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13 Jan 2003 : Column 404W—continued

Overseas Forces (Decoding Cards)

Mr. Steen : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will establish a decoding card for those serving in the Armed Forces overseas with a digital box so that they can receive BFBS radio and television; and what evaluation has been made as to the merits of providing these services. [89606]

Dr. Moonie: Use of a decoding card in conjunction with a suitable set-top box would not in itself enable reception of British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) television and radio services as it is necessary to have an appropriately sized and correctly aligned satellite receiver dish in addition. The size and alignment of these dishes would not be the same as for those used by other broadcasters in the United Kingdom, e.g. BSkyB.

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Until recently all BFBS transmissions utilised low power satellites requiring large receiver dishes (of up to 4 metres diameter) not suitable for Direct-to-Home (DTK) down linking. This has meant that local transmission and reception has been via conventional terrestrial broadcasts requiring approval by the host nation and allocation of suitable frequencies.

However, since December 2001 BFBS has used satellite capacity on Eutelsat W3 which enables radio and television broadcasts to be received on dishes no larger than 1.2 metres. As a result, it will become possible to dispense with local terrestrial transmission systems and move to DTH. Plans to do this in Germany are being finalised as part of the requirement to switch to digital broadcasting in that country and it is probable that other locations will follow in due course, dependent upon affordability.

To protect programme rights holders, BFBS is introducing fully encrypted television services throughout the area covered by the Eutelsat W3. To date the Balkans and the Middle East are fully encrypted and proposals are being prepared to extend this to all other locations. The encryption service is delivered either via set top boxes (to single televisions) or via secure cable installations (again via decoders). Access at each set or cable head-end is controlled by digital cards.

The BFBS radio channels can also be received via the set top boxes but in order to provide a Ml service e.g. in workshops, cars etc., radio is normally delivered via local terrestrial transmitters in the overseas Commands and operational theatres.

Overseas Service

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the places where British troops are serving abroad and whether they can (a) receive radio and (b) obtain newspapers; and if he will make a statement. [89605]

Dr. Moonie: Information on the location of British forces serving abroad can be found in Tri-Service Publication (TSP) 6, XGlobal Location of Service Personnel", a copy of which is held in the House of Commons Library. This is published quarterly, the latest edition is as at 1 October 2002.

Availability of British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) radio and/or television broadcasts depends upon a number of factors including host nation acceptance (including the provision of suitable broadcast frequencies where necessary), practicality and affordability; and is currently available in the following locations:

North West Europe
Rest of World Garrisons/Units
Ascension IslandYesYes
Canada (BATUS)Yes(13)Yes
Canada (Goose Bay)YesNo
Falkland IslandsYesYes
Italy (Naples)YesNo
Deployed Operational Theatres
Greece (Sindos Camp)YesNo
Oman (Thumrait)YesYes
Saudi ArabiaYesYes
HM Ships(13),(14)Yes(14)No

(13) Recorded VHS tapes

(14) Some larger ships are able to receive live satellite TV/Radio, others can receive when in port. Trials are being conducted on the practicality of providing BFBS to other HM ships via the XSCOT" broadcast system.

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Newspapers are supplied to HM Forces under a contract with Higgs International Ltd. to the following overseas countries/locations.

Abu Dhabi
CanadaSuffield; Wainwright; Ottawa; Goose Bay
CyprusAkrotiri; Dhekelia and Ayios Nikolaos
Falkland Islands
Germany Various
ItalyNaples and Valencia
NorwayStavanger and Reitan
Saudi ArabiaRiyadh
Sierra Leone
USANorfolk, Virginia

Most personnel serving abroad, be they in permanent garrisons, training unit or liaison/exchange posts etc. will receive a Local Overseas Allowance (LOA) which is a compensatory, non-taxable allowance encompassing a wide range of factors including the ability to access English language radio, television and newspapers.

Personnel deployed away from their normal place of duty on operation or exercise, in excess of two months, are provided with an Operational Welfare Package (OWP). The key elements of the OWP include 20 minutes of publicly funded telephone calls per week, internet access, mail, newspapers, books and where practical the provision of BFBS television and radio.

Pension Benefits

Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the educative

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measures his Department has taken to ensure (a) serving armed services personnel and (b) veterans are informed of the pension benefits veterans are entitled to. [89470]

Dr. Moonie: All Service personnel receive basic information about the benefits offered by the Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS) when they join the armed forces and further information, notably a statement of benefits accrued, when they leave. We also provide advice on the AFPS and the financial aspects of resettlement through briefings by specially mandated independent financial advisers. These presentations are not restricted to Service leavers; they are available to any member of the armed forces at any stage in his or her career. They are normally delivered at Regional Resettlement Centres, nine of which are in the United Kingdom, while the other is in Germany. Pensioners also receive an annual newsletter from Paymaster, the contractor responsible for paying their pensions, updating them on any changes that might affect them.

The basic information material on the scheme had become out-dated and was not simply written. We have therefore been revising it and, in late autumn 2002, we issued to all serving members of the armed forces a pack containing a straightforward, easy-to-read new guide to the current AFPS and a short, pocket-sized summary which also gives the current pension code rates, details of additional booklets in the series and useful contacts. The general guide was tested with key ex-Service organisations and with representative Service personnel, and is now available on the MOD web and the internet. It will be issued to all new recruits when they commence their initial training. The pocket-sized brief will be updated and reissued annually, again on an individual basis, to incorporate each year's new pension code rates.

Five supplementary booklets covering specialised pension topics were published at the same time; these are available to serving military personnel on request and can also be found on the internet and MOD intranet. Copies of the pack and the five booklets will shortly be placed in the Library of the House. A further three booklets are currently being written to complete the series; these are due to be published in late spring this year and will also be available electronically. This series of booklets has been publicised to ex-Service organisations, notably the Forces Pensions Society. However, they may not be relevant to all veterans, given the changes to pension benefits over time, and do not replace the information that will have been communicated to ex-Service personnel during their time in service and at the point when they left the armed forces.

In addition to this general information on the Services' occupational pension schemes and the benefits they offer, specific information exercises are undertaken where changes take place affecting the entitlement of Service or ex-Service personnel. Examples of this include information on changes with respect to transfer rights between pension schemes, and on the introduction of Stakeholder pensions and pension-sharing on divorce.

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The War Pension Scheme is administered separately and, in addition to the AFPS, provides Service personnel with compensation for injury or illness attributable to service. We inform serving armed forces personnel of the provisions of the War Pension Scheme through their leaving-packs and, since the transfer of the Veterans Agency (VA) to the Ministry of Defence, the War Pensioners Welfare Service (WPWS) have attended resettlement events to give advice. In order to raise veterans' awareness of the War Pensions Scheme, we issue a range of information leaflets and posters to a variety of outlets such as post offices, regimental museums and GP surgeries. The VA works closely with ex-Service organisations and the War Pension Committees. In addition, the VA website contains comprehensive information and the WPWS holds advice days and surgeries using a mobile advice unit to reach more remote areas.

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