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Official Documents

Mr. Wilshire: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish a list of all those official

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documents of the last Administration which have been seen by (a) him, (b) other ministers in his Department, (c) special advisers in his Department and (d) non-career civil servants appointed since May 1997 in his Department. [92182]

Mr. George Robertson [holding answer 20 July 1999]: A large number of official documents were generated during the period of the previous Administration, many of which were published or put in the public domain. Since May 1997, the Department has been guided by the convention governing access to the papers of a previous Administration, as set out in the then Prime Minister's reply to a written question on 24 January 1980, Official Report, columns 305-07.

Biological and Chemical Weapons

Ms Drown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he plans to announce the outcome of his Department's review of the defence response to the threat posed by biological and chemical weapons; and if he will make a statement. [92694]

Mr. George Robertson: I have today placed in the Library of the House a paper setting out the conclusions of our review. The paper entitled "Defending Against the Threat from Biological and Chemical Weapons", explains our policy and the ways in which we plan to develop our capabilities further.

We will continue to pursue, through international agreement, the verifiable elimination of biological and chemical weapons. Valuable progress has been made in recent years as a result of our efforts, but there is a long way to go before our objectives are met in full. In the meantime, we recognise that the use, or threatened use, of these weapons remains one of the potential challenges we must face.

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I therefore place a high priority on ensuring that our Armed Forces are protected, with the training and equipment they need to deal with the risks such weapons continue to pose. We are enhancing our capabilities with a range of equipment programmes, for example by bringing into service additional Prototype Biological Detection Systems. We are also establishing the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Regiment, and an NBC Defence Headquarters. As a result of our review, I have also set up a new Central Staffs Directorate in the Ministry of Defence to co-ordinate and take forward further work on NBC defence issues. They will maintain a rolling plan of action and report progress to me on a regular basis. In total we plan to spend over £270 million in this area over the next three years.

No potential adversary should believe that the use, or threatened use, of biological or chemical weapons would determine the outcome of a conflict or deter this government from taking action it believes is right.

Appointments (Quangos)

Mr. Singh: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many appointments to quangos he made between (a) 1 June 1997 and 31 May 1998 and (b) 1 June 1998 and 31 May 1999; and in each case of those how many were members of Britain's (i) Asian and (ii) ethnic minority communities. [92137]

Mr. Spellar: The following number of appointments were made to Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) for which my Department is responsible:

These figures include new appointments as well as reappointments.

Appointments to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body are not included as they are made by the Prime Minister. Appointments to the technical Boards under the Defence Scientific Advisory Council are not included (they have previously been included in answers to similar questions). The Cabinet Office has recently agreed that as these Boards are sub-Committees of the Council they should not be classified as advisory NDPBs. Appointments to the Council itself are included.

Within the overriding principle of selection based on merit, MOD is committed to increasing diversity in appointments to its NDPBs and raising the representation of women, people from ethnic minority groups and disabled people in line with government-wide objectives. To this end MOD publishes an annual Plan for Public Appointments and Equal Opportunities (the plan for 1999-2002 was published in "Quangos: Opening up Public Appointments") which sets objectives and targets.

Defence Vetting Agency

Liz Blackman: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what key targets have been set for the Defence Vetting Agency in the financial year 1999-2000. [92695]

Mr. Spellar: The Defence Vetting Agency was launched on 1 April 1997 with a staff of 349, at four separate Units in Central London, Portsmouth, Woolwich and Corsham. The Agency carries out some 130,000 vetting checks and investigations each year. The Agency

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is embarked on an ambitious modernisation programme aimed at creating a highly responsive and highly efficient, integrated organisation, exploiting the capabilities of modern information technology to the benefit of its customers. Central to the modernisation initiative is collocation of the Agency at York. 1999-2000 will see the run up to collocation. The Chief Executive has been set the following Key Targets:

    Key Target 1

    At least a 90 per cent. success rating in dealing with Contentious Cases, and zero Serious Errors.


    Key Target 2

    To complete 87 per cent. of Security Checks within 6 weeks (30 working days).

    Key Target 3

    To complete 84 per cent. of Counter Terrorist Checks within 6 weeks (30 working days).

    Key Target 4

    To complete 90 per cent. of all Developed Vetting clearances within 6 months (120 working days).

    Key Target 5

    To maintain average times for Security Checks and Counter Terrorist Checks of 4 weeks (20 working days) and 4.6 weeks (23 working days) respectively, and to complete Developed Vetting clearances on average within 3.1 months (62 working days).


    Key Target 6

    To maintain the Financial Year 1998-99 Unit Cost of Output.

I have arranged for advance copies of the Corporate Plan to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Data Series

Jackie Ballard: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what new data series separated by gender, race, disability and age have been commissioned by his Department since June 1997. [90823]

Mr. Mudie: In January 1999 the Department carried out a re-survey of all its staff to update the information held on an individual's ethnic origin and disability information. The response rate by May 1999 was 94 per cent. of all staff.

Information on gender, age, ethnic origin and disability is automatically collected when a member of staff joins the Department. In addition individual members of staff have on-line access to their own computerised personnel file to enable them to notify the Department of any inaccuracies which may be held.

Laboratory Teaching

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what consultations he has had with industry on the financing of scientific laboratories in schools in the past two years. [91285]

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Mr. Charles Clarke: We have had no consultations with industry during the past two years on the financing of science laboratories in schools although we do, of course, promote the Private Finance Initiative as a means for attracting private finance into the schools capital programme generally.

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans he has to review the school scientific laboratory teaching curricula in the sciences. [91282]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The proposals for a revised National Curriculum for schools issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 13 May include new measures to improve the quality of experiments pupils carry out when studying biology, chemistry and physics. A copy of the consultation materials was placed in the Library.

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment (1) what recommendations he has made for the design, layout and organisation of school scientific laboratories; [91284]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The Department has published guidance on the design and layout of school science rooms. Building Bulletin 82, "Area Guidelines for Schools", offers advice for both primary and secondary schools, while Building Bulletin 80, "Science Accommodation in Secondary Schools: A Design Guide", provides more detailed advice for the secondary sector, which requires dedicated, science accommodation. The design needs of secondary schools has been examined during the past two years as part of our rolling programme for producing, and updating, design guidance and, as a consequence, a replacement for Building Bulletin 80 will be published during the coming month.

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