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Commonwealth Service Personnel

Volume 410: debated on Friday 19 September 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what surveys of (a) Commonwealth families and (b) Fijian families have been carried out to ascertain their views on life in the armed forces away from their homes; and if he will make a statement. [130850]

The Army carried out an informal survey of Foreign and Commonwealth soldiers and their families in 2002. No other surveys have been conducted by any of the Services specifically targeting Commonwealth or Fijian families. The data revealed no large variants between different ethnic groups, and Foreign and Commonwealth soldiers have generally the same level of occurrences on most issues, although there is a slightly higher level of cases on welfare and immigration. The Adjutant General's staff are now taking forward recommendations arising from the survey.Each Service, however, conducts Continuous Attitude Surveys of serving personnel to measure the morale and understand the concerns of their people.The questions cover a wide variety of subjects, including families, welfare and quality of life. The surveys are sent to a randomly selected sample, which may therefore include Commonwealth or Fijians, but they are not specifically targeted.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to provide (a) discounted telephone calls and (b) discounted air fares to Commonwealth servicemen and women and their families for communication with their friends and family in their country of origin; and if he will make a statement. [130851]

There are currently no plans to provide discounted air fares or discounted telephone calls for personnel from Commonwealth countries, whose Terms and Conditions of Service (TACOS) are the same as for all other personnel. However, under the "Leave to Countries Abroad" (DOMCOL) scheme, a Service individual normally domiciled abroad may accumulate part of their Annual Leave Allowance each year over a period not exceeding five years for the purpose of visiting the country of their domicile. Under the scheme, which is subject to specific qualifying conditions, personnel are entitled to travel at public expense once in five years after five years service to the country of normal domicile. Requirements for the DOMCOL scheme include that the individual be single, but married personnel whose family are resident abroad and have been separated from their family for the whole of the five-year qualifying period may also register under the scheme.The Ministry of Defence is aware that current TACOS vary between the Services and consequently do not offer all Commonwealth personnel the same opportunities for compassionate leave and travel arrangements as for those ordinarily domiciled in the United Kingdom, and is reviewing TACOS accordingly.For those personnel on deployed operations the Operational Welfare Package (OWP) provides 20 minutes of publicly funded telephone calls per week for all personnel, regardless of nationality or country of origin and allows them to maintain telephone contact with their families and friends overseas.