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Nuclear Non-proliferation

3. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): If he will make a statement on progress in nuclear non-proliferation. [8351]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Government have always regarded the prevention of nuclear proliferation as having the highest importance. The way ahead for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament was set out at the successful nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference last year.

The United Kingdom played a key role in achieving a positive outcome to that conference, and we have been following through the actions agreed there. Agreed international priorities are to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and to stop nuclear testing, both by observing the existing moratorium and through the comprehensive test ban treaty.

Lynne Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. What assessment have the Government made of the US Government's refusal to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty, their stated wish to abandon the anti-ballistic missile treaty and their continuing efforts to develop national missile defence? What are the effects of those on nuclear proliferation?

Mr. Ingram: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with those points in previous answers. We are involved in a comprehensive review of all matters, following 11 September. Clearly, we can take considerable comfort from the active role played by the US in engaging with its allies and countries with which it would not previously have engaged. We are now in a new international environment and progress can be made on the back of that.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, given the development of an increasingly pragmatic and more sustainable and sensible relationship with Russia, the forthcoming meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin represents a solid

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opportunity to come to a proper agreement on a balanced and verifiable reduction to a much lower level of nuclear warheads on both sides?

Mr. Ingram: The answer is a broad yes. We can all take encouragement from those discussions, not only with Russia but with other countries across the board. We are in a new environment, as I commented earlier, and much strength can be taken from that.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Looking ahead 30 years, the MOD sees the threat of a missile attack with weapons of mass destruction as a low risk. Surely after 11 September we should see that, practically and tactically, the real and immediate danger is the surreptitiously smuggled weapon. We should be concentrating on the risk that, for example, a van in Parliament square containing a nuclear weapon could obliterate Westminster and Whitehall.

Mr. Ingram: I can assure the House that we ignore no threats—from wherever they may come.

Colchester Garrison

4. Bob Russell (Colchester): What progress has been made on the development of the new garrison at Colchester. [8352]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Negotiations with the preferred bidder, RMPA Services Ltd., are continuing. I expect that a contract will be let by the middle of 2002. That is, of course, subject to the granting of the necessary planning consents.

Bob Russell: The scheme for the new barracks is greatly welcome, but the Minister must be aware of the considerable concern about the design and quality of the accommodation. Is that not a direct result of the private finance initiative, whereby the companies are involved in order to make a profit, and is it not at the expense of providing the best possible accommodation for the best army in the world?

Mr. Ingram: The answer to that is no.

Royal Air Force

6. Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): If he will make a statement on defence policy priorities for the UK air force; and how they have changed since the strategic defence review was published in 1998. [8354]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The measures affecting the Royal Air Force that emerged from the strategic defence review are being implemented. Lessons learned from the Kosovo campaign about precision attack and communications have been, and are being, put into practice through the procurement of Maverick missiles, precision-guided bombs and secure air-to-air communications equipment.

I announced in January that we had concluded that the joint strike fighter represented the best option to meet our needs for a future joint combat aircraft. On Friday, it was announced that Lockheed Martin had been selected as the

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prime contractor. That is good news for our armed forces, including the Royal Air Force, and good news for British industry.

Mr. Borrow: I welcome the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. Many thousands of BAE workers at Samlesbury and Warton, who will be involved with the joint strike fighter in future years, are really pleased about the announcement made on Friday. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State give the House details of the number of jobs that will be created or sustained either locally in Lancashire or more widely in the north-west of England?

Mr. Hoon: The decision to proceed with Lockheed Martin could secure as much as £3 billion for the United Kingdom's economy in the engineering and manufacturing development phase, but a further £24 billion is in prospect for the downstream production activities. On the employment front, it is likely that the EMD phase will sustain or create some 3,500 jobs in high-technology areas such my hon. Friend's. When the production and support phases begin in a few years' time, that could rise to at least 8,500 jobs. Overseas sales of the aircraft will provide additional industrial opportunities when the time comes.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The Secretary of State will recall that an overflight ban on commercial aircraft was imposed over London after the events of 11 September. That ban has now been lifted. Will the right hon. Gentleman use this opportunity to explain precisely what role the Royal Air Force now has in the protection of London—and, indeed, the House, perhaps between 3 pm and 3.30 pm on Wednesdays—and exactly how aircraft could be shot down over London without causing considerable damage to Greater London?

Mr. Hoon: I can assure hon. Members that the RAF remains on 24-hour standby to deal with any airborne threat to the United Kingdom, but I am sure that the House will understand why it would not be entirely sensible for me go into any more specific detail about that.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Can the Secretary of State confirm that, since the strategic defence review, there has been a very welcome increase in the number of ethnic minority recruits to the RAF? In that context, would this country's media not do well to give more prominence to that fact than to the rantings of the lunatics of al-Muhajiroun and what they are saying today?

Mr. Hoon: I certainly believe that the armed forces have achieved some considerable success in recruiting from ethnic minorities right across the board. Yesterday, I saw figures for Army recruitment in the latest quarter, and they are excellent, but our armed forces recognise that they still have a good way to go to ensure that they are fully representative of the community that they serve so well.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): On Friday's welcome announcement about the joint strike fighter—or F35, as we must now call her—does the Secretary of State agree that it is not only good news for the defence industry but provides at least one settled design for a possible aircraft for the future aircraft carrier? Does he also agree that operations in the Arabian sea demonstrate once again the flexibility of

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carrier operations? Can he confirm that, when the joint strike fighter comes into operation in the RAF, it will have a full suite of weapons, including Meteor?

Mr. Hoon: Obviously, I agree with all the various points that the hon. Gentleman made about the opportunities that the joint strike fighter will provide for British industry and, indeed, the RAF, giving it a state-of-the-art piece of equipment, which will serve this country well for a very long time to come. On specific weapons, I do not think it right to anticipate the next phase of design, which is under way, but certainly the designers will look hard at the ways in which Meteor could be incorporated in that aircraft.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Following the announcement and the north-west's success with the joint strike fighter aircraft, will my right hon. Friend consider the position of the A400M, over which there is a question mark following the Italians possibly buying the Boeing C130?

Mr. Hoon: I assure my hon. Friend that there is no question mark over the A400M—certainly not as a result of any difficulties in Italy. Those who have already committed themselves to the A400M are more than sufficient to meet the expectations of the manufacturers and, indeed, the current price, so I do not envisage any decision in Italy affecting that. Obviously, we are concerned about the fact that there is a continuing question mark over Italy's participation, but I understand that Italy has yet to make a decision.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Does the Secretary of State agree that if it is to be a long haul in Afghanistan, as the Prime Minister predicts, the provision of transport planes is one of the most important things that we can do for the RAF? We welcome the answer that he gave his hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) but will he tell the House, without equivocation, whether a construction contract will be signed for the A400M before Christmas?

Mr. Hoon: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. We are pleased to see him where he is and hope that he stays there for a very long time.

On the point about transport aircraft, Exercise Saif Sareea demonstrated the enormous importance of strategic heavy lift to the armed forces. The range of aircraft now available to the armed forces means that we are beginning to find a comprehensive solution to the problem which other countries need to address as well. That is why we and other countries are enthusiastic supporters of the A400M. However, it would not be sensible for me to give specific indications as to when a contract will be signed. Nevertheless, I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is an absolute determination among those who have committed to A400M to sign as soon as possible.

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