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Written Answers to Questions

Thursday 27 January 2000


HMS Glorious

Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he took, following his oral statement of 28 January 1999, Official Report, columns 564-76, to ensure that contrary opinions to the official view of the HMS Glorious affair were fully taken into account in the latest revision of the official account; and if he will make a statement. [104751]

Mr. Kilfoyle [holding answer 24 January 2000]: The circumstances surrounding the sinking of HMS Glorious have been most thoroughly researched within the MOD, during which opinions and interpretations from a wide variety of sources have been considered. In the course of these exhaustive investigations some new information has come to light which has enabled the MOD to make further minor revisions to the account already provided. This new information incudes the fact that it was the Commander in Chief Home Fleet who insisted that the Glorious should be diverted to Scapa Flow to conduct a court-martial, and not the captain of the carrier himself. In addition, since January 1999, the Naval Historical Branch has been able to track down the daily intelligence summaries which show that the late Sir Harry Hinsley's recollections, broadcast in the Channel 4 programme, were in error. These records, which in the original, are signed off by Sir Harry show that Bletchley Park did indeed report increased wireless signal traffic in the Western Baltic and the Kattegat during the relevant period, but that the assessment of experts at the time was that it was associated with U-boat activity, and not that of heavy German surface ships.

This extra information does not bring into question the conclusions arrived at in the MOD paper reviewed by my predecessor after the adjournment debate in this House in January last year. I shall arrange for a copy of the revised paper, incorporating these slight amendments to be placed in the Library of the House.

Parachute Regiment

Mr. Duncan Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current strength of each of the battalions of the Parachute Regiment. [106564]

Mr. Spellar [holding answer 24 January 2000]: The current UK trained strength for each of the three Regular parachute battalions and the Territorial Army battalion, as at 1 December 1999, is shown in the table.

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BattalionTrained strength
1 Para(1)538
2 Para(1)(2)531
3 Para(1)(3)644
4 Para (V)(4)387

(1) The figures are for UK Trained Army Personnel only, and exclude Locally Employed personnel, Royal Irish (Home Service) personnel, Reservists mobilised for duties associated with Bosnia, Full-time Reserve Service personnel, and Gurkhas.

(2) Strength of 2 Para does not include the Gurkha Reinforcement Company (GRC) that is currently attached to it.

(3) 3 Para are currently on an operational tour which is reflected in their increased numbers.

(4) On 1 July 1999, 4 and 10 Para merged to form a new 4 Para (V).

Departmental Staff

Mr. Stephen Twigg: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage of the armed forces were (a) registered disabled, (b) women, (c) from ethnic minorities and (d) from (i) independent, (ii) grammar and (iii) other schools in (1) 1970, (2) 1979, (3) 1989 and (4) 1999. [106760]

Mr. Spellar: The information requested is as follows:


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The education background of serving other ranks is not held centrally and can be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Equal Opportunities

Mr. Stephen Twigg: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his policy regarding equal opportunities for women, disabled people, ethnic minorities and those from social classes IIIM, IV and V in the armed forces. [106573]

Mr. Spellar: The Armed Forces Equal Opportunities goal, published in March 1999, is to achieve universal acceptance and application of a working environment free from harassment, intimidation and unlawful discrimination, in which all have equal opportunity, consistent with our legal obligations, to realise their full potential in contributing to the maintenance and enhancement of operational effectiveness. The armed forces respect and value every individual's unique contribution, irrespective of their race, ethnic origin, religion or gender and without reference to social background or sexual orientation.

Members of the armed forces are exempt from the employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Disability or a history of disability is not compatible with the need for a combat effective fighting force, able to undertake a full range of military operations anywhere in the world. Service personnel disabled on duty are, depending on circumstances, allowed to continue to serve as long as such service will not undermine overall combat effectiveness. This approach reflects the Services' duty of care to the individual and allows them to benefit from the individual's experience and ensures a return on their training investment.

Depleted Uranium

Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what information British forces in Kosovo have given to the Kosovar population about measures to reduce exposure to the insoluble radioactive alpha-particles given off by depleted uranium dust. [106925]

Mr. Spellar: The health risks from DU have been assessed as low. It is unlikely that anyone other than those in an armoured vehicle penetrated by a DU projectile, or those spending prolonged periods within a few tens of metres of the point at which a DU penetrator had impacted with a hard target, would be exposed to large enough quantities of particulate material for them to receive a radiation dose greater than 20-30 millisieverts. For comparison purposes, the UK statutory annual dose limit

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for employees aged 18 years and over is 50 millisieverts. Consequently, I understand that no specific advice has been promulgated by UNMIK for civilians in Kosovo.

Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what information Her Majesty's Government have issued to the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia about the radioactive and chemical toxicity of depleted uranium weapons. [106926]

Mr. Spellar: None. We are not aware of anyone in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia who might have been exposed to possible contamination from depleted uranium munitions.

Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if the US Department of Defense has informed his Department of the location of areas in (a) Serbia and (b) Kosovo which are contaminated with depleted uranium as a result of NATO bombing; [106930]

Mr. Spellar: The UN Secretary General has requested that NATO make available more detailed information concerning the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) rounds in Kosovo, including locations of use. NATO staff are currently preparing this detailed information for release to the United Nations. I will write to my hon. Friend and a copy of my letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans the Government have to decontaminate those areas in the former Yugoslavia affected by depleted uranium munitions. [106927]

Mr. Spellar: Reconstruction and remediation is primarily a matter for civil agencies within the international community rather than specifically for NATO or the MOD. However, British forces have played their part--particularly in the clearance of unexploded ordnance.

The UN report on the consequences for the environment of the Kosovo conflict was published on 5 October 1999. Preliminary radiation measures were taken from destroyed military vehicles and from around the heavily damaged Police Station and Post Office in Pristina. No indications of DU contamination were found, although the report acknowledges that this does not exclude the possibility of DU-contaminated areas elsewhere in Kosovo.

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