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Western European Union

12. Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): If he will make a statement on the merging of the WEU's functions with the EU. [138583]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The Western European Union is not merging with the European Union. As announced at the WEU Council of Ministers in Marseille on 13 November, the WEU is being wound down and it is planned that some of its functions will be transferred into the developing EU defence structures. Those functions will include the WEU Institute for Security Studies, the WEU satellite centre and the WEU multinational advisory police element in Albania. A residual WEU body will be maintained to

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service commitments under the modified Brussels treaty and to administer other remaining functions, pending decisions about their future.

Mr. Day: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I see that he has lost none of the Government's Orwellian talents in using language. The fact is that only one organisation will come out of what is effectively a merger of the Western European Union and the European Union. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to explain why, in 1997, the Government made it clear that such a merger--or, if he prefers, a joining together--of the two organisations would be a threat to NATO, whereas now the Government say that the same action will strengthen NATO. Which is right?

Mr. Hoon: I feel that I should apologise to the hon. Gentleman for answering the original question before he asked his supplementary one--which, unfortunately, has already been dealt with. The reality is that the two bodies are not merging; significant parts of the WEU will still be in existence. His question has already been answered.

Defence Medical Services

16. Laura Moffatt (Crawley): If he will make a statement on recruitment into the defence medical services. [138587]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Recruitment into training is generally satisfactory. We have increased our targets for medical cadets and trainee nurses, and I am happy to say that we have attracted a good response. Recruiting fully or partially trained personnel, particularly doctors and nurses, is more difficult, and we are currently working on measures to improve that.

Laura Moffatt: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Does he agree that the Department could work very closely with the NHS in dealing with the difficulty in recruiting trained people to the defence medical services? As the NHS knows a little bit about the difficulties of recruitment, are there discussions with it on how to ensure that the armed forces get the very best personnel that they deserve?

Dr. Moonie: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. A number of liaison groups and committees are discussing a range of matters of common interest, such as personnel issues, operational planning and the application to the defence medical services of developments in civilian medical practice. Additionally, a joint steering group has been established by the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health, with the Scottish Executive and the Wales Office also represented. Its work includes matters such as future manpower planning and the recruiting of reserve medical personnel. Moreover, I work very closely with my ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health on what I consider to be a very important issue.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Will the Minister confirm that, at a time of extreme manpower shortages, more than 5,000 personnel are medically unfit? Will he also confirm that, this year, the defence medical services

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took a hit in so-called efficiency savings in its budget, and that the number of people on that unfit list is still increasing?

Dr. Moonie: I have been concerned for some time about the number of personnel who are medically downgraded. That is why the defence medical services has recently introduced schemes in certain hospitals to hasten people through surgical treatment. It is also why, when I recently visited Redford barracks, in Scotland, I was very pleased to see a very strong system for providing orthopaedic and physiotherapy support, which provides quite a dramatic means of shortening the time in which personnel are downgraded.

Armed Forces (European Exchanges)

17. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): If he will make a statement on the programme of exchanges between British armed forces and those of other EU states. [138588]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): British armed forces carry out wide-ranging exchanges with the armed forces of other European Union states, as they do with other, non-European Union states. The exchanges are designed to be of mutual benefit to both parties.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Given the Secretary of State's overwhelming enthusiasm for the European rapid reaction force, can he give us any good reason why the force catalogue is not to be published, so that we could see precisely what the other European nations are committing to the force?

Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman had stuck to his question and asked about bilateral exchanges, I would have been able to tell him that, even in the context of improving European capabilities, it is important that forces work together, regardless of whether those forces are in the European Union or in other European nations. When the forces are deployed together into crises, it helps that they have had previous experience of training and conducting exercises together and of developing the type of mutual understanding that is necessary. That is precisely why it is such a good thing that we have developed the headline goal and improvements in European capability.

Service Accommodation

18. Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): If he will make a statement on accommodation for (a) single and (b) married members of the British armed forces. [138589]

22. Ms Hazel Blears (Salford): If he will make a statement on accommodation for (a) single and (b) married members of the British armed forces. [138594]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The Defence Housing Executive, which manages and allocates service housing for armed forces personnel and their families, is continuing with its modernisation programme of service families accommodation in Great Britain and is on target

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to complete 3,000 upgrades to standard 1 at a projected cost this financial year of about £68 million. The DHE aims to bring most of its core housing stock--that which is needed in the longer term--up to the standard required over the next five years. We have a firm projects programme and contract strategy in place to ensure that this programme can be achieved.

A review of single living accommodation has been completed recently and steps are being taken to improve the standard of such accommodation across all areas of the Department.

Mr. Prosser: Does my hon. Friend accept that the effectiveness of the armed forces is linked closely to

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morale, which is linked closely to standards of accommodation and conditions, and that there are areas in which accommodation falls way below the standards that we should have in the armed forces? The five-year plan is ambitious and encouraging. Will he do all that he can to accelerate it and put things right as soon as possible?

Dr. Moonie: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I have recently seen accommodation in some barracks in which I was ashamed to think of our armed forces personnel being housed. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I are engaged in constructive discussions with officials to accelerate the programme of upgrading.

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Climate Change Negotiations

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): As the House will know, the outcome of the climate change talks in The Hague last week was a real disappointment for all concerned--[Interruption.] It was indeed a disappointment, but at the end of the conference all parties remained committed to reaching agreement when they meet again in May next year.

If nothing else, the negotiations have highlighted the pressing need to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It was clear that all countries are experiencing climate change problems, that the situation is getting worse and that a global solution is needed. The House will recall that the Rio convention said that developed countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

At Kyoto in 1997, we agreed legally binding targets for developed countries to take us up to 2012. Most notably, the European Union agreed a target of an 8 per cent. cut in 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions; the United States agreed 7 per cent.; and Japan agreed 6 per cent.

Nations signed up to the Kyoto agreement under conditions that involved mechanisms for implementation, including the clean development mechanism, joint implementation between developed countries, emissions trading and the use of carbon sinks such as forests. Those were contentious issues, and after Kyoto groups were set up to decide how the proposals could be implemented.

The Hague conference was about how the mechanisms would work. The talks started on Monday 13 November. On the evening of Thursday 24 November, the president of the conference, Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, tabled proposals for compromise solutions to the most contentious problems facing the conference, but they failed to gain agreement.

Between 2 am and 3 am on Saturday morning, we consulted the president of the European Union delegation, and indeed the president of the conference. They were extremely pessimistic about the pace of negotiations. I agreed with the European Union president, the French Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet, that we would urgently explore a possible compromise with the United States and its allies in the umbrella group. The key issue concerned carbon sinks such as forests, which absorb and store carbon, and how far they could be used in developed countries and elsewhere under the clean development mechanism.

I must make it clear that both the sinks and the clean development mechanism were part of the Kyoto protocol, not loopholes first raised in The Hague. It was always understood that they would form part of the 5.2 per cent. overall cut in emissions to which developed countries agreed. Early on Saturday morning, I met Ministers from France, Germany and the United States to draw up compromise proposals to solve the main issues of contention between the European Union and the umbrella group. I then agreed these with a core group of 10 Ministers representing the European Union and the umbrella group.

The agreement, if accepted, would have been passed on to the president of the conference, to feed into his final proposals for consideration by the G77 and other countries.

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The agreement would have prevented developed countries from gaining credits from the clean development mechanism for planting forests in developing countries. This was felt by many countries, particularly the green groups, to be a huge loophole. The agreement would have placed a ceiling on the use of forest sinks by the United States, Japan and Canada--a ceiling which Europe had been asking for--and strengthened the scientific requirements applied to the domestic sinks.

Overall, compared with the president of the conference's original proposal, we estimate that that would have saved around 150 million tonnes of carbon a year. However, European Union Ministers failed to endorse the proposals. Many felt that a deal was very close and welcomed the initiative, especially the exclusion of sinks from the CDM, but expressed uncertainty about the overall impact on the emission reduction targets agreed at Kyoto. They believed that further negotiations were necessary and that that should be communicated to the conference president. However, the president took the view that there was not enough time to present a new compromise package.

The failure of these talks is not the end of the story. We have a meeting of the European Union Environment Ministers in December.

Let me make one thing clear to the House: I have worked and negotiated with Dominique Voynet for three years now. Her commitment to securing an agreement is as passionate as mine. We will both work together to ensure that the agreement is reached. Let me also make it clear that my experience in negotiations in these areas leads me to believe that working together with other European countries can provide a stronger negotiating position in achieving those ends. [Interruption.] That is precisely how the Kyoto agreement was achieved.

I also want to emphasise that the climate change conference did not end formally on Saturday. It will be reconvened in May.

The outcome of The Hague is disappointing. We all did our best, and we came very close to agreement. I still hope that we can secure sufficient agreement in May to secure ratification by the European Union and others by 2002. We should remember that we are not just looking to the first 10 years but to setting up a framework that will hold for 50 and 100 years. That is what really matters to this and future generations.

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