Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 9 MAY 2001
MOONIE, MP AND
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 concernsbecause they
are going to professionals to be testedwill 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 DUabout
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?
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 alland
that would only be because of massive exposure, because, remember,
it is much less radioactive than ordinary uraniumit 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.
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.
27. You have already touched on this indirectly,
but we seem to havedespite various assurances, statements
and publications in the British Medical Journal, Lancet
reports and other scientific evidencea 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 exposureit takes decades, as you said. Why
(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.
It is very difficult, therefore, to allay their fears. 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 thinkas we have
done with the retrospective exposure assessments we are ready
to doyou 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.
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 penetrator 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
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.
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 Bayley's concern
in the DSS.