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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I agree with what the noble Viscount said. We already have agreements with Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico and the United States which provide for the sharing of information on shipments of precursor chemicals. We intend to conclude similar agreements with Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the previous administration that some 80 per cent. of the illegal heroin seized in this country entered through Turkey? Have the Government had discussions with the Turkish Government; and, if so, with what result?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, shipments from Turkey are a continuing problem which is not overlooked by the Government. We believe--I think that it was the policy of the previous administration--that the key to the question is co-operation with overseas drug enforcement agencies. We have inherited the drugs liaison officer network. We have 50 United Kingdom DLOs stationed in 31 countries on drug trafficking routes in Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean and Asia.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that far from the export of drugs, exporters in this country are being penalised and

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jeopardised because of the increase in the base rate and the resulting strength of sterling? What will the Government do about that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in answering the noble Viscount's Question, and the supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I sought to treat this Question on drug menace with seriousness in your Lordships' House.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a great deal of work has been done on the subject of precursor chemicals by the National Criminal Intelligence Service? I assume that that work is continuing.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely right. I am more than willing to pay tribute to the work that NCIS does. Within the past few days I had the great privilege of visiting NCIS to discuss its work; its demands, necessarily, for more resources; and the way ahead. I am careful to state that I was unable to say anything in response to its request for further resources.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, can the Minister identify any stronger measures that could be effected in this area?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes. We press ahead with the regime that we have. We try to put what resource we can into international co-operation. If we do not gain intergovernmental co-operation, if we do not have inter-agency co-operation, we shall get nowhere. One of the serious dangers of the drug trade is the vast amount of money involved. It is notorious that when vast amounts of money are swilling about, sometimes political systems become corrupted. That is a matter to which the Government are keenly attentive.

Armed Forces: HIV Screening Policy

3.9 p.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy with regard to the screening of members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces to discover any who may be HIV positive.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, in accordance with long-standing government policy there is no compulsory medical screening for HIV infection of either recruits or those already in service with the Armed Forces. Those who consider themselves to be at risk are encouraged to consult their medical officer on a confidential basis and to undergo counselling and voluntary testing if necessary.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am distressed to hear that Answer from the Minister. What steps will Her Majesty's Government take to ensure that those who have to treat injuries and wounds in the field are

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protected from HIV-infected body fluids, particularly if homosexuals and drug addicts, who are especially susceptible to HIV, are in future admitted into Her Majesty's forces?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the position with respect to those who have unfortunately become HIV positive as a result of accidents while in Her Majesty's employment is that they remain in that employment until their health deteriorates; then their employment is, if necessary, terminated on medical grounds. They receive full counselling, medical advice and treatment. Going slightly wider than the Question, compensation depends on the circumstances in which the HIV condition was received; where a person was infected; how it happened, and the consequences of that. If the MoD was in any way negligent, then it would expect to pay compensation.

Earl Howe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that this matter has potentially significant ramifications for the Armed Forces, not only in terms of the health of personnel but also in terms of morale and discipline? If a screening process is not practicable--I entirely understand what the Minister said in that connection--will he tell the House what estimate has been made of the incidence of HIV positive cases within the Armed Forces at the moment? How do the Armed Forces deal with such cases as and when they come to light to protect other personnel?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, as I should have thought the noble Earl would have known from his experience of these matters, the situation is not nearly as grave as he purports to make out. As I understand it, during the 11-year period since records were first kept, in 1986, there have been only 38 known cases among the forces. Of those 38, 16 serving personnel subsequently went on to develop AIDS; only six have so far died from that sad condition.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is it not obvious that if homosexual practices were authorised within the Armed Forces the number of men who were HIV positive would increase very considerably?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, it is unhealthy for us to focus exclusively on homosexual practices as a source of AIDS. People can contract AIDS through all kinds of unfortunate circumstances that are totally outside their own control. They may, for example, be infected through receiving blood transfusions following a traffic accident, or when they visit their dentist. It is quite wrong automatically to consider that those with the HIV virus contracted it as a result of some sexual practice.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, what provision is there to ensure that somebody does not join the Army and then subsequently claim benefit for having contracted AIDS when in fact he already had the infection when he joined?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am not aware of any such cases. They would have to be examined on a case by

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case basis. If a member of the forces was found to be suffering from AIDS, as the noble Lords suggests, the forces would consider how the condition was contracted. If, for example, it had been contracted through drug abuse, there would be a possibility of attracting military discipline.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that blood transfusions are not safe?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, there are certainly unfortunate cases about which I should have thought the noble Baroness would have heard where people have contracted HIV from infected blood.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be extremely difficult to allow HIV positive soldiers into combat? If they were to be injured, it would be extremely unfair on their companions to have to treat them--not only would they be subject to injury from the enemy, but also from their own comrades.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, in extension of the reply I gave to the noble Baroness a moment ago, the infected blood can come from outside this country. HIV might be contracted following a traffic accident in another country, which is nobody's fault. With respect to the noble Lord's question, it is necessary to remind the House that, other than drug abuse, so far as I know the only way of acquiring the HIV virus is through an exchange of body fluids.

Gulf War Syndrome: Research

3.15 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the paper Gulf War Syndrome: is it due to a systemic shift in cytokine balance towards a Th 2 profile? published in The Lancet on 21st June 1997.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, officials in the Ministry of Defence have held discussions with the authors of the paper, Professor Graham Rook and Dr. Alimuddin Zumla, concerning their hypothesis. Whenever we receive suggestions for additional research into subjects which could have a bearing on Gulf veterans' illnesses, our advice is always that the researchers should submit a formal proposal to the Medical Research Council. I understand that Professor Rook and Dr. Zumla intend to submit a proposal for work to test their hypothesis in due course; we therefore await the MRC's advice.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. Is he aware that in the medical records of a number of Gulf veterans, signed by medical officers and stamped with the unit stamp, appear the following vaccines: botulism vaccine (as opposed to botulinum serum); ebola; rabies; rabbit

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fever; hepatitis A and B; encephalitis 1 and 2; meningitis; and three vaccines variously described as anthrax--V1, V2 and biological? If those are anthrax, some of the men will have received five anthrax vaccinations within two days, along with whooping cough vaccine. Will the noble Lord either affirm that these vaccines were used on some of the men some of the time, or nail the lie once and for all? If they were used, will he inform the researchers?

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