HC Deb 24 July 1967 vol 751 cc1-6
The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. G. W. Reynolds)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement. Her Majesty's Government has been concerned at the number of incidents overseas in which the dependants of Servicemen and other servants of the Crown have been injured as the result of terrorist or other politically inspired activity.

Her Majesty's Government have therefore decided that, in addition to the provision that is already made for Government employees who are injured in these circumstances, ex gratia payments may now also be made to any of their dependants who sustain injuries in situations involving, the kind of politically inspired violence which is envisaged in the Civil Service Injury Warrants.

The Government have decided that this scheme will cover those dependants whose passage has been paid from public funds, and who have not refused a request to leave on security grounds. It will also provide for any dependent children making privately financed visits to their parents, additional to those allowed at public expense.

The Government will make payments in respect of injuries sustained outside the United Kingdom, which are directly attributable to the existence, in or near that area, of a state of war; of revolution; or of a serious and widespread disturbance. Injuries sustained as a direct result of deliberate acts of the local population or of sporadic political disturbances may also qualify for payment. This formula would exclude those injuries caused or contributed to by the serious negligence or misconduct of the injured person.

The scheme will operate with effect from 1st December 1964, and payments under it will be for the benefit of the individual who is injured and not for the family or other dependants. This means that there will be no compensation for death, but it is proposed to make a grant of £50 as a contribution towards funeral expenses. The Government have decided that payments will be in the form of capital sums assessed on a basis similar to that used by the Ministry of Social Security in relation to the Industrial Injuries Act. They will range through degrees of loss of faculty up to a sum of £5,000 for severe permanent disablement.

Payments will be made by Departments; but injuries will be assessed on a common basis, using the resources of the Ministry of Social Security and the Army Pensions Office.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

On the subject of dependants, I hope that I shall not be very much out of order, Mr. Speaker, when I also congratulate you on your new dependant.

We on this side of the House welcome the statement as evidence of the Government's concern and interest for the general well-being and peace of mind of those, both civil and military, engaged in these arduous tasks abroad, which they are performing so well. The Minister will understand that the Opposition will need to study the full implications of so important a statement as this. Incidentally, I know that it will be particularly welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), who has raised cases in connection with this subject.

There are one or two questions I should like to ask the Minister about it. It seems that an anomalous situation might arise if a person were seriously injured and therefore liable for compensation under these arrangements and subsequently died, perhaps a considerable time afterwards as a result of his injuries. I am not quite sure what the situation would then be; perhaps the Minister could say something about it.

Secondly, the wording is a little unspecific when it differentiates between injuries caused as a result of "serious and widespread disturbance" and those caused by a single deliberate act. It says that they "may also qualify for payment". Does that indicate any doubt as to whether single sporadic acts might bring about a right to compensation?

I also ask for two assurances. Will the level of compensation be calculated generously and at what one might call a full rate appropriate to active service conditions? I ask this specifically because I know that there has been some doubt, particularly in the minds of soldiers in Aden during the incidents in the internal security situation there, about whether their dependants would be paid in the event of their death at full active service rates. Lastly, will the Minister confirm that it will be the Government's intention to review these terms from time to time as required? Many of us think that it may be necessary to continue these tasks in Aden, and, indeed, elsewhere east of Suez, for much longer than the Government at present seem to think.

Mr. Reynolds

There is no benefit payable on death. One has to remember that one is talking of dependants and not of the actual breadwinner, whether he be a soldier or a civil servant. The compensation paid is for the benefit of the actual individual who is injured. There is no compensation payable under the scheme if someone dies. If someone were to receive very serious injuries and if the assessment had been made and that person were paid a capital sum of up to £5,000 and then died at a later date, one would not be absolutely certain whether he had died as a result of his injuries or from some other cause.

As to the question of the single act which "may" be considered for compensation, "may" in fact means "may"; it does not mean "will" This is the same sort of arrangement which exists for civil servants and Servicemen who serve overseas at the moment. It would be wrong to put their dependants on a more favourable basis than that of the actual breadwinner in that area. The Ministry of Social Security evaluates the justification for paying the amount of money to an approved individual. Everything follows. Once one has stated that £5.000 will be the maximum amount payable for severe permanent disability, then it is for the Ministry of Social Security and the Army Pensions Office, with the experience that they have, to evaluate what proportion of that £5,000 should be paid in a particular case. This is not concerned with the general position of active service. It is to deal with dependants of civil servants.

As to any review, the sum of £5,000 has been fixed, but if prices went up from time to time one would have to review it, though one does not anticipate the necessity to do this very often.

Dame Joan Vickers

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Public Building and Works for this achievement. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I raised this subject originally in September, 1965. I think the right hon. Gentleman has had a very well won victory over the Treasury. May I ask two or three questions?

First, will people who are off duty qualify? That was a point which I brought up originally. Secondly, how will people know that they may claim back to December, 1964? Thirdly, how many people does the right hon. Gentleman think will be eligible for this award now? Finally, will he also make it well known to the Ministry of Social Security how this scheme is to be worked, and may I also ask whether there is to be a right of appeal if a claimant does not agree with the amount that has been awarded to him?

Mr. Reynolds

I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks about the Government's decision to make these payments. The case in which she has been particularly interested is one of those that will be considered under the arrangements that I have just announced, and the Ministry of Public Building and Works will immediately start going into that particular case.

I think I am right in saying that there have been over 20 incidents in Aden alone in which people might qualify for compensation under this scheme. Until we look at each individual case we shall not know for certain, because it is possible that someone may have received an injury which may have no lasting effect.

The compensation of £5,000 is for long-term serious disability. Any other payment is not just for a wound but for a permanent long-term effect on the individual concerned. These cases will be considered by the individual Departments concerned.

I think we have had all the information about the individuals who are affected, but if anyone thinks that he may be justified in claiming we shall be pleased to hear from him. As to persons who are injured while off duty, this is covered by my statement, as the hon. Lady will see if she reads it in HANSARD tomorrow. It is not concerned with whether an individual is on duty or not. It does not relate to persons employed by us; it concerns dependants of people who are employed by us.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this scheme covers foreign or Commonwealth service officers?

Mr. Reynolds

No, it is concerned with dependants who have been transported to a place overseas to join their husbands at public expense from this country. It would not apply to the dependants of locally enlisted people. There may, however, be one or two cases mainly in the foreign service where people have been enlisted locally but served in another country.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

People in the Foreign Service in this country who go overseas to embassies in China, the Far East and the Middle East have been subjected to indignities, if not injuries. Does the scheme apply to them?

Mr. Reynolds

Yes, it applies to the dependants of Servicemen and members of the Civil Service from the various Ministries who serve overseas.