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Millennium Compliance

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he notifies potential purchasers of obsolete information technology equipment sold by his Department that such equipment may not be millennium compliant. [25617]

Mr. Dewar: Obsolete information technology equipment sold by my Department is sold as seen, without any form of guarantee about millennium compliance. The standard terms and conditions of contract employed by my Department make it clear that the equipment comes without warranty.

27 Jan 1998 : Column: 179

Skye Bridge

Mr. Charles Kennedy: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when his Department was informed of the acquisition of the Skye Bridge Company by the Bank of America; from what date such acquisition became effective; what plans he has, arising therefrom, to reconsider the basis upon which his Department supplies information in response to enquiries from the National Audit Office; and if he will make a statement. [24835]

Mr. Dewar: Skye Bridge Ltd. has not been acquired by the Bank of America. The publicly available records at Companies House, Edinburgh, show that, since 23 January 1992, 997 £1 ordinary shares of Skye Bridge Ltd. (formerly known as Skye Bridge Tolls Ltd.) have been registered in the name of Bank of America International Ltd. and a further three in the name of BankAmerica Nominees Ltd. These transfers were in accordance with the funding arrangements agreed at the outset by the companies involved in procuring the Skye Bridge.

The arrangements require Miller Civil Engineering Ltd., which held 405 £1 ordinary shares in Skye Bridge Ltd., Dywidag Systems International Ltd. (formerly known as Dywidag Systems (UK) Ltd.), which held 405 £1 ordinary shares, and BankAmerica International Financial Corporation, which held 190 £1 ordinary shares, to transfer their shares in security to a Trustee (or its designated nominee) acting on behalf of the secured creditors of Skye Bridge Ltd. The Trustee is the Bank of America International Ltd. and its designated nominee is BankAmerica Nominees Ltd., to whom 997 and three ordinary shares were transferred respectively. Such a grant of security required, as a matter of Scots law, that the title to the shares be transferred to the Trustee, subject to the terms of the security arrangement.

During the currency of the arrangement, the companies granting the security retain the power in respect of their shares to direct the Trustee regarding the exercise of certain important rights under the shares, including voting rights. Once Skye Bridge Ltd. has fulfilled its obligations to the secured creditors, the Trustee is obliged to transfer back the shareholdings.

The then Secretary of State was aware of, but not party to, all aspects of the funding arrangements when the Concession Agreement was signed on 16 December 1991. Under the terms of the Concession Agreement, the agreed funding arrangements may not subsequently be amended without the approval of the Secretary of State. The granting of the security did not constitute an amendment and, therefore, did not require the Secretary of State's approval.

Under the National Audit Act 1983, the Comptroller and Auditor General has a right of access to documents he may reasonably require for carrying out any examination into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which any department has used its resources in discharging its functions, and is entitled to require such information and explanation as are reasonably necessary. The information on the shareholding arrangement described above was available to the National Audit Office in the course of the Skye Bridge examination. The Department will continue to provide access in accordance with the requirements of the 1983 Act.

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Agriculture

Mr. Swinney: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the impact on agriculture support and service industries in rural areas of current problems in the agricultural sector; what plans he has to provide additional economic assistance to small businesses in rural Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [25205]

Mr. Macdonald: The Scottish Office monitors business performance on a regular basis through its links with representative bodies, by monitoring trends in employment, production and income, and commissioning research. No specific support measures are planned for small businesses in rural Scotland but many of them are likely to benefit from the steps the Government have taken to support the farming industry.

DEFENCE

Nuclear Waste

Mr. Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what has been the annual production of nuclear waste at (a) Rosyth dockyard, (b) Devonport dockyard and (c) the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston, for each year from 1986 to date, broken down by category of waste; and how much of each category of waste is presently held at each site. [19783]

Dr. Reid [pursuant to his reply, 16 December 1997, c. 161-63]: I regret that it is necessary to correct the information given and to amplify answers given by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence at defence questions on 12 January 1998, Official Report, column 14.

Three nuclear submarines await defuelling, Renown and Repulse at Rosyth and Valiant at Devonport. The nuclear reactors in these submarines have been completely shut down and are in a benign condition. Specific Royal Navy personnel will remain on board until the process is complete. Once the spent fuel has been removed, these submarines will be stored afloat with appropriate maintenance pending final disposal. The spent fuel will be consigned to long term storage at BNFL Sellafield.

In accordance with IAEA and Euratom definitions, spent fuel is not categorised as waste while the option of reprocessing remains open and a possible future use for the fuel can be foreseen. A decision has yet to be made on whether this and other spent fuel held by the Department is to be reprocessed. If it is reprocessed, some High Level Waste will be generated. If the decision is not to reprocess the spent fuel, it will be recategorised as High Level Waste. Accordingly my Department holds no material categorised as high level waste at this time.

Brazilian Mahogany

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what amount of Brazilian mahogany has been (a) acquired and (b) specified by his Department in (i) 1996 and (ii) 1997, and for what purpose. [23519]

Mr. Spellar: The Ministry of Defence purchases some Brazilian Mahogany for use in Royal Navy ships, primarily for refurbishment or repair work to match

27 Jan 1998 : Column: 181

timber already installed in those vessels. No Brazilian Mahogany was acquired or specified by the MOD Ships Support Agency in 1996. An order was placed in 1997 for approximately 204 cubic metres and delivery is expected to be complete in 1998. This together with current stocks is expected to meet requirements for the next two years. It is the Ministry's policy that purchases of tropical timber, including mahogany, are made from reputable suppliers who are required to confirm that supplies are from sustainable sources.

NATO Joint Sub-regional Command

Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the role of NATO Joint Sub-regional Command (Madrid) in the control of the (a) waters and (b) airspace around Gibraltar currently under the operational command of the United Kingdom. [24474]

Mr. George Robertson: NATO's Joint Sub-regional Commands, once implemented, will have no permanently established boundaries or areas of responsibility. Regional Commanders will be able to propose the establishment of areas of responsibility for particular Joint Sub-regional Commands in specific contingencies or missions. Such proposals will require the approval of all NATO nations. The defence and security of Gibraltar, its associated territorial waters and airspace are, and will remain, the direct responsibility of the United Kingdom.

Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will break down by nationality the staff assigned to NATO Joint Sub-regional Command (Madrid). [24476]

Mr. George Robertson: Work is currently under way to determine the number and type of posts to be established in each HQ in NATO's future command structure; this will lead to agreement to the allocation of posts to nations. In common with all headquarters, the Joint Sub-regional Command at Madrid will be multinationally manned.

Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what provisions in respect of (i) air access to Gibraltar by (a) civilian and (b) military aviation and (ii) access to Spanish naval bases by Royal Navy vessels visiting Gibraltar have been included in the agreement for Spanish accession to full membership of NATO. [24472]

Mr. George Robertson: The UK, together with other Allies, has welcomed Spain's announcement of its intention to join the Alliance's integrated military structure. The detailed arrangements have still to be established. We are addressing military air access to Gibraltar and naval movements bilaterally and in the context of Spain's entry into NATO's future Command Structure. We will deal separately with the question of civilian air access to Gibraltar.

Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if decisions on the future role of the NATO Joint Sub-regional Command (Madrid) undertaken by the Military Committee have to be reached by unanimity; and what is the time scale for a final resolution. [24473]

Mr. George Robertson: Military Committee decisions are taken by consensus. A detailed implementation plan for the new NATO command structure will be developed

27 Jan 1998 : Column: 182

for consideration and endorsement by the Military Committee and North Atlantic Council at the end of this year.

Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the role of the NATO Joint Sub-regional Command (Madrid) in stability operations in North Africa involving Gibraltar. [24475]

Mr. George Robertson: For specific operations, Regional Commanders may propose particular roles and responsibilities for their subordinate commands. These subordinate commands will include Joint Sub-regional Command South West, to be based at Madrid, once it has been implemented as part of NATO's future command structure. Such proposals will require the approval of all NATO nations.


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