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10. Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): If he will make a statement on the procurement orders for (a) tanks and (b) combat aircraft. [120551]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Challenger 2 is a world-class battle-winning tank which performed successfully in operations in Iraq. It is planned to remain in service until at least 2025. No replacement programme is yet under consideration.

Current combat aircraft procurement programmes are those for the joint strike fighter, the Typhoon and the attack helicopter. While no final decisions have yet been taken, we expect to purchase 150 of the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the JSF. The Typhoon is in production and the UK will receive 55 aircraft from the first tranche. Orders from the second or third tranches will be made in due course. There are 67 Apache attack helicopters on order. In addition, on 10 June, the Royal Air Force took delivery of the last of its 142 Tornado GR4s—a major upgrade programme—which performed extremely well in recent operations in Iraq.

Mr. Viggers: In view of the need to reshape the armed forces to take account of the changing military and terrorist threat, and of the need to acquire new equipment such as the proposed two aircraft carriers and the joint strike fighter, how confident can we be that Government will continue with and complete the purchase of equipment originally planned for the defence of the central plain of Europe in the 1980s?

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Mr. Ingram: A White Paper will be published in the autumn. Of course, many of these issues have to be addressed as we look to the future, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman await publication of that White Paper, which will undoubtedly spark his interest and that of many other Members.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): Given the history of cost overruns on the helicopter contract and other contracts, why is the Department proposing to disregard the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury that it could save £1 billion if the forthcoming contract for training jets were opened up to international competitive tendering?

Mr. Ingram: We recognise that the Hawk has an excellent track record and remains a world leader in its field. We have spent the past few weeks assessing the BAE Systems proposal and consulting others across government, including the Treasury. We need to determine whether the proposal meets our military requirements and offers value for money for the taxpayer. There is great awareness of the importance of our decision and its impact on jobs and manufacturing in the United Kingdom, but we have undertaken to reach a decision by the end of this month, which is not far away. That remains our intention.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

11. Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): What (a) inoculations and (b) preventive medicines have been given to UK troops deploying to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [120552]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): In my oral statement to the House on 12 June, I said that we would finalise the exact number of engineering personnel to be deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the basis of further detailed analysis of the engineering tasks required in Bunia. I can now tell the House that this work has been completed, and we intend to send about 70 Royal Engineers to assist in improving Bunia airfield. With support staff and headquarters-based officers, total deployment will be in the region of 85 personnel.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, all troops deploying to the Democratic Republic of the Congo are to be inoculated against vaccine-preventable endemic diseases such as hepatitis A, tuberculosis and yellow fever. Appropriate anti-malaria tablets and any necessary booster vaccinations will be provided before deployment. In addition, deploying troops will be briefed on preventive measures that they should take when in theatre.

Mr. Wiggin : I thank the Minister for that answer, which he has clearly thought about very carefully since last week, when he was a little more vague in what he was telling us. Will he now make it very clear that he knows exactly what the troops' mission is?

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Mr. Ingram: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I made my statement last week—I made it the week before. On the question of being vague, I did tell the House that there was a requirement for a recce team to report back. It has now done so, and I have given a response. If the hon. Gentleman were truly interested in this issue, he would surely have read United Nations Security Council resolution 1484, which sets out the precise nature of the mission. It is

That will be the role and the mission of the EU-led troops.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier reply and reference to the 70 or so Royal Engineers being deployed to the Congo. However, a cursory look at history shows what a hugely dangerous theatre this part of Africa is, particularly for British soldiers. Is it wise that our soldiers should be going without any combat elements themselves, particularly given that they have to depend on French forces to defend them?

Mr. Ingram: I would not want to rise too readily to that last comment. Given the hon. Gentleman's military background, he surely ought to know just how highly our armed forces rate the French armed forces and their capabilities. This is a very specific mission for our Royal Engineers, who will have supporting troops; in any case, all are trained in self-defence and the use of their own weapons. The mission will take place over a specific time scale in order to achieve the objective of opening up the airfield, which will hopefully allow other support to come in from the United Nations. That will lead to what we all hope will prove to be the eventual stabilisation of an undoubtedly very troubled region.

Wind Farms

12. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What assessment he has made of the impact of offshore wind farms on MOD radar systems; and if he will make a statement. [120553]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): Ministry of Defence officials are involved with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Civil Aviation Authority, National Air Traffic Services and the British Wind Energy Association in a group that is addressing the effects on radar of both onshore and offshore wind turbines.

Mr. Chaytor : I thank the Minister for his reply, but how long is it likely to take before that group reaches a firm conclusion about the impact on radar of offshore wind farms, and why does it not seem to be a problem

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for other European countries? What is the difference between British radar systems and those of other European countries?

Mr. Caplin: I know that my hon. Friend has a long history of asking questions on these matters. I can assure him and the House that every proposal received by the Ministry of Defence is given a full appraisal by at least seven separate technical advisers, each with their own specialism. The test is case-by-case consideration of the effect of proposed developments on the ability to train our pilots safely and also their effect on operational capability.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, but is he aware that both the Crown Estate and the Atomic Energy Authority have made applications for many offshore wind turbines on the Wash and off the Norfolk coast. What evaluations have been made of the potential impact of those turbines on Ministry of Defence radar and on the RAF bombing range in the Wash?

Mr. Caplin: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all those matters are taken into consideration. That is why we are making assessments. I can also tell the House that, of the 200 applications for offshore wind farm proposals received between November 1996 and last month, the Ministry of Defence only objected to 37 on safety grounds.


13. Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): If he will make a statement on the procurement of ordnance by the armed forces. [120554]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The majority of conventional ammunition is procured under a framework partnering agreement with Royal Ordnance Defence, which covers the supply of ordnance and ammunition sub-systems, including propellant. Other weapons are procured on the basis of smart acquisition procedures to obtain the best value for money for the taxpayer, meet the requirements of the armed forces, and ensure security of supply.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: BAE Systems faces a situation in which General Dynamics and other companies are looking to acquire ordnance provision. What will the Minister do about the security of supply of the procurement of ordnance in this country, given that it could be owned in future by an American company? Are there any plans to deal with the problem if that were to happen?

Mr. Ingram: I have given an earlier indication about how we would have to deal with such matters. We would have to look into the likely arrangements in the event of

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a merger, amalgamation or takeover and its consequent impact on the national interest. Matters would have to be dealt with at that time, based on the new relationships between the companies.

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