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13 Jan 2003 : Column 401Wcontinued
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many times since 1997 his Department has used confidentiality as a reason for not revealing details in connection with selling sites for development; what they were, and with which companies; and if he will make a statement. 
Dr. Moonie: There have been cases in the past when, on grounds of commercial confidentiality, the Ministry of Defence has withheld information relating to the disposal sale price. Since 1999 it has been departmental policy to require all purchasers of surplus MOD land and property to be told, in writing, that the final sale price will be made known to any party who, in the future, requests that information. However, bidders/purchasers may still refuse consent to the sale price being made public on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.
Mr. Ingram: Maritime forces are inherently flexible and although not her primary role the Carrier Vertical Strike (CVS) can be operated successfully as a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH). HMS Illustrious demonstrated this when, during operations in Afghanistan, she reconfigured from her role as CVS to that of LPH while at sea on deployment in the Gulf. Her primary role while configured as an LPH was to support joint and combined war fighting operations and to provide a platform for the rapid deployment of elements of Landing Forces by helicopter. HMS Ark Royal is fully capable of performing this task.
Mr. Wood: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much the transportation of HMS Nottingham is expected to cost; and when the board of inquiry report into the incident which caused the damage is to be published. 
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There are no plans to publish the Board of Inquiry (BOI) report into the incident in which HMS Nottingham was damaged. A BOI is an internal fact-finding investigation into the circumstances surrounding a particular incident, undertaken by the Services for internal use. Boards are convened to discover whether there were any procedural or other Service-related irregularities, or difficulties which could be identified and overcome. The main purpose is to establish the facts concerning an incident as quickly as possible and to make recommendations aimed at preventing a recurrence. The principle of confidentiality applied to BOI proceedings is designed to encourage witnesses to provide forthright evidence.
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what formal complaints he has received since April 2002 concerning the handling of the sailors' evidence on the loss of HMS Sheffield in May 1982; and if he will make a statement. 
Dr. Moonie: A total of eight letters were received during April and May 2002 from MPs relaying concerns raised by their constituents relating to the conduct of the Board of Inquiry into the loss of HMS Sheffield during the Falklands Campaign. As I stated at that time, I am satisfied that the Board of Inquiry was conducted in a professional and proper manner and that no useful purpose would be served by reopening the inquiry.
Mrs. Brooke: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects an outcome to the meeting of the sub-committee of the Committee on the Grant of Honours Decorations and Medals, chaired by General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank on 22 November, regarding the case for a general service medal for Suez veterans. 
Dr. Moonie: The report submitted by the sub-committee chaired by Lord Guthrie to the HD Committee will be considered by them before making a recommendation to Her Majesty the Queen. HD Committee's conclusions will be published in due course.
Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what British (a) special forces and (b) other military personnel (i) are and (ii) were in 2002 (A) involved in operations and (B) present on the ground within the borders of Iraq. 
Mr. Hoon: It is the longstanding policy of successive governments never to comment on the activities of special forces. I am therefore withholding the information requested in accordance with Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
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Regarding conventional forces, there are and have been no military forces deployed on ground operations within Iraqi borders either currently or at any time in 2002. There are, however, 11 United Kingdom military personnel currently deployed with the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM)), the headquarters of which is situated just inside Iraq's borders, within the UN Demilitarised Zone.
Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment his Department has made of the progress of the JSF development programme and the likely date of availability of JSF aircraft for the future aircraft carriers. 
Mr. Ingram: The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme has been moving forward successfully since the development contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin in October 2001. United Kingdom companies have already secured significant roles in JSF as a result of their outstanding technology and ability to deliver value for money.
Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the value was of the land transferred to QinetiQ at (a) Farnborough, (b) Fort Halstead, (c) Chertsey, (d) Funtington and (e) Malvern; what assessment he has made of the potential for housing and other developments on these sites; and what clawback arrangements there are in the event of substantial increases in value for the properties transferred. 
Dr. Moonie [holding answer 17 December 2002]: In line with normal business practice, QinetiQ and its predecessor the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) frequently reviewed its estate in order to ensure that it was making efficient use of its property portfolio. Because a number of sites have already been scheduled for disposal, the value of the individual sites is commercially sensitive, and therefore specific details of the information requested are being withheld in accordance with Exemption 13 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information which relates to commercial confidences.
The majority of properties were transferred to QinetiQ on the basis of their value as part of the on-going business and in most cases the value of the property as part of the business was higher than would be achieved through a sale of the land on the open market. These values were assessed by external valuers immediately before the properties were transferred to QinetiQ at vesting. The total value of the land and buildings transferred from the Ministry of Defence to QinetiQ in use in the continuing business was #342 million. Due to the specialist nature of QinetiQ's business the valuation is based on depreciated replacement cost, and this amount was #114 million greater than the open market value. This amount does not include surplus properties held for disposal which on transfer to QinetiQ in July 2001 had an open market
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value of #98 million, that was subsequently reduced by impairment of #20 million, as stated in the company's annual report 2002.
Mr. Ingram: It is the Government's policy to provide the armed forces with the equipment which they require at the best value for money for the taxpayer. Contracts are negotiated on an individual basis and there is no policy requirement for a particular percentage of work to be undertaken in the United Kingdom. However, as stated in our new defence industrial policy published on 14 October 2002, the benefit to the UK economy from Ministry of Defence contracts is taken into account when selecting contractors. A copy of the Government's defence industrial policy is in the Library of the House.
Mr. Ingram: Britain has repeatedly made it clear that we will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state not in violation of its nuclear non-proliferation obligations, unless it attacks us, our allies or a state to which we have a security commitment, in association or alliance with a nuclear weapon state.
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