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Gulf: Immunisation against Anthrax for Service Personnel

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bach: We have assembled a comprehensive package of information and education materials for personnel included in the programme which, along with clear briefings from medical staff and

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commanding officers, we hope will encourage personnel to take advantage of the protection that immunisation against anthrax provides. Furthermore, we are expanding the programme so as to make immunisation against anthrax routine for all United Kingdom Armed Forces personnel. We hope that this will encourage personnel to regard immunisation against anthrax as a normal part of their readiness and preparedness. The information and education materials will be reviewed and improved as the programme expands.

Harrier Jets: Norwegian Commission of Inquiry

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Bach on 16 December 2002 (WA 71), when they expect to place in the Library of the House the letter about the crash of a Wideroe Airlines aircraft on 11 March 1982 which Lord Bach indicated in his Answer would be written.[HL1845]

Lord Bach: Copies of my reply to Lord Campbell-Savours were placed in the Library of the House on 7 March.

Lord Campbell-Savours asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Bach on 16 December 2002 (WA 71) concerning Harrier jets and the Norwegian commission of inquiry, when a copy of his letter will be placed in the Library of the House.[HL2055]

Lord Bach: I wrote to my noble friend on 28 February and a copy of my letter has been placed in the Library of the House.

Royal Irish Regiment

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the total strength of the Royal Irish Regiment; and how many servicemen come from (a) Northern Ireland; (b) Great Britain; and (c) the Republic of Ireland.[HL1888]

Lord Bach: As at 3 March 2003, the total strength of servicemen and servicewomen currently serving in the general service and home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment (R IRISH) is 4,107, which is split down as follows:

The Royal Irish Regiment (R IRISH)

NationalityGeneral ServiceHome ServiceTotal
Northern Ireland2503,0883,338
Great Britain170513683
Republic of Ireland19726

(1) Others include personnel from Fiji, Jamaica, Canada, New Zealand, St Helena, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Antigua and the Isle of Man.

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IDEX 2003

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are taking part in, or sponsoring in any way, British participation in the forthcoming defence fair (IDEX) to be held in Abu Dhabi; and, if so, what will be the cost to the taxpayer.[HL1924]

Lord Bach: Events such as IDEX 2003 provide an effective facility for the United Kingdom defence industry to demonstrate the range of its products to potential overseas customers. They also enable companies responsible for equipping our Armed Forces to see the capabilities and products of other nation's defence industries.

The Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) has primary responsibility for co-ordinating government support for the promotion of legitimate defence exports. DESO plans to take an active part in the exhibition, providing a stand, office and demonstration team at an estimated cost of about £280,000. Travel and associated costs will be met from existing budgets. The cost of DESO support for defence exhibitions is more than offset by savings to the defence budget generated by defence exports, including savings in equipping our own Armed Forces through economies of scale.

Trade Partners UK will provide an element of funding via its support for exhibitions and seminars abroad scheme.

Depleted Uranium

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the latest assessment by them and the United States administration of the long-term health and genetic implications for (a) service personnel and their families, and (b) civilian populations, of the use of weapons and munitions of which depleted uranium is a part; and how this assessment will affect future military policy and activities.[HL2008]

Lord Bach: Thus far, there is no reliable scientific or medical evidence to link depleted uranium (DU) with ill health. Many independent reports have been produced that consider the battlefield effects of using DU munitions, but none has found widespread DU contamination sufficient to impact the health of the general population or deployed personnel. The Royal Society reports on The Health Hazards of Depleted Uranium Munitions (2001, 2002) support the Ministry

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of Defence's view that risks to the health of soldiers on the battlefield are minimal except for a small number of extreme cases. No British troops have been exposed in extreme circumstances.

However, the United States Government have carefully monitored the health of some of their soldiers who were exposed in extreme circumstances when DU rounds accidentally hit their vehicles during the Gulf conflict. Some 17 of them have had DU shrapnel embedded in their bodies for the past 12 years but do not show signs of health problems attributable to DU. The offspring of the highly-exposed United States veterans, amounting to some 60 children, are all healthy.

With regard to a link between exposure to DU and birth defects, no studies have looked specifically at this relationship. There is no scientific or medical evidence from US studies of an excess of birth defects in Gulf veterans compared with appropriately selected control groups. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Defence believes that it is an important issue and therefore placed a contract in 1997, through the Medical Research Council, for an independent study of the reproductive health of United Kingdom Gulf veterans compared with a matched control group. This study has been completed at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and will report soon.

The Ministry of Defence's assessment is that DU particulate remains highly localised to the points of impact where DU munitions have struck hard targets: only in these small areas would DU levels be significant enough to necessitate precautions to prevent or reduce possible intakes. Increasing amounts of independent research by eminent scientists within groups such as the Royal Society DU Working Group and the United Nations Environment Programme support this view.

We are prepared to use DU tank munitions in future conflicts if necessary because they are the most effective anti-armour weapons. We have a duty to provide our troops with the best available equipment with which to protect themselves and to succeed in conflict. Therefore, British forces currently being deployed to the Gulf will have DU munitions available as part of their armoury.

Appropriate safety instructions have been issued to those who have been deployed. These safety instructions make clear that the risks from DU are far lower than those from other hazards arising from military operations and that combat and life-saving activities should never be delayed on account of concern over DU. They describe the potential risks and include pragmatic advice on procedures for minimising any potential intake of DU dust. The emphasis is on avoiding situations where DU dust may be encountered and on wearing appropriate respiratory protective equipment and protective clothing when it is necessary to enter potentially contaminated areas. They also include procedures for transporting and handling DU ammunition. Radiation dosemeters have been issued to those who will spend time in tanks loaded with DU munitions, and biological monitoring will be available

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for all members of the Armed Forces if DU is used. This will provide verification of the adequacy of the safety precautions. The biological monitoring policy is published on MoD's Internet site at–uranium/du– biomonitoring.htm. Biological monitoring will consist of urine tests for uranium and its isotopes.

The Government are unable to comment on United States policy.

FIST Programme

Lord Tomlinson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a prime contractor has been selected for the assessment phase of the future integrated soldier technology (FIST) programme.[HL2142]

Lord Bach: The FIST programme will bring the benefits of improved technology to the soldier by providing an integrated suite of personal equipment to enhance dismounted close combat capability. This will include the latest surveillance, target acquisition, navigation, communications and miniaturisation technologies, all integrated into robust, flexible and reliable military equipment, capable of operation anywhere in the world. It will further increase the tempo of our battlefield operations, ensuring British forces engaged on the battlefields of the future will be among the best equipped in the world.

Four companies were invited to compete for the role of FIST assessment phase prime contractor, Bae Systems Ltd, Marconi Mobile Ltd, Raytheon Systems Ltd and Thales Optronics Ltd, a division of Thales UK. All submitted strong bids. Following detailed consideration of the proposals, the four tenderers were reduced to two during August 2002. The final phase of the competition focused on the remaining companies' plans for the management of the assessment phase. After a further period of evaluation, the Ministry of Defence has today selected Thales Optronics Ltd as the prime contractor for the assessment phase.

The contract with Thales UK has a value of £20 million. The FIST assessment phase will sustain and create around 70 jobs at Thales plants in the UK. In time, the demonstration and manufacture phase, for which we retain the option to compete the requirement, will sustain and create many more.

The assessment phase will last until 2006. An in-service date for FIST will not be set until the main investment decision, but current estimates are around the end of the decade.

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