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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I declare an interestnot pecuniaryas honorary Parliamentary Adviser over many years to the Royal British Legion, as Vice-President of the War Widows Association, and as a co-opted member of the United States Congressional Committee of Inquiry into Gulf War Illnesses.
This debate is one of high importance to many thousands of men and women who were prepared to give their lives in the service of this country in the most toxic war in Western military history and to the dependants of those who did so. I know that my noble friend Lord Bach appreciates this and am most grateful to him for his abiding courtesy in speaking for the Government on Gulf War illnesses. I am grateful also to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lords, Lord Burnham and Lord Clement-Jones, for being here this evening. They, too, are much respected by the ex-service community.
None of us here wants to see the afflicted and bereaved of the first Gulf conflict made to suffer the added stress and demeaning indignities of preventable delays in dealing with their concerns. There were no delays in their response to the call of duty in 199091. Nor should there have been any delay in discharging our duty to them. Yet that is the charge made, 13 years
Another case raised with me by the Legion was that of Hilary Jones, a former senior army nursing officer in the Gulf. Terminally ill and living alone, she was deeply hurt and distressed by delays in dealing with her war pensions appeal. As in Ian Hill's case her entitlement to a 100 per cent war pension was conceded only after she died. Both Hilary and Ian went to their graves with a deep sense of injustice having succumbed to illnesses that were never medically explained.
It is cases like these that led the Royal British Legion to describe delays in dealing with Gulf War pension appeals as "nothing short of shocking". Anyone contesting their assessment should read the much
This in part is the background to my having sought this evening's debate; but its timing was informed by a recent further development. Earlier this year Beverley Green, who served in the Gulf as a Captain in the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps, raised with me her concern about a Parliamentary reply from my noble friend Lord Hunt, then a Health Minister, on 20th January 2003. I had asked the Government if they could state whether the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research at Porton Down is content that combining the anthrax vaccine with other vaccines and protective measures could not involve harmful long-term effects.
Captain Green's letter to me contrasts the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, with her experience of how the anthrax vaccine was used in 199091when it was most certainly not used aloneand indeed how it was administered in her own case, of which she has full records.
A second Gulf conflict has taken place since the promise I was given on 4th February of a reply by letter to my parliamentary Question of last January; and the continued failure to answer that Question is made all the more serious by reports of new cases of undiagnosed illnesses among our troops now returning from Iraq. Hence the strong and repeated representations from the ex-service community for a definitive response to my still unanswered Question.
This acceptance of faults in the arrangements for the first Gulf conflict that have now been improved does not, of course, help veterans suffering from adverse health effects of the multiple immunisation programme as it was administered in 199091. But It does strongly underline the justice of their claim to all the help we can provide and our responsibilityas a moral imperativeto ensure that they are not left to suffer the consequences of what went wrong alone.
Meanwhile it has to be recognised that the trials at Porton Down cannot match the conditions under which the 199091 programme was administered. For example, was pyridostigmine bromide administered at the same time as the vaccines used in the marmoset trialsand those with mice that preceded themas it was to Gulf veterans? It has been reported that in the marmoset trials
Moreover, were the vaccines used in the marmoset trials administered strictly in accordance with the protocols applying to each vaccine and not in the way in which they were used in the case of Beverley Green?
There is now a growing consensus that the multiple immunisation programme and the way it was administered damaged, in some cases gravely, the immune systems of many veterans of the first Gulf conflict. That would explain why such a wide diversity of symptoms are being presented without an apparent cause. What research has been done in this area? Is my noble friend aware of the studies carried out in the United States by Dr Robert Hayley indicating that there is significant and objectively measurable brain damage found among Gulf veterans? What action is being taken to replicate Dr Hayley's work here or to collaborate with him in joint research, which I know from my contacts with him he would warmly welcome?
It is also widely accepted now that some Gulf War illnesses were caused by the way in which pyridostigmine bromide was used; the release of toxic substances at Khamisyah; the heavy use of organophosphates; massive air pollution after the firing of Kuwait's oil wells; and the use of depleted uranium in our own and in Iraqi munitions.
I understand from the Royal British Legion that to date some 2,405 veterans have received war pensions for illnesses that relate to service in the Gulf. They were approved on the basis of reasonable doubt; but from 2005 it is intended to base awards only on the balance of probability. This, the Government acknowledge, will mean far fewer awards and that there will be more discontent among future veterans. It is strongly opposed by the Royal British Legion and I urge the Government urgently to reconsider their position.
Most of all, I hope the Government will heed the wise counsel of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, as I ask them, as he did on 22nd May, to consider making ex gratia payments in settlement, without further commitment, rather than,
The vast majority of the British people want this whole question to be settled on the most generous possible terms for those afflicted and bereaved. Our debt to them cannot be measured in money; but lack of money inflicts demeaning indignities. In the spirit of the plea of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, let it now be resolved that the best way of showing our regard and admiration for those who served this country with such distinction and gallantry in the two
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, has been involved with the problems of the disabled in one House or another for 29 years and with the illness of Gulf War veterans since the first Iraq war. It is therefore distressing that he should have had this question down for many months and that he has consistently failed to get satisfactory replies to questions from a line of Ministers, culminating in the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for whom I, and I think the whole of the Armed Forces, have the highest respect. I hope that he can satisfy us in this matter by giving an actual reply to the questions in principle, both in personal cases and in general.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, detailed a number of very sad cases, some of whom I have seen at the Royal British Legion Gulf War Committee as their health gradually declined and as in the end they died. There is no doubt that their deaths, the deaths of others and the illnesses of many more result from the group of Gulf War diseases, many of them arising as a result of treatment deliberately administered in the form of inoculations.
This is not a new problem, although most of the jabs are. In the Boer War, more than 100 years ago, there were 70,000 cases of "soldiers' heart", for which pensions were paid. "Soldiers' heart" later became shell shock, then PTSD and now it is generally known as Gulf War illnesses.
It is reasonable to ask the Minister a direct question. Since the number of illnesses is finite and there can be no suggestion of setting a precedent, why can the Ministry of Defence not be generous in a settlement for all established cases? At present, these men and women have served and have suffered. There is no reason why they should not be compensated with ex gratia payments for their suffering. Let us just hope that it does not happen again with this last Gulf War. Let us also ask for a full inquiry into all the problems arising from the diseases of both wars.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I have mixed feelings about today's debate. On the one hand, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on securing today's debate and on continuing his long-standing campaign for compensation for Gulf War veterans. On the other hand, I am sad that despite his efforts for 12 years the MoD has remained so intransigent on the matter.
There have been a number of important developments since we last properly debated the issues relating to Gulf War illnesses. In particular, we have seen the outcome of the Izett case before the War Pensions Tribunal, which was not appealed against by
We saw in June the outcome of the appeal by the MoD against the War Pensions Tribunal's decision in the case of Shaun Rusling, which determined that his claim was tenable that his ill health could be caused by Gulf War syndrome.
Throughout all these developments, the Minister has valiantly maintained that MoD liability rests on whether such a condition as Gulf War syndrome can be established. He seems to be saying that ill health must be characterised as due to a new illness, condition or syndrome. It is also clear that in contrast to the war pensions situation, the MoD, in the compensation cases, is relying on the fact that the onus of proof is on the Gulf War veterans. Despite that, the Minister stoutly maintains that the MoD is being "magnanimous".
If that were not bad enough, it appears that lessons leant from the first Gulf conflict, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, pointed out, have not been applied to the most recent conflict. It appears that, prior to their service, soldiers were once again given multiple doses of a cocktail of vaccinations against chemical and biological attack. In May they were reported as suffering symptoms similar to those of the original Gulf War veterans. That is despite ministerial assurance that these would not be administered in this way.
As I have pointed out to the Minister on a number of occasions, I find it quite extraordinary that the Government's own medical adviser, Professor Simon Wesley of King's College, London, head of its own assessment programme said:
All that the Government have done over many years is commission endless medical research into the condition of the veterans, which never seems to reach a practical conclusion to the benefit of those veterans.
Why the obsession with the label, "Gulf War syndrome"? The Izett case, in particular, has put the spotlight on the question of use of multiple vaccinations. The case of Captain Green, cited by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is important for that reason. That raises the question of whether the guidelines for the administration of vaccines were followed in 1991. If not, why not? Despite, as noble Lords have heard, probing by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, with a little help from me, we have still not received a letter from the Minister or the MoD, let alone copies placed in the Library.
This is a continuing sorry tale. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris said, it is all the more serious in view of allegations of multiple vaccination causing problems during the current conflict. I hope that the Minister's reply will be more satisfactory than on previous occasions.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, before speaking to the debate, I remind the House of my peripheral interest. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for at last securing a date for this debate this evening. There is little doubt that during the past few years, the MoD has made some effort to improve matters for those Gulf War veterans who are suffering from illnesses picked up from their service in the Gulf War I. On these Benches, we have every sympathy with those veterans and want a fair and rapid conclusion to the existing problems. Twelve years is a long time.
There is now good evidence that UK Gulf veterans report more ill-health than other comparable groups, but the same symptoms have been seen in UK military personnel who did not deploy to the Gulfalthough they may also have received another cocktail of inoculations for some other overseas deployment. The difference is that veterans of the 1991 conflict report having more of the symptoms and are suffering more severely from them.
Some Gulf veterans have recognised medical conditions, but a large number of non-specific, multi-system, medically unexplained symptoms have also been reported. The current consensus of the international scientific and medical community is therefore that there is insufficient evidence to enable that ill-health to be characterised as a unique illness or syndrome. The Medical Research Council, which published its review on 22nd May, came to the same conclusion.
It is important to note that that does not prevent Gulf veterans who have left the Armed Forces and are ill from claiming a war pension. War pensions are awarded not for a list of disorders but for any disablement that can be accepted as caused or made worse by service, whatever that disablement is called. As at 31st December 2002, 2,330 veterans of the 1991 Gulf conflict were in receipt of a war pension.
However, there is a problem. Recently during Starred Questions, the Minister referred to the agreement to pay war pensions to some Gulf veterans adversely affected by Gulf War illnesses. What worries me is that a junior non-commissioned officera lance corporal or corporalwould receive a junior NCO's pension. However, his long-term potential in the Armed Forces might be to be a warrant officer 1 or even to get a commission, quickly rising to the rank of captain or major. But the disabled junior NCO and his family would be stuck with the low standard of living of a junior NCO. That is a terrible risk for a young man or woman to take and might, on top of all the other challenges of being in Her Majesty's Armed Forces at present, encourage him or her to apply for premature voluntary release.
Can the Minister confirm that the MoD has now taken steps to avoid a recurrence? These are: first, that improved medical record-keeping through the introduction of the new operational medical record form is now in use. Secondly, ensuring that troops are when possible immunised routinely, so that there should be no need for personnel to receive a combination of vaccines upon deployment. When I deployed for the Gulf I received only two immunisations. I cannot remember what one was, but it was routine; the other was against anthrax, but I received only the initial anthrax inoculation, not the booster, so that expensive inoculation was wasted.
Thirdly, personnel deploying on operations must receive pre-deployment and in-theatre briefings on health and hygiene matters. The fourth step is that health and safety instructions have been given to the crews of vehicles that carry the extremely effective depleted uranium ammunition, and to the units that support them. I hope that the Minister never withdraws depleted uranium ammunition simply for reasons of political pressure. If he withdraws it because there is something better, that will be fabulous; but he must never withdraw it just because of its name. The fifth step is that a new and comprehensive joint service guidance on the use of pesticides has been introduced and is kept under review.
I turn briefly to inoculations and vaccines. Porton Down has been carrying out various tests on combining different vaccines. Porton Down has issued a preliminary report, which claims that overall those preliminary results indicate that there were no adverse immune consequences following vaccine and pyridostigmine bromide administrationwhat I call nerve agent pre-treatment sets (NAPS)that were detectable in that model. The longer-term outcomes will be reported when the studies are complete at the end of 2003. However, the Medical Research Council warns that the lack of substantiated vaccine exposure data means that it is unlikely that existing study groups will yield any more useful information.
The issue of Gulf War illness has continued for the past decade, involving a great deal of worry for veterans and their families. A substantial amount of time and money has been expended by the MoD in investigating it; no doubt there has also been considerable expenditure on legal advice. Although
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester for once again providing an opportunity to debate the Government's approach to Gulf veterans' illnesses. His active interest in the subject and all issues concerning disability are well known. He has a proud record and I welcome his involvement. I am grateful to other noble Lords who have spoken this eveningalthough let me say straight away that, with the notable exception of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, there has been a degree of huffing and puffing and overstating of cases that may appeal to those who listen to our debate but does not necessarily add much to the serious issues that the topic raises.
I want to make clear from the outset that Gulf veterans' illness issues remain a high priority for the Government. In case the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is in any doubt, I repeat what I said to him in answer to an oral Question as recently as 2nd July. We have repeated that on countless occasions. We acknowledge that some veterans of the first Gulf conflict are ill; and that some, alas, have died. The question surrounding the ill-health reported by the veterans of that conflict remains a priority for us. If we did not acknowledge that, why have we paid out so much in war pensions?
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