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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, on initiating the debate. It is probably the sixth such debate in which I have taken part since being in this House. I also congratulate him on being the only begetter of the Lloyd inquiry. As a result of that inquiry, the issues are now much clearer and they provide a better basis for debate.
On previous occasions, I have described the MoD's responses as bizarre. As is clear from the responses that have been given during the past few weeks, they need to be described as bloody-minded. The response of the Ministry of Defence and the Minister for Veterans, Ivor Caplin, to the Lloyd report was in three parts. First, they attacked the funding of the report. Secondly, they stated that it revealed no new,
Thirdly, they said that it failed to take into account the substantive or scientific written material provided by the MoD.
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The response on funding has all the hallmarks of the tactics employed by the Alastair Campbell school of political warfarewhen in the wrong, create a diversion. Throughout the inquiry as it is, the Minister for Veterans and the MoD adopted a grudging tone of voice. Look at the letters at the back of the inquiry report, particularly those on funding.
This casting doubt on the funding was pretty rich coming from a Minister who had failed to fund or indeed to set up an inquiry himself. What hidden conflict of interest might there beand I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, adopted virtually identical language to that adopted by the Minister for Veteranswhich would invalidate the conclusions of the report? In what circumstances would the source of funding
Lord Truscott: My Lords, I want to make the point clear because there are inferences that my briefing comes from the MoD. My briefing paper was produced by the House of Lords Library, so I can assure your Lordships that it was impartial.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I said that the noble Lord adopted virtually identical language. I am sure that it could well have been taken from the parliamentary reports of what the Minister for Veterans had to say. I give the noble Lord the full benefit of the doubt in the circumstances, depressing though it may be.
In what circumstances would the source of funding make a difference to the report's conclusions? I leave it to the Minister to reply. One can conclude only that it was a tactic designed to hide ministerial embarrassment over the quality of the report.
The Government's response that the inquiry produced no new evidence is also spurious. The fact is that the role of inquiries such as this is often to put together existing evidence, assess it and reach conclusionsa task which the inquiry has done well.
The Minister and the MoD throughout refused to take part in the inquiry on the grounds that they did not accept that it was necessary to restore confidence among servicemen and women in the MoD. It is clear the Royal British Legion and many MPs will and have testified to the contrary, as my noble friend Lord Garden has made clear as an ex-serviceman. Many would go further and say that the MoD's refusal to settle the issue satisfactorily has had and will continue to have an adverse effect on service recruitment and retentiona point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park.
The key question that the inquiry had before itan inquiry that had an extremely distinguished panelis whether the ill health and mortality of Gulf veterans is unusual and is related to service in the Gulf. The evidence of Professor Simon Wessely and Professor Nicola Cherry, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, who, after all, should know his onions in the medical field, was absolutely crucial.
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Both believe that the interaction of vaccines was the key issue. Professor Wessely was quoted as saying:
Professor Cherry is quoted as saying:
There are four or five strong possible causes, to which the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, referred, either in combination or singly, for the illness of Gulf veterans: multiple vaccines, organophosphates, exposure to nerve gas and depleted uranium dust. Professor Malcolm Hooper as a result asked why we insisted on a single cause when multiple factors are at work. Indeed, the conclusions of the congressional research advisory committee were very similar. It said that a substantial proportion of Gulf War veterans are ill with multi-symptom conditions not explained by wartime stress or psychiatric illness. In parenthesis, I should say that in general the United States authorities are demonstrating themselves to be considerably more sympathetic than the Ministry of Defence here.
As the precise cause has not yet been identified, the Ministry of Defence has not been prepared to admit any responsibility. Nor is it prepared to admit, even after 14 years, the use of the term "Gulf War syndrome". The time is never right for a public inquiry; instead, we are offered endless researchto what purpose becomes less and less clear over time. However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, points out, if the MoD is prepared to use the label SSIDC, which stands for symptoms and signs of ill-defined conditions, why on earth is it not prepared to use the term "Gulf War syndrome"? They are both umbrella terms to cover multiple causes. It is typical of the illogical approach adopted by the MoD.
Then there is the key recommendation of the inquiry. There are now a finite number of veterans in receipt of war pensions, whose illnesses are the result of one or more causes resulting from the first Gulf War. The report recommends that the MoD should accept, effectively, that that is Gulf War syndrome, settle with the claimants and make appropriate ex gratia payments. At present, the MoD is demonstrating nil magnanimity and nil imagination. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said to the inquiry in evidence, absence of closure is indefensible. Never did an ex-serviceman speak a truer word.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I start by declaring an interest as honorary president of the Earl Haig branch and the Kent County branch of the Royal British Legion. I am also a trustee of the Astor of Hever Trust, which has given charitable donations to the Royal British Legion over many years. I make no apology in paying tribute to the Royal British Legion for its hard work on this issue over many years.
We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for the opportunity to debate this report.
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He has indefatigably championed the cause of ex-service people, as the parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion over many years. It was the noble Lord who succeeded in obtaining the services of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and his colleagues to hold this inquiry. It would be difficult to have found a more competent and reliable panel to conduct the inquiry. I would also like to add my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and his inquiry panel for producing such a balanced and coherent report and recommendations.
We on these Benches recognise that this issue has been difficult for the MoD to cope with given that there has been no definite medical evidence upon which to establish a pattern of illness arising from the Gulf War. The report's recommendations now provide the Government with a unique opportunity to close this long-running chapter in the lives of many who have suffered after serving in the Gulf during the period 199091. There has been cross-party support for the report.
It is critical to relieve the burden of veterans and their families. This group of people have been ignored by the MoD and this report is a considered and convincing case for recognition.
The report proposes the setting up of a fund to compensate, by way of proportionate ex gratia payment, those who still suffer. This would show that the Government recognise the personal cost that these individuals and their families have paid in serving the Crown. This is surely not too much to ask of the Minister for Veterans whose duty is to support veterans in need. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, says in his recommendations:
"It seems to us that with the termination of any legal proceedings against the MoD, and with the results of the three epidemiological surveys to hand, now is the time to reach agreement with the veterans".
We welcome the Minister's agreement to review the cases of 114 applicants whose claims for war pensions have been rejected. But the acceptance of the label of Gulf War syndrome is critical to move this impasse forward. Gulf War syndrome, already recognisedas the noble Lord, Lord Morris, notedby the war pensions tribunals, will not only allow financial recompense to be paid but, equally important, will allow general practitioners and others to recognise and treat the symptoms individual sufferers are displaying without further delay.
I look forward to the Minister's response and hearing whether the Government will implement the four recommendations that the noble Lord, Lord Garden, mentioned. That would not only meet the immediate needs of the veterans themselves and their dependants but also restore trust. I need not remind noble Lords that members of the Armed Forces enter into an unconditional contract on joining which can entail them losing their lives in the service of this country. The Lloyd report has attracted support from the media and at all levels of society. It is vital that those who are already familiar with its contents encourage others to read it so that they better understand the arguments.
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Since its publication there have been a number of letters published in national newspapers calling for the implementation of the report's recommendations, not least one signed by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig, both former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, and General Sir Peter de la Billière. In another place, Early Day Motion 81 has already attracted 93 signatures.
The recommendations of the inquiry offer the chance to break the longstanding deadlock over Gulf War illnesses.
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