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1 Sept 2004 : Column 721W—continued

RAF Menwith Hill

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many visits to RAF Menwith Hill were made by US personnel not resident or working on the base during 2002–03. [185896]

Mr. Ingram: During 2002–03 there were many visits to RAF Menwith Hill by US personnel. These ranged from VIP visits to short term visits associated specifically with work on various aspects of the Menwith Hill mission. The exact number of visits is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether requests for visits to RAF Menwith Hill are determined by his Department; and what discussions take place with the US authorities before the response to individual requests is determined. [185897]

Mr. Ingram: Her Majesty's Government retains control over the use of facilities at RAF Menwith Hill. Therefore any decision on who can and cannot visit RAF Menwith Hill, as well as other United States Visiting Force (USVF) bases, rests with the Government.

All requests by MPs to visit RAF Menwith Hill are referred to Defence Ministers. Due to national security considerations, visits to RAF Menwith Hill are restricted to those with an official oversight function such as Government Ministers and the members of the all-party Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). US authorities have no part in this decision making process.

Working visits to the base by military and civilian staff are approved locally by the RAF Station Commander.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what rules of engagement (a) the American National Guard and (b) the US security police personnel apply concerning peaceful protesters found at RAF bases where they are stationed. [185936]

Mr. Caplin: It is not our practice to comment on UK Rules of Engagement or those of our US allies and the information is therefore withheld under Exemption 1 (Defence, Security and International Relations) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what procedures have been agreed between the US visiting forces and personnel and the Ministry of Defence Police Agency to deal with peaceful protesters at RAF Menwith Hill. [185937]

Mr. Ingram: Peaceful protesters detected at RAF Menwith Hill are dealt with by Ministry of Defence Police using their powers according to their statutory office of Constable.
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Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many RAF apprentices are (a) on secondment and (b) in training at RAF Menwith Hill; what the nature is of that training; and who is funding the training. [185939]

Mr. Caplin: The RAF apprentice scheme ceased in 1993.

Retirement Age

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether (a) his Department and (b) agencies for which it is responsible (i) have a set retirement age which applies to all or most personnel and (ii) have a maximum age beyond which applications for employment will not be considered; and what the age is in each case. [186091]

Mr. Caplin: In the Ministry of Defence and its Agencies over half of the civilian workforce has the option to retire any time between 60 and 65. The remainder, which encompasses most of those in management, professional and specialist grades, are normally required to retire at age 60. Extensions beyond normal retirement age are exceptional and for business reasons only, however, as detailed in the Civil Service Management Code, the maximum age at which staff must retire is 70.

There is no age limit set beyond which applications will not be considered. Applications for employment take account of whether the individual has the necessary competencies and skills required for the vacancy. The Department will also consider whether the successful applicant will provide a suitable return on the cost of employing and training the individual before they retire.

Royal Air Force

Patrick Mercer: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the irreducible manpower level is that needs to be maintained by the Royal Air Force such that an independent operational capability can continue for the UK. [184596]

Mr. Ingram: The RAF's requirement for trained manpower is dependant on a number of factors including changing commitments, both at home and abroad, the types of operations we may have to take in the foreseeable future and the introduction of new aircraft types and equipment. I refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Hoon) on 21 July 2004, Official Report, columns 343–70, which set out the future manpower requirements of the armed forces.

Royal Navy (Drug Enforcement)

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the role of the Royal Navy in the Caribbean and the deployment of HMS Monmouth in the fight against international drug trafficking. [185285]

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Mr. Ingram: A Royal Navy ship, together with a royal fleet auxiliary support tanker, is allocated to the Atlantic Patrol Task (North) (APT(N)). The APT(N) duty ship provides a tangible presence in the Caribbean area of responsibility including throughout the hurricane season (May to November). For the remainder of the year they remain within 14 days sailing. APT(N) provides security to United Kingdom overseas territories including support to humanitarian operations and disaster relief. APT(N) also makes a major contribution as one element of HMG's broader counter-drugs activity and promotes UK interests in the region, supporting defence relations and military training assistance and the wider defence diplomacy effort through a series of high-profile port visits.

After six months as APT(N) ship, five of which were within the Caribbean AOR, HMS Monmouth handed over duties to HMS Richmond on 12 July and is currently en route home. During her deployment HMS Monmouth made two successful interdictions of suspected drug smugglers using "go fast" boats. While the contraband was jettisoned by the smugglers before being apprehended, it is thought that 150–200 kg of cocaine was removed from circulation in each operation.

Saudi Armed Forces Project

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the whole-time equivalent staffing of the Saudi Armed Forces Project Office in his Department was over the past five years; what secondments to and from the Office have taken place in that period; and to which agencies or enterprises. [185170]

Mr. Ingram: The number of full-time staff employed on 31 March of each of the past five years was as follows:

There were no secondments to or from the Saudi Armed Forces Project Office during this period.


Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the performance of Seyntex in relation to his Department's contracts for Battlefield Support Section. [186204]

Mr. Ingram: The Battlefield Support Section of the Engineer Systems Support Integrated Project Team has placed a total of four contracts with Seyntex. The company has performed satisfactorily, aside from one incident where some tents were rejected following routine quality control checks. Corrective action was taken by the company and, as far as we are aware, no defective tents entered service.
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Sonar 2087

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what (a) research and (b) evaluation his Department has carried out on the likely impacts on marine wildlife of the trials of Sonar 2087 in the North West Approaches of the UK; [185200]

(2) how detailed environmental reports from the trials of Sonar 2087 will be used better to protect cetaceans; [185219]

(3) what plans he has to prepare a report on the environmental observations resulting from the trials of Sonar 2087; and if he will make a statement. [185175]

Mr. Caplin: The Ministry of Defence has a continuing programme of research into the effects of active sonar generally. This work is intended to inform Environmental Impact Assessments on marine environments in which sonars might be used by the Royal Navy, rather than in the specific context of United Kingdom territorial waters.

The environmental data gathered during the recent trial of Sonar 2087 in the UK's North West Approaches are being analysed and evaluated to determine the effectiveness of the monitoring and mitigation methods that were put in place and whether any changes are necessary for future trials and/or training activity. We plan to publish a report. I will place a copy in the Library of The House.

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