Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



Mr Brazier

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 is.

  (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.

41.  Yes.

  (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.

Mr Gapes

44.  This is about money. Is it right that a married person pays £75 for food and accommodation but a single persons pays £200.

  (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.[3]

  Mr Gapes: I await the letter with interest.

  Chairman: Moving on to unmarried partners.

Mr Gapes

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 one view—

Mr Brazier

49.  Absolutely.

  (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 acceptable—obviously no policy can be acceptable to everybody—policy. 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 the matter.

Mr Gapes

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 people—I know there are counter-arguments—it 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.

Mr Brazier

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.

Mr Brazier

58.  I thought you might say that.

  (Mr Spellar) You are bit late if you are trying to go to West Bromwich.

Mr Cohen

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

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 24 January 2001