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Written Answers

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 14 October 2008

Written Answers

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Afghanistan: Death Penalty

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they are making, or will make, to the Government of Afghanistan regarding the abolition of the death penalty for apostasy from Islam to any other religion.[HL5245]

We condemn all instances where individuals are persecuted because of their faith or belief and take every opportunity to urge states to implement laws and practices which foster tolerance and mutual respect. The Afghan Constitution (Article 2) provides for freedom of religion. Afghanistan is also a signatory to the six principal international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion. We expect Afghanistan to live up to those obligations and believe individuals should be able to practise their faith or beliefs free from persecution and prosecution.

The UK is aware of instances in the past of the threatened use of the death penalty for apostasy in Afghanistan. We follow any such individual cases very closely and have lobbied strongly when necessary. We will continue to take an active stance should further such cases arise.

Armed Forces: Helicopters

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for upgrading helicopters currently in service; how many will be upgraded; over what timescale; and with what expected total budget. [HL5355]

We are planning a series of upgrades which will extend the service life of the majority of our battlefield helicopter fleet. We have already approved the investment of £850 million to upgrade 30 of our Royal Navy Merlin helicopters with a funded option to upgrade a further eight airframes. Under current planning assumptions this work will be completed by 2017. We also plan to invest a further £2 billion over the next 10 years in upgrades to our Apache, Chinook, RAF Merlin, Puma and Sea King Mk4 and Mk7 helicopters. As with all defence programmes, it is not until main gate approval has been obtained that decisions such as final aircraft numbers and the timescales for the upgrades are confirmed.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What capability upgrades are being considered for Apache attack helicopters currently in service; and what are the indicative costs and timescale. [HL5409]

We plan to upgrade the Apache helicopter throughout its life to sustain the capability provided, but as with all defence programmes, it is not until main gate approval for the specific upgrades has been obtained that their content, value and timescales can be confirmed.

Armed Forces: Lighter than Air Vehicles

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What evaluation they have made of lighter-than-air vehicles for military and security use. [HL5411]

The MoD has regularly undertaken evaluation of airships and balloons within the research programme for a variety of surveillance and communication roles. While the technology involved continues to be evaluated, there are no current plans to take this work beyond a monitoring and feasibility stage.

Armed Forces: Precision Guided Munitions

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the Paveway IV precision guided munitions will be available for operational use; how many will be available at that point; what was the original and what is now the formal initial operating capability date; how it is defined; what was the impact on cost and delivery of fuse availability issues reported during initial operational evaluation; and what penalties have been imposed on contractors undertaking the programme for non- and under-performance. [HL5407]

The Paveway IV weapon system is currently expected to be available for operational deployment, to meet its initial operating capability (IOC), by the end of 2008. This compares with an original IOC date of December 2007. The Paveway IV IOC is defined as the integration of the weapon on a single platform, the provision of a defined number of weapon stocks, support arrangements, and trained ground and air crew. I am withholding details of the number of Paveway IV weapons that will be available at IOC. Its release would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the Armed Forces.

There was no cost impact associated with the delay of the Paveway IV fuse as payment was linked to the delivery programme for operational weapons, the start of which was dependent upon the successful outcome of the operational evaluation (OPEVAL) trials. The MoD refused to accept delivery of, and therefore deferred payment for, the Paveway IV weapon system even though some elements had successfully completed the OPEVAL trials. This was done to generate the appropriate industrial incentive and ensure that the fuse reliability issues were rigorously addressed by the contractor.

Autism

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What training exists to ensure that employment support workers take account of the needs of people with autism. [HL5379]

Although Access to Work provides funding for support workers, the actual support is provided by external companies or organisations. Training for support workers is therefore the responsibility of their employer rather than Jobcentre Plus. Access to Work advisers work with the customer, and where appropriate external assessors, to identify the exact requirements for support, including the level of expertise or knowledge that the support worker should have. The funding agreed for each individual reflects this and Access to Work encourages individuals to procure support from suitably qualified people.

Civil Service: Bonuses

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the payment of bonuses to civil servants was agreed with the appropriate trade unions; which those unions were; and when the agreement was reached. [HL5125]

For staff below the senior Civil Service (SCS), departments have delegated authority to determine pay and conditions arrangements that best meet their own business needs. Under these delegated arrangements, departments and agencies are responsible for negotiating their own reward arrangements with their own departmental trade unions. Reward arrangements for the SCS are managed centrally by the Cabinet Office and are based on recommendations to the Government made by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB). The FDA, which represents senior civil servants, submits its own evidence to the SSRB.

Commonwealth Scholarships Programme

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have received about the proposed termination of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for the Commonwealth Scholarships Programme; and what action they have taken or will be taking in response to them.[HL5252]

The Canadian Government expressed regret at the decision and asked us to reconsider it. We have explained the steps we are taking to identify additional funding for scholarships for Canada, in addition to the existing allocation of Chevening scholarships, once we stop funding new awards through the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan after the 2008-09 academic year. The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, Universities UK and others have also lobbied against the decision. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has agreed with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, Universities UK and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission that a working group should be established to look at scholarships as a whole and how to maximise their impact, including the potential for other sources of funding.

Congo

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their assessment of the prospects for a free and fair presidential election in the Republic of Congo in 2009; and whether they will urge President Denis Sassou-Nguesso to accede to the demands of opposition parties for an independent electoral commission. [HL5358]

International observer missions reported irregularities in the conduct of the presidential elections of 2002 and the parliamentary elections held in 2007 in the Republic of Congo. Unless their causes are rectified, it is likely that the 2009 presidential elections will not meet the standards of a free and fair vote.

An electoral commission already exists in the Republic of Congo. The UK is considering what support is appropriate to offer to the electoral process.

Disabled People: Disability Rights Handbook

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Since what date they have been asked to provide comments and corrections to officers of the Disability Alliance on drafts of the Disability Rights handbook prior to its publication; and why they are discontinuing the help traditionally given towards the costs of funding the handbook. [HL5327]

The Department for Work and Pensions, and its predecessors, have been providing comments on, and corrections to, the Disability Alliance handbook for at least 10 years. Staff and organisational changes over the years mean that more detailed information is not available.

The department has never funded the handbook.

Northern Rock

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether deposits with Northern Rock are covered by the same guarantee provided to other banks; and [HL5332]

Whether Northern Rock bond investments are covered by the Treasury as with other public institutions. [HL5333]

The Treasury's guarantee arrangements for Northern Rock plc apply to certain retail and wholesale deposits. Details of the guarantee arrangements are set out in Treasury press notices published last year on 20 and 21 September, 9 and 11 October and 18 December.

As announced on 11 October 2007 the guarantee arrangements for Northern Rock supplement and do not replace any compensation provided by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which the Financial Services Authority has recently extended to cover 100 per cent of the first £50,000 of deposits.

Older People: Financial Hardship

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consideration they have given to the financial hardship of older people, including elderly war pensioners and war widows, as documented by the Royal British Legion in the Return to Rationing campaign documents; and what action they will take in response. [HL5323]

Addressing pensioner poverty has been one of the Government's key priorities since 1997 and we are aware of the recent campaign by the Royal British Legion.

The number of pensioners in poverty in the UK has fallen from 2.9 million in 1998-99 to 2.1 million in 2006-07 (as measured by 60 per cent of contemporary median income after housing costs). Once housing costs are accounted for, pensioners are less likely to be in poverty than the population as a whole.

The Government have introduced a number of measures to reduce the levels of poverty in older people. Pension credit ensures that no one needs live on less than £124.05 (£189.35 for a couple) per week. We have successively raised the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit at least in line with earnings every year since its introduction. Our commitments in the Pensions Act 2007 to continue to uprate the pension credit standard minimum guarantee at least in line with earnings over the long term, and to reintroduce the earnings link to basic state pension from 2012, or by the end of the next Parliament, will help secure these gains into the future.

On 11 September, the Government announced a new £1 billion package of measures for people permanently to cut their energy bills. As part of this package, 11 million lower income and pensioner households are eligible for free loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and other energy efficiency devices. The Government already make winter fuel payments which provide a significant contribution towards winter fuel bills for those aged 60 or over. Additional payments to be made for winter 2008-09 mean that this year households with someone aged 60 to 79 or over 80 will receive up to £250 and £400 respectively.

QinetiQ

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their total net receipts from the multiple sales of shares in QinetiQ; how much was injected into the pension fund prior to privatisation; what was the value of the land bank included in the company's assets; and what restrictions there are on the company breaking itself up. [HL5412]

When QinetiQ was formed in July 2001, the company paid the Government for its assets with a combination of shares and debt obligations in the form of loan notes. The proceeds raised from the privatisation are therefore the total from the sale of the shares and the repayment of these debts. Including the sale of shares when the company was floated on the stock market in February 2006 the net proceeds raised (after deduction of all costs including the pension indemnity) were £576 million. A full breakdown of these proceeds including the split between share sales and debt repayments is contained in the National Audit Office report, the Privatisation of QinetiQ, which was published on 23 November 2007.

In addition, the Government sold their remaining 19 per cent stake in QinetiQ on 9 September 2008. Net of costs this raised a further £254 million. The total net proceeds to the taxpayer from all stages of the privatisations are £830 million.

When a minority stake in QinetiQ was sold to Carlyle in 2003, actuaries identified that there was a deficit of up to £75 million in the QinetiQ pension fund and Carlyle sought to have the value of the business reduced by this amount. After negotiations, the Government agreed to reduce the value of QinetiQ by £25 million and to provide QinetiQ with an indemnity capped at £45 million. The indemnity was payable if the deficit remained at the time of any subsequent flotation or sale of the business. As stated in the NAO's report, this arrangement gave the Government an opportunity to benefit if the value of the assets in QinetiQ's pension fund increased. However, by the time of flotation the deficit had increased and the full £45 million was paid into the pension fund. As a shareholder, the Government benefited from the resulting increase in the value of the company. In addition, the NAO calculated that by delaying the payment for three years its cost to the Government in real terms was reduced by £11 million.

When QinetiQ was formed in 2001, its assets included £342 million of land and buildings which were used to support its continuing business. Given the specialist nature and location of many of these assets, this valuation was assessed in QinetiQ's accounts as being around £113.8 million greater than the open market value of the assets if they were sold for other purposes. In addition, QinetiQ held surplus property, which was scheduled for disposal, which it had acquired from the Government at an open market value of £98.3 million. Sixty million pounds from the sale of these properties was subsequently paid directly to the Government as part of the company's debt repayments. As shareholder, the Government also benefited from the proceeds raised from further property sales. At the time of QinetiQ's creation, clawback arrangements were put in place to ensure that the taxpayer benefited from the value of any property sales above a specified threshold.

Although QinetiQ can dispose of parts of its business, there are protections in place to prevent transactions that could be contrary to UK defence and security interests. This is in addition to the national security protections under the Enterprise Act.

UN: Protocol on Discrimination

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 16 July (WA 176), when they expect to conclude their review of the United Kingdom's experience of the Operational Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. [HL5345]

The review has been concluded, and my honourable friend the Minister for Human Rights (Michael Wills) is considering its findings with colleagues. We expect to publish the review in the next few weeks.