Overseas Operations: Negligence and Personal Injury Claims

Defence – in the House of Commons on 2nd November 2020.

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Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham

What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the overseas operations Bill on the number of veterans who make allegations of (a) negligence and (b) personal injury against his Department.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

As I said in response to the question of my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson, the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill will not prevent service personnel and veterans from bringing personal injury claims against the MOD in relation to overseas operations within six years from either the date of incident or the date of knowledge. Claims by service personnel and veterans that are not related to overseas operations are unaffected by this Bill.

Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham

As Members begin to wear their poppies across the House, I want to remind the Minister of comments from Charles Byrne, the director of the Poppy Appeal campaign. He said that the six-year long-stop could be a breach of the armed forces covenant, and that the six-year limit is protecting the MOD, rather than service personnel.

The Government say that the Bill is about protecting veterans, so, given that this is what many veterans’ organisations are saying, will the Government think again about the six-year limit, and will they also commit to promoting awareness of how to bring forward civil claims against the MOD to ensure that no veteran is unable to make a civil claim in the future?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

It is not true to say that many veterans’ organisations take the same view as the Legion on this case. Neither the Legion nor the Government are the guarantor of the armed forces covenant. I am absolutely 100% sure that this does not breach the armed forces covenant. If we were to wilfully translate it in a way in which it was never intended, then I accept what has been said, but that is not what the armed forces covenant is there to do. It is there to ensure that there is no disadvantage for those who serve, and this Government are the first to legislate, in the armed forces Bill next year, to make it illegal to discriminate against servicemen and women and veterans for their service. I am afraid therefore that I disagree on that point. It is a good Bill. It is fair and proportionate, and people should support it tomorrow.