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House of Lords

Monday, 24th March 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Gulf War Illnesses

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as honorary parliamentary adviser over many years to the Royal British Legion and a co-opted member of the United States Congressional Committee of Inquiry into Gulf War Illnesses.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what new help they are considering for Gulf War veterans with still undiagnosed illnesses and the dependants of those who have died from Gulf War illnesses since the conflict.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government assist Gulf veterans who are ill through the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme; by providing pension and other benefits to them and the dependants of those who have died; through the Veterans Agency's War Pensioner's Welfare Service; by giving medical treatment through the NHS and Defence Medical Services and by funding scientific research. Gulf veterans may also benefit from new arrangements introduced as part of the Government's Veterans Initiative.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, my noble friend, to whom I am grateful, appreciates that few pray more fervently for our troops now embattled than the brave men and women who went before. How many of them receive war pensions for their still undiagnosed illnesses? Is my noble friend aware how concerned they are that we still await, 12 years on, even an interim report on Porton Down's study of whether it was safe to give them 14 and more vaccines in Gulf War I? When will the report emerge? And is it not disturbing that well over 40 per cent of our troops now in action have refused the anthrax vaccine, implying that many fear the vaccine more than Saddam Hussein's weaponry?

Lord Bach: My Lords, my noble friend asks three questions, the first of which is how many war pensions have been paid for undiagnosed illnesses. That information is not available. War pension is not paid for individual conditions or illnesses. Awards of war pension are for any disablement that can be accepted as causally related to service, the amount paid dependent on the overall assessed level of disablement.

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A Gulf veteran's pension may be made up of a number of different complaints. For example, complaint one could be undiagnosed illness; complaint two, bad knee; complaint three, post-traumatic stress disorder; and perhaps complaint four, asthma. The complainant will be given one pension for all these complaints on the basis of his percentage of disablement.

As for the interim results from the vaccines interactions research programme, I visited Porton Down last Friday and was therefore able to check up on the interim results. Preliminary results will be available very shortly. A presentation is being made at Heriot-Watt University on 1st April which will report results on behaviour, sleep and other matters. Preliminary immunology results will be presented between 12th and 16th April at the meeting of the Edward Jenner Institute for Vaccine Research. Those results will be made available to Parliament.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, how many Gulf War veterans are now in this situation, with illnesses still not diagnosed? What progress is being made to identify such disorders including those thought to be illnesses associated with deserts?

Lord Bach: My Lords, on the first question, the noble Lord will know that the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme has seen more than 3,300 patients. The programme has two main purposes, the first of which is to provide the patient with a diagnosis of his or her medical condition and recommend appropriate treatment. Secondly, the programme gathers statistical information which will be made available as a resource for researchers.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the Minister said that he will make available to Parliament the information on test results. What steps will the MoD take to disseminate that information to all those who are suffering or believe themselves to be suffering from Gulf War syndrome?

Lord Bach: My Lords, these are the interim results and they will be announced to Parliament. The timetable after that is as follows. The programme will be completed by August 2003 and written up by December 2003. After peer group review, which is very important in this case, it will be published in 2004. How the actual report and its conclusions are made known to Gulf War veterans is yet to be decided.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I declare an interest as the national chaplain to the Royal British Legion. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, has already mentioned our troops who decided that they do not wish to avail themselves of immunisation against anthrax. Can the Minister confirm that any of our servicemen or women who, having refused that vaccination, are then tragically killed or injured in the event of anthrax use in Iraq will in fact still receive compensation that may be the entitlement of all servicemen and women in those circumstances?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I must put the record straight. Our records show that as of 12th March

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around 56 per cent of those offered immunisation against anthrax opted to receive it. That figure has steadily risen since the programme was relaunched in May 2001. We are confident that the majority of personnel now in the Gulf will opt to receive immunisation and we expect take-up to improve still further. The 56 per cent figure is an overall figure which includes some personnel not deployed in the Gulf at the present time. We estimate—it is an estimation—that overall up-take among personnel currently deployed to the Gulf is around 70 per cent. Those who do not receive the anthrax vaccination will be protected in precisely the same way as others.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister believe that it is acceptable that it has taken 13 years to come up with the report?

Lord Bach: My Lords, a great deal of research has been done into the illnesses undoubtedly suffered by Gulf War veterans. There is dispute as to whether or not Gulf War syndrome exists. At least 8.5 million has been spent on research. These matters take a considerable amount of time. Not all the research was begun in the first few years after the first Gulf War ended. Much of it has been undertaken in the past few years.

Rail Freight: Working Time Directive

2.44 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What will be the competitive impact on rail freight in Great Britain of the implementation of the Working Time Directive later this year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the working time regulations will apply to all member states and all companies from 1st August 2003. The effect of the proposals on transportation costs is estimated to be minimal, based on the regulatory impact assessment, which was published as part of the consultation document—extension of the working time regulations to the excluded sectors—in October 2002.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for the letter which he sent me. First, who among railway management was consulted about the directive as in 1998 there was no one overall who could be consulted? Secondly, as regards the hierarchy within which drivers and other people can be, or should have been, trained, is the Minister aware that the companies at the top of the hierarchy such as GNER can recruit whereas those at the bottom such as the freight operators will be left with no drivers at all? Thirdly, is it not irrational to move from a safe

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mode of transport towards a much less safe mode of transport in terms of road safety, and is that not contrary to the Government's policy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I understand that the original railways social partners agreement of 1998, which was agreed by the industry and unions across Europe in 1998, involved the full participation of this country. Therefore, the industry has known about the partnership, which was included in the horizontal amending directive, for some five years. In terms of the impact, I wonder whether the industry has looked carefully at the derogations, which are substantial in this case in terms of night work and other areas for mobile workers; that is, train drivers. Until one has worked through that, it is difficult to assess whether the measure will have a major impact. There is no evidence to show that it should have a major impact. As regards the road freight industry, the draft regulatory impact assessment concluded that the measure would not affect the relative position of companies in tradable sectors.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, why did the Government themselves not carry out an industry impact assessment before agreeing to the directive?


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