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DEFENCE

Software

Brian White: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his policy is towards using open source software; and what percentage is used in his Department. [69327]

Dr. Moonie: Software applications used in the Ministry of Defence are selected on their ability to meet business needs, taking full account of value for money, long-term viability, security and interoperability. The MOD currently has no explicit policy on the use of open source software, but does follow the Government Open Source Software policy published and announced in Parliament on 22 July 2002. This policy is available on the e-Envoy website (www.e-envoy.gov.uk) or the Office of Government Commerce website (www.ogc.gov.uk). A record of open source software in use across the Department is not held centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

Public Consultations

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what public consultations have been commenced by his Department since 1 April; and what the (a) closing date and (b) website address of each were. [72071]

Dr. Moonie: None.

Strategic Sealift

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, (1) pursuant to his answer of 9 March 2001, Official Report, column 359W, on strategic sealift, if he will list the reasons for his issuing a ministerial direction; and if he will make a statement; [74652]

Dr. Moonie: The reasons for the Ministerial Direction on the Roll-On Roll-Off ferry (RORO) Strategic Sealift are as follows. In October 2000, AWSR Shipping Ltd

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were selected as the preferred bidder in the PFI competition to provide the Ministry of Defence with a strategic sealift service of six ships. Their bid involved subcontracts with the German company Flensburger for four ships and Harland & Wolff for two. The bid had the particular advantage of early delivery. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, (Mr. Hoon) announced on 9 March 2001, Official Report, column 359W, to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) difficulties arose in the detailed commercial arrangements which could have threatened the timely completion of the PFI negotiations and early delivery of the service to the MOD. My right hon. Friend, Mr. Hoon, therefore decided that the MOD would take over the commercial shipbuilding contract with H&W, as part of the overall PFI arrangements. The contract would be managed by AWSR and on delivery of the ships to them, AWSR would provide the full six ship service on PFI terms.

This approach was not foreseen as part of the original PFI deal and officials were concerned about the potential risks to the MOD arising from the decision. Ministers judged that, on balance, these risks were outweighed by the risk of losing the benefits of the original AWSR bid involving H&W, including timely delivery.

The procedures surrounding Ministerial Directions and the responsibilities of Accounting Officers in this area are set out in the Accounting Officer Memorandum. The Memorandum requires an Accounting Officer in receipt of a Direction from a Minister to comply with his instructions. The Accounting Officer is then required to inform the Treasury of what has occurred and should communicate the papers to the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) without delay. On receipt of such material it is for the C&AG to determine what action to take. These procedures exist to protect the relationship between Ministers and officials while at the same time enabling the C&AG to consider, on behalf of Parliament, whether further investigation is required.

The circumstances surrounding the RORO Direction were duly communicated to the Comptroller and Auditor General and we understand that the C&AG

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subsequently conveyed them to the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts. As the established procedures have been correctly followed, I am withholding the advice tendered by my Accounting Officer on 8 March 2001 in accordance with Exemption 2 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, relating to internal discussion and advice.

Nuclear Weapons

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 19 September 2002, Official Report, column 322W, on nuclear weapons accident exercises (a) what assessment has taken place of the exercises and (b) what recommendations have been put forward for the nuclear weapons accident exercises his Department held at (i) Convoy NAR team standardisation and (ii) RAF Station NAR team standardisation; and if he will make a statement. [75394]

Mr. Ingram: The Convoy NAR team Standardisation Exercise held in Leicestershire in August and the RAF Station NAR team Standardisation Exercise held in Northamptonshire in September were both assessed as SATISFACTORY. A number of recommendations have been made which include arrangements for the reception and interface with emergency services, the deployment of Convoy resources, command and control, and media handling issues. The UK/US Table Top Exercise held in Norfolk in October was not an assessed exercise. The RAF NAR team Standardisation Exercise in Suffolk has taken place but the assessment report has yet to be written.

Royal Military Music School

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had in the last year, on the future of the Royal Military Music School, Kneller Hall, Twickenham; and if he will make a statement. [75115]

Dr. Moonie: There have been no Ministerial discussions on the future of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall within the last year. However, the school is part of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS) budgetary grouping and the Army Training and Recruiting Agency, which is responsible for RMAS and Kneller Hall, are examining options for the future provision of the services provided there. Once a way forward on these is agreed, interested parties will be kept informed.

Fire Service

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if he will make a statement about the Defence Fire Services PPP and Fire Study 2000; [75086]

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Mr. Ingram: The Airfield Support Services Project (ASSP) is seeking to achieve the most viable and cost effective solution for the provision of airfield support, and wider fire services, to the Ministry of Defence world-wide, without compromising operational effectiveness or safety. The options include both PPP and in-house solutions.

The Fire Study 2000 is specifically to review the current organisation of the Defence Fire Services and to develop an optimum strategy for meeting the Department's current and future requirements for Fire Risk management. The results of Fire Study 2000 will inform the in-house Public Sector Comparator (PSC) for ASSP.

The Airfield Support Services Project is currently in the detailed assessment phase. The outcome of this phase of the work will provide a clearer view of the expected savings and benefits of the various options. A decision on the outcome of ASSP is expected to be announced in the second half of 2003.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what use will be made of (a) Defence Fire Services and (b) RAF Fire Service in the event of a local authority firemen's strike. [75089]

Mr. Ingram: Defence Fire Service personnel have been providing advice and training to the Armed Forces as part of the contingency preparations for a potential national firemen's strike. They will continue to provide advice to Military Commanders deployed on Op FRESCO, should there be a strike, undertake duties at military headquarters in support of the deployment and will also contribute towards the provision of fire cover on the Ministry of Defence estate. Elements of the RAF Fire Service who have specialist skills will, in the event of a strike, be deployed around the country to assist in the provision of emergency fire and rescue cover.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about Operation Fresco military assistance to the civil powers in the event of a local authority firemen's strike; and what effect this would have on military capabilities. [75083]

Mr. Ingram: The Armed Forces role during any strike by firemen would be to provide emergency cover, thus seeking to save lives and ensure that essential services were maintained. They would not be capable of replicating the current fire fighting capability. Assistance would be provided to and at the request of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and not the civil power.

Obviously, Op FRESCO would place an added burden on Service personnel who have been particularly busy over the last few years performing their primary duties. Any deployment to provide emergency fire and rescue cover would impact on their ability to continue those duties, but emergency cover would, as far as possible, be maintained for as long as the strike continued and balanced with other demands on military resources.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the total cost to the public purse for each of the last five years of (a) the Defence Fire Service, (b) the RAF Fire Service and (c) the RN Fire Service. [75091]

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Mr. Ingram: The information requested is not held centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what discussions he has had with the USAF about the privatisation of Defence Fire Services at US Air bases in the UK; [75087]

Mr. Ingram: Ministry of Defence officials have been in discussion with US Air Force officials about the Airfield Support Services Project from its early stages. The dialogue is ongoing.

The US Air Force requirements were included in the Invitation to Tender, against which the Consortia were invited to bid. Every effort will be made to ensure that the Project meets their requirements.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) which local authority fire services are assisting commercial companies in the preparation of bids for the privatisation of Defence fire services; [75084]

Mr. Ingram: West Midlands Fire Service is working as a partner of one of the Consortia bidding for the Airfield Support Services Project contract.

It would be for the West Midland Fire Service to comment on their relationship with any commercial organisation.


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