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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, it is both sad and wrong that the Government should proceed with this proposed change in the face of opposition from the Royal British Legion and all those on whose behalf it works. The fact is that the Government have failed to make their case. They have not convinced those at whom this new scheme is aimed that it is fair and just, as opposed to what is in place at present.
It is worse than that because, as my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester said, undertakings were given in another place to work with the Royal British Legion. The Minister shakes his head. Does he want to say something?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I do want to interrupt and of course I did not want to interrupt the mover of the amendment, who chose the words that he used. But I have to say that the very serious allegations made by
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my noble friend Lord Morris concerning the Ministry of Defence's behaviour in its dealings with the Royal British Legion are denied completely. I do not think that my noble friend, whose opinions I respect very much, should simply adopt what my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester said on this matter. There is clearly a disagreement between the two parties about the way in which negotiations did or did not take place. But I think that he would be wrong and foolish to accept all that was said by my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester. If he has other arguments, I suspect that they are more valuable than the ones concerning the Royal British Legion's attitude towards the Ministry of Defence at present.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I hear what my noble friend has to say, but it brings me back to the first point. It is certainly not the view of the Royal British Legion that the Ministry of Defence has dealt with it properly over this matter. The Ministry of Defence rejects the arguments put forward by the Royal British Legion on the back of its analysis that 60 per cent of claimants who would have succeeded under the present rules are likely to fail under the new ones. I recall from copies of correspondence that I have seen that undertakings were given in the House of Commons to try to investigate that matter jointly with the Royal British Legion. That has not been done. As my noble friend
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend again. It has not been done because the Royal British Legion cancelled the meeting at which it was due to be discussed. Since then, it has said in a letter that it has no intention of doing so. That is the reason it has not been done.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, again, I hear what my noble friend says but that is a completely different argument from one used earlier where my noble friend himself said in a letter dated 22 Julyunfortunately it does not say to whom it was sent; we shall assume that it was to the Royal British Legionthat,
It goes on to say that that was mainly because of a lack of resources. Which is it? Is it not worth doing or do we not have the money to do it? I do not think that my noble friend can have this both ways.
As I said, my main point is the one with which I started: the Royal British Legion has not been persuaded with regard to this part of the changes which the Government propose to make, and I think that it is very wrong of the Government to persist in this matter without trying harder to obtain such an agreement.
I also say to my noble friend that all of us in this House and this Parliament are very proud to pay proper tribute not simply to what we ask service personnel to do on our behalf around the world but to the way in which they carry out those responsibilities. The nub of the argument in favour of the amendment
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is that we should take the same pride in circumstances where the health of service personnel is impaired or their medical condition worsened by carrying out those duties as we do in the way in which we compensate them for what happens to their health when they respond to the requests and the responsibilities which we place upon them.
I say to my noble friend that I think that all the voices around this Chamber should give him reasonI put it no higherto doubt the wisdom of the Government in persisting in their opposition to the amendment.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I rise with some trepidation because I do not fully support the speeches made this afternoonnot least that of my noble friend Lord Morris. I have taken part in this Bill from the beginning and, like many Members of this House, I too have received enormous amounts of briefing from the Royal British Legion. The impression I have had is that the Royal British Legion has not been prepared to move on this issue.
We know that it is a difficult issue and I count myself among Members of this House who want the very best for our Armed Forcesnot least this new pension scheme. The scheme will cost money but it will improve the lot of service personnel and their families enormouslyfar more than at present. We are always being told that there are packages, and the term "cost neutral" is one that rolls off the tongue of the Treasury very easily. It is not one that I accept, particularly in regard to the defence of this country and our Armed Forces.
But the difficulty that I have with the amendmentI do not know whether my noble friend Lord Morris will push it to a vote todayis that we have not yet heard what the Minister has to say. I am concerned if the Royal British Legion has cancelled a meeting, and I have not had explained to me how the figure of 60 per cent is arrived at.
With regard to the other part of the argument, I think that there is a case for having a standard burden of proof. The Armed Forces should be treated specially and they deserve our support in this House, but there are other emergency services in this country and people who are not in the Armed Forces who work in extremely dangerous conditions resulting in injuries and lifelong ill health.
Therefore, I am rather concerned about the amendment. If it is agreed to, I am concerned about its impact on the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill. I am not saying that one should trade one off against the other; that is not a proper way in which to conduct oneself. Nevertheless, I think that in these situations one has to listen, and we must each sometimes take on board the arguments that are being made. I am not sure that the Royal British Legion has
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been prepared to do that. It is an organisation for which I have great admiration but it is the organisation which represents ex-service personnel.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, first, we must remember that the forces do not have a trade union; the Royal British Legion is their trade union. Secondly, I entirely take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, about other people who have problems.
But the point is that the problems of the Armed Forces are much greater. First, they are exposed to things such as Gulf War illness. That is not a very common illness in this country and it has taken them a long time to be heard on that issue. Secondly, precisely because they have no union and no voice, the Armed Forces need to be spoken for much more loudly. All the other groups can be spoken for by their various supporters. We are basically their trade union and we must ensure that, if this situation remains, the onus of proof rests on the Secretary of State. I say that not least because I understand that if people are to prove the point themselves, they will not be eligible for legal aid. What kind of man will, with great difficulty, try to fight the Government on the issue of Gulf War illness? Where will he get the money to fund that? Why should he have to fund himself?
It seems to me to be absolutely simple: this is a special case. We and, above all, the Royal British Legion are their voice. Other possible cases should be dealt with in their own way, in their own time and by their own pressure groups. There should be no doubt about this: we should support the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I shall start by making a somewhat surprising statement and I shall actually mean it. I thank noble Lords for the excellent contributions that they have made and for the depth of feeling and passion with which they have spoken on this subject. I am particularly sorry to have interrupted my noble friend Lord Corbett and I am grateful to him for giving way to me twice. I believe it was important to make those points to him. I have listened very carefully to all that has been said.
I want to argue to your Lordships why it would be a serious error for the House to use its heart rather than its head and to vote for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester. I start by noting that no single element of the new pension and compensation schemes can or should be considered in isolation. That is the danger of this amendment. The Bill provides for a comprehensive package of new pension and compensation arrangements suitable for today's Armed Forces. The arrangements include provisions that represent considerable improvements on the current schemes. Noble Lords will know what I am talking about when I mention very significantly improved widows' and widowers' pension benefits, increased death-in-service benefits at four times pay instead of the one-and-a-half at presentnoble and gallant Lords and noble Lords have argued for that in
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this House for many yearsprovision for unmarried partners and better focus of compensation benefits on the more severely disabled.
Many of the provisions respond to concerns about the current arrangements that have been voiced over the years. But I stress that the two schemes can only proceed together. They support and complement each other in a balanced packageI am sorry to have to use that worddesigned to meet the needs of Armed Forces personnel and their families in this century. Veterans' organisations want to see the package implemented as soon as possible because of the considerable improvement in benefits, and I venture to say that the Armed Forces want to see these schemes introduced as soon as possible because they are to their benefit. Certainly the Chiefs of Staff representing the Armed Forces support the schemes.
I have to tell the House that significant changes to any area affecting either the coherence or the affordability of the schemes would inevitably cause us to look again at the overall package and might mean that we are unable to progress with some or all of the features that it currently contains. What is on offer is an overall package that redistributes resources and that better meets our manning needs and employer responsibilities.
It is just not affordable to keep the best of the old and the best of the new. If the Bill were to fall the improvements would fall with it, improvements that are clearly highly valued by many within the ex-service community and, of course, by many noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the amendment. That is why this amendment about the burden and standard of proof is so significant. If it is carried, it will have severe implications for the rest of the Bill.
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