HC Deb 22 March 1999 vol 328 cc5-7
3. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

How much the Government are currently spending on research into the illnesses of Gulf war veterans. [75966]

7. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

How much the Government are spending on research into the illnesses of Gulf war veterans. [75970]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson)

The Ministry of Defence's research into Gulf veterans' illnesses currently comprises two major epidemiological studies, a neuromuscular symptoms study, an independent review of research literature, and a programme to investigate possible interactions between the medical counter-measures which were used during the 1990–91 Gulf conflict. So far, £1.9 million has been spent on these studies and we estimate that they will cost a further £4 million to complete.

Mr. Kidney

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It is reassuring to hear of the money that is spent on research. I am sure that it is welcome to all the Gulf war veterans, including those to whom I spoke in my constituency, who still do not have a definite diagnosis of their illness, let alone any hope of a cure. Does my hon. Friend agree with the Royal British Legion that, for these veterans, time is of the essence if they are to benefit from the results of the research? Given the resources that are available to my hon. Friend, does he look to sharing information in the context of the results of research done in other countries, especially the United States?

Mr. Henderson

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I much agree with the Royal British Legion's view that time is of the essence for the individuals who are suffering from illness which they believe they contracted in the Gulf. That is why the Government have increased the resources that are committed to research to try to get to the bottom of what happened, to try to ascertain the illness or illnesses that they have suffered from, the cause, how similar illnesses could be prevented, and what sort of treatment is appropriate.

We recognise that many people in the United States are suffering from similar illnesses. We want to enter into discussions with the US Government to determine how best we can combine our research resources.

Mr. Chapman

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. However, does he understand that Gulf war syndrome, if that is the right expression—it seems that there is a plurali—a plur—[Laughter.] It seems that there are lots of conditions. Does my hon. Friend understand that that is worrying generally, but particularly to those who are suffering? It is essential that the present level of research be continued so that a cause or causes are found. Will my hon. Friend confirm that, if the Government are found to be at fault, compensation will be paid?

Mr. Henderson

If my hon. Friend had trouble with "plurality", he would have had even greater trouble with "epidemiological". I can assure him that we are doing everything we can to try to get to the bottom of what is wrong with people who are suffering from illnesses that were contracted in the Gulf, and that we shall commit any necessary resources—we have already committed three times more than the previous Government—to trying to find out what is wrong with personnel who served in the Gulf.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I think I am the only current Member who served in the armed forces in the Gulf, although I may be wrong. I welcome the Minister's remarks about investigating the causes of the illness. It is self-evident that some members of the armed forces have suffered severe illness, possibly from organophosphate poisoning, and they deserve swift compensation. Can the Minister tell us whether any evidence of a syndrome has yet emerged from the research in the United Kingdom or the United States?

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that further question. It has not been possible to determine whether there is a specific illness called Gulf war syndrome or any other name. Much research has already been undertaken. Much research is currently being undertaken, and we await the results. We want any necessary additional research to be carried out, if possible, in conjunction with our allies in the United States. If, at the end of that—I should have mentioned this in response to the previous question—it is shown that there is an illness and that there was negligence, compensation will be paid in accordance with the normal procedures.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that none of those research programmes, many of which were started when the previous Government were in power, should duplicate the work done in the United States of America? Does he agree that it will add greatly to the credibility of those programmes, which have been undertaken by distinguished scientists, if it is clearly seen that they do not overlap with any American studies?

Mr. Henderson

Yes, I very much agree. As I said during the previous Defence Question Time, I went to Washington three weeks ago. I spoke to the Department of Defence, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the White House about the kind of research that was considered a priority. The Americans are coming back next Monday, I think, and I will have further discussions with White House officials about how we can co-ordinate the research. It is crucial that there should be no opportunity for one group of experts to argue against another group, simply because they come from different sides of the Atlantic. We must get the experts together to give us the best medical and scientific opinion, in the hope that we can resolve the outstanding problems.

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