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10 Feb 2003 : Column 505W—continued

Departmental Assets

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what buildings his Department owns in Washington DC, USA; what their purpose is; what their value is; and if he will make a statement. [95782]

Dr. Moonie: All 14 properties in Greater Washington DC, USA owned by the Ministry of Defence are houses used to accommodate MOD employees posted to the British Defence Staff at the Embassy in Washington. The total value, as assessed in 1999 was $5,960,000.

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his estimate is of the latest value of his Department's land and building assets on Cyprus; what plans there are to dispose of these assets; what use is being made of them; and if he will make a statement. [95785]

Dr. Moonie: The total value of the Ministry of Defence land and building assets on Cyprus is estimated as in excess of £280,366,000, as published in the Departmental Resource Account 2001–02.

Most of the land and assets owned by Her Majesty's Government on Cyprus form the core of the Sovereign Base Areas (SB As) which are used as military bases, while protecting the interests of those resident or working in the SB As. There is no intention to dispose of any of the assets in the SB As in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his latest estimate is of the value of the Wellington Barracks in London; which units are using these barracks; what plans there are to sell them; and if he will make a statement. [95787]

Dr. Moonie: Wellington Barracks has an Asset Value of some £68 million. However, this does not represent the open market value which might be achieved were the site to be sold. As the site is not wholly owned by the Ministry of Defence, any receipt would have to be shared with the Crown Estate.

The units currently occupying the Barracks are:

There are no plans to dispose of Wellington Barracks.

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Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his latest estimate is of the value of the Ministry of Defence facilities at Suffield, Canada; what their present purpose is; what plans there are to sell them; and if he will make a statement. [95788]

Dr. Moonie: The asset value of the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) is £70 million. BATUS is currently used for Armoured and Mechanised Battle-Group training. The Ministry of Defence is a lodger unit in the Canadian Forces Base, Suffield for the period of our Memorandum of Understanding with the Canadian Government which expires 2006 and will then be re-negotiated. It is not therefore within the gift of the Ministry of Defence to sell these facilities.

Depleted Uranium

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what measures have been put in place to protect UK troops in the Gulf from depleted uranium dust. [95917]

Dr. Moonie: General health and safety instructions for United Kingdom troops, which cover encounters with depleted uranium (DU), are incorporated in the Mounting Instructions for the operation which have been passed to the units involved. Additional safety instructions, covering all aspects of the hazard management of DU munitions in theatre, will shortly be issued by the Permanent Joint Headquarters through the operational chain of command to all units and formations deployed in the Joint Area of Operations. Furthermore, specific instructions and training packages exist for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Royal Armoured Corps and support personnel most likely to come into contact with DU munitions or dust. Radiation monitoring equipment-has also been provided to some EOD units.

The safety instructions make clear that the risks from DU are far lower than those from other hazards arising from military operations and that combat and life-saving activities should never be delayed on account of concern over DU. They describe the potential risks and include pragmatic advice on procedures for minimising any potential intake of DU dust. The emphasis is on avoiding situations where DU dust may be encountered and on wearing appropriate respiratory protective equipment and protective clothing when it is necessary to enter potentially contaminated areas. They also include procedures for transporting and handling DU ammunition.

Radiation dosemeters have been issued to those who will spend time in tanks loaded with DU munitions and biological monitoring will be available for all members of the armed forces if DU is used. This will provide verification of the adequacy of the safety precautions. The biological monitoring policy is published on Ministry of Defence's internet site at: uranium/du biomonitoring.htm.

Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what the budgetary provision for expenditure on MOD research into depleted uranium munitions in 2003–04 is; and what percentage of the departmental budget for 2003–04 this represents; [96979]

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Dr. Moonie: Budgetary provision for research relating to depleted uranium munitions in the Ministry of Defence's Short Term Plan 2002–03 is £1.68 million in 2002–03 and £2.73 million in 2003–04.

These figures represent approximately 0.007 per cent. of MOD' s budget for 2002–03 and approximately 0.012 per cent. of MOD's budget for 2003–04.

These figures are currently being reviewed in the context of MOD's Short Term Plan 2003–04.

Empty Properties (Greater London)

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many empty MoD properties in the Greater London area and are to be disposed of on the private market; and if he will make a statement. [95596]

Dr. Moonie: There are no Ministry of Defence properties in Greater London which are completely empty and awaiting disposal on the open market. There are however, currently two sites which are partially vacant and are either on the open market or due to be offered in 2003–04. These include part of the TA Centre, Highwood Barracks, Dulwich and the Canteen site, Elmwood Ave, Feltham.

Fire Dispute

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what effect the firefighters' strike has had on the status of (a) HMS Exeter, (b) HMS Glasgow, (c) HMS Newcastle, (d) HMS Lancaster, (e) HMS St. Albans and (f) HMS Southampton, and the timing of their planned availability for service with the fleet. [95878]

Mr. Ingram: HMS Exeter, HMS Glasgow, HMS Newcastle, HMS Lancaster and HMS Southampton have all undergone changes to their programmes to allow their crews to support Operation Fresco. Although they were alongside for varying periods, with the exception of HMS Lancaster, their individual readiness states were not affected and subject to any essential maintenance and training requirements, they could have returned to sea within that readiness profile if their crews had been released from Operation Fresco duties. I am witholding details of ships' readiness in accordance with Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information which relates to Defence, Security and International Relations. HMS St. Albans was damaged by the impact of a commercial ferry in bad weather conditions while St. Albans was alongside in Portsmouth on 27 October 2002. The collision meant that St. Albans was unable to continue with her operational sea training programme and her crew were used in support of Operation Fresco nevertheless, the ship would still be available for tasking within her readiness profile.

Forces' Communication Systems

Patrick Mercer: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what problems have been discovered on the compatibility of the communications systems of the

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armed forces and the emergency services during the interim measures being put in place in advance of the introduction of Airwave. [95178]

Mr. Ingram: Airwave is a public safety radio service being implemented by police forces across the United Kingdom with the roll out programme due to be completed by 2005. It is Ministry of Defence policy to take up the Airwave service where interoperability with the emergency services is required. To ensure continued interoperability between the UK armed forces and the emergency services, during the police force roll out programme, interim communication arrangements have been out in place. While these interim arrangements do not provide the comprehensive interoperability that will be available when all users are on the Airwave system, they are as robust and flexible as possible: a deployable incident response communications capability is retained within the UK and where possible, the introduction of Airwave to the armed forces is being matched with that of the police forces. There are currently no reported problems with the interim arrangements.

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