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House of Lords

Wednesday, 2nd July 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I shall be undertaking ministerial visits to Hertfordshire and Lancashire on Friday, 4th July and Friday, 11th July. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence on both occasions.

Gulf War Veterans: High Court Decision

2.38 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest—not a pecuniary one—as honorary parliamentary adviser for many years to the Royal British Legion.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what consideration they have given to the implications for other Gulf War veterans of the High Court's recent decision in the case of Shaun Rusling; and what were their total costs in contesting the case all the way to the High Court.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, pensions have been paid to veterans of the 1992 Gulf conflict where there is evidence of disablement attributable to service. Neither eligibility for an award nor its level have been affected by the fact that, reflecting expert UK and international medical opinion, we do not accept that there is a single disease entity, Gulf War syndrome. The judgment in the case of Mr Rusling specifically declined to express any opinions on this issue. It is too early to say what the cost of contesting the case has been.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, is it not very sad that this officer of the Parachute Regiment, in broken health ever since the conflict, waited 12 years for his case to be resolved? If, as the Government have implied, the High Court's decision changes nothing, why fight the case for so long at such cost? Is my noble friend aware of the Royal British Legion's concern

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about the endless haggling in tribunals and courts with veterans—some of them terminally ill—and the utter confusion, stress and distrust among Gulf veterans and their dependants caused by the handling of this case? Is it not time now to stop haggling, without admitting liability, and to answer the Royal British Legion's renewed insistence for a public inquiry?

Lord Bach: My Lords, Mr Rusling currently receives a 90 per cent war disablement pension. Any suggestion that he receives no war disablement pension, which has been put around, is a lie. The symptoms that he attributes to Gulf War syndrome are already fully compensated for within this award under the World Health Organisation's classification of diseases category "Symptoms, Signs and Ill-Defined Conditions"—SSIDC. Nothing emerged during the High Court hearing or in the written judgment to suggest that Mr Rusling has an incorrect level of pension.

However, like any war pensioners, Mr Rusling can ask the Veterans Agency to review his claim at any time. Mr Justice Newman, in his clear judgment, said:

    "This court is not in a position to express any view on the merits of the dispute as to whether, according to medical research, Gulf war syndrome is or is not a 'single medical entity'".

He concluded by stating:

    "It has not done so by this judgment".

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, today—and on 22nd May—the Minister expressly seems to be saying that the dispute is whether there is something called Gulf War syndrome. Is not the issue, in fact, whether those servicemen were affected by their service in that Gulf War and whether they are entitled to compensation? Is that not absolutely clear? The Government's own expert, Simon Wesley, whom I quoted last time—the Minister tried to deflect it— said:

    "There is irrefutable proof that going to the Gulf has affected the health of some UK servicemen".

Is that not absolutely clear?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is absolutely clear, and we have said so on I do not know how many occasions in this House and in another place. We acknowledge that some veterans of the first Gulf conflict are ill and that some, alas, have died. The issues surrounding the ill health reported by the veterans of that conflict remain a priority for us.

There is scientific evidence that some Gulf veterans report a large number of multi-system, multi-organ, non-specific, medically unexplained symptoms as well as some recognised medical symptoms, but, I repeat, the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and medical community is that there is insufficient evidence to enable this ill health to be characterised as

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a new illness, condition or syndrome. We do pay war pensions to a large number of those who were in the Gulf.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords—

Lord Bramall: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, perhaps we may hear first from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall

Lord Bramall: My Lords, how can the Minister's department be quite so insistent, particularly after the High Court judgment, that there are no attributable medical conditions specifically emanating from service in the Gulf when the tests on what are most likely to bring about such conditions—the cocktail of inoculations—have still to be completed? Can it not possibly speed up those tests instead of contesting in the courts every one of these cases?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we pay pensions where there is evidence of disablement caused by service. We accept that some members of the Armed Forces became ill in the Gulf. We pay pensions including in those cases where non-specific symptoms are claimed, as I say, under the World Health Organisation's diagnostic label. So far as concerns vaccinations, they are just one exposure cited as the cause of ill health among some veterans. Our research programme, as the noble and gallant Lord knows, is due to report at the end of this year.

If the medical evidence changes, of course we will respond. We are absolutely open to responding in this field. At the moment the medical evidence is against a concept called Gulf War syndrome.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, since it has been often repeated in this House that the MoD does not accept that there is a proven Gulf War syndrome, will my noble friend explain briefly and clearly the exact grounds on which the MoD is now awarding war pensions to veterans of the first Gulf War?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Veterans Agency does not normally use the term "Gulf War syndrome" when accepting or rejecting entitlement to an award. Using a generic identifier that has no medical or scientific consensus would, frankly, be inappropriate, even if it would be easy. Instead, for war pension purposes, any vague, ill-defined, non-specific symptoms are normally accepted, as I have said, under the diagnostic label, "Symptoms, Signs and Ill-Defined Conditions". That was not thought up by ourselves, it is a documented diagnostic category of the WHO International Classification of Diseases, 10th Edition, 1992.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the Minister recall his right honourable friend Dr John Reid, as Minister for the Armed Forces, saying in 1997 that the

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British Government would shadow the United States Government? Can he explain why, when the United States Government accepted Gulf War syndrome several years ago, our Government are not shadowing the United States Government?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I explained to the House why we do not agree that there is an entity called Gulf War syndrome. As we do not agree that there is such an entity—and the reason why not is because the medical evidence so far is against it—it would be ridiculous just to copy what any other country, however close, may have done.

Lord Winston: My Lords, given that there is now quite a lot of evidence that strange things happen when the immune system is depressed, and given that Gulf War veterans clearly face multiple threats to their immune systems, can my noble friend reassure us by telling the House what active research is following up the immune systems of Gulf War veterans?

Lord Bach: My Lords, a large amount of research is under way at present. I shall not go into the detail—that would be too much for the time that I have—but I shall write to my noble friend to tell him what is happening and place a copy in the Library. A few weeks ago a review of the research that has so far taken place made absolutely clear that, as yet, there is no proof that the entity called Gulf War syndrome exists.

Child Abuse

2.45 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the refusal of social services officials to expunge from their child abuse registers allegations against individuals of Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, which prove to be false, is an abuse of the human rights of the individuals concerned.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, well kept records provide an essential underpinning to good child protection practice. To expunge allegations of child abuse or neglect, including those which subsequently prove to be unfounded, from local authority records would undermine the proper function of social services' recording and the effectiveness of the area child protection committee. Provided that a social services department complies with legislative requirements in the way that it records and discloses information, it would not breach the human rights of an individual.

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