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Mid-Air Explosion, Isle of Lewis

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Gilbert: Following media reports of an explosion, initially attributed to a mid-air collision north of the Butt of Lewis, an extensive search of the area was carried out by RAF and Coastguard Search and Rescue assets, but was later abandoned after it became clear that no aircraft had been reported overdue. HQ US 3rd Air Force were also approached at the time. They confirmed that there had been no US military activity in the area.

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Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt: Memorandum

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Ministry of Defence replied to the 1981 memorandum from Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt, which reported the presence of an unidentified craft that had landed in close proximity to RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge, witnessed by United States Air Force personnel; and if not, why not; and

    How the radiation readings reported to the Ministry of Defence by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt in his memorandum dated 13 January 1981 compare to the normal levels of background radiation in Rendelsham Forest.

Lord Gilbert: The memorandum, which reported observations of unusual lights in the sky, was assessed by staff in the MoD responsible for air defence matters. Since the judgment was that it contained nothing of defence significance, no further action was taken.

There is no record of any official assessment of the radiation readings reported by Lieutenant Colonel Halt. From a Defence perspective some 16½ years after the alleged events, there is no requirement to carry out such an assessment now.

Joint Services Command and Staff College

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the site at Camberley, in favour of which the Greenwich site was rejected for the JSCSC, is to be cleared of asbestos, and, if so, at what cost; why was the presence of asbestos not ascertained before plans to move the JSCSC there were finalised and then changed; and what plans do the Ministry of Defence have for the Camberley site once it has been cleared of asbestos; and

    Why, given that the consultation document on the future location of the JSCSC that was issued in January 1995 did not address the possibility of setting the college up on a greenfield site, there has been no consultation on the Shrivenham option; and

    What is the anticipated total cost of the interim accommodation for the JSCSC until the work on Shrivenham is completed, and what date is being required for completion; and

    Whether the anticipated overall cost to the taxpayer of the PFI scheme currently being considered for the new site of the JSCSC will be declared to Parliament; and

    Further to the Written Answers by Lord Gilbert on 21 July (WA 147-148) on the future of the Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC), whether apart from the provision of married accommodation, the Greenwich site would be at least £200 million cheaper than accommodation at the proposed greenfield site at Shrivenham; and whether the cost of the Shrivenham site is expected to be around £500 million.

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Lord Gilbert: I am advised that the asbestos identified at the Camberley site presents no threat to health if left undisturbed. Its removal would be required if buildings were to be demolished, which was the case when the JSCSC was to have been based at Camberley. At that stage it was estimated that survey and removal together would cost no more than £87K. The presence of asbestos was not the reason for exploring a PFI solution for the JSCSC. Until a decision is reached on the future use of the Camberley site, it is not clear whether action will be needed to deal with the asbestos. It remains our intention to identify a fitting and appropriate military use for the historic Staff College building at Camberley and work is currently under way to this end.

Although the January 1995 Consultative Document did not consider greenfield sites for the permanent JSCSC, for the reasons given in paragraph 9 of the Document, the two further Consultative Documents of March 1996 and July 1996 indicated, inter alia, that interim arrangements would last for two years, that proposals for the permanent site would be dealt with separately, and that work in hand "to determine the best way of providing (a permanent JSCSC), on a site yet to be identified, includes a development under Private Finance Initiative (PFI) arrangements". Since then, the trades unions have been informed of the choice of a PFI Preferred Bidder and provided with extracts from the Invitation To Negotiate which are currently under discussion. In accordance with normal procedures, staff will be consulted again, after a contract has been placed, about the possible transfer arrangements for civilian staff working at interim sites.

The anticipated total cost of the JSCSC in its interim accommodation is approximately £70 million over the period 1996-97 to 1999-2000. The required completion date for the permanent JSCSC, as given in the published Statement of Requirement, is September 1999.

The estimated total, undiscounted and VAT inclusive, cost of the PFI contract over a 30-year period is approximately £500 million at current prices. This information was widely reported at the time of the announcement of the Preferred Bidder, and given out in another place on 26 February in response to a specific question. This estimate excludes the ongoing costs of MoD-provided teaching and directing staff of around £10 million per annum.

The last time that Greenwich costs were subjected to formal assessment was around the end of 1994. The results of this assessment were published in the Consultative Document of January 1995. These showed the Greenwich option, leaving aside the cost of providing the necessary married accommodation, to be more than 25 per cent. more expensive than the Camberley option. There is no evidence to suggest that, if the costs of the Greenwich option were revisited, they would prove anything other than significantly more expensive than both the Camberley option and the Preferred Shrivenham Bid submitted in the course of the PFI competition.

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Future Large Aircraft Programme

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the current status of the Future Large Aircraft programme.

Lord Gilbert: The importance of an air transport capability in the new strategic environment has been demonstrated in numerous recent operations such as the Gulf conflict and Bosnia.

The department has been closely involved in discussions with European partners on the Future Large Aircraft programme, which is a potential solution to our future air transport requirements. I have now decided that the UK should join partners in issuing a Request For Proposals to Airbus Military Company for the Future Large Aircraft, and formally endorse the European Staff Requirement and Statement of Principles governing the commercial management of the programme.

The programme offers an important opportunity for European industry. The Government believe, however, that there is a need to maintain competitive pressure to ensure best value for money. We shall, therefore, be encouraging our partners to join us in seeking bids from other aircraft manufacturers.

We expect the replacement aircraft to come into service early next century. Precise costs for each aircraft will be provided in response to our Request for Proposals.

No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron Helicopters: Replacement

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to replace the service currently provided by the Wessex helicopters of No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron.

Lord Gilbert: The two Wessex aircraft used by No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron are nearly 30 years old and are becoming increasingly costly to maintain and operate. At the request of the Royal Household, we will therefore shortly issue invitations to tender to UK helicopter operators to provide a service based on a single helicopter. The cost of the new service will be met by the Royal Household from the Royal Travel grant-in-aid and should provide significant savings.

Volunteer Reserve Forces: Service 1996-97

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many members of the volunteer Reserve Forces have been employed by each of the Armed Services between 1 January 1996 and 30 June 1997 for more than three weeks continuously on full-time service of a kind which would otherwise have required a call on the Regular Forces; and to give the

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    figures broken down into under three months, three to six months and more than six months.

Lord Gilbert: The total number of members of the volunteer Reserve Forces who have served continuously for more than three weeks between 1 January 1996 and 30 July 1997 and within the specified periods is below. Individual reservists who have served more than one continuous three week period have been counted only once. Royal Naval Reserve Less than 3 months139 Between 3 and 6 months30 More than 6 months27 Royal Marines Reserve (from 1 April 1996 only) Less than 3 months66 Between 3 and 6 months35 More than 6 months76 Territorial Army 1 Less than 3 months216 Between 3 and 6 months151 More than 6 months1,648 Royal Auxiliary Air Force and Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Less than 3 months56 Between 3 and 6 months8 More than 6 months68 1 These figures represent only members of the Territorial Army who have been called out for permanent service.

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