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Swiftsure Submarines

Mr. Duncan Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which Swiftsure class submarines he expects to be operational next year. [143046]

Mr. Spellar [holding answer 15 December 2000]: HMS Superb, HMS Sceptre and HMS Splendid are expected to be operational next year.

DERA

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he intends to privatise the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency by means of (a) outright sale to an existing plc or a consortium of plcs, (b) sale to venture capital strategic investors, (c) an initial purchase flotation and (d) other means; and what is his timetable for the privatisation. [141354]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 12 December 2000]: I refer the hon. Member to the announcement which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made in the House on 24 July 2000, Official Report, columns 777-89, about our intention to proceed with the implementation of the Core Competence model for the DERA Public Private Partnership (PPP). Under Core Competence, around three quarters of the current DERA organisation will be turned into a company, referred to as NewDERA. For strategic reasons, the remainder will be retained within MOD to carry out functions that could not appropriately be transferred to the private sector.

The exact method and timing of sale will depend on value for money considerations, but our preference is to seek a flotation on the stock market as soon as the company's potential is suitably developed. We will keep open the option to seek a strategic investor as an interim step.

The PPP timetable is challenging and envisages organisational separation of NewDERA and the retained elements will be complete early in the new year. This will be followed by a period of shadow operation to test the organisations and their infrastructures. Once this is complete, NewDERA would be vested with its assets and established as plc.

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he and his officials have had with (a) employee representatives, (b) management and (c) pension fund companies about future pension arrangements for current DERA employees. [141359]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 12 December 2000]: Officials have worked closely with employee representatives in designing pension arrangements for employees who will transfer to the new company. Trade Union representatives were invited to, and have participated in, a pension scoping group which was established to explore potential pension schemes. As this

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work has progressed, dialogue has continued with employee representatives and we will shortly begin a period of formal consultation on a selected scheme.

In addition to formal consultation, a series of roadshows for all affected employees will be conducted in the new year and these will offer staff the opportunity to learn more about the detail of the new scheme benefits and to have their options explained.

To ensure that the new scheme meets the Government's commitment to providing broad comparability with the public sector pension scheme, detailed discussions have taken place between DERA management, MOD officials and relevant Government Departments including the Government Actuary's Department, HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office. These discussions will continue as the scheme is established and its rules and administrative arrangements are developed.

Early in the process, DERA appointed actuarial and pension fund consultants to assist them in the development of occupational pension arrangements. There have been no discussions with pension fund companies.

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if DERA Boscombe Down will (a) remain a military airfield and (b) become a civil airport subject to the Civil Aviation Authority; and if he will make a statement. [141355]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 12 December 2000]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier. The future regulatory status of the DERA Boscombe Down airfield has yet to be confirmed. Work to achieve this is part of the detailed implementation process currently under way and includes discussions between the Ministry of Defence and the CAA.

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence by what legal process he will change the status of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency from an agency of his Department to (a) a Government owned company and (b) a plc; and what will be the timetable. [141356]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 12 December 2000]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier. On the date of Vesting, the relevant assets of the existing DERA will be transferred via a Business Transfer Agreement into a wholly Government owned company created under the Companies Act 1985.

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the future status of DERA Boscombe Down within the proposed private-public sector partnership. [141357]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 12 December 2000]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier. Under Core Competence, only those most sensitive parts of DERA such as the Chemical and Biological Defence laboratories at Porton Down will remain in MOD. DERA activities at Boscombe Down will form part of the new company, NewDERA.

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will set out the timetable for (a) the introduction of shadow structures and operations and (b) the establishment and ownership of a plc at DERA Boscombe Down. [141358]

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Dr. Moonie [holding answer 12 December 2000]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier. The timetable for the implementation of the Core Competence model envisages organisational separation of NewDERA and RDERA will be complete early in the new year. This will be followed by a period of shadow operation to test both organisations and their respective infrastructures. Only once this is completed satisfactorily will NewDERA (of which DERA Boscombe Down would be part) be vested with its assets and established as a plc wholly owned by Government. The precise timing of any transaction thereafter will depend on value for money considerations.

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many DERA employees will cease to be civil servants from 1 April 2001. [141360]

Dr. Moonie [holding answer 12 December 2000]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier. At the point of Vesting, around three quarters of current DERA employees, approximately 9,000 personnel, will cease to be civil servants.

Drug Rehabilitation

Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the role of drug rehabilitation activity in the Armed Forces. [143101]

Mr. Spellar: The Armed Forces regard drug taking as a matter of the utmost seriousness. A comprehensive drugs education and awareness programme, together with a random Compulsory Drugs Testing (CDT) programme is employed to dissuade Armed Forces personnel from taking drugs. A positive CDT test result by a member of the Services will, in most cases, lead to an administrative discharge which no rehabilitation offered. Those few personnel who test positive, and are retained under exceptional circumstances, receive a formal warning and are closely monitored and subject to no-notice drug re-testing for a period of between two and five years. They also attend the routine Services' drug education and awareness programme during the monitoring period.

The position for those Service personnel who are detained at the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) following a conviction for a drug related criminal offence is slightly different. MCTC employ a civilian drugs counsellor to provide confidential counselling and advice to drug offenders. This support is enhanced further by a civilian medical officer and welfare officer.

War Widows

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on service pensions for war widows who have subsequently remarried. [141825]

Dr. Moonie: I will assume that the hon. Member refers to those widows who have been awarded a War Widow's Pension by the DSS War Pensions Agency and who have, in addition, been awarded an attributable forces family pension under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS). Attributable pensions for widows and widowers of ex-Service personnel were introduced to the AFPS in 1973.

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The Defence and Social Security Secretaries announced, on 20 July 2000, that widow and widowers in receipt of an attributable forces family pension are to retain their pension if they remarry or cohabit. These changes, took effect from 31 October. Previously, an attributable widow's pension was withdrawn on remarriage or cohabitation, although it would have been automatically restored on second widowhood or at the end of a period of cohabitation. Those widows or widowers who had already remarried (before 31 October), and had their attributable pension withdrawn, were not included in the change. Those in receipt of a DSS War Widows' Pension or a non-attributable widows or widowers' pension were also not affected by the change; their pensions will still cease on remarriage or cohabitation.

The question whether widows who had already remarried should have their pensions restored was considered; however, it was decided not to include them because those women had chosen to remarry in the full knowledge that their pension would cease. Furthermore, successive Governments had held fast to the principle that improvements to public sector pension schemes are not applied retrospectively because the cost of doing so would mean it would be extremely difficult to introduce any improvements for current members of the armed forces.


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