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Written Statements

Volume 458: debated on Monday 12 March 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 12 March 2007

Defence

Kirkcudbright Training Area

The Ministry of Defence regularly conducts environmental surveys at the Kirkcudbright Training Area in order to assess the impact of depleted uranium test firings on the terrestrial and marine environments and has been under remit to place copies of the annual survey reports in the Library of the House. Unfortunately, due to an administrative error this was not done. This error has now been rectified and the reports have been placed in the Library of the House.

Deterrent White Paper

I have reproduced below the text of my letter to the Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. I have also placed a copy of the letter and annexe in the Library of the House and copies are also available in the Vote Office. The letter and annexe form the Government's initial response to the Committee report on the Deterrent White Paper.

“I was very grateful that your Committee was able to publish its report on the recent White Paper on the Future of the UK's Nuclear Deterrent in good time before the debate and vote on 14 March. This will be of great benefit to MPs as they consider the issues in the coming week. With your agreement, I am also making this letter public prior to the debate by means of a written ministerial statement. We will of course respond fully to the report in the usual way in due course but I aim to address here the majority of issues raised in the Committee's report and to clarify some minor points.

First, the table of future decision-making at paragraph 184 broadly accords with our assessment, although we would not be so definitive on the year in which the contract to build the first new SSBN would be placed. Also, and as set out in the exchange of letters between the US President and the Prime Minister, we would not at this stage wish to rule out that the Trident D5 missile might be further extended, beyond the early 2040s. Finally, Table 4 states that France maintains three deterrent systems, whereas in fact they only retain two—submarine launched ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles.

I would also wish to register three detailed points:

i. It would be helpful to clarify Table 8 on costs and funding. The entries under “Decommissioning costs” are included elsewhere within the estimates: they are not in addition to the other figures.

ii. There is an inaccuracy in Table 1 which is repeated in the second bullet of paragraph 9. We have said that the one submarine normally on deterrent patrol carries up to 48 warheads. We have also said that the number of missiles on that submarine is up to 16. But the 1998 Strategic Defence Review did not limit the number of warheads to be carried per missile to three and neither is that constraint imposed now.

iii. Paragraphs 89 and 90 imply that NATO has a policy of first use of nuclear weapons. This is not true.

As for the UK, NATO's policy is to maintain ambiguity by not ruling in or ruling out the first use of nuclear weapons.

More detailed responses to your conclusions and recommendations are set out in the attached annexe.”

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Treaties of Rome (50th Anniversary)

On 25 March, the European Union celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome. This is an important opportunity to mark the achievements of the EU. It is also is a key moment to look ahead to the new challenges and opportunities of the global age, and how the EU can deliver for its citizens in the next 50 years. On major cross-border challenges such as terrorism, climate change, energy security, economic competition, migration or organised crime, the EU plays a vital role. These are the issues that the Government put to the top of the EU's agenda during our presidency in 2005 and on which we are working successfully with partners to drive forward results. In this 50th Anniversary year, the Government will therefore continue to support a range of activities to raise awareness and engage the public in debate on key challenges and the EU's role in helping to address them.

As part of our celebrations to mark this significant anniversary, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) and the British Council will launch later this month a major year-long initiative called “Learning Together” to promote partnerships between UK schools and schools in other EU countries. Information will be made available to all schools across the UK about the range of opportunities available for schools to develop learning partnerships with European counterparts, including through EU programmes such as Comenius and e-Twinning. The initiative will ensure that relevant information and materials are made easily available to teachers. It will assist teachers and heads already in school partnerships to share their experience with other schools. This will help schools that have not previously taken part in international activities to get involved.

International partnerships and exchanges offer young people exciting opportunities, and can introduce international elements into a wide range of relevant curriculum subjects. “Learning Together” will also contribute to the Government's goal, outlined in the 2004 DFES International Strategy “Putting the World into World-Class Education”, of enabling every English school and college to establish a sustainable partnership with an international partner.

A wide range of other events will be taking place in the UK for the 50th Anniversary. For example, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Manchester United and the European Commission have organised a charity friendly football match between Manchester United and a Europe XI team. The “50 years in Europe and 50 years of Europe” match on 13 March will celebrate both the 50th Anniversary of the EU and the 50th anniversary of Manchester United's participation as the first English team to play in UEFA's European club competition. The University Association for Contemporary European Studies will host a conference at the FCO, entitled “Reflections on European Integration - 50 Years of the Treaty of Rome” on 23-24 March. And the European Movement in association with the Federal Trust and Chatham House will host a conference “Europe, the next 50 years” on 22 March.

At EU level, Heads of State and Government will mark the Anniversary at an informal meeting in Berlin on 25 March, and there will be an accompanying political declaration. Other EU-level events over the Anniversary weekend include a programme of cultural festivities in Berlin being organised by the German presidency, cultural events and a symposium in Brussels, and a Youth Summit in Rome.

Northern Ireland

Independent Monitoring Commission

I have received the Fourteenth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). This report was made under Article 5(1) of the International Agreement which established the Commission, and is their third of four reports on the security normalisation programme. I have considered the content of the Report and am today bringing it before Parliament. I have placed copies in the Library of the House.

I am pleased to inform the House that the Commission assesses that the commitments made by the Government in the security normalisation programme have been met. Commitments made in the areas of military support to the police, the police estate, police patrolling, and the repeal of counter-terrorist legislation particular to Northern Ireland have all been met thus far. I am satisfied that the security normalisation programme remains appropriate and manageable.

I am also encouraged that the IMC remain of the view that PIRA is firmly committed to the political path and that the organisation does not pose a threat relevant to security normalisation. The IMC have concluded that the organisation is not engaged in terrorist activity and the leadership continues to encourage members to undertake political or community activity. There have been further positive changes in the security context in Northern Ireland resulting from the developments at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on 28 January 2007 which pledged support for policing and the rule of law. This is the eighth IMC report since the IRA announced its armed campaign had ended in July 2005, each one progressively confirming delivery of commitment promised then, including driving criminality out of the organisation.

Conversely, dissident republicans remain committed to terrorism and continue to engage in terrorist activity. The IMC have reported that although dissident republican organisations do not have the capacity to mount a serious and sustained campaign, they pose a continuing threat to both the security forces and the wider community.

In terms of loyalist paramilitaries, the IMC conclude that although they are actively engaged in violence and other forms of serious crime, they do not pose a problem for security normalisation. There is evidence of senior figures seeking to lead the organisation away from crime. This is to be welcomed, but there is more to be done.

I am grateful to the Commissioners for the detailed analysis contained in this report. I anticipate their final report on the programme in September which will review the implementation of the programme as a whole.