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12 Dec 2006 : Column 936Wcontinued
John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment he has made of the existing major conventional military threats to (a) the UK and (b) NATO. 
Des Browne: As a matter of routine, the capabilities of non-NATO nations to target the UK and NATO are monitored. Current assessments show there are no direct conventional military threats to the UK or NATO. However, this cannot be ruled out in the future.
John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the (a) meetings and (b) correspondence between his Department and BAE Systems to date in 2006-07. 
Mr. Ingram: Ministers and officials have regular contact with BAE Systems through various media. This information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Willie Rennie: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much funding has been provided from the public purse to the Ex-Services Mental Welfare Society (Combat Stress) in each of the last five years. 
Derek Twigg [holding answer 7 December 2006]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my predecessor on 2 June 2006, Official Report, column 37W, which includes funds from the MOD and Scottish Health Board, to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon).
The funding provided by MOD to the Ex-Service Mental Welfare Society in each of the last five years is detailed in the following table. Funds are provided through the War Pensions schemes discretionary power to meet the cost of any necessary expenses in respect of medical, surgical or rehabilitative treatment of ex-members of the armed forces that arise wholly or mainly as a result of disablement due to service before 6 April 2005 where it is not provided for under other UK legislation. This includes the individual costs of war pensioners undergoing remedial treatment at homes run by Combat Stress for conditions related to their individual pensioned disablement and of related expenses such as travel costs. Combat Stress receives separate funding from the Scottish Health Board for war pensioners treatment at Hollybush House.
Mr. Harper: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the specified operational locations are for the operational allowance; and what methodology was used to identify them. 
Derek Twigg [holding answer 11 December 2006]: The specified qualifying locations for the operational allowance are the geographical boundaries of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. The allowance will also be paid to personnel on board Royal Navy ships in Iraqi territorial waters and to military personnel who fly into or over one of the qualifying locations. The qualifying locations have been determined on the basis of military advice from the Permanent Joint Headquarters. A number of factors, including the number of serious incidents and the threat assessment, were used to assess the enduring nature of the danger in these locations.
Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether his Department has evaluated the existing Counter Battery Radar to be adapted to provide targeting data for the Phalanx C-RAM Anti Mortar system. 
Mr. Ingram: Initial assessments of the Phalanx C-RAM Anti Mortar system indicate that it is not appropriate for our current requirements, but we keep the operational situation under review. We have not therefore considered the adaptation of the Counter Battery Radar to provide targeting data for this system. We provide layered protection for British bases in Iraq and Afghanistan through a range of force protection methods.
Willie Rennie: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what funding his Department has provided to the Priory Group for (a) psychological and (b) psychiatric treatments in each of the last five years. 
Derek Twigg [holding answer 7 December 2006]: The Priory Groups contract for the provision of in-patient mental healthcare for Service personnel commenced on 1 April 2004. The cost of the contract so far is as follows:
Healthcare Directorate, Defence Medical Services Department
These figures include the cost of assessing patients as well as any treatment provided. They also include costs for services provided by the Priory Group between 1 December 2003 and 31 March 2004 prior to the current contract. The MOD pays the Priory Group centrally via a single contract so the figures cannot be broken down to show the amount spent on different categories of treatment.
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to replace Sophie thermal imaging equipment. 
Mr. Ingram: The Sophie system provides a long-range thermal imaging capability, deployed at company level. We are currently examining options to provide a new lightweight and highly portable thermal imaging capability. We also issued a new Light Weight Thermal Imaging sight at platoon level earlier this year.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer of 4 December 2006, Official Report, column 87W, on Trident, where in the
Prime Minister's statement of 4 December the information requested in Question 106409 may be found. 
Des Browne: The statement made on 4 December by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister summarised the conclusions of the White Paper (Cm 6994) on the future of the UK's nuclear deterrent. Section 3 of that paper states:
"In terms of their destructive power, nuclear weapons pose a uniquely terrible threat and consequently have a capability to deter acts of aggression that is of a completely different scale to any other form of deterrence. Nuclear weapons remain a necessary element of the capability we need to deter threats from others possessing nuclear weapons".
Conventional forces cannot therefore replicate the deterrent effect of our nuclear forces. The White Paper makes clear that the investment required to maintain our deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities our armed forces need.
Mr. Ancram: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the answer of 4 December 2006, Official Report, column 87W, on Trident, where in the Prime Minister's statement of 4 December the information requested in Question 106408 may be found. 
Des Browne: The options considered for the UK's future nuclear deterrent were summarised in the statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 4 December 2006, Official Report, column 22, and covered more fully in Section 5 and Annex B of the White Paper (Cm 6994) published that day.
Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps the Government have taken to reduce the UK's nuclear stockpile since the withdrawal of the WE 177 freefall bomb in 1998. 
Des Browne [holding answer 7 December 2006]: Since completing the withdrawal of the WE 177 freefall bomb, we have dismantled all the remaining Chevaline warheads which had previously been deployed on the Polaris system. We have also reduced the maximum number of operationally available Trident warheads to fewer than 200. In the White Paper published on 4 December 2006, we announced our decision to make a further reduction in the maximum number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160.
Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the latest year of main gate for the procurement of the first replacement Vanguard submarine necessary in order to maintain the skills base of the UK's existing submarine construction capacity. 
The timing of key decisions on the programme to develop new submarines to replace the Vanguard class will be driven by defence needs. Subject to the outcome of the detailed concept work, we would
aim to place a contract for their detailed design by around 2012 to 2014. It is too early to speculate on timings beyond that point.
Willie Rennie: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects the new community mental health service for veterans to be launched. 
Derek Twigg [holding answer 7 December 2006]: The Government are committed to good mental health and well-being for their personnel, both in service and after they leave. For veterans, healthcare is primarilythe responsibility of the NHS. Following recommendations on mental health services for veterans in 2005 by the independent Health and Social Care Advisory Service, officials from the Ministry of Defence, the UK Health Departments and Combat Stress have been working together to develop and implement a new community-based model for mental health services for veterans. It is hoped that, beginning in the spring of 2007, the model will be piloted at sites across the UK. The pilots are likely to last two years and, if successful, will be rolled out nationally. Demobilised Reservists are already covered by the enhanced post-operational mental healthcare programme that I announced on 21 November 2006, Official Report, column 28WS.
Mr. Heald: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many projects have been undertaken by the (a) Social Exclusion Taskforce and (b) Office of the Third Sector since it was established; what assessment she has made of the effect of each project; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. McFadden: The Prime Minister announced the creation of the Office of the Third Sector (OTS) in May 2006, to drive forward the Governments role in supporting and working with the sector. The Office brings together responsibilities that were formerly in the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The Office has already supported the passage of the Charities Bill through Parliament; established the new Commissioner for the Compact; launched programmes to promote charitable giving and volunteering by groups at risk of social exclusion and to promote and develop a series of new measures for supporting the growth of social enterprises, as set out in our recent Social Enterprise Action Plan; embarked on a major review of the Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration, jointly with Her Majestys Treasury; and prepared measures for enhancing the role of the Third Sector in improving public services, which will be published in December. The longer-term impact of programmes funded by the Office, such as the Futurebuilders investment programme and the youth volunteering charity v, is subject to ongoing evaluations.
The Social Exclusion Task Force (SETF) now leads cross-Government work on social exclusion. The SETF was established in July 2006 and in September 2006 published Reaching Out: An Action Plan on Social Exclusion. The action plan proposes a range of systematic reforms aimed at changing the way we deliver help and support to the socially excluded.
SETF worked closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the local government White Paper proposals were built upon, and developed this approach.
The action plan launches a series of pilots, including 10 health-led parenting support demonstration projects from pre-birth to age two, interventions for tackling mental health problems in childhood such as Multi-systemic Therapy and Treatment Foster Care, and alternative approaches to improving outcomes for people with chaotic lives and multiple needs. The SETF is closely involved in the development and delivery of these projects alongside other Government Departments.
The SETF will be focusing on the delivery of the pilots by undertaking evaluations to assess the impact of the new demonstration projects.
Mr. Heald: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster pursuant to her answer of 29 November 2006, Official Report, column 767W, whether her Department grades or classifies written parliamentary questions according to their political sensitivity. 
Mr. Heald: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster pursuant to the answer of 29 November 2006, Official Report, column 767W, on parliamentary questions, if she will place in the Library a copy of the internal guidance in use in her Department on 6 December 2006 on (a) answering parliamentary questions for written answer and (b) procedures for handling Freedom of Information Act requests. 
Mr. McFadden: When answering parliamentary questions the Cabinet Office takes account of the requirements of the Ministerial Code, the Civil Service Code and Cabinet Office Guidance to Officials on Drafting Answers to Parliamentary Questions, copies of which are available in the Library for the reference of Members. The internal guidance is for internal purposes only.
In dealing with requests under the Freedom of Information Act the Department takes account of the requirements of the legislation. In addition, the Department for Constitutional Affairs publishes procedural and exemptions guidance which is available in the Library for the reference of Members and on the DCA website at:
Mr. Hayes: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what the Government's policy is on press officers participating in blogs. 
Mr. McFadden: The conduct of press officers is governed by the Civil Service Code and the Guidance on Government Communications. The latter is available at:
This sets out the basic conventions which apply to all Government communication, including using e-media such as blogs.
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster pursuant to the answer of 4 December 2006, Official Report, columns 189-90W, on the retirement age, what her Department's policy is for the setting of retirement ages for staff below the senior civil service under the Civil Service (Management Functions) Act 1992. 
Mr. McFadden: The Cabinet Office retirement age for staff below the senior civil service is the national default retirement age of 65. It was adopted on Sunday 1 October 2006 when the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations took effect, making it illegal for an employer to retire an employee below the age of 65. Cabinet Office policy seeks to support its business by providing a skilled and professional workforce with opportunities for development and advancement, irrespective of age.
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