HC Deb 23 April 2001 vol 367 cc7-8
5. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

How much his Department has paid in compensation to ex-service men in each of the past five years. [156931]

7. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

How many compensation claims are outstanding against his Department. [156933]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

The Ministry of Defence claims database does not distinguish between claims from former and serving members of the armed forces. The total amount of compensation paid to serving and former service personnel in each of the past five years was £20.5 million in 1996–97, £30.2 million in 1997–98, £37.4 million in 1998–99, £40.9 million in 1999–2000 and £47.9 million in 2000–01. The last figure is provisional and subject to final validation.

There are 8,570 claims outstanding against the Ministry of Defence. Of those, 2,092 are third party motor claims, 1,981 are service personnel employer's liability and 1,451 are civilian employer's liability. A total of 2,341 of those outstanding claims are from serving and former service personnel.

Miss McIntosh

I am grateful for those figures, which prove that there is a culture of political correctness and a creeping tendency towards compensation claims in the armed forces, placing officers and those who serve under them in an extremely difficult position. Does the Minister agree that the legal liability under which the MOD will pay compensation has increased under this Government since we signed up to the European convention on human rights, and that it would increase yet again if we agreed to join an international criminal court?

Dr. Moonie

What I can confirm is that the number of outstanding complaints has remained relatively constant over the past four years, which would suggest that what the hon. Lady asserts is not the case. The major change came about in 1987, when we accepted full liability for compensation issues. Clearly, court decisions on human rights will have some effect on numbers as rights are established or not. Overall, however, we expect the number of outstanding claims to decrease over time as the time scales for case management introduced by the 1999 civil justice reforms take effect.

Mr. Boswell

In light of my hon. Friend's comments, will the Minister not acknowledge that the numbers are going up and that there is a prevailing climate of litigiousness and political correctness? It is essential that Ministers give no signal whatever that it is open season for compensation claims. Will he assure the House that risks will be properly and professionally managed, that claims will be handled tightly but not unfairly and that, wherever possible, losses will be mitigated through effective rehabilitation?

Dr. Moonie

I have already said that the number of outstanding claims has remained constant over the past four years, so that deals with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. With regard to rights, I do not see anything wrong in serving members of the armed forces, male or female, having the same rights as any other citizen in this society. We manage our claims very carefully. Where there is clearly a liability to pay compensation, we do so, and where there is not, we defend our position vigorously.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

May I ask about compensation claims arising from active service, particularly in relation to Sierra Leone? Ten members of 1 and 2 Para returned from Sierra Leone with malaria and had not been given tablets before they left, but the Ministry of Defence is giving compensation to only one of them. Why are the Government expecting the other nine to go through the courts to get their compensation? Will the 100-plus other troops who have come back from Sierra Leone with that debilitating disease be given compensation?

Dr. Moonie

The answer to the second question is no. The answer to the other is that 17 claims were made against us. We feel that we clearly have liability in one case because the person was not treated until after four or five days in theatre. In all the other cases, treatment was started prior to deployment, despite what has been said to the contrary, and we will not be paying compensation.

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