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Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence has funded extensive research into DU munitions over many years. This work has been complemented by studies on the health and environmental consequences of the testing, development and battlefield use of DU munitions carried out by a range of governmental and non-governmental bodies in the UK and overseas. These studies, and the Royal Society's report, all indicate that the health risks associated with the battlefield use of DU are minimal, other than in a small number of very specific circumstances.
Nevertheless, there are a number of areas where we believe that further research is desirable to enhance the database on which to make judgments weighing the potential loss of life arising from not using DU munitions in battle against any potential longer term impact on human health and the environment resulting from its use. Some research will aid MOD in any future test-range decommissioning.
We therefore propose to carry out a programme of further research, which has been reviewed by the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council. We have given veterans' representatives early sight of the programme. The full details of our proposals have been placed in the Library of the House. They have also been published on the MOD's website.
Much of the work is in line with the recommendations of the Royal Society's report. In particular, we propose to conduct an epidemiological study to identify any links between exposure to DU and ill health, and a critical review of literature relating to the effects of DU inhalation on the pulmonary lymph nodes. We also intend to study the ways in which DU is transported from the point of introduction into the environment to the point at which it has the potential to affect the health of plant, animal or human life. Furthermore, we have already begun research into the corrosion and dissolution rates of DU in typical corrosion environments and in controlled laboratory studies. We intend to consider a range of soil types and profiles and marine environments in this work.
In addition, we propose to carry out research into the operational role of DU munitions and consider alternative penetrator materials. We aim to conduct a radiochemical analysis of DU rounds and examine contamination in the barrels used to fire DU round. Further to this, we aim to review and address work being conducted by others on biokinetic modelling related to uranic materials.
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These research activities are in addition to work that MOD is already undertaking. We have set up the independent Depleted Uranium Oversight Board, which includes independent members of the scientific community and veterans' representatives as well as MOD staff and is now overseeing the programme of work to devise a valid test for uranium isotopes in urine and a methodology for a voluntary DU screening programme for Balkans and Gulf veterans. We are developing our policy of biological monitoring for DU for troops on operations. We are also collecting data on the levels of DU in environmental samples in Kosovo. Annual surveys are already in progress at UK ranges where DU has been fired.
A contract for a departmental taxi service for departmental staff has been in place since November 2001. No contract was in place before this. Expenditure against this contract for the current financial year to 13 February is £2,036. An additional £597 has also been spent outwith this contract.
The figures exclude any amounts spent on taxi hire outside of this contract and reclaimed by officials as travel and expenditure. That information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many people were employed in a press or public relations function in his Department on 1 January in (a) 1997, (b) 1998, (c) 1999, (d) 2000, (e) 2001 and (f) 2002. 
|Date||Number of staff|
|1 January 1998||33|
|1 January 1999||34|
|1 January 2000||47|
|1 January 2001||45|
|1 January 2002||54|
the figure for 1 January 1997 is no longer available.
The permanent joint headquarters, the single services, agencies and regional defence press offices also employ personnel in the press and public relations function, many in a secondary role to their main task. Accurate figures for these could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
14 Mar 2002 : Column 1181W
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many press releases were issued by his Department (a) between 1 May and 31 December 1997 and (b) in each year from 1998 to 2001 inclusive. 
|Press releases issued|
|1 May to 31 December 1997||161|
The single services, agencies and regional defence press offices issue their own press releases. They also re-issue some defence policy press releases for local distribution. Accurate figures, which take account of any "duplicate" releases, could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
(3) what evaluation he has made of the evidence gathered in the last 12 months into the sinking of HMS Sheffield; and if he will set up a new inquiry; [42610R]
(4) if all the statements taken from the crew were later presented to the Board of Inquiry into the sinking of HMS Sheffield; and if he will make a statement. [42607R]
Mr. Ingram: As I informed the hon. Member in my reply of 9 July 2001, Official Report, column 365W, the Board of Inquiry into the sad loss of HMS Sheffield was conducted to the highest professional standards. It was the responsibility of the Board of Inquiry to ensure that it had all the information it needed to reach its conclusions about the loss of HMS Sheffield and to support its report and recommendations. This included interviews with 98 members of Sheffield's company. The Board had access to all available information and considered all the evidence that it believed to be relevant. As I informed the hon. Member previously, much of the information put before the Board of Inquiry remains classified. I am satisfied that the Board of Inquiry was conducted in a professional and proper manner and that no useful purpose would be served by re-opening this tragic incident. I am not aware of any representations other than those made by the hon. Member regarding the re-opening of the inquiry into the sinking of HMS Sheffield but this information would not be held centrally.
Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 26 February 2002, Official Report, column 1133W on departmental expenditure limits, if the change in the capital element of the defence
14 Mar 2002 : Column 1182W
departmental expenditure limit will be affected by the decision not to proceed with PPP for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency; and what effect the decision not to proceed with the PPP for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency will have on his Department's budget. 
Dr. Moonie: We are proceeding with the DERA PPP as announced in the House on 6 March 2002, Official Report, columns 31314W. Therefore, the change in the Ministry of Defence's Departmental Expenditure Limit in anticipation of a successful PPP is unaffected.
Mr. Ingram: The number of United Kingdom armed forces personnel serving in the Persian Gulf region fluctuates. Operational Detachments, Defence Attaches, Liaison Officers, Staff College students, training advisory teams and other service personnel are deployed, and their numbers are kept under review. In addition assets are regularly deployed and/or recovered for a variety of reasons; for example in September and October 2001 23,000 men and women were deployed to Oman for exercise Saif Sareea II.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what contingency plans he has in place to reinforce British troop deployments in the Gulf to support a United States strategy of pursuing military action in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Ingram: We share the concerns of all responsible Governments about Iraq's relationship with terrorism as well as its development of weapons of mass destruction and the potential threat the Iraqi regime poses to the international community. We are conducting a range of contingency planning, to keep all of our options open. There has been no decision to pursue military action in Iraq.
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