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Written Answers

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2007

Written Answers

Tuesday 24 July 2007

Airports: Sale of Liquids

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of whether liquids packaged in units of more than one litre sold at a United Kingdom airport duty-free location have been produced, bottled, handled and transported in a secure environment; and [HL4710]

What assessment they have made of the possibility that United Kingdom companies or subcontractors that produce, bottle, handle or transport liquids packaged in units of more than one litre for sale at a United Kingdom duty-free location could be infiltrated by a terrorist unit. [HL4711]

All items taken into the restricted zone of an airport are subject to a screening regime. The noble Lord will understand that on security grounds I am unable to reveal any information that might be useful to those who seek to carry out acts of terrorism.

Armed Forces: Coroners' Inquests

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Drayson on 13 June (WA 259-60), how many meetings the inquest cell has held to review the Ministry of Defence’s processes for supporting coroners, broken down by date; what stakeholders attended those meetings; and what was their outcome. [HL4868]

Since its formation in February 2007, the inquest cell has held daily discussions with the Oxfordshire coroner’s office to discuss best practice in the management of future inquests. Moreover, the team also works with coroners across England and Wales in support of “home coroner” procedures. Discussions concerning policy and procedures are held on a daily basis with a range of stakeholders, including representatives of the single services, and MoD policy, legal and operational staff.

The outcome of these meetings has been the development of best practice, agreement on joint ways of working and development of policy on disclosure of information, all of which are intended to provide better support to bereaved families and coroners. As a result of the work of the inquest cell and other government efforts, the backlog of inquests in Oxfordshire has now been addressed, with only four military and four civilian inquests outstanding from before May 2006.

Army: Tour Intervals

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Drayson on 26 June (WA 123), what plans have been made to ensure that the operational tour interval for Army battalions returns to the recommended 24 months; by what date this will be achieved; and what compensation will be offered to those units that have had to accept redeployment within fewer than 24 months. [HL4852]

We are committed to achieve tour intervals of 24 months between operational deployments, the so-called Harmony Guidelines, and are generally succeeding in this aim. Over the past two years the Infantry, Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers have had a combined average tour interval of about 23 months.

A number of plans are in place to re-balance the Army under Future Army Structures (FAS). These are designed to provide more robust establishments and strengthen those support trades that are in great demand, such as engineers, logisticians and intelligence operators—the key enablers that support our front-line troops. As these changes are implemented, tour intervals for troops should increase. However, Harmony Guidelines inform, and cannot dictate, deployment decisions. Exceptionally, operational demands may continue to require shorter tour intervals in some cases. For this reason there is no firm target date by which the Army is expected to achieve and sustain 24-month tour intervals for all units.

There is no specific compensation mechanism in place for units deployed on operations with a tour interval of fewer than 24 months. However, monetary redress is provided via the “x factor” (a percentage addition to military basic pay which reflects the differences between conditions of service experienced by members of the Armed Forces over a full career and conditions in civilian life) and the operational allowance, which has been paid to all military personnel deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans since 1 April 2006. In addition, the longer separation allowance (LSA) is paid to military personnel whose involuntary separation (for 10 consecutive days or more) precludes them from returning to their duty station, family home or permanent residence.

Common Agricultural Policy: Single Farm Payment

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Following the introduction of the 2005 single farm payment scheme, whether they have made or are planning any redundancies within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the light of expected European fines. [HL4882]

Compensation: Flagrant Injustice

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have proposals to restore the Secretary of State for Justice's powers, previously held by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, to award ex-gratia payments in cases of flagrant injustice. [HL4925]

We have no plans to do so. The reasons for the abolition of the discretionary scheme are set out in Baroness Scotland's Statement to this House on 24 April 2006 (cols. WS 3-6). We continue to pay compensation following a miscarriage of justice under Section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which fully meets our international obligations.

Cyprus: British Troops

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the accommodation at the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia now used by British forces forming part of the United Nations force is safe to be used according to health and safety standards. [HL4717]

Measures have been taken to ensure that the health and safety of the troops based at the Ledra Palace Hotel are protected, including the installation of a new fire alarm system. As a result, some 20 per cent of the rooms are currently not being used at all.

Energy: Carbon Dioxide

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In view of the financial support which the Carbon Trust receives from the Government, what representations they are making to the trust to encourage it to advance all forms of carbon-dioxide-free energy generation, including nuclear. [HL4781]

The Carbon Trust is a private company, grant-funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the devolved Administrations to take the lead on energy efficiency in the business and public sectors and to encourage the development of a low-carbon economy in the UK. As such, decisions on the technologies it supports are a matter for the Carbon Trust board.

Energy: Renewables

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have proposals to provide a substantial cash award to companies that introduce wind turbine, solar panels and other linked technologies to achieve zero carbon emissions buildings at their various sites. [HL4744]

Companies can apply to the low carbon buildings programme phase 1, which has a budget of £36 million over three years, to provide capital grants for the installation of microgeneration to households, communities, business and the public sector. Further information on the programme can be found at www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk

In addition, the renewables obligation (RO) is the Government’s key mechanism for supporting new renewable generation, and by 2010 it will be worth around £1 billion a year in terms of support to the renewables industry. It requires licensed electricity suppliers to source a specific and increasing percentage of their sales from renewable sources. Eligible renewable generators receive one renewables obligation certificate (ROC) for each 1 MWh of electricity generated. However, to encourage more renewable generation from a wider range of sources, the Government are proposing to change the RO so that renewable technologies are awarded differentiated levels of support; for example, offshore wind could receive 1.5 ROCs/1MWh and wave could receive two ROCs/1 MWh. The Government are currently consulting on these proposals.

Hedges

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment has been made of the workings of the regulations concerning tall hedges. [HL5006]

The Department for Communities and Local Government has carried out no formal assessment of the workings of the high hedges provisions in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, which came into force in June 2005. The Government are committed to a formal review of this legislation after it has been in operation for five years.

Railways: Procurement

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their procurement of railway services or equipment complies with the Official Journal of the European Union requirements in circumstances where the lead time between the order and delivery is so short that only one bidder is capable of fulfilling such an order. [HL4970]

For each of the franchises that the Department for Transport has let, it has received more than one bid that has demonstrated the capability to fulfil its commitments within its proposed timescales.

It is the franchisee's responsibility to deliver such commitments and to observe any relevant procurement process requirements.

Many consortia have expressed a keen interest in the department's Intercity Express Programme rolling-stock procurement programme. There is no evidence that either the production or project timetable is considered inappropriate.

All franchise replacements and equipment procured directly by the department have been undertaken in accordance with OJEU timescales.

Roads: Motorway Gantries

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the motorway gantry traffic information system messages were last evaluated for accuracy and timeliness. [HL4903]

The Highways Agency has around 2,400 variable message signs (VMS), located primarily on the busier parts of the strategic road network and at major intersections. They are set by automated systems, the motorway incident detection and automatic signalling (MIDAS) system or by operators working from control centres. The National Traffic Control Centre (NTCC) monitors this network and sets “strategic” or longer-distance messages, such as diversion information. The seven regional control centres (RCCs) monitor the network at a more local level and set “tactical” or local messages. Where installed, MIDAS detects slow-moving or stationary traffic (from loops in the road) and sets safety messages on VMS.

Supervisory staff working in these control centres assess the accuracy and timeliness of signs in real time. In addition, the performance of the Traffic Officer Service/RCCs and the performance of the NTCC are monitored monthly through performance indicators. In addition, the agency, through its road users’ satisfaction survey, seeks customers’ views on the accuracy of speed reduction and “conditions ahead” information, as well as whether the information has improved over the past 12 months.

Traffic Commissioners

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to respond to the annual report of the Traffic Commissioners 2005-06. [HL4977]

The Government do not issue a formal response to the Traffic Commissioners’ annual reports; however, they are taken into account when formulating future government policy.