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Armed Forces: Family Life

Volume 758: debated on Monday 19 January 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures are in place to ensure that servicemen and women are given the opportunity and support to spend sufficient time with their children and families.

My Lords, service personnel are aware that the nature of their job is such that their family life could be different from that experienced by civilians. Harmony guidelines are set to ensure that there is a balance between the competing aspects of the lives of service personnel. These are: time with families; operations; time recuperating after operational tours; personal and professional development; and unit formation training.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. The charity Give Us Time is working hard to help service men and women reconnect and engage with their families after a tour of duty. Yet they are coming up against hurdles and inequalities; for example, leave time does not always coincide with school holidays and a soldier was fined £500 for taking his children on holiday during the school term. I ask my noble friend: given the difficulties of tour cycles and not always being able to give advance notice, will the Government encourage schools to show leniency towards military families by allowing their children short periods of absence from school during term time, and perhaps even amending the law to include these cases as exceptional circumstances?

My Lords, head teachers already have the discretion to grant absence from school in exceptional circumstances and, in this instance, they have been given NAHT guidance. The MoD has been in discussion with the Department for Education in England on leave of absence from school, including on the operational needs of the Armed Forces preventing families taking leave during school holidays and relating to before, during and after deployment. Similar guidance is well established within the devolved Administrations.

My Lords, if members of the Armed Forces feel that they are not being given the opportunity and support to spend sufficient time with their children and families, they can lodge a complaint. The Bill to replace the existing Service Complaints Commissioner with a Service Complaints Ombudsman, with greater powers and more independence, completed its passage through this House three months ago and was sent to the other place. If my information is correct, it has not been heard of since. Why has the Bill been delayed, since such a delay would not appear compatible with a commitment to the military covenant? Can the Government give an undertaking today that the Bill will be given the required time to complete all its parliamentary processes and become law by the time both Houses finish prior to the general election?

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that one of the main reasons for pressure on servicemen and service families is the ever increasing rate of rotation in ships or whatever, because we have too few ships and there are huge pressures on manpower anyway? Some easement in resources to allow more money for recruiting and retention, plus some more ships and aircraft, might help dramatically.

More ships and aircraft are not in my brief, but families are. Long operational deployments attract additional leave, allowing servicepeople to spend time with their families.

Could the Minister tell us whether the same provisions apply to commissioned officers as apply to ordinary soldiers?

Can my noble friend tell the House roughly how many children have to be sent to boarding school because of the commitments of their parents?

I do not have the figure, but it is considerably less than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Service personnel are now encouraged to buy their own homes, giving family stability, so that children can stay at home and stay at the same school.

My Lords, the noble Lord asked about the legislation that seems to have disappeared. When that comes into sight again, will the Government take on board the points made by my noble friend Lady Benjamin about school holidays, which did not appear in the original Bill?

I have a meeting tomorrow with the Secretary of State and, when we discuss the Bill, I shall mention the issue.