HL Deb 04 April 2001 vol 624 cc807-9

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the position of 47 members of the Army reserve who served in Operation Granby with regard to attributable benefits for reservists.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the noble Countess is right that there are 47 such applications under the scheme. However, consideration of those cases shows that at least 25 should have been made under the Armed Forces pension scheme. The remaining 22 would come under the reservist scheme, which we expect to be laid before your Lordships' House in the first week of May, or would be considered for ex gratia awards.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that this problem has been going on since 1986 and that the poor Gulf War veterans have been going round and round in circles? Recently, they were told that everything had been sorted out and they must apply for retrospective medical discharge. They were told how to do it, and to whom to apply. They did that, only to find that the person to whom they applied had been posted to another section. The young lady who had taken over his job sent all the papers to HM Land Forces in Glasgow, which said that there was no such thing as a retrospective discharge, and the Gulf War veterans found themselves right back to where they were in 1996. I hope the noble Baroness appreciates the distress that that causes to sick people. Will she please do something about it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Countess was kind enough to tell me of some of these very dispiriting experiences which, sadly, have been visited upon some Gulf War veterans. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister appointed my honourable friend Dr Lewis Moonie as veterans Minister on 14th March last. I spoke to Dr Moonie this morning and outlined the kind of scenario which the noble Countess has described to noble Lords. My honourable friend indicated that he would be very happy to see the noble Countess and try to get to the bottom of the individual cases which have gone wrong and do everything possible to stop this very unhappy experience in the future.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, can the noble Baroness ensure that in future those who serve in reserve roles for the Armed Forces are not placed at any avoidable disadvantage as a result of being called up? Does the Minister agree that, on the whole, the reservists who took part in Operation Granby did a very good job?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord that they did a very good job. That is the whole point of laying the new scheme, which will be considered by the Defence Council by the end of April, before your Lordships' House. We hope that payments will start as soon as possible thereafter. There are two ways in which moneys can be accessed, quite apart from the normal Armed Forces pension scheme, which is for those who are part of a reserve force—the Territorial Army or equivalent. But the position of individual reservists must also be considered. Their position will be considered under the ex gratia payments to which I referred in response to the noble Countess.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords. my noble friend knows from our debates on Gulf War illnesses of my close interest in the recent appointment of a Minister for veterans affairs, and I am grateful for her parliamentary reply to me about this on 2nd April. How quickly does my noble friend expect that appointment to impact on the welfare aspects of such worrying and appalling cases as those set in relief clearly and movingly by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, this afternoon?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are aware of the very active interest of my noble friend in this matter. I expect the impact to be very quick. The noble Countess was kind enough to talk to me about these difficulties yesterday. This morning I was able to see my honourable friend, who has agreed. I believe that shows that we are trying to move quickly in order to meet these difficulties, which we recognise cause real distress. We shall consult representatives of the ex-service community about how the new appointment should be taken forward. Although the appointment has been made, they may have views about terms of reference and other matters. We shall seek their views on the arrangements for the veterans' task force forum, which will include representatives of veteran groups, including the Gulf War veterans.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, does the Minister agree that under the ex gratia payments scheme recipients will be taxed? Surely, that is incorrect.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am aware that any ex gratia payments that might be made to individual reservists, as distinct from those who are part of a reservist group, would be taxed under tax law. I urge those of your Lordships with an interest in this area to approach my honourable friend the Minister for veterans affairs who may be able to make representations to the Inland Revenue. As I am sure noble Lords recognise, this is not a matter that is in the gift of the Ministry of Defence; it is concerned with the legal position on taxation. I urge noble Lords who have views on this matter to take them forward by that means.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, we welcome the appointment of Dr Moonie to this position: it is something for which we have pressed for many years. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that the response to the particular matter to which the noble Countess has referred this afternoon will be recorded in the Library of the House?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it cannot have been that many years because the noble Lord's party left office only some four years ago.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I refer to the appointment to this position.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am very grateful for the generous way in which the noble Lord has greeted the appointment, which we all believe is a very necessary one. A number of detailed points will be discussed. The noble Countess referred to 47 cases, and I am sure that all of them will be slightly different. There will be a variety of different illnesses from which people suffer—everything from nervous anxiety to bronchitic complaints. If there are detailed matters pertaining to individuals it is not appropriate to put them into the public domain. But it is right that eventually some of the broader points—for example, those relating to taxation—should be put into the public domain in the way the noble Lord suggests.

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