, and should try to discourage them from going through the civil courts, which costs the MOD more and gives the public a bad perception of its uncaring attitude. He will know better than I that it takes a great deal of time and money for people to go through the civil courts.
Mr. Hoon: In my view, the arrangements are to the benefit of members of the armed forces because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, no-fault schemes inevitably pay lower compensation than fault-based schemes. It would be wrong to deny members of the armed forces that opportunity of earning higher compensation through proving fault. I hope that he will accept that I resisted any suggestion of doing that because I think that it would be to the disadvantage of service personnel. Perhaps the matter can be debated in more detail in Committee. He raised a question of fundamental principle; I believe that the present proposals give service personnel the best of both worlds, and I am comfortable with that.
Mr. Clapham: I welcome the change that my right hon. Friend is suggesting, because it would put servicemen on a par with every other worker in British society. They will be able to claim compensation on a dual track: they can claim first for loss of faculty, to which my right hon. Friend referred, and secondly they
The new scheme reflects modern medical understanding and current practice on disability. It is fair, transparent and simple to understand, and offers consistent and fair outcomes, with better focus on the more severely disabled. The scheme will be evidence-based, with a requirement on the Department to make available appropriate medical and other records that are relevant to a claim, with an independent appeal process. We are confident that no claim would fail where there was reasonable evidence that disablement was due to military service.
In contrast to the current arrangements, there will be in-service lump sum awards for pain and suffering because an injury may be significant without leading to invaliding from the armed forces. Benefits will be provided for dependants where deaths result from service and, as with the new pension scheme, those will be extended to include unmarried partners where there is a substantial relationship. There will be a normal time limit for claiming of five years, with discretion to consider claims delayed by ill health, and an exceptions list of late-onset conditions.
The modernisation of the appeal process is the second major element of the Bill. In line with the recommendations of the Leggatt review, the Department for Constitutional Affairs proposes to change the route of appeals from decisions of the pensions appeal tribunal to include a new level of appeal to a social security commissioner. Under the new compensation scheme, therefore, service personnel will have the opportunity to appeal first to the pensions appeal tribunal and then to a social security commissioner, with a further right of appeal to the Court of Appeal.
There is one final aspect of the Bill that I should mention to complete the picture. It may be that the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who raised a particular case earlier, will pursue this matter. The Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation was set up to provide relief to the widows and orphans of soldiers, sailors and marines who died in the Crimean war. It now assists the spouses, children and other dependants of deceased members of the armed forces. It needs to modernise its constitution and in particular to simplify and reduce the administrative burden.
Primary legislation is needed as the Patriotic Fund Reorganisation Act 1903, under which the corporation is constituted, extends throughout the United Kingdom, while the scheme-making powers of the Charity Commission extend only to England and Wales. We have therefore agreed that the Bill can provide for the legislative changes required. Further details are in the explanatory notes, for all those hon. Members who will be fascinated to study them.
In conclusion, the new schemes are designed to be fairer, to reflect modern practice and to meet the needs of the armed forces in the 21st century. They offer a high level of assurance for service personnel and their families. They were born out of a wide-ranging
At a time when pension schemes are under great pressure, we have maintained a defined benefits structure and the value of the retirement age benefits has been maintained or improved. In particular, responding to views both in the services and in the ex-service community, we have made major improvements to widows' and dependants' benefits. That is against the trend seen more widely in pension provision elsewhere. The unique role of the armed forces means that they deserve a high-quality pension scheme, and that is what we are providing, together with the knowledge that, if the worst happens, there will be generous financial support for their families. Service personnel can be assured that they are getting a very good package indeed. I am satisfied that such treatment is fully justified. I commend the Bill to the House.