HC Deb 13 March 1958 vol 584 cc661-72

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £98,220,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, &c., of the Army, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

We thank those hon. Members who have taken part in the debate on the Navy Estimates for being so accurate with the time. They agreed to finish at six o'clock and they kept their word.

I want, first, to draw the Under-Secretary of State's attention to what we think is an important difference between the way in which the Army Estimates and the Air Estimates are presented. In the Air Estimates the figures are broken down much better than in the Army Estimates, and this makes it possible for us to obtain information by reading instead of by asking questions. Two of the questions which I shall ask need not have been asked if the Estimates had been presented in the same fashion as the Air Estimates. Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to look again at the manner of presentation of these Estimates?

The reference on page 24, for example, dealing with education allowances, simply states that for the year 1958–59 a sum of £280,000 will be provided for education allowances. How much is for officers and how much is for men? That information is given in the Air Estimates but not in the Army Estimates.

The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that in the debate on the Army Estimates last week I raised the question of secondary education and reminded him that last year the Secretary of State, in his own Memorandum, stated that he was most unhappy about the position of secondary education in the armed forces and that he was calling for a special report. There is no mention of it in the Memorandum this year and there is no comment in any of the Explanatory Notes in the Army Estimates. Will the hon. Member let us know something about it? What happened to the report, if there was one, and what improvement has been made, if any?

We should like some assurances from the Minister about the National Service grants mentioned on page 20. An additional amount of £1 million is shown as expected to be required under this Subhead for 1958–59. Could the Under-Secretary of State give us an assurance that every effort is made to let men in the Army know that these grants are available? As Members of Parliament, we have wives of Regular soldiers and National Service men coming to us and putting to us their financial problems as a consequence of their husbands having been called-up. They ask for our help. No doubt, the War Office could confirm what I am saying from the large number of letters which hon. Members send to the War Office on this matter. We agree that the grant is a very important part of the financial assistance, and on behalf of my colleagues I wish to know whether the Minister is satisfied that we are doing all that we can to let men know that these grants are available. Can the Minister give us that assurance?

On page 24 we see an estimated increase of nearly £1 million which the soldier has to find for National Insurance contributions for the year 1958–59. This is a direct result of Government policy. It is true that soldiers do not pay the full rate paid by civilians because they do not get all the benefits which civilians get; for instance, they do not get the sickness and unemployment benefit, although no doubt some of them would like to get the unemployment benefit. Similarly, the Industrial Injuries Act does not apply. Nevertheless, an extra £1 million is to be paid by Army personnel in these contributions.

I make a point which is similar to that which I made in the debate last week and with which I do not expect the Under-Secretary of State to agree: I yearn for the day when we have a Labour Government which will introduce their own national superannuation proposals, because we shall then be able to say that in insurance soldiers will pay on the basis of what they earn, unlike the present position when the private pays the same rate as the R.S.M. That is not fair, and it is an anomaly. Our proposals will mean that soldiers will pay in accordance with what they earn, and when they leave the Army at the end of their service they will carry pension rights with them under the scheme, which is very important when they return to civilian life.

Pay is an all-important issue. I have said previously, and I repeat, that the global sum which the Army has given in increases is generous. We do not deny that, and on this side of the House we welcome it. Nevertheless, we believe that the way in which these increases have been distributed has created many anomalies, and I want to put a series of questions to the Under-Secretary of State. I hope that he can give me all the answers, although I have a shrewd suspicion that he will not be able to do so.

One of the difficulties is that married Regular soldiers living in married quarters have had their rents increased considerably and in many cases, we understand, they have received no net increase in pay at all. They have received no over-all increase because their rents have risen so steeply.

What we want to know from the Under-Secretary is more about how much these rents have gone up for married quarters; whether, in fact, the rents for good quarters have gone up as much as those for bad quarters; whether or not any special privilege has been given to men whose wives and families are still living in very inadequate quarters, whether their rent has gone up, and by how much.

The Under-Secretary himself said in reply to me in the debate last week that the reason why the rent has been put up is that it is in accordance with the Rent Act policy of Her Majesty's Government. It is bad enough to apply that to civilians, without inflicting it on the poor soldier. The Government have missed a great opportunity in the distribution of this very large global sum by creating these extra anomalies. I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us more about these rents, by how much they have gone up, whether there is any discrimination between bad quarters and good quarters, and so on.

I want to ask also about the hiring of civilian homes. I understand that civilian homes are taken over by the Army and let to serving soldiers, and I assume from that that the rents are paid by the Army to the landlords. Have the rents for these homes gone up, and, if they have, who gets the increase? Is it the landlord? If so, how much is involved and what was the yardstick used in putting the rent up? Was it, as for civilians, the gross rateable value or the net rateable value? How much is involved, and why has the soldier, who, after all, is doing a good job of work for his country, to be afflicted by this particular anomaly, which is creating, I understand, a great deal of trouble throughout the Services?

On page 24 reference is made to bounties. There is an increase for 1958–59, and in the Explanatory Notes it is stated that the bounties for men are payable as soon as possible after the prolongation has been approved. Those for women are payable in instalments over the period of prolonged service My simple question is, why? Why is there a difference for the women as opposed to the men in the payment of bounties?

Those are the main questions which I wish to ask on this Vote. Let me end my short remarks by saying this. It seems to me that in the sort of debate which we have on the Estimates we are the watchdogs in Parliament for the personnel in the Army. We take up the individual complaints and the moans and groans of the average soldier. Could we not achieve a position where we could have a far more democratic system within the Army itself, so that the men would be allowed to express their point of view, rather than relying on individual Members of Parliament to put that point of view forward?

We have often talked, sometimes in a rather glib way, about a democratic Army. I should like the Under-Secretary to deal with this point. Almost all the matters which I have been raising concern the private life of the soldier; they are the sort of things about which civilians can make representations through their organisations. The soldier is denied that right. I am very glad to see that the Secretary of State is here and that he has recovered from his attack of influenza. There is no reason why there should not be far more joint consultation between the men themselves and their officers, and at those meetings there should be high ranking officers who would listen to the men and who would understand their point of view and report it back to the War Office, so as to give the men the feeling that they are more than numbers in a unit. I ask the Under-Secretary to say that at least he is interested in this point, and we should like to hear any views which he may have about how to make the British Army more democratic than it is.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

It appears from the state of the Committee at the moment that all the questions will be asked from this side, and we hope that answers will be given by the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary. We are dealing now with the largest single Estimate in the Army Estimates—something approaching £100 million. In any circumstances, that is a good deal of money, but it is in my view only a reflection of the value we put on our fellow citizens who for a good part of their lives surrender their normal liberties to serve in the forces, and in the Army in particular, in order to defend the rest of us.

In my view, therefore, we have a special duty to see that the authorities behave as model employers towards these men, who have not in many respects the normal civic rights which we enjoy, to make their grievances known and seek remedies. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), I would say that we certainly do not begrudge the money which is being spent to improve the pay and conditions of these men, who are our fellow citizens. I welcome this increase in pay, with certain qualifications and in particular the qualification which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) in the original debate, concerning the position of National Service men.

I can well understand the preoccupation of the War Office with the future Army which they are planning to recruit, an all-Regular force; but they must not forget—and it seems to me that they have had a tendency at times to forget—that for the next four years at least there will be a considerable number of National Service men still in the forces, and perhaps the overwhelming number of them living on pay which is quite outrageous.

We are expecting National Service men to exist in the forces on a rate of pay which has been increased only once, I believe, and now stands at 31s. 6d. How on earth can we sleep peacefully at nights knowing that these men have to live on a basic rate of 31s. 6d. for perhaps the major part of the two years for which they serve? I think that we ought to pay far more attention to this than we have done hitherto. There has been only one rise in pay since 1946 for this section of the Army, and that was 6d. a day. There is no other section of the community which has been so hard done by in respect of pay.

We must also remember that the National Service man now being called up is, more and more, the deferred man, over 21 years of age, who has perhaps had a fairly reasonable standard of life before being called up, and who therefore feels this difference all the more. We must also bear in mind that the reaction of the National Service man to the forces, the way he talks about them to his friends and family, is a major factor in recruitment for the all-Regular Army.

If the National Service man has a grievance and goes about expressing it, as he will, it percolates through to the whole community and brings the whole of the Armed Forces into disrepute. Therefore, although I accept the fact that we must have differentials in pay in order to attract people to serve for six years, nine years and so on, I feel that we have failed in our duty in letting this niggardly rate of pay for National Service men continue for so long.

It is become more and more invidious to have an armed Service consisting of first-class and second-class soldiers, judged by their rate of pay. They all use the same N.A.A.F.I. and recreational facilities generally, and the same "pub", if they go to one, but the Regular soldier is in a position to pay far more than his counterpart who is doing National Service. I believe that we have gone too far in these differentials.

We also have the position, as I understand it, that, for the first eighteen months, the National Service man does much the same job as the Regular recruit, but on something like one-third of his pay. We have to ask whether or not this is right. Cannot something be done, even at this stage, to improve the pay of the National Service man? Even at the end of his two years, and provided he has seven stars—how on earth anybody gets seven stars I do not know, and I should like some explanation of how one gets them, not what one does with them when one has them, the maximum pay which he will get is only £4 7s. 6d.

The National Service man has less leave than the Regular soldier, and he has fewer free travel warrants. I know from my own experience that, were it not for the fact that these men have mothers, fathers and other relatives who each week send them postal orders to help them out, they could not manage decently on their Army pay. Lots of them like to get home at week-ends if they can, but they have to use their own or their families' resources to do it, and I believe that we are placing too great a burden on the National Service man than we should be doing.

One can make out a case, as the Under-Secretary did in winding up the other debate, that the differentials and the Regular Army of the future are what matter. That cannot be applied to the families of these men. There is at present a completely crazy set-up whereby the marriage allowance for a National Service man is very very much less than that for a Regular soldier, although it takes just as much to keep the wife and children of a National Service man as it does to keep those of the Regular soldier.

As I understand it, the allowance for the wife of a Regular not with her husband is £3 17s. a week, whereas that for the wife of the conscript, the National Service man, is basically £1 15s., and if over 21 £2 16s. Here we have the ridiculous idea in this modern age that at 21 one is entitled to more pay for a wife and family than if one is unfortunate enough to be married before the age of 21. That is an anomaly which ought to be swept away. I think we are in duty bound to make a level marriage allowance for the soldier's family, whether he is a Regular or a National Service man. The National Service man's family ought not to be penalised as at present.

Having regard to recruitment for the Regular Army in the long term, surely it is short-sighted policy on the part of the War Office to neglect the National Service man in this way. The War Office may say, "Well, we have got him. He has got to come for two years whether he likes it or not. He has no union to put forward a wage claim. At the end of two years he goes away and we shall not see him again. Therefore, we can treat him in this way." That is short-sighted, for the simple reason that the National Service man and his comments form the background in deciding someone else whether to join as a Regular or not.

Today, one of the most disturbing features about the period of National Service is the small number who, having done National Service, have decided to volunteer to carry on. One would have thought that a young lad, liking Army life, would be willing to carry on if the conditions were promising and good. Yet we find, particularly now that the three-year arrangement has gone, that very few recruits come from the ranks of the National Service men, and I believe the War Office is wrong to have laid so much stress on and been so preoccupied with the future forces to the neglect of our current forces.

I turn from that to the pay of the Regular soldier himself. I have already said I thought it was a good thing that he should have had this increase, but although the War Office is giving a lot of extra money, that money is not likely to attract sufficient recruits in future to provide the all-Regular Army when they want it. What it will do is stop people leaving who otherwise might perhaps have left. Even so, I doubt whether the present rate will attract people from industry into the Army. When we bear in mind that we want people from industries with skills and crafts to do skilled jobs in the forces, we must consider a new approach. It is said that men in the Army are paid roughly the equivalent of what they would get in civilian life. I do not think that is enough. There are factors in Army life which need compensations. They are separated from their families, subject to rigid discipline; they have to go where they are allowed to go and not where they might want to go; even at mainline stations they are apt to be dogged by the Military Police, and so on. For this surrender of individual liberties and freedom, the members of the Armed Forces need more than the equivalent of what they would get in outside life.

A sergeant, perhaps the key man in the future Regular Army, will get £9 a week plus his allowances. In outside industry he would probably be a foreman or above, in a skilled trade, getting £15 a week, perhaps even more. A man of that sort will need some extra inducement to attract him to serve in the Regular Army.

Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)

On what basis does the hon. Gentleman calculate these invisible assets? It is almost impossible. It is very hard to say whether a man in the Army is getting the equivalent of his counterpart in industry at £15 a week.

Mr. Chetwynd

Even if he is getting the same it does not affect my argument, because my argument is that he ought to be getting more to compensate for the disadvantages he has to suffer.

Coming to the point my hon. Friend mentioned about the distribution of the increased pay, I have worked out some figures, and I calculate that roughly one-tenth of the personnel in the forces are officers and nine-tenths are other-ranks. Of this large sum of money, the one-tenth are getting over a quarter and the nine-tenths are getting the rest. That seems to me grossly disproportionate. The average pay of an officer—I admit it is only an average, and hon. Members can make what they will of it—is £840 a year, whereas the average pay of other-ranks is £215 a year. I therefore say that the distribution of this money is wrong, and that more ought to be given to the other-ranks, who are getting only three-quarters of it, and less to those in the higher brackets, who are getting a quarter.

How is the differential in pay between the six years and the nine years to work? I assume that a man signing on for six years gets the commensurate rate of pay, and another man signing on at the same time for nine years gets the difference What happens when a man who has signed on for nine years does not, for one reason or another, whether on compassionate release or on discharge, fulfil his engagement? Is there any provision for sorting that one out, or is it just a chance the War Office is taking? If the difference is so great, there is nothing to stop a man signing on for nine years and then perhaps finding some means of discharging his obligation during that period. It is something which I think the War Office will have to watch, because there are barrack-room lawyers who I am sure will be working these things out.

My hon. Friend also mentioned National Service grants, which are roughly £1 million. An increase of £300,000 reflects the increase in the cost of living which has taken place under this Government. My hon. Friend asked for publicity about it, but I want to know how many National Service men—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members being present

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Chetwynd

I am very glad, Dr. King, that there are more hon. Members on parade today than there were yesterday, and that I am able to carry on with my speech.

I was speaking about National Service grants, and I was asking whether this £1 million-odd reflects an increase in the cost of living or a more generous approach to their award. Is consideration given to rent increases under the present Act when awarding them? Some people who have already got the grant are bound to be affected. In those cases, can a grant be increased to take into account the increase in rents? I know that there is divided responsibility here, because the work is done by the National Assistance Board, but I should like to know how many applications for grant have been made in a year, and how many rejected.

I turn to the education allowances. We all appreciate the value of these, particularly to the man serving overseas, for whom the education of his child is a major pre-occupation. If he knows that his child can get a good education despite he himself being posted here, there and everywhere, it helps him enormously in settling down to his Service life. But what happens when a soldier receiving a grant of this kind comes home? Does the grant continue? It must be remembered that, in education, one cannot chop and change. If a child is at school, he or she cannot just be taken away, and a parent is committed to the expense for the whole of the time. I should have thought that once a grant was made, it should be continued for the duration of the child's attendance at school.

We should also know what kind of schools these children attend, and whether or not we are paying too much without getting value for our money. How many children are involved? The amount being spent at present is very small, and only very few children can yet be affected but I should like to see more emphasis put on this aspect of Service conditions, because I believe it to be a key point in our getting the right kind of people into the forces.

I do not know, Dr. King, whether I can deal with the Appropriations in Aid amounting to £39 million for our troops in Germany, but it appears that we will have time to have a word about that privately in a moment. In any case—

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