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Gulf War Syndrome

Volume 407: debated on Monday 23 June 2003

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1.

If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on Gulf war syndrome. [120541]

The Government continue to accept that some veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict have become ill, and that many believe that that ill health is unusual and is related to their Gulf experience. The Government's policy is to ensure that Gulf veterans have ready access to medical advice and all relevant information, while continuing to pursue appropriate research into the subject.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position and congratulate him on it. He will be aware of the recent ruling of the High Court on Mr. Shaun Rusling, which determined that he was suffering from a range of symptoms directly attributed to his Gulf war service. Although that does not provide evidence of the existence of Gulf war syndrome as a single disease entity, it certainly provides recognition that people have suffered from a range of debilitating symptoms as a result of serving in the Gulf. Whether or not one accepts that Gulf war syndrome is a single entity, is it not the case that veterans suffering from such symptoms, so attributed, should be compensated appropriately without having to resort to the High Court?

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcoming words. I am very pleased to be here this afternoon—[Interruption.] I told the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) that I would say that.

Some commentators have suggested, since the High Court ruling, that the judgment will pave the way for thousands of new war pension claims. I must tell the House that that is wrong. In response to my hon. Friend's further question, compensation is provided by the war pensions scheme, and I can tell the House that, as at 31 December 2002—the latest date on which statistics were published—approximately 2,330 Gulf veterans were in receipt of a war disablement pension.

How many veterans with Gulf war-related illness have fallen victim to so-called manning control by the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency, and what will the Minister do to remedy the injustice that they have suffered?

I thought that we were having questions on the Government's policy on Gulf war syndrome. Let me say, however, that manning control points are an essential tool for controlling the manning structure of the Army, as the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will know.

May I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box, and in doing so pay a compliment to his predecessor, who dealt with this subject very conscientiously? If what the press reports say is true and people are already admitting that they are suffering illnesses as a result of the second conflict, will he assure the House that those will be studied carefully in comparison with the previous cohort, so that we can narrow down the possible causes of those illnesses?

I reassure my hon. Friend that those involved in the recent conflict will of course be treated in exactly the same way.

May I, too, warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post as Under-Secretary of State for Defence? He is a great asset to the Department, and it is far better that he is in the Ministry of Defence than in a jobsworthy place such as the Department for Constitutional Affairs. May I also thank his predecessor and pay tribute to him for all the hard work that he did in that post? We are also grateful that the Secretary of State for Defence is still in place and not at the Department of Trade and Industry, where, as I understand it, a press release that was not released was going to put him.

Will the Under-Secretary confirm that it is still the view of the Ministry of Defence that there is no such thing as Gulf war syndrome? Will he provide an estimate of the amount of compensation so far paid out? In addition, how much has research into Gulf war illness cost the Ministry of Defence?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. May I say, as I said earlier, how pleased I am to be in the Ministry of Defence? My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State are also very pleased to be in the Ministry of Defence and not in any other Department.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's initial question is yes. I want to go further by saying that the judge in the Shaun Rusling case was very clear about the matter. He did not rule on whether Gulf war syndrome exists; his judgment was very clear about that when he said:

"This court is not in a position to express any views on the merits of the dispute as to whether, according to current medical research, Gulf War Syndrome is or is not a 'single medical entity'. It has not done so by this judgement."
On the hon. Gentleman's other question about the amount spent on medical research, I do not know the exact details but I undertake to write to him in due course.