Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): It is fortunate that the Minister on the Front Bench should be the Under-Secretary responsible for the one topic that I wish to raise: Gulf war syndrome. I should like to acknowledge the work that has been done on this subject by Lord Lloyd of Berwick, whom I have known for 60 years. He was a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary from 1984 to 1993, and Chairman of the Security Commission from 1992 to 1999. I also acknowledge the work of Lord Morris of Manchester, who, as Alf Morris, was my close friend and mentor in all matters relating to the disabled for a third of a century.
Frankly, I am not a newcomer or a Johnny-come-lately to this subject. On 2 May 1995, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence what concrete evidence he had of Gulf war syndrome. This reply was given by Roger Freeman:
"To date, we have found no convincing scientific or medical evidence from our investigations, or elsewhere, to suggest the existence of a Gulf war syndrome."[Official Report, 2 May 1995; Vol. 259, c.158.]
Subsequently, some of us went on a delegation to him. I have to say that he was a listening Minister and I believe that he did his best. On many occasions, and particularly on 18 June 1996, Alf Morris followed the matter up with Nicholas Soames, who told him:
"The Government take seriously the health concerns of all service personnel, and we are committed to ensuring that those who believe they are ill as a result of their Gulf service receive the best possible treatment."[Official Report, 18 June 1996; Vol. 279, c. 412W.]
"As you are aware Lord Lloyd published his report on 17 November. I have studied the report carefully. However, the MOD view is that it contains no new substantive or scientific evidence to support its conclusions and recommendations. It also fails to take into account the large amount of either substantive or scientific written material provided by the MOD to Lord Lloyd to help inform his investigation."
That is outrageous. Ministers say that the Lloyd report produced no new scientific evidence, but why should Lord Lloyd be required to produce new scientific evidence when it is already there? Is the work of Simon Wessely on the Gulf war health effects and that of lady Professors Doyle and Cherryworld experts in this
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matterto be viewed as worthless? Is it being denied that soldiers and civilian personnel who went to Iraq are twice as likely to have symptoms as those who did not?
The brutal truth is that many people have become ill over the past 15 years precisely because they did go to Iraq. Are the ill veterans satisfied with the way in which they have been treated by the MOD since their return from the Gulf? No, they are not. They feel let down and rejected. Those are not my words, but that is how they feellet down and rejected. I am using the words of Lord Craig, the general officer commanding at the time of the Gulf war and, indeed, a member of the war Cabinet. Those words were echoed by Lord Bramall.
Lloyd set out some of the reasons behind those feelings. He quoted extensively from the relevant reports of the House of Commons Defence Committee. In relation to the MOD's delay in commissioning epidemiological research, the report states:
"In responding to the allegations of a Gulf War Syndrome, the MOD have been quick to deny but slow to investigate . . . in the Committee's view the MOD's response had been reactive rather than proactive and characterised throughout by scepticism and defensiveness and general torpor".
"the culture of resistance that pervades much of the MOD. There seems to be a deep-seated reluctance to respond positively to external stimuli . . . Despite all the outside signals, parliamentary questions, press articles, letters from veterans, etc, the MOD continue to assume blithely that everyone else was wrong."
"whether he has discussed with his US counterparts the findings of the Report on Scientific Progress in Understanding Gulf War Illnesses of September 2004 commissioned by the US Secretary for Veteran Affairs; and if will a make a statement."
Why has the United States evidence from Texas been ignored? Why has not the work of Professor Robert Haley of the Research Advisory Committee, including paragraphs 430 to 444 of his medical appendix, been taken into account? The paper contains the combined expertise of US experts. The US has been far better on the matter than the British Ministry of Defence. I do not know why the issue has been dismissed here.
"The MOD should acknowledge publicly that the veterans who have made claims (other than the 272 who have had their claims rejected) are indeed suffering injury or disease as a result of their service in the Gulf."
"Since the name of the injury or disease is only a label for wrapping the symptoms from which the veterans are undoubtedly suffering, the Ministry of Defence should accept the name favoured by the veterans, that is Gulf War Syndrome, as the most convenient label."
Mr. Caplin: My hon. Friend will recall that, at Defence Question Time shortly after the publication of that reportI think it was 29 NovemberI announced that we would examine the 272 cases. In fact, 100 or 110 cases need review. That work is happening now at the Veterans Agency.
Mr. Dalyell: Yes, but what is the time scale? To put it bluntly, such action has been greatly delayed. It has taken years. My hon. Friend will forgive us for being extremely angry about it. The Under-Secretary is dealing with people such as Lord Morris, Lord Lloyd, Lord Craig and Lord Bramall, and I simply do not understand why the British Ministry of Defence has been so tardy.
As a Labour Member of Parliament, who has been here for a long time, I am ashamed of the seven years of Conservative lack of action but even more ashamed of seven years' inaction by a Labour Government.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) spoke earlier about the treatment of prisoners of war. I want to make two comments about that, and I hope that they do not infringe the correct ruling given earlier by Mr. Speaker.
I hope that, over time, the wider world will accept that the humanitarian relief extended to the shattered communities devastated by the recent tsunami in the Indian ocean, and the work being done to help rebuild them, will be regarded as more typical of the conduct and professionalism of the British soldier than the alleged abuse of prisoners in Iraq, about which we all feel such shame. I have some personal experience of the treatment of people in custody, which I gained all those years ago during my police career. I shudder to think that this year it is 40 years since I joined the force.