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Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that non-nuclear nations will find difficulty in accepting the seriousness of Her Majesty's Government's commitment to this matter unless the Government are prepared to put forward a programme as to how they propose to reach that point? Will they consider tabling a Motion in the General Assembly and raising the matter in the Security Council or even in NATO? We can then have some idea of how the Government expect to proceed and their desire to reach the stage of elimination of nuclear weapons can be taken seriously. We may then accept that they do not place the retention of Trident above that.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not believe that anybody will have problems with the consistency of our approach. We did not support the specific resolutions to which my noble friend referred because we did not believe that they were practical and that that would have been consistent with the maintenance of our credible deterrent. There is an impressive programme and substantial agenda on nuclear disarmament ahead of us in 1999. The Government's view is that the most important aspect of that is the negotiation in the conference on disarmament for a treaty to end the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosives. We have already called a moratorium on that in this country and, uniquely, we declared our stocks of such fissile material. It is also important to

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see the ratification of START 2 and that those countries which have not yet signed the test ban treaty do so. We are lobbying them to do so soon.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, can the Minister tell us a little more about the procedures in regard to START 2? Can I draw attention in particular to the serious problems facing the Russian Federation in terms of protecting and safeguarding its own substantial stock of nuclear missiles? They include those from other former CIS countries that were repatriated to Russia. Can the noble Baroness comment on what steps might be taken to assist them?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, START 2 still awaits ratification by the Russian Duma. We had hoped, as, indeed, had the Russian Government, that the Duma might ratify the treaty last December. In the event, we understand they are now hoping to do so in the spring. The Russian Government have assured us that they remain committed to it and that they will do everything they can to secure ratification. The Russian and the US Governments have made it clear that they are determined to move rapidly to negotiation on START 3 once START 2 is ratified. The outlines of such a treaty have already been agreed by President Yeltsin and President Clinton in part to help to try to achieve ratification by the spring.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister recall that as recently as last November, her noble friend Lord Gilbert, in his speech in the debate on the humble Address, made a clear, intellectually respectable proposition about the policy of Her Majesty's Government in that connection? Does she also agree that if we follow to its logical conclusion the implications of the proposition put forward by her noble friend Lord Jenkins, a policy of general and complete disarmament could not be pursued while we still have an Army, Navy and Air Force? Does she finally agree that this demonstrates, once again, that her noble friend is either unable or unwilling to recognise the difference between multilateral and unilateral disarmament?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to agree that my noble friend Lord Gilbert put forward an intellectually respectable argument, as, indeed, he always does--and I do not believe that he is unique on these Benches in so doing.

Her Majesty's Government made some very significant steps last year towards fulfilling the commitments we made to the British people in our election manifesto. We withdrew the freefall bomb in March last year. In April last year, we ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Strategic Defence Review last year resulted in reductions of more than 70 per cent. in potential explosives, and in August last year we welcomed the establishment of the ad hoc committee to negotiate on fissile material.

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I believe that we have been entirely consistent. I do not accept the argument of my noble friend Lord Jenkins and I hope that I have been able to demonstrate why.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, can the Minister throw any light on the situation at the nuclear processing plant at Drake in Cumbria, which I understand has had to stop receiving any nuclear materials because it has been discovered that that plant exceeds the amounts of carbon 14 allowable for the next 25 years?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am afraid that I am unable to shed any light on that matter. However, I understand from my noble friend Lord Gilbert that he hopes in due course to be able to do so. I understand that the noble Lord has tabled a Question specifically on that issue which will be answered in due course.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the very worst thing that could happen would be if a wedge were driven between the nuclear and non-nuclear powers so as to preclude any further agreement on the way forward? Can she assure us that the Government are fully alert to that danger?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, that is an important point. I assure the House that although the Government were unable to support the "new agenda" resolutions, as they have been referred to, we were able to support, for example, the resolution tabled by Japan on the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons and that by the United States and Russia on the importance of bilateral arms negotiations. We have also supported resolutions on nuclear weapon-free zones in central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, so I believe we have been conscious of the dangers which my noble and learned friend describes.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, as the clock is now showing that 16 minutes have already elapsed, I think it is time that we moved on to the next Question.

Gulf War Illness Research Unit: Study

3.24 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the results of the epidemiological study conducted by the King's Gulf War Illness Research Unit.

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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, we welcome the results from the King's Gulf War Illness Research unit study. It was the first large-scale study on this subject carried out in this country, and these results, therefore, represent an important milestone in our understanding of UK Gulf veterans' illnesses. Among other actions, the MoD is asking the Medical Research Council for its advice on our future strategy in the light of the two papers' findings.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. In view of the fact that the Medical Research Council stated some three years ago, I believe, that there was no need for causal research, and the fact that Professor Wessely, at the press conference at which he launched his paper, said that there was an urgent need for causal research, will the Minister ensure that the Medical Research Council understands that? Can he also do something about the atmosphere of denial which pervades the Ministry of Defence and the medical assessment programme (MAP) and possibly put it out to a totally independent group of physicians and consultants who understand what these men are suffering from and will provide both treatment and diagnosis?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am sure that the Medical Research Council needs no instruction from me. It will, of course, have read the reports of the two studies in the Lancet. As far as concerns the Ministry of Defence, we totally accept that as a result of the conclusions of the studies, we need to do a lot more work. For the benefit of those of your Lordships who may not have seen the recent articles in the Lancet, I shall read very briefly one of the interpretations:


    "Although results from complex modelling procedures need to be interpreted with caution, our findings do not support a unique Gulf War Syndrome. The mechanisms behind increased self-reporting of symptoms need further investigation".
As far as the MAP is concerned, I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that the waiting list for that programme, which was around 450 in the spring of 1997, is now down to 40.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, having mentioned the further research to be carried out, can the Minister say whether independent scientists and doctors (in whom there is more confidence because of that independence), will be asked to undertake such research? That has consistently caused concern. Will the Ministry of Defence consider that?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I think that perhaps the noble Lord is not fully informed in these matters. The Ministry of Defence is already funding five studies outside the MoD; namely, at Manchester University, Professor Cherry's study into epidemiological matters; a study by Dr. Doyle at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; a study by Drs. Sharief and Rose at King's College Medical School into neuromuscular matters. We are also funding a literature review at the University of Wales by

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Professor Lewis and there is work being done at Porton Down. I really do not believe that the Ministry of Defence can be accused of not consulting the most eminent people in these matters.


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