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23 May 2002 : Column 475W
Dr. Moonie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 6 March 2002, Official Report, column 314W, about the route and timing for the sale of QinetiQ. The selection process for a strategic partner for QinetiQ is now well under way with initial bids from interested parties due by 20 May. The timetable is on track to identify the preferred bidder by summer 2002 and complete the process later this year.
Mr. Ingram: The QinetiQ information memorandum contains details about QinetiQ's business, including future commercial plans, and is therefore commercial-in- confidence. It was prepared solely for the use of bidders to aid them in the preparation of their indicative bids for a share of the business. In accordance with normal practice, these parties were required to sign confidentiality agreements before the information memorandum was sent to them. Publishing the document more widely would not be in the interests of a successful QinetiQ transaction and would risk damaging value for the taxpayer. I am, therefore, withholding the information requested under Exemption 13 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
Mr. Ingram [holding answer 20 May 2002]: The exact timing of the announcement of the outcome of the Strategic Review of RAF Lyneham, RAF Brize Norton and RAF St. Mawgan is not yet known but expected to be later this year.
Mr. Stinchcombe: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made regarding the ratification of the optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; and what plans the Government have for the deployment of under-18s after its ratification. 
Mr. Ingram: Officials in both the Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office are working actively towards ratification of the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and we expect to be in a position to ratify soon. This work includes finalising guidelines for the armed forces which are designed to
23 May 2002 : Column 476W
ensure adherence to the protocol's requirement that all feasible measures be taken to avoid direct involvement in hostilities by those under 18 years of age while reflecting the practical position set out in the United Kingdom's declaration on signing, thus maintaining operational effectiveness. As part of the ratification process, an Explanatory Memorandum will be laid before Parliament to explain the significance of the optional protocol and will cover the steps being taken to enable ratification.
Mr. Menzies Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if he will make it his policy to consult local interests before agreeing to the operation of scheduled services by commercial airlines from RAF Leuchars; 
(3) what his policy is towards the use of front line RAF stations by commercial airlines operating scheduled services; and if he will make a statement; 
(4) on how many occasions Ministers or members of his Department have met representatives of commercial airline companies to discuss the operation of scheduled services from RAF Leuchars; 
(5) if he will make it his policy to take amenity considerations into account when responding to proposals for the operation of scheduled air services from RAF stations. 
Mr. Ingram: As part of the Government's Wider Markets Initiative, RAF Strike Command is considering the feasibility for the exploitation of irreducible spare capacity on its airfields, which may include use by scheduled service operators. The primacy of military operations will not be diluted as a result of commercial activity. No formal proposals have been put forward by airline companies for the operation of scheduled services from RAF Leuchars. No Ministry of Defence Minister or official has met representatives of commercial airline companies to discuss the operation of scheduled services from RAF Leuchars, however, consultants advising the RAF have sought the views of the airline operator community. It is Ministry of Defence policy to consult fully and openly with representatives from relevant local and regional councils when examining the feasibility of any regular commercial airline activity at RAF bases.
Mr. Ingram: The chief executive of the Met Office is responsible for providing meteorological and related environmental services, including climate change prediction, to a wide range of customers, including the armed forces, Government, civil aviation, shipping, emergency services, media, commerce, industry and general public. The Met Office also undertakes research to meteorology and climate. This year, the Met Office will be set the following challenging targets.
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Key Target 1
A three-year target to achieve a value for the Efficiency Index of at least 111.6 by 31 March 2003 was announced last year, but has been passed ahead of schedule. A revised target is therefore set which is: To achieve a value for the Efficiency Index of at least 120.5 on 31 March 2003, from a baseline of 100.0 on 31 March 2000.
Dr. Moonie: As I made clear on 26 February 2002, Official Report, column 1139W, to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) the June 2002 In-Service-Date for Eurofighter was becoming increasingly challenging to achieve. Although good progress has been made by industry, with the first three instrumented production aircraft achieving successful first flights in early April, delays in bringing the detailed design to full maturity in some areas prevented the flight test programme from starting on time. Following a thorough review of the programme involving the partner nations, the NATO agency responsible for undertaking the procurement, and industry, we have jointly concluded that acceptance of the first aircraft into service should be delayed, to take place by the end of this year, and we shall plan on that basis. We shall now be working hard with industry to recover lost time and achieve the planned Operational Employment Date in the second half of the decade, thus avoiding any gap in front-line capability or extra costs to the Ministry of Defence. The delays are disappointing but reflect the complexity of the project and the major advance in technology it represents. Initial flights of the instrumented production aircraft have been impressive and the Government remain fully committed to this contribution to the United Kingdom's military capability.
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Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what have been the legal costs to his Department of opposing claims by ex-service men for pensions claimed as a result of ill health stemming from their service on Christmas Island or other nuclear test sites in each of the last five years. 
Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what has been the cost to his Department of claims by ex-service men for pensions claimed as a result of ill health stemming from their service on Christmas Island and other nuclear test sites in each of the last five years. 
Mr. Ingram: The exact information requested is not available. The estimated annual cost to the Veterans Agency of pensions awarded to ex-service men who served in the south Pacific and at other nuclear test sites amounts to £300,000.
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