HC Deb 18 November 1997 vol 301 cc149-51W
Mr. Clifton-Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what arrangements will be made for service personnel to receive professional help in the presentation of their case to their commanding officer for a special exception to be granted for boarding school allowance for under eight-year-old children; [16423]

(2) what will be the impact on public funds of the removal of the boarding school allowance for under eight-year-olds for service personnel; what estimate he has made of the number of personnel who will (a) leave the armed forces and (b) not volunteer for foreign postings as a result of this change; [16434]

(3) what consultation has taken place and on what occasions with (a) groups representing service personnel and (b) organisations representing independent schools in respect of the removal of boarding school allowance for under eight-year-olds; [16424]

(4) what research his Department has conducted into the educational impact of those children moved from school to school because of their parents' different service postings; [16433]

(5) if he will postpone his decision on the removal of the boarding school allowance for children aged under eight years for service personnel to allow more time for consultation; [16428]

(6) how many children will be affected in a full academic year by the removal of the boarding school allowance for under eight-year-olds; [16426]

(7) what arrangements are being made to notify (a) service personnel affected and (b) schools that will be affected by the removal of boarding school allowance for under eights for service personnel; [16427]

(8) when the boarding school allowance will be removed for under eight-year-olds. [16425]

Dr. Reid

The decision to increase the minimum age for eligibility for Boarding School Allowance was made by the previous Administration in response to the recommendations made in Sir Michael Bett's review of Armed Forces pay and allowances. These recommendations were made in light of the recognition that, whilst excessive turbulence can damage a child's educational progress, it was also recognised that some degree of mobility need not be harmful. A list of the organisations and agencies consulted during the review are listed in Sir Michael's report to the then Secretary of State for Defence, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

Service personnel and other interested parties were informed of the changes in the regulations through the publication of the Information Document issued in February of this year. This publication was accompanied by an announcement by the then Minister for the Armed Forces, and the changes were also given wide publicity through the normal Service channels. It is the responsibility of individual parents to inform schools if the change in regulations is likely to affect the attendance of their children at school.

The amended regulations will come into force on 1 December 1997. There are no plans to postpone the implementation date.

Parents who are currently in receipt of BSA in respect of children under the age of eight will retain reserved rights to the allowance and will not, therefore, be directly affected by the change in the regulations. There are currently 80 children between the age of five and seven whose parents are claiming BSA, and the majority of these are either welfare cases or cases involving children with special educational needs. It is our policy that cases in these categories will continue to be viewed sympathetically. In view of the small number of children in the affected age group, and as many of these are receiving BSA for welfare reasons, the withdrawal of entitlement to BSA for children aged less than eight will have a marginal impact on public spending, and it is not anticipated that the changes will have any significant effect on recruitment and retention levels in the Armed Forces.

Service parents who believe that they fall into a category that warrants special consideration may seek advice in preparing their application from their unit administrative staff, who will have experience of preparing such cases; from the Service Childrens' Education agency—an organisation tasked specifically with the educational needs of Service children; and from the personnel and welfare staffs of the three Services.

Mr. Key

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the total cost to his Department of boarding school allowance for the academic year 1996–97 together with the total average number of children for whom boarding school allowance was claimed in that year and the average number of children whose parent is of(a) officer and (b) other rank; and if he will place in the Library a copy of the current admissible schools list. [16365]

Dr. Reid

[holding answer 17 November 1997]: Costs for Boarding School Allowance are not held centrally for academic years. However the total cost to my Department of Boarding School Allowance in financial year 1996–97 was £87.5 million. The total average number of children for whom the allowance was claimed in the same year was 9,833, of whom 6,538 were the children of officers and 3,295 were the children of other ranks.

Mr. Key

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future of the boarding school allowance. [16361]

Dr. Reid

[holding answer Monday 17 November 1997]: My Department remains committed to the principle of providing a stable educational environment for the children of Armed Forces personnel. Boarding School Allowance is a central part of this provision and we remain confident that payment of this allowance is an effective way of ensuring continuity of education for the children of personnel who are subject to frequent postings throughout their Service careers.

With effect from 1 December 1997 certain changes will be introduced to the way in which BSA is regulated. These will help to target the allowance more accurately at those members of the Armed Forces who most need support in providing a stable education for their children. These changes were introduced in response to the recommendations made in Sir Michael Bett's report on pay and allowances in the Armed Forces, and were originally announced in the Information Document published by the previous administration in February of this year.