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18 Jan 2005 : Column 839W—continued

Electronic Devices

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many electronic devices are owned by the Department, broken down by type. [207679]

Mr. Caplin: The Ministry of Defence and its staff use thousands of electronic devices in the delivery of its business on a daily basis. The quantity and classification by type of these devices is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Gulf War Illnesses

Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has discussed with his US counterparts the findings of the Report on Scientific Progress in Understanding Gulf War Illnesses of September 2004 commissioned by the US Secretary for Veteran Affairs; and if he will make a statement. [209149]

Mr. Caplin [holding answer 17 January 2005]: No.

Invoices

Michael Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the average length of time was between the date of invoices issued to his Department from a supplier and payment by the Department of the invoice in the last 12 months for which figures are available; what percentage of these invoices were paid within 30 days of the date of issue of the invoice; what percentage of these invoices remained unpaid after 90 days; and if he will make a statement on the Department's policy on the payment of invoices issued to it. [200616]

Mr. Caplin: The Ministry of Defence does not keep statistics on the average length of time taken to pay suppliers' invoices. The vast majority of invoices issued to the Ministry of Defence from suppliers are submitted directly to the Defence Bills Agency, Liverpool. In 2003–04, the Agency paid 99.98 per cent. of all valid bills within 11 calendar days of receipt. Only three invoices (out of the 4.9 million processed) took longer than 30 days, and none remained unpaid after 90 days.

The Government are committed to improving the payment culture in the UK in order to create a fair and stable business climate. Government departments and their agencies should aim to pay all invoices not in dispute within 30 days or within the agreed contractual terms if otherwise specified.
 
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As you can see, the Department fully supports this policy.

Iraq

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many UK military personnel he expects will be in Iraq at the time of the January election. [207995]

Mr. Hoon [holding answer 17 January 2005]: As at 14 January 2005, approximately 8,950 United Kingdom armed forces personnel were serving on Op. Telic. Of these, approximately 8,150 are based within Iraq.

We anticipate that the figures above will increase by approximately 400 by 30 January 2005, the date of the Iraqi elections, with the arrival of the Extremely High Readiness Reserve on 17–19 January.

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he plans to publish the assessment undertaken by his Department of the United States Department of Defense Report on the Khamisiyah chemical weapons storage bunker in Iraq. [208788]

Mr. Caplin: The Ministry of Defence assessment of the United States Department of Defense report on Khamisiyah is currently being finalised and the intention is to publish this shortly.

Mirach Target Drone

Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the estimated out-of-service date for the Mirach target drone is. [208793]

Mr. Ingram: Under current arrangements it is planned that the Mirach target will be in service until 2007. It may continue in service beyond that date as part of the successor Combined Aerial Target Service but no decisions have yet been taken.

RAF (Sexual Discrimination Survey)

Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will place in the Library the survey on sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and bullying in the Royal Air Force which was reported in July. [207587]

Mr. Caplin: Yes.

Special Advisers

Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether departmental special advisers have attended meetings with external (a) bodies and (b) individuals, in their official capacity and without Ministers, since May 1997. [203448]

Mr. Caplin: Special advisers hold meetings with a wide range of external representatives in their official capacity. All such meetings are conducted in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Conduct for special advisers.

Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether departmental special advisers have made speeches in their official capacity since May 1997. [203505]


 
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Mr. Caplin: Any speeches made by special advisers in an official capacity are conducted in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers.

Victoria Cross Memorial (Public Access)

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to allow visits by the public to the Victoria Cross memorial and other areas of his Department's building in Whitehall; and if he will make a statement. [206970]

Mr. Caplin: Visits by small groups of members of the public to certain areas of the Ministry of Defence's Main Building in Whitehall, such as the Victoria Cross and George Cross Memorial and the Henry VIII Wine Cellar, will be possible but only by prior arrangement and as security circumstances permit. Considerations of safety and security preclude open access and may lead to pre-arranged visits being cancelled at short notice.

Groups wishing to visit should apply via the 'Visiting Ministry of Defence Properties' section of the MOD website: http://www.mod.uk/aboutus/visits/

Pictures of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Memorial can be found on the Defence Image Database: http://www.photos.mod.uk

HOUSE OF COMMONS COMMISSION

Smoking

John Mann: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission in how many rooms in the House to which hon. Members have access, other than their offices, smoking is (a) permitted and (b) banned. [207869]

Sir Archy Kirkwood: The Members' Handbook contains guidance on places where hon. Members may currently smoke in the House of Commons, including a list of designated non-smoking areas. In the outbuildings there is a presumption that common areas are non-smoking unless designated otherwise. The Commission will shortly be considering policy on smoking in the light of a review which it initiated in July 2004.

CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT

Cricket Broadcasting Contract

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what discussions she has had with the cricket authorities on their decision not to sign a contract for the broadcasting of domestic test cricket on terrestrial stations; and whether she has considered re-listing test cricket. [209043]

Mr. Caborn: I was briefed by the England and Wales Cricket Board on the outcome of their negotiations. Cricket test matches played in England are protected under the listing provisions, but only in respect of secondary coverage, such as highlights. Of the terrestrial channels, Five are to televise test highlights at peak time and live commentary will be available on BBC radio. It
 
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may be necessary to review the statutory list as digital take-up increases but any such review would not affect contracts already entered into.

Digital Television

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what estimate she has made of the take-up of digital television; and if she will make a statement. [209177]

Estelle Morris: According to figures published by Ofcom, digital television was in 55.9 per cent. of households at the end of the third quarter of 2004. This is up from 47 per cent. at the same point in 2003, with satellite, terrestrial and cable all contributing to this progress.


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