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Married Couples (Armed Forces)

Volume 497: debated on Thursday 22 October 2009

5. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on application of the Government’s policies on equality to married couples in the armed forces with children. (294826)

I have had a number of discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence and met ministerial colleagues to discuss how to support service families. I also recently met service families at RAF Wittering and Swinton Army barracks and plan to visit more bases to discuss service families’ concerns.

There seems to be a reluctance on the part of the Ministry of Defence to allow flexible working for the parent left at home when their partner is on active duty. As a result, the MOD is losing experienced personnel who are leaving the service rather than leaving their children without either parent at home. Will my right hon. and learned Friend speak to the MOD about how best to support serving couples who are also the parents of young children?

This is a growing issue. Commanders are required to manage their personnel in a flexible manner to ensure that family responsibilities as well as military duties can be discharged. As well as supporting the responsibilities of married service couples, it is important to support their families. I pay tribute to the three service families’ federations—Julie McCarthy of the Army Families Federation, Kim Richardson of the Naval Families Federation and Dawn McCafferty of the RAF Families Federation. They work closely with the Ministry of Defence and with us, and they do a magnificent job.

A 20-year-old British soldier is about to be posted back to Afghanistan. He has a wife and children, and the wife happens to be a foreign national. Because the soldier is 20 and not 21, he does not have the security of knowing that his wife and children can come to the United Kingdom. Is that right?

If the hon. Gentleman is raising an immigration issue, he should probably raise it with the Home Office.