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Lord Bach: My Lords, it is absolutely clear that we acknowledge it. It is very misleading to pretend that we do not. I do not accuse the noble Lord of doing so, but some people outside pretend that we do not.
I want to make it clear that Gulf veterans' illnesses issues remain a high priority for us. I believe, and I think the evidence shows, that the Government have demonstrated their commitment to addressing Gulf veterans' concerns openly, honestly and seriously, and we will continue to do so.
In 1997, this Government made it clear that they had adopted three guiding principles when dealing with the concerns of Gulf veterans: first, there will be appropriate research into veterans' illnesseseven though that research apparently is attackedand factors that might have a bearing on those illnesses; secondly, all Gulf veterans will have prompt access to medical advice from the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme, and, thirdly, information of
I remind the House of what is being done in respect of scientific researchI address this remark to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in particularbecause it is only through such research that we are ever likely to be able to establish the causes of Gulf veterans' illnesses. Noble Lords will recall that a great deal of scientific research has been carried out here and in the United States into Gulf veterans' illnesses. What has emerged is that significantly more Gulf veterans report more ill health than non-Gulf veterans. However, Gulf veterans do not all have the same symptoms, nor are their symptoms different from those of non-Gulf veterans. The same range of symptoms is seen in both groups; the difference is that Gulf veterans report more of the symptoms and suffer more severely from them. However, because the range of symptoms is so wide, the scientific and medical community does not accept the existence of a unique "Gulf War syndrome". Our position as a Governmentand, as I said previously, that of any responsible governmentmust be guided by those findings from the scientific and medical community. That is why we do not recognise Gulf War syndrome as a medical condition.
We continue to monitor Gulf veterans' mortality and to publish that data every six months, as we promised. Our most recent data were published today, so the debate is very timely. The data show that the total number of deaths among Gulf veterans was 600 compared to 613 in a matched group of service personnel who were in the Armed Forces on 1st January 1991 but did not deploy to the Gulf. I hope that those figures provide at least some reassurance to Gulf veterans concerned about their health.
At our request, the independent Medical Research Council has recently carried out a thorough review of research to date. Its report was published on 22nd May. Perhaps I may outline the main points that the Medical Research Council concluded. First, there is no unique Gulf War syndrome. Secondly, there is little evidence that vaccination was a cause of veterans' illnesses. No commonly accepted mechanism could account for immune system related symptoms more than 10 years on. Thirdly, the UK's research programme into Gulf veterans' illnesses was highly regarded internationally and has made,
Our portfolio of research into Gulf veterans' illnesses is expected to cost at least £8.5 million to complete. It currently includes two major epidemiological studies; a programme of clinical tests; research to investigate the possible adverse health effects of the combination of medical countermeasures that were used to protect UK personnel against the threat of biological or chemical warfare agents, and a systematic review of research literature, as published worldwide. Important work has been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature; some is complete, awaiting publication, and some is ongoing.
Medical assistance continues to be available to Gulf veterans through the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme, which has been running since 1993. In that time more than 3,370 patients have been seen, some more than once. The programme was set up to provide as full a diagnosis as possible to veterans concerned about their health. Veterans who have left the Armed Forces will normally have a GP as their doctor and therefore any recommended treatment will be carried out within the NHS. We remain committed to the long-standing pledge that war pensioners should be given priority in NHS hospitals for examination or treatment relating to their pensioned disablement, subject always to the needs of emergencies or other cases that demand clinical priority.
Based on the feedback received through completed patient survey questionnaires, the service that the GVMAP provides is welcome. As of 30th June this year, 96 per cent of patients were satisfied with their GVMAP experience. Noble Lords may know that we have expanded the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme's remit to allow all regular and reservist service personnel who deployed to the Gulf during Operation Telic to be seen. I confirm to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the changes made between the first Gulf War and Operation Telic that he outlined and asked me about directly. I urge veterans of both deployments who have any concerns about their health to take advantage of the help available through the GVMAP. We plan to publish an updated version of the information pack about Gulf veterans' illnesses later this year. The current version was sent to all GPs in the UK as well as other interested health professionals, including those in the Defence Medical Services. We will ensure that the new pack is widely publicised.
As well as medical help, financial assistance is available to Gulf veterans. No-fault compensation for all former service personnel disabled as a result of their service is provided through the war pensions scheme. The scheme applies to all those who have served in the UK forces. Disablement pensions are provided on the basis of disablement, not individual diagnosis. As at 31st March this year, 2,405 veterans of the 199091 Gulf conflict were in receipt of a war disablement pension.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked a question about that. He knows that the scheme provides no-fault compensation for all ex-service personnel disabled as a result of their service. All pensions and allowances are tax-free, index-linked and include a basic war disablement pension based on the degree of disability. War pensions legislation does not take account of financial losses due to a curtailment of an individual's possible career progression, but in common law negligence cases they are taken into consideration.
The figure of 2,405 that I mentioned includes awards for both Gulf-related and non-Gulf-related illnesses. In addition, the Armed Forces pension schemein effect, the occupational pension schemeand the Reserve Forces (Attributable Benefits etc.) Regulations provide enhanced injury and death benefits to regular and reservist service personnel whose injuries, illnesses or death were attributable to their Gulf service. All that is in addition to all the normal social security benefits to which service and ex-service personnel may be eligible.
Advice and information on a wide range of veterans' issues is available through the Veterans' Agency. I encourage veterans who require assistance to contact the agency via their free-phone helpline. The agency's welfare service is available to veterans who require help. Welfare officers are specially trained to offer advice and assistance on a range of issues, not just war pensions.
Reference has been made to the effect of vaccinations, and I am conscious that the question in the letter that has been mentioned has not yet been answered. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, rightly asked whether anthrax immunisation followed the appropriate protocols. I am very aware of the interest in this House and elsewhere, but I am afraid to say that I am not yet in a position to answer his Question of 4th February. However, I will write to him and place a copy of my letter in the Library as soon as I am able. The House should be aware that the new Secretary of State for Health, Dr John Reid, who also has experience in the Ministry of Defence, is personally engaged in this matter. I am aware that it has been a long time, but it is important that we get the answer right.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I rise on a point of fact. My Question was not dated 4th February. That was the date of the reply, which stated that a letter would be sent to me and placed in the Library. I tabled my Question on 22nd January.
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