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20 Jan 2003 : Column 71Wcontinued
Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence's sick absence rates for civilian non-industrial staff in the last five years for which MOD data are available, measured in working days absence per staff year, are as follows:
Sick absence data for all Government Departments is published in an annual Cabinet Office report, "Analysis of Sick Absence in the Civil Service". Copies of the 1999, 2000 and 2001 reports are available in the Library of the House. However, the 2001 report excludes data for MOD pending the introduction of a new and more accurate statistical reporting system. The 2002 report, which will include MOD data, will be placed in the Library of the House on publication.
A programme of measures is being implemented to help meet the target in MOD's Service Delivery Agreement to reduce sickness absence to seven days by the end of 2003 (target adjusted following the reorganisation of Government Departments in 2000). MOD is committed to improving the health of its staff and managing sick absence more effectively.
Mr. Ingram: The threat from terrorist attack is kept under constant review and the Ministry of Defence works closely with other Government Departments on the protection of merchant shipping. The Royal Navy's worldwide Maritime Trade Operationsknown as UK MTO arrangementsenable a number of options to be offered in support of merchant shipping, graduated to the prevailing threat. These range from the provision of routine advice and guidance through to naval supervision. The appropriate level of MTO support required in a given area remains under constant assessment. For example, UK MTO arrangements in the Gulf have been enhanced since October 2001 by the establishment of a UK MTO liaison cell in the region. If necessary, higher level Maritime Trade Operations can be implemented very quickly. Information on specific measures to protect naval shipping were provided in my answer to the hon. Member on 15 January, Official Report, column 640W.
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Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which warships are in extended readiness; for how long each ship has been in extended readiness; what the levels of extended readiness are for warships; and if he will make a statement. 
HMS Bridport, a Sandown Class Mine Countermeasures Vessel, has been in extended readiness at Faslane since March 2002.
Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the Watchkeeper programme; and what extra costs are being incurred by industry bidders in advance of the down select decision. 
Mr. Ingram: The Watchkeeper programme seeks to acquire an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) capability which will provide United Kingdom commanders with accurate, timely and high quality imagery. It is a key element of the Government's efforts to develop a truly network enabled capability, so critical to enhancing the ability of our forces to bring military effect to bear in a timely manner. Bids were received from the companies competing for the remainder of the Watchkeeper programme assessment phase in mid 2002, and additional points of clarification were sought from each bidder in December 2002. Any additional costs incurred by the bidders in addressing these outstanding issues are matter for the respective bidders. We plan to announce a decision on down-select as soon as possible.
Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment his Department has made of the implications of recent unrest in the Ivory Coast for British defence interests in West Africa. 
Mr. Ingram: The United Kingdom is deeply concerned at the situation in Cote d'Ivoire. We continue to work with the French and other partners to support regional efforts to reach a peaceful political settlement. A resolution of the Cote d'Ivoire crisis is essential for stability of the West Africa region. However there are not considered to be any serious implications for British defence interests in West Africa at this time.
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Bob Russell: To ask the Solicitor General (1) what guidance is given to magistrates courts on the circumstances in which a driving ban should not be imposed on a motorist who has committed a criminal offence where an automatic disqualification is the normal outcome; in what circumstances a court is given discretion not to impose a ban; and what plans she has to remove the discretionary powers available to the courts. 
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The Solicitor-General [holding answer 15 January 2003]: In September 2000 the Magistrates' Association implemented its most recent guidance to Magistrates on sentencing. This is a wide ranging document covering various aspects of the Magistrates' sentencing powers. However the guidance it provides in relation to the issues raised in the questions is limited.
The current system provides a degree of flexibility to the Courts and allows for sentences to be appropriate to each individual case. There are no plans to remove the discretionary powers available to the courts in this area.
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Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in which EU countries (a) racism and (b) xenophobia is a criminal offence; and how it is defined in each case. 
The joint action of 15 July 1996, adopted by the Council on the basis of Article K.3 of the Treaty on European Union provides a common definition of racist or xenophobic behaviour, referring to public incitement to discrimination, violence or racial hatred in respect of a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to colour, race, religion or national or ethnic origin. However, the interpretation of this definition does vary amongst EU member states. A number of states, including the UK, have also entered significant reservations in regard to this Joint Action in order to protect freedom of speech and to reflect their legal traditions in regard to use of civil law.
In its definition of racist or xenophobic behaviour, the joint action includes public condoning, for a racist or xenophobic purpose, of crimes against humanity and human rights violations; public denial of the crimes defined in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal appended to the London Agreement of 8 April 1945; public dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material containing expressions of racism and xenophobia; participation in the activities of groups which involve discrimination, violence, or racial, ethnic or religious hatred.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: Following Operation Anaconda in March 2002, we received reports that some residual Taliban elements had moved into Zabul, Paktia and Paktika provinces. Poor security and remoteness continue to hamper aid programmes in Zabul. The Governor of Zabul blames these activities on Taliban remnants.
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