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Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many representations he has received from the (a) Armed Forces Pension Group, (b) individuals and (c) others in support of the Group; and if he will make a statement. 
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Mr. Ingram: No representations have been received directly from the Armed Forces Pension Group. However, since the start of 2001, around 230 individual representations have been received on the subject of pension rights for service prior to 1975. It is thought that the vast majority were from members of the Group or supporters of its objectives. We have also received a representation from a pensioners' federation.
Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what action he has taken in response to representations by the Armed Forces Pension Group that service in the armed forces should count towards their civil service pensions; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Ingram: Service in the armed forces and service with the civil service are different employments with different terms, conditions and career patterns. It is reasonable that each should be covered by a separate occupational pension scheme.
Whether service with the armed forces may count towards the civil service pension scheme is a matter for the Cabinet Office, who are the managers of the scheme. It should be noted that service covered by one occupational pension scheme cannot count directly towards the occupational pension scheme of another employer. However, a facility is available to enable the pension rights earned under one employer's occupational pension scheme to be transferred to the occupational pension scheme of another employer, but this is only possible where a transfer of the preserved pension benefits is made. Prior to 1 April 1975 there was no legal requirement for any pension scheme to preserve pension rights for those who left service before reaching the normal retirement age, therefore transfers did not take place before this date.
Financial year 200102ABRO working towards a contract with VDS have committed £251,276 to Base Inspection Repair of Challenger 2.
A Base Inspection Repair contract let by the Tank Support Systems Integrated Project Team is still under negotiation. With full production yet to commence, and pilot activity only undertaken to date, the maintenance costs have been negligible.
Mr. Ingram [holding answer 14 February 2002]: There are no formal arrangements in place for the Army Base Repair Organisation (ABRO) to act as a strategic partner with manufacturers for the repair of military
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vehicles. ABRO is having discussions with industry to develop future opportunities and currently has signed agreements to this effect with ALVIS and VDS which encourage the parties to discuss potential future projects.
Mr. Ingram [holding answer 14 February 2002]: The Army Base Repair Organisation (ABRO) does not maintain dedicated surge capacity for any specific equipments. The requirement for military surge capability is protected by both the diversity of the Ministry of Defence work placed with ABRO and the working regime that ABRO has in place to meet this.
Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proportion of the work allocated to ABRO in each of the last four years was put out to tender for competitive bids; and if he will make a statement. 
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Mr. Ingram [holding answer 14 February 2002]: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence after careful review has decided that the Army Base Repair Organisation (ABRO) should vest as a trading fund with effect from 1 April 2002. This will be the subject of debate in Standing Committee on 26 February 2002. ABRO provides a comprehensive engineering and logistics support service, principally repair and maintenance, for land-based equipment of Her Majesty's armed forces. The work ranges from the complete overhaul and modification of major military vehicles to upgrades to radios and weapons. ABRO provides independent equipment advice, support to obsolete equipment no longer provided by industry and a unique surge capacity. The need to meet military surge capacity is safeguarded by both the diversity of the Ministry of Defence work place with ABRO and the working regime that the agency employs. Trading fund status will enable the MOD to realise a broad range of benefits, including a clearer customer/supplier relationship through hard charging, while retaining the flexibility to support operations, which MOD ownership provides. Trading fund will also enable ABRO to sustain its operations in support of MOD by providing similar engineering services to industry under commercial arrangements.
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Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when his Department's studies examining disparities between entitlements of married personnel and those living in partnerships will be completed. 
Mr. Ingram: Disparities in the entitlements of married and unmarried personnel have reduced over the years. In its 2002 report the Armed Forces Pay Review Body commented that this was not a clear-cut issue for the services and that there was concern among married personnel that offering parity of treatment to partnerships will result in scarce resources being spread more thinly. Work on a number of related aspects of conditions of service, including pensions and allowances, is likely to continue for at least some months.
Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to review the removals package for single living accommodation to take account of trends in respect of personal possessions. 
Mr. Ingram: With effect from 1 April 2002 the current rank-based unaccompanied baggage entitlements for single and married unaccompanied personnel posted within the UK or to and from north-west Europe (defined for these purposes as Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands) will be superseded by an improved standard entitlement of 6 cu m for all ranks. This will more than double the entitlement for junior personnel (Privates and Lance Corporals and their equivalents). There are no current plans for a further review.
Mr. Hoon: Exercise Strong Resolve is NATO's largest exercise and is carried out every four years. This year, it is taking place between 1 and 15 March and involves some 26,000 troops from 26 nations. The United Kingdom is making a significant and balanced contribution to Strong Resolve 2002, including maritime, land, air and many specialist assets, such as signals units and other combat service support elements. Around 2,500 UK military personnel are taking part.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many employees in his Department who regularly use computers have taken up the provision of a free eye test; and how this service is advertised to (a) current and (b) new staff. 
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Dr. Moonie: The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, effective January 1993, require employers to provide and pay for, upon request from an employee, an eye and eyesight test. There is a requirement for further tests at regular intervals; the optometrist doing the first test can recommend when the next one should be. In addition, employers must pay the cost of special spectacles required where normal ones cannot be used. The Ministry of Defence meets all these obligations.
We do not record centrally how many employees who regularly use computers have been provided with a free eye test and this information could be provided only at disproportionate cost. As with all aspects of health and safety legislation MOD has auditable procedures in place to ensure that the system is properly managed. The requirement is defined in the MOD's health and safety handbook, and is publicised extensively in local and MOD wide newsletters and publications. It is also included in induction training courses for all new staff.
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