HC Deb 08 December 1986 vol 107 cc85-6W
Mr. Brinton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he intends to announce the results of the review of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Younger

I have now completed my review of Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947.

Section 10 was included in the 1947 Act on the grounds that members of the Armed Forces, by the very nature of their profession, undertake hazardous tasks which ordinary members of the public do not. At that time it was believed that this provision would not result in any overall financial penalty against servicemen, because they received benefits, payable regardless of fault, which were in most cases comparable with those which a civilian might expect from the courts. Our review has, however, shown that damages which courts have awarded in some cases of personal injury have now risen to a level which can considerably exceed the benefits which the serviceman receives. The Government have concluded that repeal of section 10 is the only satisfactory course which will remove this disadvantage.

By having the right of access to the courts in personal injury cases, the serviceman will have a right—the right to sue the Crown—which his fellow citizens already enjoy. We recognise that it will be necessary to avoid any effect on the maintenance of discipline and the quality of military training. My Department will therefore stand behind any serviceman who was sued by another serviceman for alleged negligence arising out of the execution of his duties and in doing so would aim to place on record the peculiar hazards and difficulties to which a serviceman's life is subject. The existing system of benefits which are payable in cases of death or injury, regardless of fault, will be maintained.

We shall need to be able to reactivate the provisions of section 10 in the event of impending or actual hostilities or grave national emergency.

We do not propose that the repeal of section 10 should be made retrospective because of the principle that legislation is for the future and because it would be wrong to impose retrospective liability. There may, of course, be cases arising in respect of incidents between today and the eventual repeal of section 10 in which claims for compensation would be accepted but for the continuing operation of section 10. We intend that, once a Bill has become law, any valid claims falling into that category should be dealt with on an ex-gratia basis.

Because of the constraints of the legislative programme the Government are unable to introduce the necessary legislation in this Session. However, we would be ready to support a suitable Bill that might be brought by a private Member.

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