Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Slim: My Lords, I hope it will be helpful if I mention that subsection (2A)(c) of Amendment No. 5
 
8 Sept 2004 : Column 599
 
refers to "rehabilitative treatment". In addition to the illnesses mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, there is also the issue of the disability of "stress" and the rehabilitation required for that. Without wishing to be rude, I believe that an investigation would show that there is not a great deal of experience of combat stress within the National Health Service, but there is one combat stress outfit outside of it. To be counselled by someone who has not been in combat is not very clever. I merely put that as a passing, helpful suggestion to the Minister.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I should say in general terms to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that we believe that the scheme has the breadth and flexibility he was seeking in some of the examples he gave about the future stresses and operations that our Armed Forces may find themselves engaged in.

Amendment No. 5 seeks to introduce into primary legislation for the new compensation scheme the power to make regulations equivalent to Article 26 of the Service Pensions Order, the law governing war pensions. The proposed text of Amendment No. 5 is closely based on that article. We recognise the need to continue the provision of care in this area. However, with much of the legislation regarding war pensions remaining largely as it was during the 1940s, Article 26 is a product of its time. It was introduced when there was no universal system of support from the welfare state, including the National Health Service. Article 26 is therefore an outdated provision. Its equivalent is not needed in a scheme for the 21st century, when we have the opportunities that the National Health Service provides.

Since 1948, Ministers in successive governments have maintained that the National Health Service should be the principal route for treatment of accepted disabilities. War pensioners receive priority in the NHS for treatment of any injury or illness that was caused by service. We are seeking to secure the same approach from the Department of Health for beneficiaries under the new Armed Forces compensation scheme.

I hope that that goes some way to answering the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in regard to what happens outside the facilities of the National Health Service. We want to secure the same approach with the Department of Health to ensure that war pensioners receive priority within the NHS for any injury or illness caused by service.

The cross-departmental veterans' initiative confirms our commitment to ex-service people. It is addressing improved delivery of services for veterans, working with other government departments and the service charities and is dedicated to providing excellent service to veterans.

Under the new scheme, there will be no statutory underpinning of charity arrangements. There is no reason why such arrangements should be provided for
 
8 Sept 2004 : Column 600
 
in primary legislation. It would limit our ability to amend them as our understanding of the best way of caring for the conditions concerned evolves.

We understand that there are issues in relation to ex-service organisations such as Combat Stress. I should explain that "combat stress" is the name of an organisation as well as being something that many in our Armed Forces may feel. We recognise entirely the value of the work of Combat Stress and the department is in discussion with that charity and others to develop the most appropriate options for the future. I am aware that I said in July that we were in discussions. Having made inquiries of our civil servants, I understand that those discussions continued during the summer and were very active and very positive. They are designed to recognise the modern consensus in regard to the best approach to care in these areas.

I can reassure your Lordships that we see a continued major role for Combat Stress in the future, but we need to establish a way ahead that makes the best use of its valuable capabilities. That is why we are in discussion with Combat Stress at ministerial and official levels about how to take the work forward.

I turn now to Amendment No. 6. Noble Lords will be aware that the new compensation scheme will normally make full and final awards. This reflects the position of current medical and scientific understanding, where the level of knowledge is such that the evolution of most conditions can be predicted with a high level of confidence. The initial award will therefore be designed to take account of the expected level of worsening associated with the claimed condition, and of the development of likely consequential conditions. This generous approach enables us to maximise the award from the outset and also allows the injured person to plan and move forward with his or her life.

There is a common view that injuries and illnesses are almost bound to get worse over time. Today, with the advances in modern medical management and the emphasis on rehabilitation, that is often not the case. However, there will still be conditions where significant potential deterioration can be expected. However, this will generally be predictable and definable. Our tariff-based awards will therefore be set at a level that will take account of normal levels of deterioration from the outset. Quite properly, the scheme will not take account of the effects of ageing, constitution or other post-service factors. I am sure that noble Lords would agree that this should not be the case.

However, as has been set out in the detailed framework documents, the new scheme will allow for exceptional review. By "exceptional" we mean a situation in which there has been a significant material change in people's condition above and beyond that which is already recognised in the original award.

We believe that it is reasonable to have a time limit for claims for deterioration, albeit a generous one that makes sensible allowance for any complications to
 
8 Sept 2004 : Column 601
 
emerge, but which also protects the scheme from the risk of paying compensation for developments which are unrelated to service. An open-ended scheme would encourage an unnecessary cycle of repeated reviews and open the scheme up to claims for conditions caused by general ageing or by events unrelated to service.

The details of the provision will be set out in the scheme rules under a statutory instrument. It would not be appropriate to include this type of detail in the Bill. To do so would make it difficult to update the schemes, requiring, as it would, amendments to primary legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, spoke of Gulf War syndrome. I understand that the High Court will not rule on the existence of a Gulf War syndrome. It was very clear about this when it stated:

I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord any more joy about that issue, but I hope that he feels that my response to his other points is enough to enable him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her full replies to the amendments. She has given me satisfaction with regard to what I wanted from them. I was particularly pleased to hear that talks are taking place with Combat Stress. I know that many noble Lords are very keen that the excellent work done by that organisation over so many years should continue. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Lord Craig of Radley moved Amendment No. 7:


"( ) The Secretary of State may by order provide for a widow (or widower)—
(a) in receipt of benefits based on existing armed forces pensions schemes, or
(b) whose spouse was in receipt of an armed forces pension,
to be eligible for benefits available in the new pensions scheme from the date of its commencement."

The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 7 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 9 and 14.

In earlier discussions on the Bill, Ministers relied on three arguments to say, "Nyet, nyet, nyet" and resist amendments to it. The first argument, which we heard again this afternoon, is that this is a paving Bill and it is therefore not suitable to include on the face of the Bill details about new schemes. These fall to be dealt with by secondary legislation. It has also been argued that to amend the Bill in this way would be too expensive as all public sector workers' widows would have to be included and, anyway, the scheme has to be cost-neutral, so there is no scope for increases without deductions elsewhere.
 
8 Sept 2004 : Column 602
 

My amendment is drawn up in such a way as to overcome the first argument, and I also wish to challenge the other two. I wrote about them to the Minister on 20 July, but so far I have not seen a response. The Royal British Legion is not alone in failing to get responses from the MoD over the summer period.

My amendment provides for secondary legislation to tackle the dreadful legacy issues, which have been well aired on previous occasions. The Minister is very familiar with them. The House will have a chance to hear more about them in the debate on other noble Lords' specific amendments.

The opportunity for primary legislation on Armed Forces pensions is rare. So this opportunity to make provision for changes that might be accepted in tackling the legacy issues should not be missed. It seemed to me sensible to include an amendment to enable the Secretary of State at a future time to correct by order aspects of the legacy issues that are most deplorably unfair. I hope that the Minister will at least concede that this is a reasonable approach. My amendment leaves the initiative to the Secretary of State.

One of the inequities galling to servicemen and women is the knowledge that so far as the parliamentary pension scheme is concerned, the widow of a Member of the House of Commons receives an unabated pension, regardless of when she married her late husband. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect similar treatment for the spouses of service personnel. To claim that the parliamentary scheme is contributory whereas that for the services is not is a distinction without a difference. Service pay is abated to contribute towards the service pension, and that is calculated on the abated pay, not the notional gross pay. So there is no generosity in that.

Former state monopolies, such as coal, electricity and telephones provide for a spouse's pension, regardless of the date of marriage. This seems to be the accepted norm for today's pension schemes. Indeed, the Government have accepted it in other areas. So those who have paid their way—and some took the opportunity to qualify for a half-rate widow's pension—still find that there are very significant differences involved. For example, if a woman had married her husband before he retired, instead of receiving £11,700 per annum when he died, she would be entitled to a pension of less than £1,900—a difference approaching £10,000 per year. Figures such as these, about which many individuals have written to me—and no doubt to many other noble Lords and Members of the other place—make distressing reading.

The services deserve to be treated as a special case, and not grouped together with all others in the public service. So the claim that the cost would be around £3 billion is ridiculously misleading. I recognise that making good what those have missed out on is not realistic, but it would give enormous relief and help to those who are now well into their senior citizenship, and so reducing in numbers as the years go by, to be
 
8 Sept 2004 : Column 603
 
brought into the new scheme. The costs of this are marginal, relative to the £2.6 billion cash expenditure on the present Armed Forces pension scheme.

I hope that the Minister will accept that an amendment such as this, suitable to a paving Bill, is sensible and that he will give it his full support. It provides a gateway for dealing with legacy issues without recourse to new primary legislation—an insuperable obstacle for such a topic. I hope that Amendments Nos. 9 and 14 will go through but if they do not, they could still be considered at a later date if Amendment No. 7 were accepted.

If the Minister does not support this amendment, I sense that there is great resistance and no real intention to do more than consider the problems of legacy issues, and this rare opportunity to put them right will have been stubbornly resisted. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page