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Pay and Personnel Agency

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bach: The chief executive of the Pay and Personnel Agency is responsible for providing civilian pay, pensions and personnel information services for the Ministry of Defence as defined in the agency framework document. The agency will be set the following key performance targets for 2003–04.

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    1. Achieve 99.0 per cent average timeliness and 97.8 per cent average accuracy for salary payments, expenses payments and pension awards.

    2. Increase the number of customer forms available on line from 17 in 2002–03 to 25 by March 2004.

    3. Provide customer service and business support for the Human Resources Management System (HRMS) by March 2004.

    4. Improve customer satisfaction from 76 per cent in 2000–01 and 85 per cent in 2002–03 to 90 per cent in 2004–05. [Note: this target is measured every other year and will next be measured in 2004].

    5. Increase the proportion of the agency covered by a single ISO 9001 2000 quality certification from 85 per cent in 2002–03 to 100 per cent by March 24.

    6. Achieve Initial Gate approval for the future pay system by September 2003.

    7. Achieve unit costs of no more than: salary payments £10.25, expenses payments £5.75; pension awards £130.00.

Gulf Region: British Armed Forces

Lord Campbell-Savours asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to withdraw British Armed Forces from the Gulf region. [HL2646]

Lord Bach: In the Written Statement given by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary (Mr Hoon) on 11 April (Official Report, cols. 38–39WS) in another place he said that we would continue to adjust our forces deployed to the Gulf region as appropriate, withdrawing units whose tasks are complete, and in due course replacing those whose tasks continue.

Decisive combat operations in Iraq are now complete, and coalition forces are increasingly focusing on stabilisation tasks. It will therefore be possible to make further force level adjustments over the coming weeks while continuing to meet our responsibilities to the Iraqi people.

For maritime forces, the redeployment of Royal Navy vessels has proceeded as planned. HMS "Ark Royal" has now left the Gulf region and is due to return to the UK in mid-May accompanied by the destroyer HMS "York" and RFA "Fort Victoria." In addition, we now plan to withdraw the helicopter carrier, HMS "Ocean", together with HMS "Edinburgh" and the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries "Fort Austin", "Orangeleaf", "Sir Bedivere" and "Sir Percivale". The RFA "Sir Galahad", "Sir Tristram" and "Bayleaf" are undertaking a rolling programme of maintenance in

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Singapore to allow them to return to the Gulf to continue to provide support to the humanitarian assistance effort. Further vessels will remain there for the time being to conduct mine clearance operations and force protection.

As the need for offensive air operations and close air support has significantly diminished, we can bring back further air assets. We have withdrawn around 45 aircraft from the Gulf region, both fixed and rotary wing, including Tornado F3 and GR4, Harrier GR7, Nimrod MR2, VC10 and E3-D aircraft as well as Chinook and Sea King helicopters. A further 26 helicopters will be withdrawn at the same time as HMS "Ocean".

For land forces, conditions now allow for the return of a further 3,500 personnel to the UK. This will include 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment, with elements of 26 Regiment Royal Artillery, 38 Engineer Regiment and 1st Battalion the Light Infantry. It will also include a number of individuals who were attached to a wide variety of ground units and formations to perform specific augmenting roles. Returning forces are due a period of post-operational tour leave to which they are entitled, following which they will begin to prepare for training and then redeployment on other important operational taskings. In some cases, this will mean a return to Iraq to take part in continuing operations. In addition, we intend to withdraw 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, who were the first of the land formations to be deployed, during the course of May.

We will now begin to prepare 19 Mechanised Brigade to take over from forces previously involved in combat operations in Iraq, allowing us to meet the continuing task of providing a stabilisation force within the UK area of operations. We would expect them to start this new task in July, commencing preparations immediately.

In spite of these changes significant pressures remain on the Armed Forces if they are to meet the full range of their commitments. In order to meet our continuing obligations in Iraq, we have authorised the issuing of further call-out notices, against the order made in January under Section 54(1) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996, sufficient to generate up to 1,200 reservists. There will be a requirement to call out further reservists as the operation proceeds, and we will keep the House informed of our plans. In parallel, we will be starting to demobilise those Reserves who are returning home. In time, the overall numbers of Reserves required in Iraq will reduce significantly. We have also decided to extend the tour of the 1st Battalion the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, enabling them to continue in their key role of ensuring security in the region of Az Zubayr.

While details continue to be clarified, we envisage that by mid-May between 25,000 and 30,000 UK service personnel will remain deployed in the Gulf region, continuing to fulfil our responsibilities towards the Iraqi people. The planned replacement of forces is clear evidence of our commitment to them.

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Our aim is to leave an Iraq that is confident, secure and fully integrated with the international community. The planning process to establish the precise level of the continuing UK presence needed to achieve this aim is a dynamic one, and is kept under review. We will also need to take account of the contributions of coalition partners. We will continue to withdraw assets and personnel from the region where possible, but we will maintain an appropriate military presence for as long as necessary.

16 to 19 Year-olds: Cross-government Review of Financial Support

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What will be the terms of reference for the cross-government review of financial support for 16 to 19 year-olds; and who will be represented among those who conduct the review.[HL2559]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In the 2003 Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report the Government stated that the review will report in spring 2004 and will examine the financial incentives for young people to participate in education and training and the interaction between this support and any new minimum wage for 16 and 17 year-olds; the financial support for young people and their parents or carers, including those who are living independently and those in very low paid employment; and how the system of financial incentives and support could be rationalised, given the variety of channels through which it is currently delivered.

The Chancellor will be discussing the detailed terms of reference for the review with Cabinet colleagues shortly.

Child Poverty

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the new measure of child poverty mentioned in paragraph 5.9 of the Budget report (HC500) will attempt to assess the numbers on levels of poverty below 40 per cent of average income; and, if not, why not.[HL2560]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): The Government launched Measuring child poverty: a consultation document in April 2002 to gather views on an appropriate measure of child poverty for the long term. This consultation was very well received and preliminary conclusions will be published in late spring 2003. Further technical work, with experts in the field will be necessary before finalising the detail of any new measure.

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Various low-income thresholds are already monitored through my department's Households Below Average Income series. This reports on the proportions of people living below 40 per cent, 50 per cent and 60 per cent of average (mean) income, as well as below 50 per cent, 60 per cent and 70 per cent of median income. This series is published under national statistics and is not subject to change through our consultation on child poverty.

Teenage Pregnancy Strategy

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Chief Medical Officer will, as requested by St George's Hospital Medical School, revise the January 2003 Chief Medical Officer's update 35 relating to evidence to support the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, in order to reflect the successes of abstinence education[HL2492]

Baroness Andrews: The position expressed with regard to abstinence education in the Chief Medical Officer's update is informed by high quality reviews of the international evidence. The most recent of these (Swann, C, Bowe, K, McCormick, G and Kosmin, M (2003) Evidence-Based briefing paper on teenage pregnancy and parenthood. Health Development Agency) considered the evidence from all high quality systematic and other reviews and meta-analyses published since 1996. Their findings reinforced the evidence base for the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. They concluded that "on the whole, our findings indicate that abstinence approaches (despite heavy funding provision in the US) do not work". There is therefore no basis on which to revise the January 2003 Chief Medical Officer's Update 35.

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