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Gulf War Syndrome

15. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): What assessment he has made of recent evidence relating to Gulf war syndrome. [55892]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson): We continue to keep new information about Gulf veterans' illnesses under review. It is encouraging that recently published scientific research is making progress on this subject and I look forward to seeing the first results from the epidemiological studies of UK Gulf veterans at around the turn of the year.

Dr. Gibson: Is not the evidence a long time coming? We have been raising the issue in the House for more than a year. Does not the evidence point towards one common biochemical activation of molecules, which is induced by different chemicals either singly or together? Might that not have different clinical outcomes in individuals? Has not the time come to pay up and to prevent other people from being subjected to those dangerous chemicals?

Mr. Henderson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which deals with an important issue. We owe a heavy debt to those who served in the Gulf on our behalf. There are a number of interesting developments in research and I anticipate that three pieces of British research will be published in the coming months. There are also interesting pieces of research in the United States, in particular from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, which continues to cover new ground. It believes that it is close to defining what sort of illnesses are being suffered by those who served in the Gulf. I look forward to being able to assess the various pieces of research when they are available to me, around the turn of the year. It is essential that, where there is illness, we try to identify the causes and how to remove them, as well as dealing with other important questions.

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Defence Establishments (Shoeburyness)

16. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): If he will make a statement on the future of the defence establishments at Shoeburyness. [55893]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar): The Horseshoe barracks, old ranges and Gunners park at Shoeburyness have been declared surplus to Ministry of Defence requirements and are being prepared for disposal. A draft planning brief has been agreed with the borough council and has been issued for public consultation. The MOD still has a requirement for the new ranges at Shoeburyness, and the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency is seeking to enter into partnership with industry to operate those facilities. It is hoped that such a partnership will create new employment opportunities at Shoeburyness through increased exploitation of the site for non-defence purposes.

Sir Teddy Taylor: As DERA's rather surprising decision--supported by the Government--to change its policy on the new ranges will lead to an unemployment increase in an area that already has a high unemployment rate, will the Minister assure the House that the Department will work closely with Southend borough council to ensure that the land that becomes available will be used for attracting useful job opportunities to the area?

Mr. Spellar: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The borough council is keen to obtain local views on the matter and will review the draft planning brief in the light of any comments received. We are working in co-operation with the council, and will be working closely with it precisely because we want the site to be returned to useful economic use and to offer employment possibilities.

Royal Hospital, Haslar

18. Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): If he will make a statement on the future of the Royal hospital, Haslar. [55895]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson): The future of the Royal hospital, Haslar is still under review. We shall make an announcement when final decisions have been made.

Mr. Viggers: Is the Minister aware that it is not only my constituents who are aghast at the threat hanging over Haslar? Many hon. Members from both sides of the House, members and former members of the Defence Committee and service personnel are horrified that the Government cannot confirm that Haslar's role will be continued. Does he realise that we must have a centre of excellence in the defence medical services, and that even Government publications have said that uncertainty would be the worst of all options? Will he confirm Haslar's role soon?

Mr. Henderson: I hope to be able to confirm Haslar's role soon. However, as the hon. Gentleman is aware from our previous correspondence, a major gap in medical provision in the armed forces was identified during the previous Government's period in office. We have been

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trying to put that gap right, so that we can guarantee that we have the back-up support necessary when our forces go into battle. We have to have the right number of consultants, nurses and ancillary staff based in centres of excellence--to which staff are attracted, and at which they receive the right training and provide essential services. I have an implementation team examining the matter, on which I hope to be able to make an announcement soon.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley): Is it not important that we get the issue absolutely right? The defence medical services suffered an enormous blow under the previous Government. Although there are great difficulties at Haslar, and there will be much discomfort until the issue is settled, is it not crucial that, this time, we get it right?

Mr. Henderson: I agree with my hon. Friend, who clearly makes her point that the problem has existed for a long time. I am not saying that the previous Government did not attempt to address the issue. However, they were unsuccessful in making long-lasting proposals to meet the well-identified shortcomings. It is crucial that, this time, we get it right, which is why I have asked an implementation team to examine the options.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): As other hon. Members have said, the problem with the Royal hospital, Haslar exemplifies the difficulties generally with the defence medical services, and specifically with Territorial and reserve medical forces. What will the Government do about preserving the strength of the Territorial defence medical services?

Mr. Henderson: Again, the hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important issue. Shortcomings in our medical provision were identified under the previous Government, one of the main areas being the Territorial Army. By any estimate, the TA is thousands short in the necessary provision. One of the central features and guiding principles of our review of the TA is that we should try to put that right. The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a key point, and he will find that, when a statement is made to the House, it will have been well taken into account in our proposals.

United Nations (Peace Support Operations)

19. Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): What steps the Government are taking to improve the United Kingdom's ability to contribute to the United Nations peace support operations in the future. [55897]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson): I announced, as part of the strategic defence review, our intention to sign an agreement with the UN that will boost our military support for its operations in future. The new memorandum of understanding, which will be signed by March next year, will revise and update our existing declaration under the UN standby forces arrangements. It will include those capabilities that we have strengthened as a result of the SDR and that are most relevant to UN needs: more and better-equipped rapid reaction forces, additional strategic lift and improved logistics support.

Mr. Jones: In thanking my right hon. Friend for his comprehensive reply, may I acknowledge the

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distinguished contribution that he and his Department make in support of the UN in that important sphere? In his efforts to have even better military support, has it crossed his mind that he would have a better force at his disposal if he had some 40 to 50 of the Airbus future large aircraft at his command? May I urge him to consider that and tell him that, if he did, my constituents would help build that aircraft?

Mr. Robertson: As ever, I admire my hon. Friend's ingenious way of promoting the interests of his constituents, which he always does with enthusiasm, dedication and complete justification. As it strengthens the future additional strategic lift capability of the Royal Air Force, the future large aircraft project is very much in our sights for long-term supply. It will become increasingly important in terms of our commitment to the UN, because it is clear that, yet again, Saddam Hussein is intent on engineering another confrontation with the UN. Force was an option in February this year and brought a climb-down by Saddam. Force must again be an option on this occasion because, regrettably, it seems to be the only thing that Saddam understands. He still represents a threat, not only to his neighbours and to the region but to international stability. The international community must stand united and firm in making sure that he complies with yesterday's unanimous view of the UN Security Council.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in recognising the role played by the Territorial Army and other reserve forces in peacekeeping operations in, for example, Bosnia, and in congratulating them on that role? Will he confirm that, with the cuts envisaged in the SDR, this country will be able to meet its commitments in respect of the TA and other reserves in future operations?

Mr. Robertson: I believe that we shall be able to meet those commitments much more efficiently. I visited our troops, including the TA reserves, in theatre in Bosnia last week. I was enormously impressed by their bravery, skill and dedication in rebuilding that country. The whole purpose of the restructuring and updating of the TA is to make sure that the TA can play an even bigger and better part in the sort of operation that it has carried out so well in Bosnia.

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