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Written Answers

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government endeavour to answer all questions within two weeks. All of the questions referred to should have been answered within this time scale. I regret that they were not but can assure the noble Lord that they are in the process of being answered, or have already been answered.

Yvonne Ridley: Release

Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any concessions or promises were made to the Taliban in return for the release of Yvonne Ridley.[HL832]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): No.

EU Common Position on Burma

Lord Lea of Crondall asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there have been any recent changes to the EU Common Position on Burma.[HL914]

Baroness Amos: Changes in Burma in the past nine months give grounds for cautious optimism. But the rapprochement between the regime and the domestic opposition remains fragile and reversible. Until Burma is firmly embarked on a return to constitutional, democratic rule, it would not be appropriate to suspend or remove the core elements of the EU common position. The General Affairs Council of 8 October therefore decided to renew the common position for a further six months. The core elements of the common position are to remain unchanged, with the addition of required legal clarification that enables EU member states to fulfil their UN obligations by allowing Burmese Ministers to attend UN conferences in the EU.

However, in recognition of the progress achieved to date and in expectation of further positive developments, the EU Council conclusions on 8 October set out a modest first package of positive measures. We stand ready to consider what further measures might be appropriate if change in Burma accelerates significantly. Conversely, if progress were to stall or fail, UK/EU policy would need to be tightened again.

Armed Forces: Retention of Medical Officers

The Earl of Shrewsbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they intend to take to retain doctors in the Armed Forces. [HL716]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): The retention of experienced medical officers is a key element in our plans for restoring the operational capability of the Defence Medical Services (DMS). We recognise that both financial and non-financial measures have a part to play in improving retention. So far as financial measures are concerned, the Ministry of Defence submits evidence on the pay of DMS medical and dental officers each year to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. This year, on the review body's recommendation, we have introduced commission transfer grants of £16,000 (gross before tax) to encourage medical officers who are general medical practitioners to transfer from short career commissions to longer commissions. We also keep under review the use of other financial incentives to encourage retention. We have addressed complaints by medical officers about differing terms of service between the three services and plans for implementing common terms of service are well advanced. Non-financial measures we have taken to help reduce overstretch and, thus, encourage retention include targeting recruitment at fully vocationally trained doctors and reducing the length and frequency of operational deployments for hospital specialists. We believe that the creation of the new Centre for Defence Medicine at Birmingham, which we intend will become a recognised centre of excellence in military medicine, is a further important factor in encourging both the recruitment and retention of medical officers.

Armed Forces: Healthcare

The Earl of Shrewsbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will offer private healthcare to the Armed Forces as part of their employment contract, given the difficulty for servicemen and women in enrolling on National Health Service lists because of frequent relocation; and if not, why not. [HL717]

Lord Bach: The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has an obligation to ensure that personnel of the Armed Forces have access to appropriate medical care in all circumstances, whether in the UK, at bases abroad, or when deployed on exercises or operations. Primary care is provided by military GPs and civilian medical practitioners employed by the MoD who, in the UK, may refer personnel needing hospital treatment to Minsitry of Defence hospital units (MDHUs), or in some cases, to NHS hospitals which do not host MDHUs. During 2000-01, the MoD supplemented these arrangements with a special waiting list initiative in order to return service personnel in shortage categories to deployability more quickly. For the future, arrangements for medical care are being addressed by a medical quinquennial review, which will be considering, among other things, the most appropriate pattern for hospital care to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces.

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Operational Welfare Package: Personnel on Exercise Saif Sareea II

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider paying retrospectively an overseas living allowance to the personnel on Exercise Saif Sareea who failed to receive the operational welfare package that was introduced in April of this year.[HL787]

Lord Bach: No. Local overseas allowance is a payment to compensate individuals for the necessary day-to-day costs of serving overseas. It is not part of the military salary nor is it a reward for serving overseas. It offers at best an inefficient method of providing for welfare and is not considered appropriate for service personnel already in receipt of the operational welfare package (OWP).

We undertook a "from first principles" review of operational welfare in 1999 to seek a solution to a legacy of ad hoc and inequitable welfare provision in different theatres. The review determined that the most appropriate method of providing welfare support to service personnel deployed on operations was through the delivery of a comprehensive OWP. This was introduced in April 2001.

For Exercise Saif Sareea II the OWP includes: the installation of 676 telephones and a personal allowance of 20 minutes of publicly funded telephone calls per week; free forces aerogrammes and concessionary parcel rates; access to the Internet and e-mail; newspapers and book packs; BFBS TV and radio; televisions, video recorders and video tapes; Expeditionary Forces Institute shops; publicly funded laundry and a combined services entertainment show.

Although there have been occasional difficulties in delivering all elements of the OWP on time in some of the remote locations and in the harsh environment of Oman, service personnel on Exercise Saif Sareea II have generally received the OWP in full and work will continue to refine provision of the OWP.

Radar Data: Retention

Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean on 25 January (WA 22) which stated that radar data are only retained for 30 days and paper records for three years, why RAF Watton was able to confirm in writing to a member of the public in 1989 that it had a record of an unidentified flying object report over RAF Bentwaters, timed at 3.25 am on 28 December 1980.[HL730]

Lord Bach: As a general rule recorded radar data is retained for 30 days before being reused and air traffic control watch logs are destroyed after three years. Our searches have not revealed examples of any archived letters between RAF Watton and members of the public on the subject in question dating from 1989. I

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am, therefore, unable to comment on the correspondence to which the noble and gallant Lord refers.

Race Relations Act 1976: Section 71 Orders

Lord Graham of Edmonton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will bring forward secondary legislation under Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976.[HL937]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker): We have today laid two orders under Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976 (as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000).

The orders bring into effect the proposals set out in the consultation document on implementation of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 which was published on 22 February this year.

The first order brings some 300 additional bodies (or groups of bodies) within the scope of the general duty to promote race equality. The second imposes specific duties on the policy and service delivery functions of key public bodies to which the general duty applies, to ensure their better performance of the general duty. Separate duties are placed on schools and other educational bodies. It also places duties on the employment functions of bodies to which the general duty applies. The orders will come into force on 3 December 2001.

Passenger Aircraft: Evasive Action

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether pilots of British passenger aircraft have the same freedom of evasive action as their United States counterparts if they have to deal with hijack situations.[HL794]

The Minister of State Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): We are not aware of any such freedom for US pilots. Extreme manoeuvres by aircraft could pose a significant risk to the safety of an aircraft and its passengers.

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