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7 Sept 2004 : Column 1187W—continued

Kilve Bend (Somerset)

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what future plans his Department has for the use of the range at Kilve Bend in Somerset. [186498]

Mr. Ingram: We plan to continue to use Kilve Bend as a helicopter gunnery range.

NATO/Russian Relations

Mr. Bill Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on relations between NATO and Russia, with particular reference to security in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc. [186771]

Mr. Hoon: Formal relations between NATO and Russia are conducted through the NATO-Russia Council (NRC). The Council facilitates engagement between the twenty-six member-stales of NATO and Russia on a number of key issues. It provides a forum where concerns can be aired and practical solutions to problems can be identified. There is an increasing broadening of political dialogue in the NRC to cover key security issues including Afghanistan, the Balkans and counter-terrorism. Our aim is for Russia to be a long-term strategic partner of NATO. Wider European security can only benefit as a result

As many countries of Eastern Europe are now members of NATO, their security—like that of other allies—is part of the normal business of the Alliance. NATO has encouraged Russia to make progress in negotiating with-Georgia and Moldova over her presence in the region; this was reflected in the communiqué following the Istanbul Summit (28–29 June 2004). NATO and Russia are working together on a range of security issues including: counter-proliferation; theatre missile defence; arms control and counter-narcotics. They are also conducting work towards joint operations such as Operation Active Endeavour (NATO's counter-terrorist naval mission in the Mediterranean).

Nimrod MRA4 Aircraft

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to agree the production contract for the remaining Nimrod MRA4 aircraft. [184458]

Mr. Ingram [holding answer 16 July 2004]: Under the restructured contract with BAE SYSTEMS, formally amended on 23 February this year, design and development and manufacture have been separated as far as possible to ensure that technology is adequately de-risked before making further commitment to production price and schedule. A decision on full production is dependent on design maturity and price negotiation and is planned for next year.

RAF Aldergrove

David Burnside: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his Oral Statement of 21 July 2004,
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Official Report, columns 343–70, what the future operational size of RAF Aldergrove will be; and whether it will include all present forces, with particular reference to aerial surveillance stationed on the base. [186527]

Mr. Ingram: No decisions have been taken as to the future operational role of RAF Aldergrove which is listed in the Joint Declaration as one of the locations where, in the context of a peaceful society, the regular garrison in Northern Ireland might be based.

RAF Leeming (Nuclear Weapons)

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the security of nuclear weapons stored in transit at RAF Leeming. [186620]

Mr. Ingram: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave her on 4 February 2004. Official Report, column 890W.

RAF Servicemen and Women

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his plans to reduce the number of RAF servicemen and women; and how many (a) military and (b) civilian employees will be affected. [186395]

Mr. Hoon: As I announced in a statement to the House of Commons on 23 July 2004, Official Report, columns 344–71, we must transform our armed forces so that they can continue to respond effectively to the global challenges of the 21st century. This means modernising the structure of our forces, embracing new technology and focusing on the means by which our armed forces can work together with other Government agencies to meet the threat of international terrorism and the forces of instability in the modern world.

A combination of significant advances in capability, both within some existing aircraft fleets and as a result of the introduction to service of new types, such as Typhoon, and changes in investment towards greater deployability. better targeted action and swifter outcomes have enabled us to make a number of changes in the RAFs force structure. These changes, in conjunction with the achievement of planned organisational efficiencies, will lead to a reduced RAF manpower requirement of around 41,000 by 2008, from a current strength of around 48,500.

In addition to the reductions in service manpower, we envisage reductions of around 10,000 civilian jobs across Defence. These will flow from efficiencies as a consequence of the Department's change programme and other initiatives, as well as changes to the force structure.

Royal Irish Regiment

David Burnside: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his Oral Statement of 21 July 2004, Official Report, columns 343–70, what the future battalion strength of the Royal Irish Regiment will be; and whether it will include the retention of the three Home Battalions. [186526]

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Mr. Ingram: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced on 21 July 2004, Official Report, columns 343–370, that the number of Regular battalions in the Army would reduce by four to 36 by April 2008. This will allow the resulting manpower to be redistributed across the Army to create more robust unit establishments under the Future Army Structure. To maintain a regional balance the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment has been exempted from consideration.

The Royal Irish Regiment (Home Service) battalions are fundamental to the armed forces' support of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. No decisions have been taken concerning their future role, as it is premature to come to conclusions about the composition of the long-term garrison.

SA80A2/L85 Components

Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what supplies his Department has of replacement components for the (a) SA80A2 and (b) L85; and what plans he has to replenish these supplies. [186640]

Mr. Ingram: The SA80A2 family consists of the L85A2 Individual Weapon and the L86A2 Light Support Weapon. Stocks of consumables and repairable spare parts, sufficient to meet all operational and training requirements, are currently held in Ministry of Defence depots. Stock levels are regularly reviewed and replenished as necessary.


Civil Service/Public Sector Relocation

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the number of civil service and public sector jobs presently located in London and the South East that will be relocated to (a) Bridgwater and (b) the South West following the report by Sir Michael Lyons, Well Placed to Deliver? Shaping the Pattern of Government Service, and the 2004 Spending Review. [186548]

Mr. Boateng: In line, with Sir Michael Lyons' recommendations contained in his report published in March this year and endorsed in the 2004 Spending Review, it will be for departments and public bodies themselves to determine the destination of relocated activities from London and the South East. Departments' decisions will be based on their own business needs and priorities, taking account of the requirement to improve public services, secure greater efficiencies and value for money for the taxpayer as well as of local economic conditions. Departments will also take into account forthcoming locational guidance that will be issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

In the course of the Lyons and 2004 Spending Reviews, some departments, including the Chancellor's departments and the Department for Work and Pensions, have identified the South West as a possible destination for public sector activity. As you know, the
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South West has already benefited recently following the significant relocation of the Meteorological Office from the South East to Exeter.


Keith Vaz: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on progress with the agenda for structural reform of the EU. [186624]

Ruth Kelly: The Treasury published its latest progress report on economic reform "Advancing Long-Term Prosperity: Economic Reform in an Enlarged Europe" in February. It reaffirms the Government's commitment to the Lisbon agenda on structural reform, assesses progress to date and concludes that, despite some recent actions, if the ambitious goals of the agenda are to be realised further efforts are needed.

Keith Vaz: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the EU target of 70 per cent. employment in 2010 is expected to be met. [186653]

Ruth Kelly: Employment in the European Union has risen considerably in recent years. Since 1999, EU employment has risen from 154.9 million, or 62.5 per cent. of the working age population to 162 million and 64.3 per cent. in 2003. Though the UK's employment rate already exceeds the EU target (74.5 per cent.), it is clear that significant further reforms are necessary, particularly in the new Member States, to meet the target of 70 per cent. by 2010.

Keith Vaz: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what strategy is in place to improve productivity levels in the EU. [186622]

Ruth Kelly: The Government's approach to economic reform in the EU is based around improving both productivity and employment. To this end the progress report on economic reform, published in February of this year, highlighted a number of priority areas. These included:

Keith Vaz: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the annual growth rate of the EU was (a) in 2002–03 and (b) in 2003–04. [186650]

Ruth Kelly: As defined by the UK financial year (i.e., from the second quarter in the preceding year to the first quarter in the following year), annual real GDP growth in the EU25 was 1.7 per cent. for the period 2003–04 and 1 per cent. for the period 2002–03. On the same basis, EU 15 real GDP grew by 1.6 per cent. in 2003–04 and by 0.9 per cent. in 2002–03.
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