Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)

WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002

COLONEL TERRY ENGLISH, MAJOR TOM HOUSE AND LT COL STEVE COLTMAN OBE

Mr Hancock

  20. There is a problem. It is about when Service personnel are considered to be off-duty. Most Service personnel consider that they are on 24-hour call. So, effectively, even at home they are available for duty. Getting from home to work is considered part of the duty by the overwhelming number of Service personnel and some commanding officers. Do you believe that there is a grey area that needs clarification?
  (Colonel English) I would like to see that area clarified. If one becomes too judgmental—we have all seen this—and the rules are laid down, there is always someone who falls to one side or the other. Currently, that is the case with this particular aspect of war pensions awards. The majority of cases, I believe, would not receive an award for that, but there is a significant number that do. When the agency judges the case, it can either see there and then that the individual has fallen between the rules, and is obviously on duty, or the other way around and it will turn down the case. Similarly, it can go to appeal and the tribunal system will review it with all the facts before it. It would be wrong of us to say today that universally we would expect that to be compensated in every case.

Syd Rapson

  21. On the constraint of cost neutrality, we know that the Treasury has imposed this constraint. There is evidence of a decline in the benefits for the AFPS against the comparator pension schemes. We know that as fact. The review document says that there will be additional costs in the short term as the scheme is introduced, but "in the longer term we would expect the direct costs of the new scheme to be broadly cost neutral". What have been the effects on the proposals of cost neutrality being taken as the starting point?
  (Colonel English) I am surprised that cost neutrality comes into it at this stage. I am not sure how they do that for war pensions. Much of the cost of war pensions must depend upon which ailments will be compensated. Perhaps I can give you an example. A few years ago in 1996 the rules for deafness were changed. As a result, a considerable sum was saved on war pensions because 40 per cent of all war pensions were given for a degree of deafness. We believe that there is a strong possibility that that will be overturned in the near future as it is under current review by senior consultants in the deafness field. Should that happen, the bill for war pensions will increase markedly again. Although there must be a figure that the Treasury sets for war pensions, for example, I am not aware of it. I would find it hard to know how they will prophesise which ailments will qualify for a war pension, for example, in the next few years and which will not. There are many other illnesses that are currently under review and we are all conscious of what happened on Gulf War issues. It takes only a change in what has happened there to generate a situation where far higher payments may be appropriate. So I am surprised that the paper has capped it so overtly in that way, although perhaps I am not surprised, having been a MoD staff officer, that may have been the case.

  22. On the cost neutrality basis, taking into account that there perhaps is not anything extra coming in, that prices are increasing and that there is a gradual reduction in the benefits you can give, the only way to balance things out is to make savings, which means you have to make cuts which will hurt, or increase contributions. There does not appear to be any leeway at all suggested to help you.
  (Colonel English) No.

Mr Hancock

  23. I think the title of "war pension" is a misnomer and causes a lot of problems. I tried to get the MoD to accept that there should be a Service health-related pension or a Service disability pension which would be much better. The other issue is that when many personnel leave the Services they receive bad advice from people in the Service because they do not know enough about the procedures. That leads me to the current state of play. Service personnel can make a claim after a very lengthy period of time. One of the things that the Government are considering is whether that period should come down to a maximum of three years after leaving the Service. Where do you stand on that? Why do you tend to suggest that that is inevitable rather than something that the Legion should fight?
  (Colonel English) I am sorry that you have that message. It is totally the reverse. We do not agree with introducing a period of three years from the time when the illness is diagnosed—although it may be diagnosed shortly after they leave—because so many of those who become unwell due to their service, for one reason or another, either do not know that they can make a claim or choose not to make a claim. I am sure that my colleagues in Combat Stress will tell you that many who suffer from mental illness reject the idea themselves and they do not want to advertise it by making a claim until their situation deteriorates to such an extent that they become so unwell that they have to. There are many like that. The current system does not have a time bar of that nature. There is the seven-year rule which ensures that the burden of proof is with the organisation before seven years and with the individual afterwards. We consider that to be reasonably fair. We would strongly disagree with the three-year rule.

  24. I shall give you an example of where the MoD will not accept that. I have been dealing with a Serviceman who sadly was involved in the sinking of one of the ships in the Falklands War. His family and now he admit that he suffers considerable stress because of that. In the end the Navy discharged him because he was alcoholic and unable to get proper treatment. In the past couple of years he has realised that his drinking, which has got out of control, is because of the trauma that he would not face up to, and the Navy now will not accept that the start of the problem all stems back to something that happened 20 years ago. He is now locked into a "forever" battle trying to get a pension from the War Pensions Agency which is hiding behind the Navy. I wonder whether you are making your very positive stance on this known to the MoD. Have you told the Ministry that the view of the Royal British Legion is that you are not prepared to see that change?
  (Colonel English) We have told them that this paper is not acceptable in its present form and that that is one of the issues that is not acceptable to us.

  25. That is good. My next question relates to the tariff compensation, how that operates and the sort of representations that you must have received from your members who must be upset about the way that that is interpreted. What is the current view of the Royal British Legion on the operation of the tariff system?
  (Colonel English) I have alluded to that. A number of factors are associated with the tariff system. First, we do not like it. We have had experience, through the South Atlantic war and on an ongoing basis with ordinary Service pensions, where lump sums have melted away and an individual has thereafter faced great hardship. We believe that the tariffs suggested are in question. They are the criminal injury tariffs. I believe that they have already been questioned elsewhere. To suggest the same level of tariffs for Servicemen would be wrong. We believe that the best way to satisfy those who are disabled is to answer the problem with an income stream in the form of a pension, as is usually the case today with disabilities over a certain level.

  26. Have you looked at who would benefit from these changes and who would lose out?
  (Colonel English) It is easy to look at a figure. If you say to a young man, "I shall give you £5,000 today", that young man may take it, but when one looks at his long-term best interests, one can see all the flaws in that. We see real flaws in the sums suggested in this paper.

  27. What about the widows of people who are young Servicemen who are killed and the widows of those who die as a result of illness and they are granted a war pension? What advice would you give to those people? Would you suggest that it is better for them to have a lump sum?
  (Colonel English) The problem is similar. A lump sum may look attractive at first sight, but a widow in her early 20s may have to provide for a family for the next 10, or 15 years. She may or may not remarry, but if she does not, she may have to live on that pension for the rest of her life.

  28. If she remarries she loses the pension, does she not?
  (Colonel English) There is a tweak here. She loses it unless she is divorced, in which case she can go back to the existing situation. She can reclaim as a widow. We think that that area should be tidied up as well.

  29. Are you making any representations about that point, that it is unfair to take that pension away from a widow and a family simply because she remarries, bearing in mind that the pension was because of the service of her husband and the father of her children. The pension should be for them.
  (Colonel English) We support our sisters in the War Widows Association on this very matter. Yes, we are supportive.

  30. They feel that it is very unjust that they should lose that pension.
  (Colonel English) Yes.

  31. Do you believe that the tariff system differentiates between a physical illness and a psychiatric illness? Do you share the view that I have that a psychiatric illness is more difficult to prove and that it is difficult to get the collaborative evidence relating to the circumstances that may first have been a contributory factor to the illness developing?
  (Colonel English) We share that view. There is scant mention of deterioration in the paper and all that comes into play. In essence, I believe that we are very much against the tariff system. We shall make that very clear when we have our ongoing discussions with the MoD.

Chairman

  32. Far be it from me to rush to Mr Hancock's aid, as he handles himself well, but he may be right in his question on the Legion's attitude to the three-year limit. Unless I have been misled by what you have written in your memorandum, you appear not to be hostile, but acquiescent. You say, "The 3-year time limit is on par with the modern compensation schemes", that the three-year limit is unavoidable and that it is hard to argue against these as they are modern time constraints. Can you clarify that for us or amend the memorandum? Are you opposed in principle?
  (Colonel English) We are opposed in principle and as part of the discussion we are now firmly against the three-year rule.

Mr Hancock

  33. Have you made that clear to the MoD?
  (Colonel English) We have not had a chance to speak to them yet, but we have given them a whole range of things that we intend to take up with them.

Chairman

  34. Perhaps you could revise your memorandum for us to bring it up to date for us.
  (Colonel English) Yes, indeed.

Jim Knight

  35. I have a similar confusion on the guaranteed income stream in relation to the lump sum payment? We have a copy of the letter from Ian Townsend of July where it is said that the guaranteed income stream is welcomed as a way of mitigating some of the problems to which you alluded earlier.
  (Colonel English) Yes. The guaranteed income stream is welcomed but the tariff stream is not. We shall be fighting to have the guaranteed income stream as the main source of compensation.

  36. Would you regard the guaranteed income stream as less or more satisfactory than a war pension?
  (Colonel English) A war pension is a guaranteed income stream.

Mr Hancock

  37. It is not a guarantee, is it? It can be taken away.
  (Colonel English) Yes, it can, but I do not think that we have ever seen a war pension stopped.
  (Major House) The only time that a war pension can be taken way is if the condition for which the war pension was awarded has righted itself. You have a guaranteed income stream for the rest of your life as long as you remain so injured.
  (Colonel English) That would have to be the same with any scheme that we introduced.

Jim Knight

  38. The guaranteed income stream is a mechanism for distributing the lump sum?
  (Colonel English) Yes.

  39. Because it is guaranteed, it will carry on?
  (Colonel English) What I should say as well is that the tariffs are very low. We could not accept that. We obviously could not accept an income stream that was based purely on that figure.


 
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