New clause 14 - Medical records

Part of Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 26th February 2004.

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Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence) 9:15 am, 26th February 2004

I do not so much see a headline in the Aldershot News as a useful quotation in the forthcoming manifesto at the next general electionMinister praises Member of Parliament. However I am not sure that would wholly achieve the desired effect.

The purpose of my contribution was not to argue a constituency case or to prove how successful I am at winning cases for my constituents. It was to make the point that there is a contrast between what the Government have rightly asserted in the framework document—which we would all subscriber to as a noble aspiration—and the practical experience that I have brought, and that hon. Members from all parties could bring, to the Committee. It is the volume of evidence that the practice does not square with the Minister's aspirations that has caused us concern.

The Minister says that the Select Committee raised those concerns and that an assurance was given—and that this was confirmed in his oral evidence and in the Government's response to the report, to which he referred—that where there is

''a demonstrable failure of the Service record-keeping system affecting a claim, account will be taken of the individual's own testimony and any other evidence related to the claim. If it appears likely that the claim is reasonable, then an award will be made.''

Good man though the Minister is—he might be able to use that in his party's manifesto—it is not going to inspire confidence in our armed forces, who might be involved in those claims, that they must simply rely on a Minister's assurance given in Committee. That is why our suggestion ought to be in the Bill.

I note that the 100 years is probably an improvement on the wording that I proposed. However I have always been pragmatic about such matters and have accepted that my draftsmanship, and that of my advisers, might not necessarily have been up to the standard of parliamentary counsel. Nevertheless, the principle applies and I am sure that the Government could amend my proposal in a suitable way.

The issue of access is addressed in new clause 15. The Minister sought to assure us by saying that he would have a new system up and running by the end of 2005. However, on Tuesday he was unwilling—wisely, as I said at the time—to give an assurance that other new systems would be up and running by a certain time; in this case he is offering a hostage to fortune. Again, I am not sure that such an assurance, given the Government's record on IT systems generally, will inspire the confidence that it is our duty to instil in our armed forces.