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Gulf War Illnesses

Volume 710: debated on Monday 27 April 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will announce their reaction to the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee’s inquiry into Gulf War Illness, published in November 2008.

My Lords, the Government made it clear on 10 March (Official Report, cols. 1055-57) that they would await the findings of the United States Institute of Medicine review of the Research Advisory Committee report. The Institute of Medicine plans to produce its report in February 2010.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but my understanding from the chairman of the Research Advisory Committee was that the Institute of Medicine was not going to call for the report to be reviewed by it. In view of what the Minister has said, will he give the House an assurance that, once that reference has taken place, they will speedily find a conclusion to this dreadful problem that has run on for so long?

My Lords, the whole House knows of the important work that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, has done for Gulf War veterans, but I find it difficult to give an assurance that I can secure closure, given the efforts that the Government have made so far. I have said that we expect a report from the Institute of Medicine in February 2010, but it is difficult to see in what way that will change what we are doing for these veterans. They are being treated under what we believe to be fair procedures for addressing the disablement they are suffering.

My Lords, I have a non-pecuniary interest as a member of the Royal British Legion Gulf War Group. Will the Minister give a fuller explanation for why no one from his department attended the symposium in the House on 24 March on this important research work? He will be aware that first of all it was said that no invitations were received and then, in a Written Answer to me on 20 April, it was said that there was too short notice. However, I have in my hand two letters sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, and to the Veterans Minister, dated 20 and 27 February, long before the symposium took place. Is it any wonder that veterans in the British Army feel that their service for this country is undervalued and their illnesses are not fully understood, because of the way that the ministry seems to treat all these issues?

My Lords, I refute the suggestion that we do not look after our veterans or take a serious interest in this issue. The Ministry of Defence’s policy is to attend symposiums like this one, and we would have been delighted to attend. The noble Lord may have in his hand letters of a particular date, but the Under-Secretary of State for Veterans, Kevan Jones, received an invitation in his office three days before the event took place and was already committed to another long-standing engagement overseas, while the private office of my noble friend Lady Taylor did not receive an invitation.

My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House what the Government are doing to help the veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War? Would it not be possible to consider giving some form of ex gratia payment to these brave ex-service men and women?

My Lords, we have provided help for these individuals under the appropriate policies. They receive pensions for the level of disablement, and those pensions can be reviewed if the disablement increases. We have introduced policies in Command Paper 7424, The Nation’s Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans. It would be fundamentally wrong to treat veterans from the Gulf War with these conditions and these levels of disablement differently from veterans of any other operation who had a similar level of disablement.

My Lords, my noble friend knows of my high regard and respect for him and will recall this House having been told that, before addressing the implications of the inquiry’s findings for afflicted British veterans of the conflict, the MoD must await the outcome of the US Institute of Medicine’s review of its report. Can I now confirm that MPs and Peers have since been informed by the RAC, at the symposium held here in the Queen’s Robing Room on 24 March, that its findings are not being reviewed by the Institute of Medicine, and that this was made clear by the institute itself in a letter from its senior programme officer on 24 April?

My Lords, we understand that, in its press release on 1 December last year, the IOM committed to considering this report. We have spoken with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which says that it has no plans to reissue or update its statement. My understanding is that the study will take place and will report in February next year, as I said.

My Lords, will the noble Lord at least agree that the MoD was directly responsible for both causes of Gulf War illness identified in the report? Should not that factor be borne in mind in seeking to reach agreement with the veterans now?

My Lords, I shall certainly not agree any such blanket statement with a lawyer, as I should not survive long if I did. I repeat that the pensions that the individuals have are about levels of disability and are uniform for the same levels of disability. In 1997, this Government had a new start for these groups. They agreed to study the groups and to commit to research. All this has been done. Lots of money has been spent on the research and we are now concentrating on the rehabilitation of these veterans. We see no value in committing our own resources to further study of causation. Of course, if our friends in the US have new information, we shall consider it.