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RAF Chilmark

15. Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): When the RAF vacated RAF Chilmark; and when it envisages disposing of the site. [113703]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): RAF Chilmark closed in 1995. Parts of the site have already been sold, having been cleared of munitions, and it is envisaged that further areas, including the headquarters element of the site, will be

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released for disposal later this year. It is anticipated that the final section of the site will come forward for disposal in 2002 or shortly thereafter.

Mr. Brooke: That news is extremely welcome. My understanding is that the cost of maintaining the site is of the order of £500,000. The fact that disposal is being brought forward will be welcomed in the neighbourhood.

Dr. Moonie: It is expensive to maintain such a site--about £490,000 per annum. The total cost of cleaning and preparing the site for sale in accordance with MOD policy over the past five years amounted to 371,460.

Military Equipment (Charges)

17. Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): If he will make a statement on the method used for calculating charges made to other Government departments for the use of military equipment in connection with emergency situations and natural disasters. [113706]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): As I have already indicated to the House, where military equipment is deployed on an emergency task that it is another Department's responsibility to fund, the Ministry of Defence--in common with other Departments--calculates charges based on the marginal cost of providing the assistance, in accordance with well-established administration practice and Government accounting principles. That is the amount that would not have been incurred had the relief activity not taken place.

Mr. Goggins: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. This morning, I spoke to a senior member of the team from CAFOD--the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development--which has been working in Mozambique in recent weeks. He described the British Government's response to the catastrophe as "brilliant". Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that now would be a good time to sit down with other Ministers and with representatives of non-governmental organisations to try to make improvements in the way that resources are charged for and allocated, so that we can continue to provide effective support and responses to natural disasters when they occur.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for paying tribute to the excellent work that has been done in Mozambique by British armed forces and by civilians. I emphasise that, with the exception of helicopters from Malawi and South Africa, British helicopters were the first from any other country to help people in Mozambique. That is a tribute to the speed with which the armed forces, in particular, were able to get the helicopters down there in very difficult circumstances.

Certainly, there are lessons to be learned--as there are from all deployments. I shall follow my hon. Friend's advice and try to learn from that particular deployment.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If everything in the garden about charging for MOD helicopters is so rosy, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why the Secretary of State for International Development criticised the MOD

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on the "Today" programme? She stated that the MOD was proposing to charge far too much for making helicopters available in this crisis.

Mr. Hoon: I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstood what my right hon. Friend was saying. She made it quite clear that, in the early phase of the deployment, her priority--rightly--was to secure helicopters that were locally and immediately available. It was only when it became clear that the situation was more difficult and that further helicopters were not available in the region that it became necessary to turn to the Ministry of Defence to obtain helicopters from a great distance and, obviously, at considerable cost.

European Rapid Reaction Force

20. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): If he will make a statement about the ability of the planned European rapid reaction force to act in instances of natural disaster. [113708]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Although we are not creating a standing European rapid reaction force, European Union member states at the Helsinki summit committed themselves to undertaking the full range of Petersberg tasks and developing the ability to do so rapidly. Those tasks cover a wide spectrum, including humanitarian response to natural disasters.

Mr. Murphy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that one of the aims of future defence strategies would be to get as many people from as many countries to a disaster scene as quickly as possible? I am thinking especially of the earthquake in Turkey last year and of the floods in Mozambique this year. Can he assure the House and me that, in future, he will ensure that full discussions are held with our European partners about the suitability of the rapid reaction force to reach emergencies and disaster scenes as urgently as possible?

Mr. Hoon: That is one of the explicit tasks that were set out at Petersberg; we are required to fulfil it as part of our contribution to the RRF. I shall certainly take account of my hon. Friend's words and ensure that they are carried out.

Colchester Garrison

21. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): When he expects work to commence on the new barracks at Colchester garrison. [113709]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Subject to successful negotiations, it is expected that work will commence during the summer of 2001.

Mr. Russell: Will the Minister give an assurance that the Ministry of Defence will comply with both the spirit and the letter of the Deputy Prime Minister's brownfield land disposal and redevelopment regulations when it comes to the disposal of the existing Colchester barracks?

Dr. Moonie: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

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Schools (Service Families)

23. Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West): What steps his Department is taking to improve access to schools for service families. [113711]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave earlier today to my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport (Ms Coffey) and for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins).

Dr. Naysmith: I thank the Minister for his earlier replies and point out that they were mostly concerned with United Kingdom service families. Does he accept, as I do, that it is important to look after the needs of service families overseas? Will he also say a word or two about what goes on in Cyprus, and perhaps Belize, to ensure that service families' children receive good education?

Mr. Spellar: Given the rate at which we are moving through the questions, I am more than happy to say a few words on the latter subject. However, I am also pleased to have the opportunity to draw attention to the excellent work that is undertaken by our schools for service children overseas. For example, at key stage 1, if such schools were treated as a local education authority they would be fifth in the country--and that is behind a number of extremely well-off areas. At key stage 3, they would be fourth, behind three extremely well-placed areas. That is a tribute to the work that is undertaken by our education services, especially given the mobile and sometimes unsettled life style that service families have to face.

We must ensure that we integrate that work into the educational work here in the UK. That is partly to do with schooling, to which I referred in previous answers, and partly to do with transfers to higher education--in which connection I am very pleased to say that, from September this year, access to student loans will have been achieved, which will be a considerable weight off the minds of many families.

Shoeburyness Ranges

25. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): What further progress has been made in the disposal and development of the old and new ranges in Shoeburyness. [113713]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Details of the sale of the old ranges and Horseshoe barracks, Shoeburyness have been announced. I have written to the hon. Gentleman about the outcome; I trust that he has received my response.

On the question of the new ranges, DERA is now working with SERCO Ltd. to rationalise the estate and introduce new businesses which can co-exist with the continuing range activities. At a public meeting on 8 March 2000, DERA and SERCO put forward their proposals for regeneration of the site to the joint councils of Southend and Rochford. DERA and SERCO will work closely with both councils in preparing a 10-year

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development plan for the introduction of new commercial activities on the site. Public consultation will be a key feature in taking forward any proposals.

Sir Teddy Taylor: Is the Minister aware of the concern in Shoeburyness that the plans for the new and old ranges involve the building of 700 additional new houses when already in the area we have serious traffic congestion and a shortage of public facilities? Will the Minister and his colleagues ensure that the transport problem is resolved before the houses are completed? Finally, can he explain why the bid of £8 million was accepted when a larger bid for only 150 houses, submitted by a local firm, was turned down?

Dr. Moonie: On the hon. Gentleman's latter point, the bid that was accepted was that which was considered to give the Department best value for money. On his first point, the purpose of the detailed consultations that we have held with local councils is to address the very concerns that he is raising, and I trust that they will be resolved before the matter goes any further.

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