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Stolen Equipment

Mr. Menzies Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what equipment has been stolen from his Department since 1 May 1997; and what the approximate value of each item was. [26839]

Mr. Ingram [holding answer 22 January 2002]: Reported cases of stolen equipment are held centrally on a summary basis and relate only to suspected theft by Crown personnel and contractors of stores and equipment, usually recorded as multiples or combinations of small value items such as tools, items of clothing, foodstuffs etc. Full details relating to each item of equipment proven to have been stolen could be provided only at disproportionate cost. However, a list of separately identified discrete items suspected of being stolen and with an estimated individual or collective loss value of 31,000 or more is given as follows:

Laptop Computers (34)76,688
Night Vision Goggles1,600
Dental Gold12,015
Propeller Blades32,000
Notebook Computer1,000
VHS Recorders (2)1,000
Engines (2) 4,162
Weapon Sight1,389
Outboard Motor1,101
Thinkpad Computer2,000
Land Rover Tyres (15)1,537
Weapon Sight1,736
Binoculars (3)1,190
Land Rover and Tools32,011
Laptop Computer/CD Rom/Printer3,485
Industrial Cleaner1,551
Spare Wheels (10)6,419
Land Rover FFR30,000
Personal Computer1,512
Night Vision Scope2,674
Common Weapon Sight1,424
Land Rover Spare Wheels (10)1,049
Litepro Projector4,445
Litepro Projector and Computer6,445
Laptop Computer and Printer1,449
LCD Projector4,274
Operational Ration Packs (4,000)2,755
Night Goggles (2)22,768
Mobile Phones (4)Laptop Computer2,000
Camouflage Poles3,500
Personal Computer/printer/power unit3,000
Diesel Stove2,918
Mobile Phone 'Top-Up' Cards (400)13,300
Vauxhall Astra1,206
Outboard Motors (3)3,108
Electric Winch1,772
Altimeters (14)5,142
Compact Projector/VCR1,921

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Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on spending within the budget on the Nimrod MRA4 programme; how much liquidated damages the MOD is seeking for the project's delay from BAE; what alternative means of delivering MRA4 capability are being considered; and how much longer the project is expected to be delayed. [30285]

Dr. Moonie: The budgetary data being sought by the hon. Member are contained in the Ministry of Defence's Major Road Project Report 2001 under section 2—"Project Costs", including information on the forecast receipt of liquidated damages. As to the question of further delay, the Major Project report also noted that the Department was engaged in discussions with BAE Systems over the incremental delivery of the MRA4 capability. These discussions are close to being finalised with the company. Until the negotiations have been completed, it will not be possible to be definitive about the impact, if any, on delivery.

There are no viable alternative means of delivery the MRA4 capability. Prior to selecting the MRA4 option, an investment appraisal was conducted that considered a full range of alternatives. The findings were conclusive and confirmed the requirement for MRA4. This view has not changed.

Army Attributable Pensions

Mr. Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence on what grounds his Department dismissed the issue of retired officers or their widows who have continued to pay tax incorrectly on retired pay awarded since 1952 on the grounds of disability attributable to or aggravated by service in 1997. [31462]

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Dr. Moonie: As I explained in my statement in the House on 23 January 2002, Official Report, columns 891–902, with regard to tax exemption of Army attributable pensions, the error was uncovered by a retired Army pensioner, Major Perry. Our records show that Major Perry first raised the taxation of his service invaliding pension in December 1997. He then went through two stages of appeal at higher levels and at each his arguments were rejected. It was only when he made a further approach that the error was recognised. The issue turned on whether only Service Attributable Pensions were tax exempt or whether, as in Major Perry's case, Service Invaliding Pensions should also be exempt. At the initial appeal stages, the position with regard to the law was misinterpreted and the difference in practice between the Army on the one hand, and the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force on the other, had not become apparent. It was only in 1998 that the correct legal position was recognised and action to remedy the error put in hand. The point at issue was not straightforward. The error should, however, have been recognised when Major Perry first raised his concerns and I can only reiterate our apology to him and those other Army pensioners or their spouses affected.

Mr. Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if he will make a statement on the investigations his Department has undertaken to ascertain the reasons for incorrect calculation of taxation under the relevant legislation of retired pay awarded to Army officers since 1952 on the grounds of disability attributable to or aggravated by service; [31463]

Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence has already reviewed the files of retired Army personnel and Army widows who had been in receipt of an invaliding pension; this involved some 20,000 files. When we identified the error in 1998, we provided information to ex-service and war widows' associations, who responded positively to our request to advertise the error to their members. We do not believe that there are many service personnel or their widows or widowers who have not been identified. None the less, we are keen to ensure that none has been missed. We have therefore provided details to help individuals identify if they might be affected on the MOD website. We intend to undertake national publicity shortly and we will use our service journals and other material which has a wide veterans' readership to ensure maximum coverage of this issue.

I do not intend to commission an independent inquiry on this matter.

The original error which allowed the taxation of Army attributable service invaliding pensions occurred in the early 1950s. At this distance, we would not expect all the relevant files to have been preserved and the Army personnel concerned will have retired and in many cases be deceased. Given the major changes to the way in which pensions are administered, over the period, I would also not expect there to be lessons of current relevance. I have, however, asked officials to assess whether there are any other pensions areas which may be similarly affected.

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Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether widows of those who have died from asbestos-related diseases will be allowed to claim relating to pre-1987 matters; how many claims he expects to be submitted; and if he will make a statement [31144]

Dr. Moonie: Claims from widows of former service men whose husbands died after being exposed to asbestos before 15 May 1987 would be barred from pursuing a claim by section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947. This legal restriction does not apply to widows of former civilian employees of the Department.

The legal standing of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 has been challenged in the High Court in the case of Matthew v. Ministry of Defence on the basis that section 10 is incompatible with the European convention on human rights. Judgment was handed down on 22 January 2002 in favour of the claimant, but the matter will now proceed to the Court of Appeal. Until such time as a higher authority has ruled upon the case, the Department's position concerning the settlement of claims predating the repeal on 15 May 1987 of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 remains unchanged. The Ministry of Defence is not able to predict how many claims may be submitted if a court of higher authority rules against the Department.

A war pension and associated benefits is however available for the widows of former service men whose death was attributable to their service. Such pensions are administered by the War Pensions Agency.

Gulf Veterans Illnesses

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on (a) the identification and treatment of and (b) compensation for Gulf War illness; and if he will make a statement. [31485]

Dr. Moonie: Neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence nor any of his ministerial colleagues have had such discussions. However, the Ministry of Defence's Gulf Veterans' Illnesses Unit has a full time Gulf Health Liaison Officer based in Washington DC, working with the US Military Veterans Health Co-ordinating Board and its subcommittees. Both directly and through the liaison officer, the MOD maintains close links with the relevant US authorities, including the executive office of the President, the Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs on all issues surrounding the complex issue of Gulf veterans' illnesses.

No-fault compensations for UK service personnel disabled as a result of their service is provided through the War Pension Scheme (WPS). The WPS applies to all those who have served in the UK forces and is administered by the MOD's War Pensions Agency (WPA). As at 31 December 2001, the WPA had received 1,264 claims for war pension in respect of Gulf veterans' illnesses, of which 1,086 had resulted in an award. Veterans may also be eligible for an Armed Forces Pension Scheme occupational pension and, if they have been medically discharged, this is supplemented by

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attributable benefits linked to the degree of disability or non-attributable benefits linked to length of service, whichever is the greater.

The MOD has about 2,000 active notices from veterans and members of their families of their intention to claim common law compensation in respect of illness allegedly arising from the Gulf conflict. However, we have still yet to receive any writs or claims of sufficient detail to allow these cases to be taken forward.

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