Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 6 DECEMBER 2000
SPELLAR MP AND
40. We were told that the heating on a large
part of a base broke down because of the loss of some centralised
boilers. For a period of more than a week at one stage several
whole units had no hot water at all. This single living accommodation
is the single most mentioned factor when talking to the friends
in the Army about the causes of single people leaving the Armed
Forces. It is mentioned now far more than married quarters accommodation
(Mr Spellar) It is a problem. One of
the areas that we are looking at is the way in which this is controlled
by different budget holders across the system.
(Mr Spellar) That is for good reasons
of management of funds. In terms of new accommodation what we
are looking at is how we can draw that into a more systematic
programme of rebuilding in many cases, quite frankly, and renewal
in others. There are considerable gains in the learning curve
in the construction industry. We have examples of that in work
that is being undertaken in a number of areas in the commercial
world and our Defence Estates organisation actually have been
fairly much in the lead in Government in getting into this. I
fully accept that we also have to work on the profiling of the
budget across different budget areas.
42. Two specific points, that is a welcome answer,
firstly, will it be possible in the future, at least, to identify
across the budget how much is being spent in this area? I understand
that it is almost impossible in the present structure.
(Mr Spellar) As part of this exercise
that is the actual amount that is being spent at the moment, including
maintenance, which is one of the areas we have to look at. That
is what we are spending in total on this. We need to know that
so we can ring-fence these sums. In many cases in the past, understandably,
where this was used as a balancing item we need to, therefore,
be getting rid of this particular problem.
43. Its design is obviously improving. But we
were told on our journey of one new unit of accommodation where
whenever the fire alarm goes off the hot water goes off in empathy,
which is rather frustrating.
(Mr Spellar) You can spend a lot of money
and still have those problems.
44. This is about money. Is it right that a married
person pays £75 for food and accommodation but a single persons
(Air Marshal Pledger) In what circumstances?
45. In Collingwood.
(Air Marshal Pledger) You have to look
at the individual and in what circumstances. Is he accompanied?
There are so many different circumstances that will dictate exactly
what they pay.
46. During the period they are residential at
Collingwood, which can be up to two and a half years, if you are
single you pay much more than if you are married.
(Mr Spellar) We will have to write to
you on that.
Mr Gapes: I await the letter with interest.
Chairman: Moving on to unmarried partners.
47. Another issue that came up with all of us
everywhere. It relates to the situation with people who are defined
as single but are not single, they are just not married. There
is clearly a lot of concern about issues whereby a very large
proportion of people in society now do not get married but live
together, have children and yet in the eyes of the Armed Forces
they are not entitled to the same facilities or the same travel
warrants or the same support as people who are married. This was
raised in previous evidence sessions in the discussion with the
families' associations and it has also been in other questions.
Do you think it is still justifiable in the 21st century that
we operate this discrimination?
(Mr Spellar) Are you talking about overall
or in particular areas?
48. We will start with overall.
(Mr Spellar) I think you had evidence
from the families' associations, so you probably did not get just
(Mr Spellar) or within those associations.
50. Be careful, one of them is behind you, so
you might feel a sudden pain in the back.
(Mr Spellar) We have a regular forum
with the families' association and that is not said by way of
criticism, it is said by way of observation. There are discussions
taking place within those associations and I think that reflects
differing views within the Service communities. Our objective
is to work with them to achieve a broadly acceptableobviously
no policy can be acceptable to everybodypolicy. That goes
across a number of areas, it cuts across allowances and pensions.
There are considerable differences in the outside world between
pension schemes, and we have looked at those areas as well. In
housing, as colleagues will be very well aware from the debates
that took place at the time of the sale to Annington or Nomura,
there were very considerable differences as to who should have
rights of access to family quarters within the Service community
at that time. I am not saying that we do not have a definitive
view on this. We are sensitive to the differences of views and
we are in dialogue in order to try and get a collective view on
51. It is true that you refer to divergences
in society as a whole and that society as a whole, in general,
gives more support to unmarried couples than in the Armed Services.
(Mr Spellar) Some figures from the National
Association of Pension Funds, take pensions for example, said
that some 7% cent of schemes paid a non-married partner a pension
if financial interdependence could be proved; 7% cent if the partner
was financially dependent; 66% at the discretion of trustees and
20% made no provision at all, which indicates a wide range of
practice. There are differences between the Government pension
scheme and the local authorities pension scheme.
52. I am not talking specifically about pensions.
(Mr Spellar) That is just by way of example.
53. With travel, accommodation and other matters,
generally, I would say that society as a whole is more sympathetic
than the Armed Services.
(Mr Spellar) I do not think it is a case
of sympathy, it is a case of arrangements that have been made.
There are differences. We also recognise, as I described earlier,
there are differences of opinion within the Service community.
One of the differences we have here, for example, is that we move
people round without choice. We say that either you as an individual
or your unit is moving. You move about quite often to areas of
the country where the only available accommodation is our Service
accommodation and then people by definition will be living there.
We are allocating them to those houses. That is fairly different
from the experience of many of those in the civilian community.
There are a considerable number of our people who choose and make
their own arrangements, you know, consistent with their own lifestyle
to live in their own property. We move people around, and that
is quite different from many areas in the civilian community.
54. Have you carried out any surveys amongst
the junior and senior ranks in the Navy or the lower ranks in
the Army of their attitudes on this question, because when we
were in Collingwood it was put to us there would not be resentment
about the change here. I am just wondering whether, in fact, attitudes
in society have moved yet and whether the structures that you
have in place have not moved to reflect that.
(Mr Spellar) We recognise that, which
is precisely why I said we recognise there are differing opinions
within the service community. What we need to do is to work our
way through that in order to achieve a generally acceptable policy,
taking into account those changes that have taken place. Everyone
recognises there are changes within those differing opinions but
that has not yet come to a resolved position.
55. What form is this taking? How many discussions
are there with the various families' associations. This is an
issue that has come to our attention and I think it would be quite
helpful to have more information before we pontificate and offer
our unprejudiced views.
(Air Marshal Pledger) We have a rolling
review of allowances. Each time we review that we bring to bear
the prevailing conditions at the time. This is one of the issues
that we then test, the payment or the allowance itself against.
Incrementally we are then starting to look at this and we do consult
and have had different opinions, as you heard, from family federations
as to whether or not their perspectives agree with ours. I think
you heard that they did not in their entirety. We have to take
great care when we are producing these policies so we do not disenfranchise
one part to bring in another one.
56. We would love to know the range of the arguments.
When our colleague Jimmy Hood raised the issue last week it seemed
very simple to me, and as the debate proceeded clearly it was
not. We would be grateful to have access to more information than
we have gleaned so far. The case that we have come across is a
sergeant who is divorced, who has a long-standing relationship,
a common-law wife and he has to live in the Sergeants' Mess because
the Army would not recognise his common-law wife of long-standing
and allow him to move into accommodation. There he is, 40 years
of age, having to behave like an 18 year old student. If we are
trying to retain peopleI know there are counter-argumentsit
does seem to me we would really find it most helpful to find out
why what seemed at first sight to be fairly obvious that is now
not as common as it was to get married. If we want to keep people
in the Armed Forces then we should try to provide a different
approach and avoid what one young man said to me, he had a girlfriend
and was forced into marriage far too early. It was unfortunate
and he is now going to end the marriage, probably much more swiftly
than otherwise it would have been. The only reason they got married
was to get into decent housing. It seems so tragic that somebody
tried to manipulate the system which was very strongly allied
against him, and having seemingly won by manipulating the system
he is now a victim of the system, which probably destroyed the
marriage at the end of the day.
(Mr Spellar) We are alert to those problems.
We are also alert to the balance side.
57. I am catching a train to your part of the
world, not quite your constituency, Minister, I have just one
quick observation, as the Chairman said, this is quite a complicated
area and the single point that comes up most often, apart from
the sheer financial costs involved, is we cannot put commanding
officers in a position of where they are having to produce a subjective
view on personal relationships. If one is going to extend it there
has to be an objective test. The most frequently quoted model
is the Australian model, before you get into the rest of the Australian
checklist you start from the fact they have a system of nationally
registered relationships, it is usually called de facto
marriage, which gives them an easy basis for it. With the absence
of anything like that in the United Kingdom law, straight away
it is really quite difficult to tell which group you are dealing
with. I throw that in as a thought.
(Mr Spellar) Yes.
Chairman: You can leave now.
58. I thought you might say that.
(Mr Spellar) You are bit late if you
are trying to go to West Bromwich.
59. You said you would consider changes in the
future if your consultation and consideration came out that way.
In that case, what work have you done on deciding who a partner
is and what criteria is in place for a partner? Do you have any
information on that that you could make public or make available?
(Mr Spellar) At the moment we are really
awaiting a cohesion of views coming from the families' federations
and also from attitude surveys in order to get a clearer view
of what is broadly acceptable within the service community. Quite
rightly you are reporting the comments which we get as Ministers,
as we go around, of the difficulties which arise. We have to balance
that with other strongly expressed views and we have to try and
get that balance out of it.
3 See Appendix 9. Back