New clause 24 - Aftercare

Part of Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 26th February 2004.

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Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence 10:45 am, 26th February 2004

I start on the basis of consensus in that we do not have strong disagreements, but perhaps I can clarify matters and answer some of the questions that have been raised.

The hon. Gentleman started by referring to statutory instrument 1983/883, which is the Naval, Military and Air Forces Etc. (Disablement and Death) Service Pensions Order 1983, which governs the war pensions scheme. Article 23 was amended on 6 April 1992 to exclude dependants and again on 12 April 1993 to ensure that the allowance could be paid only when earnings were lost as a result of treatment. I hope that that clarifies the current legislative position.

New clause 24 is not needed for the compensation scheme that we are debating. I understand that the intention is to replicate the treatment allowance that was first introduced under the 1917 war pensions scheme, when there was no social security system or national health service to step in when an individual needed medical treatment and, as a result, people lost their earnings. That is not the case now, as people who are off work sick are eligible for statutory sick pay and may receive full pay from their employer. There can be no justification for an extra allowance to compensate for loss of earnings when the benefits provided under the compensation scheme do that already.

The type of payments to be made under the compensation proposals are not comparable to those payable under the war pensions scheme. Disablement will not be assessed on a percentage basis and there will be no such thing as a 100 per cent. war disablement pension. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that they are probing new clauses, I hope that he accepts my explanation on new clause 24 for those reasons.

On new clause 25 and the health and veterans issues, and priority treatment in particular, we are in an ongoing discussion with the Department of Health to provide for continuation of the provision that currently applies. At the moment, it applies only to those conditions for which compensation is being paid, and we recognise the importance of ensuring that the national health service honours the priority treatment commitment. I am in discussions with the relevant Ministers at the Department of Health and we have a concordat between the two Departments, signed by my predecessor.

New clause 25 would introduce into the new compensation scheme an equivalent to article 26 of the 1983 order. I think we agree on that. The proposed text is based on the outdated version of the service pensions order. The current version stresses that the expenses must arise from disablement due to service.

As with much of the legislation governing war pensions, which remains largely as it was during the 1940s, article 26 is a product of its time. It predates the universal systems of support provided by the welfare state, including the national health service. Article 26 is therefore a generally outdated provision. Since 1948, Ministers in successive Governments have maintained that the national health service should be the principal route for treatment of accepted disablements. War pensioners receive priority in the national health service for treatment of their disablement caused by service, and we are seeking to secure the same approach from the Department of Health for beneficiaries under the new compensation scheme arrangements.

I recognise that there are issues in relation to ex-service organisations such as Combat Stress. My officials and I are in discussion with that group on such issues and I am due to visit its base shortly. We will continue to work with it and I certainly see a continued role for the ex-service charity in the months and years ahead.