§ 3. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)
What steps he has taken since 11 September 2001 to secure from air attack sites at which (a) research into and (b) maintenance of nuclear weapons takes place. 
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)
In the interests of maintaining effective protection, it would be inappropriate to go into too much detail, although I can assure the House that a number of protective measures have been taken. For example, the number of aircraft on immediate stand-by for quick reaction alert—QRA—duties has been doubled from two to four. Also, measures have been taken to enhance our air defence radar detection capability and command-and-control processes, and to provide facilities for QRA aircraft at alternative air stations to increase operational flexibility.
§ Mr. Rendel
I understand that after 11 September, the French decided to introduce anti-aircraft missiles around at least one of their sites, but have since decided to reverse that policy. Have the British Government considered any such policy, and if so why have they decided against it? Would they reconsider that policy if there were a specific threat to a specific site?
§ Mr. Ingram
We considered the French's actions and their change of posture at the time, and decided that it was not appropriate for us for a number of reasons, but primarily because once such weapons are deployed, one has to consider when to remove them. We will keep this issue under review at all times, and if a specific threat arose, appropriate action would clearly be taken.
§ Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)
The Minister has rightly emphasised the seriousness of this situation and the potential threat. Can he tell the House how many sites are concerned with research into nuclear matters, and in how many such sites nuclear weapons are in place? Secondly, is the Minister saying that the air defence system has been activated and is sufficient to deal with an immediate air attack on one or other of the many sites, or that it will be up and running within the next three to six months?
§ Mr. Ingram
I missed the latter part of that question, but I should point out that a number of such sites exist, according to the different types of priority that could be allocated. However, that could change over time. Although a particular number might exist today, if a specific threat were posed to another site—if we received information that it had been designated for terrorist action—it would be added to that number. However, it is not a numbers game; it is question of the quality of our response at all times. We have put in place very good 7 protective measures in terms of the QRA response covering the wider country. Over time, more airfields will be made available—the three other airfields will be modified to be able to take those aircraft so that we can give a quicker response time and aircraft can be moved accordingly.
These are very sensitive and difficult issues to balance because of the nature of the threat. It can be specific but it can also be general, and it can change. Therefore, we must at all times keep all these matters under constant review based on the best intelligence, always remembering that intelligence is never perfect.