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The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her excellent reply. Will she accept my congratulations on the appointment of Mr. Limbit Spencer, who is the FCO liaison officer for minority ethnic communities? Will she also, at the earliest opportunity, present to the Prime Minister the name of a UK citizen from the minority ethnic community to serve as an ambassador?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am delighted to accept the noble Earl's congratulations. We have no appointments in the pipeline, but we shall want to consider that option in the near future. I thank him also for his remarks about Mr. Limbit Spencer, whom we appointed in December last year. It is the first such appointment in Whitehall. Mr. Spencer will be looking at possible recruitment outside the FCO and at developing the opportunities for staff currently serving within the FCO.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that there are no longer any nationality constraints on second generation British citizens joining the FCO?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I understand it, that is the case. The noble Lord is right.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, how many of our citizens of Afro-Caribbean or Asian origin are today in any of the top grades in the FCO?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is because my answer to my noble friend is so gloomy

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that we have to address this issue with considerable vigour and determination. I am sorry to tell the House that there are currently no individuals from the ethnic minorities that he mentions in any of the 222 posts worldwide which would attract ambassadorial status. For that reason we must attack this issue with determination.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, in approving the principle that ethnic minorities should pay their part in the Establishment, will the Minister assure the House that positive discrimination will not take precedence over the most able qualifications?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am happy to give the House that assurance. We shall continue to recruit and to promote on the basis of fair and open competition. I hope that my Answer that we shall be looking not only for people who have served the nation with distinction but those who have the right qualifications and experience for the job satisfies the noble Lord.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, will the Minister give the further assurance that the Government will not depart too far and too readily from the procedure of appointing ambassadors from among the senior ranks of the Diplomatic Service?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we want to broaden the basis. In answer to my noble friend I had to tell the House that, unfortunately, we do not have considerable numbers of people of ethnic minority background in the pipeline. We need to develop the individuals within the FCO at all levels. I am sure that the noble Lord is right and that the majority of ambassadorial appointments will be drawn from within the FCO. However, the House should be under no illusion; we want to broaden the basis, but we wish to look outside on the basis that I have indicated.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, will the Minister congratulate Sir John Coles who, under the previous Government, was committed to making the Foreign and Commonwealth Office more representative of Britain's ethnic make-up by encouraging applications from ethnic minorities? Under his stewardship the proportion of ethnic minority applicants to the FCO's graduate fast-stream doubled from 1994 to 1995. That shows the seeds sown to address the important issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Janner.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am happy to add my voice to the congratulations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. Sir John Coles, in particular, played an important part in the FCO's open day, which took place on 15th September last year. He was a firm enthusiast for that day, and I hope that on that basis we shall be able to plan for future open days. But we need to do more: we need to ensure that the appointment of Mr. Limbert Spencer, in

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examining ways in which we can look further outside the FCO and develop those people already inside the FCO, is taken forward.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I welcome the initiative being taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the commitment being shown by the Government to tackling inequality. Does the Minister agree that, given the under-representation at senior levels, mechanisms need to be put in place not only to promote individual development but also to promote organisational change?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that organisational change is necessary. We hope to put forward proposals to include community fora within ethnic minority communities, a sustained programme of advertisements and editorials in the minority ethnic press and a special recruitment fair in June. Therefore, I hope that we shall be able to move forward on a number of important fronts.

Gulf War Veterans: DLA Entitlement

2.54 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Under what conditions the entitlement to disability living allowance of individual Gulf War veterans in receipt of 70 to 80 per cent. war pensions is under review, particularly in Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, no such review is targeted specifically at Gulf War veterans. The Benefits Agency of Great Britain is currently carrying out a review of various categories of disability living allowance awards, as ongoing awards are vulnerable to changes over time--people improve or deteriorate--and we need to check that the correct amount of benefit is in payment. If the noble Countess has any particular cases in mind, and if she will let me have the details, we can arrange for a meeting or to have them followed up.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Is she aware that about three years ago the convenor of the OP information network and I had a meeting with senior officials of the Benefits Agency about the problems surrounding chronic fatigue syndrome, OP poisoning and the symptoms of fluctuating illness? Members of the War Pensions Agency also attended a meeting at which it was agreed that the issue would be examined seriously. Does the Minister agree that a large proportion of the illnesses of the Gulf War veterans relates to post traumatic stress disorder or chronic fatigue syndrome and that they are being picked out? Such people are not being given a medical examination. If on a particular day they are regarded as being fit enough to walk 100 yards or to make a cup of tea, their DLA is taken away. That has affected some 60 people in Scotland and some 40 people in Northern Ireland. I do not know how

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many there are in England. A number of Gulf War veterans, who have served their country, are now having their benefits taken away.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, will the noble Countess be kind enough to give me the details of the cases which she has raised? One cannot talk about individual cases. A possible explanation for people losing disability living allowance is that they are simultaneously receiving a constant attendance allowance, which they are entitled to claim with 80 per cent. capacity. That is almost twice as generous as the higher care element of DLA. Duplicate payments have been discovered; that is, people receiving both CAA and DLA. Clearly, we do not pay twice for the same disability. If they are the cases to which the noble Countess is referring we shall be happy to check that no further errors remain in our system.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, the figure of 6,000 was widely quoted in the weekend newspapers as being the number of people suffering from Gulf War illnesses. Can the Minister confirm that that figure is known to her department?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, that is not the figure of which I am aware. I am aware that approximately 425 claims for war pensions have been received in respect of Gulf War-related illness. Of those, 219 have been awarded and only 27 have been rejected--that is less than 6 per cent. of the total. The rest are being processed. I asked why those 27 had been rejected and was told that either no disablement had been found or that the Secretary of State had determined that the disability was not attributable to service. Therefore, of all the Gulf War veterans claiming for Gulf War related illnesses, only 27 have had their claims rejected. I am assured that those rejections were well founded.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, what would be case if on medical advice a person takes extended bed rest? I am thinking of people suffering from ME and women with a history of miscarriages who may be advised by their doctors to take extended bed rest. Would such people be eligible for disability living allowance?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am not aware of any women taking bed rest as a result of pregnancy who were Gulf War veterans.

Saudi Arabia: Detention Practice

2.59 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will seek to ensure that practice in Saudi Arabian places of detention is examined at the forthcoming meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.


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