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Troop Inoculation (Gulf)

11. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): If he will make a statement on the progress being made towards inoculating British forces in the Gulf against diseases which could be spread by weapons of mass destruction. [99857]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Immunisation is an important component of our armed forces' defences against biological weapons, alongside their detectors, training, warning and reporting systems, decontamination procedures, and other medical countermeasures such as antibiotics.

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Anthrax used as a biological weapon represents a real threat to our armed forces, and independent expert advice confirms that immunisation offers safe and effective protection against it. We are expanding our programme of immunisation against anthrax for the armed forces in phases, and beginning with units held at the highest readiness, with the aim of making immunisation against anthrax routine for all service personnel. All United Kingdom units deployed or nominated to deploy in the Gulf have been included in the programme.

We have announced plans to vaccinate a cohort of nuclear, biological and chemical specialists and front-line medical personnel against smallpox. This is not in response to any specific or immediate threat but a sensible precaution, against a potential global threat, which will enable our armed forces to mount an effective response in the event that smallpox is used as a biological weapon. A number of those personnel included in the cohort have deployed, are deploying, or will deploy on operations in the Gulf.

Dr. Cable : Can the Minister confirm that, because of fears of a repetition of Gulf war syndrome, more than half of all armed forces personnel have refused to have inoculations, and only one in five is inoculated? If, as the Minister says, the inoculations are harmless, how can he justify sending troops into action who are unprotected against the most lethal weapon in Saddam Hussein's germ armoury?

Dr. Moonie: I assume the hon. Gentleman is talking about anthrax, rather than about routine public health inoculations. A pedant would tell him that he is wrong, and that about 51 per cent. of those who were offered the vaccination have taken it. The percentage rises in the forces that foresee themselves being most directly affected, with the result that the percentage among those likely to be deployed on land is between 65 and 70 per cent.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): This morning in a written statement the Home Secretary made an important announcement regarding civil contingency planning to deal with a potential terrorist dirty bomb or biological attack on London. Can the Minister tell the House how many members of the armed forces are expected to take part in such a home exercise, and whether all those individuals, professionals and reservists, have been issued with NBC protective equipment and clothing and vaccinated against smallpox and anthrax?

Dr. Moonie: I have made it clear with regard to smallpox that we are vaccinating the cohort of people who would then have to vaccinate others in the event—the very unlikely event—of an attack taking place. I cannot comment in detail on planning provision for potential terrorist attacks, other than to say that our plans are robust and that they will, of course, include appropriate protection for those involved.

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Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)

12. Angela Watkinson (Upminster): If he will make a statement on the size of United Kingdom armed forces on duty in the Gulf. [99858]

14. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): How many British troops are stationed in the Gulf. [99863]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I refer the hon. Members to the answer that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave a few moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), and the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham).

Angela Watkinson: With a quarter of the Army deployed to the Gulf, is the Minister confident that there would be enough troops to cover firefighting duties, should negotiations with the Fire Brigades Union break down and another strike be called?

Mr. Ingram: Yes.

Mr. Swayne : What proportion of the troops deployed to the Gulf are earmarked for post-war reconstruction and peacekeeping roles? How long can we afford to keep them there, and what will be the impact on our other commitments? Does Telic really stand for "Tell everyone leave is cancelled"?

Mr. Ingram: It is easy to be cynical about the deep and complex series of issues that we have to address. As regards aftermath planning—what is to happen in the event of hostilities—a considerable amount of work is going on, so that there is a flexible range of options, because the nature of the environment could range from benign to extremely hostile. We have to plan across a range of possibilities. It would be wrong to give a precise answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, and I am surprised that he asked it in the way that he did.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): With the Turkish Parliament's decision not to allow American troops into Turkey, what assessment has the Department made of any increased risk to British ground forces who might have to fight the Iraqis on one front only?

Mr. Ingram: We have to plan across a range of eventualities for the future deployment of forces. Again, it would be wrong to set out the detailed assessment of possible outcomes from the scenarios painted. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would understand that that is important for our own troops and because others could exploit any information that we give.

Suez Medal

15. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): When he will make an announcement on the award of a service medal for veterans of the Suez canal campaign in 1951–54. [99864]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): A sub-committee of the HD Committee—the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals—chaired by Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, took evidence from canal zone veterans and the Ministry of Defence on 22 November last year. The recommendation regarding the possible case for a medal in respect of service in the canal zone between 1951 and 1954 was passed to the HD Committee for its consideration. Until the members have concluded their deliberations, the matter must remain under review, but I will make an announcement when their findings have been published.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and hope that the announcement can be made soon. Does he agree that there are very special circumstances

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relating to the case for awarding a medal for the Suez veterans? In particular, the commander in chief at the time applied for a medal, but the claim was never properly considered by the HD Committee. Are these not unique circumstances that justify the award of a medal retrospectively?

Dr. Moonie: I think that my hon. Friend is well aware of my views on this subject, but we must be very careful in this matter to ensure that, if retrospection is to be breached, there are very clear and watertight reasons for doing so. The confusion about what happened when the action took place is well documented. Clearly, that was behind the decision to refer the matter back through the HD Committee to a sub-Committee for its consideration. In the very near future, I hope to be able to tell him and others the results of the deliberations.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A very significant vote took place in the Turkish Parliament on Saturday that has an impact on British foreign and defence policy and obviously that of the United States as well. Have you received a request from a Minister seeking to make a statement on the issue or will there be an opportunity some time this week for Members to express their interest in this matter and their admiration for the Turkish Parliament on its preparedness to say no to George Bush's war drive?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for granting me the opportunity to raise this point of order. I understand from Sky news that B-52 bombers have been deploying to RAF Fairford in my constituency all morning. Have you received any information from the Secretary of State for Defence saying that he intends to make a special statement on this matter so that we can question him specifically about it?

Mr. Speaker: The matter was raised during questions.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek to raise the propriety of the correction by way of a letter of a major financial mistake made on the Floor of the House. On 9 December, I asked the Secretary of State to confirm that defence expenditure would be significantly lower as a proportion of GDP in the following year than in any year under the previous Government. In reply, he told me that that was completely incorrect and said that the level was sometimes higher and sometimes lower under the previous Government. The truth is that the proportion of GDP being spent is the lowest since the 1930s. Since then, I have received a courteous letter from the Minister of State in which he admitted that the Secretary of State had made a mistake and said that the letter had been copied to the Library. Have you had any application from the Secretary of State for an opportunity to correct the matter on the Floor of the House?

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