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Mr. Hutton: Afghanistan continues to present significant security challenges, particularly, in the south and east of the country where the Taliban continue to use intimidation and violence against the local population. In Helmand, progress has been made along the Helmand River valley and we are expanding control with the Afghan Security Forces taking an ever more active role.
Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what limits have been placed on the number of parcels that can be sent to members of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan under the free parcels service; upon what basis these limits were established; and if he will make a statement. 
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the demand
for the free parcel service to members of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Historical evidence over the last decade has indicated that, where a mail service has operated with a limited free christmas service, the volume of mail to personnel on operations has been broadly 4kg of mail per person per month outside of a changeover period; increasing to 5kg per person per month during the changeover and 12kg per person per month over the Christmas period.
Since the introduction of the Enduring Families Free Mail Service in September 2007, however, the volumes of mail for both the steady state and the changeover periods have increased by 40 per cent. overall, but for Afghanistan it has increased by 100 per cent.
Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will take steps to enable the design and build for the new Astute class submarines to allow for the retrofitting of conventional intercontinental ballistic missiles. 
Mr. Kevan Jones: As the hon. Member is aware, in England, schools and the education of children are the responsibilities of local authorities and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. However, as my predecessor made clear when he met the hon. Member in February this year, as an interested party Colchester Garrison continue to be kept informed by Essex county council on their plans for schools in the area.
Mr. Hutton: The overall security situation in Iraq is much improved, with violence down to levels last seen in 2004. The transfer on 29 October of security responsibility for Wasit province to Provincial Iraqi Control demonstrates the continuing improvement in security across the country. 13 of Iraqs provinces have now been transferred to Iraqi control.
As the Defence Committee acknowledged in its report in July, the security situation in Basra has been transformed. I saw the dramatically improved security for myself when I visited Basra recently. The Iraqi security forces have complete freedom of movement, and I was able to meet Basrawis in a café in the centre of the city.
The precise number of personnel in theatre at any one time fluctuates on a daily basis for a variety of reasons, including mid-tour rest and recuperation, temporary absence for training, evacuation for medical reasons, the roulement of forces and other factors.
Mr. Kevan Jones:
The Gurkhas continue to provide a key element of the British Army, fulfilling a number of roles including infantry, engineers, signals and logistics. The role of the Gurkhas was last assessed as part of the Future Army Structure review in 2004. This work was
further reviewed in 2005 and 2006 to bring the structure of the two Gurkha Infantry Battalions in line with the rest of the British Army.
Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how (a) his Departments current alcohol strategy and (b) the forthcoming Joint Service Publication incorporating his Departments alcohol strategy is implemented or to be implemented by the (i) Army, (ii) Navy and (iii) Royal Air Force; and what distinction is made of the implementation in each of the armed forces. 
Mr. Kevan Jones: The MODs overall strategy, which will be consolidated in the forthcoming Joint Service Publication, is adapted by each service to meet its particular needs. All three services operate a comprehensive programme to prevent and, where necessary, deal with the harmful effects of alcohol misuse. These programmes include wide-ranging alcohol awareness and education, incorporating regular and mandatory briefs supported by a range of media such as posters, information booklets and DVDs. There are also regulations to limit the availability and consumption of alcohol, supported as necessary by the threat of disciplinary action. Medical treatment, welfare support, intervention and rehabilitation programmes operate for those where misuse of alcohol has become a concern or a serious problem.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what research he has (a) commissioned and
(b) evaluated to inform his Departments forthcoming Joint Service Publication incorporating his Departments alcohol strategy. 
Mr. Kevan Jones: There has been no research commissioned specifically to inform the forthcoming Joint Service Publication incorporating the Departments alcohol strategy. Such research as has been undertaken and evaluated formed part of wider health studies commissioned from the Kings Centre for Military Health Research, particularly in regard to those who have served in conflict zones.
Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the average waiting time for secondary healthcare of each specialty for service personnel was at the latest date for which information is available; and how many service personnel have been waiting more than 18 weeks for secondary healthcare of each specialty in (a) the UK, (b) Scotland and (c) Wales. 
Mr. Kevan Jones [holding answer 11 March 2008]: Defence Medical Services (DMS) only monitor waiting times for service personnel treated at NHS hospitals hosting Ministry of Defence Hospital Units (MDHUs)(1) and at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM)(2). Treatment at these hospitals is carried out under the MOD's Accelerated Access scheme and accounts for approximately 60 per cent. of our secondary health care requirement. The remaining 40 per cent. of service personnel are treated at NHS hospitals around the UK and waiting times could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
The MOD measures the percentage of patients seen at hospitals that host MDHU's and RCDM within four week periods for their first outpatients appointment, and the percentage seen within six week periods as elective inpatients, as the following tables show. The latest figures available are for Quarter 3 2007-08 (September to December), broken down by the major specialities shown.
|Percentage of patients seen within 4 week periods for first outpatients appointment|
|Speciality||4 weeks||8 weeks||12 weeks||13+ weeks||Total number of outpatients|
|Percentage of patients measured by six week periods until becoming an elective inpatient|
|Speciality||0-6 weeks||7-13 weeks||14-26 weeks||26+ weeks||Total number of inpatients|
(1) Ministry of Defence Hospital Units (MDHUs) have been established within NHS hospitals at Derriford, Frimley Park, Peterborough, Portsmouth and Northallerton.
(2) The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM) is located within the University Hospital Birmingham Foundation Trust (UHBFT).
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