Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 9 MAY 2001
MOONIE, MP AND
40. What assessment have you made of veterans'
level of satisfaction with the services and provision they receive
from the War Pensions Agency?
(Dr Moonie) It would be fair to say that there are
longstanding dissatisfactions with the way in which the system
operates. Anybody who does not get what they think they deserve
is obviously going to be dissatisfied, but the scheme at present
bends over backwards to ensure that people are included. There
is dissatisfaction with the length of time it takes to process
claims. Claims are very complex and the system itself is a bit
creaky. We have to remember it was set up in 1917 and there cannot
be many of our institutions still around that have not been properly
revised since then.
41. Except the House of Commons, of course.
(Dr Moonie) Except the House of Commons, indeed. Foolish
of me to forget that. I think it is time now to have a very thorough
review of what is going on to try to meet some of these concerns.
The delays are annoying. I would like to see that certainly speeded
up, particularly for the people who are very severely disabled
and who require quick help.
42. Minister, in March you published the long
awaited consultation document on compensation arrangements following
a review with the Department of Social Security. It could be argued
that this change owes a lot to the lessons learned from the way
in which Gulf veterans have been dealt with. A lot of the new
proposals were based upon experience from the past but, as you
are aware, the proposals you have come forward with do not have
any retrospective element to them. Although lessons have been
learned, the new proposals will do nothing to improve compensation
for Gulf veterans and those who have been injured in the past.
Why has the Ministry of Defence decided that the current compensation
arrangements will continue to be acceptable for Gulf veterans
but not for existing personnel?
(Dr Moonie) I am hiding behind the standard government
response here: new schemes are never made retrospective. Whatever
scheme is extant at the time at which you become entitled to benefits
under it, for example, that is the scheme which will be applied
to you. I do not think there is any great level of dissatisfaction
with the outcomes of what happens at presentmore so with
the process and the time it takes. This scheme was set up in 1917.
We have two schemes which people have to apply for. They apply
different criteria and therefore they can, on occasion, heighten
the sense of injustice that people feel. I think it is high time
that the system was reviewed and we brought in a better one to
replace it, but it cannot be made retrospective. We cannot clear
up the regulations under which somebody was first seen and see
them again at a much later date under the new scheme. After all,
you could not just restrict it to Gulf veterans; in these cases
if you were going to be fair, you would have to make it applicable
to anybody in the past and that is why schemes are not made retrospective.
We just could not do it. It is not practical.
43. When will the new arrangements come in?
(Dr Moonie) On the overall scheme, we are still out
for consultation and it is going to take us a considerable time
to take in the responses we receive, to decide how we are going
to do it and to proceed, for example, merging the two schemes,
deciding which roof it is going to sit under. I would think to
be able to do it over the next year would be setting a challenging
timetable. It might take longer than that; it might not. I do
not actually know how difficult it would be to bring in the new
arrangements and put them into place. It will be done as quickly
44. There will not be any retrospective arrangements?
(Dr Moonie) There will not be retrospective arrangements,
45. The Committee said in previous reports that
with public/private partnerships and with PFI the private sector
is getting closer and closer to the front line. If we want to
encourage this process of civilians engaging in what could be
very hazardous activities in peace time and in war, are you absolutely
satisfied that arrangements for compensation and insurance would
give some encouragement to add to a sense of patriotism for those
who will not receive the benefit of being a member of the armed
forces but who might be injured or killed?
(Dr Moonie) You are quite right. We have to ensure
that people in future have adequate cover for what may happen
to them. It is possible that this could be based on some form
of insurance. It might be that insurance companies might prove
a little difficult to convince of the benefits of offering that
type of scheme to people. I think we would therefore have to look
at some form of indemnity. We are actively considering that and
it is something which I think we will probably have to do.
46. Through what vehicle will that be administered?
(Dr Moonie) That I have not decided. I honestly cannot
say what the most appropriate method would be. I presume it would
have to be done within the Ministry of Defence.
Chairman: Perhaps they should redesignate
your role Minister for Veterans and Civilians Working Alongside
Veterans' Affairs during a time of conflict, rather an unpalatable
set of acronyms.
47. When we reported last year, we suggested
that you might consider compensation for civilians who were injured
in the Gulf and basically you said then what you have just said
now which is that you are discussing possible future arrangements.
Has the MoD's position on compensation for civilian contractors
who served alongside Service personnel in the Gulf changed in
any way since our report last year?
(Dr Moonie) No. We are looking to the future when
we are making proposals for civilian contractors. If we clearly
had liability, we would pay compensation. If we do not, we do
not. The future arrangements will provide a much better safety
net than exists at present.
48. Regular forces are of course eligible under
the Armed Forces Pension Scheme and reservists are eligible under
the Attributable Benefits for Reservists Scheme, ABRS, which has
recently been extended to include eligibility for reservists who
are medically downgraded after mobilisation. A response to a parliamentary
question indicated that that change would take effect from April,
so presumably it is running now?
(Dr Moonie) Yes, it is. I am not sure how long it
is going to take to deal with the cases that are extant but again
they will be dealt with as quickly as possible.
49. How many individuals will receive such payments?
(Dr Moonie) It is a very small number. I think it
is round about ten under the scheme itself and fewer than that
under the ex gratia payment that we are offering for the very
few people who are left uncovered by either scheme.
50. For the record, perhaps you could say who
that very small number who may receive ex gratia payments are,
what categories they are and how many you anticipate they will
be in the coming years.
(Dr Moonie) I always find this horrendously difficult
to get my head round. These are the handful of people from the
long term reserves who went back to being civilians after they
left the theatre in which they were engaged.
There are very, very few of them within that category who have
missed out on the provisions that we have. In these cases we think
it correct to make an ex gratia payment to them which will be
the equivalent of what they would have received had they been
in the scheme, but it is a very small number.
51. Are you aware of any other groupings on
behalf of whom representations have been made that in equity they
should also be eligible?
(Dr Moonie) I do not think so.
52. No doubt they would come forward if they
felt themselves aggrieved?
(Dr Moonie) Were they brought to my attention, I would
certainly have to deal with them. I think we have had long enough
now for any such groups to have made themselves clear to us.
Chairman: I would like to come to the
question of negligence claims and mediation. As at 1 April 2001,
the MoD had received 1,866 active notices of intention to claim
from veterans and members of their families in respect of illnesses
from the Gulf conflict. However, no writs or detailed claims have
yet been received. The Committee has received a memorandum from
a firm of solicitors, Hodge Jones & Allen, which represents
over 600 veterans in respect of such claims. I met them last week.
The solicitors claim that despite the government's declared policy
of using mediation wherever possible the MoD have informed them
that they are not prepared to engage in mediation as they do not
see the evidence as likely to succeed in court. The Joint Compensation
Review Consultation Document concedes that, "Concern is frequently
expressed that civil negligence cases against MoD can be confrontational
and protracted, cause distress to claimants and result in disparate
awards for the same disablement" and it expresses the hope
that the new compensation arrangements will enable more claims
to be settled without referral to the courts. I will ask my colleague,
Mr Cann, to ask the specific question.
53. Why has the MoD so far refused to enter
into mediation discussions with the representatives of Gulf veterans
who have given notice of negligence claims? Would you accept that
mediation seems the most logical and cost effective way of going
(Dr Moonie) No, at present I would not. We have been
very clear. Where it is appropriate, we will use mediation but
in these circumstances there would have to be a recognition on
our part that we had in some way been negligent. We do not accept
that in any way at present and I see therefore no point in going
to mediation where we are absolute in our defence of our position.
54. You are defending your position; presumably
the veterans are defending theirs. Is not that a case where mediation
can judge properly between the two conflicting views?
(Dr Moonie) No. I believe in this case the only way
in which it can be resolved is by people who feel they have views
taking them to court and testing them. I am absolutely convincedI
have looked at the evidence in detailthat there is no point
at present in going to mediation. We would not accept a compromise
55. You are going to need a lot of court space,
are you not?
(Dr Moonie) That is possible, yes, but so far no court
action has been raised against us. We are not just going to pay
compensation for an easy life. I do believe that what we have
done and the stance we have taken is correct and I therefore feel
that we should defend it.
56. A large sum of money has been paid out of
the legal aid fund to lawyers to represent them and, if it is
pushed to court, even one court case can be very protracted and
costly. The record of the MoD in court is about the equivalent
of the DA in Perry Mason. Would it be wiser perhaps to test it
out by way of mediation in a couple of cases? Are you absolutely
irrevocable in this decision to avoid mediation?
(Dr Moonie) I would never say I was absolutely irrevocable
about something. If the position changed and if new evidence was
presented to us which showed things in a different light, clearly
I would review it again, but at present I see no justification
for altering our position. What I have said to representatives
of Hodge Jones & Allen when I met them a few weeks ago is
that we are trying to be inclusive. We are trying to keep in discussions.
One of the things I see as Veterans Minister is not just sitting
on committees, making decisions, but making direct contact with
people who have concerns and trying to work our way through it.
The important thing for the veterans after all is to try to alleviate
in some way the suffering which they are undergoing. I think that
is where our main efforts should be targeted, but as a department,
where we feel we have nothing to be ashamed of and we have done
nothing that we consider to be wrong, certainly not negligence,
I think it is our duty to defend our position properly.
57. There have been several statistical studies
comparing groups of Gulf War veterans with groups of people who
have not been to the Gulf. The statistical conclusion seems to
be that there is little to show between the two groups, I understand.
I remember in the States we were briefed and told that the only
statistically significant figure was that reservists were far
more likely to claim to suffer from Gulf War Syndrome than regular
forces, perhaps indicating that the strain and physical stress
of reservists going into battle was greater than that of the regulars.
Are there further statistical studies planned in this country
of Gulf War veterans compared with comparative groups perhaps,
focusing on people of the same age?
(Dr Moonie) It is difficult to get morbidity data
on illness. If we are talking purely about mortality here, that
is a very straightforward thing to do. For any population, we
can construct standardised mortality ratios for the normal population
and compare the group to see whether it is different. In fact,
for both the group who served in the Gulf and for the non-Gulf
soldiers, servicemen and women, who were used as a comparator,
both are very considerably below the expected level of the general
population for mortality. The figure for the general population
is 660; whereas the Gulf Vets and the comparator both hover at
round about 493. Servicemen and women are fit people. You would
not expect so many of them to die as in the general population.
There is adequate standardised epidemiological data available
for mortality. It is very much more difficult however when you
come on to symptomatology of illness, which is much less clearly
58. There is a study of 109 Gulf veterans who
have died in road accidents which is being investigated. Can you
tell me what form that study is taking?
(Dr Moonie) First of all, I think we are going to
try and find out details of what the accidents involvedwere
they pedestrians? Were they drivers? Were they passengers?to
see whether there is any obvious linking factor within them. We
will compare that obviously with the group who were not serving.
We do intend to follow this up. It is an interesting and slightly
disturbing finding to me that there should be this disparity.
We are talking about relatively small numbers in statistical terms
and although there is a statistically significant difference between
the two that does not rule out the possibility that there is still
a chance. If you conduct enough investigations, look at enough
parameters, some of them will show up by chance as statistically
significant. It does not necessarily mean that they are. It could
still be a random factor. It is just that over the years it will
balance out. It is worth looking atand we are going to
spend some time on thisinitially identifying the causes
of the accident, what was involved and then seeing if there is
any further work that can be done.
59. Are there any other statistically surprising
results which have come out of the studies so far?
(Dr Moonie) Not to my knowledge, other than that there
is an excess of deaths from accidental causes in the Gulf veterans'
group which is matched by a relative reduction in the number of
non-accidental deaths due to illness, cancer and a wide variety
of things. By and large, no, there is nothing particularly surprising.
There are fewer cancer deaths within them but that is again I
think a random factor.
2 Note by Witness: Individuals such as those
from the Long Term Reserve, who were recalled for service in 1990-91,
but were not members of a Reserve Force as defined by the legislation. Back