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Defence Procurement; Proportion of Budget Spent in USA

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Earl Howe: The Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996 (Cm 3223), Chapter 3, Figure 8, provides a breakdown of the proportion of equipment expenditure in the United Kingdom, overseas and on collaborative projects over the last five years. This indicates that less than 10 per cent. of direct equipment expenditure goes overseas. Expenditure on United States equipment was the largest element of this overseas component. Any change in the United States proportion at the end of the century will be affected by procurement decisions yet to be taken.

Defence Procurement: Evolving Technologies

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether their anticipated multi-million pound procurements have all been considered in the light of the post-Gulf War "Revolution in Military Affairs" in the United States whereby electronics are considered to be the basic mode of weaponry and communication, and whether they have been considered in the light of the new United States strategies which are reflecting this "Revolution".

Earl Howe: All defence procurements are planned with due regard for evolving technologies, including electronics, a field in which UK defence research continues to make significant contributions.

Trident

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they are now content that only two Trident submarines should be deployed until 1998.

Earl Howe: We have long planned for a period during the transition from Polaris to Trident when our strategic deterrent would be provided by two Trident submarines alone. As the two boats have newly entered service they are capable of maintaining continuous deterrent patrols until VIGILANT enters service in 1998. A four-boat Trident submarine fleet is necessary to guarantee continuous deterrent patrols throughout the planned 25-year life of the submarines, which includes periods for refit.

US Intelligence Sorties from British Bases: Terms of Use

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether all the military uses made by the United States of Diego Garcia, the Ascension Islands and airfields and bases within the United Kingdom, and all the information obtained by such uses, are known to them, and, if not, whether this is compatible with British sovereignty over these bases.

Earl Howe: Military use by the United States of Diego Garcia, Ascension Island and airfields and bases

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within the United Kingdom is with the full agreement of HMG. The terms of such use are covered by long-standing intergovernmental arrangements and are therefore fully compatible with British sovereignty.

US Intelligence Sorties: Access to Information

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether all the information obtained by United States surveillance aircraft operating "Rivet Joint" and other intelligence sorties out of Mildenhall, Lakenheath and other bases in the United Kingdom and in British-owned territories elsewhere is currently made available to them, and, if not, now the Cold War is over and there is a requirement for such information for the successful operation of the new Joint Task Forces, whether they will renegotiate the original agreements that this information is automatically made available to them.

Earl Howe: It is not our practice to comment on such matters.

Gulf Veterans: Brainstem Encephalitis

The Countess Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What tests are conducted on Gulf veterans to establish whether or not they are suffering from brainstem encephalitis, and whether these tests are conducted on all those reporting ill health.

Earl Howe: If after taking medical history and conducting clinical examination, brainstem encephalitis was thought to be a possible diagnosis, further testing involving brain scans and EEG studies would be undertaken. A consultant neurological opinion would also be obtained.

Gulf Veterans: Gynaecological Opinion

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the team of doctors examining Gulf veterans and their wives includes a gynaecologist.

Earl Howe: A gynaecologist is not included among the medical team running the department's Medical Assessment Programme. However, if a consultant gynaecological opinion was required, this would be obtained through the usual medical referral procedure.

Gulf War: Research into Health Issues

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many outline research proposals were received for the epidemiology programme to be

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    initiated by the Medical Research Council at the request of the Ministry of Defence; what proposals in other fields besides epidemiology have been received by the MRC; if there is a deadline; and how much of the Ministry of Defence's funding will be made available for these studies.

Earl Howe: Work on establishing the detailed programme of research into Gulf health issues which my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces announced on 30th January is progressing well. As he announced at that time, the work is being overseen by the Medical Research Council, whose independent supervision of the research programme will ensure an objective, impartial and scientific approach and compliance with the highest professional standards.

Following a period of assessment of the most appropriate areas for research, the MRC issued its call for research proposals in scientific and medical journals at the end of May. I understand that it has already received 37 outline proposals for research in a variety of fields. Those have been submitted in confidence, and I am therefore not able to detail the precise areas which they cover. All the proposals are now being thoroughly evaluated by a scientific advisory committee, appointed by the MRC, which includes some of the most eminent medical experts in the relevant fields. The MRC will then invite the most promising applicants to submit substantive proposals by the end of August.

The final research programme is expected to include both epidemiological studies to compare the prevalence of illness among Gulf War veterans and similar control groups, including the relative incidence of birth defects among their children, and studies to investigate other aspects of Gulf health-related issues such as any possible interaction between the vaccinations administered to personnel serving in the Gulf and the nerve agent pretreatment sets (NAPS), with which they were issued.

Final decisions on the research projects to be funded will be made in November. My department will meet the full costs of those research projects recommended by the MRC as being the most appropriate.

We are keeping in close touch with US plans for research in similar fields to ensure that work is not duplicated and that our respective programmes cover all aspects of this important issue. The US authorities have recently announced their plans for 12 major research studies, one of which is to be undertaken by Dr. Simon Wessely of King's College School of Medicine. We will continue to liaise with the US authorities as this work progresses.

In parallel with the search programmes I have described, we continue to offer assessment and counselling services under the medical assessment programme established in 1993 to all serving and ex- service personnel who may be concerned about their health. Six-hundred-and-thirty-five individual veterans have now been examined on the programme. Additional resources have been made available both to support the clinical programme itself and to develop the comprehensive database necessary for a full analysis of the programme's overall results to date. Group Captain

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Coker, the principal consultant on the programme, expects to publish a report on his findings to date later this year.

On the basis of the examination of veterans undertaken so far, there is no evidence that there is any unique syndrome or illness associated specifically with Gulf service. The Government, nevertheless, retain an open mind. The painstaking, detailed approach I have outlined, which will of necessity take time, is soundly and scientifically based, and illustrates our total commitment to the health of our service personnel.

Arms Sales: Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is the intention of the Secretary of State for Defence to report to Parliament "by the summer" the results of his review of "the convention by which replies to Parliamentary Questions on arms sales are refused".

Earl Howe: Yes, we still hope to do so.

Technologies to Determine Foetal Sex

Lord Braine of Wheatley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support the use of technologies to determine foetal sex.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): The Government believe that pre-natal testing to detect any abnormalities in the foetus should be offered to all women. It would be a matter of clinical decision whether the sex of the foetus needs to be identified.


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