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Written Answers to Questions

Thursday 15 November 2001

DEFENCE

Territorial Army

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the role of the Territorial Army in guarding UK installations against terrorist attack. [13679]

Mr. Ingram: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 8 November 2001, Official Report, column 377W, to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin).

Porton Down

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will place in the Library copies of correspondence between his Department and the Medical Research Council prior to 21 November 2000, relating to the proposal to seek its advice on the feasibility of an epidemiological study into volunteers who took part in experiments at the chemical defence establishment, Porton Down. [14743]

Dr. Moonie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave him on 13 December 2000, Official Report, columns 163–64W. There is no such correspondence on this matter other than that which was placed in the Library of the House.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many officials in his Department are employed to carry out the comprehensive survey of the service volunteer programme at the chemical defence establishment, Porton Down announced on 1 May; what grade each of these officials is; and on what date each started work on the comprehensive survey. [14748]

Dr. Moonie: With effect from 28 February 2001 the historical survey has been undertaken by a Principal (Grade B2) working for the Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit. Additional support has been provided, as required, by staff based at Porton Down and within the Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will issue a press release announcing the winners of the contract to carry out the epidemiological study to explore the health of volunteers who took part in experiments at the chemical and biological defence establishment, Porton Down; and when the winners will be chosen. [14749]

Dr. Moonie: At the request of the Ministry of Defence the Medical Research Council (MRC) invited proposals for such a study and these are now under consideration. Recommendations about which proposals are suitable for funding by the MOD are expected after the next meeting of the MRC's Physiological, Medicine and Infections

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Board in January. I expect to be in a position to make an announcement about which proposals will be taken forward shortly after that.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many staff are employed in his Department's Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit specifically to deal with issues relating to Porton Down volunteers. [14753]

Dr. Moonie: At present, four Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit staff deal full time with issues relating to Porton Down volunteers; a further six staff assist with these issues on a part-time basis as required.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many service personnel who took part in experiments at the chemical defence establishment, Porton Down, have been referred to the medical assessment programme since 21 November 2000; and how many of these have been seen by the medical assessment programme. [14762]

Dr. Moonie: During the period 21 November 2000 to 8 November 2001, 94 former Porton Down volunteers have been referred to the MAP. Of this number 88 have been seen.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many teams of scientists and academics have expressed an interest in carrying out the epidemiological study to explore the health of volunteers who took part in experiments at the chemical defence establishment, Porton Down, since 21 June; if he will list these teams; and if he will place in the Library copies of the submissions of interest of those teams which have now withdrawn from the competition to conduct this study. [14757]

Dr. Moonie: This is a matter for the Medical Research Council (MRC), which has invited research proposals on behalf of the Ministry of Defence and will make recommendations about which proposals merit funding early next year. The MRC treats competing applications for peer review in strict confidence and therefore details of the proposals may not be released. However, we have been advised by the MRC that they received 15 expressions of interest, of which seven were shortlisted. Subsequently five research proposals were received from four United Kingdom groups.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence on what dates officials in his Department have held meetings with the Medical Research Council since 5 April, to discuss the epidemiological study into volunteers who took part in experiments at the chemical defence establishment, Porton Down. [14744]

Dr. Moonie: Meetings between Ministry of Defence staff and the Medical Research Council to discuss epidemiological research into Porton Down volunteers took place on 30 May, 2 August, and 3 August.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many questionnaires have been sent out to former service personnel by his Department's officials conducting the comprehensive survey of the service volunteer programme at the chemical defence establishment, Porton Down; and how many questionnaires have been returned by former service personnel who took part in the experiments. [14755]

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Dr. Moonie: Some 726 questionnaires seeking recollections from former participants of the Porton Down Service Volunteer programme have been distributed by the Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit via the Wiltshire police and the Medical Assessment Programme. As at 13 November 2001, 400 questionnaires had been returned.

Freedom of Information Act

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence on what date his Department established a working group of officials to prepare his Department for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and on what dates this committee has met since it was set up. [14769]

Dr. Moonie: Following Royal Assent in November 2000, officials in the relevant Ministry of Defence policy branch began making initial preparations for implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This has involved an ad hoc programme of briefings, meetings and workshops to heighten awareness and improve understanding of the Act. As a result, the main defence management areas and policy branches were asked in August 2001 to nominate representatives to participate in the principal Freedom of Information (FOI) working group, which has responsibility for ensuring smooth implementation of the Act across the MOD. The FOI Working Group had its inaugural meeting on 17 October and it will meet again in mid-December.

Afghanistan

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what instructions have been given to service personnel engaged in Afghanistan in the event of them encountering UK citizens fighting for (a) the Taliban and (b) al-Qaeda; and if he will make a statement; [13629]

Mr. Hoon: Wherever they are engaged, British forces are required to act in accordance with national and international law. Any prisoners taken would be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if cluster bomblets are defined as precision munitions in the conflict with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan. [14263]

Mr. Ingram: Cluster bombs rely on a ballistic delivery—for example, on the skill of the crew to ensure accuracy—and neither the bombs nor the bomblets that they release are laser guided. They are used with discretion and proportionality as international law requires, and against legitimate and appropriate terrorist and military targets that are selected with great care. Our targeting and weapons selection processes are rigorous with every effort made to avoid civilian casualties.

Ex-prisoners of War

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many claims for ex gratia payments for former captives of the Japanese have been refused; and what the circumstances of those applicants were. [13972]

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Dr. Moonie: As at 12 November 2001, 3,741 claims for ex gratia payments for former captives of the Japanese have been refused. The circumstances of those applicants vary widely, but include civilian internees who did not meet the criteria of being a British subject either born in the UK or having a parent or grandparent born in the UK, those not interned and children of former prisoners of war of the Japanese.


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