WEDNESDAY 9 MAY 2001 _________ Members present: Mr Bruce George, in the Chair Mr Julian Brazier Mr Jamie Cann Mr Mike Gapes Dr Julian Lewis Mr Peter Viggers _________ MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY THE MINISTRY OF DEFENCE EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES DR LEWIS MOONIE, a Member of the House, (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence), MR CHRIS BAKER OBE, Head, Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit, Ministry of Defence, examined. Chairman 1. Dr Moonie and Mr Baker. Welcome, Dr Moonie, on your first appearance before the Committee as a witness - ironically coinciding with the last meeting of our Committee. This will be the Defence Committee's last evidence session in this Parliament. Our first evidence session in this Parliament, in July 1997, was also on Gulf veterans' illnesses. That we should begin and end on the subject of Gulf veterans' illnesses creates a fitting symmetry and demonstrates our continuing interest in this very important area. It is a year since we published our report on Gulf veterans' illnesses. That report continued the work begun by our predecessors in the previous Parliament, who reported twice on the subject. In our report last year we welcomed the progress made by the present Government in addressing some of the problems faced by Gulf veterans, but, equally, we highlighted areas where we believed more should be done and made recommendations accordingly. Today we will begin questioning you about developments over the last 12 months. One of the most important developments, which received wide coverage in the media in January, was the increased public concern about possible adverse health effects for military personnel arising from the use of depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans. In response, the UK Government announced that a screening programme for exposure to depleted uranium would be set up, which would be available to Gulf veterans, and two consultation documents have since been issued. Our evidence today will examine the progress made so far towards establishing the screening programme and some of the wider issues concerned with the use of DU. Perhaps you may like to kick off, Dr Moonie, with an opening statement. (Dr Moonie) Chairman, thank you very much. I welcome the opportunity to give evidence before the Defence Committee on Gulf veterans' illnesses and on depleted uranium. In April I provided the Committee with a memorandum setting out the current position on the various activities which the Ministry of Defence is undertaking in respect of Gulf veterans' illnesses. With the permission of the Committee, on 8 May I made the text of that memorandum public so that the Gulf veterans, and others with an interest in this important subject, can see in detail what is being done. Since the then Minister for the Armed Forces last gave evidence before this Committee in April 1999, considerable work has been completed. For example, we have published seven major papers as well as other information ourselves and seen the completion of several MoD-funded studies, such as the University of Manchester mortality and morbidity studies. Also, the Medical Assessment Programme passed the 3,000 patient mark, and a new information pack has been published and sent out to every GP in the country. I do not propose to recapitulate in detail the information in the latest memorandum, as I expect that the Committee will want to discuss particular aspects in detail in due course. Instead, I would like to make some remarks on two recent developments. First, my recent appointment as Minister for Veterans' Affairs and, second, to outline what the Ministry of Defence is doing to address concerns raised earlier this year about the use of depleted uranium-based ammunition in the Balkans. My appointment as Minister for Veterans' Affairs was announced by the Prime Minister on 14 March this year. This will be the first time that veterans have had a single Ministerial focal point for any queries or problems that may have arisen as a result of their service. We will be consulting representatives of the ex-Service community about how the detail of this initiative should be taken forward, including seeking their views on arrangements for the Veterans Task Force and Forum. The Task Force will include Ministers from the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and the Department for Education and Employment as well as the relevant Scottish and Welsh Departments, the Northern Ireland Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department. The Task Force is intended, among other things, to ensure greater coherence between what is done by Government and the tremendous work done on behalf of veterans by their associations. The Veterans Forum will include representatives of the veterans' groups and will enable them to articulate to us their principal concerns. Although we cannot at this stage predict what new measures might come out of the work of these new groups, the appointment of a Veterans' Minister will provide a focal point across Government departments. It also reflects the Government's determination that veterans' issues should be handled in a co-ordinated way to ensure a properly integrated approach to veterans and their concerns. I look forward to using and developing this mechanism to address the concerns of all veterans, including of course Gulf veterans. If I could now make some remarks about depleted uranium-based ammunition. Depleted uranium is not a new issue: DU ammunition has been around in the UK since the early 1980s and the risks have been acknowledged and handled throughout that period. We are clear about the potential health risks of DU and have been for a very long time. There have also been a number of reports on the potential risks from DU munitions published recently. Increasing amounts of environmental monitoring data from the Balkans is becoming available and these assessments continue to support the Ministry of Defence's views on the potential risks from DU. In essence, the risks from DU are minimal compared to the other risks faced by troops during combat or peacekeeping operations. On 9 January this year, in recognition of concerns amongst Service personnel caused by media coverage on DU, John Spellar announced that the Department will identify an appropriate voluntary screening programme for UK Service personnel and civilians who have served in the Balkans. We have made it clear that this programme will also be applicable to Gulf veterans. A second consultative document on proposals for this screening programme was published on 11 April. The proposals that it contains were developed in the light of the 37 responses, mainly from the medical and scientific communities, that we received to the first consultative document, published in February. The latest document, available on our website, emphasises the need to put in place arrangements that are technically well founded and scientifically validated and reiterates the Department's commitment to using the best science, consulting widely to achieve this. The Oversight Board that we propose to put in place with largely external membership, including veterans representation, is intended to ensure that the process of putting in place arrangements to measure historical exposure remains open and transparent to all concerned. The issue of the second consultative document, and our proposals for oversight, demonstrate our intention to be open and inclusive in developing plans for a testing or screening programme. The closing date for responses to the second phase of consultation is 4 July. We recognise the need for a speedy resolution of veterans' concerns, but this is the minimum consultation period required by Government guidelines. We welcome responses from anyone. We expect the greatest interest will come from the academic and scientific communities, and from veterans and their representatives. As the document indicates, consultation will be followed by the establishment of oversight arrangements, which give veterans a real stake in the process, and we will then have a competition to ensure that we have an effective and validated test. There is a choice to be made between the precise methods to measure the isotopic ratios of uranium in urine, and which organisations might best provide the testing, so a competition is, in our view, appropriate. I appreciate that some may consider this to be an overly long process. We believe, however, that it is better to take time and put in place an effective and validated test in which we can all be confident rather than to improvise a regime that might risk scientific criticism and invite controversy from veterans. In the meantime, we are continuing to liaise with allies about their data on the risks to health in the Balkans, the actual health of the peacekeepers there, the responses our allies plan, and to ensure that all data available across NATO is pooled as a basis for subsequent decisions. Senior NATO medical staffs ("COMEDS") met on 15 January 2001, and an ad hoc committee was established. This Committee is keeping the situation under review and acts as a clearing- house for information, providing a mechanism for Alliance data to be shared with non-NATO troop-contribution nations and other international organisations in the Balkans. So far, no information reported to this group has altered the original assessment of the NATO nations that they cannot identify any increase in disease or mortality in soldiers who have deployed to the Balkans. Also, on the evidence available, a causal link cannot be identified between DU and the complaints or pathologies of some peacekeepers, specifically those few who do have cancer, including leukaemia. John Spellar also announced on 9 January that the Department will enhance its existing environmental surveillance programme in the Balkans to ensure that no health threats to our forces, and indeed to the local civilian population, are overlooked. A reconnaissance team visited Kosovo in January to plan the necessary work for the enhanced environmental monitoring programme. They visited seven of eight sites in the UK sector where DU was fired. At one site, three largely intact penetrators were found. No penetrators were found at any of the other sites, and no significant levels of DU contamination were identified other than in the immediate vicinity of the penetrators. The results of these field measurements are now being checked by more sophisticated laboratory analysis of soil samples collected during the visit. Even at the one location where DU was found, significant contamination could only be detected within a few centimetres of the recovered penetrators and radiation levels were indistinguishable from naturally occurring background at all other locations surveyed. It is anticipated that the preliminary results of this reconnaissance mission will be published soon. We intend that the full monitoring mission will begin in July, using a protocol prepared with independent, external input. Thank you. Chairman: Thank you very much. May we say how delighted we are that you have this new role. As an advisor to the Royal British Legion and other people who have been arguing for a Minister for Veterans' Affairs I suspect it will be a very full job if it is going to be taken seriously, and I am sure it will be taken very, very seriously, otherwise people will, perhaps, see it as a papulation (?), which I know it is not going to be. I am glad it has happened now. In my own area, the Airborne Force, South Staffordshire Regiment, who were at Arnhem and Sicily, have now disbanded themselves because there are too few of them and they are getting a little too old for it. So the number of veterans who fought in the Second World War are, regrettably, fading away. So congratulations on your new appointment. You probably will not be in it for a great period of time unless reincarnated in five weeks, but whoever is the incumbent of that role we hope to work very closely with. Just one question from Julian Brazier. Mr Brazier 2. While welcoming the focus the new role provides, Minister, could I just ask, is the Government still firmly committed to keeping the War Pensions Agency in the Department of Social Security? There are several very good reasons for why there would be an outcry if there was an attempt to move that across to the MoD. (Dr Moonie) That matter is under review at present. It will be a matter for the next government, whoever it may be, to decide what the future of the War Pensions Agency is. 3. So there is a possibility that we could end up with a situation where the war pensions fund, which is, I think, œ1.25 billion, was transferred across en bloc to the MoD vote, and we had the future aircraft carrier programme - to choose one subject at random - competing with the particular arguments about, for example, compensation payments to war veterans within the same vote? (Dr Moonie) I am not absolutely certain of what the procedure is for deciding votes. I can assure you that whatever was to happen to the War Pensions Agency its funding would not be available to be poached for any other purpose. Mr Viggers 4. Can I also welcome the new responsibility you have, Minister. Most of the people who serve within the armed forces thoroughly enjoy the experience and feel it is the most enriching career to follow, and many of your comrades have many happy memories. However, there are some who do fall through the cracks partly because of the enormous strains and stresses that service personnel are put under. It is disturbing that a considerable number of those who are sleeping rough, for instance, have been previously in the armed forces. So that is just one symptom, perhaps the most extreme. I hope you will be able to co-ordinate the work of helping those who, perhaps, cannot help themselves. As my colleague Julian Brazier has pointed out, sometimes in trying to help a constituent's case we find it is not the MoD but the DSS which is responsible. (Dr Moonie) I must say you have hit on a very good point there. It is all too easy, often, to pass responsibility from one department to another. Having a really well-focused centre to deal with problems like that should improve services in future. Certainly I am very well aware of the problem with rough sleepers, and is a subject in which I will take a very active interest. Chairman 5. You may have pre-empted the first question but you can elaborate slightly, Minister. What are the main issues which still need to be resolved before the appropriate DU testing of personnel can begin? Are you confident that the second consultative document will answer the questions you have asked in a way which will enable you to proceed without further delay? (Dr Moonie) We have to ensure that the test which we use is sensitive and specific; in other words, that it picks up depleted uranium if it is there - does not miss it - and that it actually is capable of detecting what are bound to be very low concentrations. There are tests available at present for using Mass Spectrometry of various kinds which are sensitive enough to look at levels like this. They have not formerly been used, to my knowledge, on the study of a biological material like urine. So one of the things which we will have to do is ensure that the tests can be transposed to the type of testing environment that we are going to be using. We are confident that that is achievable, probably using Thermal Ionisation Mass Spectrometry. I do not propose to go into the gory details - I am sure you are glad about that, and I can barely understand them myself. I have worked with them in the past but that was a very long time ago. There are a range of techniques available. They are different to the ones that have been used by other NATO countries to look at the potential levels in their own forces. We think that we need to, if you like, take it a stage further and go for a test which is really capable of doing the work. We are confident that we will be able to have this up and running by the end of the year. 6. Will it require the purchase of any special equipment? (Dr Moonie) The equipment is available in research centres, and one of the reasons why we are conducting a competition, inviting people to do the work for us, is to ensure it is done in the most appropriate location. The equipment is there. 7. At how many locations will this equipment be located? (Mr Baker) Possibly several. I think that would depend on the nature of the test we eventually chose. There are different types of equipment in different laboratories in different academic institutions, and the choice of type of equipment - whether it was Thermal Ionisation Mass Spectrometry or whether it was Multi-collector Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry - would dictate ---- 8. We, of course, understand these terms, but it will take a little time. Would you go over those awkward words again? (Mr Baker) Thermal Ionisation Mass Spectrometry or Multi-collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry - to name but two of a family of Mass Spectrometry techniques which we might choose from. Different institutions have different machines and the precise number that was available would depend on the choice we made. One of the factors we have to bear in mind in making the choice is the need to ensure that we can achieve a sufficient throughput of samples to meet the demand of the testing programme. 9. Thank you. If the proposals in the second consultative document are agreed, how will it be decided which groups of Service personnel should undergo biological monitoring? (Dr Moonie) Biological monitoring is looking to future situations where danger may occur. What we will be doing in any future operation is deciding whether there is a biological hazard present and, then, which of our troops are likely to be exposed to it. You could envisage a situation where only a handful of people were likely to come into contact with it and they would be monitored. Equally, you could envisage a situation where there was general contamination in an area, where you might have to do a much larger exercise. It really has to be tailored to the situation you are going to be facing. 10. Are you confident that a test for historic exposure to DU, which is sufficiently accurate, quick and cheap, will be available by the end of this year? Will the test be available to anyone who requests it? (Dr Moonie) Cheap I am not confident about. Mass Spectrometry has always been a very expensive tool, although it is much cheaper than it used to be. They even make them off-the-shelf in my own constituency and export them - smaller versions. So it is much cheaper than it used to be, but the potential could be for quite a substantial cost. Hopefully, the numbers that we are likely to look at will bring the cost down. The main people likely to be involved are the two groups of Balkans and Gulf veterans. If other veterans thought and could show that there was a chance they had been exposed, then we would not exclude them. We would not be looking to include people, for example, who had worked at our former establishment - so Eskmeals or Kirkcudbright - who are already very closely monitored under Health & Safety legislation. Mr Viggers 11. You are considering permanent mass testing of armed forces personnel for depleted uranium and other issues. Can you explain how permanent mass testing for depleted uranium would fit into permanent mass testing for all other biological hazards? (Dr Moonie) It is a very specific test. Unfortunately, it is not the sort of thing that could be readily adapted for anything else. It will be conducted in parallel. I do not honestly think that mass testing in future is likely to be necessary. We are now much more aware of the effects of DU on the battlefield, and after we have done some of the studies that we are doing over the next year we will be much more so. That will inform the process by which we decide on the risk assessment of conflicts as they arise. What we will probably do is be much more pro-active in future and prevent problems like this arising. So I do not envisage a need for huge levels of mass testing, I must say. If there were, then we would do it. 12. When do you envisage it would be possible to make a further decision as to whether permanent mass testing would be necessary? (Dr Moonie) I think, in the light of the retrospective assessments which we are going to be doing and the biological monitoring which we are extending in the Balkans, that will give us enough information - plus whatever information comes out of the Gulf - to decide on what the normal parameters are. The behaviour of uranium is fairly well understood. There are very strong theoretical predictions of how it will behave, and so far these have been absolutely borne out in practice. So I am confident that the need for generalised testing is not going to arise; it is much more likely to be specific groups of people who are actually exposed directly to the hazard. 13. The consultative document asks for views on the use of a possible Veterans' Assessment Centre. What role do you envisage for it? (Dr Moonie) The GVIU has developed over a period, and what we are looking at now is how we develop in future. It is very much a concept just now; we have not much in the way of hard data to give you on it. It is something we are, really, only beginning to discuss. Some of my own ideas, for example, (which will not necessarily be dear to your own heart) might be that a suitable site for it might be at the new Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham. It would build on the work that the GVIU has done and is doing, and extend it into other spheres. 14. Since you have trailed your coat in that manner, Dr Moonie, I have to point out that the Haslar Hospital, obviously, would be very suitable as a site as well. (Dr Moonie) I shall certainly keep that in mind. 15. How would the Veterans' Assessment Centre compare with the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme at St Thomas's Hospital? Would there be comparisons? (Dr Moonie) It is a specifically targeted programme. I think that, again, it is very much a conceptual thing. I would see it as providing an expert focus to answer the individual concerns as they arise, with the medical back-up available to do whatever examination or testing would be needed. What we are trying to do, again, is to put into place a system which will allow people easy access to information. If they are worried about an issue they can pick up a `phone and talk to someone about it to have their concerns allayed immediately and not have it just pushed off or postponed until a massive problem arises. Mr Brazier 16. Could I, first of all, ask you - to bring a particular name into it - whether you have taken evidence from Dr Doug Rokke, who has figured in the UK media and also addressed a couple of private meetings here? He commanded the American reserve army unit which cleared up the mess after the Gulf War and has himself been treated for cancer several times. A number of people in his unit have died of cancer. Have you received any testimony from him or not? (Dr Moonie) Indirectly I am familiar with some of the statements he has made and the claims he has made. I have not directly met him. 17. One of the central points he made in an informal presentation here was that the people who are most at risk are not the people who participate in the battlefield, and that studies done across very large numbers of people are not necessarily going to produce an interesting result. It is the people involved specifically in handling the aftermath who are most at risk because of the very short distances which you alluded to in your testimony. Are you doing any kind of testing that focuses specifically on the relatively small category of people who were handling the debris of war afterwards in either of the theatres you are looking at? (Dr Moonie) The retrospective assessment which we are carrying out would, certainly, I think, pick up anybody who had been directly exposed. That is part of the general history taking of good medical practice. If any sub-group arises which shows higher levels than one would expect or levels which give rise to any concern they will be investigated in detail. I can guarantee that if that proved to be the case and people had been involved in going in the tanks, on the battlefield or in cleaning things up, they would be picked up. 18. Forgive me, you are a qualified medical doctor. I, for my sins, was once a professional statistician and Doug Rokke is a scientist is in job. We all know that it is how you categorise the sub-groups in advance, when you look for tests; you cannot pick them up afterwards as a result of the tests. If you have got, in among a very large sample, a small group among whom there is a higher incidence, if you are sampling across the group as a whole you are not going to pick them up unless you have identified that group first and sampled them secondly. Are you? (Dr Moonie) I think you are talking about aggregating data. That is not what is proposed here. We are testing, so every individual result will count as an individual result. It is perfectly recognisable that if certain people within a population who you are testing show up with higher than expected results you then look at all the individual data and see what factors ---- 19. Cross-correlate. (Dr Moonie) ---- if any, these people have in common. Cross- correlate. So it is perfectly possible to pick out the at-risk groups. That will certainly be a factor. I can guarantee that is one of the factors we will be looking at. 20. Thank you. Obviously, there is no treatment for this. We understand why the tests are being done and welcome the tests. What counselling and support will be available to those who show a positive result? (Dr Moonie) First of all, I think we have to recognise that, certainly in the Gulf veterans, after ten years the levels are going to be very small, unless somebody, unknown to us, has ingested particles of DU. So the chances of picking up high results are relatively slim, and that is why we really have to go for this very sophisticated test in order to establish what the levels are. Another problem is, of course, that we have absolutely no knowledge of what the background level of DU is in the general population. These isotopes are generally in tiny quantities but, of course, they are present in all of us. So we are really breaking new ground here. 21. You are going to be counselling people who do turn out to have unexpectedly high levels? (Dr Moonie) If they did, yes, we would be more than counselling them; we would be looking at them very closely to see what happens. If anybody turned out at higher than expected levels, what they would be offered is long- term monitoring to ensure that no adverse related effects occur. With regards to the general point, anybody who raises concerns - because they are going to professionals to be tested - will have those concerns directly dealt with. The GVIU has developed a considerable expertise in providing assurance for people. That is one of their main, underlying functions and something which they do very well indeed and is most appreciated by the veterans who go there. 22. Final question: when we took evidence in December 1999 there was a considerable dispute between yourself and the veterans about testing for the presence of DU - about how it is actually conducted. Has the consultation process which you have undertaken in the last few months persuaded the Gulf veterans that the way you are carrying out these tests is, in fact, the correct one? (Dr Moonie) We have indirect evidence from the first consultation that there was very little disquiet expressed by the 37 respondents that we had. I think they were made on an individual basis, but the general consensus was that we had got it right in the area we are moving in. I do not have direct evidence; people have not actually come to us and said "Yes, we are happy with this", but they have not come to us particularly to say "We are unhappy" either, and I think that they would have done if they were. I think that we have moved to meet the concerns which they showed. The degree of detail that we are bringing into it in order to ensure that this system is very thorough and very accurate will reassure people that when they go to the theatre they are active on, the supervision and Oversight Board, including veterans representatives, will provide much greater security and peace of mind to people that they are going to get a proper test. Mr Viggers: May I follow the statistical point? You mention that NATO allies are pooling their information. How can you account for the extraordinary disparity in public attitude and politicians' attitudes here and in Italy, for instance, where, from conversations with Italians, from reading Italian newspapers and watching Italian television, there is a widespread feeling that this is a subject of enormous importance and concern, and politicians respond accordingly? Chairman 23. Please remember we are being televised. (Dr Moonie) I think what I should say is that we looked at this very carefully after all the furore over the Christmas period. I passionately believe that what we have done is absolutely correct. I cannot speak for other people; people respond to media-induced crises in different ways. There is a great deal of ignorance about the epidemiology of the disease and the frequency with which in a young-to-middle-aged population certain conditions like cancer naturally occur. That has been fed on by the media, not just in this country but in others. People responded to it in the way they thought fit at the time. As you know, politicians do not always respond rationally when they are riding on the line and the press is clamouring for something to be done. 24. What became of the soldiers, whether they were Portuguese or Spanish, who developed cancer, allegedly, as a result of exposure? Was that investigated by our NATO allies? (Dr Moonie) I think they are investigating that themselves. I think what we have to be very clear about is that all the scientific evidence on DU is that were it to produce any cancers at all - and that would only be because of massive exposure, because, remember, it is much less radioactive than ordinary uranium - it would take years, decades before these cancers would appear. Speaking as an epidemiologist myself in the past, the chances of any of these cancers coming from DU exposure are infinitesimal. Mr Cann 25. Could I ask a couple of questions about the proposed Oversight Board, which I understand will include veterans' representatives? How many members will the Board have, how many of them will be veterans and, importantly, have representatives of Gulf veterans indicated that they are willing to participate? (Dr Moonie) I have not, as yet, seen the full responses. I am unaware yet of who has actually requested specifically to go on the Board, as opposed to just approving the setting-up of the Board. It has got to be large enough to have confidence in what it does and small enough for it not to degenerate into, as you know very large committees can do, something which will not be productive. I would envisage it will have a considerable majority of people from outside our own area; so there will be experts on it, there will be representatives of Gulf veterans and one or two of our own people who have specific knowledge and expertise in the subject. I think you are asking me to guess what size it is likely to be. I think my own view would be round about 12 people. It might be slightly larger. 26. Thank you. Do you believe that their participation in the Oversight Board is likely to overcome the "many reservations" veterans have about MoD involvement in the screening programme? (Dr Moonie) We have been very specific that it is going to have a majority of people from outside the MoD. The last thing I would want people to believe is that we were just packing a Committee in order to get the responses that we want. We shall ensure that there is a fair representation of the spectrum of veterans' representatives and scientific experts so that any concerns that they have can be allayed by people who are not seen to be directly responsible to us. Mr Gapes 27. You have already touched on this indirectly, but we seem to have - despite various assurances, statements and publications in the British Medical Journal, Lancet reports and other scientific evidence - a very wide public concern about possible adverse health effects of exposure to depleted uranium. This seems to be prevalent, despite all the evidence and all the scientific studies saying, as you just did, that there is no evidence of the risk, or that the risk is lower than with naturally occurring uranium, and that there is no risk particularly quickly after exposure - it takes decades, as you said. Why is this? (Dr Moonie) It is very easy for somebody like me who, before I spent half a lifetime in politics, spent half a lifetime in medicine, to talk with confidence about something that I know quite a bit about. It is much more difficult for the general population, who, frankly, do not have an enormous scientific knowledge, for whom radioactivity is something frankly mysterious and dangerous. You are almost talking about collective unconsciousness (?) of the way in which we respond to things that we perceive as potential threats. It is very difficult to allay fears of that type. You can talk to the press, but they will not necessarily report you in the way that you hoped they would and they will give equal weight to non-scientifically validated views, which take the opposite point of view to your own, in order to provide balance. All you can do is continually repeat what we know to be true, and where there are residual concerns that you cannot completely dispel just by giving that reassurance, then I think - as we have done with the retrospective exposure assessments we are ready to do - you have to respond to people's continuing concerns and given them further reassurance. 28. Is there not a danger that your decision, for the best of motives, to embark on this testing programme will, in fact, rather than helping to allay these concerns actually feed this media frenzy, if you like, and that misguided perceptions about potential contact with any depleted uranium will still be, in a sense, seen to be more of a problem than it is, because you are carrying out this testing programme? (Dr Moonie) There is, at least in theory, a danger that that will happen. You are doing something, therefore there must be a core reason for it. There is a simple reason for it: people were concerned and continued to be concerned after assurance. I think that we owe these people a bit of extra effort. In view of the long history of the way in which successive governments have handled Gulf veterans' illnesses, in particular, I think it is incumbent on us to go that extra mile and to provide that extra assurance, whatever the cost in terms of public perception may be. I have to say I believe that what I have seen in the press since we have made that decision is a general acceptance that what we are doing is right. So we have actually responded to the concerns and, paradoxically, we have reduced anxiety about it if we are seen to be doing something about it. Chairman: We are now moving on to the military use of depleted uranium. Mr Viggers 29. Just to get a sense of perspective, there have been some 10,000 depleted uranium shells fired in a range in Scotland. We used 100 depleted uranium shells in the Gulf War and none in the Balkans, whereas the Americans used about 900,000 in the Gulf War, I understand. We currently use depleted uranium in Phalanx anti-aircraft, anti-missile guns in the Royal Navy and with the 120mm Challenger tank rounds. We are phasing them out in Phalanx because tungsten is found to be more effective. (Dr Moonie) We have now seen that a tungsten alloy in that particular situation provides a longer reach and therefore destroys a missile further away from the target. 30. Depleted uranium is currently used and projected for the future in the Challenger round and it is your intention to continue with that? (Dr Moonie) It is, yes. 31. Have there been any changes in safety procedures since the beginning of this year? (Dr Moonie) As you know from previous information we have given you, we have developed protocols and information to give to people on how to handle depleted uranium. We insist, if people go into a confined environment where it has been fired and is likely to be left around, that people wear full biological protection. If people are on the outside of a tank that has been hit, say, they must wear appropriate gloves if they are going to be handling material and wear a face mask. These were developed as an advice. They have now been implemented as an advice and they have been given to all our troops as they are sent to Kosovo. They are given a further briefing once they get there on the danger of the environment that they are going to because DU is not by any means the only hazard that they are going to be finding in that area. We have put into practice what we were saying we were going to do at an earlier date. I do not know if that answers the concerns that you have. 32. Are you continuing to investigate further safety and health improvement measures? (Dr Moonie) Yes. That is a continuous process now. It is something which has developed over the years. We are not going to claim credit for this but we are much more aware now of potential hazards and much better equipped to deal with them and to produce proper guidance for people. That is something which will apply in the future as well. I have to stress that, while there is no better alternative available, we intend to continue using the DU round in tanks. 33. Have you stepped up research to find viable alternatives to DU? (Dr Moonie) Research is going on in a wide variety of areas. At present, it is not terribly promising. DU is a remarkably effective penetrant and so far nothing has been developed in the way of armour that would leave the vehicle capable of moving. There are areas of research that we are looking at. We have looked at other materials. Nothing has yet proved to give anything like the rate of penetration that DU does. We can look at novel ideas. We are looking at them all the time obviously, but I would not say we were stepping up. There is a strong programme of research ongoing, both here and in the United States, looking for alternatives. In fact, that is the way in which the new tungsten alloys were found to be better than DU for the much lighter rounds that the Phalanx fires. 34. Are other countries also setting up research or have any moved to a different form of alternative to DU? (Dr Moonie) Not to my knowledge, no. 35. Other than for reasons that tungsten ----? (Dr Moonie) I can assure you that if we find a better material which, biologically and practically, is easier to use and is as effective or more effective, then we will use it. 36. We mentioned earlier countries where concern appears to be more widespread, albeit in your submission without justification. Has any country changed its policy on the use of DU as a result of public concern? (Dr Moonie) Not as far as I know. Chairman 37. We will now move on to Gulf veterans' illnesses. Are you satisfied that the current War Pensions Scheme is adequately meeting the needs of Gulf veterans? (Dr Moonie) If we look at the two schemes which are currently administered, I think that they do, yes, in the round. Obviously, there may be exceptions. There may be people who feel that they have been unfairly treated. I think that is always the case with a pension scheme but, by and large, I think people have been fairly treated and seem to be well satisfied. 38. Will this fall within your remit of Minister for Veterans' Affairs? (Dr Moonie) I believe it will, yes, assuming I am retained in that role after the election and assuming we are in a position to do that. 39. If anyone has any complaints about the War Pensions Scheme, address them to you over the next few weeks, or at least to your office? (Dr Moonie) I think it is currently Mr Bailey's concern in the DSS. 40. What assessment have you made of veterans' level of satisfaction with the services and provision they receive from the War Pensions Agency? (Dr Moonie) It would be fair to say that there are longstanding dissatisfactions with the way in which the system occurs. Anybody who does not get what they think they deserve is obviously going to be dissatisfied, but the scheme at present bends over backwards to ensure that people are included. There is dissatisfaction with the length of time it takes to process claims. Claims are very complex and the system itself is a bit creaky. We have to remember it was set up in 1917 and there cannot be many of our institutions still around that have not been properly revised since then. 41. Except the House of Commons, of course. (Dr Moonie) Except the House of Commons, indeed. Foolish of me to forget that. I think it is time now to have a very thorough review of what is going on to try to meet some of these concerns. The delays are annoying. I would like to see that certainly speeded up, particularly for the people who are very severely disabled and who require quick help. Mr Gapes 42. Minister, in March you published the long awaited consultation document on compensation arrangements following a review with the Department of Social Security. It could be argued that this change owes a lot to the lessons learned from the way in which Gulf veterans have been dealt with. A lot of the new proposals were based upon experience from the past but, as you are aware, the proposals you have come forward with do not have any retrospective element to them. Although lessons have been learned, the new proposals will do nothing to improve compensation for Gulf veterans and those who have been injured in the past. Why has the Ministry of Defence decided that the current compensation arrangements will continue to be acceptable for Gulf veterans but not for existing personnel? (Dr Moonie) I am hiding behind the standard government response here: new schemes are never made retrospective. Whatever scheme is extant at the time at which you become entitled to benefits under it, for example, that is the scheme which will be applied to you. I do not think there is any great level of dissatisfaction with the outcomes of what happens at present -- more so with the process and the time it takes. This scheme was set up in 1917. We have two schemes which people have to apply for. They apply different criteria and therefore they can, on occasion, heighten the sense of injustice that people feel. I think it is high time that the system was reviewed and we brought in a better one to replace it, but it cannot be made retrospective. We cannot clear up the regulations under which somebody was first seen and see them again at a much later date under the new scheme. After all, you could not just restrict it to Gulf veterans; in these cases if you were going to be fair, you would have to make it applicable to anybody in the past and that is why schemes are not made retrospective. We just could not do it. It is not practical. 43. When will the new arrangements come in? (Dr Moonie) On the overall scheme, we are still out for consultation and it is going to take us a considerable time to take in the responses we receive, to decide how we are going to do it and to proceed, for example, merging the two schemes, deciding which roof it is going to sit under. I would think to be able to do it over the next year would be setting a challenging timetable. It might take longer than that; it might not. I do not actually know how difficult it would be to bring in the new arrangements and put them into place. It will be done as quickly as practicable. 44. There will not be any retrospective arrangements? (Dr Moonie) There will not be retrospective arrangements, no. Chairman 45. The Committee said in previous reports that with public/private partnerships and with PFI the private sector is getting closer and closer to the front line. If we want to encourage this process of civilians engaging in what could be very hazardous activities in peace time and in war, are you absolutely satisfied that arrangements for compensation and insurance would give some encouragement to add to a sense of patriotism for those who will not receive the benefit of being a member of the armed forces but who might be injured or killed? (Dr Moonie) You are quite right. We have to ensure that people in future have adequate cover for what may happen to them. It is possible that this could be based on some form of insurance. It might be that insurance companies might prove a little difficult to convince of the benefits of offering that type of scheme to people. I think we would therefore have to look at some form of indemnity. We are actively considering that and it is something which I think we will probably have to do. 46. Through what vehicle will that be administered? (Dr Moonie) That I have not decided. I honestly cannot say what the most appropriate method would be. I presume it would have to be done within the Ministry of Defence. Chairman: Perhaps they should redesignate your role Minister for Veterans and Civilians Working Alongside Veterans' Affairs during a time of conflict, rather an unpalatable set of acronyms. Mr Cann 47. When we reported last year, we suggested that you might consider compensation for those who were injured civilians in the Gulf and basically you said then what you have just said now which is that you are discussing possible future arrangements. Has the MoD's position on compensation for civilian contractors who served alongside Service personnel in the Gulf changed in any way since our report last year? (Dr Moonie) No. We are looking to the future when we are making proposals for civilian contractors. If we clearly had liability, we would pay compensation. If we do not, we do not. The future arrangements will provide a much better safety net than exists at present. Mr Viggers 48. Regular forces are of course eligible under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme and reservists are eligible under the Attributable Benefits for Reservists Scheme, ABRS, which has recently been extended to include eligibility for reservists who are medically downgraded after mobilisation. A response to a parliamentary question indicated that that change would take effect from April, so presumably it is running now? (Dr Moonie) Yes, it is. I am not sure how long it is going to take to deal with the cases that are extant but again they will be dealt with as quickly as possible. 49. How many individuals will receive such payments? (Dr Moonie) It is a very small number. I think it is round about ten under the scheme itself and fewer than that under the ex gratia payment that we are offering for the very few people who are left uncovered by either scheme. 50. For the record, perhaps you could say who that very small number who may receive ex gratia payments are, what categories they are and how many you anticipate they will be in the coming years. (Dr Moonie) I always find this horrendously difficult to get my head round. These are the handful of people from the long term reserves who went back to being civilians after they left the theatre in which they were engaged. There are very, very few of them within that category who have missed out on the provisions that we have. In these cases we think it correct to make an ex gratia payment to them which will be the equivalent of what they would have received had they been in the scheme, but it is a very small number. 51. Are you aware of any other groupings on behalf of whom representations have been made that in equity they should also be eligible? (Dr Moonie) I do not think so. 52. No doubt they would come forward if they felt themselves aggrieved? (Dr Moonie) Were they brought to my attention, I would certainly have to deal with them. I think we have had long enough now for any such groups to have made themselves clear to us. Chairman: I would like to come to the question of negligence claims and mediation. As at 1 April 2001, the MoD had received 1,866 active notices of intention to claim from veterans and members of their families in respect of illnesses from the Gulf conflict. However, no writs or detailed claims have yet been received. The Committee has received a memorandum from a firm of solicitors, Hodge Jones & Allen, which represents over 600 veterans in respect of such claims. I met them last week. The solicitors claim that despite the government's declared policy of using mediation wherever possible the MoD have informed them that they are not prepared to engage in mediation as they do not see the evidence as likely to succeed in court. The Joint Compensation Review Consultation Document concedes that, "Concern is frequently expressed that civil negligence cases against MoD can be confrontational and protracted, cause distress to claimants and result in disparate awards for the same disablement" and it expresses the hope that the new compensation arrangements will enable more claims to be settled without referral to the courts. I will ask my colleague, Mr Cann, to ask the specific question. Mr Cann 53. Why has the MoD so far refused to enter into mediation discussions with the reps of Gulf veterans who have given notice of negligence claims? Would you accept that mediation seems the most logical and cost effective way of going forward? (Dr Moonie) No, at present I would not. We have been very clear. Where it is appropriate, we will use mediation but in these circumstances there would have to be a recognition on our part that we had in some way been negligent. We do not accept that in any way at present and I see therefore no point in going to mediation where we are absolute in our defence of our position. 54. You are defending your position; presumably the veterans are defending theirs. Is not that a case where mediation can judge properly between the two conflicting views? (Dr Moonie) No. I believe in this case the only way in which it can be resolved is by people who feel they have views taking them to court and testing them. I am absolutely convinced -- I have looked at the evidence in detail -- that there is no point at present in going to mediation. We would not accept a compromise position. 55. You are going to need a lot of court space, are you not? (Dr Moonie) That is possible, yes, but so far no court action has been raised against us. We are not just going to pay compensation for an easy life. I do believe that what we have done and the stance we have taken is correct and I therefore feel that we should defend it. Chairman 56. A large sum of money has been paid out of the legal aid fund to lawyers to represent them and, if it is pushed to court, even one court case can be very protracted and costly. The record of the MoD in court is about the equivalent of the DA in Perry Mason. Would it be wiser perhaps to test it out by way of mediation in a couple of cases? Are you absolutely irrevocable in this decision to avoid mediation? (Dr Moonie) I would never say I was absolutely irrevocable about something. If the position changed and if new evidence was presented to us which showed things in a different light, clearly I would review it again, but at present I see no justification for altering our position. What I have said to representatives of Hodge Jones & Allen when I met them a few weeks ago is that we are trying to be inclusive. We are trying to keep in discussions. One of the things I see as Veterans Minister is not just sitting on committees, making decisions, but making direct contact with people who have concerns and trying to work our way through it. The important thing for the veterans after all is to try to alleviate in some way the suffering which they are undergoing. I think that is where our main efforts should be targeted, but as a department, where we feel we have nothing to be ashamed of and we have done nothing that we consider to be wrong, certainly not negligence, I think it is our duty to defend our position properly. Mr Viggers 57. There have been several statistical studies comparing groups of Gulf War veterans with groups of people who have not been to the Gulf. The statistical conclusion seems to be that there is little to show between the two groups, I understand. I remember in the States we were briefed and told that the only statistically significant figure was that reservists were far more likely to claim to suffer from Gulf War Syndrome than regular forces, perhaps indicating that the strain and physical stress of reservists going into battle was greater than that of the regulars. Are there further statistical studies planned in this country of Gulf War veterans compared with comparative groups perhaps, focusing on people of the same age? (Dr Moonie) It is difficult to get morbidity data on illness. If we are talking purely about mortality here, that is a very straightforward thing to do. For any population, we can construct standardised mortality ratios for the normal population and compare the group to see whether it is different. In fact, for both the group who served in the Gulf and for the non-Gulf soldiers, servicemen and women, who were used as a comparator, both are very considerably below the expected level of the general population for mortality. The general figure is 660; whereas they are both hovering at round about 493 Gulf veterans, which you would expect. Servicemen and women are fit people. You would not expect so many of them to die as in the general population. There is adequate standardised epidemiological data available for mortality. It is very much more difficult however when you come on to symptomatology of illness, which is much less clearly defined. 58. There is a study of 109 Gulf veterans who have died in road accidents which is being investigated. Can you tell me what form that study is taking? (Dr Moonie) First of all, I think we are going to try and find out details of what the accidents involved -- were they pedestrians? Were they drivers? Were they passengers? -- to see whether there is any obvious linking factor within them. We will compare that obviously with the group who were not serving. We do intend to follow this up. It is an interesting and slightly disturbing finding to me that there should be this disparity. We are talking about relatively small numbers in statistical terms and although there is a statistically significant difference between the two that does not rule out the possibility that there is still a chance. If you conduct enough investigations, look at enough constructions, some of them will show up by chance as statistically significant. It does not necessarily mean that they are. It could still be a random factor. It is just that over the years it will balance out. It is worth looking at -- and we are going to spend some time on this -- initially identifying the causes of the accident, what was involved and then seeing if there is any further work that can be done. 59. Are there any other statistically surprising results which have come out of the studies so far? (Dr Moonie) Not to my knowledge, other than that there is an excess of deaths from accidental causes in the Gulf veterans' group which is matched by a relative reduction in the number of non-accidental deaths due to illness, cancer and a wide variety of things. By and large, no, there is nothing particularly surprising. There are fewer cancer deaths within them but that is again I think a random factor. Dr Lewis 60. Given the findings of the University of Manchester study that Gulf veterans do suffer more ill health than service personnel who did not go to the Gulf and the accumulated findings of research already published, on what issues will the MoD now focus in seeking to understand the health problems of Gulf veterans and in trying to help sufferers to deal with their symptoms? (Dr Moonie) There are two points there. One is on what we are actually doing in the way of investigating illness. For my own convenience, I jotted down from the vast array of notes I have a list of the research projects which are taking place, because I can never keep more than half a dozen things in my head on the subject at any one time. There are 12 studies ongoing just now. I may have missed one or so but there are a dozen studies which will report over the next year. They will provide us with a huge array of data. A bow wave of knowledge, if you like, about this is about to produce results. For example, the follow-ups to the original King's study, looking at medical and clinical investigations of the group and the longitudinal study on health experience of veterans which we are doing ourselves and which will provide us with information. You might be familiar with all the studies but it is quite an interesting list and a huge range: neuromuscular function, reproductive history, studies on pesticides, on organophosphates, vaccine interactions in animals, looking at the evaluation of outcome of studies like the PTSD group, case study reports which are ongoing from all the people that we see at GBIEU, the road traffic accident deaths studies in DU. At our next meeting, should I be on the other side of the table or should any of us for that matter, we will have some very interesting findings to look at. There is a huge volume of research taking place at present which, over the next nine months or so, will provide us with a great deal of further information. Sadly, it may all be negative. We are left then again with the situation where we have many people who are suffering as a result of the symptoms they have and for whom we can produce no convincing aetiology and who therefore we have to look to treat, largely in a sympathetic and symptomatic manner. Symptomatic treatment where there is no identifiable cause is all that is available to us. I do not like that as a doctor but I have to accept it. 61. I am glad you referred to your medical background because, drawing on your own professional expertise, would you agree that one of the problems when somebody is suffering from a perceived malady is the feeling that they are not getting the chance to put their case properly and their case is not being taken seriously enough? Are you satisfied -- you used the word "sympathetic" in your answer, I think -- that the manner of the approach which the MoD is taking towards these people, who clearly genuinely feel that there is something seriously wrong with them, is sufficiently sympathetic, that at least they feel they are getting the opportunity to present their case in full and that it is not that their case is going to be heard by default, because that is terribly important from a therapeutic point of view. (Dr Moonie) I think the assessment unit at St Thomas's has shown that, as it has developed. We have done studies of people's attitudes to it and well over 90 per cent of people express satisfaction. It is somewhat anecdotal, with individual cases where people phone and say they have been reassured by what they were told. A sympathetic ear, even if you cannot immediately alleviate the illness, is vitally important, in the same way as they are entitled to a sympathetic ear from ministers as well. It does not always mean that we will be able to agree on everything we are doing but they should certainly be listened to where people have serious concerns and we are unable, despite the enormous amount of time, effort and money we are spending now on research, at present to give them a reason for what they have. That uncertainty I think as much as anything is one of the things which really upsets people. They want to be convinced; they want to know what it is. Nobody likes having unexplained symptoms. We cannot at present give them an answer but we will try. Mr Brazier 62. What evidence do you have to show that Gulf veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are being successfully treated under the arrangements you have put in place? To what extent are veterans' organisations consulted about the arrangements and to what extent are they happy? You say that 90 per cent of the people were happy as individuals. Have the organisations expressed satisfaction with the shape of the treatment? (Dr Moonie) The PTSD group is a sub-group obviously for the people that we are looking at. We were not satisfied after a review a couple of years ago with the speed at which they were accessing treatment. We therefore brought in a method whereby they would be referred to experts in the field. That is happening now. They are being seen within the time that we are suggesting. As regards whether the treatment is successful, at present we do not know and we are going to conduct another study to look at the first 80 or so people who have been referred for specialist treatment to find out from them what the outcome has been and whether they are satisfied with it. PTSD is a very difficult condition, as you know, to manage effectively. There is a huge debate within the medical profession as to whether it should be treated by specialists or treated within the general psychiatric population. Some psychiatrists believe in the one and some in the other. 63. I thought the balance from the Falklands was very strongly that it should be treated within a military context rather than as part of something wider. There is quite a lot of evidence from the Falklands of people recovering from both physical and stress ailments if they were treated in a military context rather than being dispersed into a wider civilian population, for rather obvious reasons. (Dr Moonie) I think it is fair to say that our management of people within the military context is very much better than it was, both from the point of view of informing people before campaigns of what they are likely to meet and debriefing them within the theatre and their management afterwards. Some will still slip through the net of course and these are largely the people we are looking at just now. 64. Netley went several years ago now, I suspect under our government. Is there a specific military focus now for treating mental health in a military context or not? (Dr Moonie) Yes. We have a system in place now to conduct a proactive look at this, to try to prevent it arising. We do not really have enough information at present to be able to say how successful that is but every campaign that we deal with will produce further results and further validation. We have enhanced our psychiatric capability within the armed forces. We do recognise that it probably is better to treat it as quickly as possible and within a military context where we can. Dr Lewis 65. You have already partly touched on this. Are you getting more positive feedback now from Gulf veterans on the Medical Assessment Programme and other MoD provision for them than when this Committee took evidence from their representative organisations in December 1999? (Dr Moonie) The hardest evidence we have is from the Medical Assessment Programme itself, where we have conducted a survey and shown that in general there is a high level of satisfaction with it. If any specific problems are seen to arise, we can deal with them. We have provided an alternative assessment centre in Northallerton for people who cannot get to St Thomas's. That was in response to concerns. We are being responsive. I do not go out to see how we are doing on a regular basis. Perhaps that is something which will develop as the role of the Veterans' Minister develops. I genuinely believe that much closer contact, involvement and inclusion of veterans in decisions that are made on their behalf will aid this process in the future. Generally speaking, while I am quite sure that there are still individual dissatisfactions, overall the level of satisfaction is reasonable in the circumstances. Mr Cann 66. Has the MoD's change of policy on DU testing had a beneficial effect on relations with Gulf veterans? (Dr Moonie) It is very hard to say, as I think I said at the start. We have had no great body of negative responses to the consultation documents. By and large, the responses were favourable. I do not yet have the responses to the second consultation to hand. This is perhaps an assumption I am not entitled to make but I think it is reasonable to believe that in the absence of protest there is at least no dissatisfaction. "Satisfaction" is maybe too strong a word to use without having asked them. Chairman 67. There was a paper published by Guy's, King's and St Thomas's Hospital School of Medicine to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the end of the Gulf conflict. They found that the balance of evidence is against there being Gulf War Syndrome but that "Gulf service has affected the symptomatic health of large numbers who took part in the campaign." Do you have any observations on that statement? (Dr Moonie) I would generally have to agree with it. At present, we have not identified a single syndrome despite all our efforts. That is why our research is proceeding in so many branches, to try to find if there are any sub-groups within it, where we can find a direct cause for it. In terms of the volume and depth of research that has been carried out, not just here but in the United States as well, we have to assume that there is no single syndrome. 68. In addition to seeking to address the existing health and welfare problems of Gulf veterans, we would hope that all the research which the MoD has carried out would lead to better preventive measures being put in place to minimise health problems arising from future conflicts, not least because of the willingness of some servicemen to go to lawyers. Can you give us some examples of changes in practice which have already been adopted as a result of lessons learned from the problems faced by Gulf veterans? (Dr Moonie) Yes. We have learned lessons from the past. We continue to learn them. We will certainly apply them in the future and to a very large extent we are applying them just now. First of all, on medical record keeping, we have brought in a new medical record which will provide much more comprehensive data on health experience and history of soldiers and other servicemen in conflict. We have introduced a much more open policy about involving people in the decisions that are made on their behalf. For example, we are reintroducing the anthrax vaccine. That has been extensively discussed with those who would wish it adopted, very openly telling them what it involves, the reasons why they are being given it and all the rest of it. There is a general presumption that we will be open and discuss things with our men and women, not just all the time tell them what is good for them. It is far better to be inclusive and bring them along with us. We are at present and will certainly in the future be much more comprehensive in the operational records that we keep in theatre, details of potential hazards which may occur and which other armed forces were involved with them. Again, that will produce benefits in future conflicts. I have already referred to the fact that in Kosovo we give very detailed briefings on DU and other health hazards. This again is a feature of the information which we give people. The new Muster Centre at Chilwell for reservists being sent to join our forces will provide a very good focus for both military and medical and general information acquisition so that people are much more aware of what they are going into and what they can expect. We are now conducting much more intensive debriefing of potentially serious incidents, of what people think has happened -- for example, if they think that they have been subjected to a biological or chemical hazard. These complaints would be taken seriously and would be properly dealt with. More importantly, the awareness of the long term hazards of deployment and the way in which we are trying to prepare people better for what they are likely to experience. It is slightly conjectural at present because we do not know how effectively it is likely to be. It is only in the future, looking back over what we are doing now, when we will be able to tell whether it is effective or not. We believe that being more open with people, telling them the type of things which they are going to experience, perhaps in future trying to identify the subset of people who are likely to suffer stress reactions to deployment and trying to deal with that in different ways. There is a wide variety of things which we are doing at present. We would look to expand on them in future as well. Chairman: This has nothing to do with the subject at hand but, as you are the last Minister who is going to talk to us, Mr Brazier would like to dump on you a problem to pass on to your colleagues. It is something we have already raised within the Defence Committee. Mr Brazier 69. The Chairman has on earlier occasions raised the issue of postal votes for servicemen. I apologise that I only had notice of this this morning. I have the Royal Irish Rangers in my constituency but oddly enough the report came directly from the Province and I have not had time to check with them how widespread the problem is. The report told me that postal vote forms which are out of date have been issued to a large number of Irish servicemen. The chief electoral registration officer in Belfast has moved only to just round the corner but the effect of this has been that allegedly hundreds of postal vote forms have been opened and, in the course of opening, of course the address has been revealed of the soldier sending it and sent back to them with "Not known at this address". As a result, they are both losing their vote and having their private addresses revealed. I do not have any vested interest in this. By definition, a postal voter in my constituency is not someone with the option of voting for me or not, as he chooses, but could I possibly ask you to investigate this because I think the closing date for postal votes is only just over a week away? (Dr Moonie) I shall certainly do that today. Chairman: Thank you. The evidence, Minister, that you have given today will be on the House of Commons Defence Committee website tomorrow. We will be producing a hard copy next week. May I say, without seeking to be patronising and not suggesting in any way that any Gulf veterans here would agree with everything you have said and without wishing to provide you with a paragraph in your election address, I have been very impressed by your command of your brief. I can see why you were appointed to this role. Perhaps you run the danger of staying in the Ministry of Defence which would in no way be a bad thing. I am sorry but because of your command of your brief Mr Baker's role has been almost superfluous. I can assure you in future that you will have ample scope, whatever advice you are giving, to join in very frequently. With those final remarks of this Committee, thank you, Minister, and we hope you can come to our beano this evening.