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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 22 October 2001


Biological Warfare

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what prophylactic research has been conducted by his Department and agencies responsible to his Department into (a) anthrax and (b) other biological agents. [8762]

Mr. Hoon: The remit of Defence Science Technology Laboratory Chemical (Dstl) and Biological Sciences at Porton Down is to provide the UK and its armed forces with safe and effective protection in the event of exposure to chemical or biological weapons. This involves conducting research into prophylactic measures, such as vaccines, antibiotics or antivirals for a variety of different biological agents including anthrax.

Dstl Porton Down seeks to publish the results of its research wherever security considerations allow. In recent years work has been published on a new vaccine against plague, which is currently undergoing clinical trials and the development of a new vaccine against anthrax which it is hoped will enter clinical trials in the near future. Additionally, research results on various prophylactic measures against a range of agents and diseases including Tularaemia, VEE, SEB, Brucellosis, Glanders, Ricin and Botulinum toxin have been published in the peer reviewed technical literature.

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the potential for aerosol cloud travel; and what clinical and epidemiological data on human infections has been collated relating to a deliberate release of contagious organisms and toxins. [8618]

Mr. Hoon: The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Porton Down has developed a package of state of the art atmospheric dispersion models to determine the potential travel of aerosol clouds.

These models form part of an extensive suite of tools and data which are used by the Ministry of Defence to assess the potential hazard posed by chemical and biological weapons. For agents of biological origin, the data include estimates of the human toxicity or infectivity, the transmissibility, atmospheric stability and the availability of detection, protection and medical countermeasures.

Cluster Bombs

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what plans he has to review the use of cluster bombs by the armed forces; and if he will make a statement; [8724]

Mr. Ingram: A large number of hon. Members have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence requesting reaction to recent large scale postcard

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campaigns co-ordinated by the non-governmental organisations Tearfund, Activist and Landmine Action. These pre-printed postcards express concerns about cluster bombs.

The Government have no plans to review the use of cluster bombs, which are a legitimate weapon that provide a capability against certain targets which cannot be effectively achieved in other ways.

Unexploded ordnance, including unexploded cluster bomblets, will form a major theme of the Review Conference of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in December 2001. Our central aim there will be to work towards a practical solution that secures our necessary capability as well as addressing humanitarian concerns.

Prisoners of War (Compensation)

Peter Bradley: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what guidance his Department has given to the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region as to the criteria former prisoners of the Japanese are required to meet in order to qualify for the ex gratia payments announced on 7 November 2000. [8980]

Dr. Moonie: The ex gratia scheme for former captives of the Japanese is administered by the War Pensions Agency, which became an Executive Agency of the Ministry of Defence with effect from 8 June 2001.

A leaflet setting out who can claim the ex gratia payment was issued to all those who contacted the War Pensions Agency for information and with every claim form. Copies were also sent to all ex-service organisations and groups representing civilian internees. The eligibility criteria relating to civilian internees were set out in my answer on 11 July 2001, Official Report, columns 516–17W to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

Royal Navy Vessels

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which Royal Navy vessels are deployed east of Suez; and in what role they operate. [9036]

Mr. Ingram: The following Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels are currently deployed east of Suez:

The majority of Royal Navy vessels deployed east of Suez are part of Argonaut 01, a routine training deployment, the primary focus of which is Exercise Saif Sareea II in Oman. The vessels involved in Exercise Saif Sareea II are split into a number of Task Groups as follows:

A Carrier Group led by HMS Illustrious comprising: HMS Cornwall, HMS Marlborough, HMS Southampton and HMS Monmouth. The group is supported by RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Brambleleaf.

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An Amphibious Group led by HMS Fearless comprising: HMS Ocean, HMS Nottingham and Landing Ships RFA Sir Tristram, RFA Sir Bedivere, RFA Sir Percivale, RFA Sir Galahad with support provided by RFA Fort Rosalie, RFA Fort Austin and RFA Oakleaf.

A Mine Countermeasure Group comprising of HMS Inverness, HMS Cattistock, HMS Quorn and HMS Walney with support from RFA Diligence.

The survey ship HMS Roebuck is conducting Survey Operations and Beach Survey in support of Saif Sareea II.

In addition, RFA Sea Centurion, which remains in the Gulf, has provided heavy lift for Exercise Saif Sareea.

HMS Kent is deployed to the Gulf as the Armilla Patrol ship with her support ship RFA Bayleaf. RFA Bayleaf is also participating in Exercise Saif Sareea II. In addition, the survey ship HMS Beagle is in the Gulf on a long planned deployment and briefly participate in Saif Sareea II before resuming her Survey Operations.

HMS Northumberland is also deployed east of Suez. Initially tasked as the Armilla Patrol ship, on relief, she subsequently deployed out of area in order to participate in long-standing commitments in Australia.

HMS Triumph, HMS Trafalgar and HMS Superb are currently deployed east of Suez on operational tasking.

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what visits are planned by Royal Navy ships to Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong or Singapore in the next 12 months. [9037]

Mr. Ingram: HMS Nottingham is scheduled to deploy to the Asia Pacific region between March-December 2002 to meet our annual commitments to the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) with Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. Her programme is currently under consideration, and while specific details remain confidential for security reasons, it is hoped that port visits to Singapore, Australia and New Zealand will be undertaken during her deployment.

HMS York is also scheduled to deploy to the Asia Pacific region between January-June 2002 as an integral part of a multinational French Task Group deployment. Her programme is currently under consideration in consultation with the French authorities but it is anticipated that the programme will include visits to both Singapore and Australia.

Non-lethal Weapons

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many individuals comprised the UK participants in each of the formal meetings and war games under the auspices of the US-UK Master Exchange Memorandum of Understanding on Non-Lethal Weapons; from which organisations; and what the estimated cost was of UK participation in each event. [7117]

Mr. Ingram: I am withholding the information requested under exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information as disclosure could affect the conduct of business under the agreement. The detailed costings for each event could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

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Forces Personnel

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the shortfall in personnel is in the (a) Army, (b) Royal Marines, (c) Royal Air Force and (d) Royal Navy. [8427]

Mr. Ingram: In the case of the trained strength of the Army, the shortfall against the current requirement as at 1 September 2001 stood at 6,669. In the case of the other Services, the shortfalls were: RN 1,358, RM 313 and RAF 1,029.

Apache Helicopter Programme

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what delays there have been in the Apache helicopter programme; and if he will make a statement. [8301]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 22 October 2001]: The Apache aircraft delivery programme has remained close to schedule since contract award in March 1996. The in-service date, based on the delivery of nine aircraft, was achieved on 16 January 2001, only two weeks later than contractually scheduled.

However, Apache aircrew training has been delayed by eight months due to problems with the Full Mission Simulator (FMS). Substantial progress has been made towards resolving these problems, but the FMS is not expected to become available until May 2002. Aircrew training is now scheduled to begin in June 2002. In the meantime, some training is being undertaken in the US.

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