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Written Statements

Volume 404: debated on Friday 30 May 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 30 April 2003

Defence

Iraq

In my Written Statement of 11 April, 1 said that we would continue to adjust our forces deployed to the Gulf region as appropriate, withdrawing units whose tasks are complete, and in due course replacing those whose tasks continue.Decisive combat operations in Iraq are now complete, and coalition forces are increasingly focusing upon stabilisation tasks. It will therefore be possible to make further force level adjustments over the coming weeks while continuing to meet our responsibilities to the Iraqi people.For maritime forces, the re-deployment of Royal Navy vessels has proceeded as planned. HMS Ark Royal has now left the Gulf region and is due to return to the UK in mid-May accompanied by the destroyer HMS York and RFA Fort Victoria. In addition, we now plan to withdraw the helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, together with HMS Edinburgh and the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries Fort Austin, Orangeleaf, Sir Bedivere and Sir Percivale. The RFA Sir Galahad, Sir Tristram and Bayleaf are undertaking a rolling programme of maintenance in Singapore to allow them to return to the Gulf to continue to provide support to the humanitarian assistance effort. Further vessels will remain there for the time being to conduct mine clearance operations and force protection.As the need for offensive air operations and close air support has significantly diminished, we can bring back further air assets. We have withdrawn around 45 aircraft from the Gulf region, both fixed and rotary wing, including Tornado F3 and GR4, Harrier GR7, Nimrod MR2, VC 10 and E3-D aircraft as well as Chinook and Sea King helicopters. A further 26 helicopters will be withdrawn at the same time as HMS Ocean.For land forces, conditions now allow for the return of a further 3,500 personnel to the UK. This will include 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, with elements of 26 Regiment Royal Artillery, 38 Engineer Regiment and 1st Battalion The Light Infantry. It will also include a number of individuals who were attached to a wide variety of ground units and formations to perform specific augmenting roles. Returning forces are due a period of post-operational tour leave to which they are entitled, following which they will begin to prepare for training and then redeployment on other important operational taskings. In some cases, this will mean a return to Iraq to take part in continuing operations. In addition, we intend to withdraw 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, who were the first of the land formations to be deployed, during the course of May.We will now begin to prepare 19 Mechanised Brigade to take over from forces previously involved in combat operations in Iraq, allowing us to meet the continuing task of providing a stabilisation force within the UK area of operations. We would expect them to start this new task in July, commencing preparations immediately.In spite of these changes significant pressures remain on the Armed Forces if they are to meet the full range of their commitments. In order to meet our continuing obligations in Iraq, I have authorised the issuing of further call-out notices, against the Order made in January under section 54(1) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996, sufficient to generate up to 1,200 reservists. There will be a requirement to call out further reservists as the operation proceeds, and I will keep the House informed of our plans. In parallel, we will be starting to demobilise those Reserves who are returning home. In time, the overall numbers of Reserves required in Iraq will reduce significantly. I have also decided to extend the tour of the 1st Battalion The Duke of Wellington's Regiment, enabling them to continue in their key role of ensuring security in the region of Az Zubayr.While details continue to be clarified, we envisage that by mid-May 25,000–30,000 UK Service personnel will remain deployed in the Gulf region, continuing to fulfil our responsibilities towards the Iraqi people. The planned replacement of forces is clear evidence of our commitment to them.Our aim is to leave an Iraq that is confident, secure and fully integrated with the international community. The planning process to establish the precise level of the continuing UK presence needed to achieve this aim is a dynamic one, and is kept under review. We will also need to take account of the contributions of coalition partners. We will continue to withdraw assets and personnel from the region where possible, but we will maintain an appropriate military presence for as long as necessary.

Transport

Ports

The Department for Transport is today publishing a Project Appraisal Framework for Ports. The framework is designed to be used by promoters of port projects when they are seeking planning and other approvals. It sets out a template for the presentation of appraisals. The framework should contribute to making proceedings at public inquiries more transparent and focussed to the benefit of promoters, objectors and decision-makers. The development of a project appraisal framework for port developments is a specific initiative arising from our ports policy document, Modern Ports: A UK Policy.The framework is advisory, and not a statutory requirement, but I hope that ports will use it to organise and summarise material supporting the case for port projects. The framework should be used for port projects in England and Wales. Port projects in Scotland are covered by the Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG). In order to minimise the burden on ports the framework defines the particular status and size of projects that should be covered by the framework. The framework would not normally apply to commercial or residential developments in a port area (these might be dealt with by local planning procedures), but would potentially apply to port developments servicing all types of merchant ships, fishing vessels and leisure craft.In the past the appraisal and approval of port developments have been dealt with largely separately from other modes. The intention of the framework is to make the appraisal of port projects both more consistent with other modes and more consistent with each other and to take full account of the role of ports in promoting sustainable transport. Use of the framework should also enable the appraisal to assess the performance of projects against the government's objectives for transport concerning safety, economy, the environment, integration and accessibility. The framework broadly follows the guidance for appraising projects in other modes, such as highway schemes, local transport schemes and airports, but also reflects the particular circumstances of ports where most investment is financed by private sector companies operating in a competitive market.The publication of this framework follows consultation undertaken last year with port operators, port users, environmental groups, local authorities and other interested parties. The comments received during the consultation have proved to be very helpful in developing the framework. I am grateful to those organisations and individuals that took part in the consultation.As well as the framework the Department has also prepared a summary of responses to the consultation and a commentary on these responses. All these documents are available from the Department for Transport and on the Department's web site. Copies have also been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Younger Travellers

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

Research shows that 16–30 year olds are the least prepared of all British travellers. Today, therefore, the Government is launching a special campaign aimed at younger travellers. It will offer vital information to help young Britons avoid getting into difficulties overseas by making them aware of some simple precautions they can take before heading off.The campaign will offer advice to those taking a range of trips, from weekend breaks, gap years, or summer package holidays to those going off on adventure sports trips or on honeymoon.Overseas travel is an important opportunity for young people. But we need to ensure that the experience is not spoilt by unnecessary problems or accidents. Time spent on research and preparation in advance of a trip can save a great deal of trouble and heartache later.Every year people have distressing experiences. Most think that it could never happen to them. Sadly, it can and it does. That's why the Government is launching this campaign.This youth mini-campaign forms part of the FCO's ongoing Know Before You Go campaign which, working with over 160 travel industry partners, encourages travellers to be better prepared before travelling overseas. The FCO website www.fco.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo/ provides tips for travel overseas including guidance on taking out travel insurance, travel advice and checklists for specific groups such as backpackers and independent travellers, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender travellers, women travellers and those visiting friends and relatives overseas.

Treasury

European Community Finances

I have today laid before Parliament the Statement on the 2003 Community Budget, entitled "European Community Finances" (Cm 5800). This White Paper is the twenty-third in the series. As in the past, it covers annual budgetary matters and includes details of recent developments in European Community financial management and in countering fraud against the Community Budget. It also describes the Community Budget for 2003 as adopted by the European Parliament, and details the United Kingdom's gross and net contributions to the Community Budget for calendar years 1997 to 2003 and financial years 1997/98 to 2002/03.