§ Mr. Spellar
[holding answer 6 December 1999]: I can only comment upon the military Search and Rescue (SAR) contribution, as the overall responsibility for civil SAR rests with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Although the primary responsibility of the military SAR force is to rescue downed military aircrew, in peacetime the force also makes a significant contribution to rescuing civilians.
The Strategic Defence Review (SDR) confirmed that the operational side of the RAF SAR should be maintained as a military task, with the priority of rescuing service personnel in the United Kingdom and surrounding seas. The military SAR force continues to provide an unequalled service with a capability which is second to none.
The feasibility of contractorising the maintenance of SAR aircraft will be examined as part of the Sea King replacement strategy.