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7.10 p.m.

Lord Sempill: My Lords, I must apologise for deviating from the main thrust of the Motion this evening. But the subject that I wish to raise is totally appropriate. It was raised again in this weekend's Sunday Times under the headline:

As we seek to extend awareness and debate the issue of compensation to ex-servicemen and women and their dependants in respect of injuries or impairments attributable to service in the Armed Forces, I wish to highlight an outstanding issue of compensation to the National Ex-Prisoner of War Association and the Justice for Prisoners of War group.

I do not believe that this debate can be concluded without the realisation that there is an outstanding debt to many thousands of servicemen and their dependants for their contribution and subsequent incarceration in the defence of this realm and the liberty of many others over 50 years ago. Many of them, my father included, have since died. The issue of their derisorily low pensions and lack of compensation has been discussed before. It was reviewed and rejected in the early 1980s. However, owing to the persistent and, I may add, dogged actions of certain individuals determined to see justice done, the issue is being reviewed again and, I am reliably informed, is soon to be resolved. Therefore, I wish to take this opportunity to reinforce their claim for compensation. I bring to your Lordships' attention a debate in the other place on this subject on 15th January this year. It was generally accepted that, however the situation arose, however complicated it may be and however many years may have passed since then, it is straightforward: people serving in the country's Armed Forces were not paid the money due to them. That is the current position and it must be resolved.

A matter of principle is at stake. When we ask men and women who serve in the forces of the Crown to undertake certain risks, an obligation is placed on our government, regardless of their political persuasion, not just to provide them with resources to complete their tasks and minimise their risks but to take care of them should they suffer as a result of those activities. In this case, the obligation, 50 years after the events took place, appears never to have been discharged.

What is the cost of that compensation? According to a City accountancy firm quoted in the very same article that I mentioned earlier, it could amount with interest to some £90 million, a sum which the former prisoners of war believe is unlikely to be paid, especially in view of the new Government's intention to hold down public spending. However, I believe that a reasonable sum could be found--dare I add, from the lottery or other sources?--to compensate if not the remaining few then some appropriate service charities.

Finally, I take this opportunity to quote from the speech of the then Minister of State for the Armed Forces in the debate that I mentioned earlier. He concluded the summation of the debate by saying:

    "I acknowledge the sense of what has been said by all who have spoken today, and the admirable way in which hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed the feeling that this is a debt

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    of honour that must be resolved, that the work must be finished and that there must be a satisfactory outcome".--[Official Report, Commons, 15/1/97; cols. 256-257.]
I therefore request the Minister please to update this House on the current situation regarding this issue and the likely date on which her Government will provide a satisfactory outcome.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for raising this issue. He is always a stalwart supporter of our Armed Forces and their pensions and I am honoured to speak in his debate. I should also like to support what my noble kinsman Lord Effingham said about total disregard. It is particularly pleasing to have someone in this House from the Royal British Legion who is so supportive of the war widows.

The War Widows' Association of Great Britain has for some time been seeking a way of publicising the recent changes in legislation, brought in by the former Conservative Government, which may affect war widows who will now qualify for a pension. Despite all the publicity which we and other ex-service organisations mounted at the time of the Victory Widows Campaign in 1995, we are still finding widows who are not aware that, as a result of the end of their second or subsequent marriage either through death or divorce, they are now eligible for reinstatement of the war widow's pension. This gives me a chance to say to the ladies out there to whom this could apply, or if there is someone who knows that such a person could be entitled, "Please apply to the War Pensions Agency."

Secondly, changes in legislation brought in by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish (who, I may say, is also very popular with the war widows) which came into effect on 7th April this year mean that widows of war pensioners who were in receipt of an 80 per cent. war pension and where unemployability supplement was also in payment now have an automatic right to a war widow's pension. Widows of such war pensioners in the future will be notified by the War Pensions Agency. But widows whose husbands have already died are not recorded by the agency. So, unless the information is widely publicised, many current widows will not be aware of their eligibility.

There is a limit to the publicity that the ex-service community can give. I am now trying to extend this knowledge to as many ladies out there as I possibly can. Like the lottery fingers, I am pointing in their direction: you, too, may be entitled to a war widow's pension! If you believe you are, write to the War Pensions Agency.

Finally, I believe also that there is a need for a government-sponsored scheme to advertise these changes. Otherwise, many widows may be unaware of the benefits that they can justly claim. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, may consider doing something about this.

7.18 p.m.

Lord Napier and Ettrick: My Lords, I intervene only briefly in this most important short debate this

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evening, as I wish to highlight one particular problem in the War Pensions Agency, where I believe there is room for improvement. It concerns the delays that can take place in the agency when it is reviewing cases.

I am sure we all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that every possible effort should be made to bring to the attention of all those men and women who are so entitled their rights to pensions and compensation. But I have to add that, even when that has been acknowledged, it is not necessarily the end of their problems.

I must declare an interest. I receive a war disability pension, and I must apologise to your Lordships at the outset if I talk rather too much about my own experiences. It is because of my personal dealings with the War Pensions Agency that I am aware of the problems.

Over 46 years ago, after a somewhat arduous six-day patrol on active service in the dense jungles of Northern Selangor in Malaya, I suddenly and literally collapsed in a heap, unable to move. I subsequently discovered that I had been poleaxed by infantile paralysis, or poliomyelitis as it is more commonly known today. Some eight years later I retired from the active list of the Regular Army, because I knew that I had a residual disability and that I could never again be given that military medical grade FE--fit for everywhere.

In 1961, after a bit of a tussle, I was awarded a modest, but nonetheless most welcome, war disability pension. In those days it was £85 a year; it is a bit more today. But some of your Lordships may not be aware of what happens thereafter. From time to time, usually at intervals of about four or five years, one receives a letter from the Pensions Agency saying that it has been decided to keep the assessment of one's disablement at whatever percentage it is for a further period of years. But they do add that if the individual thinks his or her condition has deteriorated--perhaps with advancing years--he or she should say so and the case will be looked at again. That is where the problems can arise. The delays can be horrendous.

One is told that a review may take two to three months, six months, a year or even longer. After six months, during which time eight or nine computer driven letters have been received, I am absolutely no wiser as to when I will be seen by an agency doctor or go before a medical board.

I have to say that, while I am sure they do not intend this, both the Ministry of Defence and the Pensions Agency can give the impression that their job is to put up a barrier and to give away as little as possible. That in itself can have a depressing and frustrating effect on the disabled applicant. Of course the Pensions Agency must carry out its checks and balances; but I question whether such delays are conducive to instilling in the disabled individual a feeling of confidence in the whole system and its organisation. Are those delays really acceptable? I can wait, but I know there are hundreds of others less fortunate than I who certainly should not.

No blame for that state of affairs should be laid on Her Majesty's Government, who, after all, have only just assumed office. But, believing as I do that we may

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now have a caring government, particularly in this field, I ask the Minister who is to reply whether she will be kind enough to have a look at this particular problem to see whether there is any way in which procedures can be speeded up and thus greatly assist many deserving cases that have been left out in the wilderness for too long. Some of them may be coming towards the end of their days.

In conclusion, perhaps I may say how much I agree with what my noble friend Lord Sempill said.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, on behalf of many surviving prisoners of war, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for resurrecting this debate--an issue upon which my late father spoke in 1981 and 1982. My father's first-hand experience--having been wounded at the Battle of Knightsbridge Box and imprisoned in Italy before escaping and fighting behind the lines for 15 months--led him to be a responsible and honourable supporter of claims such as those made by Group Captain Ingle, querying a shortfall in refunded income of prisoners of war.

Your Lordships may remember the great celebrations held in this country to mark the 50th anniversary of VE-Day and VJ-Day. The capital outlay and the cost of the hours lost at work--national holidays--ran into millions of pounds, but that was a justifiable recognition of what had been won for us--freedom, free speech and freedom of choice.

But who won that freedom? Many of your Lordships sitting in this noble Chamber deserve the gratitude of my generation and every generation since the last world war. "Time dulls the memory" so they say; not a bit of it! While the country celebrated victory in 1995, there were some, like Group Captain Ingle, who has already been mentioned, whose happiness was tainted by memories of despicable treatment in prisoner of war camps and the on-going dishonourable treatment of his like by governments and civil servants who are benefiting from the freedom for which he fought.

Protected personnel--prisoners of war--received money from the detaining powers as a matter of right under the 1929 Red Cross Convention, to which Great Britain was a signatory. As officers in Italian prisoner of war camps had to pay for part of their meals, the Italians paid that money out. But that did not happen throughout the world war zone and appellants such as Group Captain Ingle and Captain Bracken harbour regressive grievances against civil servants in the Ministry of Defence for sending reports to the Minister about applicants' cases for just treatment without even allowing applicants the opportunity of vetting a report's contents. The contents were taken from written evidence and were often highly inaccurate when related to prisoner of war conditions thousands of miles away.

Another grievance is the evident bad manners displayed in responding to claims made by ex-prisoners of war; even a letter of acknowledgement is better than nothing. Group Captain Ingle submitted a claim in 1995; the report landed on the Minister's desk the day that Parliament was prorogued.

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Bearing in mind the millions of pounds spent on the 50th anniversary celebrations in 1995, we ask the newly appointed Minister of State for Defence Procurement, Dr. John Reid, to recognise that outstanding debt of honour to the long-suffering ex-prisoners of war.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I too express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for bringing this debate before the House. I am not sure that I am awfully grateful; he does it so well and stirs the conscience so that one feels a little guilty that one has not done more.

I too receive a war pension, though not for very much. Mine is one of the deaf cases caused by flying too high in an unpressurised aircraft due to a craven desire to put as much space as possible between oneself and the hostile natives on the ground. I therefore receive a small pension which is very welcome. I hope that it will continue for a number of years and that I will draw it until I am 100 or thereabouts.

But that is one of the problems that faces the noble Baroness, in that in normal times and with the advancement of medicine, far from decreasing, I understand that the need for pensions to care for the old becomes greater as time goes on. The trouble is that not enough of us die off. Perhaps the noble Baroness can say what the projection is as to when the pensions for the First World War will begin to decline; I believe they are still rising.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, wanted to change the name. That would be an appalling mistake. If one is to change anything, one should call it the War Pensions and the Armed Services Disability Agency, but the greatest weapon in the hands of a Minister is the term "war pensions" in fighting his or her corner for money from the Treasury in order to do this very necessary job.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, as always, went straight to the point. He made the point which I have been making, about old age. The problems expand in old age. The problem of deafness becomes greater in old age. I am sorry to be speaking before the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, who has put forward the extraordinary argument, backed by research, that when a man becomes deafer as he gets older it is purely a question of old age and nothing to do with a war disability. I trust that the Minister will look at the matter in a different light.

The noble Earl, Lord Effingham, made a very good speech, in which he detailed the work that is going on in the British Legion. It also goes on in the Royal Air Forces Association and other organisations and in smaller units such as the Polish airmen's charity, to which I subscribe in a small way. They do a great deal of good work but their responsibilities are growing as people get older. The veterans do not need help when they are young but in old age they need more. We need to be aware of that point and to be pushing it at the Minister all the time. I hate the word "review" but I hope that the independent review will look at all the needs as well as at the usual purpose, which is to contain expenditure.

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The noble Earl, Lord Haig, made a good point when he said that the pensions have to keep up with the cost of living. I would ask him to go a little further and say that pensions ought to keep up with the standard of living. In the Council of Europe I have some German friends who are interested in the matter of pensions. German war pensions are of a much higher standard than ours. I understand that they are related to the standard of prosperity in Germany, which, funnily enough, despite the protestations of the Tory Party, appears still to be a great deal higher than the standard of prosperity in this country. That is an important point.

The noble Lords, Lord Sempill and Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, referred to prisoners of war. There is no question but that they have been shabbily treated. Some effort should be made at this late stage. The same point applies: they are now becoming older and they are feeling the effects of their imprisonment much more than they did immediately after the war.

The question of reviews, which the noble Lord, Lord Napier and Ettrick, brought up, is a perennial one. I am the Liberal Democrat member on the committee which listens to and advises the agency under the guidance now of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and previously the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. It has made tremendous efforts to speed up the procedure and has introduced modern business methods into it. That has obviously helped greatly. However, I do not think it can do as much as the ex-service agencies and the War Widows Association, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, referred: their efforts are essential in promoting knowledge among people who are ageing that help is available and should be available.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has a job on her hands. It is a very worthwhile job. I hope that she will fight her corner hard for the money which this deserving cause needs and that she will get it.

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