HL Deb 11 November 1982 vol 436 cc357-8

3.20 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what estimate they can now make of the number of members of the task force, wounded or injured during the Falklands campaign, who are likely to be placed indefinitely in categories of 60 per cent. or more in terms of the standard scale of war disablement.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am not in a position to say. Degrees of war disability can only be assessed by the Department of Health and Social Security after a serviceman has been medically discharged from the armed forces. No service personnel have yet been medically discharged from the Armed Forces because of injuries sustained in the Falkland Islands conflict, and decisions on such discharges can only be made in the light of clinical developments in individual cases over a period of time. I believe it could be wrong to try and predict how many might eventually have to be discharged.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer, so far as he can go. Will the Government ensure that, in addition to full support financially and medically, rehabilitation services will be available with the highest priority to those whose careers in the armed forces have been ended or impaired? Will the Government also extend the greatest encouragement to them in the light of the experience of the severely disabled from the two world wars who have managed to reshape their lives?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that all the considerations he has suggested will indeed be taken into account. If a man has to be medically discharged from the armed forces he is given considerable advice and help in smoothing the transition to civilian life, and this would include expert advice on the various opportunities for training for civilian employment through the service resettlement centres or MOD sponsored courses at polytechnics and colleges of further education.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the term contained in the Question "standard scale of war disablement" is related to the criteria established after the last war? Does it not take into account inflation and increases in the pay of those in the armed forces?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence guarantees a minimum level of pension for all servicemen invalided from the armed forces with a serious disablement—that is, 20 per cent. or more—which is directly attributable to their service. A basic lump sum is also paid. These awards are related to rank and degree of disability, but are paid irrespective of age or length of service. They are in addition supplemented through the payment of war disablement pensions by the DHSS. In all cases pensions and lump sums are paid tax free.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether those people from the task force who remain disabled will be offered continued employment in the services, if they so wish, even though it means changing to an administrative job?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, yes indeed, wherever it is possible such a thing will happen, and if our advice is that they should go outside we shall again advise accordingly.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that on all sides of the House there is considerable anxiety lest any of these gallant young men should be left in uncertainty for a long period of time? Would not the noble Earl consider it advisable within, say, one or two months to make a full statement showing exactly what provision is going to be made for those who served this country so well?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, we are at the moment of course talking about the people who have been badly wounded. It will, as I said in my original Answer, take a little while before the various states of recovery will be known. Therefore, it would not be possible to produce a statement at any one time, but I can assure the noble Lord, as I assured my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, that every single consideration is being given towards looking after these people. Perhaps what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has in mind is the South Atlantic Fund, on which I think it might be advisable in the not too distant future to let Parliament know what is happening.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, from listening to the Minister's reply it seems that there is a sequence of operations. First, the serviceman is discharged, and then his assessment as to disability is in the hands of a civil department. Can we be assured that there is no financial gap which will leave a man short of money, because either his pay and allowances continue until assessment is made or he is informed of the assessment before his discharge?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords. I shall certainly bear my noble friend's point in mind and look into it for him.