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Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that when they have the evidence they will not do what they always do in cases in which troops may have been damaged; that is, to demand absolute proof? Often absolute proof cannot be brought forward in such cases. Therefore, will the Government make a decision on the balance of probability?

Earl Howe: My Lords, we have absolutely no interest in concealing anything. The results of the research will be published and assessed by peer groups. The Government will consider the conclusions impartially and will be as open as possible about them. I cannot pre-empt the results of that research but I can tell the noble Lord that we have absolutely no interest in denying to our veterans of the Gulf War any redress or compensation to which they may be entitled by virtue of negligence from the Ministry of Defence.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied that the serious cuts in medical services in the forces have not created a difficulty in that there may be insufficient people to give the necessary time to such research?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I do not believe that my noble friend's anxiety is well placed. We asked the Medical Research Council to supervise the research that has been commissioned. We have every confidence that it will be able to do so in an effective and impartial manner and that suitable persons and bodies around the country are able to undertake that work.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that if the chemistry of the injections or tablets administered--for example, in the case of nerve gas--is withheld as classified information, a barrier is raised to proper treatment by doctors?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the constituent ingredient of the nerve agent pre-treatment sets is no secret; it is pyridostigmine bromide. It has long been administered for neuro-muscular disorders when it is taken in doses larger than was the case in the Gulf War and over longer periods than was the case with NAPS. Therefore, its safety has been long established. I do not believe that those features of the treatment administered to our veterans which are classified--and they are few--represent a barrier to proper diagnosis by doctors.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it not the case that the nerve agent pre-treatment sets were not licensed until 11th August 1992, which was two years after the Gulf War, and that many doubts surround that particular medication because it is being used on healthy people. When it is used in cases of myasthaenia gravis the patients already have nerve damage. Can the Minister say whether a neuroscientist is a member of the group which is investigating Gulf War syndrome and if not, why not?

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Earl Howe: My Lords, the constituent ingredient of NAPS is pyridostigmine bromide which has been administered for a long time in the treatment of various conditions. It has not been known to react with any vaccine to produce harmful side effects or anything such as that. As regards the second part of the noble Countess's question, I shall write to her.

Marine Nature Reserves


3.13 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in discussions on the designation of the third marine nature reserve at Menai and the remaining four sites identified in 1981.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the draft order for the designation of the Menai marine nature reserve will be published as soon as possible. No further designations are expected. Of the other sites identified in 1981, three are now protected in other ways. Strong local objection has resulted in the withdrawal of Loch Sween, the fourth site, but one additional site at Strangford Lough was designated in July 1995. Protection of internationally important marine sites will take place under the habitats directive. We have to date proposed 35 marine special areas of conservation of which 10 have already been submitted to the European Commission.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, but I find that relating to Menai particularly disappointing. Your Lordships will recall that in May last year we had two debates in this House in which almost exactly the same answer was given; that designation was more or less imminent. Do the Government not recognise that in this case, and in the case of the other four sites, there is a special need for the designation of a statutory marine nature reserve? Do the Government not understand that for scientific and teaching reasons the protection given by a statutory marine nature reserve is necessary and that without it there is a real danger that valuable resources will be lost?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I can say without doubt that the designation is now closer than it was six months ago. As regards the other questions which the noble Baroness asked, I am afraid that at this moment I must keep my mouth firmly shut because my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will, following a public inquiry which may take place, be the person charged with taking the ultimate decision. Therefore, as regards the Menai Straits there is little I can say at this moment.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, will the Minister consider opening his mouth, because the people of Anglesey are deeply frustrated by the delay? The discussions to which he and my noble friend referred appear to have been going on since Edward I sent his ships up the Menai Straits in 1281. Will the Minister say whether the discussions, which are awaited with hope, are to continue for a further 700 years?

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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I very much hope that it will be faster than that.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the present designated areas and the future programme could be destroyed by an accident similar to the tanker disaster which occurred off the coast of South Wales? In view of the destruction caused to the Welsh coastline and the wildlife in the area as a result of that incident, will the Government review their policy and introduce more stringent measures on shipping in such areas and make the penalties for such mistakes far more punitive?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I note what the noble Lord says but he is rather wide of the Question.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, in my view the Minister did not respond adequately to the second part of my noble friend's Question about the remaining four sites identified in 1981. Am I right in believing that those sites will come under the habitats directive and will be submitted to the European Commission? Will we then be in a position in which Brussels decides which of our seas we protect?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, no, we decide which of our seas we protect. In fact, St. Abb's Head is not being submitted for SAC status. The other two sites, which are the Scilly Isles and Bardsey, are being submitted, but the decision which to submit is ours. The Commission has a function merely in terms of reviewing our decision.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, is it not the case that the protection afforded under the habitats directive--that is, the status of special areas of conservation--is a different kind of protection and that what is needed for the four sites is the kind of special protection which comes with a statutory designation enabling research and teaching to be carried out? Will the Minister discuss with his right honourable friend the possibility of looking again at these areas, because that is most important from the scientific point of view?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, no. As regards the other three sites we are content that the voluntary arrangements already in place, coupled in two cases with the SAC status, will be all that they require.

Business

3.19 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I should like to say a word about today's debates standing in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Clinton-Davis. In the first debate, other than the mover, Front-Bench spokesmen and the Minister replying, speakers will be limited to eight minutes. In the second debate, other than the mover and the Minister replying, speakers will be limited to 13 minutes.

I should remind your Lordships that if any noble Lord were to speak at greater length he would be doing so at the expense of subsequent speakers in the debate.

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Business of the House: Debates this Day

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Borrie set down for this day shall be limited to two hours and that in the name of the Lord Clinton-Davis to three hours.-- (Viscount Cranborne.)

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Viscount, the Lord Privy Seal, on what basis it was decided that the speakers in the first debate should be limited to eight minutes and the speakers in the second debate to 13 minutes. I believe that the two debates are of equal importance and that, therefore, speakers should be given an equal amount of time to speak.


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