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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we, on these Benches support the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, has made an excellent case for its acceptance. I am not sure that the MoD appreciates the depth of feeling felt by members of the ex-service community regarding this issue. As the noble Lord said, service in the Armed Forces cannot be compared with other occupations. It is unique, involving unlimited liability to the demands of the Crown in protecting this country's interests. The retention of "reasonable doubt" recognises that uniqueness.
Those serving in the Armed Forces are exposed to special risks to which others in the community, including civilian public sector workers, are not. Medical knowledge is far from perfect. The aetiology of many remedial conditions is unknown. The interaction of exposure to hazards and conditions faced by service personnel cannot always be proved by them, in an environment of active service, on a balance of probabilities. Do we expect this standard of proof of them?
This is not a question about a modern standard of proof, advancements in medical knowledge, improved record keeping or what is acceptable in a civil court. It is a question of whether noble Lords consider, as a change of fundamental policy, that the burden of proof should now swing in favour of the Secretary of State, to the detriment of the serviceman or woman.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, these Benches also support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, especially the moving way that he presented his case. The issue, which was mentioned by many noble Lords at Second Reading, is that the proposal is seen as being cost-neutraltherefore there will be winners and losers. The £200 million that will be saved under the new burden
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of proof will go into some of the improvements in the schemeand we support the scheme as it is set out because some aspects of it are valuable.
The question before us is whether the safeguards are sufficient considering the real problems faced by members of the Armed Forces, who put themselves in harm's way. That is a very different situation from many others who serve us in different areas of government. We have real concerns that the Government have perhaps gone too far on this issue, which is one that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Morris, will consider pressing this afternoon and give the other place a chance to look again at the amendment.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to which he spoke so admirably. It must be realised that the cost-neutral arrangement was not just Treasury-inspired, but also reflected a view taken within the Ministry of Defence itself. This is a rare opportunity to get the arrangements for Armed Forces pensions and compensation dealt with. They should be dealt with against the concept of best practice and not just cost neutrality. I do not support the concept of changing the burden of proof, as has been proposed, because it is right that the best practice for the Armed Forces, bearing in mind their special nature and the way in which they have been treated in the past, should be for the present arrangements to continue.
Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as a war pensioner and I had some involvement in these matters in the 1970s when I was a Minister for war pensions. There is a big difference between the Second World War and nowand the threats which the men and women of our Armed Forces have to face. During the Second World War we were dealing, for the most part, with disciplined enemies who wore uniform and who, for the most part, observed the conventions of war. As we all know, we are now dealing with a much more dangerous and ruthless enemy who pops up all over the place and has no concern whatever for decent human standards. That is the big difference and I should thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and my noble friend Lord Astor, who have made clear that this difference means that the men and women in our Armed Forces are now exposed to much greater dangers than they were in the Second World War. This is therefore not the time to make it more difficult for them or their families to claim compensation.
Why do men and women join the Armed Forces even today? There are a variety of reasons, but two are always dominant. The first is pride in belonging to the best Armed Forces in the world and the second is the desire to ensure that the honour and integrity of Britain is upheld wherever their services are needed. Alas, there will be casualties, as we all know. It is a sad fact, but it is true. At least we can give to those who are casualties and to their families the knowledge that they will receive fair compensation, effective benefits and, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, states in his amendment,
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The Minister is a kind-hearted man and I am pleased to see him in his place. I hope that on this occasion his brief does not contain the word "Resist". He has heard from all parts of the House a powerful plea against making compensation more difficult to claim. I hope that the Minister will not disappoint us today.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, the unacceptable proposals from the Government will constitute a serious blow to our Armed Service personnel and their families and I am hard-put to understand why the Government insist on them. It may well be that such proposals are part of a disturbing pattern.
Wherever and whenever British servicemen are stationedthe Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries across the globe and during the First and Second World WarsMinisters of successive governments always say that they are special people doing a special job and they pay tribute to their tenacity, skill and courage. However, when it comes to discussing payments for injuries and deaths incurred in those special circumstances, it is a different storythe service personnel are not quite so special.
In the early 1980s, I began campaigning in the House of Commons for nuclear test veterans. I received negative answer after negative answer from governments. Year after year they maintained their refusals. They also maintained the bitterness and sadness of nuclear test veterans who feel that they are entitled to payment. However, governments did not see them as special people requiring compensation. I have no doubt that Gulf War veterans feel exactly the same, despite the years of efforts to give them a proper, reasonable income. If these government proposals are agreed to, we will have a fresh batch of disturbed, frustrated, angry, saddened servicemen. Will governments never learn?
The Government's argument that the proposals will lead to a fairer system is unsustainable, especially in the light of the British Legion's case, as deployed admirably by my noble friend Lord Morris. Colonel English and his colleagues have put forward clear arguments in favour of rejecting the proposals and voting for my noble friend's amendment. If we come to criticise the British Legion, we are being misled. The British Legion is a very reputable, solid, responsible organisation not given to misleading forecasts. I hope that the Government will accept its case, as do many of us in this House.
The special circumstances of the Armed Forces do not change simply because the Government have taken a fancy to what they call "modern practice". The special circumstances are, by definition, special circumstances and they impose an obligation on government to pay special awards. That is the simple, basic case and any chance to shuffle these people in with the clerks, doctors and nurses is bound to fail and is unconvincing.
The Ministry of Defence is primarily concerned with tacticstactics over a wide range. I suggest that the best tactic for the MoD today is gracefully to accept
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this amendment, thereby avoiding a great deal of trouble for itself and for the men and women involved. The bonus in that will be that justice will be seen to be done and the people who will feel the results of the decision will be the servicemen and servicewomen.
Viscount Slim: My Lords, in Committee, the Minister was kind enough to brief me in great detail on the problems surrounding this amendment which was bound to be put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester. I am afraid I was not convinced by his kind and lengthy peroration and I support the noble Lord, Lord Morris, in his amendment.
Since then, I have spoken to a large number of ex-servicemen from the war and since. The first thing they say is, "Of course, they don't trust us, do they? They are putting these new rules in place because they think we're trying to swing the lead and get away with it".
Perhaps like me, noble Lords have spoken to the excellent people in Blackpool who handle the payments. They say that one or two people do swing the lead and get through. My personal view is that it is better to pay them something and not persecute those who are completely honest.
This is an unhappy step. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who has studied it in great detail and has experience of it, was right in saying that of course the £200 million will be put to good use elsewhere. I have a nasty feeling that the Ministry of Defence will breathe a sigh of relief and say, "That's £200 million off the amount of money we have been told to cut this year".
I am therefore not convinced and I ask the Minister and the Government to think again. The amendments that have been tabled are not political; they are cross-party. They are trying to do good and remember those who have been forgotten over the years in pensions and payment. I believe that they make a good Bill. No one is complaining about what will happen to the soldiers, sailors and airmen of today. They will get a good deal. I am with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on this issue and I urge the Government to think again.
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