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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, this year my honourable friend the Minister for Veterans' Affairs has met representatives from the Royal British Legion on at least four occasions and has discussed issues surrounding veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict. Officials attended the Royal British Legion Gulf War Inter-Parliamentary Group meeting in March and a number of informal discussions. As it happens, I shall be attending the Royal British Legion annual conference this coming weekend and will make the keynote speech which will include reference to veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Is he aware of the Legion's concern about whether the protocol for administering the anthrax vaccine has been strictly observed in all cases; about the seemingly endless haggling in tribunals and courts with veterans, some of them terminally ill, over war and service attributable pensions; and about distress among widows, many in broken health, who would have been better treated had they been US and not British citizens?

Is it not shaming that lottery funds are now in prospect to fund support services for our veterans? Moreover, is he aware that already soldiers back from Iraq are seeking advice from the ex-service community for serious illnesses that they have had since receiving multiple vaccinations on the same day?

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Lord Bach: My Lords, as far as concerns the anthrax vaccine, there is no clinical evidence that anthrax vaccine is unsafe if used in combination with other vaccines or treatments. But we are not deaf to Gulf veterans' concerns and our guidance to medical staff states that the vaccine should be separated from other vaccines wherever possible and specifically states that anthrax vaccine should not be given within five days of a live vaccine. We have made standard service vaccines routine so there should be no need to administer the anthrax vaccine alongside other vaccines upon deployment.

In response to the last question that my noble friend asked—I pay tribute to the incredible work that he does on behalf of the Royal British Legion—a number of research measures into the physical and psychological health of those who have been involved in recent operations in the Gulf were announced in this House on 8th May. The announcement also extended the Ministry of Defence Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme to include veterans of the recent operation. We have not received any reports of ill health following this deployment, but given the concerns surrounding this subject we have already put a package of measures in place.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the key expert in this area—Professor Simon Wesley—who is, indeed, the Government's own adviser, has said, referring to the previous Gulf War, that there is irrefutable proof that going to the Gulf has affected the health of some UK servicemen. The War Pensions Tribunal of the MoD itself recently decided that that was so in the case of Mr Izett and there is a further case later this month in which it may well come to the same decision. How long will the Ministry of Defence bury its head in the sand?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Ministry of Defence is not burying its head or any other part of its anatomy in the sand on this issue. Of course we accept that some troops who went to the Gulf came back ill. There is no question about that. The dispute is as to whether there is something which can be called Gulf War syndrome. All the medical evidence we have suggests that that is not so. As I understand it, the expert referred to by the noble Lord, is with us on that point.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I wonder whether the time has not come for Her Majesty's Government to make ex gratia payments in settlement without further commitment rather than to drag out endlessly expensive litigation and inconclusive clinical trials? Surely a little magnanimity now would not only be cost-effective but would also serve to relieve the continuing anguish of veteran sufferers and their families?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble and gallant Lord that we have not been magnanimous as far as this is concerned. As regards war disablement pensions, a very large number indeed have been awarded to those who bravely fought in the first Gulf

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War. As the House will know, the burden of proof as regards such a pension is on the Secretary of State. He must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the illness or injury caused was not attributable to service. As a consequence of that extraordinarily heavy burden and standard of proof, a very large number of Gulf War veterans are receiving fairly generous pensions. I think that we have been magnanimous in this respect, but of course I shall take back what the noble and gallant Lord says and look at it again.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, can the noble Lord give an estimate of the numbers of surviving veterans with problems and needs from the first Gulf War?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord a specific figure. I can say that until now more than 3,300 patients have been seen by the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme. I have already mentioned that a large number of those who fought in that war are in receipt of a war disablement pension.

Bangladesh: Bihari Community

11.17 a.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What recent initiatives have been pursued by the Department for International Development to help resolve the difficulties faced by the Biharis community in Bangladesh.

The Secretary of State for International Development (Baroness Amos): My Lords, DfID's objective is the reduction of poverty and we provide 80 million of development assistance a year to Bangladesh—our third largest programme—for that purpose. We work closely with the Government of Bangladesh and a range of NGOs to bring the benefit of sustainable development to as many poor people as possible. It is not our policy to single out particular groups for special attention and DfID has not taken any recent initiatives with regard to the Biharis in Bangladesh.

However, the British Government are concerned by the periodic reports of discrimination against minorities. The British High Commission in Dhaka frequently raises human rights concerns, including on minorities, with the Government of Bangladesh.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I slightly regret the jobsworth tone of that reply. I recognise the commitment to Bangladesh by the Secretary of State's department. However, the point of the Question, like the point of the long campaign by the late David Ennals about this matter, is that the Biharis—a community of some 300,000—have been left stranded in Bangladesh. Is it not one of the world's refugee problems that is manageable and soluble given goodwill and initiative? Are not Her Majesty's

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Government well placed, with their good relations with Pakistan and with Bangladesh, to take such an initiative?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that, in a sense, the Biharis have been left stranded; they are basically stateless because Pakistan is not making any particular effort to put in place the mechanisms that would allow those who chose to take Pakistani citizenship at the time the country of Pakistan was created to move into Pakistan. Some 66 camps now house those left in Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh provide rice and flour; water and electricity is supplied for free, while NGOs provide medical facilities. The Biharis are free to work, to carry out their business and to move in and out of the camps at will.

There may well be a chink of light here. On 5th May a court case was heard which may lead to some changes. Ten Biharis lodged a case on voting rights at the time of the 2001 elections. The high court ruled in their favour and granted them voting rights. In the past, the Bangladeshi Government have said that those Biharis who remain in Bangladesh could take up Bangladeshi citizenship, but administratively that has not worked out. However, we think that this ruling may well facilitate a process which would allow the Biharis to take up Bangladeshi citizenship and remain in that country.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, despite her responses to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, can the Secretary of State explain why assistance to the Bihari people was not mentioned once in the Bangladesh strategy paper? In the light of that, what proportion of UK aid to Bangladesh is allocated to the Bihari people? Furthermore, is any aid to Bangladesh made conditional on resolving the issue of the Biharis?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think I made it clear in my initial Answer to the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we have not singled out any particular groups for special attention in Bangladesh. However, we have established a new human rights and governance fund to be used to finance human rights and governance activities by smaller NGOs. Bids have been made in respect of that fund to support the Biharis in Bangladesh, but I cannot say to the noble Baroness that a specific proportion of the 80 million allocated to Bangladesh is earmarked for work with the Biharis.


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