The third Lords Question this afternoon related to what Lord Alf Morris described as the haggling going on over the payment of compensation to some Gulf War veterans. This is a subject I feel quite strongly about. It was down to Baroness Ann Taylor to defend the Ministry of Defence stance.
This is the full exchange (in which I intervened – not having intended to when I entered the Chamber):
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the total cost in the last five years of the Ministry of Defence contesting war pensions tribunal awards which were later confirmed on appeal.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I declare an interest as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion.
The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, data on costs in closed cases are not held centrally in respect of war pension scheme and Armed Forces compensation scheme cases where we have appealed first-tier tribunal decisions to the upper-tier tribunal, and which were later confirmed on appeal. Therefore, it is not possible to separate out the costs of cases where our challenge was unsuccessful without examining each individual case and incurring disproportionate costs. A first-tier tribunal decision is challenged only in cases where it is considered that there has been an error of law.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, as ever, but is it not disquieting that, while haggling with Gulf War veterans and bereaved families over pensions still drags on, Parliament cannot yet be told even how much the MoD spent contesting the case of the late Terry Walker who, as my noble friend knows, had his war pension cut from 100 per cent to 40 per cent shortly before he died, leaving his two orphaned children in poverty? Again, how much has been spent on trying to reduce the compensation awarded to Corporal Andrew Duncan of the Light Dragoons from £46,000 to £9,250? Will the MoD continue to contest the award to this brave young soldier, who has undergone 11 operations since being hit in the leg by a bullet in Iraq?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am afraid that I must disagree with my noble friend’s use of the word “haggling” in regard to these cases. We do not wish to take money away from any individual, we are trying to make a system which is robust and fair and gives most compensation to those who are most severely injured. My noble friend takes issue with the case of Corporal Duncan and Marine McWilliams that on Monday was adjudicated on. I point out to him that the judge in that case, Lord Justice Carnwath, said in his judgment:
“The Secretary of State was, in my view, entirely justified in bringing the appeal … It seeks to clarify some important and difficult issues relating to construction of the scheme”.
Therefore, I think that the case was worth bringing. It is important that in all these things we ensure that those who are most severely injured and most need help get the most benefit.
Lord Addington: My Lords, when many of these cases are brought to public attention it always appears that the law is, at least to some extent, an ass. Will the Government undertake to ensure that everybody knows exactly why these decisions have been made, and that this is put into the general media so that we can at least understand what the Government say, even if we still disagree with it?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I agree that there is a great deal of misconception and misunderstanding about the nature of those cases and, indeed, about the Armed Forces compensation scheme itself. Whatever its deficiencies, it is a new scheme introduced only in 2005. For the first time it gives tax-free lump-sum payments to serving servicemen. We have doubled the basic lump sums. For the first time there is a guaranteed income for those who are most severely injured, so we have made significant progress. There will always be complex and difficult individual cases but the basic principle behind what we are doing—namely, that those who are most severely injured should get the most help—is one on which the whole House should agree.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, in the case cited by my noble friend, is not the issue at stake the complications that arose during medical treatment? While I understand why there is an important argument to be had about whether that is properly the liability of the compensation scheme, is there not also an issue about the duty of care of the Government towards Armed Forces personnel? Was it not possible to separate out the two issues in this case?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, that is exactly what the judge was referring to when he said that there was a need for clarification. This was a complex case and additional factors came in at a later stage which were not part of the original decision. That is why it was right to seek further clarification. The case will now be remitted back to the independent tribunal, which I hope will come to a decision very quickly. Of course, whatever the decision of that tribunal, the MoD will pay whatever funds and whatever money is recommended.”
I do understand the principle at stake here: the MoD argument is that it should only pay compensation for the injuries received, rather than for any complications that arise during treatment. However, it is not right that the appearance is given that the MoD is quibbling about paying compensation. The MoD has a duty of care towards members of the armed forces. In cases like this, that fact seems to be being forgotten.
The only other contribution on this matter was from Lord Addington, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chief Whip. The Conservative benches remained silent.