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Written Answers

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 16 June 1998

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Written Answers

Tuesday, 16th June 1998.


asked Her Majesty's Government:What discussions they have had with the Disasters Emergency Committee to clarify whether there is a difference of analysis between that committee (and its member organisations) and the Government on the nature of the crisis in Sudan and on what response is most appropriate; and, if they have had discussions, what the outcome of those discussions proved to be. [HL2187]

We have had no discussions directly with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) on the analysis of the crisis in Sudan. We are in close contact with our international non-government organisation partners, many of whom are members of the DEC, and we actively support the work of several of them in the Bahr el Ghazal region. We have a common aim, to ensure that enough food reaches the most vulnerable as quickly as possible to prevent more people dying.


asked Her Majesty's Government:What action they have taken to help resolve the logistical difficulties being encountered in getting supplies to victims of the earthquake in Afghanistan. [HL2190]

We are very conscious of these difficulties, and in particular the urgent need for helicopters, which are the only way of reaching some of the villages affected by the earthquake. We have investigated through both military and civilian channels the possibility of providing helicopters from the UK, but our enquiries suggested that it would be much more cost-effective and considerably quicker to source helicopters from countries closer to Afghanistan. We have provided details of potential suppliers in the region to the UN, who are now securing additional capacity. We have offered to consider requests for funding to meet hire costs, but we understand this is not required at present.As part of an aid package announced earlier this year we provided £1.9 million to the UN to help agency co-ordination and logistics. This included funding for the UN aircraft which are now being used to deliver relief supplies and personnel to the earthquake affected areas.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

asked Her Majesty's Government:What action they will take following the new United Nations Security Council resolution on Sierra Leone adopted on 5 June lifting the arms embargo and imposing one on non-governmental forces in Sierra Leone. [HL2269]

The new resolution supersedes part of UN Security Council Resolution 1132. It ensures that the arms embargo to Sierra Leone applies to non-governmental forces and makes explicit exception for the Military Observer Group of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOMOG) and the United Nations.Following the adoption by the UN Security Council on 5 June of the new resolution, Orders in Council are now being prepared giving full effect in our law to the arms embargo imposed by the new resolution.

Government Expenditure Per Capita

asked Her Majesty's Government:What is the rate of public funds expenditure per head spent on each resident of (a) England (b) Scotland for each year since 1979, expressed in (a) cash terms and (b) as a percentage of total public expenditure. [HL2126]

I would refer the noble Lord to the Answer I gave to his question of 6 April, which referred him to Public Expenditure: Statistical Analyses 1998–99 (Cm 3901). As well as figures for aggregate identifiable general government expenditure by country, to which my previous Answer referred, the same publication also includes—in Tables 7.2A to 7.6B—a breakdown of identifiable expenditure by country from 1992–93 to 1996–97 into 11 functional categories, presented in both cash and per capita terms together with their respective indices. Data back to 1984–85 can be obtained from the earlier publications referred to in my previous Answer.

Government Cars

asked Her Majesty's Government:For how many hours per day government cars are required to keep their engines running in order to ensure that their catalytic converters always operate properly; and [HL2141]Further to the Written Answer by the Chairman of Committees on 1 June (

WA 12), why cars under the control of the Government Car and Despatch Agency are not fitted with security devices which can be powered from the car battery alone for extensive lengths of time; and [HL2142]

Whether the Government Car and Despatch Agency require that the engines of their cars are kept running in their parking places in government offices in order to provide power for their security devices; and, if not, why the parking areas at the House of Lords are so much less secure that battery-draining security systems have to remain operational. [HL2143]

Responsibility for these matters has been delegated under the terms of its Framework Document to the Government Car and Despatch Agency. I have asked its Chief Executive, Mr. Nick Matheson, to write to the noble Lord.

Letter to Lord Berkeley from the Chief Executive of the Government Car and Despatch Agency, Mr. N. Matheson.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey has asked me in my capacity as the Chief Executive responsible for the Government Car Service (GCS) to reply to your parliamentary Questions dated 4 June 1998 about (a) the proper use of catalytic converters in GCS cars; (b) the power needs of security devices fitted to some GCS cars; and (c) the appropriate use of such devices within the precincts of the House of Lords.

All GCS cars are fitted with catalytic converters. Broadly speaking, a catalytic converter works by engine exhaust emissions reacting with compounds within the catalytic converter, cleaning the emissions from the engine. This reaction only works when the compounds in the converter have reached a high temperature. Until that point, the emissions from a cold engine are no cleaner than from a normal car engine. Therefore it is important that the car engine should be kept at an optimum operating temperature if the car is going to be used frequently. However if the car is likely to be stationary for some time, then it makes sense to turn off the engine. Our drivers are under clear instruction to keep their engines running to a minimum consistent with security requirements, and to be mindful of the environmental impact of our operations at all times. Our drivers use their professional judgment on when to keep their vehicle engines running.

The agency's security vehicles are fitted with a number of security devices. I cannot discuss in any detail what these devices are, or how they operate, but I can assure you that the most modern and efficient equipment is used. These devices are always kept active when a vehicle is on official duty and is occupied. One particular system requires that the engine is running for it to function at all.

It is for these reasons that the engines of security vehicles are kept running when occupied and not because there is any inherent lack of security in the areas surrounding the House of Lords.

The Prime Minister: Press Articles

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will list the articles which have appeared in the national press in the Prime Minister's name during the past 12 months. [HL1926]

The Prime Minister has written many articles for national, international, regional and local newspapers and specialist magazines to explain government policy and initiatives designed to improve the lives of the people of Britain. He will continue to do this. A full list of articles is not kept.

Intelligence And Security Committee: Appointment

asked Her Majesty's Government:When the Prime Minister intends to fulfil his obligation to appoint a Member of this House to the Intelligence and Security Committee; and for how long now the position has been vacant. [HL1338]

The Prime Minister has now appointed the right honourable Lord Archer of Sandwell QC to the Intelligence and Security Committee to replace Baroness Ramsay, who became a Minister on 2 December 1997.

Prison Service Health Care Directorate: Temporary Staff

asked Her Majesty's Government:What were the names of temporary staff working in the Health Care Directorate of the Prison Service on 6 April; and, for each person, the nature of the duties carried out, the duration of employment and the name of the agency through which that person was hired. [HL2148]

The names of individuals who work in the Prison Service or information that could identify them are not normally published. On 6 April 1998, there were 10 staff working on a temporary basis in the Directorate of Health Care. Their duties included a variety of tasks, largely of a clerical or secretarial nature.

Metropolitan Police District Boundaries

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they have any plans to change the boundaries of the Metropolitan Police District to make them coterminous with the boundaries of the 32 London boroughs. [HL2302]

The Government are committed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Aligning the operational boundaries of the different agencies is an important element in this. The Crime and Disorder Bill's proposed changes to the youth justice system and creation of local crime reduction partnerships give added emphasis to the importance of boundary alignment. The recently announced changes to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will make police and CPS operational boundaries coterminous.We have in recent months received strong representations that the boundaries of the Metropolitan Police District, which stretch into Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey, make more difficult effective joint working between the different criminal justice agencies.The present boundaries are an historical anachronism dating back to early in the 19th century, before the advent of modern local government.The Government have therefore decided that the Greater London Authority Bill, which will come before this House later this year, will provide for a change to the boundaries of the Metropolitan Police District to make them coterminous with those of the 32 London boroughs. As a result, those parts of Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey which are currently policed by the Metropolitan Police Service will be policed by the respective county police forces.This change will mean that local councils and criminal justice agencies in the county districts of the Metropolitan Police District will not have to work with two different police forces, which leads to inefficiency and duplication. The change will help to promote effective joint working between agencies as they implement the provisions in the Crime and Disorder Bill.These boundary changes will also support democratic accountability and enable the Metropolitan Police to focus on policing London, a major task in itself. A majority of elected members on the new Metropolitan Police Authority will provide the vital democratic link between Londoners and the Metropolitan Police. Residents in those parts of Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey currently policed by the Metropolitan Police will not have a vote in the elections for the mayor and assembly members. It is therefore right that those areas be policed by county forces whose police authorities already provide local democratic accountability in their areas.We expect this change to take place in April 2000. Implementing it will require close co-operation between the relevant police forces, police authorities and local councils, and other interested parties. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has written to them today to inform them of this decision and to seek their views on how it should be implemented.

Metropolitan Police: Missing Data

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether it is now possible to publish the figures from the Metropolitan Police Service which were not included in the December 1997 report (tables 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4) from the Home Office under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 on Race and the Criminal Justice System. [HL2196]

It is not possible to publish the figures from the Metropolitan Police Service which were not included in the December 1997 report published under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 on Race and the Criminal Justice System. The Metropolitan Police were unable to provide the data due to problems with their computerised systems. The Metropolitan Police have now updated their systems, and data on stop and search, arrests, cautions and homicides will be published, along with data from other police forces, in the autumn.

Dangerous Personality-Disordered Offenders

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Answer given by the Lord Williams of Mostyn on 5 May (HL Deb, col. 480), whether they have considered further the ideas mooted in the 1975 Butler Report on mentally abnormal offenders for an indeterminate sentence for offenders such as paedophiles. [HL2166]

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is actively considering the creation of a form of "reviewable" sentence for dangerous personality-disordered offenders. This is a complex area, and further work is needed before a final conclusion can be reached, but we are taking this work forward as quickly as possible.

Acpo Firearms Licensing Sub-Committee

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will give the date of each occasion when Mr. C. Bone, Mr. V. Clayton, Mr. G. Widdecombe, Mr. S. Barrett and any other officials (giving their names) from the Home Office Operational Police Policy Unit attended meetings of the Association of Chief Police Officers Sub-Group on the Administration of Firearms Licensing Review Group, held at South Wales Police Headquarters or at any other location in each of the last two years. [HL2153]

The review group is now formally known as the ACPO Sub-Committee on the Administration of Firearms and Explosives Licensing. Home Office officials are not members of this sub-committee, but in the last two years officials have accepted invitations to attend the following meetings:

Date of MeetingOfficials attending
9 January 1997Mr. C. Bone
7 March 1997Mr. V. Clayton
Mr. G. A. Widdecombe
23 April 1997Mr. V. Clayton
Mr. R. Henderson
30 May 1997Mr. G. A. Widdecombe
26 June 1997Mr. V. Clayton
4 September 1997Mr. V. Clayton
Mr. R. Henderson
19 November 1997Mr. V. Clayton
Mr. G. A. Widdecombe
18 March 1998Mr. G. A. Widdecombe
Mr. S. Barrett

Putney Hospital

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether Putney Hospital is affected by the current review of hospital facilities in Greater London; and, if so, what are their plans for the hospital. [HL2230]

The future of Putney Hospital, which is part of the Richmond, Twickenham and Roehampton Healthcare National Health Service Trust, was addressed in Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth Health Authority and Kingston and Richmond Health Authority's recent consultation on proposals for changes to hospital services for the population served by the trust.In line with these proposals, Putney Hospital will close and the services will be moved to Queen Mary's, Roehampton. It is currently envisaged that this move will be completed by next spring.

Cannabis: Therapeutic Aspects

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will publish the report of the recent independent study commissioned by the Department of Health on the therapeutic use of cannabis to relieve symptoms of AIDS and certain cancers. [HL2212]

Copies of a literature review on the therapeutic aspects of cannabis and cannabinoids by Dr. Philip Robson, who owns the intellectual property rights, have been placed in the Library and also in the library of the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependency. The views expressed in the review are those of the author. Departmental contracts encourage research contractors to publish their findings.

Office Of Science And Technology

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the Written Answer by the Lord Clinton-Davis on 1 June (

WA 1) means that they have no plans to discover the view of the scientific community on the location of the Office of Science and Technology, or that they are unwilling to disclose what those plans are. [HL2077]

As confirmed in my earlier Answer, the Government have no plans to move the Office of Science and Technology from the Department of Trade and Industry. Accordingly we have made no plans to consult the scientific community on this issue.

Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme

Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme

asked Her Majesty's Government:Why no permanent medical practitioner has been appointed to lead the Gulf War Illness Medical Assessment Programme since the departure of Colonel Bhatt; and when they expect to make such an appointment. [HL1803]

Following the departure of Col. Bhatt as head of the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme in June 1997, the Ministry of Defence held an open competition for the post. Unfortunately, this competition did not produce a suitable candidate. MoD therefore decided to hold a further open competition, which is still in progress. The outcome will be announced at the earliest opportunity.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will publish the protocols which determined the medical and other procedures in operation for the Gulf War Illness Medical Assessment Programme together with the guidance given to both medical and administrative staff. [HL1804]

The examinations carried out on patients of the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme, MAP, are in accordance with standard clinical practice and were described in general terms in A Review of Gulf War Illness by W. J. Coker OBE, published in the Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service 1996; 82: 141–146. A copy of this paper has already been placed in the Library of the House.Assessments by the consultant physicians at the MAP are based upon their clinical judgment, a patient's clinical history, and examination findings. There are, therefore, no set protocols which determine the nature of each assessment, although there is a standard battery of tests which evolved during the early years of the MAP and which is applied to all MAP patients. These tests are as follows:

  • Full blood count and sedimentation rate, FBC/ESR;
  • Full biochemical screen, including urea, electrolytes, calcium, creatinine, liver function tests, LFT, and blood sugar;
  • Immunoglobulin analysis;
  • Creatine kinase;
  • Thyroid function tests, TFT;
  • Serological screening tests;
  • Chest X-ray, CXR;
  • Ultrasound abdominal scan;
  • Electrocardiogram, ECG;
  • Urinalysis;
  • Peak-flow lung measurement, to determine the necessity for vitalography.

Further tests may be carried out as appropriate.

The MAP was subject to a clinical audit by the Royal College of Physicians in 1995, which broadly approved the procedures and tests carried out at the MAP. We plan to conduct a further audit later this year, focusing on all aspects of patient care and on the service provided, to ensure that the MAP continues to adhere to best practice.

The medical and administrative staff at the MAP are, of course, aware of the programme's aims—to provide Gulf veterans who are concerned about their health with a clinical diagnosis of their medical conditions and to collate statistical information. They are appropriately trained to achieve these objectives and are given appropriate briefing on the latest developments on Gulf veterans' illnesses issues. However, no formal written guidelines have been laid down for MAP staff.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will ask the Gulf War Illness Independent Review Panel to review the history and current functioning of the Medical Assessment Programme and to make recommendations for measures which would improve the research assessment and treatment regimes it offers to sick Gulf veterans. [HL1807]

The Independent Panel was established specifically to provide oversight of the MoD's research programme into the possible health effects of the combination of vaccines and tablets which were given to British troops in the Gulf; and any other research proposals in related areas. The expertise of its members reflects the specific task which it has been asked to fulfil. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to invite the Independent Panel to extend its role beyond this specialised task.The aim of the Medical Assessment Programme, MAP, is to provide Gulf veterans who are concerned about their health with a clinical diagnosis of their medical conditions and to collate statistical information. The MAP is not a research programme and it is not intended to provide treatment for sick Gulf veterans. Any treatment which is necessary is arranged through the Defence Medical Services for Gulf veterans who are still in service and through the NHS for ex-Service personnel.It remains our intention to commission an independent clinical audit of the MAP later this year. The audit will address all aspects of the service provided by the MAP.

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will consider transferring the Medical Assessment Programme for sick Gulf veterans to an appropriate independent civilian body with a view to increasing the confidence of the veterans and improving efficiency. [HL1808]

All aspects of the work to address Gulf veterans' health concerns are kept under review, but at present there are no plans to change the status of the Medical Assessment Programme, MAP. It is expected that the new head of the MAP, for which post an open competition is now under way, will be a civilian, as are the physicians who are currently working there.

Operation Granby: Nbc Logs

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they intend to publish their nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) logs for the period of Operation Granby. [HL1824]

As part of the two ongoing reviews into the alleged detections of chemical and biological warfare agents during the Gulf conflict, MoD officials are analysing all available documentation from the period which may be relevant to these matters. The results of this review work, which will also involve interviews with personnel directly involved, will be made available once it is complete. As has been the practice of this Government when publishing information about Operation Granby, these reports will include appropriate extracts from contemporary documents in MoD's possession.

Anthrax Vaccine And The Armed Forces

asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether the anthrax vaccine currently administered to members of the Armed Forces is proven to be effective against all known strains of anthrax bacilli, including aerosolised and "dusty" anthrax, given that such stains are reported to be capable of penetrating nuclear, chemical and biological warfare protection equipment; and [HL1826]What is the source of the anthrax vaccine currently being administered to members of the Armed Forces; what is its date of manufacture; what is its "shelf life"; and against how many strains of anthrax bacilli does it offer protection. [HL1827]

The anthrax vaccine which is currently being offered to British troops deploying to the Gulf region has been produced by the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research, CAMR; the Department of Health holds the product licence. These batches of vaccine were produced in 1991 and were given a shelf life of 2 years. They were subsequently retested in October 1966, when their shelf life was extended to January 1998. They underwent further potency testing in November 1997 and full safety testing by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control in January 1998, following which the Medicines Control Agency extended the shelf life of these batches of vaccine to November 1998.A large number of different strains of anthrax bacteria have been isolated from many sources across the world and it would be impractical to test a vaccine against all of these. However, the UK vaccine, which contains the purified proteins produced by the anthrax bacterium, has been tested against a representative selection of strains and has been shown to provide protection against both injected and aerosolised anthrax bacteria. The degree of protection afforded would, though, depend upon the inherent virulence characteristics of the particular strain encountered and upon the size of the challenge presented; no vaccine could guarantee 100 per cent. protection in all circumstances.As a matter of policy the Government have decided to release details of medical countermeasures in use by UK forces. However, it remains our policy not to release detailed information on the effectiveness of these medical countermeasures.

In-Flight Air Quality

asked Her Majesty's Government:Further to the Answer by the Baroness Hayman on 4 June (HL Deb, col. 468), what is their response to recent reports about poor and deteriorating in-flight air quality, particularly the oxygen content of such air; and what plans they have to undertake research into any harmful effect this may have on the consumer. [HL2169]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
(Baroness Hayman)

There is no evidence to suggest that air quality on aircraft is in any way deteriorating. Even when the air conditioning is set at its lowest level, the air in a modern aircraft cabin is completely changed every 3 minutes on average. This is well above the standard for public buildings.All cabin air is taken from the external atmosphere, and there is no added oxygen. The degree of recirculation is determined by the aircraft designer and in some cases may be adjusted by the crew. The oxygen used by passengers is a small proportion, approximately 5 per cent. of the oxygen supplied at the minimum flow rate. The oxygen level in cabin air therefore remains at around 20 per cent. for the duration of a flight, which is virtually the same as normal atmospheric oxygen levels.The air pressure in aircrafts in flight is roughly equivalent to the atmospheric pressure at 8,000 feet above sea level. People with some chronic respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis, emphysema and bronchiolitis may be affected by the lower air pressure in aircraft and could require supplementary oxygen. They are advised to consult their own doctor and the airline before flying. Lower air pressure will not affect those with well controlled asthma but stress or anxiety caused by travel could precipitate an attack.There is no proven link between cabin air quality, flow rates and the spread of disease. The filters used in most modern aircraft are similar to those used in critical wards of hospitals, operating theatres and burn units, and provide protection against the circulation of biological agents such as viruses. We have no plans to conduct any research into this issue at present.