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Dr. Moonie: I accept that there is frustration among Conservative Members, but hope that they will accept that the issues are complex. We are well aware of decisions that must be taken in other programmes on which this matter has a bearing. As soon as we are aware of all the information, the House will be informed on what we intend to do.
Comments were made about Gulf veterans' illnesses and 400 deaths. There have been 400 deaths among the group of those suffering illnesses, not 400 deaths from the illnesses. It is nice to be able to claim expert knowledge on a subject, and I am an epidemiologist. As such, I have considered the advice that we have received on Gulf veterans' illnesses.
The major study was done by the university of Manchester to determine whether Gulf veterans were experiencing greater ill health than service personnel who did not take part in the conflict. The results of the mortality component were published in The Lancet on 1 July. The study found that the number of deaths and the causes of death in the comparison group that did not deploy to the Gulf were similar to those recorded among Gulf veterans. There was a very small excess of deaths among Gulf veterans, but that was due to road traffic accidents. Despite my many years of experience in medicine, I cannot come up with a credible hypothesis for how or why that should be, except to suggest that it is the kind of random finding that often arises from epidemiological data.
The university of Manchester's work on ill health and morbidity among Gulf veterans is complete. The manuscript is currently being prepared for submission to a fully peer-reviewed scientific journal. When it reaches the public domain, it will do so with the authoritative backing of whichever journal pays to publish it. Hon. Members will await publication with great interest.
I suppose that I should say something about European defence since so many Conservative Members mentioned it. No doubt it would disappoint and frustrate all the old Atlanticists among them and sundry others if I did not. I am sure that they would be happy to know that we continue to make good progress on the European defence initiative--[Interruption.] Have I rung the wrong note there, perhaps? The United Kingdom has played a leading role over the past year--[Interruption.] I note that Conservative delight knows no bounds at that. Our priority is to improve European military capabilities via the headline goal so that European nations may make a better contribution to NATO and take effective action when the whole alliance is not engaged. Kosovo has surely shown that Europe needs to pull its own weight.
The UK is pleased with the work done so far to flesh out the headline goal requirement into a detailed list of the forces and capabilities required for EU-led crisis management operations. Real capability improvements do not happen overnight--
Dr. Moonie: Perhaps even the Daily Record, although it is more than I dare hope that I might find a report of my speech in that paper tomorrow, unless I phone it in myself, which I have no intention of doing.
I can assure the House that NATO will remain the cornerstone of our security and defence policy. By strengthening the European pillar of NATO, we will strengthen NATO as a whole. We are not creating a European army, or a standing rapid reaction force. Individual countries will decide whether, when and how to commit their forces.
We hope by the time of the European Council in December 2000 to include certain commitments--a commitment to deliver the necessary capabilities to implement the headline goal; substantial progress towards permanent EU, NATO, and Berlin plus arrangements; definitive proposals for a functioning EU military committee and EU military staff in order that permanent bodies can be established soon after; and--
Dr. Moonie: It is a fairly prudent step to take. One cannot see into the future, but there could be a result in the American election next week--unlikely, I trust--which might lead the right hon. and learned Gentleman to different conclusions in a few years' time. The future is not fixed and events may not turn out as right hon. and hon. Members think.
I have one or two minor points to make, but they are nevertheless important to our service men and women, who, as the hon. Member for Salisbury said, are at the core of the debate. The first concerns dog owners in Germany. Proposed legislation may affect some dogs owned by some service men and women, but it will mainly affect the import of such animals. They may be subjected to controls, but nothing worse than that. There is considerable opposition to the legislation within Germany and it is by no means certain that it will proceed.
Cyprus is a difficult problem. Those who went out to Cyprus on the present tour went in the full knowledge that when they came back their pets would have to enter quarantine. We had hoped to extend our proposals to Cyprus, but legislative pressures make that difficult. However, I am in contact with my colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I shall do my best to resolve the matter. Not quite as many dogs are involved as were mentioned, but I recognise that they pose a problem for many, about which I hope that we shall be able to do something.
Mr. Quentin Davies: I would not pretend that this issue has anything like the importance of dogs and the MOD website, but before the hon. Gentleman sits down, does he intend to say anything about the JSF and the future of our carrier-borne air force?
Sir Peter Emery: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is most unusual for a statement to be made in the middle of a debate, particularly when the Minister has 21 minutes to reply and the statement took approximately four minutes--20 per cent. of the time. It is within your power to extend the debate for another five minutes, and I think that you should do so.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): It is not within my power to extend the period of the debate, and, in any case, I thought that the way in which the statement was made was generally accepted by the House.
Dr. Moonie: I apologise that I have not been able to reply to all the points that have been raised. We have not yet come to a decision on the joint strike fighter. There are two American proposals at present, both of which are being taken forward and in both of which we have an interest. We will continue to be closely involved, and the House will continue to be--