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Written Answers

Thursday, 30th March 2000

Armed Forces' Rifles

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the total number of rifles, indicating the number of rifles of each different model, that are at present on issue to HM Armed Forces; what steps they are taking to replace or modify them to bring them to the necessary standard of robustness and reliability; and whether they can estimate the time and cost required to take the necessary remedial action for this purpose.[HL1604]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The total number of rifles on issue to HM Armed Forces is 306,413. This covers the following rifle types:

    Rifle 0.22in No 8 Mk1

    Rifle 0.338in L115A1

    Rifle 0.50in M82A1

    Rifle 5.56mm L85A1 (SA 80)

    Rifle 5.56mm L98A1 (Cadet Rifle)

    Rifle 5.56mm M16A2

    Rifle 7.62mm L81A2 (Cadet Target Rifle)

    Rifle 7.62mm L96A1

    Rifle 7.62mm PM/PMS

    Rifle 7.62mm L100A1/L100A

I am withholding a detailed breakdown of the numbers of type under Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, which relates to Defence, Security and International Relations.

All types of rifle in-service with HM Armed Forces are continuously monitored for reliability and maintainability. This monitoring process is used to plan upgrade and modification programmes.

The majority of rifles used by the Armed Forces are of the SA 80 type. Experience in recent conflicts has shown that these rifles have a tendency to become unreliable when used in extremes of climate. We have now carried out statistically valid trials to confirm these problems and, as a result, are considering modifying the weapon to increase its overall reliability. A decision on the way forward is expected shortly.

Mozambique Emergency: Charges for Helicopter Use

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    (a) Why the Ministry of Defence sought £2 million remuneration from the Department for

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    International Development for the use of helicopters in Mozambique; (b) whether the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were consulted before reimbursement was requested; and (c) why this financial requirement was not met from central contingency funds.[HL1406]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: An initial cost estimate of about £2 million was provided to the Department for International Development in accordance with the principles of Government Accounting, under which we recover the additional cost of any goods or services provided to other government departments. As these principles are well established between departments, neither the Prime Minister nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer was consulted.

At the time, DfID was still funding the UK's response to the emergency in Mozambique from within its existing resources. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury agreed that if and when these are exhausted, the Secretary of State for International Development will be allowed access to the Reserve to continue funding the emergency rescue effort. This has been fully understood throughout the crisis and officials from the Treasury and DfID have been keeping in close touch.

TA Financial Systems Administrators

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With respect to the replacement of the Territorial Army's Financial Systems Administrators (non-regular permanent staff) by Executive Officer civil servants, what will be the "pay-back" period, taking into account the need to train Executive Officers and then rotate them in accordance with civil service regulations.[HL1607]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Year on year Band D civil servants (previously known as Executive Officers) will prove cheaper than Non Regular Permanent Staff in Finance and Systems Administrators posts.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What will be the full cost of accommodating all the civil servants being trained on residential courses to take up the posts of Financial Systems Administrators (non-regular staff) in the Territorial Army currently being undertaken by ex-Regular Army paid Non-commissioned Officers.[HL1608]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The cost of accommodation, which is arranged on an individual

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basis, and the travelling and subsistence costs of civil servants training to become Finance and Systems Administrators will depend on each individual's personal circumstances. It is estimated that the average cost for each of the 65 new FSAs will be in the region of £9,000.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the effect on morale of the Territorial Army's Financial Systems Administrators (non-regular permanent staff) being ordered to train the civil servants who will replace them.[HL1609]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The training of civil servants to become Finance and Systems Administrators is being carried out at the School of Employment Training at Worthy Down. There will be a requirement for the current incumbent to brief the incoming civil servant on issues specific to the unit in question, as is the case whenever a post holder changes. This handover will be treated as sympathetically as possible in the circumstances.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Ministry of Defence will recognise the industrial tribunal in respect of any claims by the Territorial Army's Financial Systems Administrators (non-regular permanent staff) who have been made redundant, in order to arrive at a fair resolution of their grievance.[HL1610]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Employment tribunals do not have jurisdiction to hear unfair dismissal claims brought by members of the Armed Forces.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the need, function or role of the Financial Systems Administrator (non-regular permanent staff) of Territorial Army units has been changed by the Strategic Defence Review, and, if not, how the non-regular permanent staff Non-commissioned Officers currently undertaking this duty can be redundant.[HL1611]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The need, role and function of the Finance and Systems Administrator in a Territorial Army unit have not been changed by the Strategic Defence Review. Examination of the manpower establishments of TA units did establish, however, that the function could be carried out more cost effectively in the long term by an appropriately trained civil servant.

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Kosovo: Railway System

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What successful steps have been taken by HM Armed Forces to improve the operation of the railway system in Kosovo in the last twelve months.[HL1655]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The operation of the railway system in Kosovo is primarily the responsibility of UNMIK. However, KFOR has made operational 229 km of railway track and restored railroads between Kosovo Polje and Pec, between Prizren and Klina and from Skopje (in Macedonia) and Mitrovica.

UK Armed Forces are also playing their part in rebuilding Kosovo's infrastructure and currently contribute two "Steelman" locomotives for shunting purposes. Seven operating personnel will shortly deploy to the province to ensure the safe and proper operation of the locomotives.

Chechnya: Assistance

Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What Britain has done to minimise the suffering of the civilian population in Chechnya; and what is being done to help the Chechen refugees in the neighbouring Russian Republic of Ingushetia.[HL1692]

Baroness Amos: The UK, together with EU partners, has condemned the use of indiscriminate and disproportionate force in Chechnya. We have taken every opportunity to call for a political process to end the conflict. We have asked for a full and transparent investigation into allegations of human rights abuses, and for improved access to the region for international organisations. To assist displaced people in the region, the UK is contributing £1.7 million to the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, and around 0.8 million euro (£0.5 million) as our contribution to the assistance allocated by the European Commission Humanitarian Office.

Civil Actions: Statistics

Lord Ackner asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many civil actions were commenced in each of the years 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999:

    (a) in the County Court; and

    (b) in the High Court.[HL1601]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The information is as follows:

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County Court2,467,0282,358,5352,228,2922,270,4902,265,072
High Court195,875182,241159,806152,41279,068

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Access to Justice Act, Section 30: Costs Recovery

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which bodies the Lord Chancellor intends to prescribe as entitled to take advantage of the costs recovery provisions contained in Section 30 of the Access to Justice Act 1999; what criteria he will take into account in determining status as a prescribed body; and what procedure should membership organisations follow if they wish to be approved as prescribed bodies.[HL1817]

The Lord Chancellor: Section 30 of the Access to Justice Act 1999 comes into force on 1 April. From that date membership organisations with prescribed body status will be able to recover a sum as part of legal costs from unsuccessful opponents to reflect the provision of legal help for members and their families.

By virtue of the Access to Justice (Membership Organisations) Regulations 2000, which also come into force on 1 April, bodies which are prescribed for the purpose of Section 30 of the Act are those bodies which are for the time being approved by me.

From 1 April I will approve all trade unions listed by the Certification Officer as at 31 March 2000 as prescribed bodies. Other membership organisations may apply to me for approval.

Rather than setting down rigid criteria for prescription in regulations, I believe that there should be a flexible approach with each application for approval treated on its merits. Therefore, in deciding whether an organisation should be approved, I will take account of any relevant representations in its application, but will be mindful, so far as it is relevant, of whether the organisation in question:

    Exists to protect, defend, represent and promote the interests of its members.

    Has a range of benefits for members.

    Offers litigation funding as one of those benefits and on a discretionary basis, at no additional charge.

    Publishes annual accounts.

    Uses monies paid by members to promote their interests and benefits.

    Covers all those deemed eligible by the organisation (not only members).

Organisations wishing to seek my approval as prescribed bodies for the purposes of Section 30 of the Act should apply in writing to:

    Costs and Litigation Funding Branch

    Lord Chancellor's Department

    3rd Floor Selborne House

    54-60 Victoria Street

    London SW1E 6QW.

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