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27 Feb 2004 : Column 614W—continued


Airfield Support Services

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer of 6 February 2004, Official Report, column 1103W, how the public private partnership scheme for Airfield Support Services will be adjudicated, with regard to comparison of (a) overall costs and (b) total manpower; and if he will make a statement. [155216]

Mr. Ingram: The way forward in respect of the Airfield Support Services Project will be determined on the basis of what offers best value for money to the Ministry of Defence, without compromising operational capability and/or safety. In doing so, full and proper account will be taken of all the relevant factors in a fair and equitable manner, including overall costs and the total manpower requirements necessary to deliver the requirement.

Anglo-French Battle Groups

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what arrangements he will put in place for providing the necessary enabling personnel for the Anglo-French battle groups. [156793]

Mr. Hoon: There are no plans to form UK-French battle groups. There is, however, a UK/French/German proposal to develop European capabilities in support of the EU's ability to undertake rapid crisis response operations. This advances the UK-French Summit declaration made on 24 November, and the UN's demand for more rapid reaction peacekeeping forces. As part of the Helsinki Headline Goal, EU member states agreed to develop rapid response elements available and deployable at very high readiness.

The proposal being discussed by EU member states is to create battle group-sized forces (approximately 1,500 strong including Combat Support and Combat Service Support), deployable within 15 days, and sustainable for 30 days (but extendable up to 120 days). The target date for such forces to be available is 2007, and they will be designed for compatibility with typical UN Chapter VII mandates (to restore international peace and security). EU member states would be able to offer such formations individually—as is likely to be the case for the UK—or on a multinational basis, from existing forces. The concept will be developed coherently and transparently with the NATO Response Force. This initiative is compatible with current UK force structures and the UK's Joint Rapid Reaction Force, which already includes a number of very high readiness battlegroup formations. It is not envisaged that any additional military or civilian personnel will be required.

Armed Forces Pensions

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his plans to raise the normal retirement age for members of the armed forces; what estimate he has made of the savings from raising the pension age to 65; and if he will make a statement. [156573]

Mr. Caplin: We have no plans to raise the normal retirement age for members of the armed forces from the current age of 55. This reflects the continuing fitness

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requirements for most of those who serve a full career in the armed forces. For the future, the age at which the preserved pension is paid to those leaving before age 55 will be deferred from the current age of 60 to age 65. This will affect both the current and the new schemes. We have not decided when to make the change to the existing scheme. The saving from the change to the preserved pension age in the new scheme is some £50 million a year and has been used to fund unmarried partners benefits and improved death-in-service benefits, as well as contributing to the costs of increased longevity. The right under the current scheme to take an Immediate Pension from age 38 with 16 years service (Officers) or age 40 with 22 years service (Other Ranks) is not affected.

Commandos (Winter Weather Training)

Mr. Flook: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the dates on which (a) 40 Commando Brigade, (b) 42 Commando Brigade and (c) 45 Commando Brigade carried out winter weather training in Norway since 1990. [156785]

Mr. Ingram: This information is not held centrally and it has not therefore been possible in the time available to provide an answer. Work is in hand to collate the details requested. I will write to the hon. Member when that work is complete and a copy of my reply will be placed in the Library of the House.

Mr. Flook: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade were in Norway on cold weather exercise in January and February, broken down by commando unit. [156786]

Mr. Ingram: The following details the number of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines personnel, which includes personnel from the Royal Marines, Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, broken down by unit 1 , who have deployed on Winter Deployment 04 at any time between January and February 2004:

Mr. Flook: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade have been sent home early from Norway due to lack of medical fitness owing to cold weather illnesses; and what the attributable cause of the illnesses was in each case. [156787]

Mr. Ingram: As at 24 February, 78 members of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines had been evacuated to the UK owing to cold weather illness/injury. This is not unusual during a Winter Deployment compared against previous historical data. Changes to Health and Safety regulations however, have reduced

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the threshold at which those suffering cold weather injuries are sent home. Previously many would have been treated in theatre and returned to training.

A full analysis of the precise nature of these injuries will not be completed for some time. This is because, to provide a useful assessment of the injury, examination has to take place three months after the initial injury. The earliest date medical assessments can begin is May. It is anticipated that all casualties will have been examined by the end of June 2004.

Initial feedback from theatre does, however, indicate that the cause of these cold injuries is varied. There is no evidence of one particular cause of cold weather injuries or of any specific equipment deficiencies.

None is directly attributable to sleeping bags, contrary to recent press speculation.

Mr. Flook: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether cold weather sleeping bags are issued to Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade on winter weather training in Norway. [156788]

Mr. Ingram: Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade on winter training in Norway are issued with sleeping bags that form part of a 'sleeping system'. It comprises a Gortex outer bag, a sleeping bag and a roll mat. The system is designed for use in a range of temperatures, including those sub-zero temperatures experienced in the Arctic. No Royal Marine on this Winter Deployment has related a cold weather injury to any perceived failing in the sleeping system.

Formation Readiness Cycle

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his letter of 21 February, on the formation readiness cycle, whether the formation readiness cycle has met the delivery aims set out in the Strategic Defence Review. [156794]

Mr. Hoon: The formation readiness cycle (FRC) provides a framework for the existing six non-specialist brigades in which readiness and commitments can be programmed, and resources can be matched to levels of collective training.

The FRC is a predictable, symmetric force generation mechanism, designed to generate fully trained and appropriately equipped forces that are ready to deploy and remain sustainable throughout operations.

Overall, the FRC has served us well, and has enabled us to meet a variety of commitments, as laid out in the Strategic Defence Review. As we explained in the recent White Paper we are examining possible changes to the current and future capabilities of the armed forces, and supporting infrastructure, required to deliver a network enabled capability. Part of this work will be to consider the effect these changes will have on the FRC.

Gulf War

Mr. Donohoe: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) how many Gulf War veterans of the 1990–91 campaign are estimated to be suffering from auto-immune induced osteoporosis; [156356]

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Mr. Caplin: There is no clinical evidence to support an autoimmune basis for osteoporosis and therefore the Ministry of Defence has no plan to introduce a related compensation scheme or additional pension entitlement. In respect of the prevalence of osteoporosis, I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) on 27 January 2004, Official Report, columns 245–46W.

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