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Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I inquired as to when the time is up and I understand that it is 6.46 pm. I may be wrong about that. In any event, I assure the noble Baroness that I am at the end of my remarks.
One thousand three hundred and sixty-eight people have claimed on the basis of Gulf War syndrome and have had their claims defeated because of the attitude of the Ministry of Defence to that particular expression. Only one claim on that basis has succeeded. I want to ask: if the ministry is taking steps, has it written to the 1,367 others who claimed on that basis to say, "Sorry, we were wrong and you were right; this was the correct basis"? If the Minister can say that she has done that, I shall be gratified. If not, I hope that the ministry will do so quickly.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I sincerely congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and thank him not only for initiating this debate but for his persistence in standing up for the victims of Gulf War-related illnesses. I also pay tribute to other Members of your Lordships' House, notably the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, with whom I have worked in the past on this issue, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. His masterly and truly independent inquiry produced the report which gives rise to the debate.
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Unlike other noble Lords, I have no military, legal, medical or scientific expertise to put before your Lordships' House. However, I have a long commitment to get to the truth of this issue. Way back in 1994, I was approached by those in Cornwall and the south-west who were suffering from severe illness as a result of their service in the Gulf, including Major Christine Lloyd, to whom reference has been made. At that time, the suggestion was made that there might be a link between the cocktail of inoculations that troops suffered before they went to the Gulf, or the use of organophosphate pesticides, which was a special interest of mine, or a combination of the two, and that that was giving rise to these serious illnesses. I therefore tabled a Parliamentary Question in the other place to the then Defence Minister Mr Nicholas Soames, who answered on 3 November 1994 that organophosphates had been used only,
That proved to be misinformation. As your Lordships' House has already heard, we have had too much misinformation over the years. More than two years later, in December 1996, that same Minister, Mr Soames, had to make a grovelling apology to me in the other place and to the Commons. He had been wrongly briefed: several hundred British troops, their equipment and their living quarters had been sprayed with these extremely dangerous chemicals. The organophosphates had been bought locally in the Gulf with no clear warnings or treatment instructions in English. Unsurprisingly, there was a devastating result in certain cases.
That episode convinced me that the Ministry had been casual and irresponsible in its attitude to the health of those who had been serving their country so well in the most dangerous conditions. Nothing I have subsequently learnt during my years of working with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the Royal British Legion to seek justice for those victims of official neglect has changed my view. I want to pay particular tribute to the persistence of the Royal British Legion; notably, to Colonel Terry English, who has done so much on behalf of veterans.
"It is becoming slightly embarrassing for me to have to acknowledge that I worked in that Kremlin-like establishment, the Ministry of Defence, in the past. There is a real paradox between the ethos of the MoD and the individual armed services. In the Army, Navy and Air Force we are trained to look after our people in both peace and war. The duty of care extends from the top to the bottom . . . Yet what have we seen from the Ministry of Defence in recent times? Whether justly or not, its reputation is one of cover-up, lack of transparency and unwillingness to support the troops when they are in distress".[Official Report, 21/12/04; col. 1728.]
"In responding to allegations of a Gulf War Syndrome MoD has been quick to deny but slow to investigate. MoD's response has been reactive rather than proactive and characterised throughout by scepticism, defensiveness and general torpor."
In the aftermath of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal decision in the case of Guardsman Daniel Martin last November, I and several Members of your Lordships' House questioned the Government on their grudging acceptance of the outcome. Today the Minister has a unique opportunity to show genuine generosity of spirit and awareness of the misery to our Gulf War veterans caused by so many official delaying tactics, so that she can correct the widespread perceptions to which so many of us are referring.
Specifically, I ask the Minister, first, to give the House an estimate of the total costin legal fees and civil servants' timeof resisting the claimants' case for recognition and compensation. Secondly, in the light of today's report that Professor Robert Haley in the United States has been awarded an annual research budget of some $15 million to establish the truth of Gulf War syndrome, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that his results are immediately accessible and acted on in the United Kingdom?
Thirdly, can she assure the House that each of the four simple recommendations contained in paragraph 283 of the Lloyd inquiry report have been, or are being, urgently implemented? First, that MoD should acknowledge that it was service in the Gulf that caused these illnesses; secondly, that "Gulf War syndrome" is an appropriate description; thirdly, that a fund for ex gratia payments should be set up; and fourthly, that the then 272 rejected claims should be reviewed? We know of course that there are many more now, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, said. Finally, bearing in mind the Martin and subsequent tribunal decisions, will the Minister further assure us that all outstanding similar cases will be speedily settled without further delay or unnecessary recourse to further tribunals, in the light of the precedent that has now been set?
"Gulf War veterans were found to experience significantly (26 to 32 per cent) more multi-symptom illness than veterans who did not serve in the Gulf and also more than veterans of the Bosnian conflict. Their conditions could not be explained by wartime stress or psychiatric illness. There is also growing evidence that an important component of Gulf War veterans' illnesses is neurological in character".
"Even though we cannot yet prove a causal relationship between the specific toxic insults to which veterans were exposed and each illness symptom, once it is accepted that service in that theatre of war is linked to a heightened risk of illnesses coming under the GWS umbrella label, the burden of proof on the veteran for the cause of their illness is lightened. Is this why the Ministry of Defence so resists the term Gulf War Syndrome?".
In our exchanges on 24 November, the Minister tried to reassure me and the House that the United Kingdom Government were no less anxious to be generous to veterans than the US Administration. That was not my impression when I gave evidence to the inquiry here in Parliament. Now, this massive investment of public money and the work of Professor Haley surely prove us right. The effect on service families must be disastrous. The impression given that the Ministry of Defence simply does not care for them will affect future recruitment and retention even if it does not do so already. After 15 years, those who have risked their lives and their long-term health in the service of their country in the Gulf deserve recognition and justice. Instead of further procrastination, we and they surely now need a firm promise of action this day.
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