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UK Astronomy Technology Centre

Mr. David Hamilton: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (1) what representations he has received on the funding of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre; [190544]

(2) what steps he has taken to ensure that the UK Astronomy Technology Centre remains operational prior to the publication of the Wakeham review. [190545]

Ian Pearson [holding answer 29 February 2008]: I have received a number of representations from the general public about the funding of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC). UKATC, which is owned by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), is a world leader in the design and construction of instruments to many of the world’s major telescopes. However, STFC’s demand for its services has declined since the UK joined the European Southern Observatory in 2002.

The STFC is looking at the future of the Astronomy Technology Centre in relation to the potential demand for its services and the council’s science budget allocation. STFC is exploring the possibility of a partnership that makes use of the unique skills in the ATC and applies them to a wider portfolio, and it will look to work with the local universities and local funding agencies in taking that forward. It is too early to say what the outcome of these discussions will be.

STFC issued a notice on 2 January calling for voluntary redundancies across all its activities. In line with previous announcements, the SRS (Synchrotron Radiation Source) at Daresbury will close on 31 December 2008 but STFC has not taken a decision on whether any compulsory redundancies (other than those relating to SRS) will be needed.

The cross-council review led by Bill Wakeham, Vice-Chancellor of Southampton university, and commissioned by Research Councils UK, will examine the health of physics research and I expect the review panel to report to RCUK over summer 2008.

Defence

Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the security situation in the Afghan provinces of (a) Nimruz, (b) Farah and (c) Herat. [190668]

Des Browne: The Taliban have launched opportunistic raids on district centres in the western provinces of Nimruz, Herat and particularly Farah. Both ISAF and the Afghan National Army have conducted surge operations in these provinces to counter the threat and ensure that security is maintained.

Compared to many areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan these provinces experience less violence, the majority of which is the result of low-level criminality and clashes among local power brokers. Herat in particular has benefited from a sustained period of relative stability, reconstruction and growth.


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Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the security situation in (a) Kunduz and (b) Badakhshan province. [190692]

Des Browne: The security situation in both Kunduz and Badakhshan is steady. Compared to many areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan these provinces experience fewer incidents of violence, the majority of which is the result of low-level criminality linked to drug smuggling and local criminal gangs.

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the security situation in Helmand province. [190723]

Des Browne: ISAF and the Afghan armed forces continue to engage in successful operations against the Taliban in Helmand, pushing them back from populated areas and bringing more of the province under the control of the Government of Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the insurgents continue to pose a threat through improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and opportunistic attacks.

Mr. Kilfoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what equipment is available to British forces in Afghanistan for jamming Taleban communications. [191129]

Des Browne: I am withholding information on equipment capability as its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the armed forces.

Armed Forces

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what (a) operational control, (b) administrative control, (c) technical control and (d) other command relationship there is between British and non-British forces (i) operating in Helmand Province and (ii) deployed on ESDP military operations by unit down to the battalion level; and what the nationality is of each unit. [190875]

Des Browne: The only permanent non-UK battalion-sized unit from the International Stabilisation Force (ISAF) based in Helmand province is provided by Denmark. It is under the Operational Control of the UK Commander of Task Force Helmand.

The Afghan National Army (ANA) currently deploys five units of battalion size or greater in Helmand province. Their operations are closely coordinated with ISAF operations, including through the use of Operational Mentoring, Liaison and Training Teams, although there is no formal command relationship between ISAF and ANA units.

Other non-UK units may, on occasion, temporarily deploy into Helmand province for specific missions: the precise command relationships with these units will vary dependent on the precise nature of their operational taskings. The UK does not have any battalion level units conducting ESDP operations.


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Armed Forces: Publications

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will place in the Library copies of the joint service publications (a) JSP 717, (b) JSP 745, (c) JSP 745 and (d) JSP 766. [175453]

Derek Twigg: I have arranged for copies of JSP 717 Using the MOD Metadata Standard and JSP 766 The Defence Directive on Employer Support, to be placed in the Library of the House.

JSP 745—MOD Web Publishing Policy is still in draft and is not yet available for publication.

Armed Forces: Recruitment

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what data are retained by his Department on people who applied to join the armed forces but did not sign up; and if he will make a statement. [190448]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I refer the hon. Member to the oral statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 21 January 2008, Official Report, column 1225.

The extent of the details retained on any individual depends upon what stage of the recruit selection process an applicant either opted out or was found to be not suitable. In all cases this would include all personal details as requested on the armed forces application form (AFCO form 4). For those whose applications are progressed, details of medical and selection process results and possibly security clearance results, may also be retained.

Armed Forces: Shipping

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which vessels make up the Amphibious Fleet; and where they are base-ported. [192150]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Amphibious Fleet consists of HM Ships Ocean (landing platform helicopter), Albion and Bulwark (landing ship dock), which are base ported at Devonport as well as the four Bay Class landing ship dock (auxiliary) vessels—Largs Bay, Lyme Bay, Mounts Bay and Cardigan Bay—which are not base ported at a specific location.

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence at what level in his Department decisions are taken to remove ships or submarines from their port and base-port them elsewhere. [192152]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Recommendations to make changes to the base ports of ships and submarines are generally considered by the Navy Board. Depending on the nature and scale of these recommendations, Ministers will usually be consulted before a final decision is taken.

Ballistic Missile Defence

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his policy is on the possible development of a European research and development programme for technical and industrial capabilities related to the US missile defence system. [191062]


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Des Browne: The UK continues to work with European allies, through NATO, on a number of research and development programmes related to missile defence.

BOWMAN Combat Radio System

Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what percentage of UK (a) Regular and (b) Territorial Army personnel are trained to use the Bowman communications system; [191618]

(2) what the recommended minimum time period for pre-deployment training is for use of the Bowman communications system; [191619]

(3) what the average time taken for pre-deployment training is for use of the Bowman communications system. [191620]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: 95 per cent. of Regular Army units have been trained to use the Bowman Communications System. In addition a limited number of Territorial Army (TA) units and those TA personnel deployed on operations as augmentees, amounting to about 5 per cent. of the TA, have also received Bowman training; this figure will increase significantly during the next two years as Bowman training rolls out to the Territorial Army as a whole.

There is no specific pre-deployment training (PDT) on the Bowman Communications System. The utilisation of Bowman, the primary means of tactical command and control, is a theme which runs continuously throughout PDT.

The use of Bowman is just one of a series of basic soldiering skills that are continuously employed, and an established programme is already in place to ensure that Army personnel who require Bowman training will receive it. The minimum time required for a soldier to be trained in the ‘basic’ use of Bowman is three days. If required, remedial training is also provided during PDT.

Challenger Tanks: Repairs and Maintenance

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what system is used to ensure that there is sufficient spare track in theatre for Challenger 2 main battle tanks; [191343]

(2) how much track for Challenger 2 main battle tanks is kept in storage by his Department. [191345]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The British Army uses the GLOBAL computer system which predicts the usage of spare tracks and subsequently orders as required through the joint supply chain to maintain a pre-determined level of stock. In the case of Challenger 2, the data from which GLOBAL predicts the demand has been built up over a significant period of time, ensuring this item does not run out. Demands from operational theatres take precedence over those supporting training activity.

A total of 95 full vehicle sets of track for Challenger 2 are currently held in storage.


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Clyde Submarine Base

Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which ships or submarines are base-ported at Faslane. [192151]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: There are 15 Royal Navy vessels currently base ported at HM Naval Base Clyde (Faslane), as shown in the following table:

Class of vessel Name of vessel

Nuclear submarines

HMS Vanguard

HMS Victorious

HMS Vigilant

HMS Vengeance

HMS Superb

HMS Sceptre

Mine Countermeasures Vessels

HMS Walney

HMS Penzance

HMS Pembroke

HMS Grimsby

HMS Bangor

HMS Ramsay

HMS Blyth

HMS Shoreham

P2000

HMS Smiter


Defence Equipment

Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what percentage of (a) weapons mounted installation kits, (b) Warrior vehicles, (c) Saxon vehicles, (d) Scimitar vehicles, (e) combat vehicle reconnaissance tracked vehicles and (f) .5 inch heavy machine guns have been fit for service in each year since 2003; [191444]

(2) how many (a) weapons mounted installation kits, (b) Warrior vehicles, (c) Saxon vehicles, (d) Scimitar vehicles and (e) combat vehicle reconnaissance tracked vehicles were available for army training in each year since 1997. [191446]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Officials are currently compiling information from a range of sources which will take some time to complete. I will therefore write to the hon. Member and place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House.

Departmental Disciplinary Proceedings

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many of his Department's civil servants were (a) suspended and (b) dismissed for accessing (i) obscene and (ii) other prohibited material on work computers in each of the last five years. [188787]

Derek Twigg: Since April 2007, one civilian has been suspended and dismissed for an offence relating to misuse of IT facilities, including accessing inappropriate material. Information for previous years is not held centrally in the format requested and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. The Department's rules make clear that deliberate abuse of IT facilities to
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access inappropriate material is a serious disciplinary offence for which dismissal is likely to be the appropriate penalty.

Departmental Older Workers

David Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many people over the age of 55 years have been recruited by his Department in each of the last three years. [191500]

Derek Twigg: The following table shows the intake of UK Regular Forces and Civilian personnel aged 55 and above for each of the last three years.

Headcount
2004-05 2005-06 2006-07

UK Regular Forces(1, 2 )personnel intake aged 55 and above

(3)

(3)

(3, 4)

Civilian(5) personnel intake aged 55 and above

900

570

570

Combined UK Regular Forces(1, 2 )and Civilian(3) personnel intake aged 55 and above

900

570

(4)570

(1) UK Regular Forces includes nursing services and excluded Full Time Reserve Service personnel, Gurkhas, the Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment and mobilised reservists. It includes trained and untrained personnel.
(2) Due to ongoing validation of data from the new joint personnel administration system, UK Regular Forces statistics from 1 October 2006 are provisional and subject to review.
(3) Denotes less than 10.
(4) Denotes provisional.
(5) Civilian intake data for the top level budgets and trading funds, but excludes data for locally engaged civilians and Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel for whom intake data by age is not known.
Note:
All numbers have been rounded to the nearest 10.
Source:
DASA Quad-Service.

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