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Bob Russell: Will my hon. Friend confirm that the vast majority of the men who served in the Suez canal zone were national servicemen? They were conscripted into the Army and sent there; they were not volunteers. If they have to wait upwards of another two years, they will have had to wait longer for the medal than they served in the Army.

Mr. Hancock: Once again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a great pity that we do not treat these issues with the speed and importance that they
 
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deserve. The decision was taken, so all the stops should be pulled out to ensure that those medals are issued quickly.

Mr. Luff: I think I am right in saying that Gosport is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Hancock: No.

Mr. Luff: I beg his pardon. The Government's contribution to speeding up the issuing of the Suez canal zone medal is to close the Army medal office and the two medal offices in Gosport, risking the loss of all that expertise. Those men and women are anxious to deliver the medal punctually, but they will all be lost to the service.

Mr. Hancock: I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely. It is a great pity that there is not greater recognition and understanding of the efforts of the men and women in those departments. Should not they at least be kept on for the next three years, as he suggests? I am sure that there will be a change in relation to the Arctic medal. In the end, the moral case will prevail and the Minister will come to the House to say, "The Prime Minister has had a change of heart."

The only alternative is for all those veterans and their families to vote Tory, because the Tories have said that if they come to office they will issue the medal.

People should not have to do that. It should not be an issue in relation to people voting Tory, but they have an incentive to do so. We would support it because of the justice of the case, and we do not need to be in government to recognise that. Had we been in government, the veterans would have had the medal in 1946. If we were in government today, they would not have to campaign. We will support whoever decides to give the medal, because it will be the right decision.

I want to speak about some other issues, which the Minister touched on without going into specifics. I am delighted that a Minister from the Department of Health will wind up the debate, because one of the biggest issues facing veterans and their families at present is Gulf war syndrome. I want to read out a letter from a Gulf war veteran, with whom I have been working for the last three and a half years and with whom I must have corresponded 100 times. He wrote to me on 1 May:

That is from Alexander Izett. He featured on the "Today" programme yesterday, because his health has deteriorated considerably. He is close to having to be taken to hospital, and recently signed papers refusing any sort of medical treatment. As a young soldier of 20-odd years, he went to take part in the first Gulf war. He was given a cocktail of injections, and the MOD cannot
 
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tell him what they were. He is convinced that the illness that prevailed a few weeks after his service in the Gulf was completed has wrecked not only his life but his family's life. He is not taking this action for himself, however. He is doing it for his generation of servicemen who took part in the first Gulf war and for their families. Some of those have already died and some have suffered unimaginable pain and suffering.

I hope that the Government will do something to recognise Mr. Izett's case. They are not ignorant of it—I have written several times to several Ministers about the case, and they have written back to me as recently as 19 May. Many other Members of the House are actively involved in the campaign. If we are to tackle the issue of veterans and their problems, we must treat the individual case as well as glad-handing the majority of people.

Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making such a powerful case. Does he agree that the Royal British Legion is right to point to Gulf war syndrome as a particularly striking example of how raising the burden of proof in compensation claims would make a mockery of the hopes of such people?

Mr. Hancock: The hon. Gentleman knows that he has my fullest support. On an individual basis, I would think that the majority of Members of the House are fully behind him. The shifting of the burden of proof is a serious mistake that does nothing for the veterans' cause, and it should have been the No. 1 goal of any Minister responsible for veterans not to get that through the House. He should have rejected it and recommended refusal to Members of the House. He lost a great opportunity in that regard. Of course, it will make the plight of Alexander Izett and other such people much more difficult.

Let me give another example of how individuals and families are affected. The Minister mentioned this, but did not go into detail. A young soldier from the Portsmouth area was killed in Bosnia. Simon Jeans is the name, a name that has appeared in many newspapers because for many years Simon's father Terry has campaigned in an attempt to bring the culprits—those responsible for his son's murder—to justice.

Because Simon was married at the time of his death and his German-born wife was his next of kin, the MOD does not support his father's request to be at the trial and witness the final chapter in this sad saga of the taking of a young soldier's life in such tragic circumstances. His father cannot have the satisfaction of closure. The cost would probably have been less than £2,000, yet the MOD, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have refused to budge and to give Mr. Jeans that satisfaction. They have continually used the fact that he was not the next of kin. Simon's former wife has remarried and moved on: she has been able to have closure, but his father has not. If, as the Minister suggested, we truly reflect when dealing with veterans' affairs a duty of care not just to veterans but to their families, surely Mr. Jeans is entitled to that duty of care, and we should do all that we can to help him go to Croatia to see the end of the case.
 
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Another injustice, which has continued for more than 50 years, is shown in the case of the nuclear test veterans. I saw that group of veterans in their blazers in Portsmouth at Sunday's remembrance service, and I saw the television coverage. They are Normandy veterans and nuclear test veterans. Where is the Minister's concern for their plight? How sad it is that Labour Ministers have simply followed the same line as their Conservative predecessors, and ignored those men's claims relating to the enormous risks that they were put through in the name of military technology and developments in the 1950s and 1960s. Once again it is "out of sight, out of mind"—but those men are not out of sight and out of mind to their families, who see them deteriorating daily because of the effects of those nuclear tests.

Men and women who have served in our armed forces and our naval bases die each week from asbestos-related conditions. How nice it would have been if the veterans Minister had come here today and said, "I will allocate Ministry of Defence money to supporting those suffering from proven asbestos-related conditions and their families."

Let us suppose that the only occupation of a worker in a naval dockyard from the age of 15 to the age of 50 is as a lagger, cutting asbestos from pipes or lagging them with it. The chances of his contracting an asbestos-related illness in any other way will be pretty remote. The MOD, however, does not accept that all such cases are connected with work that people have done for it. It continually battles with individuals who seek justice. Time and again, coroners reporting on the sad deaths of such men and women reflect on the need for the Government to get a grip and not just support families after their loved ones are dead, but help people have a better life while they are living. A veterans Minister with any credibility would do just that.

Many Members have mentioned the Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre, and I do not want to add much to what they have said; but I am disappointed that the Minister and the MOD have again denied justice to those two pilots and their families. I think it was all too easy to leave the blame there, but things have changed now. If that accident happened today, the pilots would not be held responsible.

How can it be right that memories of those two men should be scarred in that way? How right it would have been if the veterans Minister, who has a duty of care not only to the living but to the memory of the dead, had said today, "We shall look at it again and reverse that decision." A former Prime Minister has said that he was wrong. For goodness sake, surely the House owes it to those men, to their memory and, most of all, to their families to get it right.


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