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21 Nov 2001 : Column WA139

Written Answers

Wednesday, 21st November 2001.

Minority Groups: Representation in Public Life

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking in response to the observations about disproportionately low levels of participation by members of minority groups in the Government and Civil Service, particularly the police and prison service, by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations of 29 October on the Fifth Periodic Report of the United Kingdom.[HL1300]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker): The Government are committed to encouraging greater participation of under-represented groups in public life. We are leading the way in ensuring that the public sector sets the pace in promoting race equality and diversity both within its own workforce and in the delivery of its services. The provisions contained in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, in particular the duty placed on public bodies to promote race equality, represent a key component of the Government's work to encourage greater equality.

The second annual report (published on 14 November) on progress towards meeting the Home Secretary's employment targets for the recruitment, retention and career progression of minority ethnic staff within the Home Office and its service areas confirmed that representation of minority ethnic staff has increased since the previous report last October.

The Government have also published (in February 2001) their second set of race equality indicators in public services and the third edition is likely to be published in February/March 2002. These indicators are designed to provide a robust performance management system for public bodies to use in monitoring their progress towards race equality.

The Government believe that these measures provide an effective framework for increasing the representation of minority ethnic communities in public life.

Sentencing Review

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the results of the public consultation on the review of sentencing. [HL 1536]

Lord Rooker: Making Punishments Work, the report of a review of the sentencing framework undertaken by John Halliday, and known as the Halliday Report, was published on 5 July and responses were invited by 31 October. The report was sent to a large number of

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individuals and organisations and a series of meetings was held with members of the public and representatives of the judiciary and other bodies to encourage consideration of the report and obtain views.

In order to encourage wider public involvement in the debate, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary launched the Fairer Sentencing website which contained a quiz, a facility to e-mail views and an on-line debating provision. In addition, debate was stimulated in local, regional and national media and honourable Members were encouraged to initiate discussion in their constituencies. A number of conferences have also been convened.

The level of interest and response has been considerable. Over 120 detailed responses have been received from individuals or organisations with connections to the criminal justice system and even more from members of the public by letter or e-mail or through the debating channel. In addition, the website received 33,482 page hits, the home page was visited 5,831 times, 2,839 copies of the layman's summary of the Halliday Review were downloaded, 1,171 copies of the Home Secretary's speech on sentencing reform were downloaded and 1,226 people completed the quiz on the website. This has been a unique opportunity to hold a public consultation on the point of sentencing and many members of the public have offered their own suggestions and alternatives.

There has been almost unanimous support for the need for change to the present sentencing framework, accompanied by a strong message that the change should be done well, properly resourced and then allowed to stand the test of time. There has also been broad support for the general thrust of the proposals, in particular the need for radical changes in the approach to short prison sentences. There is widespread recognition that it is unacceptable to have no supervision for an individual leaving a short prison sentence and that there are many opportunities for improving the effectiveness of both a prison sentence and a community sentence.

There has also been considerable support for greater transparency in sentencing.

There has been mixed support for the greater involvement of the courts in the management of sentences through review hearings. Many commentators have seen the strength of the arguments in terms of principle but have expressed doubts about whether the enormous practical difficulties could be overcome sufficiently well to justify that intervention in every case.

Officials are now analysing the responses in greater detail and a summary of the responses will be published, with copies in the Library, towards the end of January 2002. We then anticipate publishing a White Paper in spring 2002.

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Afghanistan: Cluster Bombs

Baroness Ludford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have made to the United States authorities with regard to the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan; and what is the Government's policy with regard to the use of cluster bombs (a) in Afghanistan and (b) more generally.[HL1231]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): We are in close touch with the US on all aspects of the response to the 11 September attacks, including at the military planning level.

Cluster bombs are legitimate weapons that have not been prohibited by any treaty or convention. Only a limited number have been used in Afghanistan and all those used contain bomblets designed to detonate on impact and to destroy buildings and vehicles. They are not designed primarily as anti-personnel weapons and do not contain any landmines. They are the most effective weapon against certain targets.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of their dual objectives of winning both the military and humanitarian campaigns against terrorism based in Afghanistan, whether they will review the use of cluster bombs, given the dangerous implications of the failure rate of those bombs for civilians in the short and long-term aftermath of any bombing raid.[HL1389]

Lord Bach: Cluster bombs are employed only against legitimate terrorist and military objectives where they are the most effective weapon to attack the target concerned. The coalition does everything it can to keep risks to civilians to an absolute minimum.

The UK is committed to a long-term process of reconstruction in Afghanistan and we are considering ways that disposal of unexploded ordnance could form part of that process.

Afghanistan: Unexploded Ordnance

Baroness Ludford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment has been made of the impact of unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan on (i) the civilian population of Afghanistan and (ii) any non-Afghan armed forces; and what plans have been drawn up to remove unexploded ordnance from Afghanistan.[HL1232]

Lord Bach: It is impossible to know how many civilians or non-Afghan armed forces have been affected by unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan, including that originating from before the present conflict. Military action inevitably carries risks but every effort is made in our targeting, and weapons selection processes are rigorous. Every effort is made to avoid civilian casualties.

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The Prime Minister has made it clear that the United Kingdom will not turn her back on Afghanistan and that any political settlement will be supported and sustained through rehabilitation and reconstruction. The clearance of unexploded ordnance may form a part of this programme.

Future Rapid Effect System: Reconnaissance Element

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the cancellation of the Tracer programme, when the reconnaissance version of the future rapid effect system will be able to replace the current armoured reconnaissance vehicles, which are about 20 years old.[HL1244]

Lord Bach: No decision has yet been made on the in-service date for the reconnaissance element of the future rapid effect system. As a result of the decision not to proceed beyond the assessment phase of the Tracer programme, the land commander's intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance requirements will be met principally by a combination of the Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle and manned ground reconnaissance. It is planned that Watchkeeper will enter service around the middle of this decade.

Tactical Radio Communications

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to equip the Army with reliable radio communications before the issue of Bowman in 2004.[HL1245]

Lord Bach : The Clansman family of radios and ancillaries remains the main tactical radio communications system operated by the UK Armed Forces and continues to meet the requirement it was delivered against in the 1970s. Clansman was originally due to go out of service in 1995 but will now remain fully supported until Bowman's in-service date (ISD) of 2004.

The limitations of Clansman are well recognised, which is why Bowman will replace it. Obsolescence is an acknowledged problem with equipment of this age and work continues to predict and address such issues. There are contracts in place with all of the equipment design authorities in support of this activity. Procedures are in place to ensure agreed levels of availability.

The procurement of up to 45,000 personal role radios (PRR) was separated from the main Bowman requirement in October 1999 to ensure delivery of these radios to the front line earlier than would otherwise have been the case. PRR is a new capability consisting of a short-range radio designed to facilitate communications within sections and other small military teams.

Deliveries of PRR began on 23 July 2001, ahead of schedule. The system was accepted into service on

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16 August 2001 and deployed with the Royal Marines on Exercise Saif Sareea. On current plans we expect to achieve formal ISD by the end of the year, some three months earlier than the declared ISD of March 2002.

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