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21. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the (a) largest and (b) smallest shortfall was in the strength of the Army during the past five years; what the latest figure is; and when he expects all vacancies to be filled. 
Mr. Ingram: In the last five years, the largest shortfall in personnel against the in-year requirement for UK Trained Army Personnel was 8,063 in August 2001. The smallest shortfall during the period, against the lower assessed requirement at that time, was 4,855 in September 1997. As at 1 February 2002, there was a shortfall of 7,477 personnel against the currently assessed in-year
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requirement for UK Trained Army Personnel. These figures should not be compared with whole army strength targets which also incorporate the full time reserve service and Gurkha trained manpower.
Army manpower requirements are kept under regular review. The exact size of the Army will depend on the outcome of ongoing studies into the best ways of delivering the military capabilities required of the Army.
22. Siobhain McDonagh: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to review compensation for the veterans of the Christmas Island tests and, where they are deceased, their surviving spouses and families. 
Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence has every confidence in the independent studies carried out by the National Radiological Protection Board and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund that showed veterans' participation in the nuclear test programme has not had a detectable effect on their expectation of life, or on their risk of developing cancer or other fatal diseases. Consequently grounds do not exist for compensation to be paid to British nuclear test veterans or their surviving spouses and families. There are no plans to review this position.
Dr. Moonie: Since the announcement of the Veterans Initiative, and my appointment as Minister for Veterans Affairs one year ago, we have built up a partnership with veterans' organisations and other Government Departments to develop an integrated policy for veterans. This is well advanced, and will address veterans' concerns across Government and identify means of improving the delivery of services to veterans, particularly the most vulnerable.
Working through a Veterans Forum and a Ministerial Task Force, we have agreed an action plan. As part of this we have commissioned nine working groups, made up jointly of representatives of the veterans community and of interested Government Departments, to identify ways of giving practical expression to the Initiative's core themes of partnership, identity, recognition and care. We expect to see the first results of this work later this year.
Dr. Moonie: Since the announcement of the Veterans Initiative, and my appointment as Minister for Veterans Affairs one year ago, we have made substantial progress towards meeting the objective of the initiative: to build-up a partnership with veterans organisations and other Government Departments to develop an integrated response to veterans concerns, focused in particular on the most vulnerable.
I have been considering how we can improve the service offered to our veterans from within my own Department. Capitalising on the transfer of the War Pensions Agency to the Ministry of Defence in June of last year and on its excellent record for customer-service,
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I have decided that the War Pensions Agency should provide a special focus for our support to veterans and that, accordingly, with effect from 2 April, it should be renamed the Veterans Agency. As a first step towards giving substance to this change of name, the Veterans Agency will, from the end of this month, provide an integrated website and freephone helpline that will be the first point of contact for veterans seeking advice and information. For the longer term, we will also be looking at the future development of the War pensioners Welfare Service, and in particular the possibility of expanding partnerships with the charitable sector to improve the support delivered in this area by offering a better co-ordinated service.
Working through the Veterans Forum and Ministerial Task Force, we have agreed an action plan and nine working groups, made up jointly of representatives of the veterans' community and of interested Government Departments to take work forward. These are now addressing the particular concerns identified within the initiative's core themes of partnership, identity, recognition and care. This work includes developing new resettlement training for the most vulnerable of our Service leavers who are at greatest risk of social exclusion, the development of material for the new Key Stage 3 and 4 scheme for citizenship to be part of the National Curriculum from September 2002; improving communication between Government and veterans, recognition of veterans' achievements in more recent years, and problems faced by the veterans charities' care homes. The Working Groups will be reporting their progress to me in time for the next meeting of the Veterans Forum and the Ministerial Task Force in April and May respectively.
We are also taking steps to address two of the particular concerns that veterans have raised about the War Pension Schemes. From this April, the provisions for war widowers will be equalised to bring them fully into line with those currently available to war widows. Further, we plan to introduce measures from August that will guarantee that a war pensioner can return to Unemployability Supplement within the first 12 months of starting work.
I place a particular premium on the partnership that we have been building with the representatives of the Veterans Organisations and am pleased to acknowledge the considerable part that their positive response has played in enabling us to take this initiative forward. I look forward to building on this partnership to develop and deliver a significant programme of further improvements for the future.
Dr. Moonie: Building on the policy laid out in "In Trust and On Trust: the strategy for the Defence Estate", we are implementing the prime contracting initiative as part of Government's "Achieving Excellence" agenda for the construction industry, and putting in place a new management structure for the estate within the Ministry of Defence. The new organisation will come into operation on 1 April 2003.
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We will establish a single new estate procurement organisation, comprising the existing Defence estates agency and specialist estate staff currently working elsewhere in the Department, and six customer estate organisations serving the Services and top level budget holders.
Mr. Hoon: There is no standing European Rapid Reaction Force. Under the Helsinki Headline Goal, however, the United Kingdom has identified a pool of relevant forces and capabilities that it might contribute to an EU-led operation. This includes a maximum of 12,500 troops plus, if required, up to 18 warships and 72 combat aircraft.
Mr. Hoon: I have regular discussions with the United States Government on a wide range of issues, including all aspects of policy towards Iraq and the campaign against international terrorism. We share the concerns of all responsible Governments about Iraq's support for terrorism and its development of weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Ingram: RAF aircraft undertake a range of missions as part of multinational no-fly-zone enforcement operations. A single no-fly-zone (NFZ) patrol involves multiple aircraft types performing individual missions in an integrated package.
Between 1 March 2001 and 28 February 2002 RAF aircraft entered Iraqi airspace as part of a coalition patrol package on 130 occasions in the northern NFZ and 220 occasions in the southern. During these patrols they undertook 1,274 missions.
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