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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the Minister stated that if a serving police officer is on sick leave as a result of injury he receives his normal pay. Many police officers work regular overtime and, therefore, their earnings will be enhanced over their basic pay. Do chief officers have the authority to pay police officers on sick leave at the level of their previous earnings as opposed to their basic pay?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I think that that is taking compensatory payments too far. Such officers would be paid full pay for six months, half pay for a further six months, and, as the rules stand, no pay usually after 12 months. But chief constables have been given full discretion to pay full pay for the first six months, the second six months and beyond that 12-month period. It would be difficult to include a scheme which could make judgments about the overtime that might have been worked in the course of that period and compensate for the loss. However, the discretion given to chief constables is very wide indeed.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, adequate provision for injuries incurred on duty is necessary. However, is my noble friend aware of the widespread surprise at the huge amount of compensation awarded to police after the Hillsborough tragedy? Are police today selected and trained to cope with mental stress compared with 25 years ago, when a similar tragedy occurred at Ibrox, Glasgow, with some 60 deaths, or compared with other services, including the Armed Forces, which also have to be prepared to face horrifying situations?
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, in her reply to the Question, the Minister gave detailed information on the present situation. It is that a police authority can pay a constable who is losing time at work through injury or sickness for an indefinite period. So far as I know from my experience in local government, no other people in the community enjoy that situation. They are the best terms that anyone receives. However, is it not expensive if it continues for too long? Some authorities sometimes tend to err on the wrong side and go too far. Is it possible to ensure that if a constable is injured in pursuance of his duties because of today's violent society, maximum consideration would be given?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. It can be expensive if the provisions are wholly indiscriminate and give the absolute maximum pay allowable to any policeman who has been injured on duty.
The reason we have given discretion to chief constables is that they are the best placed to make judgments about both the seriousness of the injury and the likelihood of the policeman returning to normal duties. Other decisions also need to be made about those who will not return to normal duties, and that will be a matter for the police authority.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear, the sale of the married quarters estate depends upon reaching agreement on terms which satisfy the interests of the services and on a price which properly reflects the public interest.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's reply. However, does he agree that the proposed sale of married quarters is not in the interests of the Armed Forces, as it may reduce the availability of quarters? Does he further agree that if it is possible to sell off only the 20 per cent. of the vacant married quarters, funds would be provided for the refurbishment of existing married quarters? It would also provide income to the Treasury from the remaining rents.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I believe that I can reassure my noble friend on both counts. Our policy remains to provide the right housing in the right locations for all entitled personnel who wish to exercise that entitlement. This will continue to be the case after the sale of the
As to the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question, the short answer is that the course which he proposes would not deliver the wider benefits of the sale. In particular, it would not deliver the investment needed for upgrading properties, nor the in-built discipline for disposing of surplus empty homes in an efficient manner.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, whatever the theoretical financial advantages of the sale, his department has been completely unable to convince those most closely connected with married quarters that for service families the outlook at the end of the sale would be anything other than bleak?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I recognise that there are real worries among service families about the Government's proposals. To a degree, I blame myself for not having reassured them sufficiently because I believe that many of the worries are misplaced. The only difference that a service family will notice after the sale goes through is the upgrading of those properties which badly need attention. In all other respects, families' lives should remain exactly as they are now.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I am always in the hands of the House and I know that the Question exercises a great deal of interest. If we proceed expeditiously on this side of the House first, we will have time to fit everyone in.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will not the sale of the married quarters have a bad effect on recruiting, at a time when service recruiting is causing difficulties anyhow? Will the Government therefore reconsider the decision?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I do not believe that my noble friend is correct. As I said earlier, the Government's policy remains to provide service housing to all those entitled personnel who wish to have it. That will not change. There should be no apprehension among those who wish to join the forces that they will not have such housing when they are entitled to it.
I stress again that wider benefits arise from the sale, most notably a means of correcting what, I am afraid, has been a poor record over the years by the Ministry of Defence of disposing of surplus empty houses. A much tighter discipline will be in place once the sale goes through, with the private sector in charge.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising an important point. He will be interested to know that we have sold or let over 5,000 surplus properties in the past four years, many to housing associations and local authorities. The sale will reinforce those efforts. We will commit ourselves to releasing thousands of surplus properties over the next 25 years. We have also looked after the immediate interests of the social housing sector by excluding over 1,500 quarters from the sale.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the noble Earl will be fully aware of the resentment that has been caused by the Government's proposals. I understand from his first Answer that the price that the Government hoped to achieve would properly reflect the public interest. Is not Nomura Securities one of the bidders for the property? Would it not be a trifle odd, even for this Government, to sell the married quarters of service personnel to the Japanese?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am not prepared to disclose the identity of any of the short-listed bidders. I do not believe that we should object in principle to overseas investment. What interests us is not the source of the funding--a transaction of that size is bound to draw upon international capital markets, whichever way the funding is sliced--but the relationship we can expect with the future owners of the estate. Our position as tenants is safeguarded by the lease structure and, for day-to-day purposes, the identity of the new owner will make no practical difference whatever.
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