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Merchant Fleet

17. Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the latest defence estimates in respect of British merchant shipping for defence purposes. [26111]

Mr. Spellar: Current defence estimates on the availability of British merchant shipping indicate that there are, in general, sufficient militarily useful vessels for perceived defence needs. The position will, of course, be reassessed following the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review.

British Beef

18. Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to ensure domestic sourcing of food for the armed forces; and if he will make a statement. [26112]

Mr. Spellar: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) on 4 February 1998, Official Report, column 654.

Mrs. Betty Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage of meat purchased by his Department has been produced in the United Kingdom in each of the past five years. [26096]

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the countries from which the supply of (a) beef and (b) sheepmeat were sourced for each year that the NAAFI held the Ministry of Defence's public-funded messing contract. [28348]

Mr. Spellar: Although unfortunately figures do not exist for previous years, our contractor, Booker Foodservice estimate that some 40% of meat procured over the 12 months ending September 1998 will be from UK sources.

As the House has shown particular interest in our procurement of beef, I should add that in recent weeks we have been working with Booker, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and farmers' representatives on how the position might be improved. Furthermore, I am glad to tell the House that Booker's estimate of 13% for the percentage of beef we buy from UK sources and which I gave to the House recently has now been revised by Booker to around 30%.

NATO Enlargement

19. Mr. Donald Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the application of Slovenia to join NATO. [26113]

Mr. George Robertson: NATO has undertaken to review the process of its enlargement in 1999; the considerations set forth in NATO's 1995 Enlargement Study will continue to apply with regard to all aspirants. The UK views Slovenia as a strong candidate for any future enlargement of NATO. The priority for now is to ensure the successful military and political integration of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary into NATO.

26. Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on progress towards NATO enlargement. [26122]

9 Feb 1998 : Column: 68

Mr. George Robertson: The protocols for the accession of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to NATO were signed in December by NATO Foreign Ministers: all Allies now need to ratify them. NATO is continuing its work with the invited countries to ensure their effective military and political integration into the Alliance. The UK is also providing bilateral defence assistance to facilitate this process.

Defence Diversification

20. Mr. Savidge: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when the Government expect to publish their Green Paper on defence diversification. [26114]

29. Ms Moran: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to publish his Green Paper on defence diversification. [26126]

Mr. Spellar: We will publish the Green Paper in March.

Satellite Communications System

21. Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he will announce his decision between Trimilsatcom and Skynet 5 as a procurement option for the next generation military satellite communications system; and if he will make a statement. [26115]

Mr. Spellar: The planned next generation of UK military communications satellites is known as SKYNET 5. In December 1997, the UK, France and Germany signed a Memorandum of Understanding envisaging a collaborative programme, TRIMILSATCOM, for the procurement of a common solution for all three nations' operational requirements. Proposals from industry for a Project Definition phase have been invited and are due to be submitted shortly. Currently, TRIMILSATCOM is the preferred approach for meeting the UK's SKYNET 5 requirement, although a national programme remains an option. It is expected that a decision on the way ahead will be taken later this year.

Ballistic Missile Defence

22. Mr. David Atkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his Western European Union counterparts on European ballistic missile defence. [26116]

Mr. George Robertson: I have had no discussions with my Western European Union counterparts on ballistic missile defence.

Armed Forces Pay Review Board

23. Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he will publish the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Board. [26117]

Mr. George Robertson: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) on 29 January 1998, Official Report, columns 307-10.

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Bosnia

28. Ms Dari Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the number of troops currently serving as part of Britain's contribution to SFOR in Bosnia. [26125]

Mr. George Robertson: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on 12 January 1998, Official Report, column 10.

Heavy-lift Aircraft

30. Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning his plans for heavy-lift aircraft. [26127]

Mr. Spellar: One of the aims of the Strategic Defence Review is to ensure that the Armed Forces are properly equipped to undertake the tasks asked of them. Our air transport requirement is, therefore, being scrutinised closely in the Review.

Courts Martial

32. Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the future effectiveness of the court-martial system. [26129]

Mr. George Robertson: We are satisfied that the recent changes to the court-martial system will ensure its continuing effectiveness into the next millennium. However, we know that we cannot afford to be complacent and the system is kept under constant review to ensure its efficiency.

Sexual Assault and Harassment

Mr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many (a) officers and (b) non-commissioned officers have been found guilty in (i) courts of law and (ii) courts martial of sexual assault or sexual harassment in the last three years; and in which of the services they served. [26095]

Mr. George Robertson: Between 1995 and 1997, one naval and one RAF officer, three naval ratings and eight RAF non-commissioned officers were found guilty of sexual offences by the civil court. In the same period, three naval officers, five naval ratings, nineteen Army NCOs and four RAF NCOs were found guilty of such offences by Courts Martial.

Firing Ranges

Mr. Ainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the announcement made by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency on 23 January on the rationalisation of land ranges in the United Kingdom. [26120]

Mr. Spellar: The rationalisation of the land ranges operated by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency announced on 23 January is the outcome of the second stage of a review to address the problems of overcapacity and underutilisation. Subject to consultation with Trade Unions and MOD customers, the main changes proposed are that Pendine and Shoeburyness ranges would be

9 Feb 1998 : Column: 70

maintained for access to their unique facilities on a trials campaign only basis, and as much work as possible would be undertaken at Eskmeals.

RNAD Broughton Moor

Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he intends next to visit RNAD Broughton Moor to discuss the future use of the site. [26119]

Mr. Spellar: I visited the site on 13 August 1997 and have no current plans to do so again. However, I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the future use of the site.

Christmas Island (Nuclear Testing)

Mr. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the dossier of information on the health effects of nuclear testing in the 1950s atomic test programme at Christmas Island, a copy of which has been sent to him. [28201]

Mr. Spellar: I assume my hon. Friend is referring to a letter from The People newspaper dated 13 January 1998, addressed to the Secretary of State for Defence, which enclosed copies of their recent articles about nuclear test veterans and letters from a small number of ex-Servicemen who had served on Christmas Island in the 1950s-60s. The letter invited a response on nuclear test veteran issues, with particular reference to work carried out at Dundee University.

My officials responded to the newspaper on 6 February. The reply drew attention to the fact that the studies carried out by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) had proved conclusively that participation in the testing programme had not had a detectable effect on the participants' expectation of life or on their risk of developing cancer or other fatal diseases: and also referred to those matters which were covered in my response to my hon. Friend on 22 January 1998, Official Report, columns 625-26.


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