25 Nov 1997 : Column 859

House of Lords

Tuesday, 25th November 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford

David James, Lord Bishop of Bradford--Was (in the usual manner) introduced between the Lord Bishop of Norwich and the Lord Bishop of Ely.

The Earl of Verulam--Took the Oath.

War Veterans

2.45 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they will take in support of war veterans who in later life develop disabilities as a result of injuries suffered whilst on active service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, under the generous provisions of the War Pensions Scheme, awards may be made at any time after the termination of service in respect of any disablement due to service in the Armed Forces. Where a claim is made more than seven years after the termination of service, the claimant is given the benefit of any reasonable doubt as to whether the disablement is due to service.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her reply, which is partially welcome. It is proving extremely costly to the Royal British Legion in terms of consultation and representation fees when these cases have to come to court. Many ex-servicemen would not be receiving pensions if it were not for the Royal British Legion. I am sure that all Members of the House applaud the endeavours of the Royal British Legion.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Molloy: My Lords, if my noble friend were able to make a financial contribution, we should be most grateful.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am not sure if I am being asked to make a personal contribution or a government one. I am not sure that I can afford a personal contribution; and I am not sure whether I should be allowed to offer a government one.

I do not think anyone would dissent from the comments of my noble friend. Not only are war pensioners greatly indebted, but the country as a whole is greatly indebted, to the work of the Royal British

25 Nov 1997 : Column 860

Legion and the Royal British Legion (Scotland) on behalf of people who, through illness or injury, are often unable to be their own best advocates.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it not the case that the Royal British Legion is having to fight for veterans of various wars, mainly because medical and service records are missing? Can the Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government have learnt the lessons of the Gulf War and previous wars with regard to medical records and whether they will ensure that in future all medical records relating to servicemen are retained until their death?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Countess has correctly raised the serious question of records with defence Ministers because it is a matter for them. The lack of adequate records and therefore of adequate evidence has often hampered the MoD in dealing not only with Gulf veterans but with other cases as well. That is why on 14th July my ministerial colleagues, led by Dr. John Reid in another place, announced a package of measures relating to Gulf veterans, among which the quality of record-keeping was a matter of highest priority.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, was there not at some time a six-year rule relating to the destruction of records? If so, has that been abrogated?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am not aware of that rule. If I can provide any information on that matter to the noble Lord, I shall certainly write to him.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in view of the demise of the service hospitals, what action has been taken by Her Majesty's Government to maintain the priority of treatment for war pensioners which was promised by statute and which has been maintained by successive governments since World War I?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that, all things being equal, war service pensioners have priority of treatment within NHS hospitals as a result of the negotiations in 1948. That agreement is respected and observed and NHS hospitals were reminded by circular recently that they are expected to respect it.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that when a serviceman or servicewoman leaves the service he or she must have a medical test? Those tests are often of a very perfunctory nature. Will she make representations to her opposite number in the Ministry of Defence to review the system so that full medical inspections are carried out when the serviceman or servicewoman leaves the service?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I shall discuss this issue with my colleagues in the MoD. If the situation is as presented by the noble Lord, we shall try to see that the matter is properly reviewed.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her comments and am grateful to her for her

25 Nov 1997 : Column 861

consideration. Will she consider having discussions with the Royal British Legion? That is the organisation which best knows the ins and outs of the difficult cases that it is trying to help. My noble friend would be made extremely welcome because we feel that she sympathises with us.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, it will come as no surprise to my noble friend Lord Molloy that I see the Royal British Legion, the Royal British Legion (Scotland) and the other ex-service organisations on a regular and frequent basis. I suspect that I have had at least two or three meetings since the summer with RBL, both of a formal and informal nature. My predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, would be the first to say that the RBL is not backward in coming forward when there are issues affecting the service community that it feels should be drawn to a Minister's attention.

Student Fees in Scotland

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What legal advice they received before making their decision on tuition fees for non-Scottish United Kingdom students taking honours degrees at Scottish universities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, it is not the practice to reveal internal legal advice on any matter.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, with due respect, I did not ask the noble Lord where the legal advice came from; I asked whether the Government had had any legal advice. It is a Question that I asked on 4th November. I received no reply then and I have had no letter since. Is it possible for the Minister to tell us now whether the arrangements we are discussing are legal under the Maastricht Treaty, the equal opportunities Act, the Race Relations Act and the European Convention on Human Rights?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I recognise the interest that the noble Baroness takes in this matter, which she has raised before. I regret that I am forced back to my original Answer, that it is not the practice to reveal the internal advice that the Government receive. The Question the noble Baroness asks specifically says,

    "What legal advice they received".

I must stick by the terms of my original Answer.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether it would be right and proper for other organisations, such as the National Union of Students, to take this matter to the European courts? In addition to seeking legal advice, has the Minister taken the

25 Nov 1997 : Column 862

opportunity to discuss with his colleague in the other place the expression of view, which was universal in this House, condemning this specific practice?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I do not believe that the view was universal. When I participated in that debate in your Lordships' House, contributions came from both sides of the question. On my noble friend's first point, it is clearly open, and rightly open, to any organisation or individual to take action in any court that is available to them to challenge the decision of government.

Lord Rawlinson of Ewell: My Lords, am I correct in believing that it is acceptable for the Minister to say whether or not he sought advice from the law officers of the Crown in Scotland on this matter? Yes or no?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am back to the conventional position that was accepted by previous governments. The Government do not reveal either the content of advice or whether or not they have sought it.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister recall, in the days of the previous government, when challenges were made to some of the immigration legislation on the basis that it contravened the European Convention on Human Rights, the reply from Ministers was that they were satisfied that an adequate answer would be brought to the court if litigation occurred? Can the Minister at least say that in relation to this question?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I can say that if there is a challenge in the court, the Government will be in a position to make their case to the court.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page