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Written Statements

Monday 12 November 2007

Armed Forces: Afghanistan

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

As part of our ongoing support to current operations, I am today announcing the formation of a temporary brigade headquarters to command UK forces in Afghanistan over the period October 2009 to April 2010. The brigade, which will be known as 11 Light Brigade, will be formed from existing service personnel and will be based in Aldershot.

The current deployment of UK troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is planned until 2009, although we have always made clear that our commitment to Afghanistan is a long-term one. The precise size and duration of the UK military in Afghanistan will depend on a number of factors, including the ability of Afghan security forces to take greater responsibility for the security of their own country. However, to ensure that any forces we might deploy are properly prepared and commanded, it is necessary for the brigade headquarters to be established now. We will keep our planning assumption under review, but currently we assess that this HQ would disband on its return from Afghanistan.

Armed Forces: Defence Technology Plan

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bob Ainsworth) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Ministry of Defence has today announced the development of the defence technology plan (DTP), a cost-balanced list of research and development (R&D) priorities for the MoD. The DTP will build upon the defence technology strategy (DTS), published in October 2006, and will provide clear direction to the R&D community, allowing industry and academia to better direct its investment in defence technology. Population of the DTP will continue throughout 2008.

The DTP will be a plan starting with capability-driven research goals, showing how the goals will be met by R&D activity supporting later phases of acquisition.

The DTP will set out the R&D programme by presenting a number of high level R&D objectives in the form of technology road maps. Each R&D objective will be described in similar terms to allow the R&D board to provide strategic direction and oversight of the entire programme.

The DTP is being developed by R&D staff in consultation with the wider stakeholder community and will be owned by the Defence R&D Board. The

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DTP will have a dynamic online format, allowing regular updates when necessary and will be available in three versions; a government version available on internal networks, a defence industry version available to appropriately security-cleared companies and a public version available on the internet.

Armed Forces: Service Complaints Commissioner

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Bob Ainsworth) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A number of improvements have been made to the service redress of individual grievance process (the service complaints process) under the Armed Forces Act 2006 in the light of recommendations made by Nicholas Blake QC. One of these is the establishment of the post of Service Complaints Commissioner, which will introduce an element of independence to the system and provide assurance that the system is working fairly and effectively. I am pleased to announce that Dr Susan Atkins has been appointed to the post of commissioner. She will have a comprehensive induction prior to taking up full duties when the new service complaints process comes into effect in January 2008.

As commissioner, Dr Atkins can receive complaints directly from service personnel, or allegations made on their behalf by family members or other third parties, about any wrong against a service person in relation to harassment, bullying or other improper behaviour, and will have the power to refer them to the chain of command for action. She will be notified of the outcome. The commissioner will also provide an annual report to the Secretary of State for Defence on the fairness, effectiveness and timeliness of the service complaints process which will be laid before Parliament and published.

The appointment of the commissioner is an important step towards the full implementation of the new service complaints process which is due to come into effect in January 2008.

Armed Forces: Service Personnel

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We are asking a lot of our service personnel, who are performing magnificently on operations across the world, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. In turn, it is only right that we support them as best as we can.

As a result of the recent high tempo of operations, we have quite rightly seen a greater focus on the support that we offer to our people and their families—both in theatre and at home.

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Over the past year, we have made significant improvements to the welfare package and to the support that we provide. These include: a rebate on council tax and a tax-free operational allowance for those on operations; an increase in financial support provided for coroners dealing with inquests, along with additional support for bereaved families; extension of the mental health assessments and provisions for both veterans and those serving on operations; a commitment to spending £5 billion over the next decade on accommodation; and a significant pay rise for junior soldiers, sailors and airmen and women.

There have been significant improvements to in-theatre medical treatment and facilities, and it is widely recognised that we provide first-class clinical treatment for those injured through both the NHS and the defence medical services. Better treatment and better equipment mean that our personnel are surviving injuries that they would not have previously survived. As a result, we have a number of casualties and personnel sustaining serious injuries who will need enduring support. As a Government, we are committed to making sure that the care pathway from initial injury to rehabilitation is as good as it can be.

We also acknowledge that some of the accommodation for service personnel and their families is not up to scratch and we are now rectifying decades of under investment. But we have also said that we want to ensure that our forces have the opportunity to get on the housing ladder if they wish and we are looking for the best mechanism to achieve this.

We believe that now is the right time to take stock and for the Government to set out their agenda for service personnel, their families and veterans. Our intention, therefore, is to publish a Command Paper setting out our existing support and, in the context of the challenges facing our service personnel today and in the future, the Government's vision for further support. We believe that we are doing a lot to enhance the support we offer our forces in areas such as accommodation, education, health care, family support, transition to civilian life and caring for our casualties. However, we can do more in all of these areas and we are committed to doing so.

We envisage engagement with key external stakeholders from the charity sector and our service families' federations.

Also, we will conduct a parallel study into encouraging greater engagement, understanding and pride in the UK Armed Forces by the nation as whole.

We expect that both these studies will be published in spring 2008.

EU: Economic and Financial Affairs Council

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Statement.

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held on 9 October in Luxembourg. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury attended for the UK. The items on the agenda were as follows:

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Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact

Ministers adopted a Commission recommendation to abrogate the excessive deficit procedure of the United Kingdom under Article 104(12) of the treaty, and a recommendation for the Czech Republic to take further action in order to end their excessive deficit, in accordance with Article 104(7) of the treaty.

The UK supports a prudent interpretation of the stability and growth pact (SGP) which takes into account the level of debt, the influence of the cycle and the level of public investment. The UK Government welcome the abrogation of the UK EDP.

Public Finances in the EMU

Following their discussion at ECOFIN in July, Ministers agreed conclusions on the Commission's annual public finances report and accompanying proposals aimed at improving the effectiveness of the preventive arm of the stability and growth pact by effectively applying the revised stability and growth pact.

Quality of Public Finances

Ministers adopted conclusions on the role that the modernisation of public administration can play in enhancing competitiveness, delivering better services, achieving better value for money and ensuring the control of government expenditure. This follows the discussion at the September Informal ECOFIN in Lisbon, at which the UK welcomed the sharing of experience between member states.

Developments on the economic and financial situation

Ministers discussed the current economic situation and disturbances in global financial markets, and the possible policy responses to the issues raised. The UK is committed to pursuing an effective, considered global response to these global financial market issues, and believes the financial stability forum provides the best route to pursue these aims.

Better Regulation

Ministers agreed conclusions on better regulation and its role in improving EU competitiveness. The UK welcomes the calls for further progress to be made both at member state and EU level towards reducing administrative burdens in the EU.


Ministers agreed conclusions on the economic aspects of flexicurity, which welcomed the Commission's work on developing an approach towards shared principles to develop labour market flexibility alongside support by social systems. The UK believes that fiscal sustainability is critical in the face of Europe's changing demographics.

Dialogues with third countries

The Commission presented Ministers with an update on its ongoing dialogues with third countries, including the USA, Japan, China, India and Russia, and focused on the economic, financial and regulatory aspects of the discussions.

Financial Services Clearing and Settlement

Ministers agreed conclusions on clearing and settlement, which covered the ECB's proposed Target 2 Securities project, the implementation and functioning of the code of conduct, progress on removal of the Giovannini barriers and the ESCB/CESR standards.

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These initiatives are intended to address deficiencies in the European clearing and settlement landscape—an area where the council has long been pressing for change. The UK welcomes progress in improving the European clearing and settlement landscape.

Financial Services— EU arrangements for Financial Stability

Ministers agreed conclusions on the long-running discussion of how to take forward EU arrangements for financial stability. The UK strongly supports efforts to improve financial stability arrangements, including financial crisis management arrangements in Europe, by ensuring that all member states have robust national crisis management arrangements, and welcomes improvements to cross-border communication and co-operation in financial crises.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Alistair Darling) has made the following Written Statement.

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council will be held on 13 November in Brussels. The items on the agenda are as follows:

Lisbon strategy: The new three-year cycle

The next governance cycle for the Lisbon strategy will run for three years from 2008-11. The council will discuss draft conclusions on the next three-year cycle for the Lisbon strategy, prepared by the Economic Policy Committee. It will also take into account a recent European Commission communication prepared at the request of the 2007 Spring European Council.

Globalisation: Capital and labour flows

The council will exchange views on the basis of a report on the economic impact of migration prepared by the European Commission, taking into account a paper prepared by the Economic Policy Committee.


The council will be invited to agree conclusions on EU statistical matters, including the 2007 EFC status report on information requirements, the reduction of the statistical burden, EU statistical governance, and the communication of major statistical revisions, as prepared by the Economic and Financial Committee. The UK welcomes work to reduce the statistical burden on member states.


VAT package—The council will discuss a set of measures that will modernise the EU VAT rules for the cross-border supply of services, with particular focus on proposed changes to the rules for the telecoms, broadcasting and e-services sectors. The UK supports the modernisation of the EU VAT regime.

Green taxation: Passenger-car-related taxes—Ministers will discuss Commission proposals for a new directive on linking car taxation to CO2 emissions.

Reduced VAT rates—Ministers will discuss Commission proposals to extend until 2010 most of the new member states' derogations for reduced VAT rates. The UK Government are supportive of the

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proposal to extend most of the temporary derogations granted to those member states that acceded to the European Union after 1 January 1995.

Global Navigation Satellite System (GALILEO): Financing aspects

Following the discussion at the July ECOFIN, there will be a further exchange of views on the financing of the Galileo project. The UK will continue to express concern with the Commission's financing proposal and argue that the option of reprioritising funds from existing programmes must be considered.

Presentation of the Annual Report by the Court of Auditors Concerning the Financial Year 2006

The council will receive a presentation from the European Court of Auditors on the 2006 general budget. This will be the first presentation that Ministers will hear on the 2006 budget, and will mark the start of the annual discharge process.

Health: Delayed Discharges

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Ivan Lewis), has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In response to questions from the honourable Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), the department placed tables in the Library on 29 October containing the numbers of patients in hospitals whose discharge had been delayed, and the total number of bed nights in each hospital trust lost as a result of such delays (Official Report, col. 1030W.)

Following further investigation of the data collection and reporting systems used to compile that information, I have to report that the information published contained significant errors that overstated the numbers in each category.

Contrary to the impression given by the original inaccurate tables and subsequent media reports, the situation is that bed-days lost because of delayed discharges have decreased by approximately 5 per cent in the past year. The revised information is available in the Library.

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