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European Defence

Mr. Soames: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans there are to set up a joint Franco-British rapid deployment force; and if he will make a statement. [155208]

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Mr. Ingram: There are no plans to set up a joint Franco-British rapid deployment force. However, as part of the Helsinki Headline Goal, member states agreed to develop rapid response elements available and deployable at very high readiness. The British, French and German governments are proposing that EU member states create Battle Group-sized forces, deployable within 15 days, by 2007. Member states would be able to offer such formations individually—as is likely to be the case for the United Kingdom—or on a multi-national basis.

Mr. Soames: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress achieved by the Helsinki Project Catalogue groups tasked with studying (a) air-to-air refuelling, (b) combat search and rescue, (c) strategic unmanned air vehicles, (d) nuclear, biological and chemical protection, (e) headquarters, (f) special operations forces, (g) theatre ballistic missile defence, (h) strategic airlift, (i) interoperability, (j) space, (k) intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance, (l) strategic sealift, (m) collective medical protection, (n) attack helicopters and (o) support helicopters. [155210]

Mr. Ingram: Progress is continuing across the 15 Project Groups established under the European Capabilities Action Plan since May 2003, although all are at different stages in their development. In strategic mobility, for example, and in conjunction with NATO, the Project Group is introducing a 'Strategic Air Lift Interim Solution' or SALIS, (in place until A-400M becomes available) and the co-ordinated use of assets by a Strategic Air Lift Co-ordination Centre, co-located with the European Airlift Co-ordination Centre at Eindhoven. There are also important qualitative outputs under development across the Project Groups, for example in systems interoperability, operational doctrine, and training. The Council Conclusions of 17 November 2003 underlined the need to disseminate Project Group objectives, timelines and reporting procedures more widely, and this information will be presented shortly as an integral part of the Single Progress Report compiled once during each Presidency. It is anticipated that a Capability Improvement Chart showing the state-of-play of the Project Groups in a clearly digestible format will accompany the Single Progress Report.

Future Integrated Soldier Technology Programme

John Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the effectiveness of the Future Integrated Soldier Technology programme. [154585]

Mr. Ingram: The Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) programme has almost completed the first year of a 32 month Assessment Phase and is making good progress. The project will bring the benefits of improved technology to the soldier by providing an integrated suite of personal equipment to enhance dismounted close combat capability.

Gulf War Illnesses

Mr. Flook: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many Gulf War veterans suffering from

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Gulf War illnesses have been tested for (a) depleted uranium poisoning, (b) squalene antibodies and (c) microplasmal organisms. [155172]

Mr. Caplin: A voluntary programme to test for depleted uranium (DU) in the urine of veterans will begin in pilot form in March, with the full programme expected to become available during the summer. The test will be available for all eligible veterans and civilians, irrespective of their state of health. In addition, a very small number of veterans have been tested for total uranium following referral by the Gulf Veterans' Medical Assessment Programme. I understand that some veterans have been tested for exposure to DU by private arrangement.

The Ministry of Defence has not tested veterans for squalene antibodies or mycoplasmal infections, to which I believe the hon. Member is referring. I understand that some veterans have been tested for squalene antibodies by private arrangement.

Joint Strike Fighter

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence who owns the intellectual property rights of the joint strike fighter system; and whether this is shared with UK and US companies. [154684]

Mr. Ingram: Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in the Joint Strike Fighter system are owned by the contractor or sub-contractor generating them, whether UK or US companies. The IPR generated under the contracts and sub-contracts can be used by the MOD for purposes associated with that programme.

Lieutenant Lewis Page

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the Answer of 30 January, Official Report, column 574W, on Lieutenant Lewis Page, whether (a) authorisation was sought by Lieutenant Page and (b) permission which fell short of proper authorisation was given to Lieutenant Page. [154665]

Mr. Caplin: Lieutenant Lewis Page did not seek authorisation to publish an article in Prospect magazine, nor was permission of any kind given to him.

Nuclear Weapons

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the renewal of the 1958 Agreement for Co-operation on the Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes. [154776]

Mr. Ingram: Discussions continue between the United Kingdom and United States Governments on the renewal of this agreement. Subject to the outcome of those discussions, we expect to lay any amendments before the House later this year in accordance with normal procedures for treaty renewals.

Operation Artemis

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what use will be made of the armed forces for covert surveillance on upland estates as part of Operation Artemis. [154732]

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Mr. Ingram: None. Operation Artemis was an EU led operation to help stabilise the town of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo which ended in September 2003. The UK contributed 85 personnel to the Operation. Their role was to increase the capacity of the airfield in Bunia.

Overseas Bribery

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many allegations of overseas bribery the MOD Police has received since November 1997; how many of these allegations resulted in investigations; and what the outcome of these investigations was. [151397]

Mr. Caplin: There have been six allegations of bribery overseas received by the Ministry of Defence Police since 1998. Records do not go back as far as November 1997. As a result of these allegations, four investigations were conducted. One investigation at the British embassy Washington in December 1999 resulted in internal MOD discipline procedures being carried out and an employee returning to the UK. The second investigation at Rhine Garrison in September 2000 resulted in no further action being taken. There is one ongoing investigation which commenced in July 2002 at the Royal Mint Llantrisant which is soon to be brought to a close. The investigation in Sierra Leone in December 2002 resulted in no crime being found.

Parliamentary Questions

Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he will reply to Questions with reference numbers 146471 and 146688, tabled on 5 January. [153340]

Mr. Ingram: I replied to my hon. Friend on 9 February 2004, (Official Report, columns 1173–74W)

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to ensure that answers to parliamentary questions which are in the form of letters which are lodged in the Library are, subject to issues of confidentiality, made available to the public by posting them on the Ministry website. [153521]

Mr. Caplin: The office of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, is working with House officials to explore what might be done to improve the accessibility of subsequent correspondence.

RAF Fairford

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what building work is under way at RAF Fairford, with particular reference to hangar capacity. [155116]

Mr. Caplin: The building work currently under way at RAF Fairford involves a number of general infrastructure upgrade programmes. These include a fuel complex, a 4.5km perimeter road around the south-east portion of the airfield, some airfield pavement works, the construction of a single-bay portable aircraft shelter and a two-bay aircraft maintenance hangar capable of housing a wide variety of aircraft, including the USAF B-2 aircraft.

The current operational status of RAF Fairford as a NATO designated standby base will not change and no aircraft will be permanently stationed at the base.

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Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to further secure the boundary fence at RAF Fairford. [155187]

Mr. Caplin: Every aspect of security at all RAF bases, including RAF Fairford, is under constant review and improvements are made when necessary.

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