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Lord Lloyd of Berwick : My Lords, perhaps I may start my contribution by paying a warm tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy. It is very refreshing to hear a new voiceat least to meon this thorny subject. I hope that the Government will pay close attention to what she said.
The Royal British Legion has been pressing for a public inquiry into Gulf War syndromewe now can call it thatsince 1997. The Ministry of Defence has never said yes and it has never said no. All it has ever said was that the time is not yet ripe, even after 14 or 15 years. It is still waiting, it says, for scientific proof, on the cause of the illnesses, despite the fact that there is scientific proof that those who served in the Gulf were twice as likely to suffer from these symptoms as those who served in Bosnia or remained at home.
In answer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, I would say that this problem of Gulf War illnesses has never had anything to do with increased mortality; it is the problem regarding the symptoms, not necessarily leading to mortality, that has been beneath all the investigation. After pressing for so long, people lost patience and it was as a result of the noble efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that an independent public inquiry was in due course set up. I had the honour to be the chairman of that inquiry. It was never our remit to establish the scientific cause of the illness; it could not be and no one could have expected it to be. But it was our remit to establish the facts of how the veterans had been treated by the Ministry of Defence since their return from the Gulf. I propose to refer always to the Ministry of Defence, rather than to any particular Government. This is not a political issue. It is a coincidence that, in
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the 15 years since the first Iraq war, the Conservatives formed the Administration for the first half and there was a Labour Government for the second half. Although on coming to office in 1997 the Labour Government said that there would be a great new fresh start, I did not notice any difference.
Since we were investigating the facts relating to how the Ministry of Defence had treated the veterans, it seemed only sensible to invite the Ministry of Defence to send a representative to attend our inquiry. The representative need have attended only for a very short time, but the ministry declined. It said that it would serve no purpose. It was wrong about that. It would have served a very important purpose. It would have reassured the veterans that the Ministry of Defence was taking their complaints seriously. It would have cost the Ministry of Defence nothing to attend, however briefly, to explain its position, but it did not do so.
We listened to a great deal of evidence and, at the end, at the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, we renewed our invitation to the ministry to send someone to answer some of the questions that we wanted to put. I wrote in these terms:
"You may have seen that Paul Tyler MP on 21st July said that your appearance would do more than anything to restore trust between the veterans and the MOD. Many of the veterans have echoed the same point in their evidence. Paul Tyler asked me specifically to renew my invitation, which I now do. It seems to me that it could do no harm, and might do much good".
However, once again, that invitation was simply brushed aside. I am sorry to say that, once again, the Ministry of Defence lost another opportunity to reassure veterans that their interests and concerns were being properly taken into account.
I must mention something that I find difficult to mention. Instead of explaining sensibly why the ministry would not come to address us, however briefly, it became obsessed with how our inquiry had been financed. Over and over again, in answer to my questions, it wrote back to say, "Why have you not answered that question?" I explained as clearly as I could that we were financed by a private charity that wished to remain anonymous. For some reason, the Ministry of Defence found that hard to accept. I hope that, when she replies, the Minister will explain why it was so obsessed by the problem of how we were financed and why the ministry pressed that point so hard and could not accept our assurance that we were financed by a private charity that wished to remain anonymous.
I am sorry to say that, at one point, the Ministry of Defence went so far in reference to our inquiry as to put the word "independent" in quotation marks. That seems to suggest that, in the view of someone in the ministry, we were not truly independent. Again, I hope that the Minister, when she comes to reply, will specifically withdraw any suggestion that we were not independent. There was no evidence of any kind on which the Ministry of Defence could have put forward such a suggestion.
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We did not of course expect the Ministry of Defence to accept our recommendations overnight, but we did expect a considered response. A considered response is what we never got. Instead, the ministry arguedI am glad that the point has already been madethat we had failed to take account of the large amount of written material put before us because, if we had, we could not have reached the conclusions that we did. That is a marvellous example of Ministry of Defence logic.
I agree that the Ministry of Defence put a large amount of material before us, much of it self-serving and suggesting simply that the Government were doing better than the Conservatives had done. The suggestion that we did not read that evidenceall three of uswas quite simply wrong and, I suggest, unworthy of a government department. Indeed, it was unworthy of the Prime Minister, who made exactly that point in a letter that he wrote to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich on 17 October last year. Again, I hope that the Minister will specifically withdraw the suggestion that we did not read or take account of the ministry's evidence.
One of the main issues at the hearing was the use of the term "Gulf War syndrome". We wanted to know why the ministry was so reluctant to accept that terma term that was used by all the veterans and the public at large. Indeed, it was a term that the ministry itself was using until about 1997, when it suddenly changed tackagain, for reasons that were never explained. That was the issue in the Rusling case, which was decided in 2002. Sergeant Rusling had succeeded in establishing a basis for a claim on Gulf War syndrome. Yet the Ministry of Defence wasted a great deal of public money in appealing against that decision, only to lose on every issue that it had raised.
That, of course, brings me to the decision of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal in the Martin case on 31 October. There, it was decided that Gulf War syndrome was the correct label for describing these symptoms. Indeed, by this stage, the Ministry of Defence actually conceded as much. We had taken the view that Gulf War syndrome was a sensibleindeed, medically correctterm, as we had been advised. In the Martin case, it was decided that it was not only sensible but correct in law.
In any view, the Martin case was a defeat for the Ministry of Defence. But how did it deal with the case? Somehowand it almost beggars beliefit tried to turn the case into a victory. Here, again, I refer to the statement which the Ministry of Defence made on 24 November:
"The Government hope that the use of the umbrella term will address the known concern of some Gulf veterans that we have not recognised a link between their ill health and the 199091 Gulf conflict. We hope that this will help to provide an element of closure"
"However, there remains no basis for recognising Gulf War syndrome as a diagnostic label. The consensus of the medical community remains that there are too many different symptoms reported for this ill health to be characterised as a discrete medical syndrome".
That is not only unjust and ungenerous, but plain wrong. The ministry seems to be incapable of distinguishing between a diagnostic labeland Gulf War syndrome was a correct diagnostic labeland a discrete pathological entity, which it clearly is not and that we never even suggested was.
I am delighted that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, drew attention to the sentence in the Prime Minister's letter to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich on 23 January 2006, when he said that the affairs of the Gulf War veterans will continue to be a top priority of this Government. If the Gulf War veterans have been the subject of top priority from the Ministry of Defence, one feels sorry indeed for those whose concerns have only a low priority.
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