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Written Answers to Questions
Friday 26 January 2001
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future provision of training for the Sierra Leone army. 
Since June 2000, British forces have provided short-term training to Sierra Leone. Some 6,500 members of the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) have been given basic infantry skills. The training programmes have gone well, with the SLA demonstrating its ability to strengthen control of Government-held areas.
To consolidate the achievements to date, provide more officer/NCO and specialist training and put the SLA in a position to train itself in future, we are planning a further package of training by British teams until September. This will prepare the way for handing over the international military advisory and training team (IMATT), announced by the Prime Minister in March 2000, which will take on the continuing training task. Some six countries, including a sizeable British contingent, are expected to be represented in the IMATT. We plan to increase the IMATT's overall size from the 90 posts originally envisaged to 126. This reflects a detailed assessment of what will be required to consolidate the excellent work that British forces will have achieved through the short-term training teams. We also plan to maintain an operational headquarters in Sierra Leone for the rest of the year, and to demonstrate, through periodic exercises, the availability of the over-the-horizon rapid reaction capability. These measures will increase the cost of our training and equipment programme by some £5 million.
These further measures demonstrate the Government's continuing commitment to help the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN to restore peace and stability throughout Sierra Leone.
Mr. David Atkinson:
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the programme of closures of meterological outstation observing offices at civil airports; when he expects this to be complete; and what arrangements are being made to continue the provision of the information which these offices previously provided to their internal and external customers. 
This is a matter for the chief executive of the Meteorological Office. I have asked the chief executive to write to the hon. Member.
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Letter from Peter Ewins to Mr. David Atkinson, dated 26 January 2001:
I am replying to your question to the Secretary of State for Defence about the closure of meteorological outstation observing offices at civil airports. This matter falls within my area of responsibility as Chief Executive of the Met Office.
The Met Office has been pursuing a policy of increasing automation of observing for a number of years now. We are currently conducting trials to assess the feasibility of extending the automation process into areas where, up to now, manual observations have been the only means of meeting our operational requirements. The trials are due to finish in April this year. Subject to a successful outcome we will, over the following twelve months, withdraw our observing staff from eleven of our observing sites throughout the UK, three of which are located at civil airports, namely Tiree, Stornoway and Kirkwall. In addition, we have recently withdrawn our observers from Bournemouth airport following the installation of automatic observing equipment. The functionality of this equipment, however, is not as high as that in prospect at Tiree, Stornoway and Kirkwall since some of the data we need continues to be collected manually. However, following a network review, we found that this could be done more cost-effectively from our nearby observing sites at Yeovilton and Lee-on-Solent, rather than from Bournemouth.
It is important to note that observations will continue from all the affected sites, with the exception of Hemsby in Norfolk, where our network review has shown that the observations we need can be collected more cost-effectively from a neighbouring site, without compromising data coverage. Moreover the technical developments required to enable and support our programme of automation will also allow us to exploit other existing locations from where automated data may be gathered much more frequently at little extra cost, further improving the observations network and raising service quality. The loss of manual observations will not, therefore, compromise the availability or quality of our forecasts. On the contrary, ultimately we believe our plans will further improve forecasting accuracy.
At civil airports, manual observations are also carried out for the provision of Aerodrome Meteorological Reports (METARs). METARs are necessary for airport operations and it is important to note that responsibility for producing them rests entirely with the airport operator not the Met Office. Prior to the automation of our site at Bournemouth, the airport operator, Bournemouth International Airport (BIA), Limited, fulfilled this responsibility by asking our observers to make the observations in return for providing us with accommodation free of charge. Since the handover of observing services at Bournemouth, BIA's own Air Traffic Control (ATC) staff have been making the observations. Our observers are also currently carrying out the necessary observations at Tiree, Stornoway and Kirkwall on behalf of the Highlands and Islands Airport Limited (HIAL). We are working with HIAL to help them ensure that their staff are suitably prepared in terms of both training and equipment to enable them to take over the observing task. This is not a new arrangement. Observations are already carried out by ATC staff for the provision of METARs at many other civil airports throughout the UK.
We will continue to keep our own requirements under constant review and look for further opportunities for automation in order to ensure that the observations network is being run in the most cost-effective manner possible, without compromise to quality.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the value of DERA's assets is; and what percentage of these assets are in Scotland. 
[holding answer 25 January 2001]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to him on 22 January 2001, Official Report, column 423W.
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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the cost is of the upgraded Pegasus engines for the Royal Air Force's future fleet of BAE System Harrier GR9A; and if he will make a statement. 
The estimated cost of upgrading Pegasus engines for the Royal Air Force Harrier aircraft will be approximately £120 million. Aircraft equipped with the upgraded engine will be designated GR9a.
AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the report of the French food agency into the screening of French cattle for BSE; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Nick Brown
[holding answer 8 January 2001]: My officials have studied this report, which details the interim analysis of the results of the first 15,000 cattle investigated in an intended study of 40,000 cattle in the regions of Lower Normandy, Brittany and the Loire. The survey is intended to target the populations of cattle where there may be an increased probability of finding BSE cases--found dead, culls and emergency slaughtered cattle.
This comprehensive report indicates that there probably has been significant under-reporting of suspect BSE cases in France in the past. The targeted surveillance programme identified 32 positive cases, whereas in the same regions and over the same time period (7 August to 24 October 2000), the clinical surveillance programme identified only 11 BSE cases.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to seek a UK derogation on the EU ban on fishmeal in animal feed. 
Mr. Nick Brown
[holding answer 22 January 2001]: I will consider the UK position in the light of the outcome of the current consultation exercise on the feed ban, the results of Commission missions to member states, and other developments.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which Government department is responsible for monitoring imports of over-30-month beef at its point of entry into the UK. 
Mr. Nick Brown
[holding answer 22 January 2001]: Over-30-month beef does not have to be monitored at the point of import as there are no import requirements relating to the age of beef. Controls on the age of beef relate to its sale for human consumption which is a matter for the Food Standards Agency.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what record the Government keeps of how much imported over-30-month beef is entering the United Kingdom. 
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Mr. Nick Brown
[holding answer 22 January 2001]: Records of beef imports into the UK are not broken down by age.