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Army (Recruitment)

16. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the Army's most recent recruitment figures. [49592]

Dr. Reid: Recruitment is one of our highest priorities and we are therefore actively pursuing a number of recruiting initiatives. Reversing the problems we have inherited will take some time, but we are making promising headway. I am pleased to be able to report that as at 1 June we have 1,500 more people on the total strength than there were at 1 May last year.

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Royal Navy (Anti-submarine Warfare)

17. Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the anti-submarine warfare capability of the Royal Navy. [49593]

Dr. Reid: The Royal Navy continues to have a world-class anti-submarine warfare capability. However, the nature and scale of the submarine threat has changed since the end of the Cold War, towards a wide range of operations in coastal areas. We have decided therefore as part of the Strategic Defence Review to focus more on this threat and reduce the emphasis on open ocean operations.

United Nations Operations

18. Mr. Lock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps the Government are taking to enhance the UN's ability to mount peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. [49594]

29. Mr. Levitt: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps the Government are taking to enhance the UN's ability to mount peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. [49605]

Mr. George Robertson: The Strategic Defence Review has reaffirmed that the UK will continue to make an important military contribution to the United Nations. We are planning a significant UK initiative to underline the Government's commitment to support UN operations by declaring a much larger proportion of our front line capabilities as potentially available to the UN, including all of our rapidly deployable forces; and by incorporating this declaration in a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UN.

Defence Medical Services

19. Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the impact of the strategic defence review on the tri-service medical services. [49595]

20. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his plans for the Defence Medical Services. [49596]

Mr. George Robertson: The Strategic Defence Review included measures to address current personnel and equipment shortfalls across all three Services as a matter of priority and to provide an acceptable level of medical support for deployed operations. These measures include recruiting approximately 250 hospital specialists, nurses, technicians and other personnel to bring the Defence Secondary Care Agency up to its manpower establishment.

As part of this major new initiative, we intend to enhance our arms control programme, including restoration of our 'Open Skies' air inspection capability; expand our Outreach and wider military assistance programmes, including greater use of attachments and short term training teams; revitalise our pool of defence attaches; and introduce new education and training initiatives, including a new defence diplomacy scholarship scheme. These measures will greatly enhance the British contribution to conflict prevention.

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Diplomacy and Conflict Prevention

21. Caroline Flint: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps his Department is taking to promote defence diplomacy and conflict prevention. [49597]

22. Mr. Beard: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps his Department is taking to promote defence diplomacy and conflict prevention. [49598]

31. Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps his Department is taking to promote defence diplomacy and conflict prevention. [49607]

Mr. George Robertson: A key decision of the Strategic Defence Review was that defence diplomacy should become one of the eight core Missions of our Armed Forces. As part of this major new initiative, we intend to enhance our arms control programme, including restoration of our 'Open Skies' air inspection capability; expand our Outreach and wider military assistance programmes, including greater use of attachments and short term training terms; revitalise our pool of defence attaches; and introduce new education and training initiatives, including a new defence diplomacy scholarship scheme. These measures will greatly enhance the British contribution to conflict prevention.

Armed Forces (Training)

24. Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many (a) men and (b) women in the armed forces are at present undertaking training which will lead to a formal qualification. [49600]

Dr. Reid: Formal qualifications are taken to mean civilian qualifications. The information requested is not held centrally by my Department and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. However, considerable numbers of Service personnel are studying for a variety of civilian qualifications at any given time.

Additionally, a large and growing proportion of Service training is now accredited by civilian award bodies.

As part of the Strategic Defence Review and our 'Policy for People', our new 'Learning Forces' initiative will make further improvements to education and training provision in the Armed Forces, helping Service personnel to gain recognised qualifications.

Joint Service Co-operation

25. Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps the Government are taking to increase joint service co-operation in Britain's armed forces. [49601]

Mr. George Robertson: Increasing Joint Service co-operation and integration is a major theme of the Strategic Defence Review. We had already announced the creation of a Joint Services' Command and Staff College at Watchfield. As a result of the Review we will create a pool of Joint Rapid Reaction Forces to include all of our readily available capabilities, bring the Royal Navy and RAF Harriers together in a 'Joint Force 2000' and enhance the role of the Chief of Joint Operations. We will set up a Joint Helicopter Command and new joint arrangements for ground-based air defence and nuclear, chemical and biological defence. We will create a new tri-Service four-star Chief of Defence Logistics and

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significantly expand joint integration in the support area. Finally, we will set up a Joint Defence Centre to develop tri-Service doctrine and planning.

Colchester Garrison

26. Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the latest estimated value of the private finance initiative for the re-development of Colchester Garrison; when he expects to announce the name of the chosen contractor; and when he expects work to start. [49602]

Mr. Spellar: I have made no estimate of the value to prospective contractors of the private finance initiative for the re-development of Colchester Garrison. Tenders for the PFI project at Colchester were received on 8 July and will now be subject to a full technical and commercial evaluation. The information contained within the tenders is commercial in confidence and is being withheld under section 13 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. If it is decided that the PFI route represents a viable way forward, a preferred bidder should be announced early next year. I would expect any contract to be awarded in mid-1999 with work starting on a phased basis during the year 2000.

Armed Forces (Commitments)

27. Miss Kirkbride: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what change there has been in the level of total commitments falling on the armed forces since 1 May 1997. [49603]

Mr. George Robertson: On 1 May 1997, 24,359 personnel were involved in major operational commitments in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, the Gulf region and Zaire and in UN deployments in Cyprus, Kuwait and Georgia.

On 1 June 1998, 24,183 personnel were involved in operational commitments. The operation in Zaire had been completed by this date .

Armed Forces (Readiness)

28. Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the current level of readiness of the armed forces. [49604]

Dr. Reid: The readiness of the Armed Forces is sufficient to enable them to meet the demanding range of operational tasks they currently undertake. However, some shortfalls have been identified and are being addressed in the Strategic Defence Review.

Airborne Forces

30. Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the role of airborne forces. [49606]

Dr. Reid: I refer the hon. Member to the statement my right hon. Friend the Secretary of state for Defence made on 8 July 1998, Official Report, columns 1073-76, on the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review.

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