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The joint strike fighter programme remains on schedule with the first development aircraft
completing its seventh flight including full afterburner test in flight. The UK has now received the necessary assurances on technology transfer from the US; this will allow the UK to meet its operational sovereignty requirements. The next phase of the programme has now come into effect, with the UK, US and other international partners having signed up to the production, sustainment and follow-on development memorandum of understanding with the US.
Des Browne: Iran is an influential neighbour in the region and its behaviour continues to be a cause for concern. We continually assess the nature of insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. Any Iranian links to illegal armed groups either through supply of weapons, training or funding, are completely unacceptable. We have made this clear to the Iranians (with respect to Iraq) on many occasions.
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many (a) mine protected vehicles and (b) Chinook helicopters are allocated for use by British forces in Afghanistan; how many of those vehicles are in working order; and if he will make a statement. 
Des Browne: The UK Task Force was provided with Tempest mine protected vehicles to provide protected mobility support to their explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) capability in Afghanistan. Despite a strong track record in other operational theatres, they have not proved as effective in Afghanistan and are therefore due to be replaced with a new capability within the next three months. In the interim, the mine route-proving capability of the UK Task Force has not been affected by the lack of Tempest, as other vehicles within the EOD Task Force have been able to complete required tasks.
In addition, while not designated a mine protected vehicle the newly procured Mastiff, a wheeled patrol vehicle with a less intimidating profile than our tracked vehicles, offers good protection against a range of threats including mines. We are rapidly procuring around 100 of these vehicles for use in both Iraq and Afghanistan. An effective Mastiff capability is now operational in Iraq, and reports indicate that UK forces there are pleased with them. They will start to be delivered to Afghanistan this spring. I am withholding the precise number of each type of vehicle available, as the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of our armed forces.
Following my written statement of 24 July 2006, we have sent two additional CH-47 Chinooks to Afghanistan, making a total of eight, and have increased the number of flying hours. Commanders on the ground have made clear that they have sufficient helicopter assets to conduct current operations. We will continue to keep our helicopter requirements under review to ensure that we have sufficient support to meet current and anticipated tasks. The exact number of helicopters available on any given day will fluctuate subject to routine repair and maintenance work. I am withholding the precise number that are currently in working order as the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of our armed forces.
Mr. Harper: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many personnel injured have received compensation under (a) the war pensions scheme and (b) armed forces compensation scheme since 2001 due to loss of (i) both legs and both arms, (ii) both legs at or above the knee, (iii) both legs below the knee, (iv) one leg at or above the knee, (v) one leg below the knee, (vi) both arms at or above the elbow, (vii) both arms below the elbow, (viii) one arm at or above the elbow, (ix) one arm below the elbow, and following (x) sustaining deep second degree or third degree burns to more than 70 per cent. of the body, (xi) being blinded in both eyes and (xii) having been made deaf. 
The number of personnel who have been injured and received compensation from the armed forces compensation scheme between 6 April 2005 and 23 November 2006 is five for the following three categories combined: (iv) lost one leg at or above the knee, (v) lost one leg below the knee and (viii) lost one arm at or above the elbow.
Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will extend postal welfare benefits to those Commonwealth servicemen and women serving in the armed forces to allow them to use the free bluey post to communicate with their families when their families do not live in the United Kingdom. 
Mr. Ingram: Funding to extend the free forces air letter benefits to eligible foreign and Commonwealth personnel serving in Her Majestys armed forces on operations was agreed on 31 January. Preparatory activity to commence the service is ongoing with a planned implementation date of 2 April.
Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will extend the telephone credits welfare benefits of armed forces personnel serving in theatre from 30 minutes per week to one hour per week. 
Mr. Ingram: The welfare telephone allowance was increased from 20 minutes per week to 30 minutes per week, a 50 per cent. increase, in October. Along with an improvement in internet connection speeds this improvement cost some £2.8 million. There are no plans to further increase the telephone allowance at this time although the operational welfare package remains under continuous review.
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his answer of 29 January 2007, Official Report, columns 22-3W, on boarding school allowance, how many officers in the armed services are claiming continuity of education allowance while living in their family home in their home town; and if he will make a statement. 
As explained in my answer of 29 January 2007, Official Report, columns 22-3W, unless a service person is granted involuntarily separated status for the reasons previously explained, they are
expected to serve accompanied and reside with their family at their duty station, or within daily travelling distance of their duty station. This family home may be a service families quarter, substitute families accommodation (where no quarters are available), privately rented or privately owned. No details are held of how many service personnel privately rent or own their own homes, or where service personnel, all of whom have a commitment to be mobile, regard as their family home.
Mr. Benyon: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects the Minister with responsibility for veterans to report on the case of maladministration of the late William Norbury's war pension. 
Derek Twigg [holding answer 19 February 2007]: I wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 7 February 2006 to update him on the latest position in respect of the William Norbury case. I expect to receive a draft report during March.
Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with his (a) Lithuanian, (b) Polish, (c) Czech, (d) Australian and (e) Romanian counterparts about changing the operational caveats of multi-national forces in Southern Iraq. 
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his plans are for support for mental health issues to (a) war veterans and (b) war veterans' families over the next 10 years; and if he will make a statement. 
Considerable mental health support is already available to veterans. If a veteran is a war pensioner he or she will be entitled to priority NHS treatment for the accepted condition(s); priority is decided by the
clinician in charge and is subject to clinical need. The Government also fund care provided by Combat Stress, to the value last year of some £2.8 million, for those with an appropriate condition accepted as being caused or made worse by service.
The Veterans' Programme, launched in 2001, aims for excellent delivery of public services for veterans, including families, through cross-governmental partnership, involving MOD, other Government Departments and ex-service organisations. Examples of this include improvements to the arrangements for transfer of veterans from military to civilian or charitable care and welfare arrangements; also measures to raise awareness of military and veterans issues among the civilians health community, for example through contact with the Chief Medical Officers and the Royal College of General Practitioners. Similarly, last year we introduced the Reserves Mental Health Programme offering enhanced medical services to those reservists with operational service since 2003 whose general practitioners consider that their deployment may have affected their mental health.
Some veterans appear reluctant to access available help for reasons relating to their military culture. Advised by national clinical experts, we are working with the health departments and the ex-service organisations, including Combat Stress, to develop a new, culturally aware community-based mental health service for veterans. It is hoped that the proposed model will be trialled at sites around the United Kingdom from spring 2007. The approach will be holistic, providing evidence-based treatment and other support, as required, to veterans, their families and carers.
Mr. David Hamilton: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what funding his Department has provided to the Meteorological Office for the Public Weather Service in each of the last five years; and what assessment he has made of the value for money provided by the service. 
Derek Twigg: From April 2007, a range of weather information, weather-related warnings and supporting programmes from the Met Office, will be brought together in a new public weather service. Funding for broadly comparable activities from the MOD, and other sources, in each of the last five years has been as follows:
|Total PWS funding (£000)|
The services provided by the Met Office over this period have delivered very good value for money to the UK taxpayer, in terms of the benefit provided by increasingly accurate weather forecasts and warnings which are free at point of use, as exemplified by the
recent snow-events that were well forecast many days ahead. These have enabled members of the public, and the public bodies charged with their safety, to make informed choices about day-to-day activities and to enhance the protection of life, property and essential infrastructure.
Des Browne: We have historically enjoyed close defence links with both Australia and New Zealand, dating back to before world war one. Similarities in the way the Australians and ourselves organise, train and employ our forces facilitate close co-operation. Australian forces currently operate alongside UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. UK and New Zealand troops currently co-operate in Afghanistan and have also worked together in UN missions, including Bosnia, East Timor and the Gulf. In addition, we hold a number of joint exercises with Australia and New Zealand, mainly under the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) and there are a number of military personnel exchange programmes with both countries. Australian and New Zealand defence personnel also routinely participate in UK training and staff courses and vice versa.
UK/Finnish defence relations are good and growing ever closer, with expanding military co-operation. Finnish armed forces participate in a number of NATO and EU operations in which UK forces are also involved, including in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia. Finland has undertaken to participate in EU Battlegroups, including the Swedish-led Nordic Battlegroup, for which the UK will provide the operational headquarters at Northwood.
Mr. Ingram: In Iraq, a total of 26 nations are contributing forces, including the UK. Of these, five nations operate in the UK's area of responsibility, Multi-National Division (South East): Australia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Romania.
In Afghanistan, a total of 37 nations are contributing forces to the International Security Assistance Force, including the UK. Of these, the following operate in Regional Command (South), where UK forces are concentrated: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania and the US.
We work alongside 44 other nations involved in the NATO operation in Kosovo. And in Bosnia Herzegovina, 33 other nations are involved, including, in the UK-led Task Force (North West): Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland.
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