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Gulf Troops: Free Letters and Packets

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bach: Further to the announcement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 2 April in another place, we can now set out the way in which we intend to implement a service to allow families to send packets free of charge to troops

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deployed in the Gulf. This service will be limited to letters and packets of up to 2kg in weight and will be implemented when the operational situation allows. The priority at this time must remain the operational requirements of our service personnel.

The system will allow families to send addressed letters and packets to individuals serving in the Gulf through Post Office Counters free of charge. The Royal Mail Group will transport these parcels to British Forces Post Office (BFPO) at Mill Hill. BFPO will arrange onward transportation to the Gulf and distribution in theatre. Mechanisms are being put in place to handle the anticipated increase in mail. Further details will be announced nearer the time when we are ready to implement the new procedures.

For the free service to work for the benefit of all, we would ask families to restrict the number of packets they send in order that the system does not become overwhelmed, thus creating delays in delivery of mail.John B

This scheme is aimed only at those closest to the service personnel who are serving in this operation. We will not be providing a service for packages which do not have a named recipient. This will help to ensure that the new scheme for letters and packets is well targeted without overloading the logistics support network and delaying vital messages and packages from loved ones. For those who might wish to show more general support for our troops, we would encourage contributions to the UK Forces Gulf Fund (details available at and 0800 107 0200) which has recently been set up to allow the public to support those injured as a result of their deployment in support of military operations in the Gulf and the families and dependants of those who have been killed.

Royal Navy Nuclear Submarine Berthing, Clyde

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a contract has been awarded for the Royal Navy submarine berthing facility at HM Naval Base Clyde.[HL2486]

Lord Bach: The Ministry of Defence's contract for the provision of new jetties in support of the Royal Navy's nuclear submarine fleet at HM Naval Base Clyde was awarded on 31 March 2003 to AMEC plc.

Amec has been awarded the design, construction and commissioning contract, worth approximately £100 million, as part of its existing prime contract.

The contract will provide a floating jetty facility that provides four alongside berths, two of which are double berths, thereby giving six fully serviced berthing positions. The construction is due to be completed by 2007.

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Military Service: Compensation Tribunal

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the tribunal which applies the standard of proof of reasonable doubt to compensation cases related to medical conditions caused or aggravated by military service is operating satisfactorily.[HL2219]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943 provides a right of appeal to the pensions appeal tribunals in cases where the Secretary of State does not accept a claim for a war pension, under certain conditions.

In 2001, the Government consulted widely on a document The joint compensation review. The aim was to produce proposals to replace the current compensation scheme with modern, fair and simpler arrangements while ensuring that appopriate benefits are targeted at those most disabled, and to reduce the number of claims for compensation which have to be settled in court.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is currrently considering the responses to this consultation and will bring forward proposals in due course. John B

European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 4

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

    Whether they intend to ratify Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights .[HL2292]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The matter is under consideration as part of the Government's interdepartmental review of international human rights instruments. The review is due to report to Ministers by this summer. I shall report the outcome shortly thereafter.

NHS: Free Prescriptions for People over 60

Lord Lipsey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much it cost the National Health Service to provide free prescriptions to people aged 60 and over in the last year for which figures are available.[HL2399]

Baroness Andrews: In 2001–02 it is estimated that around 322 million prescription items were dispensed in the community in England free of charge for people aged 60 and over, with an estimated net ingredient cost of £3,218 million.

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NHS: Voucher Scheme for Spectacles

Lord Lipsey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much the National Health Service voucher scheme for glasses cost in the last year for which figures are available.[HL2400]

Baroness Andrews: In 2001–02 an estimated 3.6 million vouchers for spectacles and 0.4 million applications for repairs and replacements of spectacles were reimbursed by health authorities in England, at a costof £139 million.

NHS: Dental Check-ups

Lord Lipsey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much it would cost to provide National Health Service dental check-ups free to every adult in England.[HL2401]

Baroness Andrews: About a quarter of dental examinations carried out on adults in England in the General Dental Service have either no patient charge or else the patient pays a reduced charge. It is estimated that making dental examinations free to every adult in England would cost approximately £87 million at 2002–03 charge rates and current demand. Additional costs would arise if there were any associated increase in the overall number of dental examinations and National Heath Service dental treatments. Joan

NHS: Eyesight Tests

Lord Lipsey asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much it would cost to offer eye tests free to every adult in England, taking into account both Department of Health guidance that the appropriate interval between eye tests for the majority of adults is two years and likely take-up; and[HL2402]

    How much it would cost to offer National Health Service eye tests to every adult in England at the current subsidised rate of £16.72, taking into account both Department of Health guidance that the appropriate interval between eye tests for the majority of adults is two years and likely take-up.[HL2403]

Baroness Andrews: Based on the current number of private sight tests, the cost of extending National Health Service sight tests to this group, at the current rate of £16.72, would be an additional £80 million for England.

It is not possible to estimate whether such a change would lead to any additional sight tests being undertaken.

NHS sight tests are already available to certain priority groups, mainly people aged 60 and over, children under 16, those aged 16-18 in full-time education, people on low incomes who might otherwise be deterred by the cost of a private sight test and defined categories of people at particular risk of developing eye disease.

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Education of Children in Care

Baroness Billingham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps have been taken to fulfil the commitment in the Department of Health's public service agreement to review the target for the education of children in care in light of the Social Exclusion Unit project on that subject.[HL2469]

Baroness Andrews: I regret the reply on children in care I gave on 31 March (WA 107–8) was incorrect. It should have read as follows:

The Department of Health's public service agreement (PSA), published July 2002, included a commitment to review the target on the education of children in care in light of the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) project on that subject. Work on the SEU project is nearing completion and we are now in a position to announce the new target, which is to improve life chances for children, including by substantially narrowing the gap between the educational attainment and participation of children in care and that of their peers by 2006.

This target will have been achieved if by 2006: outcomes for 11 year-olds in English and maths are at least 60 per cent as good as those of their peers; the proportion who become disengaged from education is reduced so that no more than 10 per cent reach school-leaving age without having sat a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) equivalent exam; and the proportion of those aged 16 who get qualifications equivalent to five GCSEs graded A*-C has risen on average by 4 percentage points each year since 2002; and in all authorities at least 15 per cent of young people in care achieve this level of qualifications. John B

The elements of the PSA target relating to the level of education, training and employment outcomes for care leavers aged 19, the proportion of children in care who are cautioned or convicted and the under-18 conception rate remain unchanged.

In developing the target we have been keen to encourage action to support attainment by all children in care. This includes younger children, those who are able to and have the potential to achieve at a high level and those with difficulties who need support to remain engaged with education at all.

We therefore welcome the SEU's proposal that as part of the existing planning process individual education targets should be set for all children in care and local authorities should monitor both the appropriateness and the achievement of these targets. We will be consulting stakeholders on how best to achieve this.

In order that the target reflects the influence of the care system on attainment, it will apply only to children who have been in care for one year or more. Nonetheless, we believe that promoting the attainment of children who spend a shorter time in care is important. We have therefore agreed with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills that he will put in place arrangements to analyse data from the

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Pupil Level Annual School Census in order to improve our understanding of outcomes for those young people who have spent any time in care. The results of this analysis will be used to inform the development of future policy.

Copies of the technical note accompanying the new PSA target have been placed in the Library.

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