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The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The exercise of public functions by an organisation may bring those activities within the ambit of the Human Rights Act 1998. It would, however, be for a court or tribunal to decide in individual cases whether an organisation is a public authority or, if not, whether it is nevertheless to be regarded as a public authority because it performs certain functions of a public nature. The application of the Human Rights Act 1998 is among the matters at issue in the case of Aston Cantlow and Wilmcote with Billesley Parochial Church Council v Wallbank and another which is to be heard by the House of Lords later this year.
The Lord Chancellor: The provision of legal services in Scotland, which includes the appointment of Queen's Counsel, is a devolved matter within the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. The First Minister of the Scottish Executive makes recommendations annually to Her Majesty the Queen about which advocates in Scotland she should appoint as Queen's Counsel. These recommendations are made after detailed discussion with the Lord President of the Court of Session, who has himself consulted all sectors of the legal profession in that jurisdiction.
The Lord Chancellor: There have been two Queen's Counsel competitions in the past five years. On each occasion after careful consideration I agreed with the recommendations made by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): Some 450 expressions of interest have been received to date from civilian consultants and general medical practitioners in response to our golden hello recruitment scheme announced on 19 November 2002. Of these, 33 were from civilian consultants who were found to meet the recruitment criteria. So far, two of these consultants have applied to join the Armed Forces.
Lord Bach: We have no plans to enhance the current death-in-service benefits ahead of implementing the findings of our reviews of the Armed Forces pension and compensation schemes. Current attributable benefits paid to a widow under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS) and the War Pensions Scheme (WPS) are among the more generous of the
Where the member dies in service from attributable causes and leaves a widow, widower and/or dependent child, a short-term family pension, equal to the service person's annual rate of pensionable pay, is payable for up to 182 days. The short-term pension maintains the household income level in the early months of bereavement. In addition to the basic death-in-service lump sum, an attributable gratuity is also payable equal to the annual rate of a full career pension. Thereafter, a long-term widow's or widower's, and children's pensions are paid. Attributable widow(er)'s pensions are significantly enhanced, index-linked and paid for life, regardless of whether the widow(er) remarries or cohabits. The attributable widow's and widower's pension is 90 per cent. of the member's full career pension, less an abatement to reflect the amount by which the War Pensions Scheme war widow's or widower's pension exceeds the basic state widow's pension. Attributable children's pensions are also enhanced, index-linked and are paid until age 17 and may continue if higher education is undertaken. Apart from these valuable occupational pension benefits, the WPS provides additional compensation for families of those service personnel whose death is attributable to their service. This includes a tax-free War Widow's Pension.
The department's reviews of the Armed Forces pension and compensation arrangements have included consideration of the level of death-in-service benefits. We expect to finalise proposals for the new AFPS and make a public announcement of the key proposals, early this year. However, the new schemes are not expected to be available before 200506.
In the meantime, should service personnel consider that the AFPS and WPS benefits do not meet their personal circumstances, they should continue to make personal life insurance provision. As I indicated in the House on 29 January 2003 (Official Report, cols. 112932), we recognise that some service personnel who are being deployed to the Gulf are having difficulty in securing new life assurance cover in order to enhance their families' financial security. Insurance cover is still available but the Government are examining options should this situation change.
Challenger 2 is a world-class battle-winning tank. There were no major mechanical problems with Challenger 2 tanks on Exercise Saif Sareea II, but the exceptionally dusty conditions in Oman resulted in higher use of air filters than had originally been planned for. As a result of the lessons identified during the exercise, modifications to improve the performance of the tank in desert conditions are under way.
Lord Bach: Prolonged absence from a property should be notified to the property insurer, which may require additional security measures to be taken as a condition of continued insurance cover. There may also be an increase in insurance premium and/or an increased excess payable by the insured in the event of a claim. To compensate personnel, regardless of marital status, for the effects of separation from home life, reservists who meet the eligibility criteria receive longer separated service allowance (LSSA) or (for those serving seagoing units) longer service at sea bonus (LSSB). These are payable at three rates (basic, middle and higher) dependent on periods of accumulated separation (for LSSA) or length of sea service in qualifying units (for LSSB). In addition, when called-out, reservists are paid the full X-factor, which is an additional 13 per cent. of their basic pay. The X-factor takes account of the relative disadvantages of conditions of service experienced by members of the Armed Forces compared with those in civilian life.
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