§ Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they will establish a unit within the Ministry of Defence to consider all cases of accidental injury sustained by members of the armed forces with a view to providing compensation.
My Lords, I am happy to be able to confirm that such a unit already exists within the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry's claim branch considers claims for compensation made by anyone for whom the Ministry has a liability, including servicemen.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his reply. I am also most grateful to him for the time he has afforded me to discuss related matters to this subject, which is considered by ex-servicemen to be an extremely important issue. We have the Ministry of Defence Service Invaliding Pension, known by soldiers who have been wounded as SIP, the DSS War Disablement Pension and of course the MoD Service Attributable Pension. All those pensions may be good measures but sometimes they constitute a veritable minefield. Will the Minister examine the case of service personnel who are denied compensation for injuries where it is alleged no negligence is involved? That matter needs to be re-examined. Under the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987 no compensation can be paid to any soldier, sailor or airman or any female member of those forces unless he or she has been discharged as being unfit for further service. That ruling has created some bitterness. Will the Minister examine it?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct. The Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987 gives service personnel the right to claim in coma on law for compensation for personal accident or injury through negligence against the MOD. It is never in the interests of the MOD to evade its responsibilities or to be obstructive. Quite the reverse is the case. Many claims for accidental injury have been brought against the Ministry since the passage of the 1987 Act. Some cases have been minor ones, while others have been more serious. In only five of those cases has the matter gone to court. Every possible assistance is given to claimants in terms of providing factual information and guidance. If in the end their claim is unsuccessful, they may take their case to the court. Incidentally, that is not an option which is open to servicemen in, for example, the United States or Canada.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, will the noble Earl tell the House how many claims for accidental injury against the MoD are at present outstanding? What is the average period of time during which they have been outstanding?
My Lords, I do not have those precise figures with me but I shall write to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Royal British Legion at national and area level, and other ex-servicemen's associations, acknowledge that this matter is a problem? All they are asking is whether they can be consulted in the not too distant future to discover whether a better system can be arrived at.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this matter to my attention. It is possible for serving personnel to take out insurance against accidental injury. The MoD has negotiated an accident policy through its brokers which can be purchased in blocks of £10,000 at a cost of £1.50 per block. There is a set scale of benefits depending on the type of injury sustained. At the moment there is a fairly low take-up rate on the policy but the Ministry is keen that the rate should be increased if possible.