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The initiative by the former Minister for the Armed Forces, Dr. John Reid, Gulf War Veterans Illnesses: A New Beginning, the commissioning of new research and the more open approach to the disclosure of information were all widely welcomed by veterans and the Royal British Legion alike. Yet progress has been painfully slow and a year a half later, there is still no sign of relief for those suffering from illnesses that were attributed to their Gulf War service.
The legion continues to provide the leadership for the inter-parliamentary group, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has already mentioned. It also continues to advise those suffering from possible Gulf War-related conditions to ensure that they receive treatment and, where appropriate, a war pension and/or compensation.
As has been stated by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, the only tangible progress to date has been the publication of the King's College report by Professors Anthony David and Simon Wessely, and two weeks later, the Ministry of Defence's medical assessment programme report on their first 1,000 patients.
There are two major issues which I would now like to address. The first relates to Dr. Patricia Doyles's study into the effects of the wartime conditions in Kuwait, on the reproductive systems for male and female veterans. Dr. Doyle is attempting to contact all of those who were deployed, but is experiencing various difficulties. First, for serving personnel, there are problems identifying the present location of individuals, thereby slowing down the initial inquiry aspect of the study. Secondly, for those who have left the service, problems are being encountered relating to the constraints of the Data Protection Act which is, again, delaying work. Will the Minister inform the House what action is being taken to overcome these difficulties?
With regard to war pensions, delays are occurring in either awarding or uprating pensions for some veterans who are very seriously ill and distressed. The Legion is also particularly concerned, that some are finding it difficult to present their cases. Would the Minister inform the House what procedures are in hand to hasten these actions?
Like the noble Lord, Lord Morris, I would now like to cite an example. Hilary Jones is a 49 year-old retired major, with regular service in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, from 1972 to 1988, and reserve service from January to March 1991. The latter period resulted in active service during the Gulf War.
Following her discharge from service in March 1991, she experienced immediate health problems, which deteriorated rapidly and forced her to leave full-time employment in late 1994. Symptomatic Gulf War illnesses included memory loss, confusion, bone pain, persistent infections, excessive tiredness and lethargy, insomnia, bladder problems, severe depression and immuno breakdown, possibly contributing to the onset of breast cancer in 1997.
She presently receives a 40 per cent. war disability pension with a war pensions mobility supplement. A deterioration claim is in the process of being actioned and the war pensions mobility supplement is due for renewal. Because of her symptomatic health problems, Hilary Jones displays severe limitations with mobility and depends heavily upon a vehicle to remain independent and fulfil most of the basic day-to-day functions, such as shopping and doctors' appointments. Her existing vehicle is 10 years old and has been without an MOT since last year as she cannot afford the test and any repairs required. She has, therefore, become almost housebound.
Because the war pensioners' mobility supplement is generally awarded for a period of two years, it is difficult to fund the purchase of a new vehicle through Motability, especially as the contract requires regular reviews after each two-year cycle.
The award of the mobility supplement for life would allow Hilary Jones, and other war pensioners with a similar predicament, to purchase a new vehicle through Motability and guarantee their continued independence. There exists an anomaly with the corresponding disability benefit; the disability living allowance, at the higher mobility rate, which is usually awarded for three years, up to a life award. This allows greater flexibility
I should add a caution. I understand that the Government are planning to implement the removal of life awards for disability benefits. However, in practice a life award does not really exist as all benefits are subject to periodic review. Any extension of the existing restriction of the term of the war pensioners' mobility would be a positive step in providing war pensioners with greater flexibility of choice when meeting their mobility needs.
Finally, Territorial Army and regular reserve personnel, who volunteered for Gulf War service, were told by the Ministry of Defence that should they become a casualty, they or their spouse would receive the same benefits as a member of the regular forces, under the provisions of the attributable benefits for reservists scheme. This advice was factually incorrect and, due to an anomaly in the regulations, those who became ill and injured on embodied service would not qualify.
Gulf War veterans have been waiting for years to have their cases reviewed. The Legion acknowledges the need for research, but time is of the essence, if these veterans are to be still there, to benefit from the results.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement which is in the process of being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:
'I want to pay tribute, at the outset, to our forces. We owe a huge debt to them for their courage, and their professionalism. Tonight, there are families in Britain who will be feeling a real sense of anxiety. They can feel too a real sense of pride at the contribution their loved ones make to peace and stability in Europe'.
"The targets being attacked in this first phase were mainly elements of the Yugoslavian air defence system but also included a number of Serbian military facilities related to the repression in Kosovo.
"The NATO military action, which has the full support of all 19 member states, is intended to support the political aims of the international community. It is justified as an exceptional measure to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. It is, and will continue to be, directed towards disrupting the violent attacks being committed by the Yugoslav army and Serbian special police force and weakening their ability to continue their repressive strategy.
"Two United Nations Security Council resolutions, 1199 and 1203, underpin our actions. Both demanded that Serbs cease all actions against the civilian population and withdraw the security units used for civilian repression. Milosevic has been in breach of every single part of these resolutions.
"As the Prime Minister said yesterday, a quarter of a million Kosovars, more than 10 per cent. of the population, are now homeless as a result of repression by Serb forces; 65,000 people have been forced from their homes in the last month, and no fewer than 25,000 in these days since peace talks broke down. Families are being uprooted and driven from their homes. There are disturbing reports of the destruction of whole villages. Over the past few days we have all seen harrowing and unforgettable images on the television and in newspapers. The scenes are more reminiscent of the Middle Ages than of Europe on the eve of the 21st century. I would remind the House that the decision to initiate air strikes was taken last night only after it became clear that the final diplomatic effort in Belgrade had not met with success and that all efforts to achieve a negotiated, political solution to the Kosovo crisis had failed.
"Over the past year the international community, with Britain at the forefront, has made intensive efforts to seek a peaceful resolution. Milosevic has either rejected these approaches or entered into undertakings on which he has subsequently reneged; notably, his blatant failure to observe the limits on army and special police numbers in Kosovo. Military force is now the only option.
"NATO's position is clear, and was set out in its statement of 30th January. We seek to bring an end to the violence in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and support the completion of negotiations on an interim political settlement.
"Three demands were made at the time, all of which Mr. Milosevic has so far rejected. He has not ended his use of excessive and disproportionate force in Kosovo. He has broken the undertaking he gave last October to reduce Serb forces in Kosovo to pre-February 1998 levels; and he has so far refused to accept the interim political settlement which was negotiated at the peace talks in France earlier this year.
"What happens next is up to Mr. Milosevic. It remains open to him to show at any time that he is ready to meet the demands of the international community. The demands are reasonable: they are an autonomous Kosovo within Serbia and an international military force to underpin the settlement. We hope that the Yugoslavian people will understand that this is the only practical basis of moving forward without further bloodshed.
"I take this opportunity tonight to address a warning to those in the Yugoslav army and other forces who may be in receipt of orders to repress the Albanians in Kosovo. Do not assume that you can carry out such activity with impunity. You have a personal responsibility not to exceed the bounds of international law. You run the risk of being prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague if you do so.
"I also address the Kosovar Albanians. You have had the courage to commit yourselves to the path of peace. It is imperative that you remain committed to that approach and refrain from provocative actions in the days to come.
"Neither NATO nor the United Kingdom is waging war against the people of Yugoslavia. We will make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. Our objective is to reduce the human suffering and violence against the civilian population of Kosovo. We seek to bring to an end the human tragedy now unfolding.
"We know the risks of action, and we salute the bravery of our servicemen and women who are undertaking these operations on our behalf. To the families of the brave men and women of our Armed Forces involved in this action--and, indeed to the British people as a whole--I would say this. We should remind ourselves that history has proved time and time again that standing up to aggression is the only way to stop brutal leaders like President Milosevic.
"As the Prime Minister said to the House yesterday, if Kosovo was left to the mercy of Serbian repression, there is not merely a risk but the probability of re-igniting unrest in Albania, of a destabilised Macedonia, of almost certain knock-on effects in Bosnia, and of further tension between Greece and Turkey. Strategic interests for the whole of Europe are at stake. We, as fellow Europeans, cannot contemplate, on our own doorstep, a disintegration into chaos and disorder.
"We do not expect that air attacks will lead to an instant end to the brutality in Kosovo--Yugoslavia has a substantial military machine and is under the control of a ruthless man. But our attacks will make
This is an extremely gloomy moment. I feel, as I am sure many other Members of this House feel, that we could well be in the situation of 28th June 1914 when the Austrian Crown Prince was murdered in Sarajevo. There is no doubt that the Balkans have been the centre of so much of the trouble that we have faced in Europe over the past 100 years. Let us hope sincerely that the next six weeks will be less sad, less desperate than were the six weeks over the month of July 1914.
As I understand it, we are to have a debate tomorrow on the situation. I have no doubt that by then it will be a little clearer than it is tonight. Your Lordships will be most grateful to have been told all that the noble Lord has been able to tell us, repeating from his right honourable friend. But hour by hour the situation will develop and we shall know more tomorrow. His right honourable friend the Prime Minister quite rightly congratulated the British and other NATO forces on their action, their bravery and their devotion to service in the Balkans. From these Benches we totally support everything that he said.
However, we must express our concern that the Prime Minister seems to be relying on air warfare only. I do not believe that I am overstating it when I say that there seems to be a slightly gung-ho atmosphere in what the Deputy Prime Minister said. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to reassure the House that all the British aircraft, which were Harriers operating out of Gioia del Colle in Italy, returned safely. I understand that that is not true for the American aircraft. I am not certain of that; that information is being given to me as I speak. But I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us a bit more about that.
The Serbians have an airforce. Our forces on the ground in Macedonia are beyond the range of our cover from Italy and they must be in severe danger of attack from Serbian forces. I hope that the NATO forces involved in this campaign will not underestimate the strength and determination of the Serbian armies. This is not an Iraq. This is a strong, determined and fighting people. If we are to face up to them, it must be done with the utmost resolution. Inevitably, we will find that it cannot be done by air power alone; that we shall have to use forces on the ground.
It is difficult to know what the Government could have done. But I hope that all those concerned will realise that within Serbia there is a great deal of support for President Milosevic and that we are facing grave difficulties. Let us pray for a quick determination and that the Serbians cannot face up to the united, moral forces of the rest of the world. Let us hope that they and
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. We on these Benches entirely agree with the action that the Government have taken. We believe that NATO had no option other than to use military force against the Serbians in view of the fact that Milosevic was continuing and even intensifying the acts of oppression against the people of Kosovo, causing massive loss of life and huge displacement of civilians from their homes. Indeed, as the noble Lord said, the number already amounts to a quarter of a million. People have been bombed and shelled out of their houses. They are living on the hillsides with nothing but a few pots and pans, hardly anything to eat and nothing to cover them in this very cold weather.
We entirely agree that the latter was a flagrant violation of Security Council Resolutions 1199 and 1203 and that action had to be taken to enforce the will of the Security Council, even though we recognise that tomorrow may be an awkward day for us in the council with the objections that are bound to be raised by the Russians, and possibly the Chinese, to the action that we have taken.
We are told that the objective is to reduce the Serbian capacity to kill civilians and to destroy their property but that we are also hoping to get Milosevic to adhere to the promises which he made last October. Can the Minister say what will happen tomorrow morning if we find that Serbian tanks and artillery are still bombarding the villages of Kosovo and, indeed, if the same thing happens the day after? If the bombardment continues for several days and after thousands of tonnes of explosives have been dropped on military targets we find that Serbian capacity has only been degraded by, say, 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. and their political will has not been broken, what do we do then? Is it not essential to have plans ready to deal with a situation in which there is no prospect of getting Milosevic to sign the Rambouillet Agreement? Would it not be right to say publicly that, if there is no deal, we shall work towards the establishment of an international protectorate over the territory of Kosovo and the forfeiture of Yugoslav territory?
The warning that was given to the Yugoslav forces that if they continue military action against civilians in Kosovo they risk prosecution before the international criminal tribunal on the former Yugoslavia is obviously perfectly correct in international law. However, is it not also correct to say that Milosevic himself risks prosecution? Did not Louise Arbour say at one point in an interview that no one was exempt from the proceedings of the international tribunal, including a head of state? Could that message be given clearly to Mr. Milosevic along with the message that has been given to the armed forces of Yugoslavia?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am very much obliged to both the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the tributes that they have also paid to the courage and skill of our men and women in uniform who are engaged in these activities in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said that he thought the Prime Minister was relying on air warfare only. I want to make it absolutely clear that the military decisions that are being taken are not exclusively the property of Her Majesty's Government; indeed, they are NATO decisions. Therefore, on reflection, the noble Lord may realise that it is not just a single decision by the British Prime Minister in this respect. I regret that he thinks there is a gung ho atmosphere. I am sure that if he were at the Ministry of Defence, as I was today, he would appreciate that there is far from being a gung ho atmosphere. There is a mood of apprehension, of seriousness, of determination and of resignation that we are forced to do what we are doing. There is anxiety with respect to our air crews.
I regret to say that I am unable to confirm whether all the British aircraft have yet returned safely. If I was speaking an hour or so later I might have that information, but as of this moment I do not have it. I checked the situation just before I entered your Lordships' Chamber. Your Lordships should not infer from that that anything has gone wrong; it is simply that I do not have the information at my disposal one way or the other.
The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, asked whether the forces in Macedonia were in danger of attack from the Serbian air force. Most of the Serbian air force does not have the most modern equipment and the amount of flying it does is extremely limited. I was told that it averaged about 25 hours a year. That will hardly keep the pilots in a condition to perform serious military operations. I assure the noble Lord that should NATO forces be attacked by the Serbian air force while in Macedonia, the response will be immediate and ferocious. I quite agree with him that we are not dealing with another Iraq when we are engaged in conflict with the forces of Serbia. However, I point out to him that it is a conscript army that Mr. Milosevic has at his disposal and it remains to be seen how its morale will or will not hold up under the kind of bombardment it may anticipate in the next few days. I say it may anticipate that but I believe that probably one of the reasons we have reached this situation is that Mr. Milosevic is quite unaware of the depth of air power that he faces and the vigour with which his military personnel and assets will be attacked.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me what would happen in the Security Council tomorrow. We had better wait to see what happens. There will, of course, be intense diplomatic discussions with our Russian friends. We hope to persuade them and the other Permanent Members of the Security Council who are not involved in these operations of the inevitability of what we had to do in order to prevent a greater human catastrophe.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me what will happen if Serbian tanks are still bombarding on the second day and the third day. The answer is that they will continue to receive the kind of treatment that we have just started to mete out to them. As the Prime Minister made clear, we are absolutely resolute that we shall continue until the job is done. Our military objectives are perfectly clear. They are twofold. The first one is to frustrate the present operations of the Yugoslav army and special police forces and, secondly, to curb the ability of Mr. Milosevic in the future to carry out that kind of operation. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rightly remarked, it is perfectly true that President Milosevic, like every member of his armed forces, is liable in the fullness of time to face charges at the international tribunal.
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