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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence (Adam Ingram MP) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Ministry of Defence has approved the launch of a two-year assessment phase for the future rapid effect system (FRES). FRES is the most significant armoured vehicle project for the next decade. It is central to the Army's future force structure, providing a family of network-capable armoured vehicles as part of a coherent and highly deployable medium-weight force. It will deliver a step-change in the capability of our forces to meet the challenges of future expeditionary operations. FRES is also intended to meet the need to replace a number of in-service vehicles, such as SAXON, with modern, battle-winning equipment.
The assessment phase will be led by a systems house, independent of product or manufacturing capability, selected for its programme management, risk management and systems engineering capabilities. The successful candidate will be selected via competition and a contract should be placed in late 2004. The systems house will provide an objective view of ideas and technologies, which may be applicable to FRES, and of the risks inherent in complex "system of systems" integration. It will exploit and build on previous work wherever possible. In addition, as part of an incremental acquisition approach, the assessment phase will include a range of risk reduction and technology demonstration work to examine the risks of relevant technologies and to determine if they are suitable for FRES, allowing the insertion of new technologies as they mature.
The FRES project also provides excellent opportunities for the UK defence industry to engage in the programme in line with defence industrial policy. The assessment phase will reach as wide and deep as possible to harness the broadest range of industrial capability, creativity and innovation. The systems house will therefore need to work closely with companies in the armoured fighting vehicle and other related sectors to draw on their expertise. There will also be opportunities for such companies to participate in the technology demonstration work during the assessment phase.
Options for future phases of the programme have deliberately been kept open, but the way forward for FRES announced today provides the right foundations for the project and for the successful delivery of this important capability.
During Standing Committee consideration of the Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill in February, concern was expressed that the Government should provide more independent oversight of the arrangements provided for the Armed Forces in this area. I made clear to Committee members that I recognised the intent behind these concerns and we have considered how we might respond. We have now decided that we will give the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) a role in externally validating the provisions of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS). We plan that this will be done in the context of their quinquennial valuation of the AFPS, though more frequent examinations of the scheme provisions could be undertaken if wider developments justified this.
The broad intent is that the AFPRB would compare the scheme provisions with practice elsewhere in the economy and consider the extent to which they meet the recruitment and retention needs of the Armed Forces. The review body's observations would then be made public in a supplement to the following annual report and the government would also make public its response to these observations. I am pleased to say that the chairman of the review body and his colleagues have agreed to take on this additional responsibility and we are now in discussion on the detail to determine the timing of the first such review. I am confident that this change will provide for more independence in reviewing the terms of the AFPS while equally helping us to ensure coherence across the broader remuneration package, comprising both pay and pensions. It should also provide additional reassurance for Service personnel by ensuring effective independent validation of the appropriateness of the pension provisions for our Armed Forces.
At the higher levels of attainment (i.e. level 3+ at key stage 1, level 5+ at key stage 2, level 6+ at key stage 3) match national level of performance in 50 per cent of the 12 subject elements in 2004, rising in equal steps to 66 per cent in 2006.
The first duty under the Freedom of Information Act to be implemented by government departments was the requirement to prepare publication schemes. The MoD's publication scheme is accessible via the Internet at www.foi.mod.uk. Since the scheme was published in November 2002, we have continued to look for opportunities to extend the commitment to make information available proactively. To date, a further five classes of information have been added to the original publication scheme and a process for identifying and adding more is in place. The new classes cover information provided by the Army Historical Branch, the Naval Historical Branch, Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) Corporate Documents, Defence Data Definitions, and Defence Statistics.
As a further step in this process, I am announcing today that a new class of information will be included to require publication of the consolidated results of corporate-level quantitative opinion surveys carried out to gauge the attitude of members of the public to the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. The results of similar surveys undertaken internally with a random cross-section of the department's own staff will also be published. The results of the external
From October 2004, we also plan to release the results of the continuous attitude surveys which are undertaken by each of the three Services to measure the morale and understand the concerns of their personnel across a spectrum of issues. These surveys are sent out annually to a random sample of around 8,000 military personnel at all ranks. This commitment to publish the results of these surveys will also be reflected through a class of information in the MoD's publication scheme.
Ensure the rationalisation and efficient usage of the current DMETA estate, reducing the balance sheet value of the estate as at 1 April 2003 by at least 50 per cent by 2010, thereby reducing the cost of training.