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Iraq: Chemical and Biological Weapons Programme Disclosure

Lord Hughes of Woodside asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Gilbert: Our assessment continues to be that Iraq has still not fully disclosed the extent of its programme to acquire chemical and biological weapons: it has consistently sought to obstruct the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) from carrying out the mandates of Security Council Resolutions 687 and 699. In particular, it has sought to deceive UNSCOM about the scale of its production of the highly toxic nerve agent VX and the use of chemical warfare agents during the Iran/Iraq war. Iraq has also yet to admit to producing plague bacteria as part of its biological warfare programme.

The MoD has recently received intelligence, believed to be reliable, which indicates that, at the time of the Gulf War, Iraq may have possessed large quantities of a chemical warfare mental incapacitant agent known as Agent 15.

Our knowledge of Agent 15 itself is limited. Agent 15 is one of a large group of chemicals called glycollates (esters of glycollic acid). The best known is usually referred to by the initials BZ. The physiological effect of these compounds are typical of anticholinergic agents, which block cholinergic nerve transmission in the central and peripheral nervous system.

On the basis of animal studies with BZ and other related materials which were carried out some years ago, we believe that the immediate effects of Agent 15 would include: dilated pupils, flushed faces, dry mouth, tachycardia, increase in skin and body temperature, weakness, dizziness, disorientation, visual hallucinations, confusion, loss of time sense, loss of co-ordination and stupor.

We have known since 1985 that Iraq was investigating CW agents of this type, but the first indication of a specific interest in Agent 15 came in a brief reference contained in an Iraqi document which we became aware of in August 1995 and which stated that Iraq was carrying out laboratory research on this agent. The first indications that Iraq had possessed large stocks of Agent 15 came late last year, since when my department has conducted an assessment of the relevant scientific and background information.

MoD remains of the view that there is no confirmed evidence of the use of CW by Iraq during the Gulf War. We are, nevertheless, considering how best to investigate Agent 15 further, with a view to gaining a better understanding of its long term effects. This will be taken into account in our ongoing work to address Gulf veterans' health concerns.

Iraq Crisis

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether British forces are involved in United States plans "for a three-or four-day bombing campaign of Iraqi targets around mid-February", which senior American officials and senior Western diplomats in Washington are reported to have said are being laid (International Herald Tribune, 26 January).[HL328]

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Lord Gilbert: The Government continue to work for a diplomatic solution of the crisis over access for UN weapons inspection teams in Iraq. We have, however, made it clear that we do not rule out the use of force if these diplomatic efforts fail. We are in close contact with other permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, on this issue. It would not be sensible for Ministers, at this or any other stage, to speculate about any future military action.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment they have made of the latest military situation in the Gulf.[HL533]

Lord Gilbert: Our aim is to secure a diplomatic solution to the current crisis and we continue to work to that end. However, in view of the continuing refusal of the Iraqi regime to comply fully with the requirements of the United Nations Security Council, we have reviewed the United Kingdom's military presence in the region and as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced on 6 February, we have concluded that, as a further precautionary measure, we should deploy 8 Tornado GR1 aircraft, with support, to Kuwait. With the agreement of the Government of Kuwait, appropriate planning is in hand and the Tornados will deploy in the next few days.

Vehicle Stereo Systems: Excessive Noise

Viscount Tenby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take to curb the noise stemming from the use of excessively loud stereo sound systems in vehicles.[HL415]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): Excessive noise from vehicle stereo systems is a small, but growing problem causing unnecessary and annoying noise nuisance. The department is in the process of preparing amendments to Regulation 97 of the Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986, relating to excessive noise from road vehicles, to address this issue.

Road Works Signs: Removal

Viscount Tenby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to remind highway authorities of their obligation to remove road repair signs immediately work has been completed; and what sanctions are available to deal with highway authorities who fail to remove road signs once the relevant work has been completed.[HL417]

Baroness Hayman: The statutory requirements for removal of road works signs are specified in Direction 31 of the Traffic Signs General Directions 1994. Contractors working on trunk roads (for which the Secretary of State is highway authority) are required to operate in

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accordance with Chapter 8 of the Traffic Signs Manual. This specifies that temporary signs must be removed when the conditions to which they refer no longer apply. Chapter 8 is also generally followed by local highway authorities (and roads authorities in Scotland), although not statutorily binding. We intend to remind local authorities as well as statutory undertakers that signs and other equipment should be removed when road and street works are completed, when departmental advice is updated. The Secretary of State has powers under Sections 69 and 70 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to direct a local traffic authority to remove a traffic sign, and to remove it himself if the local authority does not comply; however, we would not normally consider it appropriate to issue such a direction in respect of temporary road works signs. Any person who believed that a failure to remove signs had caused personal injury or damage could seek redress through the courts.

Major Planning Applications: Publicity

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in their guidelines to planning authorities on the publication of planning applications, encouragement can be given to local newspapers which report applications as a public service in order to highlight particularly large applications and so make those people likely to be affected more aware of those applications.[HL395]

Baroness Hayman: In addition to the requirement to advertise major development proposals in local newspapers, local planning authorities must also publicise such applications by way of a site notice, visible to the public, or by neighbour notification to occupiers and owners of adjoining properties. The Department's Circular 15/92 Publicity for Planning Applications sets out the statutory minimum publicity requirements for different types of development, but also encourages authorities to consider what other methods of publicity are available for attracting a wider audience.

Roads Review and Transport White Paper: SACTRA Report

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have sought advice from the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA) for the purposes of the (a) roads review and (b) integrated transport White Paper.[HL534]

Baroness Hayman: In July, we asked SACTRA to contribute advice in time for the roads review and White Paper timetables. We are pleased to confirm that we have now received an interim report from the committee and this will be taken account of in our deliberations on the roads review and integrated transport White Paper. Copies of the report will be placed in the House Libraries.

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Coastguard Stations

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the total number of coastguard stations around the coast of the United Kingdom at the end of 1997, as compared with 1987, 1977, and 1967 and what will be the number on current plans in 1999.[HL442]

Baroness Hayman: The total number of coastguard stations at the end of 1997 was 483, compared with 383 in 1987, 376 in 1977 and 375 in 1967. The number of stations at the end of 1999 will depend on the outcome of the current consultation exercise into Her Majesty's Coastguard's five year strategy. The number of stations quoted for 1997, 1987 and 1977 include all maritime rescue co-ordination and sub-centres, sector bases and auxiliary coastguard stations. The 1967 figure includes constant watch, day watch, auxiliary watch and auxiliary rescue stations: this terminology changed in a 1974 re-organisation.

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