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Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the need for additional warm weather clothing and footwear of soldiers on standby for deployment in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. [18224]

Mr. Ingram [holding answer 26 November 2001]: We continue carefully to monitor the weather in Afghanistan and will make appropriate judgments on the equipment required by any UK service personnel deploying to the region. Until a decision to deploy troops is taken, and the precise timelines have been agreed, we cannot judge in detail what winter clothing will be required.

However, we will as always do everything possible to ensure the safety and welfare of our personnel while deployed on operations, and plans are already in place to ensure that in the event of a further deployment to the region over the winter period, they will be properly equipped for the conditions they are likely to face.

Mr. Galloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what British forces participated in the military action at Qala-I-Jhangi in Afghanistan on 25 to 27 November; and if he will make a statement. [20026]

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what advice his Department has given to Northern Alliance military personnel regarding adherence to the Geneva Convention; [20242]

Mr. Hoon: The Northern Alliance have been informed that we expect them to respect the rights of prisoners in accordance with applicable international standards. I understand that a number of Taliban fighters at Qala-I-Jhangi are reported to have surrendered on Saturday 1 December. Prior to this, I am not aware that any of the Taliban fighters who took up arms after their purported surrender to the Northern Alliance sought to give themselves up.

British troops are operating in Afghanistan, and their tasks include liaison with the Northern Alliance. They are also supporting US troops in these activities. After Taliban fighters held at Qala-I-Jhangi fort overpowered their captors and seized the armoury, British troops went to the aid of their US colleagues and attempted to recover, under heavy fire, two US personnel apparently captured by the Taliban fighters.

I am withholding further details under Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

13 Dec 2001 : Column: 965W


Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many days were lost due to sickness absence in the Department in each of the last four years. [21298]

Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence sick absence rates for civilian non-industrial staff in the last four years for which data are available, measured in working days absence per staff year, are as follows:


The MOD is committed to improving the health of its staff and managing sick absence more effectively. A programme of measures is being implemented to help meet the target in MOD's Service Delivery Agreement to reduce sickness absence from the 1998 level of 8 days per staff year to 6.6 days by the end of 2003.

Military Testing Programmes

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he has taken to agree (a) common military testing programmes and (b) common use of testing sites with other European nations. [20904]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 5 December 2001]: The UK is a signatory to the four nations Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (with the United States, France and German) relating to the Mutual Acceptance of Test and Evaluation for the Reciprocal Procurement of Defence Equipment under which we jointly agree testing standards known as ITOPs (International Test Operating Procedures). These permit us to test defence equipment to a fixed standard. The results of testing equipment using these standards are accepted by the signatories to the MOU thus saving the costs of multiple tests. A number of ITOPs have been used as the basis for NATO standards.

The UK is one of the leading members of the Western European Armaments Group Sub Group on Test Facilities (SGTF). To assist the common use of testing sites, this group has developed a detailed database describing all the Government-owned defence test and evaluation facilities covering 15 European nations. Further additions to this database are expected in the coming year from new member nations. In addition, SGTF has developed an umbrella MOU to facilitate, on a payment basis, the use of other nations' facilities.

Separately, the group is tasked by Defence Ministers, through the national armaments directors of the nations, to produce a European strategy for meeting future test requirements. This strategy may also include the possibilities for the rationalisation of test facilities.

Skynet 5

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he will choose the contractor who will deliver the Skynet 5 project; and when he expects it to be operational. [21932]

13 Dec 2001 : Column: 966W

Dr. Moonie: We currently plan to announce the preferred bidder for the Skynet 5 in the early part of 2002. Initial services are expected to commence in 2005 with full capability being delivered some three years later.

Royal Marines Headquarters

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to move the Commandant General's headquarters for the Royal Marines from HMS Excellence on Whale Island; what the time scale for this move is; how much the move will cost; and if he will make a statement. [22197]

Mr. Ingram: The functions of the Commandant General Royal Marines (CGRM), currently based on Whale Island, will be absorbed into the new, fully integrated fleet headquarters which will be formed in the Portsmouth area in April 2002. £27 million has been allocated to the overall fleet reorganisation programme of which the CGRM restructuring element is a part. The fleet headquarters reorganisation is expected to realise cost savings of approximately £160 million over 25 years. It is planned to occupy purpose-built accommodation on Whale Island from the end of 2003.

RAF Menwith Hill

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 23 October 2001, Official Report, column 114W, on RAF Menwith Hill, when the additional confidential arrangements were signed; how many there are; who the parties to these arrangements are; who has been informed of them; and when Parliament was first informed about the existence of these arrangements. [22148]

Mr. Ingram: The confidential arrangements relating to the presence of US forces in the UK are of long-standing, dating from 1950. The arrangements were concluded as part of normal bilateral business with the US Government, which is not routinely reported to Parliament.

Aircraft Carriers

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to speed up the United Kingdom's future aircraft carrier programme; and if he will make a statement. [22442]

Dr. Moonie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 1 November 2001, Official Report, column 763W, to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle).

MOD Housing, Portsmouth

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what sites around Portsmouth have applied for outline planning consent for MoD housing; which sites are being considered for the PFI building contract for 160 houses; what the cost will be of building these houses; and if he will make a statement. [22358]

Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence is short of accommodation for officers and certain other ranks in the Portsmouth area. The Defence Housing Executive is considering a PFI solution to this problem.

13 Dec 2001 : Column: 967W

In preparation for this new housing a number of potential sites are being considered in order to select the most suitable location. Consultations are currently under way with the appropriate local planning authorities.

The following sites are being considered.

HMS DaedalusConsultation in progress
Eastney sports groundConsultation in progress
HMS SultanConsultation in progress
RN Hospital HaslarConsultation in progress
HMS Excellent (Whale Island)Consultation in progress

Consideration of the Stamshaw (Matapan Road) and HMS Dryad sites have been withdrawn after consultation.

Bids have not been sought so the costs are not yet known.

Chemical and Munition Dumps

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the (a) locations and (b) inventories of chemical and munition dumps in the coastal waters of the United Kingdom. [21855]

Dr. Moonie: The list of dumpsites of chemical and other munitions located in the coastal waters of the United Kingdom has been placed in the Library of the House. Primarily, the list contains information compiled by the Hydrographic Office from that published in Admiralty Charts for known dumpsites in UK waters.

In addition, the list contains the locations of the deepwater sites in the Atlantic used for the disposal of chemical weapons after World War Two and details of some, although not all, of the service range danger areas in the coastal water of the United Kingdom. The D307 range danger area, which is near to my hon. Friend's constituency, is not shown as a designed sea dumpsite on the list of dumpsites, as explosive ordnance was buried on the site rather than being dumped at sea.

Detailed information of the inventories of chemical weapons and other munitions disposed of to those dumpsites is no longer available, as may records were destroyed after the disposal as a matter of routine custom and practice. As a signatory to the Oslo-Paris (OSPAR) Convention, the United Kingdom ceased all dumping of munitions at sea in 1992 and continues to honour that commitment.

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