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Dr. Moonie: The Eurofighter is a highly capable, multi-role aircraft, that will replace our Tornado F3s and Jaguars. We expect the RAF to take delivery of its first Eurofighter later this year. This four nation collaborative project is an excellent example of what can be achieved by European nations working together with a common purpose.
Mr. Hoon: I regularly discuss missile defence and related issues with the United States Administration. The future of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty is essentially a bilateral issue for the United States and Russia. We welcome the fact that they are continuing to work together to establish a new strategic framework based on openness and mutual trust.
Mr. Ingram: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has regular discussions with his United States counterpart on a wide range of subjects of mutual interest. Recent discussions have not specifically addressed the joint command of military facilities.
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Dr. Moonie: At the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency Bicester there are three sites (A, B and G) which are surplus to the long-term requirements of the agency and will no longer be required by them after 2004 or earlier. Current plans foresee the continued requirement for the remaining DSDA sites at Bicester.
Mr. Ingram: High morale, as well as being important in its own right, is a vital factor in retaining personnel, which in turn improves manning levels and helps to obtain the optimum return on investment in training. Our aim is to maintain excellent levels of retention and morale through policies that reflect the priorities of our people and their families. For example, we are implementing in full the outcome of the Armed Forces Pay Review, including the proposals for aircrew remuneration.
A key outcome of the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) was the "Policy for People" which addresses terms and conditions; pay and allowances; quality of training; family life; equality of opportunity and provision of better accommodation. All of these are being taken forward as part of all overarching personnel strategy that was introduced in April 2000 to place personnel issues at the centre of our policy making.
The Royal Navy's new landing platform docks, Albion and Bulwark, are both due to enter service in 2003. We are also building four Bay Class Alternative Landing Ship Logistics (ALSLs), which will be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The ALSLs are substantially larger and more capable than the vessels they replace and on current plans will all have entered service by the end of 2005. In conjunction with the new landing platform docks and the helicopter landing platform, HMS Ocean, the ALSLs will bring a substantial increase in the UK's overall capability to conduct amphibious operations and contribute to increased global reach and flexibility.
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Mr. Ingram: UK forces continue to make a vital contribution to all of the tasks undertaken by SFOR and KFOR in building peace and stability in Bosnia and Kosovo. The UK currently contributes some 1,900 personnel to SFOR operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the co-ordinating nation in Multinational Division (South-West). As the framework nation of Multinational Brigade (Centre) in Kosovo, the UK currently contributes some 3,000 personnel to KFOR operations.
Dr. Moonie: Since the announcement of the veterans' initiative and my appointment as Veterans Minister in March of last year, we have been working closely with representatives of the veterans' community to improve the services we offer them. As an early step, we transferred the War Pensions Agency to the Ministry of Defence to deliver a more coherent service to war pensioners. We are committed to maintaining the agency's programme of continuous improvement to the services it provides to its customers, recognised recently in the award of the UNISYS Management Today Excellence Award. In particular, we are working closely with interested veterans' organisations to identify areas where we can bring further improvements in service through closer co-operation with their own activities in support of veterans.
We have also recognised the concern of many veterans and of people more widely that the final resting places of our war dead should be properly respected. In particular, we have moved to address the desecration of maritime war graves by some divers. We have designated 16 wrecks in UK waters as controlled sites and five in international waters as protected places. All military vessels lost in the Falklands conflict will be designated. We have made clear that we will prosecute where we have jurisdiction and are pressing for greater international protection of such wrecks.
The objective of seeking improvements in the support offered to those who have left the services, through closer partnership with the veterans' organisations, has been a key theme of the work of the ministerial task force and the forum of veterans' representatives. There have been two meetings of the Veterans Forum and, as a result, nine working groups have been formed to give practical expression to the initiative's core themes of partnership, identify recognition and care. These working groups are looking at improvements in areas such as resettlement of the most vulnerable service-leavers, communication with veterans, and the educational material available in schools with regard to the achievements of our veterans. The working groups include representatives from the veterans' organisations, as well as from other interested Government
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Departments and the devolved Administrations. Initial meetings have been held to agree the objectives for each working group and they will report back to me on their progress in time to give an up-date to representatives of the veterans' community at the second Plenary Forum on 17 April 2002.
Subsequently, the Veterans Forum, which includes the executive of the Confederation of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations (COBSSEO) and senior officials from across government, is due to consider the progress of the working groups when it meets on 1 May 2002. The ministerial task force will then consider the way forward, taking account of the views expressed by the veterans community, at our meeting on 15 May and, in July, I will provide a progress report through the Defence Secretary to the Prime Minister.
Mr. Ingram: Recruitment to the Naval Service is satisfactory. We aim to recruit about 5,000 officers, ratings and Royal Marines this year and, although we still face challenges in the recruitment of engineers, submarine operator mechanics, chefs and some medical specialisations, we are within 5 per cent. of our target in most areas.
We continue to initiate spotlight campaigns in areas of high recruitment potential throughout the UK, with a particular interest in those districts where there is the potential to increase this representation of the ethnic minority population. Our initiatives include multi-media advertising campaigns such as the new cinema advert for the Royal Marines, and attendance at multi-cultural events and exhibitions, presentation and display teams. It is important that we attract the attention and interest of young people still in full-time education and our Royal Naval and Royal Marine display and presentation teams regularly tour the UK, visiting schools and colleges, attending careers fairs and conventions and promoting EU financial assistance schemes to sixth-formers and undergraduates.