Schedule 2 - International Criminal Court Act 2001

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 20th October 2020.

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Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 30, in schedule 2, page 16, line 35, leave out “six” and insert “ten”.

Amendment 31, in schedule 2, page 17, line 16, leave out “six” and insert “ten”.

Amendment 32, in schedule 2, page 18, line 34, leave out “six” and insert “ten”.

Amendment 33, in schedule 2, page 19, line 18, leave out “six” and insert “ten”.

Amendment 34, in schedule 2, page 19, line 26, leave out “six” and insert “ten”.

Amendment 35, in schedule 3, page 20, line 40, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 36, in schedule 3, page 21, line 3, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 37, in schedule 3, page 21, line 8, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 38, in schedule 3, page 21, line 14, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 39, in schedule 3, page 21, line 15, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 40, in schedule 3, page 21, line 19, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 41, in schedule 3, page 21, line 20, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 42, in schedule 3, page 21, line 26, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 43, in schedule 3, page 21, line 27, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 44, in schedule 3, page 23, line 6, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 45, in schedule 3, page 23, line 35, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 46, in schedule 3, page 23, line 36, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 47, in schedule 4, page 24, line 4, leave out “six” and insert “ten”.

Amendment 48, in schedule 4, page 24, line 28, leave out “six” and insert “ten”.

Amendment 49, in schedule 4, page 24, line 34, leave out “six” and insert “ten”.

Amendment 50, in schedule 4, page 25, leave out line 16 and insert—

“ten years is to be treated as a reference to the period of ten years”.

Amendment 51, in schedule 4, page 26, line 36, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 52, in schedule 4, page 27, line 20, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 53, in schedule 4, page 27, line 21, leave out “6” and insert “10”.

Amendment 54, in schedule 4, page 27, leave out line 27 and insert—

“10 years is to be treated as a reference to the period of 10 years plus –”.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Ministers have said that the purpose of the Bill is to protect service personnel, but part 2 as drafted does the exact opposite. We are not here to score points or to play politics; we are here to work constructively with the Government and to highlight the areas of the Bill that must be improved. That does not need to be a binary choice. By moving the amendment, our objectives could not be simpler—to protect our personnel’s access to justice and to redress the Bill’s negative implications for our forces’ welfare. Are those concepts that Ministers cannot get behind?

In the Committee’s witness sessions, there was consensus among the specialists from whom we heard. From decorated soldiers to human rights groups and from lawyers to armed forces charities, there was agreement. Consensus on the Bill in its current form may erode rather than enhance the rights of personnel. Most notably, we heard comments from the Royal British Legion, and I am sure that no one would question its age-old, unwavering commitment to the welfare of our troops.

With that in mind, I am concerned about what the Royal British Legion has said, which is that the Bill constitutes a potential breach of the armed forces covenant—a deeply worrying conclusion from the UK’s largest armed forces charity.

Photo of Mark Eastwood Mark Eastwood Conservative, Dewsbury 3:15 pm, 20th October 2020

The hon. Gentleman mentions the Royal British Legion. When my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham asked Charles Byrne whether the Royal British Legion opposes the Bill, did he not say that it does not?

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

It was clear that the Royal British Legion is in favour of the intent of the Bill but has concerns about part 2, which it believes breaches the armed forces covenant. Charles Byrne was very clear on that point.

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

I make this point again. I have heard it said a number of times, “We support the intent of the Bill.” Over 40 years Members have spoken of supporting the intent of looking after our veterans and protecting them from vexatious claims. No one has done anything about it. Lots of people gave evidence and said they supported the intent of the Bill. It does not mean anything unless we get into the detail of the Bill. The Royal British Legion did not oppose the Bill; it said it had concerns about the armed forces covenant, which we addressed, but it did not oppose the Bill.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

I am looking at the transcript of the evidence given by the Royal British Legion, in which it said:

“‘Can we achieve those aims without disadvantaging service personnel?’ If we can do both, both should be done.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 89, Q168.]

It welcomed the intent behind the Bill and believed that it could “be improved.” No Labour Member is against the Bill per se; we are against part 2. We are trying to improve the Bill as the Royal British Legion suggested. I do not understand why the Minister does not grasp that.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

I thank my hon. Friend for the intervention. She hits the nail on the head: we want to work constructively with the Government to get the Bill right. Sadly, we are not seeing that engagement, and that concerns us. Are Ministers not concerned that the very Bill they claim is devised to help our armed forces is said to be doing the very opposite by an organisation as distinguished as the Royal British Legion?

We heard from other important witnesses. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, a not-for-profit organisation representing injured serving and ex-service personnel, said:

“This Bill leaves our veterans with less rights than prisoners.”

I will repeat that because it is so important:

“This Bill leaves our veterans with less rights than prisoners.”

That is a damning verdict delivered by lawyers who devote their lives to representing our troops. Our armed forces serve the nation with distinction. They deserve more than to have their rights stripped away.

I say to the Minister: do not dismiss the warnings of the legion and APIL; work with us to address them.

Let us take a closer look at what part 2 means. The Limitation Act 1980 results in the armed forces community and civilians being treated equally in seeking a claim for personal injury. A three-year cut-off point is in place. The courts retain the right to grant an extension to forces personnel. Section 33 provides the court with discretion to override the current three-year limit, but this Bill deliberately snatches courts’ ability to show discretion if the case relates to an overseas armed forces action. It makes a deliberate change to the Limitation Act. That makes no sense. There are already structures in place to ensure that only appropriate claims are brought. Courts routinely manage out-of-time proceedings and frequently throw out cases where delay is unjustified. The detailed criteria set out in the Limitation Act 1980 already address cases that do not have reasonable grounds or are unjustified. Why is the Minister actively removing an aspect of the Limitation Act that offers courts the right to grant an extension in cases relating to armed forces personnel?

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

As I said earlier in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon, the nuclear test veterans case is a good example. There was a limitations hearing in which the MOD argued that the case was out of time because the incident took place so long ago. In that case, Judge Foskett argued that new evidence meant the date of knowledge was current and he allowed it to be admitted. I accept that the numbers are not huge, but it is the exceptional cases that are important.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. I hope the Minister addresses the points that he makes so eloquently later on, in his summing up.

The Bill removes the ability of our armed forces personnel to bring forward a civil claim at all after six years, even where it would have passed judicial scrutiny. Under the Government’s proposed changes, civilians will retain the right to pursue a civil claim against their employer. Armed forces personnel will not, which clearly breaches the armed forces covenant. Non-discretionary time limits undermine justice and arbitrarily prevent legitimate claims from proceeding. We must hear the Minister’s business case for setting that time limit.

We have established that part 2 of the Bill is flawed. It introduces a six-year time limit for any claimant or bereaved family in bringing civil claims against the Ministry of Defence. That means that if someone suffers personal injury or even death owing to employer negligence and in connection with overseas operations, they can take no action after a six-year time limit. That is deeply concerning because a great many conditions might not come to light until after the time limit: for example, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Last year, The Times reported the case of Mark Bradshaw, aged 44, who had suffered from PTSD since being involved in a friendly-fire attack in 2010 while serving in the Royal Artillery. Despite the immediate onset of the condition, the veteran, who lives in Newcastle, was not given a diagnosis until 2016. By then he was drinking heavily and had suicidal thoughts. He had left the service and become alienated from his family. He was awarded £230,000 in a settlement, but feared that the proposed legislation could discriminate against those who do not develop PTSD or receive a diagnosis until many years later. He called the plan to impose a time limit on claims “horrendous”.

I have another example.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Another issue concerns human rights cases. The impression being given is that they are always brought by people against the MOD and include litigants and people in foreign countries and so on, but Human Rights Act cases are also brought against the MOD by armed forces personnel. When Hilary Meredith gave evidence, she said:

“There is a difficulty putting a time limit on the Human Rights Act—I do not even know whether we can do that constitutionally”.––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 6 October 2020; c. 18, Q30.]

The Minister seemed to brush aside the fact that section 33 will be ignored in terms of time limits. Does he also think that that constrains the rights of veterans and service personnel from bringing cases against the MOD, which they can, under the Human Rights Act?

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

We could spend all afternoon on different cases. That is why the amendment is so important. I have another example. It is about how legislation would have denied justice to a former royal marine with noise-induced hearing loss, according to the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. The former marine received nearly half a million pounds for a noise-induced hearing claim on the grounds that his hearing loss and tinnitus was caused by a negligent exposure to noise. During his career the marine served in Northern Ireland, the Gulf and Afghanistan, and he was exposed to noise from thousands of rounds of ammunition, thunderflash stun grenades, helicopters and other aircraft and explosive devices. His claim related to his entire service.

When he left the Royal Marines in 2012 because of problems with his hearing, he was unaware that he was able to make a claim for compensation. He eventually spoke to a solicitor in late 2014, seven years after he was first aware that he had problems with his hearing. The MOD admitted liability and made no argument about his case being brought out of time. The time limit in this Bill, however, would have eliminated all aspects of the claim relating to the Marine’s extensive service overseas.

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

I totally respect the manner and intent of the hon. Member’s remarks, but, again, the Mark Bradshaw case and the case of the royal marine, which we have looked at, would not be affected by this legislation. When Bradshaw became aware of his PTSD being service-related, it would have been dealt with within six years. The same detail applies to the royal marine.

I do not know what else to say, but the stuff that is coming forward—I have to be honest and say that I have heard it before, because I know it comes from a campaign group—is just simply not true. I do not know what to do with the cases being presented to me, which are simply incorrect.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

The claim could have been made only in relation to negligent exposure in the UK. It might not have been possible to isolate the extent and the effect of negligent exposure in the UK, making it very difficult to claim any redress at all. Why are some medical conditions worthy of justice, and not others? Many other medical conditions are likely to fall outside the cut-off point, and there are conditions such as long-term deterioration of joints resulting from carrying heavy equipment.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Does my hon. Friend agree that what the Minister is saying cannot be the case? He cannot give any guarantee that such cases will not be resisted by the MOD. He cannot direct the MOD, because he will not be there when he leaves the MOD, and no one else can do it either. It is about protecting future cases. In the two cases referred to, the Bill would allow the MOD to legitimately turn those cases down because they were out of time. Those two individuals would have no recourse to law in order to enforce their rights.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We are saying it time and again, but the Bill protects the MOD; it does not protect our troops. I hope the Minister will take that point on board.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Minister is suggesting that we are raising concerns because of a campaign group? Personally, I am not raising concerns because of a campaign group; I am raising concerns because of the protections being taken away from armed forces personnel and veterans. When an individual gets a diagnosis of PTSD, I cannot imagine anybody thinking, “The first thing I am going to do is lodge a claim against the MOD.” When a condition gets progressively worse, they might think about doing so over time, but not necessarily within six years.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. We are not here just to speak up for campaign groups and emails; we are here to speak up for our armed forces. That is why we are absolutely keen to see the Bill improved. I really hope the Minister engages with these points in his summing up.

Is the Minister satisfied that the Bill in its current form will prevent troops who are suffering from these conditions from receiving justice? As we heard from APIL in evidence sessions last week, many troops are not aware that they can bring a claim against the MOD. They are directed to the armed forces compensation scheme, which pays out much lower sums. Why is it that the MOD has scrapped the proposed better compensation scheme, which would have seen payments that are closer to those offered in court settlements? Why is it that the Government are willing to introduce a six-year longstop for troops, but not for civilians? It puts troops at a patently clear disadvantage by comparison with civilians. As we heard last week from the director general of the largest armed forces charity in the UK—the Royal British Legion—it risks breaching our armed forces covenant.

Part 2 of the Bill in its current form protects the MOD; it does not protect our troops. Despite all this, it is not too late. The Opposition have proposed solutions today, and we can work together to address this issue. Protecting service personnel’s access to justice acts on the concerns voiced by friends such as the Royal British Legion.

The premise of the amendment is very simple: stop section 2 restrictions from applying to serving and ex-serving personnel. That would ensure proper protection for our armed forces by safeguarding their right to bring claims against the MOD. It would do so by exempting veterans and serving personnel for six-year time limits. In short, our amendment flatly rejects the Bill’s attempts to prevent regular or reserve forces, or a member of a British overseas territory force, from bringing action against the MOD after six years. Labour cannot and will not stand for legislation that breaches our armed forces covenant. I urge the Minister to work with us and to put party politics aside. Let us build a consensus on a Bill that is worthy of the troops that it is set to serve.

Will the Minister clarify whether Ministers are not concerned that the very Bill they claim was devised to help our troops is said to be doing the opposite by such a distinguished organisation as the Royal British Legion? Why is he actively removing the aspect of the Limitation Act 1980 that offers courts the power to grant extensions in cases relating to armed forces personnel? Why are some medical conditions worthy of justice and not others? Is he satisfied that the Bill in its current form will exclude troops suffering from conditions such as PTSD from receiving justice? Why has the MOD scrapped the proposed better compensation scheme that would have seen payments closer to those offered in court settlements? Finally, why are the Government willing to introduce a six-year time limit to stop troops but not civilians?

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 3:30 pm, 20th October 2020

I rise to support my hon. Friend and to speak to my amendments 92 and 93, which I understand fall in this group of amendments—

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Order. They do not. They are in the next group.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

They do not—I am reading it wrongly as one big group, but they are two separate groups.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South made a point about the backstop. I am sorry, I just cannot accept that backstop. The Minister seems to be misunderstanding the issue to do with the date of knowledge. The date of knowledge is clearly not only as laid out in the law of cases against the MOD, but as in civil law as well. As I said this morning, I used to deal all the time with the date of knowledge in asbestos cases. Some of those test cases were to do with ensuring that individuals—sometimes many years after they had left the industry in which they had contracted their disease—were able to take action. They were able to do so because of the Limitation Act.

The other thing that we need to knock on the head is the idea that bringing a section 33 case is easy. It is not easy; it is very difficult, and the threshold to meet is very high—rightly. As the Minister said, time limits rightly have to be fair in two ways: first, to give individuals enough time to ensure that they can bring a case; and, secondly, because evidence gets lost, whether in a civilian case or, more so, in such a case as we are addressing now. There is therefore a good reason for time limits, but there is also a good reason to have circumstances and exceptions in which those time limits should not apply.

My hon. Friend mentioned two cases, which the Minister said would be covered—but I am sorry, they would not. If they fell outside the six years, under the Bill as drafted those individuals would not be able to argue before a judge why limitations should not apply in their cases, and their case would just be dismissed. The Minister seems to have a lot of faith that the MOD’s lawyers of the future—and now—would not use that measure to reduce and stop such claims. They would not be doing their job if they did not use it to stop those claims.

The important thing is that such an individual would then have no rights whatever—unlike you, me or anyone else: even a prisoner—to bring a case under section 33 of the Limitation Act. I understand what the Minister says about his trust and belief in the MOD now and in the future. I do not disparage what the MOD is doing. There was a reference in the evidence session that the Department employs good lawyers and that will be their job, and they will use this provision. As such, what the Minister said will not be the case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South raises the issue around the 94%, or whatever the figure is. I do not care, to be honest, because as I said earlier one case is a case too many. Like my hon. Friend, I want to ensure that armed forces personnel and veterans are treated on the same basis as everyone else in this country. If that does not happen, the armed forces covenant will protect their rights but the Bill will take their rights away. That cannot be right.

There is also the point, which I had hoped the Minister would answer, about the Human Rights Act. He said the one-year time period is still in there, which is fine, but as Hilary Meredith said, how do you then disapply the Limitation Act to the Human Rights Act? As she said, it is very difficult to see how you would do that in practice because we are part of an international convention.

The only response the Minister gave—he might want to write to me if he does not have it with him; I accept that on occasions he does not have all the facts to hand—is that it has been cleared as being Human Rights Act-compliant. Are we suggesting that for this group of veterans there will be a new thing—a time limit for out-of-time human rights cases? If that is so, it is very interesting. How has that been squared in terms of the convention we have signed? Again—and likewise—everybody else will be able to use the Limitation Act to take a case forward outside that time.

The Minister said he is listening, but he is not. He has a fixated view of what goes forward in the Bill and that is what he is going to put forward. We have made attempts. I have said that I accept that amendments written by mere amateurs such as myself and others are not necessarily legally correct. However, what often happens on these occasions is that a Minister will say, “Yes, we agree. There is a point there. We will take it away, look at it and try to frame it in terms of how it fits into the Bill and the legal parameters.” That way, when we get to Report and Third Reading, they can be introduced, usually as Government amendments. However, that has not happened. We have had, “This is how it is going to be and that’s it.”

The situation is rather sad because there are things that can be done even at this stage—I am discussing one of them—that could improve the Bill. I accept that the Minister has already committed to look at investigations in the Armed Forces Bill next year, but he should stick the provisions in the damn Bill now. He could do it. The fact that the civil service might not want to do it—well, tough. He should just say, “You are going to do it” and put it in. Putting those investigation measures into the Bill will improve it immensely and do more than where the Minister has come from so far in the Bill. As Judge Blackett said, he has been

“looking at the wrong end of the telescope”—[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 8 October 2020; c. 120, Q246.]

The Minister is concentrating on prosecutions, but that ain’t the problem: the problem is investigations and how the MOD operates. I will not support a Bill that is going to take away rights from our servicemen and women. That would be an absolute tragedy. I know that is not the Minister’s intention, but unfortunately the Bill, as it is written, is going to do exactly that.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

To confirm, we are debating amendments 30 to 54, with amendment 29. If no other Members wish to speak to any of those amendments, I call the Minister.

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

I wanted to address a couple of points about the limitation period. In the Stubbings ruling that we looked at, limitation periods are okay under ECHR regulation as long as there is compatibility with article 6, the right to a fair trial. That is the test that has been undertaken in this exercise and that is the advice that the Government have received. The right hon. Member for North Durham may well disagree with that, and is well entitled to.

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

Not at the moment. I have literally just stood up. I will get through a couple of points, if I may.

As to the idea that I have not engaged in the process, and that it is just “head down, drive on”, I should like to know whether there has been a Bill that has gone through this place in the past five years when the Minister has been more ready to say a number of times that he was willing to work cross-party to improve the Bill; but I have to deal—[Interruption.]

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

Thank you, Mr Mundell. I have to deal in the real world. I have to deal with real facts and figures—not made-up stuff—and how they apply to the battlefield. There is clearly a difference of opinion between the Government and the Opposition about whether the ECHR should be applied on the battlefield. I accept that. That is the point—that ability to continue these extensions is part of ECHR compliance. The Government do not agree that the battlefield is the right place, or that retrospective application of the ECHR to the battlefield is appropriate.

I have seen comparisons with convicted criminals a number of times in a lot of campaign items. Hon. Members are comparing convicted criminals to armed forces veterans. That comparison—prisoners to veterans—has been made a number of times. I can tell Members that that goes down like a cup of cold sick in the veterans community. It is not comparing the same things.

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

I will give way in a moment.

The Bill has clearly been introduced to protect our servicemen and women when they conduct overseas operations. The purpose of the limitations is to stop large-scale out-of-time and often vexatious claims being brought against the military on overseas operations. I urge Members to think a bit more about comparing veterans with convicted criminals.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

On a point of order, Mr Mundell. The Minister keeps repeating something that is blatantly incorrect. No one at all on the Opposition Benches has compared prisoners to veterans or our armed forces. We have said that in the Bill the rights of veterans and members of our forces are less than those of prisoners. That is an important distinction and I ask the Minister to be correct when he makes accusations.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I do not think that that is a point of order, but at least you have got your point on the record.

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

As for the idea that we must withdraw part 2, the whole point of the Bill is to bring in time limits to provide certainty for veterans, so if colleagues take it away, what is the point of the Bill? Why are we here in the first place, if we will just continue as we currently are?

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

Not at the moment.

The six-year longstop for personal injury and death claims is an important part of the Bill. The measure will help to provide greater certainty for service personnel and veterans by requiring civil claims arising from overseas operations to be brought promptly. Effectively, service personnel will not have to worry about having to give evidence on what would have been very distressing events many years in the future.

The public consultation launched in 2019 sought views on the length of time for such a longstop, and asked whether 10 years was appropriate. Many respondents supported a period of less than 10 years, so we decided to reduce the time limit for the longstop. Six years was chosen because it aligns with the limitation period for some other tort claims. That decision was further informed by the case of Stubbings v. the UK, in a judgment that has been repeatedly confirmed. The European Court of Human Rights upheld an absolute six-year limitation period. The Court noted the need in civil litigation for limitation periods because they ensure legal certainty and finality and the avoidance of stale claims, and prevent injustice where adjudication upon the events in the distant past involves unreliable and incomplete evidence due to the passage of time.

Six years is considered to be a reasonable timeframe for claimants to gather the necessary evidence to bring a claim. Beyond this point, witnesses’ recollections can fade, making it difficult for the claimant to pursue a claim and for the defendant properly to defend it. The six years can also run from the claimant’s date of knowledge if that arises after the date of the incident. That will reduce the negative impact of an absolute longstop. It means that for personal injury claims relating to conditions like PTSD, which may not be diagnosed until much later, the six years start from the date the person is diagnosed and is aware that their injury is attributable to the MOD. That cannot be clearer for the Opposition.

The vast majority—around 94%—of relevant claims from service personnel and veterans already fall within the six-year time limit. We anticipate that claimants who in the past have brought claims after six years may in future bring their claims within six years, and we will ensure that the armed forces community is made aware of the new measures. I have given notice of that commitment before. Changing the longstop from six years to ten years will only increase the uncertainty that service personnel and veterans face from the threat of being called on repeatedly to give evidence relating to historical events. The statistics that I have outlined show that most service personnel and veterans bring their claims within six years. The amendments, therefore, would only increase the uncertainty, without giving any significant benefit.

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

Is there going to be a new point? I have given way a lot and we seem to be repeating the same points.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

The Minister is going backwards and forwards just reading out what he has in front of him—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but he is. He is not answering any questions at all. Can I ask the Minister this? He says the reason for the longstop, which disadvantages veterans, is to stop all these vexatious claims. In terms of the Shiner case, for example, how many of those cases were actually time-limited cases and argued in terms of this limitation? If that is the case and there were thousands of them—I would be very surprised if there were—I would imagine in most cases the Limitation Act would weed out most of those that were vexatious. To actually introduce this to solve that part of the problem is going to have a massive impact on servicemen and women who wish to bring claims against the MOD.

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

Of Phil Shiner’s claims through Public Interest Lawyers, 62% were brought more than six years after the date of the incident. The Bill imposes a six-year limit, meaning that 62% of those claims would have been out of time. This legislation is designed to redress the balance. We are operating in a very difficult area, I accept that. Doing nothing has been the easy option that this House has pursued for 40 years and it is an approach I disagree with.

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

I am not going to give way again, there will be plenty of opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to speak further. I recommend that the amendment be withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I beg to move amendment 76, in schedule 2, page 16, line 5, leave out

“the section 11 relevant date” and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in England and Wales so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 77, in schedule 2, page 16, line 30, leave out

“the section 11 relevant date (ignoring, for this purpose, the reference to section 11 (5) in paragraph (a) of the definition of that term)” and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in England and Wales so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 78, in schedule 2, page 16, line 35, leave out

“the section 12 relevant date” and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in England and Wales so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 79, in schedule 2, page 17, leave out from the beginning of line 35 to end of line 5 on page 18, and insert—

““the date of knowledge” means the date on which the person bringing the proceedings first knew, or first ought to have known—

(a) of the act complained of;

(b) that it was an act of the Ministry of Defence or the Secretary of State for Defence;

(c) of the manifestation of the injury resulting from that act which is the subject of the claim, and

(d) that they were eligible to bring a claim against the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State for Defence in the courts of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in England and Wales so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 80, in schedule 3, page 20, line 41, leave out

“the section 17 relevant date” and insert

“the date of knowledge (see subsection (13))”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Scotland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 81, in schedule 3, page 21, line 4, leave out

“the section 18 relevant date” and insert

“the date of knowledge (see subsection (13))”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Scotland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 82, in schedule 3, page 21, line 9, leave out

“the section 17 relevant date” and insert

“the date of knowledge (see subsection (13))”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Scotland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 83, in schedule 3, page 22, leave out lines 12 to 17 and insert—

““the date of knowledge” means the date on which the person bringing the proceedings first knew, or first ought to have known—

(a) of the act complained of;

(b) that it was an act of the Ministry of Defence or the Secretary of State for Defence;

(c) of the manifestation of the injury resulting from that act which is the subject of the claim, and

(d) that they were eligible to bring a claim against the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State for Defence in the courts of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Scotland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 84, in schedule 4, page 24, line 5, leave out

“the Article 7 relevant date” and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Northern Ireland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 85, in schedule 4, page 24, line 29, leave out

“the Article 7 relevant date (ignoring, for this purpose, the reference to Article 7(5) in paragraph (a) of the definition of that term)” and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Northern Ireland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury out of overseas operations.

Amendment 86, in schedule 4, page 24, line 34, leave out

“the Article 9 relevant date” and insert “the date of knowledge”.

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Northern Ireland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 87, in schedule 4, page 25, leave out lines 25 to 43 and insert—

““the date of knowledge” means the date on which the person bringing the proceedings first knew, or first ought to have known—

(a) of the act complained of;

(b) that it was an act of the Ministry of Defence or the Secretary of State for Defence;

(c) of the manifestation of the injury resulting from that act which is the subject of the claim, and

(d) that they were eligible to bring a claim against the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State for Defence in the courts of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run in Northern Ireland so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 73, in clause 11, page 7, line 30, leave out from “before” to the end of line 34, and insert

“the end of the period of 6 years beginning with the date of knowledge.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing claims under the HRA arising out of overseas operations.

Amendment 92, in clause 11, page 7, line 36, leave out

“or first ought to have known”.

Amendment 74, in clause 11, page 7, line 37, leave out “both”.

Amendment 75, in clause 11, page 7, line 40, at end insert—

“(c) of the manifestation of the harm resulting from that act which is the subject of the claim; and

(d) that they were eligible to bring a claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 against the Ministry of Defence or Secretary of State for Defence in the courts of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment is one of a series that changes the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing claims under the HRA arising out of overseas operations.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

The amendments allow the Bill to account for all legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing civil claims for personal injury arising out of overseas operations. The Minister recently said in The Daily Telegraph:

“Our analysis suggests 94 per cent of claims from service personnel and veterans are already brought within six years.”

He has repeated that today. He goes on:

“Critically, for conditions like PTSD, this limit will start from the date of knowledge or diagnosis.”

If that provision can be applied for certain conditions, which of course I agree with, let us take this opportunity to apply it fairly to all service personnel. That would allow those 6% who do not make claims within six years, according to the Minister’s own figures, to be given a chance to explain why. If the court’s criteria were met, they could then claim any compensation they are entitled to. On Sunday, I happened to chance upon the article that the Minister wrote for The Sun on Sunday, where he said that he would make it his personal mission to carry the can for those who fall outside the six-year rule. It would be helpful, given those comments, if he expanded on what he meant by that.

The court will still take the passage of time into account, just as it would normally, but to block claims being brought after six years does not take into account the true complexities of civil claims linked to overseas operations. Courts should retain their discretion and should consider the large periods of time that can pass before knowledge comes to light of the true extent of an injury, acts of negligence, or the right to other civil claims. The point of knowledge of a claim may be many years after the event or series of events. This may be because claimants did not know that they had a right to claim, or because they did not link their circumstances to overseas operations for some years.

The Bill is meant to protect our armed service personnel, but leaving this part unamended only protects the Ministry of Defence. I want to bring to the Committee’s attention a particular case, or group of cases I should say, that causes me great concern in the event of the amendment not being made. It is the case of the nuclear test veterans.

This case is particularly close to my heart, and I raised it with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) when she was the Prime Minister. When I first became the Member of Parliament for Islwyn, we used to hold a parade through Risca to honour those veterans. In my second year as an MP, because of the number who had passed away, it was decided that their standard would stay in the local church in Risca until it turned to dust.

What was so sad about this case was that those veterans were fighting for justice for so long. Many of them endured horrific medical conditions, and the families left behind only had their memories of those who were incapacitated by their nuclear service during those times in Easter Island. What was really hard to bear was, first, that they did not have compensation; secondly, though—if I step out of the Bill and say this to the Minister, who is the Minister for Veterans—these people have suffered enough. As he will know, I have made appeals to other Ministers to ensure that these veterans have a medal and some recognition. I want to use this opportunity to ask the Minister to take that up with the Honours and Decorations Committee, and to ensure that they do get some recognition, especially as we approach a very different Remembrance Sunday this year. I have digressed. Thank you, Mr Mundell, for allowing me to indulge in that.

For the vast majority of nuclear test veterans, their injuries did not manifest for decades. The nature of radiation injury means that it invisibly alters cellular DNA.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Had the Bill been in place in 2009, that would have been it for those veterans—there would have been no case at all. The 2009 case, which I know well, was a limitation case, and they brought it before Justice Foskett because they argued that new evidence—medical evidence from New Zealand—had emerged about what my hon. Friend is referring to. If this Bill had been in place then, they would not have even been able to go to court to argue why their case should have had consideration, because of the time that had elapsed since the 1950s, when the exposure took place.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his service during that time. I know that as a Minister he dealt with the case with sympathy and respect. My direct predecessor, Lord Touhig, also dealt with the case when he was a Minister. I know that everybody who served during that period was wrestling with it, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it would not have been possible to bring the case.

If radioactive particles are ingested, the harm might occur at a slow but steady rate for many years, with minor ailments leading to a dramatic diagnosis, and eventually to death. There was no way for the veterans to know that their minor ailments were linked to the nuclear tests that they were involved in. As the Minister knows, however, it often prevented them from gaining the compensation they deserved.

How can we ask young men and women to serve and not guarantee their rights in the same way as civilians are guaranteed theirs? Should the Bill progress, I worry for the next generation of service personnel who are affected by the equivalent of nuclear tests. We do not yet know what might happen in the future that could cause problems further down the line. That is just one example of why someone might need to extend the six-year limitation as currently set out.

I must raise concerns from specialist members of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, a not-for-profit firm that specialises in military claims. It has voiced concerns that injured personnel can be misinformed of their right to make a legal claim. They might not even know that they have a right to a claim. According to a report by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, it is unfortunately not unusual for service personnel to be misinformed about their right to bring a civil claim.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would also limit families? In some cases—especially those involving asbestos, but also some involving cancers—the claim is generated only after the person passes away. Even though somebody might have known earlier that they had cancer, it is only once they pass away that the family might think that it was related to service. I know of some cases that were the result of submarine service. The Bill would actually stop families getting any redress in such cases.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I agree. I will come to an example that my right hon. Friend probably knows as well, but I first will say something about service families. When servicepeople are away, their families are left with the worry, the childcare and other needs. When a serviceman suffers from cancer, it is the family who have to watch their loved one wither away. It is vital that they have a chance to make a claim.

It is interesting that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham intervened in my speech. When we talk about personal injury, those of us who come from mining communities will remember the example of the miners’ compensation scheme and how miners were left behind. I am not comparing miners to veterans, but it is a similar principle.

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

The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a lot of respect, has now spoken for about 10 minutes on nuclear test veterans. I trust that he is aware that nuclear test veterans are not covered by the Bill. It was not an overseas operation, and they are not covered by the Bill. The legislation that we are debating does not affect them in any way.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I am glad the Minister has confirmed that.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

I am looking for clarity. Why would the overseas nuclear test veterans not be considered to have been on an overseas operation?

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I should ask the Minister to reply to that—I am just the post box here.

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

Nuclear tests were not classified as operations. There is a lot of conversation about what Operation Banner was in Northern Ireland, but nuclear test veterans are not classified as having been on an operation. They are not subject to the Bill.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn 4:00 pm, 20th October 2020

Service personnel might have knowledge of the event or series of events that the claim relates to, but many are under the impression that they cannot bring a claim while they are serving, or that their only route to redress is through the armed forces compensation scheme. This means that the date of knowledge should encompass not only the date of knowledge of the injury or the subject of the claim but the date of the knowledge that they had a right to claim—the date when they knew they had a case. That can be many years later and must therefore be taken into account if the Government insist on introducing a time limit.

The 2009 High Court case of 1,000 veterans of nuclear testing was fought and eventually lost on precisely this issue. The MOD argued that some veterans knew they were ill when they joined the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association in the 1980s, when it began campaigning. That was not the case. They knew they were ill at the time, but they wondered only if there was a link. The true point of knowledge can only come when a doctor confirms a possible link, which for many does not happen until years later. To me, that is the point of understanding.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

The problem with the nuclear test veterans—it could apply to other examples—is that there is actually a clear date of incident, many decades before. Although their point of knowledge of harm might have been much later, there was a clear date of incident, which the MOD could use to its advantage.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

That raises the actual point. When someone is ill, they know something is wrong, but they do not know what caused it; a doctor or medical researcher has not confirmed a link.

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

I think it will be helpful if I make it clear that service personnel cannot bring claims for service pre 1987. Nuclear test veterans have access to the war pension instead, which has no time limit, so issues around nuclear test veterans and the Bill are not comparable.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I am not sure that that is the case, because those veterans brought quite a successful case. The Minister just said that it was not an operation, but it was: Operation Grapple, I think. If it was called an operation—the MOD loves giving deployments various—

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

It was Operation Grapple. If the Minister wants to intervene on my hon. Friend, I am sure he will act as the post box again. However, those veterans brought a successful case, although the Minister says that that is not true, just to clarify.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Every training exercise in the UK or overseas is given an operational name, even though it is not an operation overseas, as per the Bill.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I was about to say—as we spoke about earlier when I moved the amendment about the Attorney General—that we could have a huge debate about this. I have made a plea to the Minister about the nuclear test veterans. I know he is a good man and that his heart is in the right place when it comes to veterans, and I hope he will recommend to the HD committee that they receive some recognition for their service.

I will move on to the meat of the Bill and the amendment, otherwise we could be here all day. Simon Ellis, a senior partner at the law firm Hugh James, argues from experience that the point of knowledge of the injury, especially in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder or deafness, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North West said, is difficult to define. For illnesses such as PTSD, the sufferer may take a long time to understand what they are suffering from—similar to what the hon. Lady mentioned about her father—long after healthcare professionals or friends or family have this knowledge. Therefore, although there is knowledge of the injury, the victims themselves do not fully know or are not willing to admit that they are suffering. It can then take even longer for them to accept that they have post-traumatic stress disorder, to link that to an overseas operation or a series of operations and to realise that they therefore have a right to a civil claim. The point of knowledge, therefore, can be marked only as the point at which the serviceperson has a full understanding of their condition and their right to a civil claim.

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Glasgow North West when she talked about what her father was going through. As I understand it, he knew he was deaf and those around him knew he was deaf, but it took him a long time to admit to it. Where is the point of knowledge in that? I do not know. I would be interested to learn, maybe afterwards, when he did finally admit that he had a problem.

Even in simpler cases, when the service person is aware of an injury at the point of the event, it would be grossly unfair for the longstop to start on the date of that event, if they had no knowledge that they could even bring a claim if they wished. Will the Minister therefore concede that clause 11 is not comprehensive enough to deal with the intricacies of a process that includes an event occurring, the sufferer fully understanding and accepting the injury, and their knowing that it is something that fulfils the criteria for a civil claim––that the option of a claim is open to them? If the Government insist on placing a time limit on service personnel or their families for bringing a civil claim, surely the clock must start from the point at which the claimant was both fully aware of the content of the claim––be that negligence, injury or death––and aware that they had the right to file a claim.

If that is not taken into account, it becomes even more clear that the Bill is intended to protect not service personnel but the Ministry of Defence. If these clauses relating to the rights of civil claims become law, those injured through negligence during overseas operations will no longer have the benefit of the full discretion of the court to allow a claim to proceed after the limitation period has expired. They will have fewer rights than other employees while the Ministry of Defence will be sheltered behind the longstop.

An employee who frequently works on military claims for Simpson Millar Solicitors said that, from her experience, she expects that Ministry of Defence lawyers

“could use this new Bill to support arguments that personal injury claims are out of time.”

Therefore, it is a bare minimum that the time limit starts ticking only once the claimant has full knowledge of their right to file a civil claim. This strikes back hard in respect of what my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham said. Once the Bill is passed, it will be handed over to MOD lawyers. Now, none of us will be here for ever and we will have our successors. It will be the lawyers who interpret the Bill. It is therefore vital that we get this right. There is no justification for the MOD having special protection in terms of limitations on civil claims. It is vital that service personnel can bring claims to court in accordance with civil law, without fear or favour. It is vital that they are entitled to the same rights and civil considerations as the rest of the population when it comes to employment disputes.

There is a concern that the Bill could put troops at a disadvantage compared with their civilian counterparts. In our first sitting, Mr Young said:

“Imposing an absolute time limit places armed forces personnel claimants themselves at a disadvantage compared with civil claimants in ordinary life, where the court has discretion. Of course, the Minister has made it perfectly clear, absolutely correctly, that the time limit for this particular part of the Bill only starts to run at the point of knowledge. That is completely understood. That point of knowledge, diagnosis or whatever, could be many years later. Nevertheless, I would have a worry about an absolute longstop as proposed.”––[Official Report, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Public Bill Committee, 6 October 2020; c. 9, Q6.]

If as Mr Young says, it is the case that the Minister considers the time limit as beginning from the point of knowledge, let us say so in the Bill. This is too important a matter to be imprecise in our words. We need clarity and we need definition. Let us be clear what the amendment means for our armed forces. Let us be clear that service personnel will not be disadvantaged if a link between actions and events overseas and a particular injury or negligent action comes to light only years later. We have seen time and time again, from asbestos to our test veterans, that these things unfortunately do happen. People get injured and hurt. Let us not use this Bill to protect the Ministry of Defence and disadvantage our service personnel. They deserve our support and, more than anything, our protection.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I thank my hon. Friend for moving amendment 76. He makes a good point: whatever legislation we put in must be future-proofed. There are claims that it will do x, y and z, but we have all seen legislation that goes through Parliament with the best of intentions, but, as things change, still sits on the statute book and disadvantages individuals. Is it ever possible to future-proof legislation completely? No, it is not, but it is certainly possible to ensure that we do not put things in a Bill at the start that discriminate against veterans and armed forces personnel. That should be the starting point for this.

In this group of amendments, I will speak to my amendment 92, which relates to clause 11, page 7, line 36, leave out,

“or first ought to have known”.

It gets to the point that my hon. Friend has just referred to about date of knowledge and the issues surrounding it. Is it straightforward to know when a condition happens? No, it is not, as he eloquently explained, and I will explain some examples in a minute.

Many conditions that arise from service are complex; they first require diagnosis, and that sometimes takes time. If someone has a condition and knows they are suffering from something, that is their date of knowledge, but it might take several years to diagnose exactly what it is. Also, as we heard in the evidence session and has come out again today, it may take time for members of the armed forces to recognise that they might have a claim against the Ministry of Defence anyway. I hear what the Minister said about how we should publicise that, and I welcome the idea that we should make it known to people that they can make claims for injuries or conditions, whether through publicity or just ensuring that people know it, both when they are in service and when they leave. That must be recognised.

The conditions fall into two areas. If we look at industry—I know the Minister will say that is different from the military, and it is in many ways, but in other ways, on key issues such as hearing loss, there are some clear links—over many years litigation has led to improvements in standards and training, and I would argue that that should also be a lever in terms of the MOD.

I remember, when I was in the Ministry of Defence, dealing with the question of hearing loss. To be honest, I accept that in combat operations people are going to be exposed to loud noise. They are, and I do not think we can get away from that fact. But when I think back to the MOD in those days, we were paying out huge claims—quite rightly—for people’s hearing loss caused by training and other things, and it struck me that we were not getting to the root cause. As I said this morning, litigation can be seen, not as ambulance-chasing from the claimant’s point of view, but as a way of informing the MOD that it should change things, and can change things.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Another example, of course, is the Snatch Land Rovers, which we have heard talk of many times. It was only because a claim was brought against the MOD that safer alternatives were put in place.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 4:15 pm, 20th October 2020

Yes, it concentrated the minds of people. I will refer to that case in a minute. The important thing is that the Bill shifts the burden of knowledge to the combatant in terms of self-diagnosis. That is completely unfair. A lot of these cases are complex, and it is unclear whether a service man or woman in a war zone could remain resilient with their fellows if they had to keep sight of a self-diagnosis, saying exactly when something actually happened, certainly for mental health cases. I am not one to want to encourage people to sue the MOD or any public body for the sake of it, but if they have been done wrong then they should have the right to do that. I am uncomfortable about the six-year rule protecting the MOD.

I accept what the Minister said. He has introduced the rule because he is looking through the wrong end of the telescope; he is looking at ways of stopping cases like Phil Shiners’. There are other ways of doing that which would not mean introducing a six-year longstop to prevent veterans and service personnel taking cases. It concerns me that the attitude is there. MOD lawyers will use the longstop. They will definitely use it. They are not going to be thinking, “This is a tool in the armoury that we are not going to use to stop claims.” They will use it. Can you blame them? No you cannot, to be honest, but it disadvantages veterans and leads to a grievance.

Issues have already been raised about mental health and PTSD, but other conditions are, again, quite unique in terms of how they are dealt with. Non-freeze injuries are soft tissue injuries that involve nerve damage, and they result from an individual being exposed to long periods of wet and cold weather. That has been a particular issue for Commonwealth service personnel. The MOD have tried to do certain things to mitigate it, but it was only because claims were starting to be initiated that the issue was highlighted. Has that knowledge been around for a long time? Yes it has. If you go back to the first world war, trench foot was that type of injury. It has affected many Commonwealth members who loyally joined our services to serve the UK. Even after an injury is diagnosed, it might not be realised during a career. In terms of delaying a claim, the effects of the cold injury might be there and the initial advice is to keep things warm, which might alleviate the issue. If two or three years down the line the service man or woman is discharged from service because of that—I understand it is a debilitating condition—that individual might not know they had a claim.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

We heard evidence from the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers about the fact that too many former service personnel do not understand that they can bring a claim against the MOD. Would this address the issue?

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Yes it would. That, and doing away with the six-year backstop. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon makes a good point. The individual might not know that they were suffering from the condition, in terms that a judge would be able to look at to say they should have known about it and they should have brought a claim. I think the evidence outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon is right: there was a reluctance to bring claims, which meant they ended up out of time. Major injury sufferers should know the date of diagnosis, but not necessarily the full impact of the condition on their service—it might not be a showstopper in their career, but in the long term it might affect their career and their ability to find post-career employment.

Another example is non-freezing cold injuries: this is not a surprise to the MOD because it knows about them. There are things that can and should be done, without putting the onus on the individual to self-diagnose the date of knowledge.

The other issue, raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow North West this morning—I mean earlier this afternoon: I am enjoying myself so much I have lost track of time— is hearing loss, the date of which is notoriously difficult to determine. In my previous incarnation, in a case of someone working with loud machinery in a factory all their lives, it is easy to pinpoint what has caused the loss of hearing. The problem for service personnel is that their careers are very varied, and although hopefully the MOD has training in phases 1 and 2 about protecting young ears especially, what is the crucial issue that leads to hearing loss, or hearing impairment? In military life, there will be exposure to loud noises: it nearly as much a fact of life as us having to listen to loud noises every day in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Just as a point of clarification, not all service personnel are exposed to loud noises: they talk about the silent service.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Yes, but that can lead to other problems, such mental health issues. I think I referred to the 1902 situation when submarines were first invented, and there were issues with pressure that had an effect on people’s bodies, which led to further issues. I accept that it does not affect everyone.

Under the Bill, how can people disaggregate when their hearing loss took place? If a certain proportion of someone’s life was spent in overseas operations, are we saying that that part of the hearing claim cannot go forward as it is exempt, as it is beyond the six years? That is where it gets very complicated, which is why I think the clear system that we have at the moment, in which if people make a claim after the time limit, they have the possibility of taking the claim under section 33 and are able to argue their case. I reiterate the point that that is not an easy process.

When I asked the Minister how many of Phil Shiner’s cases were time-limited—could have been struck out due to the time limits—and how many he actually argued in court—the Minister did not say. It would be interesting to know—

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Is the Minister saying that that 62.7% were all cases that went before a judge under the Limitation Act 1980 and were deemed to have enough evidence and special circumstance to take them forward? If he is, I find that remarkable, because in my experience of the Limitation Act, trying to get cases under it is very difficult. That is what was said by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers—they are unique cases and specialists are needed. I would be surprised if the figure was as high as that, so that of the 4,000 cases, more than half were out of time and went before a judge. If so, why did the MOD not just strike the cases out straight away, so that they were out of time? It would be interesting to know if they all went before a judge, because that suggests that the judge clearly thought that there was enough evidence to progress them. Perhaps the Minister will write to me about that—I am happy to accept that he cannot have all such figures to hand.

I am interested to know the number of those so-called vexatious claims because, I tell the Committee now, in my experience, someone who takes a vexatious case to a limitations hearing will not get very far, because of the high bar. People have to argue not only the reasons why a case should be brought out of time, but the case itself and its possibilities of success later in the litigation. For 60-odd per cent., there must have been a very soft judge allowing cases through under the Limitation Act. But I will wait to hear clarification from the Minister.

Something we have not mentioned is sight loss. I accept that in some cases people wake up and have lost their sight overnight, because of blood clots and so on, but more commonly sight is lost incrementally over time. That can sometimes take up to 10 years. If so, the veteran or serviceman or woman might have thought, “Well, I’m losing my sight”, but did not get a diagnosis, or have thought only after 10 years that they might be able to take a case, because the sight loss was related to service. They might not have thought it was but, if it was, 10 years later the Bill would not allow them to take a case. At present, they can get the diagnosis, the medical evidence, the reasons and the arguments for a limitations hearing on why they need to take a case out of time. That will not be the case if the Bill goes through.

Another example is respiratory issues, some of which may lie dormant for a long time and be the result of a whole host of conditions. I remember that in Iraq and, in particular, in Afghanistan, we had a lot of respiratory problems to do with bacteria, because the air was full of pathogens and other things. People might not have had a hacking cough but, a year or so later when they got home, they started to have such symptoms. Again, they might not have related that to their service straightaway, or with certainty, but it was later shown that, because of the use of animal manure, especially in some rural areas of Afghanistan and Iraq, people breathed in pathogens when the dust got into the air. That got into people’s lungs but did not affect their health until many years later—again it was a direct result of service, because they were there to serve their country.

The other issue, which we have touched on a little bit, is how this affects families. I raised the issue earlier of various cancers and other diseases from which people die. People think, “Why has this cancer appeared?” or “Why has this individual suddenly died?” Usually, the causes can only be identified at death. The individual will not have the date of knowledge, but the family will.

Earlier, I gave the example of asbestos—I could think of other examples—which people were exposed to when working in shipyards. Portsmouth was a big area for that, both for civilian personnel and the sailors. It is only when an autopsy takes place that it is discovered that the person who died had a cancer-related condition related to asbestos. That exposure may have been many years before. There is no date of knowledge, because the individual did not know that they actually had it. Under this longstop of six years, if that condition was contracted on an overseas operation, the family would not be able to take the case forward. That would disadvantage not only servicemen and women, but their families.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn 4:30 pm, 20th October 2020

Removing the ability for the courts to extend the six-year period would leave our veterans, ex-service personnel and their families at a disadvantage compared to those who bring normal civil claims against their employers. That is the problem we are facing in the Bill.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

It is a right. Okay—it will not be straightforward, because in my experience of asbestos cases, even with a clear diagnosis and an autopsy report, getting someone to admit liability is very difficult. The first thing that insurance companies used to do, which is exactly what the MOD will do, is require date of knowledge and say that it is time barred. If the claimant gets over that hurdle through a limitations hearing, the company usually settles. In this case, the MOD will reach for this straightaway, to say that it is not covered because it was contracted on an overseas operation and, therefore, it cannot go any further. That would give no rights at all to that family or the servicemen and women to take that case forward.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I want to give an example and ask my right hon. Friend about his experience. He knows as well as I do that both our constituencies have large numbers of ex-miners who have had compensation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and vibration white finger. If these rules were applied to them, would they have got the compensation?

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

No, because some of those cases, especially with vibration white finger, were taken on limitation hearings, because those things happened a long time ago. That is the fundamental right. To protect the veterans or servicemen and women, they need the right to go to the law, if they wish to—not everyone does and I respect people who do not.

The best example—it is a tragic example—which came up in the evidence session was the Snatch Land Rovers. The events in which people were killed and injured took place in Iraq. Although it was an issue in the MOD when I was there, in terms of the suitability of the vehicles, the real focus on it never came until July 2016 and the Chilcot report. The case that was mentioned in the evidence session was in 2005. A serviceman was killed in a Snatch Land Rover, but his widow did not really know the significance of the vehicle until the Chilcot report in July 2016. At that time, she thought that there had been a failing on behalf of the MOD in its duty care and in the provision of that equipment, so she brought a claim for the loss of her husband, not under civil law but under the Human Rights Act on the basis that her husband had a right to life.

That case was clearly time-limited, because the event took place in 2005 but the case was not brought until after the Chilcot inquiry in 2016. Obviously, a limitation hearing was held and it was successfully argued that the case should go forward, and it was settled, along with—I understand—other cases.

If the Bill goes through unamended, that case would not have been able to go forward, because—I mean, if it was left to me and the Minister, we would both agree that the date of knowledge should have been 2016, and therefore it could go ahead. However, I am not sure that the MOD lawyers would be as generous to veterans as the Minister and I would be. That is the problem when the Minister argues that the date of knowledge somehow protects veterans: it does not. The date of knowledge should not be used as argument to throw such cases out straightaway.

What will that take? If the Bill goes through as planned—especially on the human rights side, there will be a court case and an argument will be made. Let us say that a case similar to the one that I just mentioned was active today in the courts. What will happen is that someone will challenge that. So we will get litigation as a result of that process on whether the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act. I accept that the Minister will write to me on these issues, but we will get more litigation than we would if we instead said, “Let us have a judge look at the limitations on whether a case should be brought”, and if the case is deemed to be special circumstances, it should go to trial.

We must recognise that the MOD acts no differently to the insurance companies that I used to deal with when I took personal injury cases and industrial injury cases against employers, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Darlington knows this as well. It is horse trading. If there is a limitations hearing, what someone will do is to try and get it settled—nine times out of 10, an offer will be made. It is only the ones who really want to be stubborn who take the matter all the way through to trial. Very few of those cases go to trial, because people look at the evidence, to see whether it is worth going further in court, and the case is settled.

However, that process will be closed down for the individual if this tight six-year time stop goes ahead. The cases will not get to the second stage after the limitation hearing, which is about negotiating with the other side to say, “Well, come on. Can we make an offer?” It is a difficult judgment call. It is a bit like a game show—take the prize or play on—and I am sure the hon. Member for Darlington has had many sleepless nights about what is being offered. In most cases, there is an agreement and the individual making the claim is content with what is offered. Some will want their day in court, but that is not always a good idea.

What the Minister said about nuclear test veterans was interesting. I accept the point about operations—the MOD loves to give things “operation” names—but in that case, which is one I know well, and I know the medical evidence, having read it as a Minister, the Government argued in 2009 that it was time-limited. In terms of overseas operations, it was overseas.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

The Minister said that nuclear veterans would not be classed as having been on overseas operations under the Bill, yet as I read clause 1(6), which defines what “overseas operations” are, my understanding is that nuclear veterans would be included.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

The Minister says not. It will be interesting to see whether we can have definite clarification. That case was taken against the MOD in the mid-2000s for events that took place in the 1950s and 1960s, so it was clearly time-expired by anyone’s standards.

I am not arguing that we should not have time limits, which are there for very good reasons, but there need to be exceptions to allow for people who fall outside them. In that case in 2009, the MOD refused the case based on time limits, but it went before Judge Foskett who ruled that it should go forward because of new evidence from a study in New Zealand—I am racking my brains for what the study was, as I read the huge scientific document at the time. Subsequently, it failed, which shows that getting past the Limitation Act does not mean that a case is somehow a dead-cert. The facts of the case must still be argued in court and can be resisted, as they were in this case. However, people were given a right.

If that work had been classed as an overseas operation under the Bill, those people would not have had any right to get their day before a judge to argue the case. That could apply to other similar group litigation—there is such litigation from more than one person or a number of individuals—or to individuals. We have been dancing on the head of a pin about the numbers, with the Minister saying that 94% of cases are brought within time. That is fine, and I have no problem with that, but that leaves 6% that are not. If that affects one person, as I said, that is one person too many. With that brief contribution, I commend the amendment to the Committee.

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

The amendments propose changing technical parts of the Bill, so I hope hon. Members will bear with me as I try to address them in turn. These amendments are aimed at making changes to the point from which the clock starts running for both personal injury and death claims, as well as Human Rights Act claims relating to overseas operations. The amendments mean that for these types of claims the longstop clock would run from the claimant’s date of knowledge only and will not also run from the date of the relevant incident or act.

Taking amendments 76 to 87 first, in relation to the personal injury longstops contained in schedules 2, 3 and 4, there are several problems with this effect. The longstop is already able to run from the claimant’s date of knowledge under the existing law. This Bill does not change that position. We consider that the definition of the date of knowledge in section 14 of the Limitation Act 1980, and its Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts, is satisfactory and works well in practice. There is no reason why the date of knowledge for overseas operations claims should be defined differently. It is therefore not necessary to replace this definition with a new one.

Replacing the existing references to “the relevant date” in schedules 2, 3 and 4, which means the date of the incident or the claimant’s date of knowledge, will have the effect that claimants will not be able to benefit from other existing provisions in the limitation legislation that allow for extension or postponement of the limitation periods in case of disability and fraud, concealment or mistake by the defendant. These are important parts of the law of limitation and give additional protection to claimants.

Moving on, amendments 73 to 75 and amendment 92 propose changes to the Human Rights Act longstop. Amendment 73 would increase the time period, which runs from the date of knowledge, from 12 months to six years, and means that the longstop will run from the date of knowledge only and not also from the date of the act. The date of knowledge provision in this Bill is new for Human Rights Act claims relating to overseas operations, the primary time limit for which currently runs only from the date of the act.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 4:45 pm, 20th October 2020

On a point of order, Mr Mundell. Can the Minister slow down? I am finding it difficult to understand all that he has to say.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

That is not a point of order, but I am sure that the Minister will accommodate it.

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

I am more than happy to slow down. The date of knowledge provision in this Bill is new for Human Rights Act claims relating to overseas operations, the primary time limit for which currently runs only from the date of the act. We introduced the date of knowledge to mitigate the risk of any unfairness that might be experienced by claimants as a result of the new absolute longstop.

We chose 12 months for the relevant time period because this aligns with the primary limitation period in the Human Rights Act, which requires claimants to bring their claims within one year of the relevant act. We therefore consider 12 months to be a reasonable period for claimants to gather the necessary evidence to bring their claim.

Amendments 74 and 75 aim to change the definition for the new date of knowledge set out in clause 11. We consider that the definition in clause 11 is comprehensive and fair to both claimants and the MOD. It does not replicate section 14 of the Limitation Act 1980, for example, because parts of that definition do not make sense in the context of Human Rights Act claims. Similarly, amendment 75 proposes new parts for the date of knowledge definition that do not work in the context of Human Rights Act claims.

Lastly, amendment 92 removes an important part of the date of knowledge definition, which adds an objective element to the test. This ensures that claims cannot be brought indefinitely if a victim has failed to take reasonable steps to gain the relevant knowledge.

These amendments are simply not necessary. The existing definitions of the date of knowledge are comprehensive and fair, and there is no good reason why the longstops cannot run from both the date of the incident or the act, as well as the date of knowledge. These amendments will unnecessarily complicate the Bill and cause confusion.

I will address two of the points raised by the hon. Member for Islwyn about education for those who are in the armed forces. Running alongside and in tandem with this Bill, if it becomes law, will be a significant education effort through a series of annual tests that we will give to our service personnel. I am more than happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about that.

I understand the points made by the right hon. Member for North Durham, but they are not within the scope of the Bill. The nuclear test veterans and the other pre-1987 cases that he talked about are not covered by the Bill. A lot of today’s debate has been outside the context of the Bill. I do not know what the point is of continuing to bring up cases that are unaffected by the legislation that we are discussing. I have huge sympathy for nuclear test veterans and for others. Indeed, I lobby hard for the recognition that I think we all want to see for those people, but none of that is covered by this legislation. That is worth remembering.

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

No, not at this stage. I therefore recommend that these amendments are withdrawn.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

I just want to raise a point of clarification with the Minister. The nuclear test veterans were brought up because that was an example of a case that took numbers of years to emerge. I thought it was the best example of how people can be affected by an operation where it takes years for the case to develop.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

I beg to move amendment 69, in schedule 2, page 16, line 5, at end insert––

“except where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for the courts of England and Wales to allow a civil claim for personal injury arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 93, in schedule 2, page 16, line 5, at end insert––

“save for exceptional cases where the overriding interest of justice should be served.”

Amendment 70, in schedule 2, page 16, line 36, at end insert—

“(2C) Subsections (2A) and (2B) shall not apply where it appears to the court this would be equitable having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for the courts of England and Wales to allow a civil claim for wrongful death arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Amendment 71, in schedule 3, page 21, line 9, at end insert—

“(7A) The court may disapply the rules in subsections (5) to (7) where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for the courts of Scotland to allow a civil claim for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Amendment 72, in schedule 4, page 24, line 5, at end insert––

“except where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for the courts of Northern Ireland to allow a civil claim for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Amendment 68, in clause 11, page 7, line 34, at end insert—

“(4A) The court may disapply the rule in subsection (4) where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—

(a) the nature of the injuries;

(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or

(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”

This amendment introduces a discretion for UK courts to allow a HRA claim arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

I rise to speak to amendment 69 in my name. The disapplication of the court’s discretion to bring forward a civil claim in the cases of service personnel raises areas of concern. As I am sure the Minister knows full well from his experience outside Parliament, there are many circumstances in which it would be at very least appropriate for judges to disapply the six-year longstop where either the nature of the injuries meant that service personnel were unable or unaware that they needed to make a claim within six years or the claimant was unable to make a claim for logistical reasons within six years. For example, claimants could have been detained or have been unable to access the UK justice system. It could be any other reason outside their control, such as failures of the state to protect veterans in need that prevent them from making claims in time.

In its current form, the Bill has gaping holes in its ability to give service personnel a fair hearing or offer at least a basic pathway to justice. The gaps in the legislation again raise concerns that it could breach the armed forces covenant if troops cannot afford the same rights as civilians because of the Bill. Labour will work constructively with the Government to ensure that our service personnel are given the legal rights that they deserve, are treated fairly and are given access to a fair trial, not a pathway that offers little hope for justice.

Over the last few weeks, we have heard several people, and had written submissions, outlining the issues around why disapplication of the six-year longstop, particularly with personal injury, is a problem. Take the submission from Reprieve, which seeks to uphold the rule of law and the rights of individuals around the world. Over the past 20 years, Reprieve has provided legal and investigative support to hundreds of prisoners on death row, the families of innocents killed in drone strikes, victims of torture and extraordinary rendition and scores of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

In its evidence, Reprieve states that schedules 2, 3 and 4 create an

“absolute bar by removing the discretion of UK courts to extend existing time limits for survivors of abuse or UK soldiers to bring claims relating to personal injury and death…In Reprieve’s experience of investigating the use of torture and other forms of mistreatment, it is clear that no arbitrary time limits can be placed on survivors seeking redress. Even where individuals know of the UK’s involvement in their mistreatment—for instance, where they have been detained by UK forces before being rendered by UK partners to arbitrary detention and torture—they may remain wrongly imprisoned for many years more than the 6-year time limit this bill imposes.

For example, the UK Government has been found to have been involved in the rendition of individuals from Iraq to face mistreatment in secret prisons around the world. These individuals, by the very fact of their detention and mistreatment, could only bring legal claims several years after these actions took place and the UK’s involvement in them came to light…Indeed, the involvement of UK personnel in abuses may not come to light until many years after the time limit has passed. This bill would allow for claims in such cases to be brought within only one year after UK involvement has come to the victims’ knowledge—regardless of the victim’s circumstances or location—following which an absolute bar to legal claims is imposed.

Investigation into the UK’s involvement in torture and rendition, for example, has taken nearly two decades, and it was only in 2018 that the Intelligence and Security Committee published its findings that UK personnel were systematically involved in mistreatment from the first days of the so-called ‘war on terror’.”

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I would like to clarify what my hon. Friend just said. The report did not say that UK personnel were involved in the torture of individuals, but it was clear that they were present and that there were cases where rendition was conducted on behalf of the United States. However, I do not think there was any evidence that people were directly involved in torture.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his clarification. I am quoting from the charity, but I thank him for putting that on the record.

Reprieve’s written evidence continues:

“In the period between these acts of mistreatment occurring and their exposure by the ISC, survivors of these abuses would have been barred from redress by this bill.

UK courts already have powers to strike out civil claims that disclose ‘no reasonable grounds’, including those which are vexatious or ‘obviously ill-founded’. The Court’s discretion to extend the limitation period for civil claims under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 is already subject to a full and rigorous assessment of all the circumstances of the case, including the reasons tending against extending time such as the impact of delay on the quality of the evidence available. Moreover, claims under the Human Rights Act 1998 must be brought within a year unless good reason can be shown as to why the claim was not brought sooner—a far tighter limitation period than almost all other areas of law.

Far from protecting soldiers’ interests, the bill, designed to benefit the Ministry of Defence, will fundamentally harm UK soldiers…The bill will have a very significant impact on the ability of UK soldiers and former soldiers to bring claims of this kind…As former Attorney General Dominic Grieve has highlighted, this raises the real prospect that the beneficiary of this bill ‘is not so much the personnel of the armed forces but the government, which is thereby protected from facing what may be wholly deserving late claims.’ Reprieve recommends that the Overseas Operations Bill be amended to ensure that survivors of abuses, as well as UK soldiers, do not face absolute time bars to bringing claims for serious human rights abuses, such as torture. ”

The evidence—not just from Reprieve, but from the Government’s former Attorney General— makes it clear that this legislation will not ensure the proper rights that are our service personnel deserve. Indeed, it is true to say that the path to justice would become more difficult and protect the MOD, not our service personnel. Does the Minister really intend to pass a Bill that would actively build barriers to the route to justice for the victims of torture and servicepeople with other injuries? Is that what our armed forces deserve?

Those are not the only examples of where potential injustices of this nature could occur. Take the case of Mark Bradshaw, which was reported in The Times last year and which we heard about earlier today. He was awarded £230,000 as a settlement, but he fears that the proposed legislation could discriminate against people who do not develop PTSD or receive a diagnosis until many years later. He called the plan to impose a time limit on claims “horrendous”.

We also heard earlier about the claim from the marine who left service due to hearing loss. The MOD admitted liability and made no argument about his case being brought out of time. However, the time limit in the Bill would have eliminated all the aspects of the claim relating to the marine’s extensive service overseas. The claim could have been made only in relation to negligent exposure in the UK. It might not have been possible to isolate the extent and effect of negligent exposure in the UK, making it very difficult to claim any redress at all.

Is the Minister willing to turn his back on those troops? Why are some medical conditions worthy of justice, and not others? I urge the Minister to work with us. Put party politics to one side and build a consensus around the Bill that is worthy of our troops, who set out to achieve what they need to achieve. Does the Minister really intend to pass a Bill that would actively build barriers to the route to justice for victims of torture and servicepeople with other injuries? Is that what our armed forces deserve? Finally, is he satisfied that the Bill in its current form will prevent troops who are suffering from conditions such as PTSD, or even torture, from receiving justice?

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Leo Docherty.)

Adjourned till Thursday 22 October at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

OOB09 Dr Jonathan Morgan, Reader in English Law, University of Cambridge (supplementary)

OOB10 The Royal British Legion (supplementary)

OOB11 All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones

OOB12 Ahmed Al-Nahhas, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) (supplementary)

OOB13 Professor James A. Sweeney LL.B, PhD