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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 14 June 2005


Defence Vetting Agency

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Key targets have now been set for the acting chief executive of the DVA for the financial year 2005–06. Building upon the progress made since it formed in 1997, these incremental targets will help the agency to become more responsive to its customers by processing security clearances more quickly, without any loss of quality.

Key Target 1: Externally validate quality to:

Key Target 2: To complete the vetting review backlog programme by:

Key Target 3: To improve the completion time of routine cases to:

Key Target 4: To improve the completion time of priority cases to:

Key Target 5: To achieve average completion times of:

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Key Target 6: To reduce the unit cost of output by 2 per cent.

Copies of the DVA corporate plan will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

C Vehicle Capability

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I am pleased to announce that the Amey Lex consortium has been awarded a contract to provide the armed forces with a new generation of heavy plant equipment, logistic support and construction machines, collectively known as C vehicles, under a private finance initiative deal. The contract is valued at over £600 million for the 15-year period.

The C vehicles will be used for earthmoving, digging, dozing, lifting and for transporting combat supplies around the battlefield. The great utility of this equipment has been seen on recent operations, building and maintaining the infrastructure for our troops.

Sourcing the equipment through a PFI deal will provide a more rapid fleet turnover, especially in the early years of the contract, which will allow changes in technology and fleet management processes to be introduced quickly, reducing the maintenance and supply burden thereby benefiting front-line troops.

The best elements of commercial practice will be used to support maintenance and repair, providing the opportunity to reduce spares holdings and to adopt a strategic pooling approach to the provision of the capability.



The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The most recent events in Zimbabwe are of grave concern. Zimbabweans are deprived of their democratic and human rights, facing the consequences of chronic economic misrule, and grappling with severe food shortages. Over the last three weeks the Mugabe regime has launched a brutal crackdown on some of the most vulnerable Zimbabweans, including inhabitants of urban shanty settlements and informal traders.

Over 30,000 have been arrested, with over 40,000 households (approximately 200,000 people) affected with their homes and businesses callously destroyed. People suffering from AIDS are amongst the worst affected. Many chronically ill people have been driven from their homes. HIV prevention and home-based care programmes have been severely disrupted. We are also very concerned about the welfare of children. Infants have been forced to sleep outside in the middle of winter. There are also reports of children being detained in prison and separated from their parents. The crackdown continues to spread across the country to many urban and some rural areas. Armed police have swiftly crushed any resistance with teargas. This action has received widespread international condemnation. The UN's special representative on the right to adequate housing called this a new form of apartheid.
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In response, we have joined our EU partners in demanding that the Government of Zimbabwe end this crackdown, in a statement on 7 June. Our ambassador in Harare has raised our strong concerns, directly to the Government of Zimbabwe, in meetings with the vice president and the Minister of State for National Security. My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Triesman of Tottenham) summoned the Zimbabwean charge d'affaires on 13 June to protest at the continuing human rights abuses under the ongoing crackdown. We remain in close contact with our EU partners, with whom I raised Zimbabwe at the 13 June General Affairs and External Relations Council. We also continue to work with other international partners to maximise the pressure on Zimbabwe to end this brutality and are discussing these and other human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, with neighbouring African states and regional African bodies.

DFID are already responding to this man-made disaster, providing US$ 400,000 so far towards humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable mainly through the UN and International Organisation for Migration. A further contribution is imminent. To date, over 5,000 families have been reached with food, blankets, soap and other forms of assistance. Where appropriate transport and emergency water and sanitation has been provided.

Since 2002 the European Union has imposed targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe; an arms embargo on the country and a travel ban and asset freeze on President Mugabe and leading regime figures. The EU's common position is kept under regular review. Together with our EU partners we have recently reassessed the situation in Zimbabwe following the March parliamentary elections. We agreed yesterday in the light of that assessment to extend the list of those regime figures caught by the travel ban and asset freeze, from 95 to 120 names. The new list includes all the senior members of the new Government and politburo, and senior figures involved in manipulating the election.

This decision emphasises the EU's continued concerns about the lack of democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law that exists in Zimbabwe, and the failure of Mugabe and his regime to respond to international calls for reform.

Her Majesty's Government will continue to work with the European Union and our other international partners to restore democratic governance, human rights and the rule of law to Zimbabwe.


Accommodation Centres

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): After detailed consideration, I am announcing today that we will not proceed with the construction of an accommodation centre for asylum seekers at the former MOD site outside Bicester in Oxfordshire. Neither will we proceed with accommodation centres at any other potential site. We are, however, considering the merits of establishing a new, purpose-built, secure removal centre at the Bicester site, as part of an ongoing review and expansion of the removals estate.
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The total cost of the Bicester project to date, since its inception in 2001, has been £18 million, including the costs of purchasing the land and the on-site preparatory works. Of this, it is estimated that approximately £8 million represents work which will be of direct benefit to the establishment of the proposed new removal centre and will therefore not need to be repeated should that centre proceed.

Since the project to establish accommodation centres began in 2001, the situation on asylum has changed very significantly. First, the rate of asylum applications has fallen sharply. The monthly rate, which was almost 6,000 at the end of 2001, and peaked at over 8,000 in 2002, has fallen to a little over 2,000 in recent months.

Secondly, significant progress has been made in the efficient handling of applications, such that initial decisions are now taken within two months on over 80 per cent. of new applications.

Thirdly, the five-year strategy for immigration and asylum published in February, "Controlling our borders: making migration work for Britain", will introduce more fast-tracking of asylum claims, closer control of the entire process, and the development of an underpinning new asylum model. Central to this approach will be the use of removal centres.

I will make a further statement on the future of the Bicester site later in the year, once more detailed work on the proposed removal centre has been completed.

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