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Defence Capability

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the (a) objectives and (b) present work programme of the Defence Capability Initiative; and if consideration of theatre-wide missile defences forms part of that programme. [111356]

Mr. Hoon [holding answer 22 February 2000]: The Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI) aims to improve NATO's defence capabilities in order to ensure the effectiveness of multinational operations across the full spectrum of Alliance missions, with a special focus on improving interoperability among Alliance forces (and, where applicable, between Alliance and Partner forces).

The DCI addressed five key areas where NATO has identified shortfalls and deficiencies in force capabilities (deployability and mobility; sustainability and logistics; effective engagement; survivability of forces and infrastructure; and command and control).

The UK strongly supports the DCI. It reflects both the work that we undertook in the Strategic Defence Review and the emerging lessons learned from Kosovo. Successful implementation of the DCI will also assist the achievement of the European Headline Goal, agreed at Helsinki in December 1999. We welcome the progress that has been made so far, and look forward to further substantial capability improvements.

The DCI includes consideration of Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence. UK policy remains as set out in my answer to my hon. Friend on 9 December 1999, Official Report, column 594W.

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Nuclear Test Veterans

Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress there has been in the National Radiological Protection Board study on the incidence of multiple myeloma among UK nuclear test veterans. [111689]

Dr. Moonie: I am pleased to report that work on the study into the incidence of multiple myeloma in the nuclear test veteran population is under way. The first meeting of the independent Oversight Committee took place on 8 November 1999, at which matters such as methodology, scope and timetable were agreed. An observer from my Department and another from the British Nuclear Test Veterans' Association were present. It was originally intended that the study should examine only the incidence of multiple myeloma. However, the Oversight Committee has recommended that, as the information will be available, the scope of the study should be extended to cover other causes of death and other forms of cancer. My Department accepts this recommendation.

The National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) have begun to gather the necessary data from military and other national records and the data collection phase is expected to complete by the middle of this year. Thereafter, the data will be validated and analysed. The NRPB report will then be peer reviewed and the findings published early next year in a suitable scientific journal. This is slightly later than was first envisaged and is due essentially to the NRPB's existing commitments and the time taken to constitute the Oversight Committee.

Chinook Crash (Mull of Kintyre)

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what conclusion investigators reached about the possibility of an unforeseen technical malfunction that would not have left any physical evidence as having occurred in the final flight of RAF Chinook ZD576 on 2 June 1994. [108759]

Mr. Spellar: The initial stage of the Board of Inquiry acknowledged that an unforeseen technical malfunction, which would not necessarily have left any physical evidence, was a possibility and could not be discounted. They concluded however that technical failure was unlikely to have been the direct cause of the accident, although they considered it possible that a technical malfunction or indication could have provided a distraction to the crew.

None the less, after careful consideration of all the available evidence the RAF Board of Inquiry concluded that the most probable cause of the accident was that the crew selected an inappropriate rate of climb to safely overfly the Mull of Kintyre, and the actions of the crew were thus held to be the direct cause of the crash.

Through-deck Carriers

Mr. Gill: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the average annual cost is of maintaining and manning a through-deck carrier. [109861]

Mr. Spellar: The average cost of maintaining a through-deck carrier is currently assessed at some £17 million per annum. In addition the average cost of the ship's company is around a further £17 million per

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annum, although such costs vary according to the phase of the ship's operating cycle. For example, while in refit the ship's company would reduce significantly, with the associated average annual manning cost reduced to some £2 to £3 million.


Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 4 February 2000, Official Report, column 744W, on DERA, what assumptions have been made about the size of the credit to the defence budget. [109351]

Mr. Hoon [holding answer 11 February 2000]: For strictly planning purposes we have assumed that a Public Private Partnership for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency will generate a credit to the Defence Budget; the actual size of any credit will ultimately depend on the PPP option chosen. No final decision on this has yet been made.

Departmental Functions (Food)

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if all food served at his Department's official functions meets the standards of production required of domestic producers. [109769]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 11 February 2000]: Food served up for departmental functions comes from a variety of domestic and non-domestic sources. Food supplied to the Ministry of Defence must meet our quality standards and comply with relevant United Kingdom, European Community and other legislative requirements, including prescribed welfare standards, which govern home and imported products.

Defence Exports

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the costs and benefits of defence exports to the UK. [110319]

Dr. Moonie: The Government believe defence exports foster a healthy, technologically capable and competitive UK Defence Industry. Competition for defence contracts has helped to stimulate efficiency in UK firms to the benefit of our own defence needs while enhancing their ability to innovate and compete successfully in international markets. Defence exports can also contribute to international stability by strengthening bilateral and collective defence relationships. MOD officials are currently working, with independent academic support, on an assessment of the costs and benefits of defence exports to the UK for completion later this year.

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Davidson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many questions for written answer he replied to by means of a letter placed in the Library rather than by a substantive answer in the Official Report in session 1999-2000 to date; and if he will make a statement. [110638]

Dr. Moonie: As at 15 February 2000, my Department had received 465 questions for written answer in the current session. Of these, 15 were replied to by means of a letter placed in the Library of the House.

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Mr. Quentin Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list those defence contractors which have been (a) instructed not to submit invoices for defence equipment and supplies until after the end of the current financial year and (b) have been asked to accept that payment will not be made until then. [110553]

Dr. Moonie: No defence contractors have been instructed not to submit invoices until after the end of the current financial year. The MOD routinely enters into agreements with its suppliers to promote commercial relationships which benefit both parties. Details are commercially confidential between us and individual companies and are consequently being withheld under Exemption 7a2 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. Our arrangements are freely entered into by both sides.

Communications Equipment (Balkans)

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if the additional communications equipment supplied to army units in the Balkans is compatible with the BOWMAN specification. [110841]

Mr. Hoon: There are fundamental differences in the capabilities of the communications equipment being supplied off-the-shelf to army units in the Balkans and that being procured by the BOWMAN project.

The equipment being supplied to units in the Balkans will mostly be installed in fixed locations and will provide a wide area network in support of peacekeeping operations. BOWMAN has a much wider scope. It seeks to provide mobile, tactical, war-fighting communications, to a military specification, for use by all three Services. In order to be suitable for a hostile environment, the BOWMAN military communications system must be capable of operating without being dependent on a fixed, static infrastructure.

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