Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Ainger: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the average time spent by the Intervention Board in processing applications for transfer of milk quota by (a) sale and (b) leasing in England and in Wales.

Mr. Jack: After initial processing delays when milk quota records were being transferred from the milk marketing boards and subsequently amended following vesting day changes on 1 November 1994 in England, Wales and Scotland, the Intervention Board is now processing the majority of milk quota leases and transfers within 15 days of receipt of acceptable applications.

DEFENCE

Land Sales

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action he has taken to ensure that sale by tender or auction is not the invariable method of approved disposal where another method would achieve better value; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: It is our normal practice to dispose of the freehold of surplus land--in which there is no former owner of pre-emptive interest--on the open market by competition, so as to maximise the financial return. A range of other methods may, however, be used if


Column 718

professional advice indicates that such alternatives would produce a better value.

Departmental Property

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action his Department has taken to ensure the provision of an efficient and cost- effective service to customers of his Department's property services; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: A new Defence Estate Organisation is to be formed which will incorporate the staff who are involved in providing services to the occupiers of the defence estate. The intention is that this will provide a top-down oversight of the estate and thereby improve the efficiency of those services. As announced on 17 January, the chief executive of the new organisation will take up his appointment on 1 April.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his policy as to the notice given to agents appointed to dispose of property by reference to the date of closure of a service; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: When disposing of surplus property, it is our policy to seek the smoothest possible transition from service to civilian use by ensuring that as much notice as possible of closure and vacation dates together with other appropriate information is given to appointed agents.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action is taken to ensure that the use of joint ventures is encouraged so that optimal value is achieved for property disposals; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: It is our practice to consider alternative methods of disposal, including joint venture, where professional advice indicates that conventional open market sale would not achieve optimal value.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has established a clear distinction between his Department as estate owner and the various budget holders as occupiers; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: The responsibilities of the budget holders as occupiers of the defence estate are clearly established. They are responsible for the efficient and economic use of the estate in ensuring that the armed forces are properly prepared for war. Their responsibilities include the maintenance of the estate, taking account of operational requirements, conservation, the interests of tenants and, wherever possible, the generation of income and allowing access by the public. The budget holders are ultimately responsible to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, in whom title to the estate is vested, for the discharge of these duties.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the effect of disposal pressures on the achievement of optimal value for property disposals; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: We are conscious that many factors such as the size and nature of the establishment; the local planning environment; the state of the market; and the timing of the disposal can impact on the achievement of optimal value. All such factors are taken into account in developing a disposal strategy for a site.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action his Department has taken to promote the effective utilisation of landed property and its


Column 719

rationalisation, reductions in cost of use and operation and consequently properly planned redundancy and disposal; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: The director of estate rationalisation, defence lands service is specifically charged with identifying opportunities for rationalisation and disposal of the defence estate, so as to promote its best and most cost-effective use; this includes ensuring that estates issues are taken fully into account in investment appraisals and studies.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the normal time scale for the disposal of surplus property; what discretion is given to the defence estate in this respect; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: In common with other Government Departments, it is our policy to dispose of surplus property, wherever practicable, within three years. It is accepted that for some sites a longer-term disposal strategy is required, and in those circumstances, a flexible approach is adopted.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will restructure the defence land service and the defence works service and infrastructure to form one overall organisation; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: It was announced on 17 January that the first chief executive of the Defence Estate Organisation will be Mr. Brian Hirst who will join the Ministry of Defence on 1 April this year. The new organisation will incorporate the defence lands service, the defence works service and the infrastructure and logistics, infrastructure, division.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to amend budgetary rules related to anuality to ensure that optimal value is achieved for property disposals; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: There are no plans to seek changes to the existing end- year flexibility scheme which allows funding to be carried forward from one year to the next subject to certain criteria being met. All defence operating costs, including property disposals, and defence procurement expenditure are eligible for carry-forward under this scheme.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if all his Department's property assets are valued; if a comprehensive database has been established; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: Some parts of the defence estate have already been valued and other elements are to be valued under a programme which is due to be completed by the end of 1996. As a separate but related exercise, a new database is to be created containing a more detailed record of property assets held by my Department.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action he is taking to ensure his Department's estate becomes more proactive in overall occupational and budgeting decisions; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: Defence estate issues are already given the fullest possible exposure in Departmental studies and other initiatives involving occupational and budgeting decisions.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his strategic plan encompassing property interests at his Department; and if he will make a statement.


Column 720

Mr. Soames: It is our objective to manage the defence estate so that it supports, cost effectively, the military capability of the armed forces in peace and war. Property which is no longer required for these purposes is disposed of.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence for what reasons phasing plans are used for large-scale disposals of his Department's property; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: A phased disposal strategy may be employed under various circumstances including: where market supply exceeds demand; where planning objectives can best be met by staged release of land; or, where the financial return from sale cannot otherwise be maximised.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what measures he takes to ensure value for money in property maintenance in his Department.

Mr. Soames: Following my Department's untying from the Property Services Agency on 1 April 1990, property maintenance became the responsibility of individual top-level budget holders. At each unit which controls maintenance programmes, three independent parties undertake clearly defined tasks. The Department appoints a service or civilian officer as property manager who is advised by a contractor--establishment works consultant. Another contractor acts as works services manager carrying out the tasks. This system, centering on contractorisation, reinforced by independent reviews and audits, is intended to ensure best value for money.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action he is taking to ensure his Department's property estate places greater emphasis on active asset management and asset realisation; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: The Department is taking a number of steps to place greater emphasis on the management of the defence estate as an asset. These include the creation of the Defence Estate Organisation which will provide a top-down view of all estate related activities. In addition, the estate is being valued as a precursor to the introduction of resource accounting and the valuation work is linked to the creation of a new property database.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence in what circumstances his Department's estate is allowed to enter into term contracts with the private sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: As with all contracts, term contracts are used when they are both appropriate and to my Department's advantage in terms of value for money. The scale and nature of the demand and delivery requirements are also factors used to determine whether a term contract is the most appropriate means to meet a particular need.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what advice his Department gives in the preparation of planning briefs for significant disposals of property, including joint ventures, to ensure appropriate greater local authority involvement; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: It is normal practice to seek to develop, in co- operation with the local authority, a planning brief for large or complex sites.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the surplus air bases in the eastern counties of the United Kingdom that (a) have and (b) have


Column 721

not a phasing plan for disposal; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: The following air bases in the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk have been declared surplus to RAF requirements: RAF Bentwaters, RAF Sculthorpe, RAF Swanton Morley, RAF West Raynham and RAF Woodbridge. An offer has been accepted for the sale of RAF Bentwaters in its entirety. No disposal plans have been finalised for the other sites, several of which remain under consideration for alternative defence uses.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if his Department will liaise with the Department of National Heritage and other appropriate bodies where buildings need to be preserved for posterity; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: My Department has developed good working relationships at all levels with the Department of National Heritage, English Heritage and other national heritage bodies with the aim of achieving the highest standards of conservation of its historic buildings.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to ensure that buildings declared surplus but which have feasible alternative uses are not neglected to such an extent as to make their disposal at a later date more difficult and less cost-effective; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: It is already our policy to take steps, wherever possible, to maintain the viability of surplus buildings which have alternative use potential and to explore the scope for realising revenue through their short-term commercial use where disposal of the freehold is not in immediate prospect.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what account is taken in his strategy for control of his property operations of heritage policy and the military married quarter estate; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: Within the overall strategy of holding the minimum amount of land and buildings necessary to support the operations of the armed forces, historic buildings are considered for their suitability alongside other buildings. Many continue in full use and others are being adapted to a new defence use but where an historic building is redundant, my Department seeks to dispose of it for an alternative use which will preserve its architectural and historic value.

The Department is committed to ensuring that the number of married quarters is kept to the minimum necessary to meet service demands. Responsibility for management of the estate will pass to the defence housing executive on 1 April 1995.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what consideration he has given to forming a holding agency to cover those properties held by his Department for which there is no immediate market; and if he will make a statement.


Column 722

Mr. Soames: The House of Commons Defence Committee report on the defence estate recommended that consideration be given to the creation of a separate agency to hold and dispose of surplus land. This recommendation will be given further consideration when the chief executive of the new Defence Estate Organisation takes up his appointment on 1 April 1995.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he has taken to learn from the experience gained by the NHS in a conservation strategy for his Department's buildings; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: Officials in the Department of National Heritage who have been working with the NHS on their conservation strategy also work with my Department and policy is being developed along similar lines. In particular, my officials are working with English Heritage on the selective listing of aviation structures, dockyards and barracks, on which thematic surveys are being carried out. In addition, officials from my Department held a meeting in August last year with the chairman of the historic hospitals working group to discuss common problems and respective approaches.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what phasing plans exist for disposal of Old Park barracks, Dover; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: Discussion with the local authority and other interested parties concerning a single regeneration budget to assist in the development of the site is ongoing. A planning brief has been agreed for the site and phased development is an option for disposal.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list those properties (a) sold by his Department and (b) in the process of being sold where the sale involved a joint venture with private or public sector partners; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: Although, to date, no Ministry of Defence properties have been sold through joint venture schemes, the following properties are in the process of being sold through such schemes: the former central vehicle depot, Hilton, Derbyshire, and the former ordnance storage depot, Ruddington, Nottinghamshire.

Departmental Assets

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action he is taking to ensure that there is greater emphasis on active asset management and asset realisation in his Department; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: A number of financial management improvements are being introduced as a result of the defence costs study. These include conventional asset accounting techniques, supported by appropriate commercial software, which are to be introduced throughout the Department.

Royal Air Force Finningley

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what has been the cost of running Royal Air Force Finningley in each of the last 10 years.


Column 723

Mr. Soames: The cost of running Royal Air Force Finningley, including the cost of operating the units based there, for each of the last three financial years is as follows:


          |£ million          

------------------------------

1991-1992 |29.5               

1992-1993 |27.5               

1993-1994 |31.2               

Information for financial years 1984 85 to 1990 91 is not readily available and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Simulated low-altitude Bombing

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence who can request and obtain simulated low-altitude bombing attacks on publicly owned buildings.

Mr. Soames: Any public body can request that its premises be used as targets for simulated low-level attacks. Any request would be considered on its merits taking into account not only the reasons for the request, but the usual criteria for selecting suitable simulated targets.

Land Contamination

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the most recent assessment he has made of land contamination at (a) the Defence Research Agency, Woolwich arsenal and (b) Royal Ordnance, Waltham abbey; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: The royal arsenal, Woolwich, comprises two sites. A number of studies have been commissioned on the west site; the ground study report has been completed, but the results of the building investigation are still awaited. Studies for the east site have been commissioned but not completed. The most recent assessment of contamination of Waltham abbey was conducted in August 1992.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what instructions his Department has given in respect of the production of land quality statements for service establishments; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: As part of an on-going review of land contamination and the defence estate, steps are being taken to incorporate the production of a land quality statement into site disposal procedures. Appropriate guidance for site occupiers is being prepared.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what budget is allocated for his Department's potential liabilities in respect of contaminated land; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: Individual budget holders within my Department are responsible for all aspects of site management, including any survey and decontamination work, and for making appropriate financial provision.

Burtonwood

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence for what reasons his defence land agent did not inform Warrington borough council local planning department of the operational decision made in respect of


Column 724

Burtonwood; what was the role of that local authority's economic development unit in promoting its availability; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: RAF Burtonwood has not been declared surplus to MOD requirements, pending consideration of an alternative defence use. The defence land agent has had on-going discussions with Warrington borough council regarding short-term lettings while the future of the site is determined, and also about non-defence uses in the event that the site was declared surplus. Warrington borough council will be advised when a final decision has been taken on the future of RAF Burtonwood and consulted fully about the future of the site.

Instructions for Opening Fire in Northern Ireland"

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish the current wording on the "Instructions for Opening Fire in Northern Ireland" issued to British armed forces.

Mr. Soames: Instructions concerning the use of firearms in Northern Ireland are part of rules of engagement which, like other operational documents, are not made publicly available.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action he is taking to maintain the battle of Britain memorial flight's Lancaster in an airworthy condition; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames: All necessary steps are being taken to retain the BBMF Lancaster in an airworthy condition.

Rules of Engagement, Bosnia

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish the current wording on the cards issued to armed British peacekeeping troops in Bosnia in respect of rules of engagement.

Mr. Soames: The wording on the cards issued to British troops in Bosnia is part of rules of engagement which, like other operational documents, are not made publicly available.

Defence Land Service

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the timetable for informing the defence lands service in respect of operational decisions; and what account is taken of its planning systems.

Mr. Soames: Our procedures require that the defence lands service should be closely involved from an early stage in studies where defence estate issues are, or are likely to be, a factor in operational decisions.

Private Lee Clegg

Mr. Mullin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action was taken against the officer in charge of the patrol at the time of the incident which led to the imprisonment of Private Lee Clegg; and if he will make a statement.


Column 725

Mr. Soames: The officer concerned was tried in the Belfast high court on two counts: making a statement with intent to pervert the course of justice; and obstructing the police. The officer was found not guilty of both charges.

Gulf War Syndrome

Mrs. Currie: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if any of the volunteers who underwent tests for (a) inoculations and (b) nerve agent pre -treatment sets at Porton Down in preparation for the Gulf war were women.

Mr. Soames: This is a matter for the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment, Porton Down under its framework document. I have asked the chief executive, CBDE to write to the hon. Member. Letter from Graham Pearson to Mrs. Edwina Currie dated 15 February 1995:

1. Your Parliamentary Question to the Secretary of State for Defence asking if any of the volunteers who underwent tests for (a) inoculations and (b) nerve agent pre treatment sets at Porton Down in preparation for the Gulf War were women has been passed to me to answer as Chief Executive of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment.

2. The role of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment is to carry out work to ensure that the UK Armed Forces are provided with effective protective measures against the threat that chemical and biological weapons may be used against them. As part of this the potential hazard of possible chemical and biological warfare is assessed and the effectiveness of medical countermeasures evaluated. 3. No Service volunteers participated in studies on inoculations and nerve agent pre- treatment sets (NAPS) in preparation for the Gulf War. However, a number of studies into NAPS using Service volunteers were carried out primarily between 1970 and the early 1980s at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment, RMCS Shrivenham, Dover, Bulford, Cambridge Military Hospital as well as some collaborative work with the Institution of Aviation Medicine and more recently in 1993 at the Cambridge Military Hospital. These studies were to evaluate the acceptability of using pyridostigmine bromide and whether such use had adverse side effects or was affected by the nature of the duties of the Service personnel. These studies which lasted for up to eight weeks included the assessment of the effects of NAPS on volunteers undergoing strenuous exercise and of a thermally stressful environment. Our records indicate that a total of about 11 female Service volunteers received NAPS during these studies.

4. Insofar as vaccines are concerned, over many years the staff at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment and previously at the Microbiological Research Establishment at Porton Down engaged in work involving potential biological warfare agents have been vaccinated to protect them against the microorganisms they are working with in the laboratory. Over the past five years this has involved the vaccination about 150 female personnel.

Mrs. Currie: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will set out the conditions and illnesses which have so far been diagnosed among those British veterans claiming to be suffering from Gulf war syndrome.

Mr. Soames: Initial findings from my Department's Gulf war medical assessment programme show that those diagnosed so far are suffering from medical conditions which can be categorised as follows: approximately 25 per cent. are suffering from psychological conditions; 20 per cent. from serious, but well-recognised, medical conditions; 10 per cent. from chronic fatigue syndrome and the remainder from minor physical ailments. None of the conditions has been found to be peculiar to service in the Gulf. There is no single illness, major or minor, common to those examined and no evidence to suggest the existence of a Gulf war syndrome. More detailed


Column 726

preliminary findings will be made public shortly, when 100 individuals have been fully assessed and diagnosed.

Mrs. Currie: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many service men and women claiming to be suffering from Gulf war syndrome have registered a claim for compensation; how many have presented themselves to his Department's medical officers for examination; and how many have been assessed to date.

Mr. Soames: To date, my Department has received notification of 483 potential claims in respect of alleged ill health as a result of service in the Gulf. Approximately one third of these are from serving armed forces personnel and the remainder from former personnel. Some 39 of these potential claims have subsequently been withdrawn.

So far, 233 personnel have requested medical assessment through the Gulf war assessment programme, of whom about 25 per cent. are serving. Some 90 of these have been examined to date.

Falkland Islands

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many members of the armed forces are currently garrisoned on the Falkland Islands; and if he will make a statement.


Next Section

  Home Page