Gulf War Illnesses

– in the House of Lords on 19th June 2007.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further consideration they are giving to the problems and needs of veterans of the 1990—91 Gulf War with still undiagnosed illnesses and of the dependants of those who have died since the conflict.

O

Once again it appears that we rely upon our unelected representative to ask the more pertinent questions.

Submitted by Oliver Keenan

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment and Support)

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending sincere condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal James Cartwright, who was killed in Basra, Iraq, on Saturday.

The needs of Gulf veterans remain a high priority for the Government. We are now writing to advise veterans on how they may have the umbrella term Gulf War syndrome applied to their disablements. Appropriate medical treatment and financial support are available, and we are working with the appropriate experts to develop a rehabilitation programme. We will consider reasonable proposals for further research on how the illnesses may have been caused.

Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour

My Lords, can my noble friend—and I am grateful for his reply—say whether it remains the Government's view, taking into account all recently published research internationally, that low-level exposure to sarin without any immediate or acute effect has no adverse health consequences in the longer term?

Again, is he aware that Gulf War veteran Mr TE Walker, whose case I raised in a Question my noble friend answered on 19 March, has now died, having suffered a heart attack and then pneumonia after being told that his pension had been cut from the 100 per cent agreed by the Pensions Appeal Tribunal to only 40 per cent, leaving him, as he had told the MoD, "financially ruined"? What do we tell the two children left orphaned in this deeply disturbing case?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment and Support)

My Lords, as my noble friend said, we and other nations, including the United States, have carried out considerable research into exposure to a number of agents that are potential causes for Gulf War syndrome, such as sarin. Those studies have to date not shown any causal link. We continue to carry out that research. Both the United States and United Kingdom are carrying out research not only into potential causes of Gulf War syndrome but, increasingly importantly, into methods and measures for rehabilitation.

With regard to the case to which my noble friend refers, I do not think that it is appropriate in this forum to get into the details of individuals. However, as he knows, it is the policy of the Ministry of Defence regularly to reassess cases. That process can be instigated either by the recipient of a pension or by the Ministry of Defence itself.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, 16 years after the first Gulf War, the Ministry of Defence has still not achieved satisfactory closure for the many veterans suffering with serious medical conditions. Only the pressure from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal and the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has achieved any movement recently. Bearing in mind that many young men serving today will be tomorrow's veterans, is not the Ministry of Defence's failure to look after the Gulf War veterans a very poor message for the next generation of veterans?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment and Support)

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend, the noble and gallant Lord and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, for their efforts on behalf of veterans. There is no doubt that their continued efforts have had an impact, which is recognised. However, I do not accept that the noble and gallant Lord's characterisation of the way in which the MoD looks after veterans is correct. He is right that it has taken considerable time for us to reach closure, as he described it; we continue to make strenuous efforts to do so. We have recently begun to write to all the veterans affected by this issue. Approximately 450 out of the total of 1,500 veterans have been sent letters. Information is also on the MoD's website. We continue to do research. We have comprehensive measures in place for financial support, and we will continue to explore avenues for the future support of Gulf War veterans, as we do for all our veterans.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we join the Minister in sending condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Cartwright after his sad death serving his country.

Was the Ministry of Defence represented at the presentation of the latest research into Gulf War illnesses among United States veterans, held at the Society of Chemical Industry in London on 5 June? If it was not represented, perhaps the Minister could tell us why not. If it was there, do the Government now accept all the findings of the research teams who gave the presentations at that meeting?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment and Support)

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not aware of the meeting to which the noble Lord refers. I will investigate and write to him. Whether or not the Ministry of Defence had a representative at that meeting, it has very close relationships with our counterparts in the United States. Coalition partners who were engaged in the Gulf War and who have carried out research to investigate causes of Gulf War syndrome share all their research with each other. It is important to recognise the global nature of peer-reviewed research in this area, and we are fully apprised of the information coming out of US research programmes.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is an issue of the duty of care? In 19 years, 7,000 of the 53,000 who went to the Gulf have suffered or died, and there have been repeated delays and repeated research that goes on for ever. There are many things of which both Governments are culpable, such as the loss of records and the general pace at which the thing has been addressed. Will the Government consider making ex gratia payments to those people who are still alive, whether or not they finally decide to hold a public inquiry and something much more solid?

Photo of Lord Drayson Lord Drayson Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment and Support)

My Lords, noble Lords will recognise the complexity and difficulty associated with identifying the causes of Gulf War syndrome and the time that research into this area necessarily takes. We still do not have a clear answer. So far as culpability is concerned, there has never been a question mark over veterans' ability to be assessed and apply for pensions relating to their disability. Indeed, it is independent of the cause of the disability. A veteran is entitled to a pension based on a medical assessment, independent of the cause. Our internationally being unable to determine the cause of Gulf War syndrome has not led to a delay in veterans receiving support.

However, we realise the growing importance of the recognition of the umbrella term, which has taken us some time, for which I apologise. The fact that the department has recognised the umbrella term and has now informed the veterans of this is an important step forward.