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Gas Safety Regulations: Effect of Amendment

Lord Cochrane of Cults asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): The second amendment to the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994 (as amended) came into force on 31 October 1996. At this stage, therefore, it is too soon to make a valid assessment of the number of tenants' lives which may be saved as a result of the duties which were imposed on relevant landlords by that amendment.

Sustainable Development: White Paper

The Viscount of Oxfuird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the White Paper on sustainable development.

Earl Ferrers: We will publish This Common Inheritance: UK Annual Report 1997 tomorrow, Tuesday 18 February 1997. Copies will be placed in the Library. The White Paper reports progress during 1996 in meeting the commitments which we made in previous White Papers and in the 1994 United Kingdom sustainable development strategy, as well as making commitments for future action. In particular, it highlights our new priorities for the year ahead and brings together the main quantified targets, which have already been agreed by Government or are under consideration.

Minerals Compensation Regulations

Baroness Elles asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the results of public consultation on new minerals compensation regulations.

Earl Ferrers: Public consultation on the new minerals compensation regulations closed on 24 January. Thirty three responses were received by my department. A summary of the main points has been placed in the Library of the House, together with a government response. The regulations have been laid before Parliament today and are subject to approval by Affirmative Resolution in both Houses. We are also making available in the Library a monitoring report, which was published in October 1996, which shows how the compliance costs associated with the minerals reforms which were introduced by the Environment Act 1995 have been assessed.

Single Currency: Effect of UK Adoption

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether non-EU countries would be affected by a decision by the United Kingdom to abandon sterling in favour of the ECU, and whether they have been in

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    communication with the governments of any such countries.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): Countries which use sterling or a currency linked to sterling would be affected if the United Kingdom were to adopt the single currency. Business and individuals from outside the European Union which use sterling would also be affected in such circumstances. The Government are in regular contact with the governments and administrations of many countries on a range of economic and financial issues, including economic and monetary union.

US Nuclear Strategy: Allegation

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the view of William M. Askin in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that Strategic Command in Omaha, USA, is developing a new nuclear war strategy to maximise fallout and radiation; and, if so, what are the implications for their defence and arms control policies.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): Internal thinking about nuclear matters in the US is a matter for the US Government. All NATO allies agree that the purpose of nuclear weapons is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion.

Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration Programmes

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Ministry of Defence is considering taking part in the US Defense Department's Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration Programs, and, if so, in which.

Earl Howe: A fully reciprocal Memorandum of Understanding covering Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) programmes was signed by the UK and US Governments in August 1996. My department currently participates in two ACTDs: "Synthetic Theatre of War 1997" and "Joint Countermine". UK involvement in the "Miniature Air-Launched Decoy" and "Navigation Warfare" programmes is also being discussed, and a watching brief is maintained over the remaining ACTDs.

Nuclear Test Veterans: Human Rights Commission Finding

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much they propose to pay nuclear test veterans following the finding of the European Commission of Human Rights that the convention

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    had been violated and that compensation should be paid to veterans for material and non-material damage.

Earl Howe: The European Commission of Human Rights concluded that there had been a violation of Article 6(1) of the Convention, in that the applicants did not enjoy a right of effective access to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal because of a lack of access to relevant records. As the case has now been referred to the European Court of Human Rights, the payment of compensation does not fall to be considered at this stage. The Government dispute the Commission's findings and will contest this case.

MoD Properties: Disposals

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress the Ministry of Defence has made in the disposal of its empty homes.

Earl Howe: The targets for disposal of 1,500 homes by April 1996 and a further 2,500 by the end of summer 1996 were not only achieved but significantly exceeded as the total number of disposals reached 5,348 properties.

Gurkhas: Terms and Conditions of Service

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to announce the result of the Ministry of Defence review of Gurkha terms and conditions of service.

Earl Howe: The terms and conditions of service for Gurkhas serving in the British Army are set out in the 1947 Tripartite Agreement (TPA) between the Governments of Nepal, India and the United Kingdom to enable Gurkha troops to be recruited and employed in the Indian and British Armies on a broadly comparable basis. The last major review of Gurkha terms and conditions of service took place in 1955. Since then, the British Army Gurkhas have been increasingly widely deployed and dispersed. Conditions of service have necessarily been adjusted to take account of local factors, although basic pay and the level of accompanied service have not departed from the guidelines set out in the TPA. Over time, such adjustments have led to significant anomalies. For example, Gurkhas are currently paid markedly different rates, depending on the country in which they serve, their marital status and whether they are accompanied, with a consequent threat to the morale of those on significantly lower incomes.

Taking advantage of the drawdown in Hong Kong and the relocation of most of the Brigade to the UK, the MoD has undertaken a major review to restore fairness and equity across the brigade. As a result, revised terms and conditions of service will be introduced from July 1997. The main elements are set out below.

Basic pay will continue to be set in accordance with the Indian Army pay code in line with the requirements of the TPA, but a universal addition to basic pay will be introduced in place of the current anomalous system of

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allowances. This will standardise Gurkha pay across different geographical areas, and bring Gurkha take-home pay broadly into line with that received by British soldiers. So far as Gurkhas stationed in the United Kingdom are concerned no soldier will suffer a reduction and many will gain. In Brunei and Nepal, the great majority of soldiers--those who are married unaccompanied ranks--will benefit from the changes. Gurkha married accompanied personnel in Brunei and Nepal will, however, experience a reduction in their take-home pay, which is currently significantly higher than that of other members of the brigade.

Married accompanied service is to be made available in the United Kingdom. In keeping with the tripartite agreement, which specifies that up to 25 per cent. of Gurkha officers and soldiers will be provided with family accommodation, sergeants and below will be granted one three year accompanied tour and the more senior ranks will be permanently accompanied. This reflects the basis upon which married accompanied service is available in Brunei and Nepal and was provided to those serving in Hong Kong. Some 450 married quarters will be made available at locations in the United Kingdom where about 2,000 members of the Brigade of Gurkhas will be stationed. We expect that under these arrangements some 900 Gurkha dependants, wives and children, will come to the United Kingdom.

Gurkha parents will have the option of sending their children to school in the UK, or of taking advantage of a new Gurkha education allowance to enable them to enjoy the benefits of continuity of education within the Nepali system. We expect that most will choose the latter course, relying on Nepali boarding schools and looking to relatives to provide care and support for the children in their absence. There will be an entitlement of one free flight a year to enable children to be united with their parents in the UK during the long Nepali school holiday.

The present entitlement of Gurkha soldiers to long leave every three years will remain. This recognises the continuing importance we attach to keeping the Gurkha soldier in touch with his home culture and roots. But the entitlement will be reduced from six to five months to take account of improved internal communications in Nepal.

We also intend to transfer resettlement training from Nepal to the United Kingdom. This will provide Gurkhas with a much wider choice of training, while ensuring they continue to undertake a re-orientation course in Nepal before discharge from the British Army. We intend to retain the Queen's Gurkha Officer Commission for the majority of officers in Gurkha units, but we shall also take the opportunity to introduce a new Gurkha Short Service Commission for a limited number of suitably qualified Gurkha officers to allow them to gain wider employment within the wider British Army.

I am confident that this package represents a significant improvement over current arrangements while continuing to respect the tripartite agreement. It also recognises and gives continued substance to the Gurkhas' position as an integral and valued component of the British Army. I am sure that it will be well received by the brigade.

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