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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I cannot offhand but I am sure that there are other capital cities with decentralised arrangements. That is certainly the case in the United States and in many parts of the

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world. Decentralisation means what it says. It means that we devolve responsibility to regional and local government. That is an entirely proper thing which I support and have always supported.

Lord Peston: My Lords, although I entirely accept that his answers are formally correct, does my noble friend believe on reflection that when the Mayor's crackpot scheme ends in tears, as it undoubtedly will, the Government will escape censure and that the public will accept—I speak from our side of the House—the formalistic answers that we have heard today? Surely the public will say that the Mayor was initially at fault but they will add that the Government ought to have done something about the matter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if they do, they will be wrong.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government must have a view about the effects of the rephasing of traffic lights? Although it is pleasant to see pedestrians amiably wandering around at leisure there is nevertheless a great build-up of traffic, including buses and lorries, at traffic lights for considerable periods. Is it any surprise that cyclists are now going across red lights as a matter of self-preservation? They would rather risk doing that than die of asphyxiation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am rather shocked at those comments. It sounds to me as if the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, is condoning breaking the law. I hope that he does not intend that. The phasing of traffic lights is a matter for the Mayor of London. I shall of course ensure that the views of noble Lords are communicated to Transport for London.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, my noble friend said that these issues are sometimes discussed when the Mayor meets transport Ministers. Can we look forward to some transparency and openness with regard to those exchanges so that at least we can try to move towards a resolution of the problems?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall communicate that view to Ministers in the Department for Transport who have contacts with the Mayor and Transport for London.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, are the Government happy with the handling of London's traffic by the Lord Mayor?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Lord Mayor is not responsible for traffic in London. If the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, meant the Mayor, various members of the Government have various views on those matters, but they are devolved.

Lord Greenway: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, unfortunately, we should move on.

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Armoured Fighting Vehicles

11.30 a.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the maintenance and state of readiness of the Army's armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) for action in Afghanistan and other fields following the experience of the battlefield exercise in Oman.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government are satisfied that they can support and sustain the deployment of armoured fighting vehicles on all current operations. The lessons learnt as a result of Saif Sareea in Oman are being taken into account in operational planning.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. In view of the fact that this is the last Question before the Summer Recess, he can consider himself jolly lucky that I withdrew my original Question on the Army's rifle. Is it not the case that about 25 per cent of Challenger tanks are currently out of action, as are a smaller number of Warriors? What steps are being taken to ensure that those vehicles are fitted with filters that will enable them to fight in the troubles in Afghanistan or possibly in Iraq and other such countries?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, who is always welcome to ask questions about rifles or anything else he pleases, and I am happy to answer such questions.

There always will be armoured fighting vehicles that are out of action temporarily. The air filter issue was quite separate; we have debated it in your Lordships' House quite sufficiently. The noble Lord knows that we have an excellent armoured fighting vehicle fleet in this country, which is in many ways the envy of the world.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble friend say whether the position of the British Army today is better than that in the armies of western European member states of NATO and better than it was a decade ago? Would it not be appropriate to recognise that British armoured fighting vehicles today stand in impressive comparison with international competition?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the answers to those questions are of course "Yes". We have arguably the finest armoured fleet in the world. When using highly sophisticated equipment robustly in demanding environments, as we do, there will from time to time be problems. Frankly, we have a fleet of which we can be proud. That is said not just by retired generals on television but also by those who have to use the equipment.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, while I agree with the Minister that we have the finest armoured vehicles at

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the moment, as at 31st March this year 64 Challenger 2 tanks were not fully operational in the six front-line operational regiments. How many are still not operational today? Has the skilled labour force been increased to avoid having 11 Challenger 2s lying idle and awaiting work? Can he explain the reason for a crane not being available for an engine lift and will he confirm that there is sufficient workshop space available to repair tanks whenever necessary? Will he confirm that sufficient major assembly spares are now held to allow for immediate repairs, so preventing long periods of delay in repairs to Challenger 2 tanks?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I can confirm, as the noble Lord said, that 64 Challenger 2s were not fully operational. Many of them could become fully operational at literally an hour's notice. The figure is not remarkably high; it was recorded at the end of March, which, I am told, is at the end of the build-up training period of the year. The tanks had been used a great deal during January, February and March. The figure is probably slightly higher than it otherwise would have been; it is not a matter of concern. I had the great pleasure of handing over the 386th Challenger to the Army. I must show the noble Lord the photographs some time.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, will the noble Lord assure me that the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers is able to recruit and is getting the numbers required in that unit?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord the answer to his precise question on recruitment, but recruitment generally in the Army is good at the moment. I shall inquire into the situation regarding REME and write to him.

Lord Roper: My Lords, reverting to the original Question, which was about the

"experience of the battlefield exercise in Oman", and the lessons learnt, do the Government intend to publish details of the lessons learnt from that exercise and the subsequent operations in Afghanistan?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Ministry of Defence has published quite a lot recently and I should not want to bore noble Lords or members of the general public with excess reading matter. To give a more serious answer to the noble Lord's question, I shall inquire into whether we intend to publish anything. I do not believe that it is our intention to publish anything on Oman in particular but our attitude has been shown by various Answers in this House and in the other place.

Lord Elton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I have been sitting here trying very hard to be reassured by his comments? The fact that between 20 and 25 per cent or our main battle tank capacity is out of action during peacetime makes me wonder what things would be like in wartime.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord knows better than his question implies. The fact is that

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all armoured fighting vehicles are from time to time out of action because they need either major or—in most cases—minor repair. If they were needed, they could be put into operation very quickly. The noble Lord should be reassured, as I said. No one has gainsaid the fact that we have an excellent armoured fighting vehicle fleet in this country.

Financial Assistance to Opposition Parties

11.36 a.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That, in the opinion of this House, the provisions of this Resolution should have effect—

(a) in place of the Resolution of 27th November 1996 (giving of financial assistance to opposition parties in this House) in relation to the giving of such financial assistance for periods after 31st March 2002, and

(b) in relation to the giving of financial assistance to the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers for periods after 31st March 2001:

(1) Financial assistance shall be available to assist the Opposition, the second largest opposition party and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers in carrying out their Parliamentary business.

(2) The maximum amount of financial assistance which may be given is—

(a) for the year beginning with 1st April 2002—

Opposition.......................................... 390,555

second largest opposition party.......... 195,000

Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers..... 35,000

(b) for each subsequent year, the maximum amount for the previous year increased by the percentage (if any) by which the retail prices index for the previous March has increased compared with the index for the March before that, and (if the resulting amount is not a whole number of pounds) rounded to the nearest pound.

(3) The financial assistance available under this Resolution includes assistance in respect of expenses incurred before the passing of this Resolution.

(4) In the case of the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, financial assistance shall also be available, to a maximum of 35,000, to assist him in respect of expenses in carrying out his Parliamentary business for the year beginning with 1st April 2001.

(5) Any claim for financial assistance by a party or the Convenor ("the claimant") is to be made to the Accounting Officer of the House; and the claimant must—

(a) provide that Officer with a statement of the facts on which the claim is based;

(b) certify to that Officer that the expenses in respect of which the assistance is claimed have been incurred exclusively in relation to the claimant's Parliamentary business; and

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(c) as soon as practicable after each 31st March following the passing of this Resolution, furnish that Officer with the certificate of an independent professional auditor to the effect that all expenses in respect of which the claimant claimed financial assistance during the period ending with that day were incurred as mentioned in sub-paragraph (b) above.

(6) Paragraph (5)(c) does not apply to a claim for assistance under paragraph (4), but when making such a claim the Convenor must provide the Accounting Officer of the House with the certificate of an independent professional auditor to the effect that all expenses in respect of which the claim is made were incurred exclusively in relation to the Convenor's Parliamentary business.

(7) In the case of any year in which there is a General Election—

(a) the period ending immediately before the date of the Election and the period beginning with that date are to be treated as separate periods;

(b) the maximum amount which may be given to each claimant for each of those periods is a proportionate part (rounded to the nearest pound) of the maximum amount for the year in question; and

(c) in relation to the first such period, paragraph (5)(c) has effect as if references to the last day of the period were substituted for references to 31st March.

(8) In this Resolution—

(a) the "Opposition" means the party in opposition to Her Majesty's Government having the greatest numerical strength in the House of Commons;

(b) the "second largest opposition party" means the party in opposition to Her Majesty's Government (other than the Opposition) with the greatest number of Members of this House among its members;

(c) the "retail prices index" means the general index of retail prices (for all items) published by the Office for National Statistics (or any index or figures published by that Office in place of that index); and

(d) "year" means a year beginning with 1st April.—[Lord Williams of Mostyn.]

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