HC Deb 28 November 1995 vol 267 cc1043-4
8. Ms Eagle

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his American counterpart concerning Gulf war syndrome. [817]

Mr. Soames

Senior medical officials from my Department frequently discuss the alleged Gulf war syndrome with their equivalents in the United States Department of Defense. I have also spoken to members of the United States Administration about it.

Ms Eagle

Why has the Minister not taken the same positive attitude to finding out the truth about Gulf war syndrome as his American counterparts? Given the searing criticisms of his Department in the recent Defence Select Committee report, which accused him and his Department of defensiveness and general torpor, will he now wake up and establish a full medical inquiry to establish the truth about Gulf war syndrome?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Lady is right to suggest that we were disappointed by the tone of the report of the Defence Select Committee. Clearly, the Government recognise that there were some people who went to serve in the Gulf who are no longer well. There is absolutely no evidence that any of those illnesses were caused by service in the Gulf, nor is there any evidence in this country, in France or in America that there is any such thing as a Gulf war syndrome.

Although the Defence Select Committee, in the most unreasonable fashion, accused my Department of suffering from torpor, the Royal College of Physicians gave a broad endorsement to our work in July 1995. It recommended that we should undertake some further work and research, which we are doing, and my Department retains an open mind about it. The hon. Lady is making mischief if she alleges in any way that there is any such thing as a Gulf war syndrome.

Mr. Robathan

I am sure that everybody will welcome the further research and investigation into Gulf war syndrome. Is my hon. Friend aware, however, that a large number of the people who served in the Gulf—I should say the majority—and who took the unpleasant nerve agent tablets and who had the injections are highly sceptical about Gulf war syndrome and do not believe that it exists?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and that is certainly the case. Only 700 people have claimed that they have been made ill by their service in the Gulf, only 350 of whom have come forward for the full medical examination and care which the services provide. It is worth telling my hon. Friend that, while there remains certain scepticism among the vast majority of those who served in the Gulf war, plainly we should keep an open mind about those who are ill. We shall continue to conduct research, monitor the situation and work very closely with our American friends and others on this important matter.