HC Deb 15 March 1956 vol 550 cc617-26

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum not exceeding £100,160,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of the Air Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

One of the good things about discussing the Estimates of the three Services together at this stage is that while one is waiting for the Air Force Estimates one learns so much of the problems of the Army. I never realised that horses and mules and bags of nails figured to such a great degree in the problems of the Army. I am only sorry that it is not relevant when discussing the Air Force Estimates to refer to the camels which are on the Air Force establishment, particularly as I read in the paper that someone said that obviously a camel is an animal designed and developed by a committee.

Those of us who have taken part in these debates on Service Estimates over the last ten years will agree that our procedure in dealing with Votes in this way leaves much to be desired, because we are not getting enough information and consequently it is difficult to debate these matters. We must improve the procedure or we shall have less interest taken in the debates and the Services will suffer as a result. In fact, in the long run the whole administration of the country will suffer. We are spending £500 million on the Air Force and a considerable proportion of that money comes under Vote 1 which we are now considering. We need the fullest information to justify that, but we do not get it.

6.45 p.m.

It is our duty to make complaints and criticisms, and I will make one criticism which I intimated at an earlier stage in our discussions. I wish to ask the Secretary of State to look carefully into the procedure in the Air Force for inquiring into crashes to see whether some improvement could be made in the procedure and more publicity given. Surely an inquiry should be closed to the public only if matters concerning—

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

It is not clear to me what is the connection between crashes and what is contained in Vote 1.

Mr. de Freitas

But this is Vote 1, and surely we are at liberty to discuss these things? The main bulk of the expenditure is under this Vote.

The Deputy-Chairman

In debating Vote 1, we are limited to what is in the Vote.

Mr. de Freitas

But surely it is relevant to discuss the pay of the officers concerned with these inquiries and the pay of the men? Surely that is relevant?

The Deputy-Chairman

The question here is the amount of sums voted. I do not see that the policy regarding inquiries into crashes has anything to do with it.

Mr. de Freitas

But that goes to the root of the whole matter. Surely I am entitled to argue that I object to these men being paid when they conduct inquiries from which the public are excluded? Surely that is the whole basis of the discussion on this Vote? Otherwise, why are we discussing it?

The Deputy-Chairman

I thought that in his opening remarks the hon. Member was dealing with the question of crashes.

Mr. de Freitas


The Deputy-Chairman

That does not arise under this Vote. What arises here is the amount of money for the different items enumerated in the Vote.

Mr. de Freitas

But surely the whole point is that we are asked here to Vote a certain amount of money for the pay of officers, and I wish to know whether it is justified that these officers should receive that money under these various headings, if they are conducting inquiries in this way in accordance with the orders that they receive?

The Deputy-Chairman

The inquiries are very remote from the items specified in the Vote, and once hon. Members were permitted to inquire into crashes, they could introduce a number of subjects which do not come under this Vote.

Mr. de Freitas

I am not pressing my objection, but I am absolutely amazed a: this. Am I not able to bring up under the terms of this Vote the fact that people are killed in crashes and their relatives do not get the service that the public would expect?

The Deputy-Chairman

That seems to me a very important question, but it does not come under this Vote at all.

Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

Change the subject.

Mr. de Freitas

I am not going to change the subject. Surely the fundamental point is that one has always been able to go considerably wider on this Vote than any other Vote?

The Deputy-Chairman

So far as I am aware, that is not the case. Vote 1 deals with what it says, that is, with pay for the various items set out in the Vote. I would remind the hon. Member that a general discussion such as he suggests now always takes place on the Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." In Committee we deal with specific details.

Mr. de Freitas

I thank you for reminding me of that, Sir Rhys. I will deal with one or two points which I am confident are in order upon Vote 1, in connection with pay and allowances for the Commonwealth Reserve in Malaya. I raised this matter in the Estimates debate and indicated that I would do so again.

In the case of an international force, such as N.A.T.O., a system which permits differing rates of pay and allowances works fairly well, but in the case of a Commonwealth Reserve, composed of men coming from different Commonwealth countries, wearing the same uniforms, having the same type of organisation and virtually the same regulations, differing rates of pay and allowances lead to a great deal of friction and difficulty. We ought to have some regard to this matter when we try to operate an integrated command. I should welcome any assurance from the Secretary of State that this point is being seriously considered. There is no point in discussing what happens in the case of N.A.T.O., because our men there are serving under different regulations altogether, and they recognise that fact.

My second point concerns education allowances. It is all very well for the Air Ministry to say, "There is plenty of turbulence and postings, and men have to be moved, and therefore they should receive a special education allowance for their children," but the Estimates for this year show an increase of only £200,000 in respect of that allowance. There is a £7 million increase in the pay Estimates, but the increase in respect of the education of their children is so small that I am wondering if it will make anything like the difference which the Air Ministry must hope it will.

There is no more important point for us to consider than the fact that when officers and men are moved about they must take care of the education of their children. This moving about, or turbulence, is bound to continue. Shortly after the war many calculations were made upon the assumption that the turbulence would decrease, and it has—but not to the extent expected. This increase in the amount voted is very small when it is compared with the provision made in respect of civilian employees of the Air Ministry. I believe it is true that civilian employees, in certain circumstances, receive greater education allowances for their children than are received by Service men.

The amount of money voted in respect of National Service men is also of very great importance. I am not arguing—as one of my hon. Friends did—that National Service men should receive the same rate of pay as Regulars; the whole idea is to induce men to become Regulars. But I want to know more about the planning of pay for National Service men, and how it will be related to the obvious future elimination of National Service and the reversion of Technical Command to its true purpose as a training command instead of an adult educational organisation as it is today.

I notice that the Estimates contain a reference to special allowances given to officers, airmen and airwomen serving long-term appointments in the United States of America. We realise that we have a good deal to learn from the Americans in certain matters connected with procurement of aircraft. What do these people go to the United States of America to study? Do they go there to study the American system of procurement, or do they merely do the ordinary diplomatic and air attachè jobs over there? In any case, are these rates sufficient, in view of the enormous expense to which they are bound to be put in the United States of America? I hope that the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary of State will be able to answer some of the points that I have raised.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

I want to deal with the question of the pay of airmen and airwomen, and also the various allowances which they are now receiving. Last year the amount voted in respect of airmen and airwomen was £49,150,000. For this year it has been increased by £12,550,000. The amount voted in respect of marriage allowance is now £12,515,000, and in respect of educational allowances, £200,000. Then there are lodging allowances, miscellaneous allowances and National Insurance contributions, the amount voted for the last of which is now £3,480,000.

We are entitled to an assurance from the Minister that the sums voted for the coming year will be sufficient to meet all the normal needs of the airmen and airwomen in the Service. We want to be assured that the personnel serving in the Royal Air Force are now being provided with what I would call a living wage. I ask this question because there is some doubt about the matter, due to the fact that the sum of £49 million voted last year was not sufficient, in certain cases. Yesterday afternoon, in reply to a Question of mine, the Minister said: Thirty-six airmen at Hornchurch have at one time or another accepted casual employment at a local bakery in their spare time. I do not know of similar cases at any other station."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1956; Vol. 550, c. 370.] I put the point because I understand that this is a full-time job. I think we can assume that the reason why these airmen had to take this part-time job was that they were not being paid sufficient money to enable them to carry on normal life that we claim these citizens ought to be able to enjoy. Therefore, they had to take this type of employment in their spare time. The Minister told me it was casual employment but my information is that it was not. It was night baking, and the amount of money was in some cases as much as £12 per week. One could hardly say that that represented casual work.

7.0 p.m.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that this improvement of pay will be sufficient to make that kind of work unnecessary. A rapid calculation which I have made suggests that the improvement represents £1 per week, on the average, for airmen and airwomen. That does not include various allowances which will increase the average income. I want an assurance that airmen and airwomen will not be compelled, in order to improve their financial position because of our penurious attitude towards them, to spend their nights in this way, after they have spent their days looking after the defence of the country.

I do not know why the Minister sees anything funny in what I have said. It is wrong that even one airman should be in that position. I hope he will tell us with complete assurance that the system of which I complain is no longer necessary. He said that he did not know of any similar cases at any other station; I wonder whether he made inquiry or, since nobody got up in the House to call his attention to the matter, he has just assumed that there were no other cases.

We are not seeking to interfere with the rights of an airman to do what he likes in his spare time, but I submit that during the night he should be sleeping so as to make himself fit for his duties next day. He should not spend his spare time doing night baking. The Minister appears to have a wrong attitude towards this matter.

There is another aspect of night baking to which I want to call attention. It is—

The Deputy-Chairman

Night baking does not come under this Vote.

Mr. Rankin

I was not going too far into the point.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Gentleman cannot go into it at all.

Mr. Rankin

Then I must let it rest there, in deference to your Ruling, Sir Rhys.

I hope that the Minister will say that it is wrong for a man to increase his emoluments in that way, and will give us an assurance that the pay increases which we are granting tonight will be sufficient for the airman to live the decent kind of life which he would have been living had he still been a civilian.

The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Nigel Birch)

The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) made strictures on the attendance in this debate. I hope the quality of those present will make up for the small numbers. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman could not make his point about inquiries. I was anxious to answer it, but as he could not make it I cannot answer it.

The next point was that in Malaya we have an integrated headquarters in which are not only British officers from this country, but Australian and New Zealand officers, and whether their pay ought not all to be the same. The hon. Gentleman sought to draw a distinction between headquarters with officers only from Commonwealth countries, and headquarters such as of N.A.T.O. with officers from many other countries. There is not really a distinction. If we are to pay our officers more, simply because they are serving with foreign or Commonwealth officers, we do something unfair to officers who are not serving in those conditions. The officer has to go wherever he is sent and to do the job which he is given. Leaving local overseas allowances out of account, the officer may have extra money if he is living in an expensive place, but I cannot see any justification for giving an officer more pay when he is serving at these headquarters than when he is serving in any other job.

The hon. Member raised the question of the education grant. This has always been a worry to the Services in connection with the educating of children. The hon. Gentleman was wrong in thinking that civilian employees in the Royal Air Force got more than officers. They do not serve overseas. I think they get more at the Foreign Office and at the Commonwealth Relations Office. There has been a very recent improvement, which is a great deal better than nothing. If an officer is serving abroad he gets tax free the allowance which in England is subject to tax.

Mr. de Freitas

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, and I thank him for giving way. Is it not a fact that the Air Ministry Works Department civilian gets the same as the other Departments, and therefore more than the serving officer?

Mr. Birch

I thought the hon. Gentleman was referring to civil servants within the Ministry and not to the Works Department. I am not quite certain about it and I will look that point up.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the small increase in pay for the National Service man and asked how it fitted in with our planning for the future of the Regular Forces. It fits into the plan very well. One object in not putting up the pay very greatly for National Service men while greatly increasing the pay for long-service men was to get the maximum recruiting effect, with the prospect of doing away with National Service and decreasing the requirement of National Service men.

The hon. Gentleman asked how officers serving in the United States were placed as regards pay in dollars, and so forth. I do not think it is too bad now. It is better than it was. I was talking only two or three days ago to an officer who had returned, and I asked him about this very point and how he managed with the number of dollars he was allowed. He did not seem to have any very great complaint. The United States is an expensive place to live in and the officer did not get an unlimited quantity of dollars. I do not think any serious complaint comes from that quarter.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Is he a man who has to live on his pay?

Mr. Birch

Yes, certainly—and he could not bring his own money over because he would not get the dollars anyway.

The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) raised the vexed question of night baking. I do not think that men take these casual jobs necessarily because they are frightfully hard up. However much they have most people can always do with a bit more. If I may say so, that is the principle on which all millionaires have been made.

Queen's Regulations quite clearly lay down a number of conditions on which a man can take an odd job if he so desires. He cannot take it at less than trade union rates, for example, nor break a strike, but provided that his efficiency does not suffer and that he has the permission of his commanding officer—which was not the case at Hornchurch—he can do an odd job if he wishes. We are very anxious not to interfere with people if they want to do that. Provided that the efficiency of the Service is maintained and that the man wants to do the job we say "Good luck" to him.

Mr. Rankin

The point is that the whole case put by the Daily Mirror was based on the fact that the men did this work because they found it necessary to do it. Would not the Minister agree that if a man has to work all night it will be very difficult for him to be an efficient airman during the day?

Mr. Birch

The hon. Member will recollect that the vast majority of airmen in fact do not do any casual jobs at all and do manage to live quite well. I there fore think that he will be mistaken if he always bases his opinions on what he reads in the Daily Mirror. The Daily Mirror is not holy writ, and I think that the hon. Member should treat it with reserve.

Mr. Rankin

Surely, when a national newspaper raises a point of this nature it is the business of any hon. Member to explore the case to try to get at the truth.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £100,160,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of the Air Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.