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9 Jun 2003 : Column 647W—continued



Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much opium has been (a) impounded and (b) destroyed by ISAF forces in Afghanistan in each month since January 2002. [116418]

Mr. Ingram: Where ISAF forces come across opium, the drugs, and any individuals involved, are handed over to the Afghanistan authorities. However, it is possible that during initial ISAF operations, some drug stockpiles were destroyed.

The Headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) does not maintain a record of the quantity of opium which may have been impounded and/or destroyed by ISAF forces.

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what instructions have been given to British forces in Afghanistan (a) to impound and (b) to destroy (i) opium and (ii) heroin. [116419]

Mr. Ingram: None of the British forces who are serving in Afghanistan has been instructed to impound or destroy opium or heroin. However, where British forces come across opium or heroin, the drugs, and any individuals involved, are handed over to the Afghanistan authorities.

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what financial resources his Department has allocated specifically to reducing opium production in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. [116811]

Mr. Ingram: The Ministry of Defence has not allocated resources specifically to reduce opium production in Afghanistan. Increased security and stability are vital to Afghanistan's attempts to reduce opium production. Our contributions towards this have been considerable through Operation FINGAL (our contribution to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)) and Operation VERITAS (our contribution to the coalition against international terrorism). The costs for these operations for Financial Year 2002–03 are approximately £30 million and £170 million respectively.

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Armed Forces (Food Supplies)

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence where beef is processed into burgers for consumption by the armed forces. [117669]

Mr. Ingram: The beefburgers currently supplied to the armed forces are processed in Normandy, France.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether beef is reared and produced in the Republic of Ireland for consumption for the armed forces. [117670]

Mr. Ingram: A small proportion of the beef purchased for the armed forces is sourced in the Republic of Ireland for processing into beefburgers.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to increase the amount of beef produced in the UK for UK armed forces consumption. [117671]

Mr. Ingram: While increasing beef production in the United Kingdom is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Defence, we are keen to purchase UK products for the armed forces whenever they are competitive. Currently, 55 per cent. of the armed forces' total annual consumption of beef is British. It would be contrary to Article 30 of the EU Treaty of Rome to unfairly favour British product.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence where (a) lamb, (b) pork, (c) poultry and (d) milk for consumption by the armed forces is reared, processed and produced. [117672]

Mr. Ingram: Food for the armed forces is sourced from many countries throughout the world, but United Kingdom products are always sourced if they are competitive, they meet the relevant minimum specifications and the supply chain can be guaranteed. Of the meat purchased, lamb is sourced from New Zealand, Uruguay, Australia and the UK. Pork and bacon is all sourced from the UK. Chicken is sourced from France, Brazil and the UK.

Fresh milk is sourced from the UK for consumption in UK and Germany for consumption in Germany. UHT milk or locally-procured fresh, is supplied to other overseas units.

Armed Forces Personnel

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage of (a) Naval Service, (b) Army and (c) Royal Air Force personnel are available for operational duties. [112013]

Mr. Ingram: The Government will continue to ensure that sufficient troops are available to meet the tasks that we ask them to perform. The exact percentage of personnel available for operational duties at any given moment is a combination of a number of factors. These include the level of preparedness of forces, governed by readiness and position in the training cycle, and by the nature of the operation. Time would be needed to bring some force elements to the required level of training for particularly demanding operational theatres. Equally, the medical condition of individual service personnel may impact on their availability for operations, though

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it does not immediately follow that personnel who are medically downgraded are unfit for all operational tasks.

British Warships

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received from the Spanish Government in respect of British and NATO warships patrolling the straits of Gibraltar. [117496]

Mr. Ingram: None.

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what additional security measures have been taken by British warships visiting foreign ports (a) on entry and (b) when alongside; and what arrangements are made with host countries. [117497]

Mr. Ingram: The safety of our people and assets remain of paramount importance. Effective force protection for Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships visiting foreign ports is provided by a combination of internal and external security measures. The latter is the responsibility of the host nation with whom our Attaches and Fleet Security authorities liaise closely to ensure that adequate security measures, commensurate with the perceived threat, are put in place. Ultimately, a visit may be cancelled if it is considered that the risks outweigh the benefits to be gained from Defence Diplomacy. Measures vary considerably with the perceived threat but have included armed patrol vessel escorts to berths, booms placed around the ship, armed guards on the jetty and controlled access to the port and the ship. I am withholding precise information under Exemption 1 (Defence, security and International affairs) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Colchester Garrison

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many four-bedroomed houses at the Colchester Garrison are empty; and how many families are on the waiting list for a four-bedroomed house. [117398]

Dr. Moonie: No families entitled to four bedroom accommodation at Colchester Garrison are being kept waiting. The Defence Housing Executive (DHE) is however aware of 10 families in the Colchester area currently housed according to their entitlement under Tri Service Accommodation Regulations (TSARs) who would like to move to a larger, four-bedroomed property. 51 four-bedroomed Service family houses in the locality are currently empty, but almost all are already allocated to incoming entitled families, or are in the course of modernisation works, or are earmarked for disposal.

Death Benefits

Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many death benefits for (a) single servicemen, (b) married servicemen and (c) servicemen with unmarried partners in a substantial relationship have been paid since 1997; what the cost was for each category; and if he will make a statement. [116145]

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Dr. Moonie: Under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS), the number of single, and married service personnel who have died in service since 1 January 1997 and death benefits paid are as follows:

Single servicemen/women(12)541
Married servicemen/women(13)503

(12) A lump sum is payable to the estate of single personnel with no dependants. This would be a sum equivalent to three time the notional pension calculated up to the date of death, or two times the full career pension rate whichever is the greater.

(13) A lump sum is payable when the death occurs in service. A short-term Family Pension equal to the service person's daily rate of pensionable pay is payable for a period of 91 days or 182 days (if there are children or the death was attributable to service). Thereafter, either a Long-term Forces Family Pension or an enhanced Attributable Forces Family pension is payable to the widow(er). Children's benefits are payable for up to a maximum of four children, and are paid until age 17 or full-time education ceases.

On 20 March, I announced in a Written Statement that, from that date, unmarried partners, including same sex partners, of service personnel whose death was related to conflict would be eligible for ex-gratia benefits equivalent to those awarded to spouses under the AFPS. Partners would need to demonstrate that the relationship was substantial. We have received five claims for ex-gratia benefits under these arrangements but to date no decisions have been taken. Prior to the policy change, the Department offered an ex-gratia award to one unmarried partner; this was a response to the exceptional circumstances of the case. It would not be appropriate to discuss the value of the offer, which was a matter for the individual concerned. Under the War Pension Scheme (WPS) the number of death benefits paid in respect of deaths in service, and retirement since 1 January 1997 are as follows:

Single servicemen/women(16)Nil
Married Servicemen/women(17) 9,711
Servicemen/women with Unmarried partners(18)Nil

(14) No benefits payable under the WPS.

(15) Standard rate of war widows/widowers pension is £93.85 per week. Other elements such as age/rent allowance or supplementary pension can also be paid. In addition to widower(ers) pensions, figure includes 91 awards of child allowances/orphans pensions paid: these are awarded in respect of the child regardless of whether the parents were married.

(16) Although no awards have been implemented since 1997, pensions for unmarried dependants are available where the relationship began six months prior to the start of the deceased's entry into the Service and the unmarried dependant has in their charge a child of the deceased.

Information about the number of death benefits paid where the death occurred in retirement under the AFPS, and the costs of death benefits under the AFPS/WPS are not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

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