Gulf War Syndrome

– in the House of Lords at 11:08 am on 24 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour 11:08, 24 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking in regard to the implications for other veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf War of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal decision of 31 October in the case of Guardsman Daniel Martin.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister for Veterans has issued a Statement this morning which welcomes the Pensions Appeal Tribunal decision to accept "Gulf War syndrome" as an umbrella term for ill health caused by service and connected with the 1990–91 Gulf War. We hope that that will address the concerns of Gulf veterans on this issue. The Government also welcome the decision which found that there is no reliable evidence to show that Gulf War syndrome is a discrete medical condition.

Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Now that the veterans and bereaved families are so totally vindicated by this humane and landmark judgment linking Gulf War illnesses to a conflict-related syndrome, is it not deeply disquieting that the president of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal found it,

"highly regrettable that there was such a delay in the Ministry of Defence accepting this"?

Is it not now imperative, 15 years on from the conflict, to review very urgently every case that could be affected by the judgment and bring closure to this whole sad story, in keeping with the scrupulously fair and widely acclaimed recommendations of the Lloyd report, the case for which is now movingly reinforced by a plea to the Prime Minister from the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Norwich and Oxford and other distinguished Church leaders?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we certainly regard the position established by the tribunal as a step forward which enables us to make progress on the matter. There are a relatively small number of cases to be considered on appeal. There may be additional cases which did not appeal to which we can now address our attention. I think that my noble friend will recognise that the problems over the years were reflected in the tribunal judgment; because it was always the contention that Gulf War syndrome was a discrete medical illness. The tribunal indicated that that is not so. But the tribunal's judgment gives us a chance to move forward.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that in 1997 his right honourable friend Dr John Reid, when he was Minister for the Armed Forces, said that the British Government would "shadow" the American Government in their decisions on Gulf War syndrome? The Americans, many years ago, decided that there was a Gulf War syndrome, yet the British Government are still failing to accept that there is—although in my dealings with the Government I have always spoken about "Gulf War illnesses". Why have the Government failed to shadow the Americans? Will these Gulf War veterans who are waiting to have their medical tribunals heard have to go through the tribunal system with all the stresses and strains that that involves? Some of these men are very sick. Will the Government accept their illness and pay the pensions?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I think that the noble Countess will be well aware that the Government have been paying pensions and making payments to a very large number of ill Gulf veterans over the intervening years. The issue revolved around the question of the discrete medical condition. Although the noble Countess attests to the fact that the Americans changed their position, there were other allies in the Gulf to whom we also have some obligation who take broadly the position that we have taken. These are complex matters. The tribunal has given us the basis on which to go forward.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-president of the Royal British Legion, Women's Section. Does the Minister not think that his noble friend Lord Morris has fought long and hard for this and that no one cares what it is called? We want to see justice for these people and this Statement sounds helpful.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that statement. It was remiss of me not to speak in those terms of the work that my noble friend has done. I am glad she has given me the opportunity to do so. I was at that stage concentrating very much on the content of my noble friend's Question, as the House would expect me to do. We all recognise the significant role that he has played. This is a significant landmark. It is a step forward which the Government recognise.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Government appear to be giving a grudging acceptance to this decision after 15 years of wait on behalf of those who have suffered in the cause of their country's defence? Does the Minister not have some sense of shame that it has taken so long to catch up with the Americans? The Americans have been so much more sympathetic and generous to those who served their country in the Gulf. Is there no sense of shame in the Government about this long delay?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, as I indicated, illnesses related to the Gulf War have been treated fairly and properly in very many cases—several thousand. So it is not the case that the Government have been restrictive in those terms. However, on the particular issue where the claim referred to the medical condition of "Gulf War syndrome", the Government's position was vindicated by the tribunal. But the tribunal also clearly indicated that as a generic term this would be the basis on which the Government could sympathetically approach additional cases. Certainly those which are under appeal will be treated very soon. There may be a number of other cases—we do not think it is a very large number—which we will be able to process sympathetically.

Photo of Lord Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, do the Government accept the view of the tribunal that diagnostic labelling is fundamental to the consideration of a claim? Do the Government accept the concession made by the Veterans Agency that GWS was the correct diagnostic label? Do the Government accept the view of the tribunal that if that concession had been made many years ago, many of the veterans would have been satisfied?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, it is a question of medical terms. As the noble and learned Lord will recognise, the tribunal did not describe Gulf War syndrome as a discrete medical illness. That is the basis of the Government's position on the tribunal's judgment, and they will sustain that position. Nevertheless, I freely agree with the noble and learned Lord that the tribunal's decision enables us to go forward under the umbrella term, and we intend to go forward. That is the germane and important point that I make to the House and to the country.