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12 Apr 1999 : Column WA93

Written Answers

Monday, 12th April 1999.

Depleted Uranium: Hazards

Lord Ironside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what extent the Ministry of Defence, in conjunction with the United States Department of Defense, have examined the possible health hazards attributable to exposure of personnel to the effects of using depleted uranium in battlefield weaponry; and whether they will place their reported findings in the Library of the House.[HL1745]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): The hazards of depleted uranium, DU, are well understood on both sides of the Atlantic and are well documented in the scientific literature. In 1993, the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency's Radiation Protection Service, then known as the Defence Radiological Protection Service, DRPS, published a summary of its assessment of the radiological and chemical hazards of DU. The summary report, copies of which have already been placed in the Library of the House, explained that there are two types of hazard posed by the use of DU: a radiation hazard, although DU is a low specific activity material, as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency; and a chemical toxicity hazard, which is similar to that posed by other heavy metals, such as lead. The Ministry of Defence would, of course, always be very interested to see any new relevant information on this subject.

The 1990-91 Gulf conflict marked the first battlefield use by the UK of DU-based ammunition, and the MoD is aware that a link has been suggested between possible exposure to DU and the illnesses being experienced by some Gulf veterans. However, this is only one of a number of factors which have been suggested as causes of Gulf veterans' illnesses and, pending further medical and scientific evidence, the MoD is keeping an open mind on this issue. The DRPS report, to which I have referred above, concluded that there was no indication that any British troops had been subjected to harmful over-exposure to DU during the Gulf conflict.

On 19 March, my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces published a detailed paper Testing for the presence of depleted uranium in UK veterans of the Gulf conflict: The Current Position. The paper, copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House, describes the scenarios in which UK troops may have been exposed to DU in the Gulf and the possible health effects of such exposures.

The MoD liaises very closely with the US Government on all aspects of Gulf veterans' illnesses.

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Saudi Arabia: Al Yamamah Programme

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the situation regarding the rescheduling of the Yamamah Deal, for the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia; and whether compensation is being paid to the British firms involved by the British taxpayer; and; if so how much.[HL1678]

Lord Gilbert: The funding requirements of the Al Yamamah programme are kept under review by both the MoD and the Saudi Government and adjustments have been made recently in response to prevailing economic conditions. These have not led to any compensation being paid to British firms by the British taxpayer.

Recak, Kosovo, Killings: Report

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will place a copy of the report by Dr. Helena Ranta on the killings at Recak, Kosovo, in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament; and what steps they consider should be taken to bring to trial those responsible, according to Dr. Ranta, for a crime against humanity.[HL1656]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): We are arranging for a copy of the report to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament. The UK has supported the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in its efforts to investigate all alleged crimes against humanity in Kosovo, and has continued to press the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) to fulfil its legal obligation to co-operate fully with the tribunal.

Meetings with Representatives of Foreign Governments

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In respect of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: (a) since 1 May 1997, which heads of government, foreign or trade ministers from outside the European Union have requested through their High Commissioners or Ambassadors a meeting; (b) what meetings have taken place; and (c) what further meetings have been arranged; giving in each case in (b) and (c) the date of the meeting and the Minister involved.[HL1684]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I refer the noble Lord to the Answer I gave on 11 March, Official Report, WA 46-47.

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The Earl of Dundonald asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have undertaken a review of the financial regulatory regime in Gibraltar; and whether they consider the regime satisfactory.[HL1726]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: A team of UK-based independent experts, drawn from the UK financial regulatory bodies, conducted a review of the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission (FSC) in February 1997, covering the full range of the FSC's activities but focusing in particular on the regulation of insurance services. A further review was carried out in February 1998 by experts drawn from the Financial Services Authority of the regulation of banking services, but not of the regime in general. The reviews identified areas for improvement, but concluded that the structure of the regime was broadly satisfactory.

The Earl of Dundonald asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they plan to urge change to the financial regulatory regime in Gibraltar.[HL1727]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The financial regulatory regime in Gibraltar is required to adapt continuously to changes in local and European Union legislation, evolving regulatory practices in the United Kingdom and a rapidly changing local economic environment. Guidance on best practice in this field is made available to the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission and other regulatory bodies in Gibraltar by those who are responsible for financial regulation in the United Kingdom.

The Earl of Dundonald asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether measures to achieve full political integration of Gibraltar into the United Kingdom would offer a solution to the border disputes between Spain and Gibraltar.[HL1728]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: As the recent White Paper on the Overseas Territories set out, the people of the Overseas Territories should exercise the greatest possible control over their own lives. The current arrangements for Gibraltar offer a very considerable degree of local control over Gibraltar's affairs. We do not think that integration would offer a more appropriate alternative.

The Earl of Dundonald asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether measures to achieve full political integration of Gibraltar into the United Kingdom would be contrary to the Treaty of Utrecht.[HL1729]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Under the Treaty of Utrecht, Spain has the right of first refusal if there were to be a change of sovereignty over Gibraltar. Integration with the United Kingdom would not involve

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a change of sovereignty and would not therefore be contrary to the treaty.

The Earl of Dundonald asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have held discussions with representatives of the Spanish government regarding allegations made by Spanish politicians of criminal activity in Gibraltar.[HL1731]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Spanish Foreign Minister has made a number of allegations about criminal activities in Gibraltar. We have repeatedly asked the Spanish authorities to provide us with evidence of these activities in a form that we can use. They have not yet done so. We will continue to urge better co-operation to deal with any problems in the region that affect us both.

In the margins of the Petersburg Summit, the Spanish Prime Minister's chef de cabinet presented a report listing a number of Gibraltar vessels allegedly involved in illegal activities. The Gibraltar and UK authorities have provided the Spanish authorities with all the information they have on these vessels.

This report, and our subsequent reply, refer to cases which are currently sub judice, and therefore cannot be published. The report does not justify allegations circulated by the Spanish authorities in the Spanish media that Her Majesty's Government or the Government of Gibraltar tolerate illegal activity: we are firmly committed to combat criminal activity.

The Earl of Dundonald asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are taking to ensure that the recent delays and disruption at the land frontier between Gibraltar and Spain are not repeated.[HL1764]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We have made clear to the Spanish government that such delays are unacceptable, unjustified and counterproductive, and that we look to them to allow movement across the border in conformity with their EU obligations. The Prime Minister has discussed the issue twice with Sr. Aznar. The Foreign Secretary has raised the question on several occasions with his Spanish counterpart. The Ambassador in Madrid has repeatedly raised the issue with the Spanish authorities, including with Sr. Matutes. The UK Permanent Representative to the European Union has brought the matter to the attention of the President of the European Commission. Delays have fallen since the peaks of early February but still remain unacceptably high given the reduced volume of traffic crossing the frontier.

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