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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the order. We support it. Unsolicited directory entries are an absolute pest. These include fictitious entries in directories that either are never published or, if they are, have minimum circulation to disinterested recipients. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is nothing less than a form of confidence trickery.
The problem particularly affects small businesses, where there is no adequate system for the authorisation of payment for invoices, which then may be settled by an unsuspecting book-keeper. They also sometimes catch larger organisations where payment is authorised simply because the person who actually opens the bill assumes, wrongly, that someone must have ordered the entry. The explanations given by the Government for the new order refer to, "disreputable directory publishers", or "rogue publishers".
Let us not mince words, we are talking about criminal crookeryvery bad behaviour indeed. The scam has hitherto been dealt with by the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971, as amended by the 1975 Act. As someone who, when those Acts were passed, ran a mail order company which operated in the same way as a book club, I remember very well how careful I was not to infringe either of those pieces of legislation. My final longstop regarding a customer who claimed not to have ordered something was either to tell them to keep it free of charge, or to send it back at my expense. That is how it should be with reputable directory publishers. Just cancel the charge. After all, what has the entry cost them to insert? Nothing, or practically nothing.
This legislation is designed to protect the unsuspecting and perhaps the plain careless against such crooks. This amendment to the legislation has received the most careful scrutiny by the separate regulatory reform committees of both Houses, who should be congratulated on performing their duties so effectively. Similarly, it is gratifying to see that the DTI has taken on board the unanimous objections of both committees to the possibility of permitting the publisher to secure repeat entries by telephone, which is clearly open to abuse by unscrupulous operators. Many of these fraudsters operate from abroad and from accommodation addresses. This puts them beyond the reach of the DTI and the police.
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If, therefore, I have any reservations about these regulations, it might be that they do not provide for three essential sanctions. First, since in the end, to recover payment, the publisher will have to go to the United Kingdom courts and the defendant will be compelled to go to the expense and trouble of defending the case, I hope that the Lord Chancellor might amend the Court Rules and require a claimant to certify that the claim does not infringe the legislation. This will impose a burden of vigilance on the claimant's solicitors, although it will still not affect cases where the claimant acts in person.
Secondly, I should have liked a clear statement that debts incurred by unauthorised directory entries are irrecoverable at law. I realise that that is already implicit in the existing legislationthe Minister will probably tell me that. But spelling it out to the perpetrators of this type of fraud and reassuring the victims could not do any harm.
Lastly, I hope that some form of voluntary early warning system can be developed between the DTI and the banks to head off the transfer of funds to these criminals. It is not, of course, the responsibility of the banks, but, presumably, they are also interested in protecting their customers from fraud.
As I have said, the order has received the most careful scrutiny and the department has listened to the representations it has received from many quarters. It is in keeping with what is needed by publishers and advertisers alike and we most certainly support the order.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, on this occasion I entirely agree with the comments of the noble Baroness. We, too, support the order. I shall not rehearse the problems to which both the Minister and the noble Baroness referred regarding scams if for no other reason than that, first, it has been said before and, secondly, one would not want to encourage such an activity by giving the detail of the scams to people who might not otherwise be aware of them.
We were concerned, as I believe were the noble Baroness and organisations such as the Office of Fair Trading, about the original proposals on telephone authorisation. I think that the Minister has now accepted the alterations on the basis of recommendations from the relevant committee that deals with the matter. However, I suspect that the outstanding issue in relation to the scams to which the noble Baroness referred is that many of them originate from overseas. When the Minister responds, perhaps he can indicate whether the Government have given any further thought to how that matter can be dealt with.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their support for this legislation and, in particular, I thank the noble Baroness for her passionate support.
With regard to the international position, the vast majority of scams in the business directory field operate outside the UK. These proposals do not, and cannot, seek to regulate the activities of directory publishers,
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bogus or otherwise, who operate from other European countries or overseas. The best way to combat such scams is through cross-border co-operation between enforcement bodies and prosecution under the laws of the state concerned.
There are some cases where that has occurred. One well known scam was that concerning the Barcelona-based European City Guide. The OFT sought the co-operation of the Catalan authority under Catalan law on misleading advertising. The court ruled that the European City Guide was to be temporarily shut down for one year and fined 300,000 euros for its deceitful advertising. In another case, the Liechtenstein authority shut down the Tour and Travel Guide because its business practices were injurious to the state in accordance with its law. Therefore, it is possible to take cross-border action on this matter. In addition, Section 3(1) of the Act states that a purchaser is not liable to pay and that he can, in fact, recover the payment for an unauthorised entry.
I am very grateful for the contributions to this short debate and commend the order to the House.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Lord Morris of Manchester rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what consideration they have given to the Report of the Independent Public Inquiry on Gulf War Illnesses, conducted by the Lord Lloyd of Berwick.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have joined me for this, as it were, finale before the Christmas adjournment. Clearly there must, and will, be other opportunities to consider the Lloyd report and at more length; but Peers who wanted to be here with us, had that been possible, well understood the timeliness now of a first look at the outcome of an inquiry born and bred in your Lordships' House.
I have interests to declarenot pecuniaryas Honorary Parliamentary Adviser to the Royal British Legion, as Vice-President of the War Widows Association, as a co-opted member of the United States Congressional Committee of Inquiry into Gulf War Illnesses, and as the instigator of the inquiry to whose groundbreaking report this debate calls attention.
I am much indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for accepting my suggestion that he should conduct the inquiry and most warmly congratulate him on a report of huge importance to thousands of men and women now in broken healthmany of them terminally illwho were prepared to give their lives in the service of this country and to the dependants of those who did so.
No one was more fitted or better qualified to conduct the inquiry than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. Scrupulously fair and balanced in its judgment, his report's conclusions are presented with excelling clarity
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and a relentless and compelling logic. Its purpose is not to apportion blame but to end deadlock and, by unravelling truth, to let right be done.
Other distinguished lawyers describe the Lloyd report as a work of sustained forensic brilliance. By stricken veterans and the bereaved families, it is hailed as a triumph of social concern over official indifference: a treatise of transparent integrity and humanity.
The wide acclaim won by the report, both here and abroadnowhere more than in the United Statesreflects high credit on the legal profession in this country. As a lawyer himself, I am sure my noble friend Lord Bach will want to acknowledge today the extent of the noble and learned Lord's achievement.
For my part I also want to record deep appreciation of the invaluable contributions of Sir Michael Davies, known to and immensely respected by all of us here as former Clerk of the Parliaments, and of Dr Norman Jones, emeritus consultant physician at St Thomas's Hospital, who served the MoD with distinction in the period immediately following the conflict. Their unwavering commitment to the inquiry added powerfully to its impact.
Vijay Mehan too has my admiration for his crucially important administrative role. Without his dedication, as the report says, the inquiry could never have gone forward. I pay tribute also today to the Royal British Legionnotably Brigadier Ian Townsend, Colonel Terry English and Frances Hoyfor their abiding constancy in pressing the case for an inquiry. Without their commitment the inquiry would never have been conceived.
How then did it come about? It was at the Legion's 1997 annual conference that an independent public inquiry into Gulf War veterans' illnesses was first called for. The call was unanimously renewed year after year; but the Government, while stating that their mind was not closed to an inquiry, had repeatedly resisted one. Ministers remained unconvinced that it would help and time was not ripe. Only through research, they said, were the causes of Gulf War illnesses likely to be established. Yet 14 years on, veterans with medically unexplained illnesses were still locked in what the Legion described as "a long hard battle" to have them accepted as service-related. Of Gulf War widows, the Legion added:
"They would have been better treated had their husbands been in the US and not British armed forces".
On 5 February of this year the call for an inquiry was strongly reinforced in a letter I received from Stephen Irwin QC, who is chairman of the Bar Council, and other lawyers with a close interest in Gulf War illnesses. They urged me to draw the Prime Minister's attention to the worsening plight of Gulf veterans in the wake of the collapse of a class action based on negligence and/or breach of statutory duty that was found to be, "not currently viable".
and concluded by requesting the Prime Minister to institute,
"a full public review of the position of veterans, to instigate a process of conciliation . . . and to make good by ex-gratia payments the deficiencies of the war pensions scheme".
Their letter prompted me to make one further, but unsuccessful, plea to the Prime Minister to institute an inquiry and then to consult widely on the possibility of finding a retired High Court judge to conduct an independent public inquiry.
In a public statement on 14 June I announced that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, as a former High Court judge and Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, had agreed to fill that role; and also announced his terms of reference. The inquiry's report addresses, first, the MoD's refusal to admit that veterans' illnesses are related to their service in the Gulf conflict. Their pensions are being paid only because of a legal obligation to do so. For the MoD cannot prove the illnesses are not related to service in the Gulf.
As the report says, the veterans now want above all else a clear recognition by the MoD that they are ill because they served in the Gulf. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, finds them entitled to that recognition, for which he presents an unanswerable case.
The next question addressed by the inquiry concerned the nature of veterans' illnesses. In the years after the conflict, many veterans were told, both here and in the United States, that they were not physically ill. Their illnesses were "all in the mind". And it is now clear, says the report, that this was not so. A small proportion of veterans presented the classic symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, but that could not account for the great majority of Gulf veterans' illnesses. Any doubt about that has since been removed by publication in the United States on 12 November 2004 of the report of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, a prestigious body established by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
There was, then, something else causing these illnesses. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, considered a range of possibilities. First, a multiple immunisation programme that included anthrax and plague vaccines and tablets that contained pyridostigmine bromide to protect against nerve agents. Some veterans received as many as 14 injections in two days. This, the report says, is the most likely explanation for the illnesses of personnel who were prepared for the Gulf, but never deployed. Secondly, there is the indiscriminate spraying of tents with organophosphate pesticidesthe so-called sheep-dip effect. Thirdly, exposure to nerve gas, including sarin, from the demolitions by US forces of the Iraqi chemical arms depots at Khamisiyah. And fourthly, the inhalation of depleted uranium dust.
The most likely explanation, the report says, may be a combination of more than one cause against a background of stress, since at least some of the causes are
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thought to have a potentiating effect on each other. In these circumstances the inquiry found it unacceptable for the MoD to tell veterans,
"yes, you are ill, but since we do not know which of the possible causes has caused your particular illness, we are not going to admit that it is due to your service".
Research must go on, but that is not a reason for refusing to admit that veterans are ill because they served in the Gulf.
The inquiry's next question was what the illnesses should be called. Veterans have always used the term Gulf War syndrome. That is the name used by the mass media. But although the name is just a label, the MoD has been unable to accept it. It might be said that the word "syndrome" is medically incorrect. But the definition used by the inquiry is:
"A collection of symptoms and signs which tend to occur together, and form a characteristic pattern, but which may not necessarily always be due to the same pathological cause".
Thus, even if more than one cause is operative, there is no medical reason why the symptoms should not be described as a syndrome: and even if there were it is hard to see what the MoD has to lose by accepting the term the veterans prefer. The Lloyd report says:
"People who are ill like to have a name for their illnesses. Rather than tell a child that his father died of 'Symptoms and Signs of Ill Defined Conditions' [the label used by the MoD] it is surely better to tell him that he died of Gulf War Syndrome".
Are veterans satisfied with the way they have been treated by the MoD? The Lloyd inquiry's answer is "No". They feel "let down and rejected" in the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, to the inquiry.
Flight Lieutenant John Nichol, whose bravery under torture in Iraq was seen by television viewers across the world, told the inquiry:
Compare that with the nearly £8m a year the MoD spent on entertainment. That's £8.5m in seven years on research to save dying veterans and £8m in one year on entertainment".
It is tragic that John Nichol is made to feel so embittered. The report also quotes the House of Commons Defence Committee's comment on delays in commissioning epidemiological research that the MoD had been,
"quick to deny but slow to investigate . . . reactive rather than proactive and characterised by scepticism, defensiveness and general torpor".
On organophosphate pesticides the Commons' committee found:
"a culture of resistance that pervades much of the MoD . . . a deep-seated reluctance to respond positively to external stimuli . . . and a blithe assumption that everyone else is wrong".
The inquiry noted too the bitter complaints of many veterans about the MoD's failure to take any part in its proceedings. Paul Tyler MP told the inquiry that it was extremely important for a Minister to appear. He said:
But no Minister appeared and a valuable opportunity was lost that would have cost the MoD nothing.
The Lloyd inquiry asked the department to pay heed in particular to the view of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, that the absence of closure after so many years is now indefensible.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, came last to the question of compensation. This did not figure largely in the evidence of veterans themselves. However, it did in the evidence of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, Major General Peter Craig, and Michael Mates MP, a former defence Minister, among others.
The report's four recommendations call, first, for the MoD to acknowledge publicly that veterans with war pensions or lump-sum payments are indeed suffering injury or disease related to their service in the Gulf; secondly, to fund ex gratia payments on a pro-rata basis to all veterans who had made successful claims; thirdly, to arrange for claimants who had their claims rejected to have them reviewed; and, fourthly, for the illnesses to be called Gulf War syndrome.
Ministerial comments on the report give the strong impression that those making them have not read even its opening paragraphs. They appear to be derived from what officials and others have told them it says. The only alternative to the assumption is that they have knowingly and wilfully misrepresented the inquiry. One reads that the Lloyd inquiry ignored much of the written evidence provided by the MoD, but in fact most of it was already well known to members of the inquiry even before being copied to them. Indeed it was all, or almost all, publicly available on the department's website.
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