Anger at pounds 500,000 for pregnant major

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THE MINISTRY of Defence is taking urgent legal advice on an appeal against an award of up to pounds 500,000 compensation to a woman major forced to leave the Army when she became pregnant.

Sir Archie Hamilton, former armed forces minister, yesterday attacked the pay-out and warned it would open the floodgates for similar claims that could cost the Government more than pounds 100m.

'The whole legal process has become ridiculous,' he said. The MoD's policy of sacking pregnant women, which operated from 1978 to 1990, 'wasn't unreasonable really.'

'The Army took the view that you couldn't have fighting people being pregnant, therefore it was an established practice that if they became pregnant they would have to leave. They all knew that.

'Now as a result of a ruling being retrospectively applied, all sorts of people who left are now claiming enormous sums, which have got to come out of an already stretched defence budget,' he said.

A Glasgow industrial tribunal ruled that the Army had been guilty of sexual discrimination in 1982 when it sacked Helen Homewood. She was awarded pounds 299,851 for loss of earnings, interest and hurt feelings.

With pension rights and other benefits, the final award is likely to rise to pounds 500,000.

Peter Viggers, a Tory member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, called the award 'insane and preposterous', adding: 'We either grin and bear it, and say this is part of the price of being in Europe, or we just say, 'Shan't'. I would love to think there is a way of saying 'shan't', but I think we would just stub our toe against Europe.'

Since the European Court ruled in 1990 that the policy of sacking women who became pregnant was unlawful, the MoD has received 4,000 claims for compensation, of which 1,929 have so far been settled, amounting to a total pay-out of pounds 10.3m. A further 1,700 women entitled to claim have not yet done so, and the final bill could come to more than pounds 100m.

An MoD spokesman said after Friday's award: 'We are taking legal advice and, subject to that advice, we are considering whether to appeal.'