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Gulf War Illnesses

Volume 719: debated on Monday 28 June 2010

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in addressing the problems and needs of veterans of the first Gulf War with still undiagnosed illnesses, they will be taking into account the findings of the congressionally mandated and funded US Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, particularly those on exposures to pyridostigmine bromide and organophosphates.

My Lords, this debate is about the brave men and women, veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War, now in broken health with still undiagnosed illnesses, who were prepared to lay down their lives in our service in the most toxic war in western military history, and the bereaved families of those who did so.

I am most grateful to the noble Lords who will be following me in the debate and am especially glad to see here the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. I know that the House well understands my admiration of the inestimable value of their services to Gulf War veterans.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, has my congratulations on his well merited elevation to the government Front Bench. For more than 12 years until today, we have sung from the same hymn sheet on Gulf War illnesses; and I can assure him that, even if today his hymn sheet varies somewhat from mine, I know he will act with all his customary integrity.

The timeliness of our debate is undoubted anywhere in your Lordships’ House. Indeed, in this 20th year since the end of the first Gulf War and with the Ministry of Defence still in conflict with the afflicted and bereaved over claims for more adequate support, the debate is seen as long overdue.

I have non-pecuniary interests to declare as Honorary Parliamentary Adviser to the Royal British Legion—the authentic voice of the ex-service community—and the National Vice-President of the War Widows’ Association. A further interest I must declare is that, in January 2002, the United States Congress co-opted me, uniquely for a non-American, to serve on its committee of inquiry into Gulf War illnesses, from whose deliberations federal funding of the congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses ensued. That is why I was asked to speak at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington DC at the launch of the RAC's historic report in November 2008. It explains also why my continuing links with executive Government, Members of Congress and institutions like the US Institute of Medicine (IoM) remain strong.

Those links are of high relevance today when the Ministry of Defence is in denial not only of the IoM's own statement of the facts about its interest in the RAC's findings, but also of easily accessible factual information on the new US Administration's positive response to the RAC's report. Even the announcement by the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, General Eric Shinseki, on improved healthcare and benefits for veterans and the fundamental change in the direction of US policy on Gulf War illnesses, is ignored by the MoD. Yet when the RAC’s report was published in November 2008, notwithstanding its huge importance to British veterans, the MoD stated and it was reported to the House that it could not comment on the report until the IoM had peer-reviewed its findings. We were further told that the IoM’s review would not be published until February 2010 and that the MoD would then consider both the RAC's report and the IoM's fictional peer review.

This unconscionable delay was in spite of the RAC's deeply disturbing finding on the real, serious and potentially deadly effects of neurotoxic exposures to which almost all coalition troops were subjected. That they would be publishing a peer-review of the RAC's report was at once flatly denied by the IoM, who had already stated that they were not and would not be peer reviewing the RAC's report. It would of course have been preposterous and highly questionable legally for the IoM to undertake a peer-review of a report from a congressionally-mandated and funded committee packed with eminent medical scientists, all leaders in their fields and based on 1,840 scientific communications, the vast majority of which had appeared in peer-reviewed journals, most of the remainder having been included because of the repute of their authors.

Apologists say that the IoM had in fact been asked ministerially to undertake a peer-review of the RAC's findings and that the MoD was basing itself on a reported announcement that James Peake, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Bush administration, was referring the report to the IoM; but within days of his reported announcement, Secretary Peake had become the out-going Secretary: not just a lame duck but a dead one; and crouching behind a dead duck is not the most dignified posture from which to conduct policy-making on new help for war veterans in pressing need. Of course the MoD could have clarified the position by making a single telephone call to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

The IoM's reaction to the MoD's version of its role vis-à-vis the RAC's report had been swift and sharp. It came from Roberta Wedge, the institute's senior future programmes officer, whose statement left no one in any doubt about how offensive they found that version of their role. Dr Judith A Salerno, the executive director of the IoM, had already told me in a letter on its role that the IoM had,

“not been tasked with a review of the RAC report”,

that it had not been nor would it be conducting a peer review and ipso facto would not be publishing a review of the report as stated by the MoD, in February 2010 or at any other date.

Meanwhile General Shinseki, leaving aside the keen controversy about the falsification of the IoM's role, made it plain that he had not been and would not be waiting for any comment from the IoM. Rather, having carefully studied the RAC's findings, he had acted and, in the view of Gulf veterans here, so should we have done. Shinseki had ordered an immediate review of the files of many thousands of Gulf veterans to establish, among other purposes, to what neurotoxic exposures they had been subjected and he spoke of,

“challenging all the assumptions made for 20 years”,


“historic change in how the Department for Veterans Affairs would in future be considering Gulf War veterans illnesses”,

since when many new initiatives have been taken, including one on help for veterans with multi-symptom illness, in terms both of healthcare and disability benefits.

Of course, February 2010 has come and gone and time has falsified the replies given to noble Lords after the RAC’s report was published. That is why there is such determination now all across the ex-service community to prevent any further delay in addressing the implications of the report for British veterans of the conflict.

It was while reflecting on all this that I recalled a moving letter from Samantha Thompson, the widow of a Gulf War veteran who had been decorated by Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, at a ceremony held at 10 Downing Street, for his conspicuous bravery. Samantha told me in her letter that she and her seven year-old daughter,

“would have been far better treated had her husband, Nigel, been in the United States and not the British Armed Forces”.

Her anguish was shared by many other widows and by Gulf veterans who were trying to cope with still undiagnosed illnesses, some of them terminally ill, who should surely have been spared the strain and hurtful and demeaning indignities of still further delay in reaching closure on their claims for more adequate help. There was no delay in the response of Nigel Thompson and of all other Gulf veterans to the call of duty in 1990-91. Nor must there be any further delay now, 20 years on from the start of the conflict, in discharging in full our debt of honour to them.

It is among the highest duties of parliamentary life to vouchsafe just treatment for those who, alone in this country, contract with the state to sacrifice their lives in its service. That is why this debate is taking place in your Lordships' House this evening.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, on securing this debate. It allows the new Administration the opportunity to indicate their approach to a problem which has been lying for far too long in the not-yet-settled tray. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, to his new ministerial responsibility. I remind the House that I was Chief of Defence Staff at the time of the first Gulf War. We knew that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons. He had used them against his own people in Halabja only two years before in 1988 when 5,000 people were killed in a most dreadful way. We thus had to take all reasonable care before we attacked the Iraqi forces to protect our own troops in the event of a toxic attack. This we did, and rightly so. The alternative of not taking steps and then suffering toxic attacks and multiple deaths or illnesses would have been unforgivable. Noble Lords will agree that it is the duty of government to do all that they can to assist and compensate any who were made ill or incapacitated in the conflict.

As is well known, many veterans have suffered a variety of illnesses and some have died early. Time does not allow me to catalogue the series of promises and steps taken by earlier Conservative and the previous Labour Governments, but at no time has there been confidence that government treatment, both practically and emotionally, has been worthy of the sacrifice and loyalty shown by the men and women afflicted. Those familiar with the story will be aware that the veterans concerned feel that they have had a raw deal and their plight has not been followed up as thoroughly and expeditiously as it should. The MoD in particular has been seen as the uncaring, obstructive face of officialdom, lacking in the fair treatment of veterans who were clearly ill but felt that their plight was met with no more than vapid promises and little proactive support. At various times in the past two decades, the MoD has moved somewhat due to strong lobbying and parliamentary pressure—for example, conceding that the label “Gulf War syndrome” might be used as an umbrella term. But the MoD made clear that the label itself did not attract any pension for compensation rights.

It is perhaps ironic that the claims that have been met are under the former rubric of the MoD having to prove that the illnesses were not caused as a result of involvement with Operation Granby and deployment to the theatre. Under the new compensation arrangements, this burden or proof has been shifted to the veterans’ shoulders. A few Gulf veteran appeals to the war pensions appeal tribunal have also been successful, though even then there was procrastination by the MoD over implementing the tribunal’s findings, and no willingness to treat any group as a class action that would allow other veterans to be fairly compensated.

Five or more years ago, there was a determination not to treat service men and women differently, when dealing with pensions and compensation arrangements, from others in government service such as the police or fire fighters. This attitude has changed, and rapidly, in the past two or three years. In 2008, we had the previous Government’s command paper, The Nation’s Commitment. The new Prime Minister and Defence Secretary have spoken of a statutory military covenant and that our Armed Forces deserve special treatment. So will this new approach carry us through to a final and reasonable settlement of a long, tragic episode?

As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has explained, the latest United States Research Advisory Committee’s report and the intentions of the US Veterans Department to reassess and to compensate those who have what they now accept is the unique condition of Gulf War illness. These latest findings of the RAC and the earlier independent inquiry carried out so ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, provide a real opportunity for the new Administration to take steps to bring this regrettable treatment of so many of our fine service personnel to a reasonable and responsible conclusion. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, made no specific recommendations about levels of compensation—that was not in his inquiry’s terms of reference—and clearly that is a matter for the pensions and compensation authorities.

To help the Minister, who has consistently expressed his party’s sympathy while in opposition to reach the right conclusions, perhaps I may remind him of just a couple of things that he said in the course of the many debates that have taken place in this House since this problem was first aired in Parliament almost 20 years ago. When the Lloyd report, to which I have referred, was first debated in December 2004, the Minister said:

“The report's recommendations now provide the Government with a unique opportunity to close this long-running chapter in the lives of many who have suffered after serving in the Gulf during the period 1990–91 … This group of people have been ignored by the MoD and this report is a considered and convincing case for recognition”. —[Official Report, 21/12/04; col. 1734.]

Speaking in a debate on the latest RAC’s work in February 2009, the Minister acknowledged that Gulf War illness,

“can no longer be marginalised or dismissed”.—[Official Report, 5/2/09; col. 854.]

Can the House now be assured that the new Government will act as the US Department of Veteran Affairs is now acting and ensure that all the British personnel afflicted by the symptoms of Gulf War illness are given comparable support and help? It is right to treat them fairly. That is what they ask and I ask the Minister on their behalf. All hope at last for a helpful and positive response to this long-running saga.

My Lords, it is customary to congratulate noble Lords on obtaining a debate during the dinner hour. Indeed, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, has already done so. However, with the little we have to do, with the notable exception of the Academies Bill, perhaps obtaining a debate is not now so rare an event. So in addition to congratulating the noble Lord, I want to change the metaphor and do something I have never done before in this House. On behalf of all those who are suffering from Gulf War illness, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for all that he has done for them over so very many years. He has been tireless in bringing their plight to notice. It was due to his persistence that the previous Government eventually apologised for the way that the Gulf War veterans had been treated. I hope of course that under the new Administration, the attitude will change still further.

If they think that they need only to go on long enough taking the same line as their predecessors and that the problem will then go away—by “the problem”, I mean the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester—I can assure the Government that he will not go away, nor will those of us in the House tonight who support him in his noble efforts, nor will all those in the country who are also only too well aware of what he does. Like him, I am in continuing correspondence with a widow whose husband died of Gulf War illness and who is now in the process of petitioning the Government in Edinburgh. I hope that she will succeed.

One might have thought that after 17 years, everything that could possibly be said on the subject would have been said, but that is not so. The first line so far taken has been that we do not yet know the causes of Gulf War illness. The second line is that, in any event, those who are suffering are getting all that they are entitled to by way of war pension.

As for the first argument, we now know, for the reasons so eloquently stated by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, in his very well researched and powerful speech, that there are only two causes of Gulf War illness. One is the PB tablets; the other is the OP spray. Both are causes for which the MoD was directly responsible back in 1991. The Government and the MoD have fallen back on their second line of defence: yes, if there were causes for which we were responsible, nevertheless, we have done all that was required of us by paying the pension which has been established in all those cases. The MoD may not realise how very close it came to being sued some years ago for negligence. It escaped legal proceedings, but it is worth remembering that negligence is never easy to prove, and it was not necessary to establish negligence to show, as has been shown, that this case does not come within the ordinary run of cases.

Men are now suffering from Gulf War illness which is not the ordinary perils of war, for which the pension may or may not be sufficient. The MoD was itself directly responsible, even if it could not be shown that it was negligent at the time. As they are suffering from something for which the MoD was directly responsible, it is surely now time for it to accept that something more is required. Only if the Government accept that will we reach a just end to this very sorry tale.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate and thank, in the same terms as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for the way in which he has so persistently and persuasively pursued the issue of the treatment of Gulf War settlements. Like the noble Lord, Lord Morris, I am a member of the Royal British Legion Gulf War Group, and have been since the problem was first identified—a non-pecuniary interest. Indeed, I know that all participants in this evening's debate are veterans of the issue. All of us have taken part in debates—in both Houses, in my case—about the issue for the almost 20 years for which it has been such a controversial concern for many of us.

I came to the issue first because I was concerned about organophosphate pesticides in workforces outwith the armed services—notably among sheep farmers in what was then my constituency. About 20 years ago, that became an apparent problem in the south-west because of the continuing use of very dangerous chemicals for dipping sheep. What came first to my notice was the extraordinary similarity of symptoms between those who came back from the Gulf, having been exposed to very similar compounds to those used in sheep dip, and those who had suffered serious illness as a result of their work on sheep farms.

I am not going to attempt to cover the areas of particular expertise and experience which have already been touched on this evening, because I do not aspire to do so. However, I am extremely concerned about a point that I hope the Minister will take up, which is that we may find in the near future that the victims of organophosphate poisoning, whether in the Gulf or anywhere else, may be the unfortunate further victims of the changes to the disability living allowance which have just been announced. Admittedly, they will not come into being for two or three years, but I am reliably informed by the brief from the Department for Work and Pensions that the move away from self-reported assessments to more objective assessments—I am using the department’s own words—may well prove to be particularly difficult in the case of veterans and those who have been exposed to these pesticides because, by their very nature, they are not easily identified and diagnosed by professionals. Indeed, many GPs, who were in many cases the first port of call for those returning from the Gulf, had no proper advice about the likely symptoms of Gulf War illness. As has already been referred to, the constant quibbling over whether there was one particular Gulf War syndrome, or a group of illnesses, went on for years in Parliament, outwith Parliament and in the Ministry of Defence. I am afraid that that made it even more confusing for those who gave medical advice to those coming back from the Gulf.

As the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, said, the US research advisory committee’s report is an amazingly comprehensive and conscientious attempt to get to the bottom of these problems. What is so remarkable is that, in precise and comprehensive terms, it is absolutely relevant to UK members of the combined forces that went to the Gulf. Every item in the report, which I have read with great care, applies absolutely to our forces. Of course it does, because they were exposed to almost exactly the same preparatory conditions as the US veterans before they went there. What is so extraordinary—and I refer to the findings in brief—is that the RAC states in the report:

“Gulf war illness is a serious condition that affects at least one-fourth of the 697,000 US veterans who served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War”.

The scale that was identified by the RAC report is important and relevant to our troops and Defence Ministers. I share the dismay that other speakers have already expressed this evening at the way in which this absolutely clear indication of the scale of the problem has been treated with such apparent—not contempt, as that would be putting it too strong; but as if it was not really anything like as serious as has become so apparent through the work of the Administration in Washington.

That is not the whole story. As has already been indicated, the expeditious response to the RAC work by the US Department of Veterans Affairs has been remarkably different from the response we have had in this country. I can be brief because others have already expressed not only our anxieties and concerns but, most importantly, our hope and trust that the new Government will adopt a new approach. We should be delighted and should indicate how much we respect the fact that the US Administration have borne the brunt of this research and investment which is so relevant to our veterans. If we had had to do all that work on our own account and the US had not led on this, the money and time which would have been spent in this country would have been very considerable. We are very fortunate. I hope that the Minister and the new coalition Government will recognise just how fortunate we are that the Americans have led the way in this respect.

I hope that the Government will therefore take account of the precise terms of this Question for Short Debate tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester. All we are asking the Government to do is to take full account of the very detailed, precise and comprehensive work that has effectively been done on our behalf. I am confident that the Minister, who has been involved in previous discussions in this House, will indicate that our coalition will take a fresh approach. As has been said, we are fast approaching the 20th anniversary of the deployment of the young men and young women who went to fight on our behalf in the Gulf. As we approach that 20th anniversary, surely it must be a debt of honour to recognise at long last what they did on our behalf and to make sure that there is no further problem in trying to obtain proper recognition of their sacrifice and suffering, and proper compensation to meet it.

My Lords, as a member of the Government who were responsible for sending the troops to the Gulf on that occasion, I feel it is absolutely essential that they be treated with fairness now. In connection with the Budget, the point has been made again and again that this has to be fair. If anyone is entitled to fairness, surely it is a person who gave their service in the dangerous situation in the Gulf in 1990 and those who depend on him or her.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester for raising this issue. One cannot but admire his tenacity, and of course one admires the work he has done with the Royal British Legion over the years in looking after veterans, particularly Gulf War veterans. I also take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, on his position on the Front Bench, which I sat on myself, and I look forward to his answers to the many detailed points.

I shall make my position very clear. I have listened tonight to the arguments from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and I have read the very interesting briefing provided by the Royal British Legion. This is not the first time I have been involved in this debate. I think I have been involved in it about five times, and on every occasion I have scrupulously and with enormous effort gone through the paperwork and the reports on what has happened. I have to say to noble Lords that I see no reason to change the position that I represented when in government.

The former Government recognised that they made mistakes. They made errors of judgment and showed significant insensitivity, but they apologised fulsomely for that and put in hand programmes and procedures to address the problems. It is my view that, in recent years, Her Majesty's Government have done all that is reasonable for the Gulf War veterans. I do not accept that the MoD has ignored them and has not sought to discharge its duty properly and to address their concerns and provide appropriate facilities—indeed, we spent a lot of time arguing about the different chemicals, the causality and so on—but, at the end of the day, as I have said over and over again, the issue is about the level of compensation that these people should have according to what criteria and what is fair.

The Royal British Legion seems to have been straightforward in its latest briefing. It argues that that there should be a £10,000 or more ex gratia payment to the Gulf War veterans, but I have yet to read anything that suggests that there should be a specific ex gratia payment. Its submission also refers to the Prime Minister’s commitment to a military covenant enshrined in law. I understand that this will be in the Armed Forces Bill, and we await the detail to see precisely what it means. However, it is probable that we on these Benches will support the general principle of such a Bill, particularly in so much as it aligns with the forces charter that was set out in the Labour manifesto and that sought to consolidate in law a number of important improvements for all veterans. I think we all share the view that these brave people should have a solid background.

Nevertheless, I find it difficult to believe that such a Bill will contain a provision for ex gratia payments or new categories of compensation, as the Royal British Legion suggests. Compensation for injured and disabled service personnel must be based on a fair and transparent system. I believe that that is the system we have now and that the new Government will maintain such a system. No doubt they will want to review and improve it from time to time, but the system must be the same for all service personnel and it must have the same criteria. It must relate to a proper assessment of disability, it must be fair to all, and it should not depend on special cases driven by special pleading.

My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on securing this further debate on illnesses in Gulf veterans and I thank him and other noble and noble and gallant Lords for taking part. The noble Lord has been a long and true champion of veterans and the wider disabled community, and I am proud that 40 years ago, my late uncle, John Astor, was one of the architects, along with the noble Lord, of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970—the Alf Morris Act. The noble Lord has raised the sensitive issue of Gulf veterans’ illnesses on a number of occasions and many in the veterans community hold him in high esteem, as I found out when I was privileged to hold a number of honorary positions with the Royal British Legion.

The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. We have a moral responsibility to look after those in our Armed Forces, particularly when they are prepared to risk life and limb on our behalf. So let me begin by setting out the new coalition Government’s priorities in this area.

As the Prime Minister has said, we want to create an atmosphere in which we as a nation back, revere and support our military. There has never been a formal document setting out precisely what this means, and that is why for the first time this Government will create a tri-service military covenant. The Prime Minister is passionate about this. It will be the foundation of the new Government’s far-reaching strategy for and obligations to our service men and women, their families and, of course, veterans. It is long overdue. More broadly, we will ensure that the Armed Forces have the support they need and that veterans and their families are treated with the dignity they deserve. It is important to set out the broad principles that drive our approach and how this Government will go further.

Let me turn now to the specifics of Gulf veterans’ illnesses. As the noble Lord would expect, I have gone into this matter in some detail with officials. The Government are open-minded on the issue of the illnesses reported by some veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict. Our priority is to ensure that Gulf veterans who are ill do receive appropriate medical care. Gulf veterans with concerns about their health should seek a referral to the Ministry of Defence’s Medical Assessment Programme at St Thomas’ Hospital. This facility gives free and speedy general and mental health examinations by an expert doctor with great experience of veterans’ health issues. The MoD pays the travelling expenses of attending veterans and will also arrange overnight accommodation for those travelling long distances. Over 3,500 Gulf veterans have used this service, where each individual receives an examination and clinical tests, dependent on their case.

The service provided by the Medical Assessment Programme remains popular with those who attend. Indeed, the programme provides valuable back-up support for the Department of Health and the devolved Administrations who, with support from the MoD, are running six community health pilots for veterans at NHS trusts across the country. The pilots, which will be evaluated later this year, will provide key input into planning future provision across the NHS. Financial support for veterans and their dependants is provided through the Ministry of Defence war pensions or Armed Forces occupational pension schemes. For those veterans who need additional support, the Veterans Welfare Service exists to provide help and advice to veterans, their families and dependants.

To date the MoD has spent around £9 million in funding expert independent medical research on Gulf veterans’ illnesses issues. This research has come to the same conclusion as the independent Medical Research Council report from 2003 which looked at all the UK and international research into these issues—namely that,

“there is no evidence from the UK or international research of a single syndrome related specifically to service in the Gulf”.

As recommended by the Medical Research Council, one area where we are looking specifically at the needs of Gulf veterans is rehabilitation. We are spending £430,000 on specific research into rehabilitative therapies for those with persistent symptoms. We expect this work to conclude in 2012.

Before the noble Lord leaves the question of causation, I hope he will come back to the point made so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that we now know the answer on causation from the much more extensive research carried out in the United States.

My Lords, I am coming to the United States reports in a while. Lessons identified from the 1991 conflict have been implemented for other operations. So far there has been no similar problem with unexplained illnesses.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, was the first British parliamentarian to be co-opted on to a US congressional committee of inquiry into Gulf War illnesses. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are well aware of the interest in the publication of the United States Institute of Medicine update on the Health Effects of Serving in the Gulf War, published in April, and that of the US Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, published in 2008. We look forward to seeing the US authorities’ comments on the reports before commenting in any detail from the UK perspective. Indeed, we understand that the US Department of Veterans Affairs has formed a task force specifically to look at the Institute of Medicine updated report and to make recommendations. Defence Ministers, particularly myself, and officials will consider any findings carefully.

We are aware of the frustration that some feel with the pace of work associated with these reports but they address complex scientific and medical issues. We have noted, however, that the Institute of Medicine report mirrors the findings of the Medical Research Council review of research into UK Gulf veterans’ illnesses published in 2003. In particular, the Medical Research Council review recommended giving priority to research aimed at improving the long-term health of Gulf veterans with persistent symptoms.

We further note that the Institute of Medicine report supports the international majority view and the MoD’s long-standing position that NAPS tablets given to service personnel and OP pesticides are not the cause of ill health reported in some Gulf veterans. This should be reassuring to UK Gulf veterans concerned about such health issues.

Noble Lords and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, will be aware that the MoD’s vaccines interactions research programme, costing some £4.5 million, was an in-depth examination of the potential adverse health effects of the combination of medical countermeasures administered to troops in the 1990-91 Gulf conflict. The overwhelming evidence from the programme was that the combination of vaccines and tablets offered to UK forces at the time of the conflict would not have had adverse health effects. This programme has been the subject of a level of scrutiny far in excess of what might be expected in similar research. As well as peer review prior to publication, all stages of the study were overseen by an independent panel of experts and veterans’ representatives.

I know that exposure to OP pesticides during the 1990-91 Gulf conflict is of concern to some veterans. The MoD continues to monitor ongoing research in this area through its involvement in the Official Group on Organophosphates, chaired by Defra. Although the effects of acute exposure to OP pesticides are well understood and undisputed, no such incidents occurred during the deployment of UK troops to the Gulf in 1990-91, although OP pesticides were undoubtedly used.

While we are always willing to consider credible new evidence, the overwhelming consensus of the scientific and medical community is that there are too many symptoms for the ill health reported by Gulf veterans to be characterised as a syndrome according to the strict medical definition. However, MoD reviewed the position on its use and accepted it as an umbrella term, addressing the concern of those veterans who feel that the link between their service and their illnesses has not been adequately recognised.

We know that this does not go far enough for some, but we believe that we must take an evidence-based approach. The medical and scientific evidence published so far does not support the claim that veterans of the first Gulf conflict are suffering from a specific illness that differs from those experienced by individuals who served elsewhere.

Data from the medical assessment programme continue to support the results of the independent research. Gulf veterans seen as part of the programme complain of similar symptoms to the general veteran population, and most should be cared for by standard NHS resources. No unusual pattern of disease has emerged, nor is there evidence of unusual neurological or other disorders among Gulf War veterans. The same high standard of medical care and treatment is therefore as appropriate for them as it is for all veterans.

Gulf veterans, like other veterans, have access to a wide range of support: medical support at the medical assessment programme, financial support for any injuries caused by service and practical support through the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency welfare service. We are undertaking further research to offer tailored rehabilitation support. There is insufficient credible evidence to suggest that we should treat this group differently from other groups of veterans who report similar health problems.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is not going to go away. I give him a commitment today that I am happy to meet him with officials to hear any concerns that he may have. I thank him for raising his concerns again—concerns that affect people who have sacrificed so much on our behalf, and to whom we owe a great deal. I assure him that the Government are committed to helping them through treatment, rehabilitation and research. We also reaffirm the moral obligation to treat those who serve, their families and veterans with fairness and dignity.

Sitting suspended.