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RAF Communications Systems

Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made in equipping RAF aircraft with secure air-to-air and air-to-ground communication systems fully interoperable with similar systems in use by the United States Air Force. [78313]

Dr. Moonie: A wide range of RAF platforms are fitted with secure air-to-air and air-to-ground communications. These systems are fully interoperable with coalition forces, including the United States.

RAF Machrihanish

Mr. Peter Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many military landings and take-offs were recorded at RAF Machrihanish during each of the last five years. [78731]

Dr. Moonie: I will write to the hon. Member and a copy of my letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

RAF Menwith Hill

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) how many (a) arrests, (b) reports with a view to prosecution charges, (c) arrests (d) actual prosecutions and (e) successful prosecutions there have

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been since 1996 under the (i) RAF Menwith Hill Military Land Byelaws 1996 and (ii) the RAF Fylingdales Military Land Byelaws 1986; [77767]

Mr. Ingram: The information requested for RAF Menwith Hill is shown in the table.

ArrestsReports with a view to prosecution
2002–03 to date44

The records held in respect of RAF Fylingdales only go as far back as 1997–98 and indicate 11 arrests and two reports with a view to prosecution in financial year 2000–01. Prosecutions are a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General.

The number of incursions recorded against the Ministry of Defence installations indicated in the previous table are shown in the following table:

Number of incursions2000–012001–022002–03 to date
RAF Menwith Hill111
RAF Fylingdales100
RAF Lakenheath10(8)10
RAF Molesworth231
Barford St. John110
RAF Croughton430
RAF Fairford110

(8) This figure relates to incursions that took place on 6 October 2002 during a large demonstration at RAF Lakenheath.

There was no cost to the MOD in respect of the works carried out at Menwith Hill. The cost was funded by the United States authorities.

RAF Squadrons

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many RAF squadrons have their full complement of (a) pilots and (b) ground crews; which squadrons do not have a full complement of (i) pilots, (ii) ground crew; and if he will make a statement. [78270]

Mr. Ingram: On 25 October 13 RAF front line fixed and rotary wing squadrons had their full complement of pilots and 20 had a full complement of ground crew.

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The following front line squadrons did not have a full complement of pilots: 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 18, 25, 27, 28, 31, 33, 43, 101, 111, 216 and 230.

The following front line squadrons did not have a full complement of ground crew 7, 8, 18, 23, 25, 27, 28, 28, 33, 47, 70, 216 230.

RAF manning shortfalls are well known and are being addressed. The RAF continues to meet its operational commitments.

Rapid Deployment Force

Mr. Bernard Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received from the US Administration regarding NATO's plans to set up a rapid deployment force unit; and if he will make a statement. [77810]

Mr. Hoon: I discussed the proposal for a NATO Response Force (NRF) with the United States Secretary of Defence and other NATO colleagues at the informal meeting of defence ministers in Warsaw in September 2002. The proposed NRF concept is coherent with current work to reform NATO's command and force structures and enjoys the United Kingdom's strong support. Work is now under way within NATO to develop the NRF concept, and guiding principles are expected to be put before Heads of State and Government at the Prague summit for their agreement.

Refit Intervals

Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his policy of refit intervals for Royal Navy warships. [78659]

Mr. Ingram: The policy of refit intervals seeks to achieve a satisfactory balance between resources and operational requirements. In general terms, such refits will occur after eight to 12 years for submarines, up to 10 years for major surface ships and one to eight years for minor surface ships.

Submarine Sonar

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what research he has undertaken into the effects of submarine sonar on the behaviour and health of cetaceans; and if he will make a statement on the conclusions of the research. [78625]

Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence is undertaking a range of research projects into the effects of both submarine and surface ship sonar on the behaviour and health of cetaceans. This research is intended to inform the Ministry of Defence's conduct of Environment Appraisals and Environmental Impact Assessments, as required by the Secretary of State for Defence's Policy Statement of 7 July 2000 on the Management of Safety and Environmental Protection in the Ministry of Defence. That Policy Statement requires Environmental Impact Assessments to be conducted for all new equipment projects. A copy of the Policy Statement, together with a chapter on the conduct of Environmental Appraisal and Environmental Impact Assessment, can be found in the Ministry of Defence's Environmental Manual, JSP 418 which is in the Library of the House.

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The reason for the research programme is that, to date, it has not been possible to put forward any definitive conclusions on the effects of differing acoustic energy on marine mammals. The research, which is on-going, has not yet reached any conclusion. In addition to the research, Environmental Impact Assessments undertaken by the Ministry of Defence in respect of this subject will also be informed by evidence from leading experts both in the United Kingdom and the United States. We are also monitoring relevant scientific and environmental research around the globe on this issue.

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to monitor the effects on cetaceans of the use of sonar in anti-submarine warfare operations. [78628]

Dr. Moonie: It is Ministry of Defence policy to consider the effects of sonar use on cetaceans. An environmental impact assessment is undertaken prior to all new projects and training activities. The way in which the equipment is then used during each subsequent training activity takes the assessment into account. Trials are preceded by a detailed environmental study of the operating area concerned. The operating area continues to be monitored while the trials are under way, and the activity is managed to minimize the potential impacts on cetaceans. Mitigation methods based on best scientific advice, such as acoustic and visual monitoring in accordance with Government and Joint Nature Conservation Committee published guidelines adapted for military use, are used so that the activity will be modified, delayed or moved as necessary.

These measures provide a balance between the requirement for essential trials work and training, and the equally important need to avoid causing any significant adverse effect on the marine environment.

Suicide Prevention

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the rank of officer is who is responsible for suicide prevention at (a) Deepcut Barracks, Surrey and (b) Catterick Barracks, Yorkshire. [78794]

Mr. Ingram: The responsibility for the welfare of recruits, including the identification of those who may be vulnerable to self-harm, rests with the entire chain of command. All staff are aware of the need to identify those who may be vulnerable and an army suicide prevention pamphlet, issued in January 2001, is widely available through the chain of command.

Soldiers are encouraged to discuss any issues of concern and may seek advice from a number of individuals including their immediate superiors, the regimental medical office, Padre, unit welfare officer, Local Army Welfare Worker or Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) welfare officer. WRVS staff are concentrated at the army's training establishments and provide regular, informal contact with recruits. Regular case conferences are held by these agencies to identify any soldiers who may be particularly vulnerable.

If a soldier wishes to remain entirely anonymous they may ring the army's confidential support line, which has been in operation since December 1997 under the

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guidance of the Samaritans. Telephone charges are free to the caller from anywhere in the world and the line is widely publicised throughout the army community.

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