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The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): My noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer has made the following written ministerial statement;
I have appointed Mr. Justice Terence Etherton to be chairman of the Law Commission from 1 August 2006. He succeeds Mr. Justice Roger Toulson whose term of office will then be completed.
I have decided that the needs of the Law Commission are usually best met by having a member of the senior judiciary as chairman. This follows a consultation in the 2004 consultation paper, Appointment of Law Commissioners, and the response paper issued in 2005. As a result I have decided to propose to Parliament amendments to the Law Commissions Act 1965 so that the chairman can be recruited from the senior judiciary as and when appropriate. I will do so when legislative time and opportunity allows.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): The Electoral Administration Act received Royal Assent on 11 July 2006. The Act aims to tackle four areas at the core of a healthy democracy by improving access, improving confidence, extending openness and transparency of party financing and maintaining professional delivery of elections.
In line with the Government's commitment to bring as many of the important provisions in the Act into force as soon as possible a commencement order has been made which includes the following key provisions:
New rules for transparency and permissibility of loans,
Registration provisions to apply to the 2006 annual canvass process,
A package of offences in relation to postal voting applications and conduct of elections,
Provisions in relation to the regulation of political parties; and
Power for the Electoral Commission to set performance standards.
The provisions in the Act to bring a similar regime of transparency and permissibility to that set out for donations in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) to loans from political parties will come into force on 11 September 2006. The Government consider that it is important for the new regime to be brought into force at the earliest opportunity. Political parties will be required to report to the Electoral Commission all regulated transactions existing at that date and any entered into between that date and the end of that month, within 30 days from the end of September. Taken together, the existing donations regime and the new regulated transactions regime provide a robust and transparent mechanism to ensure that significant financial benefits to political parties are disclosed.
We have also brought into force a package of offences in the Electoral Administration Act that aim to improve the security and confidence of the electoral process. These will come into force on 11 September
2006 and relate to both the application for postal and proxy votes as well as offences around the conduct of elections. We believe that it is vital that we tackle potential problems of fraud in relation to elections. Along with other provisions in the Act that will be brought into force in time for the May 2007 elections. We believe this represents a comprehensive set of legislative changes that will improve the confidence in the electoral system.
The Government are also committed to improving the accuracy of the register and tackling potential registration fraud at the earliest opportunity. We have therefore commenced those provisions in the Act that relate to the annual canvass process so that they can be in place for the 2006 annual canvass. This includes the new duty on Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to carry out necessary steps to maintain the register and the new registration offence of supplying false information in connection with registration. Both these provisions will come into force on 11 September 2006.
In addition, the Electoral Administration Act contains miscellaneous provisions in part 7 which are designed to simplify and streamline procedures for the regulation of political parties and many of these will come into force on 11 September 2006.
The power for the Electoral Commission to set performance standards in relation to electoral activity will also come into force on 11 September. This will allow the Electoral Commission to carry out the important preparatory work in relation to the performance standards scheme.
We aim for the Electoral Administration Act to be implemented in full, where possible, for the May 2007 elections. We will therefore be making subsequent commencement orders to commence the remaining provisions in the Act.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): My noble Friend, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, has made the following written ministerial statement:
I have today published a consultation paper on proposed custodial penalties for breaches of section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. In an environment where concerns about identity fraud are growing and where the widespread use and exchange of data is increasingly important to the economy and to society as a whole, it is essential for people to be confident their personal data will not be willfully or recklessly abused. We are determined that the regulatory regime properly reflects the risks that come with greater data use. The aim of this proposal is to provide an appropriate and effective level of deterrent for those who seek to profit from the illegal trade in personal information. We welcome the recent report by the Information Commissioner What price privacy? The unlawful trade in confidential personal information' which has been an extremely valuable contribution on this issue, and we are responding positively to the report's recommendations. We are seeking views on whether the proposed sanctions would act as an effective deterrent to those who deliberately or recklessly misuse personal information. Copies have been placed in the Printed Paper Office, Vote Office and Libraries of both Houses.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The supplement to the 2006 report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, making recommendations on the pay of service medical and dental officers, has been published today. Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and the Library of the House. I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and members of the review body for their report.
The review body recommended a pay increase of 2.2 per cent. for junior doctors and cadets, and 2.4 per cent for associate specialists. In addition, the review body recommended that there should be an increase of 2.2 per cent. in the values of trainer pay and distinction and clinical excellence awards. These recommendations are to be accepted in full, with implementation effective from 1 April 2006.
All regular and reserve defence medical services consultants, general medical practitioners, general dental practitioners and higher medical management personnel will also receive a 2.2 per cent. increase effective from 1 April 2006. In addition, and closely matching the recommendation of the AFPRB, the Government have agreed to a further consolidated payment effective from 1 November 2006 to ensure the levels of pay are comparable to their counterparts in the NHS.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The then Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), announced on 30 January 2006, Official Report, column 3WS the move of 4 Mechanised Brigade (4 Armoured Brigade) to the UK from Germany. At the same time, we made clear that we would take the opportunity to make further adjustments to our forces in Germany, where it made sense to do so. I want today to announce that an initial review of the opportunities for further rationalisation of our basing arrangements in Germany has developed proposals for the possible return to the UK of Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC), 102 Logistic Brigade (102 Log Bde) and 1 Signal Brigade (1 Sig Bde), over the period 2008-2012, including identifying exactly where these units will be based in the UK. A project team is being established to assess these proposals in greater detail, and to determine whether they are practicable and offer value for money. An important part of the team's remit will be to consider in more depth where in the UK we could re-locate HQ ARRC and the two brigades. The team will produce an initial report around the end of the year; it is unlikely that we will be in a position to announce final decisions until well into 2007.
I have notified our NATO allies, including the German Government as host nation, of our plans, and the Chief of the Defence Staff has written to the
Supreme Allied Commander Europe in view of the HQ ARRC's assignment as Headquarters NATO Rapid Deployment Corps (UK).
Separately, we also plan a series of minor moves within Germany which will lead to the closure of OsnabrÃ1/4ck Station from early 2009. This will entail moving 1 Close Support Medical Regiment (1 CSMR) from its current base in MÃ1/4nster Station to alternative British army estate in Germany, and replacing them with another unit, the identity of which will be determined by further analysis. These moves will enable OsnabrÃ1/4ck Station to close. Subject to the conclusions of the project team, further moves are envisaged in due course that would enable us to close MÃ1/4nster Station and therefore OsnabrÃ1/4ck Garrison as a whole. The current planning assumption is that this would not take place before 2010. The relocation of HQ ARRC, 102 Log Bde and 1 Sig Bde would also enable us to close Rhine Garrison in the period 2010-2012. This will concentrate our Germany-based forces in Hohne, Paderborn and Gutersloh garrisons.
We also plan to return 12 Regiment Royal Artillery from Paderborn to the UK as early as summer 2007, as we re-organise our air defence regiments and capitalise on UK based facilities for High Velocity Missile Stormer vehicles. As a result, 12 Regiment will collocate with 47 Regiment Royal Artillery at Thorney Island. Consequently, 16 Regiment Royal Artillery, which we had previously envisaged moving from Woolwich to Thorney Island, will now be based in North Luffenham in summer 2007. In order to enable the necessary re-balancing in Germany, 12 Regiment's barracks in Paderborn will be occupied by another unit, the identity of which will be determined by further analysis.
We will continue to make further modest adjustments to our force levels in Germany, but our plan remains to base UK forces in the country, in the form of 1 Armoured Division and its supporting units, for many years to come. These moves and the work of the project team in no way signal a change in either our commitment to the NATO Alliance or in our overall defence policy, nor do they in any way devalue the continued close bilateral relationship between the UK and Germany.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): On 9 March 2006, Official Report, column 961, I announced the settlement package for the Royal Irish (Home Service) (R IRISH (HS)) personnel being discharged as a result of the normalisation process in Northern Ireland. Included within the settlement package was an alternative to redundancy; a taxable £10,000 engagement bounty offer to all those eligible R IRISH (HS) personnel who wished to transfer, and are accepted for a general service engagement in the wider army. We had anticipated that around 250 such personnel would take the opportunity to continue with their military career in the army, but, to date, only a handful of the R IRISH (HS) personnel are in the process of being accepted into general service army.
As a result, I am announcing today a one-off increase to the general service engagement bounty to a taxable £20,000. This decision to increase the bounty was taken in order to encourage more eligible R IRISH (HS) personnel to opt for transfer, rather than redundancy.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I am pleased to announce the severance package for the estimated 1,500 MOD civilians in Northern Ireland being made redundant during the period 1 August 2006 to 31 December 2008, as a result of the process of normalisation.
The House will recall that when I announced the package for the Royal Irish (Home Service) (R IRISH (HS)) on 9 March 2006, Official Report, column 961 I explained that a process of consultation would take place with the trades unions on the civilian redundancies in accordance with our duties under Section 188 of the Trades Unions and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. That consultation has now been concluded and the redundancy package has been decided.
First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication and commitment shown by MOD civilians in Northern Ireland over many years in supporting the armed forces, and in helping bring about the enabling environment for the current security normalisation programme. While normalisation is good news for Northern Ireland, it also brings substantial change for our civilian work force and my Department has been working hard to draw up an enhanced redundancy package for those affected. I am now in a position to provide details of that package.
In addition to the normal occupational redundancy package (which, for the majority, will be compulsory terms under the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS)), affected staff will receive a flat rate financial recognition award (FRA) payment of £14,000 gross.
The pressures and restrictions arising from their association with the armed forces in Northern Ireland, which they experienced while working for MOD and are likely to continue to affect them in the immediate aftermath of being made redundant;
The difficulties they may experience as a result of normalisation and directly arising from their former association with the armed forces in Northern Ireland; and
The effect of those pressures being exacerbated by the fact that the whole of the R IRISH (HS) is being disbanded, affecting over 3,000 individuals and nearly 50 per cent. of the civilian workforce are losing their jobs over a compressed timescale.
Redundancy compensation under the terms of their occupational redundancy scheme;
Access to the MOD outplacement service for a period of 12 months (an increase over the normal 6 months);
A re-training allowance of up to £1,000 per person, and
A flat rate additional payment of £14,000 gross.
The package, which goes significantly beyond statutory entitlements, is well deserved and we hope will be well received by MOD civilians in Northern Ireland. To put this into context, typically an individual who is aged 50 or over and made redundant between 1 August 2006 and 31 December 2008 will receive the immediate payment of an enhanced pension (and a tax free pension lump sum for those in the 1972 section of the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS)), redundancy compensation of up to six months pensionable pay and the FRA of £14,000. To give examples, a 51-year-old band C with an average salary of £26,167 and 31 years service will receive a lump sum payment of £27,084 (this is the redundancy compensation and the FRA), in addition they will receive their pension lump sum of approximately £30,419 and an annual pension; a 54-year-old B and E/skill zone 3 with an average salary of £17,975 and 34 years service will receive a lump sum payment of £22,987 (this is the redundancy compensation and the FRA), in addition they will receive their pension lump sum of approximately £25,136 and an annual pension. Those staff under age 50 and made redundant in the same period will typically receive a preserved pension payable at age 60, redundancy compensation up to three times their annual pensionable pay and the FRA of £14,000. To illustrate, a 34-year-old band E/Skill zone 3 with an average salary of £17,975 and 16 years service will receive a lump sum payment of £43,958; a 27 year old band D/skill zone 4 with an average salary of £20,617 and 9 years service will receive a lump sum payment of £29,463. These lump sums are the combined totals of redundancy compensation and the FRA. Redundancy compensation and the FRA combined will be tax free up to the first £30,000 in accordance with the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I have made clear my determination to ensure the armed forces on operations have the resources they need to do the job. I said I would update the House on developments in two particular areas of operational capability: additional options for armoured vehicles and helicopter support for Afghanistan.
As I told the House on 26 June, I ordered an urgent review of our armoured vehicle fleet, particularly focused on the evolving threat in Iraq, but covering the whole operational picture including Afghanistan, to ensure we were providing commanders with the best options.
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