Clause 5 - Amendments to Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943

Part of Armed Forces – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 24th February 2004.

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Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 8:55 am, 24th February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in

clause 5, page 2, line 42, at end add—

'(2) The Secretary of State shall reimburse a claimant for his reasonable expenses in taking his case to appeal under this section.'.

Thank you for that reminder about switching off my mobile phone, Mr. O'Brien. The clause deals with the pensions appeal tribunal and the amendments necessary to the legislation providing for it. We welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy)—I know that he will deal with the detail of the changes and we look forward to hearing what he has to say. The amendment is specific and it would impose an obligation on the Secretary of State to reimburse a claimant for his reasonable expenses in taking his case to appeal. It concerns an important issue, which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will deal with in greater detail.

The Government are relying on the generosity of the voluntary sector, particularly the Royal British Legion, to support claimants in their detailed cases against the Government. The proposed changes, including the introduction of another tier of appeal, will impose substantially increased burdens on the voluntary sector. Although we accept that there may be a case for the social security commissioners having a role, we have been informed by the Royal British Legion that that will result in an increased work load for it.

My hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the Ministry of Defence website encourages appellants to approach the Royal British Legion. That is bizarre. I wonder what the reaction would be if the general public were aware that those who want to appeal against their pension entitlement award, having served in Her Majesty's armed forces, have to pay out of their own pocket or get support from a charitable organisation rather than the Government. Everyone has a warm feeling about the

Royal British Legion—they associate it with the poppy appeal and Remembrance Sunday—but about £500,000 of its money, raised through the blood, sweat and tears of its members throughout the country, is expended on providing support and advice that should come from public funds.

The Royal British Legion has a relatively small and stretched staff: my hon. Friend will set out some precise figures on what it is engaged in, but I shall try to give the Committee some idea of that too. Everybody will accept that it is not just to continue in this fashion, and I hope that the Committee will take a careful and considered view of the matter to judge whether the issue can be resolved. An amendment to a later clause deals with aftercare issues, and I shall explore that matter at greater length then. I want to make it clear that about 93 per cent. of cases that go to appeal are funded by the Royal British Legion, and it is simply not acceptable that such money has to be found from charitable sources. I do now know whether the Minister is alive to this issue. He is indicating from a sedentary position that he is, so I hope he addresses it.