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"Age Matters"

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I have today published a consultation paper covering options for transposition of that part of the EU Employment Directive that prohibits discrimination on grounds of age in employment and vocational training and guidance.

The consultation period will run until 20 October. During this time views on the options for implementation will be actively sought from all stakeholders.

Although the Employment Directive outlaws age discrimination in employment and vocational training, it does allow for differences of treatment on the grounds of age to continue in limited circumstances if they can be objectively justified with reference to a legitimate aim set out in the legislation.

The key options for implementation on which we are consulting include:

Retirement age in particular is a crucial issue on which there is no clear consensus. For this reason we have provided a number of options for discussion and would invite all interested parties to engage in the consultation process. The information obtained from the consultation will be used to shape the content of the legislation.

The Employment Directive deadline for full implementation of the age legislation is the end of 2006. However, it is the Government's aim to have the regulations in place but not in force by the end of 2004. This will provide all those affected by the legislation ample time to prepare for changes before the legislation comes into force in October 2006.

I have placed copies of the consultation paper and other related documents in the Libraries of the House.


Export Licences (Iraq)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Following consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry recently approved two licences to export Military List

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goods to Iraq, The arms embargo against Iraq remains in place under United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 (2003), with the exception of


Provisional Outturn for Public Expenditure

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The Treasury will publish the 2002–03 Public Expenditure Provisional Outturn White Paper on Tuesday 15 July.

The White Paper is an annual report to Parliament on the provisional outturn for public expenditure. It focuses on spending within Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL) and Annually Managed Expenditure (AME), including information on individual Supply Estimates and administration costs limits.

The outturn figures are described as provisional because they may be revised when the department's final accounts are published, usually in the autumn.

A copy of the White Paper will be placed on the Treasury website.


Defence Housing Executive

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): The following key targets have been set for the Defence Housing Executive for 2003–04:

Key Target 1:

Key Target 2:

Key Target 3:

Key Target 4: To complete:

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Key Target 5:

Key Target 6: To reduce dissatisfaction:

Copies of the DHE's Corporate Plan will be placed in the Library of the House.

Defence Estates

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): As detailed in the Defence Estates Corporate Plan 2003–08, the following Key Targets have been set for the Agency:

Key Target 1

Key Target 3

Key Target 4

In addition, recognising the role of the Agency in delivering a new way of managing the defence estate, the following development targets have been set for the Agency to achieve by 31 March 2004:

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Copies of the new Defence Estates Corporate Plan will be placed in the Library of the House.

Defence Housing

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): A business process review of the management and delivery of Defence housing is to be carried out by the Ministry of Defence. Following a scoping exercise, the Review will commence shortly, and will complete in December 2003.

The aim of the Review is to examine the function, role, operation, funding and organisation of Defence housing. It will seek to identify the most efficient and effective process to support the management and delivery of Defence housing both in the UK and overseas.

The review team will consult with a range of stakeholders during the course of the review including single-Service customers, TUs, other Government departments and other relevant bodies. The MOD is interested also to hear the views of other organisations or individuals who would like to make a contribution to the review. Those wishing to do so should send their contribution by 31 July 2003 to:

The Defence Housing Review Team

Ministry of Defence

2nd Floor

St Giles Court

1–13 St Giles High Street

London WC2H 8LD

Or by email:

Al Majarr Al Kabir

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): On 24 June last week, I informed the House that six Royal Military Police soldiers had been killed, and eight other United Kingdom service personnel had been wounded in incidents in Iraq earlier that day. Since then, we have been working hard to establish what took place. It may be some time before we have a full picture; indeed, we may never know with absolute certainty precisely what happened.

However, we will do all we can to establish the facts, and to hold to account those responsible. Accordingly, we have launched an investigation and the Special Investigation Branch have appointed a senior investigating officer. We are also looking at the wider, operational aspects of what took place, to determine whether there are any lessons we need to learn. It may be some time before this work is complete, and we do not therefore intend to respond to every piece of media speculation or conjecture in the interim.

It would, however, be right for me to set out our current understanding of events leading up to, and on the day of the incidents themselves. In doing so I should point out that our understanding may change as new information comes to light.

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The RMP were engaged in assisting with the regeneration of the local Iraqi police service, by ensuring that they had proper training, equipment and infrastructure to operate as professionally as possible. This task included routine visits to police stations in the area. The police station in Al Majarr Al Kabir is one of a number that the RMP planned to visit last Tuesday.

Al Majarr Al Kabir is a town of approximately 60,000 people, situated to the south of Al Amarah, in Maysan province. The town has always been fiercely independent and was free of Saddam's regime by the time coalition forces reached it. The main focus of military operations in the area in recent weeks had been the implementation of a weapons amnesty, and thereafter, the recovery of illegal weapons.

These weapons searches were unpopular with the local population, although none had been conducted in the town itself. Local religious leaders had called for further searches to be resisted and on 22 June, a 1 PARA patrol in the town were faced with a hostile crowd of some 500 people. The soldiers fired baton rounds in order to enable them to be able to withdraw from the town. At a meeting the next day, officers from 1 PARA agreed with the town council that weapons searches would be suspended, and that the council would themselves take responsibility for recovering heavy weapons.

With this agreement in place, the following day the RMP section booked out at around 0910, planning to visit three towns in the area—Al Majarr Al Kabir being the first. Routine force protection measures in place required that they should all be armed, should have their body armour and helmets with them, should have working communications, and that there should be at least two vehicles—in fact they had three.

We judge that they would have reached the town at around 0940–0955, shortly before a 1 PARA patrol also entered the town. We cannot yet be certain, but it may be that the attack on the PARA patrol took place before the attack on the BMP. The attack on 1 PARA commenced at around 1030, when the patrol was stoned by a large crowd. At some point a crowd also appears to have massed outside the police station. While attempting to move their vehicles inside the police compound, the RMP came under fire, and it seems at least one of them was killed at that point. The crowd evidently then stormed the police station. British forces were informed a short while later by local Iraqis that all six of the RMP personnel had been killed.

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We understand that attempts were made to contact the RMP section as events unfolded. This is one of the details we will be trying to establish as part of the investigation.

In the follow up to these incidents, Iraqi leaders in the province are continuing to work closely with us. We will not lose sight of our overall aim to support a better Iraq, and an Iraq that is for the Iraqi people. British forces in Iraq continue to do an excellent job in taking this important work forward.

As they do so, our thoughts remain with those that have lost their lives, and their loved ones who mourn them.


Health Inequalities

The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid): I am today publishing details of the Government's implementation plans for tackling health inequalities in England. The plans set out how our strategy (published on 15 November 2002) to narrow the health gap between disadvantaged groups, areas and the rest of the population will be delivered.

Copies of the publication, "Health inequalities: a programme of action", have been placed in the Library.


National Heritage Memorial Fund

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Stage 1 of the Quinquennial Review of the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) has been completed. Stage 2 of the Review will not take place, because the Heritage Lottery Fund (which is administered by the NHMF) is implementing its Strategic Plan 2002–07 which deals with the questions of improved efficiency and effectiveness which would have been the focus of Stage 2.

The Government welcome the Review and agree that the NHMF should continue in existence, subject to modernisation.

I am pleased to note the Review's recognition of the important role of the NHMF.

The Review was published today and I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses. The Review is also available on the DCMS website