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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 9 December 2002

CHURCH COMMISSIONERS

Employment Legislation

Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners if he will make a statement on the number of church employees who are covered by employment legislation. [85197]

Mr. Bell: The National Church Institutions employ 487 people. No records are held centrally about the numbers of people employed by dioceses and parishes.

Licensing Provisions

Miss McIntosh: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment the Commissioners have made of the cost of the new licensing provisions to churches and chapels; and if he will make a statement. [84507]

Mr. Bell: Final figures for complying with the proposed provisions of the current Licensing Bill, which has had a second reading in Another Place, will depend upon the level of fees set by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as well as on the extent to which church buildings apply for licenses to cover the proposed provision of Xregulated entertainment". The figures provided in the Regulatory Impact Assessment would, however, suggest that under the Bill's proposals churches or other places of worship seeking to provide entertainment five times a year would pay #100 each year. If more events than this were required, a full licence would be needed and annual inspections would be necessary, each of which would attract a fee.

There are 16,250 church buildings belonging to the Church of England alone: many other denominations and faiths will also be covered by the proposals as they stand.

DEFENCE

Defence Aviation Repair Agency

19. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement of the developing role of DARA in Wales. [83974]

Mr. Ingram: The Defence Aviation Repair Agency is creating centres of excellence as the focus for its business development. In Wales, there are two centres of excellence, St Athan in South Wales which carries out fixed wing aircraft maintenance, and Sealand in North Wales that now does all the Agency's electronic business. The two sites represent nearly 70 per cent. of the DARA's business.

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Challenger II

20. Mr. Swayne : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what decision has been reached in respect of the number of Challenger II tanks to be converted for desert operations. [83975]

Mr. Hoon: A number of Challenger 2 tanks are being modified to improve their performance in desert conditions in line with continuing contingency planning. I do not intend to compromise operational security by revealing the exact number of tanks involved.

Gulf (Military Units)

21. Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of Defence if he will make a statement on recent activities of the Royal Navy in the Gulf. [83976]

Mr. Ingram: The Royal Navy maintains a permanent presence in the Gulf. For over 10 years it has made a valuable contribution to the Multinational Interception Force deployed in the Gulf to enforce Iraqi compliance with UN sanctions. The Royal Navy deployed in the Gulf also plays its part in the international campaign against terrorism. Beyond these ongoing commitments, a Mine Countermeasure Group deployed to the Gulf during November. This is a long-planned, routine deployment, to conduct bilateral exercises with a number of Gulf States, building on the successful bilateral training conducted in the region in the wake of last year's Saif Sareea II in Oman.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what British military units are deployed in the Gulf region. [83968]

Mr. Hoon: Units from the UK armed forces are regularly deployed in the Gulf region.

For example, the RAF continues to patrol the no-fly zones over Iraq in support of UN SCR 688 which demanded that Saddam Hussein cease repression of his own people. The Royal Navy maintains a permanent presence in the Gulf to enforce sanctions on Iraq and as part of our contribution to the campaign against international terrorism. Two RAF Nimrod aircraft are also deployed to the Gulf region for the same purpose.

In addition to those continuing commitments, we have deployed 400 personnel to take part in a long planned United States-led biennial command post exercise in Qatar. A Mine Countermeasure Group is also currently undertaking a routine deployment to the Gulf in order to conduct bilateral exercises with a number of Gulf States.

A wide range of personnel are deployed throughout the region, from all three services, in support of defence diplomacy.

Al-Qaeda

22. Ross Cranston: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what potential security threat remnants of al-Qaeda pose to the security of (a) Afghanistan and (b) other countries. [83977]

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Mr. Ingram: The al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan has been severely weakened by coalition military action. Isolated remnants of al-Qaeda and Taleban forces continue to pose a limited threat to the security of Afghanistan, and coalition operations to defeat them continue.

More widely, al-Qaeda has a global reach. Despite important arrests in the past month, many of the organisation's leaders are still at large, and pose a significant threat to international security. That is why we, together with our coalition partners, shall continue to hunt down the al-Qaeda leadership until they are brought to account for their crimes.

Armed Forces Personnel (Non-combatant Deaths)

23. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to reduce the number of non-combatant deaths of armed forces personnel. [83978]

Dr. Moonie: In the last five years there have been 770 deaths in the Services: 246 from natural causes, 255 from road traffic accidents, 93 from suicide or with an open coroner's verdict and 176 from other causes. The Services recognise and stress the importance of welfare support, health education and good safety practices, especially since the nature of work in the Armed Forces inevitably involves an element of risk. Procedures are reviewed regularly.

NATO Enlargement

24. Mr. Jim Cunningham : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the enlargement of NATO following the Prague summit. [83979]

Mr. Hoon: At the Prague summit NATO issued invitations to begin accession talks to Bulgaria. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. This enlargement is a major step forward for European security. I know the invitees have made great efforts over the past three years to prepare themselves under the Membership Action Plan, and they must continue to do so during the accession process. I am pleased that the United Kingdom will continue its significant contribution to helping with those preparations.

Arctic Convoy Medal

25. Ms Atherton: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress he is making towards awarding medals to those who served on the Arctic convoys in the second world war. [83980]

Dr. Moonie: The Atlantic Star recognised service on the convoys to Russia during the Second World War. Service in Arctic waters is specifically mentioned in the Command Paper which laid down the qualifying criteria for the medal.

Aircraft Carriers

26. Mr. Jack : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the factors which will determine the choice of consortiums to build the next UK aircraft carriers. [83981]

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33. Mr. Hepburn: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will report progress on the new aircraft carrier programme. [83988]

Dr. Moonie: I refer the right hon. Member and my hon. Friend to the answer I gave earlier today to my hon Friend the Member for Wirral South (Mr. Chapman), Official Report, 9 December 2002, columns 8–9.

Afghanistan

27. Mr. Blizzard : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on security operations in Afghanistan. [83982]

Mr. Ingram: Coalition operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda continue. The United Kingdom provides Airborne Early Warning and Air-to-Air Refuelling aircraft for coalition air operations, as well as support to the coalition headquarters.

We currently contribute some 300 British troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. ISAF has helped the Afghan authorities to restore and maintain stability within Kabul and there is a continuing need for its presence to support President Karzai's transitional Administration.

Falkland Islands

28. Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on naval support for the defence of the Falkland Islands. [83983]

Mr. Ingram: We intend to maintain a modern and capable force in the Falkland Islands, consisting of air and land as well as naval elements. The Atlantic Patrol Task (South) is generally deployed to the South Atlantic on a year-round basis, subject to operational availability; it is currently not deployed as the crew of HMS Lancaster are engaged in fire-fighting duties. The Governor of the Falkland Islands was informed in advance of this unavoidable temporary gap in cover. APT(S) is only one element of the United Kingdom's maritime presence in the region. HMS Leeds Castle, the permanent Falkland Islands patrol vessel, is currently in Falkland Islands waters, and the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance is currently deployed to the South Atlantic region, which includes time spent in Falkland Islands waters. RFA Grey Rover, the South Atlantic tanker, is on passage to the Falkland Islands following her participation in EXPO NAVALE, Valpariso.


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