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Iraq: UK Force Levels

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bach: HQ 3 (UK) Division continues to command the Multinational Division (South-East) (MND(SE)) in Iraq, with contributions from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Romania.

We have begun a process of roulement of United Kingdom forces, which involves the incremental replacement of HQ 3 (UK) Division with a composite HQ MND(SE), the replacement of 19 Mechanised Brigade with 20 Armoured Brigade, the replacement of HQ 101 Logistic Brigade with a composite HQ UK national support element (NSE), the roulement of the combat service support units that will make up the UK NSE, and the mobilisation of around 1,000 Reservists. We expect the maritime and air elements of our presence in theatre to remain broadly stable.

A number of adjustments to our force levels in Iraq were made over the summer. Some of these were relatively minor, such as the withdrawal of around 30 armoured engineers and the short-term deployment of around 30 personnel from 23 Pioneer Regiment Royal Logistic Corps to undertake building and construction tasks around Shabah logistics base.

On a larger scale, we also deployed the 2nd Battalion The Light Infantry (2LI) and the 1st Battalion The Royal Green Jackets (1RGJ), to conduct a number of additional security and training tasks and provide MND(SE) with the flexibility and capacity to carry out surge operations designed to counter crime and enhance security. A recent major operation in MND(SE), Operation Sweeney, has resulted in 291 arrests, the seizure of six weapons caches, and the interception of 57 vessels and 58 vehicles involved in criminal activity.

Some of the additional requirements for which 2LI and IRGJ deployed are now being reduced or progressively transferred to Iraqi security forces. But some other requirements will continue over the next few months, including the provision of training for the new Iraqi civil defence corps. In overall terms, we assess that these continuing requirements can be met by approximately one battalion rather than two. When 2LI and 1RGJ are withdrawn from theatre in November and December they will therefore be replaced by the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 Para). We envisage that 2 Para will deploy from early November.

In addition to adjustments to force levels, we have also deployed further equipment to theatre, including over 200 armoured Land Rovers, three Puma helicopters and three Gazelle helicopters. Taken together, these enhancements provide MND(SE) with greater mobility, force protection and surveillance capabilities, increasing the flexibility and effectiveness of the force.

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We will continue to keep the size and mix of forces in theatre under close review, and we expect to make further adjustments as a matter of routine to ensure that MND(SE) has appropriate capabilities for the tasks in hand. This is likely to include temporary increases in force levels when appropriate, to provide the general officer commanding MND(SE) with additional tactical flexibility and help ensure that progress and momentum are maintained and where possible accelerated. To facilitate this process we intend as a matter of course to nominate two battalions as over-the-horizon operational reserves for Iraq.

Skynet 5

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made with negotiations to supply the Skynet 5 satellite communications service to the Ministry of Defence.[HL5178]

Lord Bach: We announced in February 2002 that the British-based consortium Paradigm Secure Communications had been selected as preferred bidder to supply the Skynet 5 satellite communications service to the MOD under the private finance initiative.

We are pleased to announce that last Friday contract negotiations were successfully concluded and that the Skynet 5 PFI contract, the biggest yet placed by the MOD, has been enacted.

The full value of the contract, which is planned to run until 2018, is expected to be around £2.5 billion and Paradigm expect it to create or sustain up to 1,900 jobs across the UK at its peak.

The MOD is getting this service at a significant value for money advantage compared to the costs that would have been associated with a more traditional procurement route.

The move to a PFI approach and accompanying fresh and innovative thinking has resulted in substantial savings. Skynet 5 is within budget and remains on target to achieve initial provision of new services from 2005. It is a clear example of how we are getting better military capability and better value for money by using Smart acquisition principles.

This deal will provide the MOD with a number of benefits, including transfer to risk to the contractor. Skynet 5 will also provide a greatly improved service with regular technology upgrades and the flexibility to cope with the growth in military satellite communications requirements we expect over the next few years.

The events of 11 September 2001 provided us all with a timely reminder to make sure that our key military communication and information systems

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have the necessary resilience to ensure business continuity. Skynet 5 services will provide this assurance under almost any conceivable scenarios. jenny

Veterans Agency:Chief Executive's Key Targets 2003–04

Lord Burlison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What key targets have been set for the chief executive of the Veterans Agency for financial year 2003–04.[HL5179]

Lord Bach: We have set the following key targets for the chief executive of the Veterans Agency for 2003–04. They are as follows: Service

    Key Target 1: To reduce the average time it takes to issue decisions on claims to war pensions to no more than 63 working days. This is an improvement of 19 working days on the 2002–03 target; and it represents a cumulative improvement of 37 per cent against the 2000–01 baseline level of 100 working days.

    Key Target 2: To reduce the average time it takes to issue decisions on war widows claims to no more than 23 working days. This is an improvement of 11 working days on the 2002–03 target; and it represents a cumulative improvement of 36 per cent against the 2000–01 baseline level of 36 working days.

    Key Target 3: To achieve an externally validated claims accuracy rate of at least 97 per cent. Personnel

    Key Target 4: To carry out an externally validated programme of internal Investors in People assessments during 2003–04 to determine whether the agency continues to meet the requirements of the IiP standards. Working in Partnership

    Key Target 5: To work with the Department for Constitutional Affairs Court Service to reduce the average time it takes an appeal to pass through the war pensions appeals process. By 31 March 2004 the average time should reduce to no more than 250 working days. This is an improvement of 60 working days on the 2002–03 target; and it represents a cumulative improvement of 56 per cent against the 2000–01 baseline level of 565 working days. Efficiency

    Key Target 6: To use the agency output costing methodology developed in 2002–03 to help identify and generate such administrative efficiencies and other savings as will enable the agency to operate within a 2003–04 running cost baseline figure that is three per cent less than its resource departmental expenditure limit for that year.

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Electoral Pilots

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What their policy is on accepting applications from local authorities to hold electoral pilots at by-elections. [HL5175]

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): The Government are looking at many ways, including all-postal ballots and e-voting, to modernise our electoral system and to increase the opportunities that people have to vote. To test the robustness of the new options and to build public confidence in them, we have undertaken an extensive programme of pilot innovations at local elections. This is why we are promoting legislation to permit further pilots to be held in a number of regions at the European Parliament and combined local elections in June 2004.

Our focus over the forthcoming months will be on working to ensure that pilots held at the combined elections are successful in delivering elections that are more straightforward and accessible for all electors. As a result, we are currently not minded to approve applications for by-election pilots for the period from 1 April 2004 until 1 August 2004.

Outside that period, our general approach on local authority by-election pilots is that while we will consider (as legislation requires us to do) all applications for pilots at by-elections, we are minded normally to approve such applications only if the proposals are consistent with the reommendations of the Electoral Commission as set out in The Shape of Elections to Come.

Standards Board for England Annual Report and Accounts 2002–03

Lord Hughes of Woodside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the annual report and accounts for the Standards Board for England for 2002–03 will be laid. [HL5180]

Lord Rooker: I have today laid the Standards Board for England's annual report and accounts for 2002–03.

The report and accounts cover the first year of significant operations by the Standards Board for England. At the end of March 2003, 2,948 allegations of misconduct had been referred to the Standards Board since the introduction of the code of conduct in May 2002.

As the annual report shows, the board is continuing to work in partnership with local government to promote and sustain the high standards of conduct, which are essential to public confidence in our local democracy.

Copies of the report and accounts are available in the Library of the House.

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