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If the noble Lord is instead referring to the appointment of junior counsel to act on behalf of the Government, then such a system already exists. My right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General appoints two First Junior Treasury Counsels (one Common Law and one Chancery) and four panels of junior counsel to advise and represent the Government in civil cases and seven junior Treasury Counsel to do likewise in criminal cases.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Government are currently considering the views of both the Electoral Commission and the political parties on this issue. No decision has yet been taken on when the regulations will be made. It is, however, not practical to introduce the new provisions before the local elections this May.
What progress has been made on the Watchkeeper project on the unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle.[HL1583]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): The new chapter to the Strategic Defence Review set out the potential for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) significantly to improve operational effectiveness. UAVs will be a key contributor to network enabled capability and their ability to provide persistent surveillance of the battlefield or theatre of operations, without putting aircrew lives at risk has been demonstrated recently by the US in Afghanistan.
The central element of the UK's current plans for acquiring UAVs is the Watchkeeper programme, which will provide UK commanders with accurate, timely and high quality imagery. Watchkeeper will be an advanced system integrating air vehicles, sensor payloads and ground control facilities. It will be joined
Four companies were invited to undertake the first stage of the assessment phase and to propose tenders for the second stage. All four submitted strong bids that demonstrated a good understanding of the programme requirements, the technical complexities and the project management requirements. Following detailed consideration of the proposals, on the basis of value for money and demonstration of the potential to deliver the best capability, we have today selected Northrop Grumman ISS International and Thales UK to take forward the remainder of the assessment phase. The Northrup Grumman team includes BAE Systems, Detica Limited, General Dynamics UK Limited, STAYSYS Limited and Ultra Electronics Limited. Thales (UK)'s team includes Aerosystems International, Elbit Systems Limited and QinetiQ.
Both selected bidders have indicated that they intend to complete the bulk of work in the UK, although it is too early at this stage to be precise regarding the full extent of the industrial benefits to the UK. These will be explored further in the remainder of the assessment phase, which will culminate by mid-2004 in the selection of a single successful contractor for the demonstration and manufacture phase. As stated in the SDR New Chapter, we remain committed to accelerating the Watchkeeper programe and an initial capability is planned for early 2006.
The Watchkeeper programme will be complemented by our plans to establish in 2003 a joint service UAV experimentation programme (JUEP). The JUEP will examine the potential of UAVs beyond the bounds of the Watchkeeper programme by enabling personnel of all three services to gain experience of exploiting different UAV systems with different payloads and configurations in a range of conditions.
The AFOPS provides a clear sense of direction for Armed Forces personnel policies. It does so by providing a framework of five strategic themes and some 28 personnel strategic guidelines. These cover the full spectrum of the service personnel policy agenda. The main document also highlights the challenges we will face in attracting and retaining our people for the future.
AFOPS is intended to deliver real and tangible effect. The new main document looks at the achievements of the past two or so years relating to service personnel and further lays out the actions which will be taken forward in the most critical areas during the next two years.
Lord Bach: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr Ingram) announced on 17 October 2002 (Official Report, col. 571) in another place that we had commissioned an appraisal of the initial training of recruits across the armed services and we undertook to publish findings. This appraisal was conducted by two senior officers from outside the personnel area and reported to Ministers. The leader of the study was given a wide-ranging remit and freedom to pursue the study.
Overall, the appraisal concluded that the department can have considerable confidence in the initial training system. It is administered and staffed by professional men and women with a strong sense of duty and purpose who have proved consistently successful in providing highly effective training for 23,000 recruits a year. Two areas were judged to need addressing. First, the department as a responsible employer needs to continue to ensure that its young people are managed proficiently, treated fairly and given appropriate levels of professional and personal support. Second, the department requires more rigorous assurance mechanisms to provide regular monitoring, to expose risk and to promote best practice. The appraisal concluded that an assurance authority should be established outside the single-service chains of command. Some of these proposals will require extra investment.
We are today placing in the Library of the House a copy of the appraisal, together with a departmental action plan responding to all of the recommendations and, where action is not already in hand or planned, assigning responsibility for examining the recommendation and taking it forward. The report is also available on the website: www.mod.uk.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The proposal to establish a new visitor centre is under discussion by domestic committees of both Houses, although I can answer only for the House of Lords. The proposal was considered by the Information Commitee on 8 January and by the Administration and Works Committee on 21 January. Both committees felt strongly that visitor facilities should be located within the Palace and that a location contiguous to Westminster Hall would be the best option. However, the committees were fully aware of the consequences of losing the W Rooms and of the potential impact on the CPA and IPU. The Administration and Works Committee therefore recommended that the House of Lords should give its backing to the scheme "only on condition that satisfactory alternative accommodation was found within the Palace, and that the Committee and those concerned were given an opportunity to examine the alternative before giving final agreement". It is for the authorities of the House of Commons to find such alternative accommodation,and we await the results of their deliberations. In the meantime, the House Committee will consider the conclusions of the Information and Administration and Works Committees on 4 March.