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The Lord Advocate (Lord Hardie): Strathclyde Police are continuing their investigations under the direction of the Procurator Fiscal, who has kept Crown counsel informed of the progress of these investigations. It is not possible to state when the final report will be submitted for consideration by Crown counsel.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): During the Gulf War a programme was established at CBD Porton Down to manufacture anti-toxin for Botulinum toxin (BTx), based on serum derived from human volunteers and goats who had been inoculated against particular strains of BTx. 3,000 doses of human anti-toxin and 17,000 doses of goat anti-toxin were pre-positioned in the Gulf for use in the event of an Iraqi biological warfare attack using BTx. So far as MoD is aware, all 20,000 doses of anti-toxin were returned to the UK after hostilities ended. However, the MoD fact finding team, which has been established to look into the implementation of the anti-biological warfare agent immunisation programme, will also be reviewing the available information concerning BTx anti-toxin.
Lord Gilbert: Work has now been completed on a study, initiated by the previous Administration, on the potential for further rationalisation of the Army Base Storage and Distribution Agency's (ABSDA) storage estate. The analysis has shown that there are likely to be some increases in aspects of the Army Storage task, for example some equipment and stores return from Bosnia. The overall balance of factors, however, including the likely impact of the new Government's strategic defence review, indicates that there will be significant reductions in ABSDA's future storage requirement. This reflects the need to drive down the overall size of the Army storage inventory to reflect changes in defence planing assumptions and to reduce the costs of our storeholdings. Obtaining greater efficiency from defence spending is a central part of the strategic defence review. All support activities are being rigorously scrutinised against the benchmark of value for money and the need to ensure that we retain only those assets which are essential for defence needs.
We have, therefore, decided to accept, as the basis for consultation with the trades unions and other interested parties, the recommendation that the ABSDA sub-depots at Thatcham in Berkshire, and Old Dalby in Leicestershire, should close. This would realise savings of some £35 million in net present value terms over a 10-year period. We also intend to suspend the ABSDA stores division CFQ study for the time being.
Lord Gilbert: The previous administration announced on 20 February this year that the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency (AFPAA) was to be launched as a tri-Service organisation on 1 April, and that plans were in hand to appoint a commercial partner to deliver most of the agency's services on its behalf. AFPAA was launched on the due date, and the necessary evaluation and approval processes for its partnering contract have now been completed. We have agreed that the contract should be awarded to Electronic Data Systems (Defence) Ltd. (EDS).
As part of the modernisation of our Armed Forces for the 21st century, this public/private partnering contract is the beginning of a comprehensive programme of improvement and redevelopment in the delivery of pay, pensions and personnel administrative services. It will bring new skills and technology to this area of work, and importantly, it will provide the necessary capital, under private finance arrangements, at a level which could not be expected from the Defence budget. The contract will run for up to 12 years at an estimated cost of over £300 million. The effective date for transfer of responsibility to EDS, including staff and capital assets, is planned for 1 January next year. About 900 civilian staff will move permanently to EDS, with 100 military personnel being placed with the company in the first instance.
In about three years time, elements of the Army personnel centre in Glasgow will come under AFPAA's responsibility. This will mean the transfer of a further 500 civilian staff to EDS. There are no plans to relocate these jobs from Glasgow and any proposals would need ministerial approval.
Lord Gilbert: Lance Sergeant Manahi was recommended for the Victoria Cross in 1943. The recommendation was staffed through his chain of command up to and including the rank of General. Official Army records confirm that the initial recommendation for the Victoria Cross was downgraded to a Distinguished Conduct Medal, but do not reveal the basis for the decision or by whom it was taken.
Lord Gilbert: Standard operating procedure for UK Armed Forces requires that all chemical or biological alarms be assumed in the first instance to be genuine. Follow up drills are then implemented. Chemical alarms in the Gulf War would have been followed up using equipment such as the residual vapour detector, the chemical agent monitor and detector papers to test further for chemical agents. The biological warfare detection equipment which was fielded involved a three stage testing procedure, the third of which was capable of identifying a number of biological warfare agents. Had any of these follow up procedures suggested that a genuine chemical or biological detection had occurred, arrangements were in place in theatre for information to be immediately passed to the chain of command and for samples to be taken from the air or ground and returned to CBD Porton Down for further testing and positive identification of the agent or agents involved.
Lord Gilbert: The MoD is funding two epidemiological studies, recommended by the Medical Research Council, which are intended to establish whether Gulf veterans are suffering an unusual amount of ill-health. One study under Professor Cherry at Manchester University aims to determine whether Gulf veterans are experiencing greater ill-health than Service personnel who did not take part in the conflict and to identify possible exposures and predisposing factors associated with any distinctive patterns of symptoms which may be found. The other study under Dr. Doyle at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will examine the reproductive health of Gulf veterans
Lord Gilbert: The Chemical and Biological Defence (CBD) sector of DERA at Porton Down is not conducting any research into the possible causes of illness among Gulf veterans. Some of the new research announced on 14 July by my right honourable friend the Minster (Armed Forces) to investigate the possible health effects of the combination of vaccines and tablets given to troops in the Gulf will be undertaken at CBD Porton Down. The results of this work will both provide scientific data with which to address veterans' concerns about the use of medical countermeasures during the Gulf War and also inform the Government's policy on the future use of such countermeasures.
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