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Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 30 June 1999


Chemical Weapons Convention

Liz Blackman: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what role his Department is playing in the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. [89515]

Mr. Doug Henderson: My Department is playing a full part in meeting the UK's obligations under the Convention. Since the convention's entry into force in April 1997, the UK has received 28 routine verification inspections, of which 19 have been to defence or former defence facilities in the UK. All have been conducted successfully by the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who oversee the treaty. Earlier this month, we held the latest in a series of successful exercises to simulate an incoming challenge inspection (which could be requested by another State Party) to a defence facility in the UK, in which inspectors and observers from the OPCW and overseas countries participated.

I am pleased to report that Ambassador Bustani, Director General of the OPCW, announced yesterday that CBD Porton Down has achieved the status of Designated Laboratory under the CWC, following its success in a series of demanding proficiency tests. This means that Porton is internationally recognised as competent to carry out analysis of chemical samples to the highest levels of accuracy. Such samples could be taken during routine or challenge inspections, including in cases of the alleged use of chemical weapons. Porton is one of only 12 laboratories worldwide to achieve this status.

Yesterday's announcement confirms both the world class scientific and technical excellence of Porton and the UK's full commitment to ridding the world of chemical weapons.

Meteorological Office, Newcastle

Mr. Martlew: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has for the Meteorological Office in Newcastle; and if he will make a statement. [88280]

Mr. Spellar: This is a matter for the Chief Executive of the Meteorological Office. I have asked the Chief Executive to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Peter Ewins to Mr. Eric Martlew, dated 30 June 1999:

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    I am confident that the accuracy of forecasts will remain as high as ever in the Newcastle area, and indeed improve as meteorology continues to advance. In particular, we aim to provide a better service to the public through closer working relationships with the BBC regions. We will also continue to collect observational data locally. Knowledge of local geography and meteorological conditions will always be important, but the latest advances in technology together with improved communications, will enable us to prepare and deliver forecasts remotely, more cost-effectively.

    I can assure you that we remain wholly committed to our primary aim of providing our customers, now and in the future, with the range of services they require, in a timely and effective manner, at a price they can afford.

Service Children's Education

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to ensure (a) parity of standards and (b) equality of opportunity between Service Children's Education and local authority provision in the UK. [88361]

Mr. Spellar [holding answer 28 June 1999]: Service Children's Education was established as a Defence Agency specifically to provide an education service to the children of Service and MOD personnel serving overseas, that conforms, as far as possible, to the scope and standards required by the Education Acts in England and Wales. Key Targets are set annually and those for 1999 were announced in the House on 9 June 1999, Official Report, column 329. Performance against Key Targets is reported in the Agency's Annual Report and Accounts which are laid before the House each year prior to the summer recess. To date, the Agency's performance has been slightly ahead of the UK LEA average.

The Agency's ownership is delegated by the Secretary of State for Defence to the Adjutant General, who is assisted in this task by an Owner's Advisory Board, the membership of which includes senior representatives from the DfEE, Ofsted, and Wiltshire LEA. All the Agency's teachers are UK qualified and all the Agency's schools are subject to regular inspections by Ofsted. The Agency is implementing all the Government's latest education initiatives, in particular the literacy and numeracy strategies, in its schools worldwide. It has also successfully introduced the provision of free nursery education for 4 year olds in 48 nursery and pre-school locations worldwide.

Parents have the right to express a preference in their choice of SCE school, although there is clearly less opportunity for choice in the more isolated locations. Although the Agency does try to meet Special Education Needs in its schools, it is not always possible to accommodate children with certain, more specialised needs especially in those areas lacking appropriate inter-agency support.

We have also taken action, through the Families Task Force, to ensure that local education authorities are sensitive to the position of Service children returning from abroad. There is now specific guidance on this point in the DfEE Code of Practice on Schools Admission Policy.

Defence Evaluation and Research Agency

Sir Michael Spicer: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if, under the public-private partnership proposals

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for DERA, that organisation will be deemed to carry the full risk of bankruptcy for the purpose of being able to borrow freely in the private capital market. [87372]

Mr. Spellar: No decisions have been made on the form of a PPP for DERA. However, regardless of the precise form of PPP, the Government would wish to ensure that it had rights to retain access to any strategic capabilities for use only in extreme circumstances, such as bankruptcy.

Millennium Compliance (Russia)

Sir Richard Body: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the level of co- operation with Russia over year 2000 compliance. [87654]

Mr. Spellar: MOD officials took part in discussions with Russia on the Millennium compliance problem under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council prior to the commencement of the air campaign in the Balkans, when Russia suspended formal co- operation on defence issues. In April, a technical expert from the MOD attended a G8 Y2K meeting in Moscow. The possibility of trilateral talks between the UK, the US and Russia is being pursued.

Mutual Defence Agreement (USA)

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list (a) the number of personnel currently working in the United States under the auspices of the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement, (b) which US facility they are working in and (c) their purpose for being there. [88136]

Mr. Spellar: There are four UK officials serving in the US under the auspices of the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA). All are located in the British Embassy, Washington, DC. Their duties are to facilitate the conduct of bilateral business within the provisions of the MDA. In addition, there are three staff seconded from AWE Aldermaston to the US to assist with the technical development of facilities of mutual interest. Currently, two are stationed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and one at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many visits of UK personnel to the US under the auspices of the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement have occurred in the last 12 months. [88138]

Mr. Spellar: During the period 1 June 1998 to 31 May 1999, a total of 235 visits to the US, involving one or more individuals, took place under the auspices of the 1958 UK/US Mutual Defence Agreement.

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many EIVRs have been generated as a result of exchanges of information under the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement in each of the last five years; and if he will place unclassified versions in the Library. [88139]

Mr. Spellar: Two Exchanges of Information by Visit and Report, EIVRs, have occurred within the last five years. One, on the subject of Test Monitoring, was generated in 1997 and first met in 1998. The most recent, on matters concerned with the future contract to manage the Atomic Weapons Establishment, was both created and met in 1998. The details of such exchanges are invariably classified and are withheld under the terms of Exemption

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Category 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information relating to defence, security and international relations. Accordingly, no unclassified version is, or will be, available.

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