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Work for Change Programme

Robert Key: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will place in the Library a copy of HM Revenue and Customs initial impact assessment of socio-economic factors in its Workforce Change programme. [179552]

Jane Kennedy: There is no initial impact assessment for the Workforce Change programme as a whole.

Socio-economic issues are among the factors reflected in the impact assessments for specific buildings published 12 to 18 months before a building is due to be fully vacated. These impact assessments are already available, both internally to staff and externally on the HMRC website:

Working Families Tax Credit

Willie Rennie: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will bring forward proposals to amend the legislative provision for childcare support received through working families tax credit to allow those in training or further education to have time spent in study taken into account. [180206]

Jane Kennedy: The child care element of working tax credits (WTC) is designed to help remove the child care barrier that often prevents people taking up or returning to work. Eligibility to this system is therefore dependent on claimants being in formal employment for a minimum of 16 hours per week. Parents undertaking training courses or further education with
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a view to moving into work may qualify for access to free child care resource (through New Deal and education providers direct) and so there are currently no plans to extend the child care element of WTC to this group.

Willie Rennie: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will review the number of hours parents are required to work before they are eligible to receive child care support through working families tax credit. [180207]

Jane Kennedy: The working tax credits (WTC) system is dependent on claimants being in formal employment for a minimum of 16 hours per week. Since the child care element is an integral part of the overall system, it would not be practical to have a shorter hours rule for certain claimants claiming certain elements.

Defence

Military Covenant

14. Mr. Randall: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment he has made of his Department's effectiveness in upholding the military covenant. [180016]

Derek Twigg: The Government provide a wide range of support to our armed forces and veterans and their families. We have made a number of improvements recently including enhancements to operational equipment, accommodation, compensation and medical support. The Command Paper, due in the spring, will outline steps taken so far and future initiatives to enhance the Government's support.

19. Mr. Mackay: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent steps he has taken to improve his Department's meeting of its obligations in respect of the military covenant; and if he will make a statement. [180021]

Derek Twigg: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall).

23. Tony Baldry: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment he has made of his Department's effectiveness in upholding the military covenant. [180025]

Derek Twigg: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall).

Afghanistan

16. Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the personnel and material provided to UK armed forces in Afghanistan by other members of NATO. [180018]

Des Browne: UK armed forces in Afghanistan are ably supported by other members of NATO, both in terms of personnel and material.


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Military Vehicles

17. Sir Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to improve the safety of military vehicles in theatre. [180019]

Des Browne: All equipment, including military vehicles, must comply with legislation and other statutory provisions covering safety. It is incumbent on the MOD to ensure that the equipment it provides and systems it operates are safe, that hazards have been eliminated or residual risks reduced to an acceptable level.

Military operations are inherently risky. We keep the threats our troops are facing in theatre under regular review and, where appropriate, seek to amend our tactics or introduce new protection solutions such as improved counter measures and uparmouring. When judged necessary, we have introduced whole new vehicle types, such as the Mastiff heavy protected patrol vehicle.

Selly Oak Hospital

18. Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made in developing the military-managed wing at Selly Oak hospital. [180020]

Derek Twigg: Excellent progress has been made since we announced, over a year ago, that we were establishing a military-managed ward at Selly Oak hospital for military trauma orthopaedic patients whom it is clinically appropriate to accommodate together. The ward achieved the desired operational capability last July. We shall build on these arrangements when we move into the new Birmingham hospital in 2010. I pay tribute to the military medical and NHS civilian ward staff who are providing first-class treatment and care for severely wounded military personnel.

Aircraft Carriers

20. Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the target in-service dates are for HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carriers. [180022]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The in-service dates for the future aircraft carriers are 2014 and 2016.

John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made on the future aircraft carrier programme; and when the new carriers are planned to come into service. [180023]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Work to move to manufacture continues with the industrial alliance delivering the project. Legal formalities to allow the joint venture between BAE Systems and VT Group to receive a manufacture contract are being progressively addressed. There has been no change to the planned in service dates of 2014 and 2016.


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Key Worker Status

22. Ms Butler: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to ensure that serving personnel are made aware of their key worker status when buying homes. [180024]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Every suitable opportunity will be taken to get across the important message that all qualifying Service personnel across England and Wales now have key worker status. This will be achieved in a variety of ways, through internal communications systems, Service publications, and briefings by the Joint Service Housing Advice Office, as well as through regional and local media, external websites and magazines.

Postal Services

24. Jessica Morden: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has for the extension of free postal services to service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. [180026]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Ministry of Defence and Royal Mail jointly announced on 12 November that the freepost scheme for the Iraq and Afghanistan theatres will continue as long as we have personnel deployed in those areas. The Department keeps the details of the scheme under continuous review but no further changes are currently planned.

Ex-service Personnel: Housing

Ian Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made on developing arrangements by which former services personnel can claim a local connection when applying for social housing. [180007]

Derek Twigg: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffat).

Barbara Keeley: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress is being made on enabling former service personnel to claim a local connection when applying for social housing. [180017]

Derek Twigg: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt).

Defence Diversification

David Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department's defence diversification policies since 2001. [180012]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Ministry of Defence most recently considered its approach to defence diversification in 2004 and 2006. We concluded that our diversification agenda was firmly embedded within the Department’s core activities.


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Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) pursuant to the statement by the Prime Minister of 12 December 2007, Official Report, column 305, on Afghanistan, whether the 5,000 former fighters were part of the Program-Tachim-e Sol’ scheme; [175457]

(2) pursuant to the statement by the Prime Minister on 12 December 2007, Official Report, column 305W, on Afghanistan, whether the 5,000 former fighters who have laid down their arms were part of the Program-Tachim-e Sol’ scheme. [177734]

Des Browne: The Program-Tachim-e Sol’ is owned by the Government of Afghanistan, who advise that the majority of the 5,000 former fighters referred to by the Prime Minister were part of this scheme.

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the statement by the Prime Minister of 12 December 2007, Official Report, column 304, on Afghanistan, how many civilian helicopters his Department estimates NATO will lease for use in Afghanistan; whether the leased helicopters will operate in Regional Command South; what defensive aides suites the leased helicopters will have; when he expects the first leased helicopter to enter Afghanistan; for how long each contract will last; how much each contract will cost; and if he will make a statement. [175459]

Des Browne: NATO will lease a mix of aircraft suitable to carry the contracted 13,000kg of freight per day. They will be used throughout Afghanistan, including in Regional Command South. The first aircraft is expected to enter Afghanistan in early 2008, on a one year contract with the option to extend for a second. I am withholding details of the defensive aids for these helicopters as it would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of NATO forces. I am also withholding information on the cost of the contract as its disclosure would prejudice commercial interests.

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many UK helicopters with hoists for medical support there are in theatre in (a) Afghanistan and (b) Iraq. [179579]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth [holding answer 17 January 2008]: In both Iraq and Afghanistan, all UK helicopters deployed as part of the immediate response teams, which provide the medical evacuation capability, are equipped with hoists.

Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence who will take over from the 52 Brigade in Afghanistan; and what changeover date (a) was originally planned and (b) is noe expected. [179958]

Des Browne: I shall inform the House of the units to be deployed in due course.

Armed Forces: Driving

Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether British military personnel are required to hold the relevant British driving licence for the relevant category while driving different vehicles in theatre. [180096]


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Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Not all military vehicles are included in British driver licensing regulations. Personnel are required to hold the appropriate licence for the weight of the vehicles they will be driving while in theatre. Additionally, all drivers are required to undertake specific training on those vehicles which they will be required to drive.

Armed Forces: Foreigners

Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many and what proportion of non-UK citizens serving in each branch of the armed forces went absent without leave in each of the last 10 years. [180050]

Derek Twigg: The information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

Armed Forces: Housing

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what estimate he has made of the cost of void and unused accommodation to his Department in 2007-08; and if he will make a statement; [170996]

(2) pursuant to his answer of 30 October 2007, Official Report, column 1349W, on armed forces housing, what the cost of rent, council tax, maintenance and administration in relation to void properties in the married quarters estate has been in (a) England, (b) Scotland and (c) Wales in the last 12 months. [171517]

Derek Twigg: The average costs of void properties are no different to those for occupied properties. In England and Wales the majority of service family accommodation is owned by Annington Homes Ltd. (AHL). As part of the agreed contract with AHL, the MOD pays 42 per cent. of the market rent of each property to AHL (an average of some £3,500 per property per year). In Scotland properties are owned by MOD and no rental charges are incurred.

All properties in England, Scotland and Wales incur standing costs of council tax and maintenance. Contribution in lieu of council tax is averaged out at approximately £1,200 per property per annum. Maintenance is an average of approximately £2,500 per property per annum. Information on administrative costs is not held in the format requested.

It is worth noting that the vast majority of void properties are held to facilitate the need to queue houses for families to satisfy entitlement and also to effectively manage future unit moves.

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much of the announced £5 billion expenditure on his Department's accommodation over the next 10 years has already been allocated to existing or approved projects over that period. [170997]


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