19 Jun 2007 : Column 87

19 Jun 2007 : Column 87

House of Lords

Tuesday, 19 June 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.

Gulf War Illnesses

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending sincere condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal James Cartwright, who was killed in Basra, Iraq, on Saturday.

The needs of Gulf veterans remain a high priority for the Government. We are now writing to advise veterans on how they may have the umbrella term Gulf War syndrome applied to their disablements. Appropriate medical treatment and financial support are available, and we are working with the appropriate experts to develop a rehabilitation programme. We will consider reasonable proposals for further research on how the illnesses may have been caused.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, can my noble friend—and I am grateful for his reply—say whether it remains the Government’s view, taking into account all recently published research internationally, that low-level exposure to sarin without any immediate or acute effect has no adverse health consequences in the longer term?

Again, is he aware that Gulf War veteran Mr TE Walker, whose case I raised in a Question my noble friend answered on 19 March, has now died, having suffered a heart attack and then pneumonia after being told that his pension had been cut from the 100 per cent agreed by the Pensions Appeal Tribunal to only 40 per cent, leaving him, as he had told the MoD, “financially ruined”? What do we tell the two children left orphaned in this deeply disturbing case?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, as my noble friend said, we and other nations, including the United States, have carried out considerable research into exposure to a number of agents that are potential causes for Gulf War syndrome, such as sarin. Those studies have to date not shown any causal link. We continue to carry out that research. Both the United States and United Kingdom are carrying out research not only into potential causes of Gulf War syndrome but, increasingly importantly, into methods and measures for rehabilitation.

19 Jun 2007 : Column 88

With regard to the case to which my noble friend refers, I do not think that it is appropriate in this forum to get into the details of individuals. However, as he knows, it is the policy of the Ministry of Defence regularly to reassess cases. That process can be instigated either by the recipient of a pension or by the Ministry of Defence itself.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, 16 years after the first Gulf War, the Ministry of Defence has still not achieved satisfactory closure for the many veterans suffering with serious medical conditions. Only the pressure from the Pensions Appeal Tribunal and the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has achieved any movement recently. Bearing in mind that many young men serving today will be tomorrow’s veterans, is not the Ministry of Defence’s failure to look after the Gulf War veterans a very poor message for the next generation of veterans?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend, the noble and gallant Lord and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, for their efforts on behalf of veterans. There is no doubt that their continued efforts have had an impact, which is recognised. However, I do not accept that the noble and gallant Lord’s characterisation of the way in which the MoD looks after veterans is correct. He is right that it has taken considerable time for us to reach closure, as he described it; we continue to make strenuous efforts to do so. We have recently begun to write to all the veterans affected by this issue. Approximately 450 out of the total of 1,500 veterans have been sent letters. Information is also on the MoD’s website. We continue to do research. We have comprehensive measures in place for financial support, and we will continue to explore avenues for the future support of Gulf War veterans, as we do for all our veterans.

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, we join the Minister in sending condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Cartwright after his sad death serving his country.

Was the Ministry of Defence represented at the presentation of the latest research into Gulf War illnesses among United States veterans, held at the Society of Chemical Industry in London on 5 June? If it was not represented, perhaps the Minister could tell us why not. If it was there, do the Government now accept all the findings of the research teams who gave the presentations at that meeting?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not aware of the meeting to which the noble Lord refers. I will investigate and write to him. Whether or not the Ministry of Defence had a representative at that meeting, it has very close relationships with our counterparts in the United States. Coalition partners who were engaged in the Gulf War and who have carried out research to investigate causes of Gulf War syndrome share all their research with each other. It is important to recognise the global nature of peer-reviewed research in this area, and we are fully apprised of the information coming out of US research programmes.

19 Jun 2007 : Column 89

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is an issue of the duty of care? In 19 years, 7,000 of the 53,000 who went to the Gulf have suffered or died, and there have been repeated delays and repeated research that goes on for ever. There are many things of which both Governments are culpable, such as the loss of records and the general pace at which the thing has been addressed. Will the Government consider making ex gratia payments to those people who are still alive, whether or not they finally decide to hold a public inquiry and something much more solid?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, noble Lords will recognise the complexity and difficulty associated with identifying the causes of Gulf War syndrome and the time that research into this area necessarily takes. We still do not have a clear answer. So far as culpability is concerned, there has never been a question mark over veterans’ ability to be assessed and apply for pensions relating to their disability. Indeed, it is independent of the cause of the disability. A veteran is entitled to a pension based on a medical assessment, independent of the cause. Our internationally being unable to determine the cause of Gulf War syndrome has not led to a delay in veterans receiving support.

However, we realise the growing importance of the recognition of the umbrella term, which has taken us some time, for which I apologise. The fact that the department has recognised the umbrella term and has now informed the veterans of this is an important step forward.

Carbon Emissions: Offsetting

2.45 pm

Lord Dixon-Smith asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, offsetting only balances carbon dioxide emissions rather than reduces them. The Government acknowledge that carbon offsetting is not a cure for climate change, but it can help raise awareness and reduce the impact of our actions. In other words, it is a good thing after other measures have been exhausted. We are developing a code of best practice for carbon offsetting, which should be in place by the end of the year. A quality mark will also be created to provide consumers with clarity and certainty when offsetting.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response, particularly the information about a code of practice. At present, this part of the carbon trading market is effectively unregulated and some of the schemes promoted are of very dubious environmental value. Do the Government agree that it

19 Jun 2007 : Column 90

is right that a British business should be able to purchase certificates in this market to the point where it can claim carbon neutrality when it might not have reduced its carbon dioxide emissions at all?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord is justified to be sceptical, as have others in recent questions, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, to whom I apologise in his absence for being too dismissive of his last question to me about this. A degree of scepticism is justified on the current experience of this quite new operation. A lot of work is being done to ensure that the offsetting is additional—in other words, it would not have happened if it had not been for offsetting—to look at what is happening in the countries where it is taking place, and to look at the integrity of the schemes for offsetting. It is an unregulated market. Nevertheless, it is a growing market in which London is the centre.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, while there is a degree of scepticism about the use of trees in offsetting, most people who offset do so on a voluntary basis and their efforts are to be applauded. Is the Minister’s department looking at reflooding drained upland peat bogs and using them in a carbon sink which could be certified by the Government? That would reduce the amount of carbon being given off by dried-up bogs in this country and would incentivise farmers environmentally to manage the landscape.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am not sure whether we are planning to be as systematic as the noble Lord described. I have heard the practice discussed in Defra and in relation to other countries. Obviously, I will make it my business to find out, but I am not sure whether it is that precise. Nevertheless, it is an effective and sustainable way of offsetting.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, it has been suggested rather facetiously, I suspect, that carbon trading is a bit like the medieval practice of selling indulgences, the purpose of which was to release souls from purgatory. Can the minister assure us that selling our carbon assets will bring salvation?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, as from tomorrow, the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords will be able to calculate their own CO2 footprint because the CO2 calculator will be launched. You will be able to check your household appliances and means of transport, whether heavenly or earthly, to measure your carbon footprint.

Lord Vinson: My Lords, the Minister may be aware that about three weeks ago the Financial Times said that international carbon offset trading was a scam. As the forthcoming climate change Bill is currently in draft, can the Minister assure us that it will give some persons or bodies the authority to check the authenticity of carbon exchange activities?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the point of the noble Lord’s question is right and the broad answer is yes. There has to be clarity and transparency. The fact that people now raise questions about carbon trading and offsetting shows that there is a degree of transparency

19 Jun 2007 : Column 91

in the system. This is a booming business. In 2005, the voluntary market accounted for less than 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The estimate is that it will be 400 million tonnes by 2010. Huge amounts of money and transfers will take place. It is right that people know they are getting value for money. The issues raised in the Financial Times and the Guardian in the past few days have to be addressed so that people can trade with confidence.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I speak as a Euro-sceptic, but could not Europe, reasonably and rapidly, produce guidelines on what is or is not worth exchanging? Some of these schemes do not work; some do. Accurate information on whether they do or do not work should be publicly and widely available.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Earl is right: it ought to be clear. The reason behind the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is that we want people to change their behaviour to start with. It is a hierarchy. Only when everything else has failed do you go for offsetting and purchasing offsets in this way; we want people to produce less carbon in the first place.

This goes beyond Europe—Europe is only a part of the planet—and the clean development mechanism, a UN arrangement arising out of Kyoto, has registered just fewer than 2,000 projects, of which 20 have been dismissed. So it has sorted through some that have not done what they claimed to have done. It is important that we should have some rigour in this matter.

EU: Amending Treaty

2.51 pm

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, these issues were discussed at yesterday’s General Affairs and External Relations Council. We have made clear to partners our belief that the EU should return to the model of an amending treaty. The principles behind the Government’s approach remain those set out by my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe in his Written Ministerial Statement of 5 December 2006.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I speak as a long-time believer in the importance of Britain being a leading member of the EU. The problem of this week’s reform treaty is that it must make the EU clearly more efficient and more comprehensible to the public, but at the same time cannot mark such a shift to deeper integration as to justify a call for a referendum. Does that not require some serious and difficult judgment for both the present and future Prime Ministers?

19 Jun 2007 : Column 92

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I agree; it is a complex issue. We have to make the European Union more effective, and the policies that the Government are pursuing mean that that will be done in a way which does not require a referendum.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that while the Prime Minister has specified four areas where, at the coming summit, he will not accept qualified majority voting, France and Spain have put forward proposals to remove the veto in, I think, 51 areas? Is it seriously suggested that the veto could be removed in all those areas, that it could be made harder to block measures which are subject to majority voting and that we should accept an EU president and an EU Foreign Minister without the British people having any say in the matter in a referendum?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, many issues are still under discussion. These matters will be sorted out on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the European summit. Most people in this Chamber would agree that, to make the European Union work more effectively, it is important that rather than having a rotating presidency we have a presidency that can better order the working procedures of the European Union.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, even if you take the nightmare scenario put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the proposals for change this weekend are much less significant than those that were put forward in the Maastricht treaty and that the impact on qualified majority voting is much less significant than in the Maastricht treaty? The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, was a member of a Government—or at least a supporter of a Government—who deemed no such referendum necessary in those circumstances.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as ever, my noble friend is absolutely right.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister have any idea at all what the Lord Chancellor thinks of this?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord said “the Lord Chancellor”. I imagine that he meant the Chancellor. I can say with certainty and confidence that the Prime Minister will go to Brussels on Thursday and negotiate on behalf of the whole Government of the United Kingdom.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, should not the Minister, encouraged by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, ask the Government, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to be far more bold on this in putting forward the real picture for the British public, not the rubbish that the right-wing press and the Murdoch press, with its two ridiculous newspapers in this country, purvey about Europe? Is the Minister aware that these proposals for a short modernised treaty will increase the real sovereignty and power of this country, not the pretend sovereignty from the past that the old reactionary right-wing Tories nostalgically dream of? Does she not agree that 18 countries have

19 Jun 2007 : Column 93

already ratified the old text, and that five countries wanted to do so in the period of reflection? Now that France and Spain are working together and the Dutch have changed their minds, cannot the Government be more bold?

Noble Lords: Speech!

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am speaking on behalf of a very bold Government, but a Government who are rooted in the practicalities of the European Union. We want the EU to deliver for its citizens, but we must respect the red lines that have been put forward by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked a very good question when he pointed out that whether there should be a referendum will be a difficult judgment. We were told a while ago that a referendum was off; now we have been told that a referendum may be on after all; now it is being denied somewhere else. What exactly is the Government’s view? It seems to be changing from hour to hour. We would like to know who is going to make this fundamental judgment. Will it be independent and genuine, or a fudge?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the position is clear. When the Prime Minister spoke to the Liaison Committee in the other place, he set out the red lines and our clear policies. He then said:

If the amending treaty does not have the characteristics of a constitution—which it will not, if we are going to sign up to it—then it does not qualify on the grounds that we agreed in 2004 for a constitutional referendum.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, this morning’s press claimed that at yesterday’s meeting the Foreign Secretary dismayed and surprised two potential allies, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Zapatero, by taking a very negative attitude to an increased role for the European Union in foreign affairs. Indeed, he added that as one of our own red lines to the spaghetti junction of red lines that now appear. Can the Minister confirm the position of our Government in respect of a merger of the responsibilities in foreign affairs of the Commission and Council of Representatives?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we will insist, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, on maintaining our ability to conduct our own independent foreign and defence policy, and we will retain our seat on the Security Council. However, we also want to ensure that the European Union has a more coherent foreign policy. We do not want a single foreign policy of the European Union; we want a common policy wherever that is appropriate.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page