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Warship Building

Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what financial inducements his Department has received in order to procure two extra ALSLs beyond the requirement identified in the Strategic Defence Review; [150279]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 15 February 2001]: The invitation to tender issued in April 2000 was based on our original requirement for two Alternative Landing Ship Logistics (ALSL) with an option for up to a further three. Bids were submitted by interested companies on this basis. In light of recent operating experiences, in particular in Sierra Leone and Mozambique, we decided to procure a further two ALSLs making four in total. These vessels will provide us with significantly enhanced operating capability, in particular increased lift capacity and the ability to off-load in a wider range of sea conditions. They will also provide better long-term value for money for the taxpayer than running a mixed fleet of two new ALSLs and three ageing LSLs until the latter are replaced. Funding for the extra vessels will come from the Defence Votes.

In deciding where to place the contract for the additional two ALSLs, all the shipyards associated with the final tender process were considered. A range of factors were taken into account including value for money considerations and operational benefits resulting from an early delivery. On balance, the best option was for two vessels to be built by Swan Hunter and two by BAE Systems Marine using a common design.

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The estimated value of both contracts will be £300 million but this is dependent upon the successful conclusion of the negotiations currently under way with BAE Systems Marine. The price for the two vessels to be built by BAE Systems Marine at Govan will be governed by the firm price agreed for the two vessels being built at Swan Hunter.

The detailed costs associated with a split order are commercially sensitive as we are currently negotiating separately with Swan Hunter for lead yard service support to Govan, and with BAE Systems Marine for the build of the two additional ALSL vessels at Govan. This information is therefore withheld under Exemption 7 (effective management and operations of public service) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

We keep under review a broad assessment of whether there is sufficient capacity in UK shipyards to undertake our forward Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary shipbuilding programme. Our assessment indicates that there remains sufficient capacity in UK shipyards to undertake our current and forward warship building programme including all four ALSLs.

Sierra Leone

Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 1 February 2001, Official Report, columns 262-63W, on Sierra Leone, for what reasons his Department (a) accepted the validity of the personal injury claim for one serviceman and (b) rejected

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the validity of the personal injury claims for 14 servicemen; what factors influenced that decision; and if he will make a statement. [150899]

Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence has accepted liability for one claim for compensation from a serviceman suffering from malaria following deployment to Sierra Leone on the basis that he was not given an anti-malarial tablet until he had been in theatre for a few days and therefore was not afforded adequate protection.

Claims from 14 servicemen were repudiated on the basis that they were issued with anti-malarial tablets on 6 May 2000, prior to deployment the following day. The British National Formulary states that the anti-malarial tablets can be started

These decisions were based on legal advice.


Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many peacekeeping tours of duty Gurkha troops have made in the last five years. [151255]

Mr. Spellar: During the last five years, Gurkha units have made 24 separate peacekeeping tours of duty in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Cyprus. Gurkha soldiers have also assisted in establishing or keeping the peace on 14 operations in Sierra Leone, Turkey and Kuwait. A detailed breakdown of these tours is shown in the table.

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Peace keeping tours of duty

Unit/CorpsNumber of Gurkhas(85)Area
22 August-25 December 1997182 Bosnia
20 April-4 January 199974Bosnia
7 June-22 August 1999610Kosovo
January-June 1996154Bosnia (3 RGR)
September-December 1999291East Timor
Queen's Gurkha Engineers
March-September 199642Bosnia
December 1997-January 19986Cyprus
June-November 199972Kosovo
August 2000-February 200183Kosovo
November 2000-June 200111Cyprus
December 1998-June 19996Cyprus
Queen's Gurkha Signals
April 1996-on going8(86)Bosnia
March 1999-on going73(86)Kosovo
October-December 19995East Timor
Queen's Own Gurkha Transport Regiment
9 November 1996-1 February 199770Bosnia
28 August-19 October 199715Bosnia
6 October 1997-22 April 19989Bosnia
17 March-20 September 1999124Bosnia
5 August-4 November 19997Kosovo
22 October-10 December 19992East Timor
19 November-10 December 19993Bosnia
Gurkha Reinforcement Company 1 HLDRS
3 July 1998-13 June 1999105Bosnia (1 RS)
13 July-16 October 1999105Bosnia (1 RS)
Gurkha Reinforcement Company 2 PARA
4 January-16 July 1999105Bosnia
Other Tours of Duty:
23 July-13 September 20016Sierra Leone
February-April 20012Sierra Leone
July-September 20006Sierra Leone
September-October 20008Sierra Leone
October-November 20006Sierra Leone
December 2000-10 April 20084 completed 324 still deployedSierra Leone
Queen's Gurkha Engineers
June-July 200010Sierra Leone
Queen's Gurkha Signals
May 1996-on going6(86)Turkey
November 1997-ongoing24(86)Kuwait
3 June-2 November 200015Sierra Leone
2 November 2000-on going29Sierra Leone
Gurkha Reinforcement Company 1 R IRISH
11 September-30 October 200032Sierra Leone
11 September-30 November 20006Sierra Leone
Gurkha Reinforcement Company 2 PARA
5-25 May 200058Sierra Leone

(85) Figures include all Regimental personnel whether British nationals or Nepalese

(86) On-going operation but personnel are replaced every 4 month

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Depleted Uranium

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 7 February 2001, Official Report, columns 519-20W, on depleted uranium, which units and sub units that served in the Balkans were not subject to pre-deployment course briefing on medical issues, including depleted uranium, (a) from June 1999 to August 2000 and (b) since August 2000; how many troops were involved; who decided to curtail the pre-deployment course briefing on medical issues; and what steps he is taking to ensure that the situation is not repeated. [150972]

Mr. Spellar: All units and sub-units deploying to the Balkans between 1 June 1999 and 12 September 2000 attended a course run by the Operational Training and Advisory Group (Warminster) (OPTAG(W)), previously called the United Nations Training and Advisory Team (UNTAT), prior to deployment. This included a general briefing on environmental industrial hazards, including radiological hazards, delivered by the Mobile Health Instructional Team (MHIT).

In view of the large number of operational deployments last autumn, the course for troops deploying to the Balkans was reduced in length to ensure that all troops received the best preparation for their deployment in the time available. OPTAG(W) considered the priority for topics to be included in the course and the medical briefing was dropped. This decision was taken by OPTAG(W) in the light of circumstances at the time and, in view of the fact that all troops receive an annual medical training package under unit arrangements.

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The following units, or elements of the units, did not receive the MHIT briefing between 12 September and 13 December 2000 prior to deployment to the Balkans:

Therefore, some 3,100 troops in these units and sub-units and some 400 troops who were deployed as individuals, did not receive the pre-deployment MHIT briefing. Instructions to reinstate the briefing were issued formally on 12 January, but action had already been taken to revise the course programme for the first OPTAG(W)

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course after the Christmas and New Year break. This took place between 8-10 January; all troops participating in this course were given the MHIT brief.

As stated in my answer of 7 February 2001, Official Report, columns 519-20W, all troops deploying to Kosovo should have received briefing at unit level on depleted uranium in accordance with the instructions in the Mounting Order, although we now know that this process was not comprehensive.

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many depleted uranium rounds have been discharged at the Dundrennan ranges; and when the last round was discharged at a hard target. [150939]

Mr. Spellar: I will write to the hon. Member and a copy of my letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if a hard target Warrior at Dundrennan ranges is a casualty of depleted uranium shells from the Gulf War. [150940]

Mr. Spellar: There is no hard target Warrior vehicle at Kirkcudbright training area, nor are there any records to suggest that depleted uranium projectiles have ever been fired at a Warrior vehicle or any other hard target at Kirkcudbright. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the UK Warrior vehicles destroyed during the Gulf War were hit by depleted uranium projectiles.

Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will place in the Library copies of all minutes made of meetings held between representatives from the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency since May 1997, in respect of the environmental monitoring programme of the test firing of depleted uranium shells at the Kirkcudbright test range. [145299]

Mr. Spellar: There has been one such meeting since May 1997. This was hosted by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) at East Kilbride. No formal minutes of the meeting were produced. I am, however, arranging for a copy of the SEPA letter recording the formal actions placed on DERA to be placed in the Library of the House.

Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what requests have been received from the European Commission for information gathered by monitoring programmes on exposure to depleted uranium of British troops who have served in the Balkans; what assessments of depleted uranium dangers are being undertaken by NATO; and if he will make a statement on the current state of knowledge gained from the United Kingdom depleted uranium monitoring programme. [145281]

Mr. Spellar: The European Commission has made no requests for information gathered by monitoring programmes on exposure to depleted uranium of British troops who have served in the Balkans.

The NATO Chiefs of Medical Military Services Committee (COMEDS) met on 15 January to discuss health concerns related to service in the Balkans. The COMEDS concluded that: there is no evidence of a link between depleted uranium and reported cancers; there is

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no indication of any atypical illness linked to the Balkans, and those soldiers with health complaints must be given the best appropriate medical care. The COMEDS have, however, made recommendations for further investigative work.

In recognition of the fact that recent press coverage concerning depleted uranium will have caused some concerns among our people, I announced an initiative to identify an additional appropriate voluntary screening programme for our service personnel and civilians who have served in the Balkans on 9 January 2001, Official Report, columns 877-79. It is currently envisaged that this programme will also be available to Gulf veterans. The first phase of work has been completed and, on 13 February, we published a consultative document setting out the technical issues associated with such a programme, inviting advice and comment from a wide range of expert bodies. A copy of the document has been placed in the Library of the House.

UK Gulf veterans who are concerned that their health has been adversely affected by service during the Gulf conflict, including by possible exposure to DU, are entitled to seek a referral to the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme for a full medical assessment. Any tests that are considered clinically appropriate by the examining MAP physician, including those to detect the presence of uranium, will be arranged.

Out of 3,000 patients examined by MAP physicians, two have exhibited symptoms that, in the judgment of the examining physicians, have indicated a clinical requirement for testing to detect uranium and have been tested. These test results show that uranium, in any form, is not a contributory factor to the patient's ill health.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what reports he has published explaining the risks associated with using depleted uranium munitions; and if he will make a statement. [150215]

Mr. Spellar: I refer the hon. Member to the answer my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gave on 25 January 2001, Official Report, column 653W, to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), in which he states that the Ministry of Defence was publishing a paper that explained the Department's position on the risks posed by DU. This paper included reference to my Department's earlier paper published on 19 March 1999, entitled "Testing for the Presence of Depleted Uranium in UK Veterans of the Gulf Conflict: the Current Position". Copies of both these papers are available in the Library of the House and on the MOD website at

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence on what evidence he bases his conclusions concerning the risks to human health from depleted uranium munitions; and if he will make a statement. [150531]

Mr. Spellar: The Ministry of Defence has followed the debate concerning depleted uranium (DU) and human health very closely. A great deal of material has been reviewed. I refer the hon. Member to the very authoritative and independent publications from the United States: notably the RAND report on DU issued in 1998, the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry "Toxological Profile for Uranium" of September 1999, and the Institute of Medicine's publication on Gulf

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War and Health in September 2000. All of those reviews agreed that there was as yet no evidence to link exposure to DU with either cancer or diseases of the kind exhibited by Gulf veterans.

The medical evidence from the 1990-91 Gulf conflict further underscores the findings. The mortality data published by the Ministry of Defence on 22 January 2001, Official Report, columns 414-16W, show that overall, in the period 1 April 1999 to 31 December 2000, the mortality of UK Gulf veterans was only slightly greater then that of the Control group. There were 477 deaths in the Gulf cohort, compared to 466 in the control group. Within the overall figure, deaths from disease were lower in the Gulf cohort (168 compared to 208). Deaths from cancer were lower (69 compared to 77). In addition, we have the findings from the physicians at the Gulf Veterans Medical Assessment Programme (GVMAP) whose examination of over 3,000 patients has determined that the symptoms presented by individuals who had attended were not likely to have been caused by DU exposure. Furthermore, there is no indication of an increase in the incidence of illness among the GVMAP patients compared with the general population.

Other US work we keep under close review is that undertaken at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Since 1993, a clinic based at the centre has run a DU follow-up programme for 33 US Gulf veterans (whose records showed they had been involved in friendly fire incidents involving DU), which includes 15 who have embedded DU shrapnel in their bodies. To date, any health impairments among those being monitored appear to be related to their original injuries rather than to DU. None of the 33 is excreting higher than usual levels of uranium, except those with embedded shrapnel. We continue to monitor the work.

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the purpose of continued firing of depleted uranium ammunition at Dundrennan ranges. [150942]

Mr. Spellar: I refer the hon. Member to the answers I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan) on 13 February 2001, Official Report, column 87W, and 18 January 2001, Official Report, column 298W.

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what premature explosions in the breech with depleted uranium ammunition have taken place at Dundrennan ranges; when they took place; and how and where the ensuing fragments were dumped. [150941]

Mr. Spellar: There have been no premature explosions in the breech with depleted uranium ammunition at the Kirkcudbright (Dundrennan) ranges. However, it is believed that there were some 79 occasions between 1983 and 1993 on which rounds partially broke up during firing. These were all at the Raeberry firing point, which is 180 metres from the cliff edge. In all cases, although some fragments hit the ground, the majority of the mass proceeded out to sea, a fact confirmed by radar and optical observations.

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