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Gulf War Illnesses

5.12 pm

Lord Craig of Radley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they have taken in response to the Independent Public Inquiry on Gulf War Illness (the Lloyd inquiry) and the Pensions Appeal Tribunal decision of 31 October.

The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, I start by welcoming the Minister to the Dispatch Box, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, being on an official visit to India. I look forward to her response. I also thank all those who will speak this evening, and those who have told me of their support but are unable to participate.
 
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This debate relates to the 2004 Independent Public Inquiry on Gulf War Illness and the recent findings of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. The public inquiry was a substantial piece of work, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, with the able assistance of Sir Michael Davies, the previous Clerk of the Parliaments, and Dr Norman Jones, a most highly respected member of the medical profession—an alpha-plus team of expertise.

Last month, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, in answer to my Written Question about accepting the phrase "Gulf War syndrome" as a medical label, wrote,

that is, of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal—

That was precisely the proposal made in the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, over a year earlier. I welcome the sinner that repenteth.

As noble Lords will be aware, I was Chief of the Defence Staff throughout the first Gulf War. One of the difficult decisions that we faced was what protective measures to take when we received an updated intelligence assessment about Iraq's WMD capabilities in November 1990. I quote from the July 2004 report of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, which states that,

Faced with that, it was right to take the clinical and other measures that we could to protect our personnel. Equally, having done it, the government of the day must deal with any adverse consequences of that decision. I was much encouraged by the sentiments expressed by the new Administration in 1997. Ministers stressed their sense of responsibility and their determination to do right by the veterans. The Government undertook to address Gulf veterans' concerns openly, sympathetically and seriously. An MoD paper entitled Gulf Veterans' Illnesses: A New Beginning listed 20 key points for action. Additional resources were to be made available. Fresh studies were put in hand to ensure that the MoD could respond "more urgently". It was all heady stuff. Sadly, expectations, so much aroused, grew fainter and fainter. The MoD embarked on an endless series of reviews, studies and researches. Whenever challenged to say what was happening, its response seemed to be that there had not yet been any conclusive outcome to its efforts, that further work was necessary and that millions of pounds were being spent.

In May 2003 I took part in a Starred Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, on Gulf War veterans. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, who has been so energetic and resolute in his efforts to help veterans. He is a fine example to us all. I asked,
 
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That was the principal theme in my own evidence to the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. It took that view to heart. The time had come to—in the inquiry's words—

I was pleased to see in the response of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, to my Written Question—which I have already mentioned—that HMG have,

for the veterans.

One swallow does not make a summer. I am not sure whether "an element of closure" is just one swallow or the full flock—the full closure that we would all wish to see. I like to think that Ministers are now expressing a willingness to meet the veterans and their representatives such as the Royal British Legion, which has been so helpful and active on behalf of the veterans, to reach a final settlement of this protracted affair. But the Government must approach such a get-together in, I would hope, a rather less confrontational way than has been symptomatic—I am tempted to say "syndromatic"—of their past treatment of veterans.

Indeed, I regret that no Minister, serving official or serving member of the Armed Forces was allowed by the MoD to appear before the inquiry. The MoD actively discouraged some individuals with experience and great knowledge of the veterans' illnesses from giving evidence. Commenting on the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, during a debate in the other place, the Minister, Mr Caplin, stated that it,

No one should accuse this enquiry of shoddy work. In Mr Caplin's words:

Surely the basic question is not that, but what to do to help those who are ill. The Minister even seemed to cast doubt on the impartiality of the inquiry because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, was not prepared to reveal who had funded it as that was done anonymously. It is far from unusual for sponsors to wish to remain anonymous, and that wish should certainly be respected.

Such government reactions did nothing to improve relations with the veterans and those who have been trying to help them. Will Her Majesty's Government now express their regret about the long and protracted delays over eight and a half years since this Administration came to power, and confirm their acceptance of "Gulf War syndrome" as an umbrella term covering any recognised medical condition caused by service and connected with the 1990–91 Gulf
 
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conflict? Will they make a commitment to achieve, in the course of this year, full settlement and closure of this protracted affair? As the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, recommends, will they provide a fund for ex gratia payments made on a pro rata basis to all who make successful claims?

Such steps would help to heal over the many years of distress, even rejection, to which the veterans have felt so exposed. What a positive message that would send, too, to the younger generation of servicemen and women who are today exposed to danger on this country's behalf. They in time will become veterans, maybe with their own illnesses and disabilities to face. I ask Her Majesty's Government not to forget the younger generation's perceptions in their response tonight.

5.22 pm

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Crawley can brighten any scene, no matter how low the cloud base, and I welcome her to this debate. I count this a privileged occasion, made so by an opening speech of high distinction and compelling integrity.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, could not be more eminently well placed to lead this debate. Chief of the Defence Staff and a member of the War Cabinet during the 1991 Gulf War, no one is better qualified to assess the value of the inquiry to whose groundbreaking report this debate calls further attention. In a letter published by the Times soon after the inquiry reported, he warmly welcomed its findings. Signed also by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall—another former Chief of the Defence Staff—and by General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who commanded British forces in the field during the conflict, the letter recalled that the Duke of Marlborough, speaking in this House after Blenheim, said the best way to celebrate that great victory was,

The Times letter went on that:

So too was the speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, today.

I have interests to declare in the debate—none of them pecuniary—as honorary parliamentary adviser over many years to the Royal British Legion, vice-president of the War Widows' Association, a governor of St Dunstan's, a co-opted member of the United States Congressional Committee of Inquiry into Gulf War illnesses, and the instigator of the inquiry conducted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. I am grateful to him for accepting my suggestion that he should head the inquiry and for his report, one of huge importance to thousands of men and women now in broken health—many of them terminally ill—who were prepared to give their lives in the service of our country. His purpose was not to apportion blame but to end deadlock and, by unravelling the truth, to let right be done.

I am indebted also to Sir Michael Davies, who is respected all across this House as former Clerk of the
 
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Parliaments, and to Dr Norman Jones, Emeritus Consultant Physician at St Thomas's Hospital, who sat with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, at the inquiry and added powerfully to its impact.

Since our first debate on the Government's reaction to the inquiry's report, which I opened some six weeks after its publication, there have been many developments, all strongly supportive of its recommendations. They include the deeply moving plea to the Prime Minister from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and other Church leaders in East Anglia, prompted in part by the distressing case of a parish priest there, the Reverend David Peachell, who served with such dedication as Chaplain in the Gulf War and afterwards became afflicted by multiple undiagnosed illnesses.

Another major development was the letter sent jointly to all Scottish parliamentarians by the Right Reverend David W Lacy, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, calling for,

The letter went on:

Also important were the Pensions Appeal Tribunal's findings in the cases of Gulf veterans Daniel Martin, Mark McGreevy and Richard Hilling, which were that the Lloyd report was correct in stating that:

The tribunal's finding continued:

No juggling with words can detract from the historic importance of the tribunal's decisions in the cases of Martin, McGreevy and Hilling, which so explicitly vindicated the stance taken by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, in his report.

Already gossamer thin, the MoD's original case for seeking to discount the Lloyd report had now shrivelled to the most immodest of fig leaves. Indeed, all it amounts to now is repetition of the words, "Gulf War Syndrome is not a discrete medical condition". Even so, that fig leaf was called into service no fewer than five times in the MoD's response to my Starred Question on 24 November 2005 and the supplementaries. Of course the Lloyd report, as noted with appreciation by the tribunal, never said that it was a discrete medical condition. On the contrary, and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, strongly emphasised, the use of "syndrome" in medicine,

So much for the now threadbare fig leaf.
 
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Very clearly—in fact clarity was never clearer—the need now is for the Government to catch up with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd; Sir Michael Davies; Dr Norman Jones; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and his co-signatories; the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; Cardinal Archbishop O'Brien; Dr Jack Melling, former chief executive at Porton Down; Dr Harcourt Concannon, president of the tribunal; and the many other distinguished figures involved in unravelling the truth in this melancholy story.

At the very least, the Government must surely now make the tribunal's decisions known to every veteran of the conflict and act urgently, as a priority of priorities, on every case that could possibly be affected by them. After all, in the umpire's explicitly stated view, at least a year was lost by the MoD's failure to attend and give evidence to the Lloyd inquiry, and it is now 15 years since the conflict.

What is more, the Prime Minister, in his letter of 17 October 2005 to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, said that the needs of veterans and their families are,

The MoD, having accepted the tribunal's findings, but still not apologised for its strongly censured and "highly regrettable delay" in accepting the noble and learned Lord's approach, has caused profound dismay among veterans.

The admirable Flight Lieutenant John Nichol, whose bravery under torture in Iraq was seen by television viewers across the world and who is now president of the Gulf War veterans' branch of the Royal British Legion, told the inquiry:

Major Christine Lloyd, a widely respected nursing officer in the conflict, who is now 80 per cent incapacitated by multiple undiagnosed illnesses and still deteriorating, told the inquiry that there had not even been anyone to say:

Major Lloyd also said that it was,

Sadly, Reverend David Peachell, whose severe disabilities were raised with the Prime Minister by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, has spoken even more bitterly. He said:

These and other veterans, all highly regarded for their service in the conflict, need more now than an "element of closure". Full and final closure is their aim and an understanding in Whitehall that, if their striving for that outcome has to go on, then go on it will until right is done.

For our part here, I suggest that we reflect that there is no higher parliamentary duty than to act justly to those prepared to lay down their lives in the service of this country and to the dependants of those who do so.
 
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5.31 pm


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