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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I had in mind the prisoners of war of the Japanese in south east Asia. Those who survived suffered very serious injuries even though they were not wounded by weapons.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I shall refer to those people later.

The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, referred to the recent appointment of a Minister responsible for veterans' affairs. That is linked with the Government's new Veterans' Forum and their taskforce. It is tempting to be cynical when the Government talk about forums and taskforces because they have set up so many of them, but in this instance the move is welcome. It is a clear recognition of a need that should have been dealt with before. From these Benches we welcome that very much. It is too soon to judge the outcome of the initiatives because they began only last year, but we shall look at the effects of the new appointments and bodies. We sincerely hope that, by working together with veterans' organisations and others, they will be able to do the work that has been identified.

When I was talking to others in preparation for the debate, somebody said to me that it is all right being an injured and disabled war veteran as long as you are prepared to be patient. If you wait, sooner or later somebody will come along and look after you. I questioned him further about the NHS priority that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned. He said that the situation was often all right within the NHS, but a lot of what such veterans need if they are living at home in the community does not come from the NHS but is on the borderline between NHS, social services, housing and other agencies. There is not the same recognition among those non-NHS agencies of the important status that people who have offered the ultimate sacrifice and come back injured or disabled need.

It has been suggested to me that a lot of elderly disabled people have problems with equipment and adaptations, particularly mobility equipment such as electric wheelchairs, which can be extremely sophisticated these days, as well as the more run-of-the-mill social services adaptations such as stair lifts which allow people to continue living in their own homes. In some cases those are a matter for the NHS but in many cases they are a matter for social services. The arrangements by which they are delivered vary considerably from place to place.

The organiser for the Royal British Legion in the north of England, who is a near neighbour of mine, said that there have been improvements in charities working together on providing mobility equipment.

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They are getting their act together and are now working together quite well. However, that is not necessarily the case with local authorities. In some cases they are able to work together with local authorities and perhaps share the cost of an electric wheelchair, which might be £2,000 to £3,000, but in other cases they cannot. Once such people have been assessed as needing a wheelchair, the local authority view is often that they should go on the list. The local authority will pay but the person concerned will have to wait, so it might be 18 months before they are able to get the wheelchair.

It might be helpful if the Government could provide advice to local authorities in the case of people who have served in the Armed Forces, for whom some funding may be available from charities such as the Royal British Legion and others. There should be co-operation between the charities and local authorities. As an indication of the importance of that work, I have been told that 40 per cent of the mainstream funding grants that the Royal British Legion provides in the north of England now goes on mobility equipment.

Many of the services that former servicemen and war veterans receive are not specific to them but are part of the general services within the community. Because of their particular difficulties, in many cases they find that they can no longer live in their own homes and they have to go into residential accommodation. I am aware that there is financial pressure on residential accommodation provided by charities and that difficulties are caused by the new, more stringent regulations that the Government are bringing in for such homes, for the best of motives. However, most of the war veterans whom I have talked to have been in local authority old people's homes. There is real concern that provision in that sector is being dramatically reduced. In Lancashire, where I live, the county council has just published a one-option consultation proposal that three-quarters of its homes for the elderly should be closed. The council wants to transfer the resources to domiciliary care. That affects 36 homes across Lancashire. That has caused a lot of alarm for people who can see no option but to live in a home at a time when the private sector is also being put under great pressure.

My final concern relates to those who were prisoners of war in Japanese camps in the Far East. The compensation payments that have been made to those former prisoners have been very welcome, but it is a matter of great regret that the way in which the scheme was announced gave the impression that those payments would be made to all the former prisoners who had served in the British forces, including those among the 5 million Commonwealth citizens—or citizens of the Empire, as they were then—referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.

The subsequent news that that understanding was inaccurate—although it had been very widely publicised in the press in places such as India and Pakistan and in newspapers such as the Daily Jang in this country—caused enormous disappointment and gave a very poor impression of what this country is about. People who were mainly officers, mainly white

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and largely still British citizens quite rightly received compensation. Those who held other ranks and were mainly Indian citizens—although they may now be Pakistani or Bangladeshi citizens—did not receive compensation although they had served in the Indian Army.

There was a widespread belief that they would get compensation; many people living in towns and villages on the Indian subcontinent believed that they would be receiving it. When the point was brought home to them that they would not be receiving compensation, many servicemen and widows felt great disappointment and anger, partly because they thought that they would be receiving it. It has not done this country's reputation much good at all, certainly not among those with whom I have been in contact, at second hand through a friend of mine, in villages in the Punjab in Pakistan.

The compensation payments would have been quite outstanding and transformed those people's lives. They were given the vision that they would be receiving compensation. Hundreds of thousands of forms were filled in and sent to this country, but they were all sent back with the words, "Sorry, no". It is not a very happy episode at all.

8.51 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, as a past serving member of the Lifeguards I am only too aware of the importance of the debate that has been initiated by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy.

Participation in conflict creates unique circumstances once that conflict ceases, particularly if the participant was injured during service. Historical records suggest that pensions in one form or another have almost always been paid to the casualties of war. During King Alfred's reign, pensions or the equivalent in grants of land were an established form of reward for disablement. Queen Elizabeth I declared that:

    "such as have adventured their lives and lost their limbs, or disabled their bodies in defence of Her Majesty and the State, should be relieved and rewarded that they may reap the fruit of their good deserving".

The current Government have done rather a lot to raise awareness of "veterans' affairs" and to improve the situation of ex-servicemen. During the last Parliament, the Veterans' Advice Unit was established. It is a confidential helpline to advise ex-servicemen and their families on where and how to obtain expert advice on a number of issues. The facility went online in May 2000.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I welcomed the appointment of Dr Moonie in March 2000 as Minister with responsibility for veterans affairs. Since his appointment, the Veterans Forum has been created along with the Veterans Task Force. Those bodies are intended to identify the issues that concern ex-servicemen and to ensure that the policies of individual government departments and of devolved

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administrations are co-ordinated. They also look at co-operation between government and veterans' organisations and at education.

Recently, pensions have been the best publicised aspect of ex-servicemen's situation, due largely to the tax error. Last month, Dr Moonie announced that,

    "a number of Army pensioners have had their attributable invaliding pension mistakenly taxed".—[Official Report, Commons, 23/1/02; col. 891.]

The MoD examined the files of more than 25,000 ex-servicemen and found that 1,003 had been underpaid. The 1952 income and corporation taxes legislation made pensions tax free if they were granted on account of medical unfitness attributable to service in the Armed Forces. Civil servants managing Army pensions failed to take that into account. The Daily Telegraph estimated that the oversight could cost about £50 million, although the MoD disputes that.

So the current Government have some achievements, but what about the Armed Forces Pension Scheme, which is currently under review? That MoD review has been running for three years. When will it be completed? BLESMA—the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association—while emphasising its appreciation of the war pension, has expressed concern about maintenance of that pension against other pensions and allowances. The association would,

    "value a regular articulated commitment to that principle from the Government".

For example, the unemployability supplement paid to those whose war disability prevents them from working has thus far been seen as equating to the retirement pension. The unemployability supplement used to increase at the same rate as the retirement pension but it no longer does. When will the Government consider rethinking that issue?

Last November, the president of the Forces Pension Society raised a similar point during a parliamentary lunch meeting. He emphasised the cost-neutral straitjacket that was imposed on the review from the start. Is it correct to impose a cost-neutral straitjacket on those who unselfishly risked their lives and limbs for their country? The constraint means that existing resources are merely redistributed and war pensions remain well behind standard practice elsewhere.

The Forces Pension Society criticises current policy in a number of ways, ranging from the duration of the reviewing process—compared with that undertaken for the parliamentary pension scheme—to the well-documented anomalies and inequities that occur and will continue to occur. For example, a major who retired in 1977 receives £4,269 less per annum than an exactly comparable major who retired two years earlier, in 1975. The widow of an ex-serviceman also can be subject to anomalies within the system—anomalies based on the date of her marriage. Will the Government ensure that ex-servicemen are provided for at a level comparable with other professions or indeed comparable to their parliamentary masters?

Another issue is whether war pensions should be disregarded when councils are working out entitlements to help with rent and council tax. At

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present local authorities have discretionary powers on whether to disregard war disablement and war widows' pensions. So we have a situation in which disregard depends on where a war pensioner lives. In other words, we have post-code pensions. Is it true that the Government have no plans to change that?

Another important matter relating to ex-servicemen is how easily they can gain access to healthcare. As has been said, in 1953 hospitals run by the Ministry of Pensions for the treatment of war pensioners were transferred to the NHS. The Government undertook to ensure that war pensioners would receive priority treatment in NHS hospitals for the conditions for which they received a war pension or gratuity. In 1997 the definition of the term "war pensioner" was extended to include those injured during the inter-war years. However, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, have said, BLESMA has expressed concern that priority treatment in the NHS is often forgotten at the point of delivery. BLESMA states that,

    "the NHS has a duty to remind its staff on a regular basis. BLESMA often has to remind Trusts and staff that the priority exists".

Ex-servicemen who have lost a limb are also entitled to a duplicate limb. BLESMA is concerned that this is becoming an increasingly mythical provision in the NHS. Funds earmarked by the NHS for the limb service are not ring-fenced and can become lost at the local trust level. BLESMA has heard from one limb centre that it now feels forced to deny war pensioners this additional service. Will the Government issue a circular to remind the NHS that the priority exists so as to ensure that war pensioners will receive priority treatment in NHS hospitals for the conditions for which they received a war pension or gratuity?

The Royal British Legion is the leading charitable organisation dedicated to ex-servicemen and their dependants. Some 15 million people are eligible to approach the legion. Its activities touch the lives of many more people than that. The legion offered free representation at some 6,000 war pension appeal cases during 2000. It provides breaks in homes for people who have been ill or bereaved and homes specialising in nursing and residential care. It is expected that the demand for long-term care will increase over the next few years. Figures suggest that 40 per cent of those eligible for help will require some form of care at the age of 70, and 70 per cent at the age of 80. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned nursing in that connection.

The RBL is the best known organisation but there are countless others in the voluntary sector, all of which do a tremendous amount of work in protecting the interests, welfare and memory of ex-service people and their dependants. It is pleasing to see that the Government prioritise co-operation between government and the voluntary sector.

9.2 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government. I have found it a fascinating debate to

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listen to. If one is allowed to discriminate among your Lordships, I think they will all understand when I say that I was particularly fascinated to hear the contributions of the three speakers who had suffered during the Second World War. I found what they had to say absolutely fascinating. I pay tribute in particular, of course, to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for initiating the debate. I recognise his incredibly distinguished service.

I shall try to reply to most of the points that were made. Some of the comments I shall make will relate more generally to ex-servicemen and women rather than specifically to those who served in the Second World War. Some of the comments I shall make will relate to the situation post-World War Two when, of course, changes were made.

At the end of December 2001 there were 274,000 war pensions in payment comprising 223,000 war disablement pensions and around 51,000 war widows' pensions. Of course, a large proportion of those are in respect of service in World War Two, which the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, specifically addresses. In looking at the figures when researching the issue one realises that there are, incredibly, still people in receipt of pensions who served in World War One. It is sobering to think of people's contribution to that war.

It is only right for me to pay tribute—as one would expect anyone of my generation to do—to those who risked and gave their lives in the Second World War to ensure that people of my generation could live in freedom. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that he was a Second World War baby, as was I. I took the precaution of not arriving until after we had won the Battle of Britain and the world was a little safer. Our generation owes an enormous debt to the preceding one.

As a number of speakers, including my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, have mentioned, we are also indebted to all those volunteers who support the ex-servicemen's associations in so many different ways. My noble friend Lord Hardy mentioned his former constituency and I hope that it is not invidious of me to think of mine. I think of a good friend of mine, Dennis Edwards, the chairman of the Telford branch of SSAFA in Shropshire and the voluntary work that these people do in numerous ways, for example, helping people with their pensions, helping widows and assisting with bereavement. They assist in a whole range of ways. All that is done voluntarily and they would not dream of asking for any reward. As we all know, that is happening up and down the country.

A wide range of information is available in respect of the various schemes that are available to people who have been in the services and what they provide. There is a statutory provision for a report on war pensions to be presented to Parliament each year. That report, the war pensioners' report, details the current number of war pensions' recipients and also gives information on the various issues affecting war pensioners considered by the statutory central advisory committee on war

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pensions. That committee meets twice a year with the Minister responsible for veterans' affairs. Committee members traditionally represent major ex-service organisations.

A further statutory annual report is presented to Parliament by the chief executive of the War Pensions Agency. The War Pensions Agency annual report and accounts detail how the war pensions scheme is administered and include details of performance targets and achievements. Those documents fully describe the rules of entitlement for pensions benefits under the schemes and record the levels at which pensions are set. It is, of course, vitally important that we disseminate the information and that people know exactly what their entitlements are.

I wish to mention briefly the Armed Forces Pension Scheme which, as the House will know, was introduced after the Second World War but is part of the overall picture. The normal full retirement age for Armed Forces personnel is 55, by which time most individuals have earned a full career pension. However, immediate pensions are payable on retirement at younger ages. Pensions are increased annually in line with the rate of inflation using the RPI so that they maintain their purchasing power.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, asked a specific question as to when the review of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme would be complete. The review's emerging findings were published for a period of public consultation last year which ended on 3lst July. The responses to the consultation are now being considered. The Government will publish a report on the outcome of the consultation in due course.

I am not going to give the House endless detail about the levels of war pensions. I simply point out that they are available to people who served after the Second World War as well as to those who were injured or bereaved as a result of service during the Second World War. This Government have fully protected the purchasing power of war pensions by uprating them again in April this year in line with the retail prices index. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who specifically raised the issue that the recent problem over tax has not affected the war pensions to which I refer, which are tax free. It is important to be absolutely clear about that point.

Over the years the provisions of the War Pensions Scheme have been improved and extended to include not only preferential pensions in respect of disablement and death, but a dedicated welfare service and a wide range of supplementary allowances, many of which are paid at higher rates compared to social security benefits.

There is another point about the special service that is provided to all war pensioners. I understand from reports to us that it is greatly valued. I refer to the War Pensioners Welfare Service. It exists to help war pensioners, war widows, their dependants and carers and to provide personal confidential advice and support. The welfare service works very closely with the ex-service charities and it is held in high regard by the ex-service community.

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I remind the House of the service it provides. Whatever the needs of a pensioner or widow, the War Pensioners Welfare Service aims to provide a confidential service of the highest standard. All the welfare staff undergo professional training and the type of help they can assist in delivering is infinitely varied. The following are a few examples touching on some of the issues which have been raised during this debate: first, making sure that a person receives their full entitlement to a war pension; secondly, checking entitlement to any other state benefits; thirdly, obtaining financial assistance from ex-service charities; fourthly, helping with a move to residential care, which refers to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves; fifthly, assisting with disability problems, which is extremely important; and, sixthly, arranging a number of other benefits which are of particular advantage to war pensioners.

A number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, but more specifically the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, raised the issue of priority treatment for war pensioners in the National Health Service. I can assure the House that the Government remain committed to the longstanding pledge that war pensioners should be given priority in National Health Service hospitals for examination or treatment relating to their pensioned disablement, subject always, of course, to the needs of emergencies or other cases which demand clinical priority. There has been absolutely no change in the position on that. The War Pensions Agency liaises with colleagues in the health service to ensure that periodic reminders about the priority treatment arrangements are issued to hospitals, GPs and other key individuals in the referral process. War pensioners themselves are also informed of their right to priority treatment in leaflets issued by the War Pensions Agency with award notifications in pensions books. They are also informed of the importance of telling their GP about the disability for which a war pension or a gratuity has been awarded. That is an extremely important issue. I hope that I have clarified it.

I now move to the Veterans' Initiative, which I am so pleased was welcomed by so many speakers. It is one of the themes of this Parliament to try to ensure that—I do not like phrases such as "a joined-up approach" but the House knows what I am talking about—different government departments relate to one another in a common cause, particularly when it is as important as veterans' issues.

There was a welcome for this from a number of speakers, including the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves and others. It was because of the Government's determination to provide a co-ordinated government focus for veterans' concerns that on 14th March last year my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that Dr Lewis Moonie, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, would also become responsible for ensuring that veterans' issues are properly understood, appropriately prioritised and effectively addressed right across government.

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The appointment of a Minister for veterans' affairs demonstrates clear recognition by the Government of the special status of the ex-service community and the unique contribution that it has made to the nation. I should like to put on the record the three priorities identified for the initiative. They were: first, to pull together the Government's response to issues that cut across government departments, such as the assistance that is provided to address homelessness or ill-health; secondly, to ensure that the lessons learnt are absorbed into future Ministry of Defence planning; and, thirdly, to co-ordinate communication by publicising and demonstrating the full range of assistance that is offered to veterans by central and local government and to ensure that veterans' organisations have the opportunity to represent their concerns to government at ministerial level.

Several noble Lords pointed out that my honourable friend Lewis Moonie has chaired two new groups, the Veterans Task Force and the Veterans Forum. The Veterans Forum is precisely the kind of body in which many of the issues that were discussed by noble Lords can be raised. We were given, I believe, 18 months on probation by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim. I am sure that my honourable friend in the other place will read this debate and take notice of that. However, I am very pleased with the start that has been made. A number of issues have already been discussed by the Veterans Forum. One concern is that the generation that is not represented here—the younger generation—should be made aware of all that has happened in the past.

I am running out of time and I shall finish very soon but I want to relate a tremendously heartening experience from my former constituency. Every year around Remembrance Day there is a ceremony of light, at which young people play in a band and a candle is lit for 100 people from the Wrekin area who gave their lives. The fact that it takes 12 years to get

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through the full list of people who gave their lives in two world wars gives some indication of the sacrifices that were made.

In conclusion, the Government are open with Parliament and ex-service organisations on what to do for those who are disabled or bereaved as a result of service to this country. There is a comprehensive package of help and support which includes financial recognition by way of the various service pensions and professional help and advice in the form of the War Pensioners' Welfare Service and the Veterans' Initiative, to which I have already referred.

The Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, specifically related to World War II. I know that the House will understand that whatever the level of benefits that our servicemen and women receive, it could never be enough to repay the sacrifice of those who risked and gave their lives saving our country's freedom and, in so doing, defending the whole of the free world.

Our debt is immeasurable but I hope that the report that this welcome debate has enabled me to present to the House gives some assurance about the practical measures and assistance that the Ministry of Defence is giving to those who have themselves given so much.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, before the Minister concludes, I shall try—with my memory being what it is—to be helpful. We very often forget the Merchant Navy. There is currently a problem about who is responsible for it. There is no need for the Minister to answer that now. Merchant seamen wear veterans' medals, they fought from their merchant ships and many thousands of them died in the sinking of those ships. Perhaps the Minister would care to think about that matter. I know that we accept anyone with a Burma Star, for instance, whether he was in the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I assure the noble Viscount that I shall write to him on that detail.

        House adjourned at nineteen minutes past nine o'clock.

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