HC Deb 19 March 1956 vol 550 cc937-48
Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Two or three points on this Resolution could, with profit, be brought to the attention of the House. The first arises from the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for War was cut short in his stride when replying on an Adjournment debate to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). It concerned the pay of a Captain Allison and I thought we were getting a very sympathetic reply from the Under-Secretary of State. At seven o'clock the Chairman of Ways and Means came down with his special brand of Guillotine, so we did not have the advantage of hearing the concluding sentences of the Minister.

It may be that since 13th March, when my hon. Friend raised this matter, the hon. Gentleman has been able to take the matter to its final conclusion and to grant to Captain Allison the redress which I understand the situation demands. Whether that be so or not, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt welcome this opportunity of giving the House the advantage of hearing the concluding part of his speech. I do not think there is anything that I need say on the merits of the case. My hon. Friend made a very powerful case for the Regulations being pushed to the very limit. I thought that the Under-Secretary of State was moving in our direction, but if he cannot give us a favourable decision we shall at least have the advantage of knowing how the matter stands.

My second point arises from further consideration of the White Paper on Service Pay and Pensions. We have so far done fairly well. We, on this side of the House, noted the point about the Territorial Army; the Secretary of State was kind enough to clear that up on the Army Estimates debate. We noted the decision on short service officers; the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to clear that up. The third point arises from the position of officers who started their Army career in the ranks. They will have served on Regular Army engagements and now, having been commissioned and discharged from their Regular engagements, they will be serving as officers and qualifying for retired pay as officers.

The question is, What happens about their other-rank service? I presume that this matter affects the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, and that if we get the point cleared up for the Army the announcement will cover the other two Services. If that is not so, and if the point arises only in connection with the Army, perhaps the Under-Secretary will be good enough to say so. I do not know very much about the Royal Navy, but I should think that without any shadow of doubt the matter must arise in the Royal Air Force. There must be a considerable number of Royal Air Force officers who, at some time, served on Regular commissions. Their position now under Appendix 5 of the White Paper must be a little uncertain. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal with that point.

The third point with which I wish to deal in the short time available is a matter which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter). He has put on the Order Paper a number of Questions about the position of boy bandsmen serving in theatres such as Cyprus where the general situation at the moment is twilight between war and peace, and where these youngsters could be exposed to a certain amount of physical danger. My hon. Friend has taken the view that it is quite wrong in these circumstances to send out boys to join their regiments in Cyprus and that those who are out there ought to be brought home. My hon. Friend also feels that the Under-Secretary of State should give an assurance that in no circumstances in future should boys be sent out to that area.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

That matter does not appear to me, on the face of it, to arise on this Vote. This Vote deals with pay, and pay alone.

Mr. Wigg

With respect, from two points of view I submit that this must be in order. In the first instance, the pay of these boys is borne on Vote 1. That is the first consideration that I put to you. Secondly, the White Paper on Service Pay and Allowances is concerned with increasing the number of men serving in the Regular Army. Obviously it must also concern boys. Therefore, as the situation in which they will be employed must affect the number who will enlist, I respectfully submit that it must be in order to deal with the question of boys, bearing in mind, as I have already said, that their pay is borne on Vote 1.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No, I think that is going rather too wide on this Vote.

Mr. Wigg

With respect, this is the Report stage. We are reporting those matters which were dealt with in Committee. This matter would have been brought up at that time had my hon. Friend not had another engagement. I must respectfully submit to you that this matter is borne on no other Vote, but if we cannot discuss it on Vote 1 perhaps you would indicate at what stage we can discuss it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I suppose that when we come to Vote A we might be able to discuss it, but this is Vote 1, dealing with pay.

Mr. Wigg

I wanted to deal with the question that arises from the fact that these boys are enlisted in the Regular Army with a view to becoming Regular soldiers. Therefore, the numbers who do or do not enlist must affect the total sum, and for that reason I would submit that this is in order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That would be in order, I think, upon Vote A, but not upon this one.

Mr. Wigg

In that case, I can only submit to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and although the time is late, perhaps we shall be able to reach Vote A. I must, however, express my regret that we have not an opportunity to discuss this important subject which certainly concerns my hon. Friend a great deal and which, but for an accident, he would have raised on the Committee stage. However, you have given your Ruling and I must accept it.

The fourth point to which the hon. Gentleman referred is a matter which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) about National Service grants. He said that these are fixed, that they were fixed a very long time ago and that the cost of living has gone up a great deal since that time. He holds the view, a view which I am sure is held by my hon. Friends on this side of the House, that the Government ought to consider the ceiling—the largest amount which the family of a National Service man can draw—and give sympathetic consideration to the raising of that ceiling. Needless to say, it is perhaps asking a little too much that we should be told tonight what the new ceiling is going to be, but we should like to hear from the hon. Gentleman that this point is being borne in mind.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)

I want to emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said about the National Service grant. I raised this matter in Committee on the Estimates, but the Parliamentary Secretary had an avalanche of questions and I acquit him of any discourtesy in not having been able in the time to answer the point which I raised.

I know that the grant is administered by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, but I understand that it is fixed by the Army authorities, or, at least, that there is some consultation between the two Departments on what amount the grant should be. Although the rates of pay of National Service men have been slightly increased in the latest White Paper on Service Pay and Allowances, I do not feel that these young men are fully safeguarded by an overall limit of £3 a week for National Service grants. As I said on the previous occasion, people marry at a much younger age today than used to be the case. Many young National Service men are married and have family responsibilities. Indeed, a great number of them elect to carry out their apprenticeship engagements before National Service and they may be 22 or 23 before they are absorbed into the Forces as National Service men. They may have started to buy a house and may have furnished it on hire-purchase.

I feel that the overall limit of £3 a week is not adequate in many cases to meet the interest charges on the house and the hire-purchase charges on the furniture. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consult the necessary authorities to see whether the limit on the National Service grant can be raised. It would not mean that every National Service man would get more than £3, because many of them get no grant at all at present, but we ought to safeguard these young people against hardship, especially when they are married and when the early part of their married life is interrupted through the young man having to go for National Service. They ought to be safeguarded against any undue financial hardship. Would the Under-Secretary please look at the matter again and see whether something can be done?

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Fitzroy Maclean)

Perhaps I might deal in order with the points raised during the debate. First, the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) mentioned the case of Captain Allison which was raised on the Adjournment the other day by his hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). I am grateful to him for giving me this opportunity of inflicting my peroration on the House, which it might otherwise have been spared.

I will not recapitulate the earlier arguments. Briefly, Captain Allison's claim rested on two arguments—first, that he had been misled as to his rate of pay on taking a commission in the Royal Army Educational Corps, and, secondly, that as a result of the misinformation which had been given him he had suffered financial hardship and damnification.

As I said the other night, we do not consider that Captain Allison has succeeded in proving that he was misled, but for our part we do not exclude the possibility that that was so; it is quite possible that he was misled. We have not been able to obtain confirmation, but we are prepared to accept that it might have happened. What we are not prepared to accept is that as a result of the wrong information that was given him by the board in the first place he suffered financial hardship.

On the last occasion I gave details of Captain Allison's income in civil life and compared them with the pay he was drawing on entering the Royal Army Educational Corps. He threw up an income of £730 a year supplemented by certain casual profits earned in his spare time. Here, I would point out that Captain Allison declined to provide a certified statement from the Inland Revenue of his income. We asked him for this because it would have helped us, possibly, to help him. He sacrificed his civil job in favour of what was certainly more leisured employment in the Royal Army Educational Corps at a better income, amounting to £930 a year, to which everyone has agreed he was entitled.

The reason his claim has been rejected by the Army was that it is an established principle—a principle which runs under successive Governments and applies to all Government Departments—that the doctrine of public faith cannot be invoked unless material loss can be shown to have been sustained in consequence of the mistake. In our view, that has not so far been established in the case of Captain Allison. The case is still open in so far as he has appealed against the decision of the Army Council to Her Majesty the Queen and the commands of Her Majesty have not yet been received. I would add that it is expected that a final decision will be reached within the next couple of weeks.

Mention has been made of delay in reaching a decision. I would repeat that the reason is that each time Captain Allison has appealed against the decision we have given his appeal very careful and very sympathetic consideration; in fact, we have gone out of our way to find means of helping him.

The hon. Member also made reference to Regular other ranks who were commissioned during the war and remained in the Army, technically on short service commissions, after the war. Where their extended service is long enough for them to receive retired pay and terminal gratuities they are included in the special classes to which reference is made in Appendix 5 to the Service Pay and Allowances White Paper. There, it will be seen that Consideration is being given to the terms applicable to various special classes including Chaplains and officers commissioned from the ranks on special terms, and also to the rates of certain other forms of non-effective benefits. Those are special classes which include, as it says, chaplains, Maltese officers, the Women's Royal Army Corps, Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, and extended service officers.

The question of these benefits is at present, as the hon. Member suggested, under discussion with the other Service Departments, but it is possible for me to say that those people will, as soon as the discussions are completed, receive improvements to those benefits broadly corresponding to those received by Regular officers under the new scheme.

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) referred to National Service grants. I cannot make any announcement of any prospect for the time being of an increase although, like all similar benefits, they are kept constantly under review. I would point out that these benefits go up to £3, that they are in addition to pay and are granted mostly in respect of young men who would not normally be earning very high wages in any case, and that in cases of hardship there is nothing to prevent the parents or relatives concerned from drawing National Assistance should that be necessary.

Mr. Wigg

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not persist in that argument. It seems a very bad thing, indeed—and I say this in a very kindly way—for the Government, when the debates on the Army Estimates are drawing to an end and we have been trying to build up Regular recruiting, to say to the parents of National Service men, "If we are not generous to you, go to the National Assistance Board." There is real feeling against that approach, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will withdraw what he has said.

Mr. Maclean

I am not inviting the relatives of National Service men to do it. I am simply drawing attention to the fact that in cases of hardship National Assistance is there for the purpose.

Mr. Wigg

One knows that it is there, and the necessity is unfortunate, but as the argument is that although the £3 was adequate when it was introduced the value of money has gone down since, the case for increased grant is substantial, and is not met by saying, "If we are not giving enough from Army funds, get it from the National Assistance Board."

Mr. Maclean

That is not what I was saying, but that in cases where other circumstances conspired to cause hardship, Public Assistance was there.

That there does not seem to be any greater necessity for National Service grants is shown by the fact that of late there has been a considerable falling-off in the number of applications for them. That is why we have been able to reduce the Estimate this year. Had there been a larger demand one would have expected the number of applications to go up. As I told the House only the other day, we do everything we can to draw the attention of soldiers, their parents and next-of-kin to the existence of National Service grants.

We realise that it is very often hard for a wage earner to be taken from his family and put on a reduced wage even at an early stage of his life. We realise that there are cases of hardship. We think that these National Service grants go a long way towards meeting that need, but, as I have said, we keep all these questions under constant review. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we have only limited funds at our disposal and that we are under constant pressure from the House and from all quarters to reduce our estimates year by year—which we have succeeded in doing.

Mr. Wigg

If the country takes young men for its own purposes away from their parents it is not good enough to argue that the country cannot afford to pay more. The country has got to afford it. Among the first claims on the country's purse, when the country calls up these young conscripts, is its best assurance to look after their parents. I should have thought there was an overwhelming case for the hon. Gentleman's giving the assurance that he will consider the substantial arguments put forward by my hon. Friend, and that he will consider again whether the £3, if it was good enough when first introduced, remains good enough in present conditions.

The hon. Gentleman's argument that the claims have gone down is a two-edged one. If the number of applications has gone down, that is all the more reason for being generous for those who yet apply.

Mr. Maclean

As I have said, we are watching the matter closely, and if we feel that it is needed, we shall certainly look into it.

Question put and agreed to.

Sixth Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

In the debate on the Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," I brought up the matter of the rates of pay and allowances for the various ranks in the Territorial Army. Owing to help I received from my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and some very concise and practical information given to me by certain young officers in the Territorial Army, I was able to draw attention to some astounding anomalies, by which a sergeant in a Territorial camp actually gets more in cash for going to camp than the captain, and warrant officers Class I, who are people who are deserving of the highest emoluments the Army can pay to anybody, are very considerably better off even than officers higher up. While I do not dissent from the view that their qualities ought to be recognised, I am afraid that that difference is not quite in accordance with the tradition in the officers' mess.

I had a very pleasant conversation with the hon. Gentleman afterwards, and I sent him two letters on which my statements were based. I am quite certain he will agree with me that the figures given in them cannot be challenged. Since then I have received other correspondence from other Territorial Army officers drawing my attention to the same kind of anomaly. I have also received ample confirmation of the statement I made that most of these young officers, even up to the rank of captain, are people engaged in not very lucrative employments, and that as a rule they give up part of their annual holidays to go to the camps. They have to give up a good many week-ends also to qualify to be regarded as efficient officers, and to get to know their men, which is an essential part of an officer's duty.

I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State for War can tell me how far this matter has received attention and whether steps will be taken to remove these anomalies. I speak as an old volunteer. I actually volunteered in the nineteenth century and therefore the hon. Gentleman may think me somewhat out of date in these matters. I can assure him, however, that this subject is exciting very lively interest in Territorial officers' messes. I hope that he will say something which will indicate that the subject is regarded as deserving earnest and active attention.

Mr. Maclean

I can say straight away that nobody is more anxious to see officers and, indeed, all ranks in both the active and the reserve Army properly paid than are the Government. In that respect, the interesting speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in the debate on the Army Estimates and the arguments which he has now put forward once more, and about which he has written to me, are viewed by us with the greatest sympathy.

The right hon. Gentleman is shocked to find that senior N.C.Os. and warrant officers in some cases receive more than do junior officers. The right hon. Gentleman, with his very distinguished career as a warrant officer Class I, should realise that that is almost the ultimate height to which anybody can rise in the British Army, short of being a field marshal. No rank has more power and authority, but it is something which comes to a man at the end of his career. The same applies to some extent to a sergeant. That is why warrant officers and sergeants are older men and men with bigger family responsibilities and why it is true that they are paid more than young, junior officers, even captains, who have not advanced so far and have not the same responsibilities either in their work or in family matters. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War announced in presenting the Army Estimates, the pay of officers in the Territorial Army has been increased.

Mr. Wigg

There is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman has just said. The position of warrant officer Class I requires very special treatment. Compared with a newly-joined second lieutenant there is no doubt who is the more important person and who should receive the higher pay. But my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has touched upon a very important point, because it is not a question of a comparison between the newly-joined second lieutenant and a warrant officer Class I. The White Paper on Army pay alters the differentials quite substantially. One finds now that not only does the second lieutenant get less pay than the warrant officer Class I, but in certain circumstances he gets less pay than a private soldier.

The seven-star private, serving on a long engagement, gets 3s. 6d. a week more than a second lieutenant. That principle may have been pushed a little far, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) had that in mind in a previous debate. Now that the Government have accepted the principle of differentials, it does not mean that the policy introduced by the White Paper in taking differentials as far as this is not in need of constant review.

My right hon. Friend has rendered a great service in drawing attention to the dissatisfaction which this policy has already aroused in the Territorial Army, even without the White Paper. I was glad to hear from the hon. Gentleman, therefore, because it is a promising sign that the statement of my right hon. Friend will help him in his negotiations with his arch enemy—the Treasury. I hope, therefore, that for the sake of the Territorial Army the hon. Gentleman will be wholly successful.

Question put and agreed to.

Seventh to Twenty-third Resolutions agreed to.

Twenty-fourth Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.

It being half-past Nine o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Business of Supply), to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Resolution under consideration.

Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution, put and agreed to.

Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded to put Forthwith, with respect to the remaining Resolution reported from the Committee of Supply but not yet agreed to by the House, the Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in that Resolution:—

Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Twenty-fifth Resolution, put and agreed to.

Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith, with respect to each Resolution come to by the Committee of Supply and not yet agreed to by the House, the Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in that Resolution:—