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Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the Ministry of Defence, both now and at all times in the past, relies on advice as to which vaccinations are safe. We instituted a system of voluntary vaccinations which, as I am sure the noble Baroness will be aware, have been undertaken by certain Ministers and Chiefs of Staff in the Ministry of Defence to illustrate that we have confidence at the highest level in their safety. In that sense there have been no further definitive decisions since the last time there was fighting in the Gulf. But these matters are continually being studied.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord's last point, I shall be grateful if he will give me details of the programme that he says was suggested to the Ministry of Defence. I am not familiar with the case because he has not identified it. Furthermore, I am not aware that the Ministry of Defence is particularly involved with animals in research into these matters. We rely on the advice given to us by the Medical Research Council and other people. We act only on medical advice.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble Lord ready to concede, as the United States of America's Pentagon has conceded, that all the chemical alarms which went off during the Gulf War were both reliable and accurate and that as many as 100,000 British and American troops were exposed to nerve gas and mustard gas? If he does concede that, in view of the fact that in the past all the answers to my questions have been in the negative, will he now instigate a programme of proper research and treatment by those who have been dealing with organophosphates for many years and know what to do?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I know that the noble Countess has followed this matter with great diligence for many years, but I must advise her that I cannot recognise the figures that she offers the House. If it were the case that some 100,000 members of the services of this country and the United States were exposed to nerve gas and other chemical weapons during the Gulf War, I am afraid that the casualties would be very much higher than they have been.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and others have been singing this very sad song for an extremely long time. Is there not now an overwhelming case for the speedy setting up of a sub-department of state to deal with all service affairs?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I fully follow the noble Lord in the seriousness of these matters that have been pursued by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and my noble friend Lord Morris. However, establishing a separate department within the Ministry of Defence to deal with service affairs would seem superfluous. That is a very large part of what the Ministry of Defence is doing. We
Lord Ironside: My Lords, as most of those suffering from Gulf War illness have now left the service and have to rely on the National Health Service and their general practitioners for further treatment, can the noble Lord say to what extent general practitioners are advised about treatment processes? What is their ability to refer patients who are suffering to consultants who have a thorough knowledge of the treatment requirement, or do they still have to be referred back to the specialists in the Ministry of Defence?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, nothing that the Ministry of Defence has done could in any way impede, or has impeded, access by National Health Service practitioners to anyone else in the medical services of this country at their discretion. I am aware, of course, that there has been some dissatisfaction on the part of Gulf veterans with the level of knowledge of various general practitioners in the National Health Service with respect to these matters. The Ministry of Defence has issued guidance to them in the past. If the noble Lord has any practical suggestions that he would like to bring to our attention, I should be happy to consider them.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend spoke of "one step forward and two steps back". In fact, in the area to which he refers Tomoe Tritec Ltd. has set up in Newport East, creating 100 new jobs; R F Brookes (Newport West) has created 477 new jobs; Yajima (Ebbw Vale) 70 new jobs; Yamada Europe (Ebbw Vale) 90 new jobs; and Yuasa Battery (Ebbw Vale) 148 new jobs.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that most economists in the country, with the exception of the Bank of England, think that the Bank's base rate is far too high and that that is affecting the competitive position of this country and is obviously leading to redundancies? Does the Minister further agree that if we enter the euro market, Brussels will decide what our interest rates will be? Is it not high time that the Chancellor stopped hiding behind the Bank of England and did his job as Chancellor of the Exchequer?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this Chancellor does not hide behind anything. In fact, he took the extremely important step of devolving to an independent committee the initial responsibilities to which the noble Lord spoke. Economists have different views about the proper level of the interest rates. The noble Lord may be interested to know that all is not doom and gloom, and a good deal of harm is sometimes brought about by those who suggest it. As it happens--I just want to let fact intrude here for a moment--employment is continuing to rise in Wales. The number of workforce jobs in Wales increased by 6,000 between June 1997 and June 1998.
Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government or their agency are legally regarded as the prior creditor in order to recoup any government and public money that has been spent on these failed enterprises?
Lord Ezra: My Lords, the problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Islwyn, referred in Wales apply elsewhere in the country. Manufacturing industry is going through a difficult period at the moment due to many external as well as internal factors. Will the noble Lord indicate, however, whether overall he considers that present government policies could offset the present problems and the likely future problems of the next year or two in the manufacturing sector?
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