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Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is fully aware of the position with regard to local authorities' secure training units, which are of course near to the children's homes. There are already 257 such places, which is obviously not enough. The Department of Health's capital programme is designed to increase the number of places by 170. I understand from the local authorities that many are already under construction, have planning permission and will be open by the end of the year and that another 62 will be open next year. Is this not of concern to us all? Are the two departments working against one another or with one another? How is it that £30 million a year will be spent on the secure training units run by the Home Office under private control which will be far from the children's homes while at the same time the local authorities are increasing the number of their places? Are we not wasting money?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the policies are certainly not in conflict. It is true that there are to be 170 new places in local authority secure accommodation, most of which will be in place by the end of this year. These places are not always appropriate because they are very scattered. The young people falling into the specific category of persistent juvenile offenders aged between 12 and 14 years will be very scattered and in very small numbers. There are also economies of scale in the new units. The needs of this particular category will be met by putting them into units of 40 in five institutions, with a very concentrated
Baroness David: My Lords, can the Minister tell me when the Home Office is going to pay local authorities for the children who are sent to local authority secure units by the courts? I understand that there was some agreement between the Home Office and the local authorities that it would pay for those children, but so far no payments have been made.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there is money in the system for sending young people to secure training units. That is already taking place. No one is saying that there is not always tension about what can be provided. Therefore, I do not know what specific question the noble Baroness is asking.
Baroness David: My Lords, I am sorry that I did not make it clear. I understood that when the courts send children to local authority secure units the Home Office had agreed to pay the necessary fees.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot enter into detail about the particular negotiations for the contracts because we are in the throes of doing that at the moment. What is very important is that the contract should cover a reasonable length of time because the private sector is putting up the money to provide them.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in her first reply the Minister said that tenders had been received on 12th June 1995. As I understand it, she is now saying that the negotiations are continuing. Does that mean that the contractors have been asked to submit revised tenders and, if so, does that mean that the planned opening dates of autumn 1996 for Gringley and March 1997 for Cookham Wood will no longer apply and will have to be delayed?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, that is an appropriate question because the tenders that were received were non-compliant with the specific terms of the specifications. What is being negotiated at this moment is a contract which is agreeable to the Government and the contractors.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, can the Minister say what will happen if Parliament subsequently decides to end the practice of having secure training centres? Do I understand that the agreement between the contractor and the Home Office is for 15 years? If that is so, what will happen if, during that period, Parliament decides to remove itself from this very unsatisfactory arrangement?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it will be a matter for any subsequent government to look at the terms of any contract arranged by a previous government. It will be for that government to consider whether there are penalties for reneging on any previous contract or bringing the terms of the contract to an end. Perhaps I may also say to the noble Lord and all noble Lords opposite who opposed this particular policy, that we have in this country a small, hard-core of young and very persistent offenders. We should not wring our hands and say, "What shall we do about them?". The Government have taken courage to do something about them. I wish them well in finding a successful policy to rid ourselves of this daily menace.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, the recommendations made by Sir Michael Bett on pensions were among a large number that he made in his report on personnel issues in the Armed Forces. We are studying his proposals carefully but have not yet reached any decisions on possible changes to the Armed Forces Pension Scheme.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he at least give us some assurance or comfort that when the Bett proposals come to be considered, if there are, as seems likely, substantial savings to be made in the pensions budget in the Ministry of Defence, some of the savings will be kept within the pension regime and put to good purpose such as, for example, extending the provision of war widows' pensions to recognised service before 1978?
Viscount Slim: My Lords, is it not a fact that the overall military pension system today is grossly unfair? The way that length of service, time of service and similar rank are treated is most inequitable. Whatever the Bett report decides, is it not time that the overall system of military pensions was completely revamped and modernised? Whether that can be done in retrospect is another matter. But does the noble Earl not agree that the present arrangements are probably the most old-fashioned of any that we have in this country and indeed when compared to any other country?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount that there are elements of the current scheme which could usefully be improved. We are looking at a number of recommendations, as he is aware, in the light of Sir Michael Bett's report. But I believe that the special nature of the commitment of service personnel is fully recognised by the Government and is reflected in their pension arrangements at the moment. Taken overall, the value of the benefits of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme is considerably greater than in most other public service schemes. In addition to that scheme, generous benefits are paid under the Department of Social Security war pensions scheme in cases of death or injury as a result of military service.
Lord Mayhew: My Lords, although it is easy to see the force of the noble Earl's argument that it is difficult to add to the new scheme the duty of removing injustices from the old scheme, would it not be equally unjust to start the new scheme while leaving the old injustices in the air and doing nothing to overcome them? Can the Minister say when the Government will be ready to make a decision on this matter and what consultations they are having with the forces?
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