HC Deb 30 October 2000 vol 355 cc511-2
22. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

If he will visit the Cotswold families centre in Corsham to discuss its future. [133006]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

I should like to take this opportunity to commend the service provided by the services Cotswold centre on behalf of service families. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the future of the centre is under review and we hope to make a decision about its future in the first half of next year.

Mr. Gray

Is there not a curious irony that the outstanding service provided at the centre for the victims of family breakdown—as well as education services for the local battered wives refuge and other services entirely for less-privileged people—which was preserved by the Conservative Government for 18 years, should now be under review by the Labour Government, who claim to be committed to persons of that kind? The Minister has been reviewing the centre for some three and a half years already. Will he at the very least agree to complete the review as soon as he can? Will he come and visit the centre with me—I shall welcome him there any day he cares to come—so that I can show him personally the excellent work that is carried out there?

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman has raised this matter with me before, and I understand his concern. However, I receive a considerable number of requests to visit establishments around the country. This is one that we are considering, but I cannot give him a guarantee.

One of the reasons why the review is taking a while is the excellent work undertaken at the centre, which no one wants to underestimate. However, the centre is underused. Its average monthly occupation rate is between 60 and 65 per cent. Some 93 per cent. of the families staying at the centre are either in transit between family quarters or are on a break. Only 5 per cent. of families staying at the centre are experiencing welfare problems. There is a need to evaluate—as we must do right across defence activities—whether such a service can be provided more cost-effectively elsewhere. Those considerations are being weighed up. Once a conclusion has been arrived at, we shall give it the fullest publicity.