HC Deb 13 March 1958 vol 584 cc672-87

Question again 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.

6.44 p.m.

Mr. Chetwynd

What with a count and a visit from Black Rod in the course of my speech, Sir Gordon, I think I have almost had the lot now, and I hope that nothing else will happen to prevent my bringing my contribution to a speedy conclusion. Incidentally, while referring to Black Rod, I should like to say that Black Rod in his other capacity as a very distinguished general is doing a wonderful job for the War Office in his television series for the B.B.C. I think he is probably doing as much for recruitment as everything else put together.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is a great discourtesy that only half a dozen Members should be here when this distinguished officer approaches to carry out his duties?

Mr. Chetwynd

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) did his best to prevent him coming, so I am not at all sure whether he should make that point.

Dealing with the expected contribution towards the upkeep of our forces in Germany—the £39 million—we all know that this is a highly problematical figure. Discussions have been going on for a considerable time, and it looks as if this sum will not be forthcoming, at least in this form. Will the Minister tell us, in amplification of what is said in the Defence White Paper, how our troops will be affected, in numbers and organisation, in the event of our not receiving the whole of the £39 million? My own position is quite clear. I think that we should say definitely to the Germans that, unless they pay this contribution, we shall reluctantly be compelled to reorganise and withdraw part of our forces.

There is an item in the Vote under discussion for the upkeep of clothing, which I take to mean Service clothing. I suggest to the Minister that most troops, according to my knowledge, like to get into civilian dress once they are off duty. Some men go to considerable expense to acquire for themselves decent civilian dress, and I should have thought that, instead of money being wasted on Service dress for walking out, a clothing allowance should be paid. I know that walking-out dress may have appealed in the nineteenth century or even later, but, though I hate to say this to the traditionalists, I do not think that it has that appeal now. Men like to get out of the barracks, when off duty, wearing decent civilian dress. If money were spent on a clothing allowance to permit a soldier to buy a good civilian suit, it would pay dividends, I am sure.

It is very difficult indeed to find out from the Vote how much money is coming to the Army from discharge by purchase. It must be a very small amount, because the whole total is only about £150,000. A point which has struck me in my constituency correspondence is that it is very much more difficult in the Army for a man to buy his discharge than it is in either the Royal Air Force or the Navy. I wonder whether different principles apply to discharge by purchase. I hope that we can have some statement of what the policy will be in this respect, whether the price of discharge by purchase is to be put up or whether a more generous approach is to be shown.

We are dealing here with the pay of the Army, and I want finally to refer to the actual procedure by which the individual soldier receives his pay. It is on many occasions little more than a survival from mediaeval times, a soldier having to go up and salute, put his hand out, get his pay, salute, turn round and go away with it. In industry, on the other hand, the money is given to a man quietly and privately in a sealed envelope or in a tin. I know that this sort of procedure is adopted in some units, but I feel that we ought generally to abolish the pay parade, with the red tape which goes with it, and pay soldiers in a civilised way, very much as civilians are paid. I feel that that is a suggestion worth while considering, and it meets a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey in the main debate last week.

These people in the Army are in reality civilians who are for a time serving their country in their chosen way. I am sure that they will be happier and more contented if we can relate their conditions of work and service more to the civilian world of their friends from which they have been taken.

I hope that my plea tonight has not been regarded in any way as an attempt to be awkward, because it is not meant to be. It is meant to help the Service to get the men and conditions that it wants. There are a number of matters that I have raised that need attention, and I hope that we shall get a full statement about them from the Under-Secretary.

6.51 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I wish to emphasise what my hon. Friends the Members for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) have said. I want to say a word of, welcome to the hon. Member for Bermondsey, who has acquitted himself very ably in his first appearance in the front line. Although he and I very often disagree, I am sure that it is very appropriate that somebody who has been through the mill of the Army should put the point of view of the serving soldier.

I would like to emphasise what he has said about the need for consultation, as far as possible, between the ranks and the officers, and to say that in these days, when so much of these Estimates consists of what is largely civilianised expenditure or National Insurance and pay, there should be an opportunity for the serving men to be organised, perhaps, in consultative committees—although I prefer the expression "trade unions"—in such a way that the officers have a clear understanding of what are the grievances. If this were done, much time of hon. Members devoted to fighting individual cases would be saved.

I believe that some of the officers employed at the War Office are supervising the publicity for recruiting. Last year I drew the attention of the House to this recruiting activity, and I should like to do so again. There are officers working with the Central Office of Information whose activities I cannot discuss on this Vote, but there is a link between the War Office and the Publicity Department, because it is in this Vote. Therefore, I wish to emphasise what I have said on previous occasions—that there should be efficient supervision of these activities so that the War Office and recruiting officers do not make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of the general public. If it is to be a modern Army, then the appeal should be made in terms of modern life.

I have here an advertisement from the Manchester Guardian of Friday, 21st February of this year in which a page is devoted to an appeal for officers of the Queen. The first picture is of a captain of the Honourable Artillery Company in the days of Queen Elizabeth. This is a very impressive picture of a gentleman—

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I think he is now referring to Vote 9.

Mr. Hughes

I apologise, Sir Gordon. I will return to that matter when we discuss Vote 9.

6.55 p.m.

Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)

I would like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to ask his right hon. Friend to look into the question of the education of serving men's children in this country. I have been reading the debate that we had in 1955. The year before that, I had the good fortune to raise the matter on an intervening Motion in the Army Estimates. As a result of that debate and my intervening Motion, a Departmental Committee was set up between the Ministry of Education and my hon. Friend's Department to make recommendations. As far as I am aware, their recommendations were wholly accepted.

The right hon. Lady the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Dame Florence Horsbrugh), who was then Minister of Education, was moving in the right direction, and in the direction that we all desired. Unfortunately, there was a change at the Ministry of Education and the Minister who took the right hon. Lady's place did not see the matter in her light at all, or, for that matter, in the light of those of us who had been advocating a change in this matter. We failed to get what we wanted for the families of serving officers and men at home, but succeeded in getting the allowances that we needed and arrangements required for the families of men serving abroad.

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows the reason lying behind this failure. It is the old, old story. Whatever happens in the Services in England must accord with the regulations for the serving soldier. Many times my hon. Friends have tried to propound the difference between the life of a serving soldier, sailor or airman, and the civil servant, who locks the door at a specific time at night, goes home to his family and does not have the disturbance of serving men, and knows perfectly well that, provided he does not make any mistakes, he will retire on a fairly handsome pension at a certain age. There is no comparison between the two cases. My right hon. Friend should look into this matter again, because there is hardship. One of the things that prevented men from joining the Services was the fact that their children would not get the education received by children in civilian life.

I think that this matter comes under this Vote. I ask my right hon. Friend to see if something can be done about the extraordinary discrepancy in the treatment of families of serving men between different local authorities. The disparity of treatment is fantastic in various local authorities. I know one local authority that has, quite rightly—I do not suggest that it is wrong—a means test to decide whether or not people should get a local authority grant for children if they are in the care of guardians, or something like that.

On going into this question of the means test, I discovered that a local authority would compare the standard and cost of living of an officer's family with that of people living in the area of that local authority, and would say that the officer received so much pay and, therefore, possibly came outside the limit of the means test, forgetting that the cost of living for that family, perhaps in Singapore or Hong Kong, was completely different and could not conceivably be compared with the cost of living of a person living in that local authority area. I do not want to go into those debates again, but I ask my hon. Friend to remind his Department of the details of the debates in 1954 and 1955 to see if he can do something for the children of serving men living in England.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)

I will try to be very brief, because we do not want to trespass on the time of the Royal Air Force. The Royal Navy was good enough to be punctual with us, and we should try, therefore, to conclude our debate within the hour.

I want to reinforce the plea made by the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) about education. In my experience it is very important among the problems of serving officers and men alike. At present it is a lucky bag. Some people do very well and have very good educational facilities, for example in Germany—unless the very good schools there are full—while others have very great difficulty. I reinforce the hon. and gallant Member's plea.

I also want to reinforce the view expressed strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), who said that the differential between the Regular and the National Service man is becoming very wide indeed. We all understand it and recognise that it is part of the decision to taper off the system of National Service, but it is becoming almost indefensible, particularly in the allowances. As my hon. Friend so clearly said, the dependant of a National Service man is just as much in need as the dependant of a Regular. This is a point which should be looked at again.

We welcome very much the new pay and allowances, but I should like to put a point to the Secretary of State, not necessarily of criticism. I ask him to look where he is going in this. In many cases—it differs with the number of stars—out of a total income of over £11 a week which the private soldier will get, no less than £4 a week will be in the form of allowances if the man is married. There will, therefore, be a very wide differential between two men doing exactly the same job and having exactly the same qualifications, but one being married and the other not married.

That may be right, but we must bear in mind that no other employer does anything of the kind. There is nothing like that differential in any other circumstance. There are special reasons why in the Army part of the total remuneration ought to be in marriage allowances, but the width of the differential as it will become under the new pay scale needs watching. I do not necessarily ask for comment on it tonight, but it is worth bearing in mind in coming years.

The Secretary of State has stressed the difficulties of recruiting for the non-teeth arms. It is obvious that that is not going as well as recruiting for the teeth arms. I should like to know how much it would cost if the very drastic step were taken of bringing the pay of the W.R.A.C. up to the same level as that of the men's Forces. I am not necessarily advocating this but a good many of these non-teeth jobs—by no means all—can be done by women. Many of the clerical jobs can be done by them. If the cost did not prove prohibitive, there is something to be said for such a step. I am not suggesting it on the ground of principle, of equal pay for equal work, but simply as a way of getting the jobs done. The Government have moved in that direction in the new pay scales, because the women's pay has been raised considerably, but if this turns out to be one of the main recruiting difficulties in the long run, there is something to be said for going in the direction of equal pay between the sexes.

The question of overseas' allowance is a hardy annual. I was in trouble about it when I was in office and other Secretaries of State are likely to be in trouble about it. It is largely a question of name. As long as we call it an overseas allowance, people will always think that everybody overseas ought to get it. Either that ought to be so and there ought to be a small allowance for everybody overseas, or it ought to be re-named and given some such name as foreign cost-of-living allowance. Some such name would make it clear that it was an allowance given only in those cases where the cost of living in the station abroad was higher than at home. Until that is done it will remain one of the continual misunderstandings which are bound to crop up. It is a very small point, but it is curiously irritating to both the Secretary of State and men.

I turn to the question of the War Office establishment, on the same Vote. I take the point that during the transitional period of a profound reorganisation of the Army there is a very heavy burden on the War Office staff, both civil servant and military. It is, therefore, not unreasonable that the proportion of this staff should be higher. When the Army settles down in its new form of approximately 165,000 men, however, I think the target ought to be to bring the establishment down roughly in proportion—not necessarily exactly in proportion but roughly in proportion. We have the example of what the Secretary of State for Air is doing. He is appointing a committee to try to ensure that this is done. The Under-Secretary of State ought to give us an assurance that this point is being very carefully watched and that this is the target in the long run.

I strongly support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) on the democratic institutions of the Army. I recognise that it is very largely a question of human relations and of the quality of the commanding officers—that is perhaps the biggest element—but machinery, too, can be useful and can have a value. I do not want to make suggestions of particular kinds of machinery which might be useful, and I do not endorse the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but I think that some kind of machinery might well be considered. It would help where informal human relations may not be as good as they can be.

With ideal commanding officers and company officers I do not think there is any problem, but we cannot achieve that in all units; we cannot expect every set of regimental officers to be as good as the best. I therefore support the plea that we should see whether some new machinery in that sphere is not valuable.

7.8 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Julian Amery)

Both the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) stressed the importance of closer consultation between officers and other ranks and human relations in the Army. I can assure them that in this matter they are pushing at an open door. The other day my right hon. Friend announced the appointment of a Committee under General Whistler to inquire into problems of this kind.

I should like to add one point from my personal experience, short as it is. I have been deeply impressed and indeed surprised by the number of conversations and talks which take place informally between what might be called the top brass and other ranks. We have, too, carried out a whole series of Gallup polls—without rank or anything else influencing the answers—to obtain a pretty clear idea of what is in the soldier's mind at the present time.

In a sense this debate confirms how successfully the problem of human relations in the Army is being tackled. It has been a useful debate, and a number of interesting points have been raised. But it has shown, as did our debate last week, that there are no very significant aspects of human relations in the Army which are radically wrong. I know the Committee will be glad about that.

Mr. Mellish

We are concerned about the soldier expressing his point of view and the War Office not getting to know about it. It was my experience that this never got beyond the company office level.

Mr. Amery

This has been improving steadily for a number of years. One feature of the attempt to put the Army on to an all-Regular basis is that many things have been looked into in the past twelve months which have not, perhaps, been looked into before. So whilst the situation has been improving steadily since the war, in the last year it has been improving more quickly still.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey asked whether we could in future present Vote 1 of our Estimates in a form more akin to that used by the Air Ministry. I am sure my right hon. Friend will consider whether there is any way in which we can give more information next year than hitherto. But there are two points I ought to make at this stage. It is true that the Air Ministry gives rather more information in Vote 1 than we do. But there is a special reason for this. As I understand it, the fighting strength of the Royal Air Force is predominantly expressed in terms of numbers of operational aircraft. These are not given in the Air Estimates.

The fighting strength of the Army on the other hand is largely expressed in terms of the strength of actual units on the ground. There would, of course, be security objections to disclosing these facts in an official publication or to giving indications from which these facts could be too easily deduced.

I do not say it is impossible to discover the strength of units from other sources of information. Indeed, on an earlier occasion, the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) produced some interesting deductions from the results of inter-unit football. It is undesirable, however, to give the intelligence services of foreign powers official confirmation of information which they can only get in other ways.

The other point is purely practical. If we give too many details about minor allowances, the Army Estimates will run the risk of becoming a book of regulations and will be even more cumbersome for hon. Members than it is today.

Mr. Mellish

I do not want to overstate the case, but almost everything in the Air Estimates is broken down between officers and men, such as National Insurance contributions, and so on. There is no secrecy about those. It does not matter if the enemy knows how much we pay in insurance.

Mr. Amery

As I said earlier, we will see if we can give more information next year and we will take account of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee asked what would be the cost of bringing the pay of the W.R.A.C. up to the level of male soldiers. The answer is that it would cost 15 per cent. more. It has been raised to 85 per cent. of the male rate of pay. The point is an interesting one, but the right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to express an opinion on it now.

I come now to the question of educational allowances which was raised by the hon. Member for Bermondsey and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer). The hon. Member for Bermondsey asked for the breakdown as between officers and men. Very much the greater part of the Vote, £268,000 out of £280,000, goes to officers. Some £12,000 goes to other ranks. It is paid to help them with the secondary education, and, since this year, with the vocational and technical education of their children. It is given for children between the ages of 11 and 18 who are at boarding school or attending day school while in the care of a guardian other than a wife.

The War Department pays the gross fees less scholarships up to certain permitted levels. In the case of boarding schools these levels are £75 a year for the first child, £100 a year for the second and £125 a year for any others. It used to be £75 per child, each year, so there is a fairly sharp increase there.

For day schools it has gone up from £26 a year to £35 a year for each child. The allowances are paid for schools in the United Kingdom, with very few exceptions. For example, the children are sometimes allowed to go to foreign schools. Where there are Army schools, parents are expected to use them. The allowances for officers and other ranks are identical. The great difference between the proportions of the Vote which go to officers and to other ranks is explained, so our experience has shown, by the fact that other ranks nearly always take their children overseas. If they do not, they leave them with their wives in this country. So in their case we do not get the same problem of the child left in a boarding school or attending a day school while in the care of a guardian, as appears to be more frequently the case with officers' children.

Mr. Chetwynd

Can the Minister say the number of children involved?

Mr. Amery

I cannot say offhand. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can do the sum.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer

Can I offer a figure of 16,000?

Mr. Amery

My hon. and gallant Friend has given his answer to the question. The hon. Member for Bermondsey also asked about secondary education. Secondary education is provided in all overseas commands where the local State system is considered inadequate. At present, the only State systems we regard as adequate are in Gibraltar and in the three East African Territories. The cost of educating secondary children under these systems is borne by the War Department.

Army secondary schools are in five categories. These are as follows. First, all-age schools—the greatest number—established in areas where there are not many children, and attended by secondary-modern ability children. Then there are secondary-modern schools, similar to those in this country. There are secondary schools which cater for both modern and grammar streams. There are also secondary grammar schools catering solely for grammar ability children. Finally, there are secondary comprehensive schools catering for all three streams, modern, grammar and technical. These are spread all over the world. I have the figures here but I will not weary the Committee by giving them all.

But there are, for example, 52 all-age schools in B.A.O.R., 11 in the Middle Eastern Command and four in the Far East. There are also a number of secondary schools in the Far East as well. We do co-operate with the other Services. For instance, in Malta Army secondary school children attend schools administered by the Admiralty.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing spoke of the attitude of the local authorities. I welcomed his statement because it confirmed the view, shared by many of us in the Committee, that the future recruiting of the Army depends largely on the status which the community accords to the soldier. I think this is a matter where public opinion, led in many cases by Members of Parliament, can have a beneficial effect.

I have been asked about National Service grants, and the hon. Member for Bermondsey wondered whether it was realised to what extent they are available. Every precaution is taken to make sure that their existence is known, and I think it is the fact that year by year people get to know more about them. Knowledge does travel slowly in these matters, but the increase in the Vote in respect of National Service grants reflects the growing awareness of their existence.

Where National Insurance is concerned, the provisions are in line with the provisions in civilian life. It would be contrary to our practice in this country to discriminate. The War Department, like employers everywhere, pays its share of National Insurance contributions.

I was asked some questions about rents. To give an example of the present position, rents for other ranks have gone up in some cases to 28s. 6d. a week.

Mr. Mellish

What were they before?

Mr. Amery

They varied a certain amount, of course, but this particular figure has gone up from 21s.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Have there been any evictions?

Mr. Amery

No, there have been no evictions.

The increase in rents is balanced by the increase in marriage allowance. The increase in pay is, therefore, a net increase. The hon. Member for Bermondsey seemed to be worried lest the increase in rent should cancel out the increase in pay. But that is not the case at all. The increase in pay is a net benefit accruing to the officer or other rank. The increase in marriage allowance helps to balance, and in some cases more than balances, the increase in rent.

The rent paid to the landlord is, of course, a charge on the War Department. In some cases, these are contracts of long standing and cannot be terminated quickly. In other cases, they may be, terminated or we may enter into a new contract. We pay any difference, not the tenant. I think that covers the points which have been raised under that head.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey also asked me why the procedure for paying bounties to W.R.A.C. was different to that for men. Experience shows that W.R.A.C. have a tendency to leave the Army sooner because they marry. So, it is perhaps the right course to pay by instalments rather than in one lump sum.

The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) was a little disturbed about the way these bounties are paid, and I think he said that we must look into it.

Mr. Chetwynd

No, it was a question of the differential. I suggested that we might be paying a man the rate for nine years and he leaves after six years.

Mr. Amery

As the hon. Member knows, he cannot leave after six years, if he has signed on for nine, without first obtaining a discharge. In that case, the question of a refund could arise.

The hon. Member also raised the matter of an increase in National Service pay. There was an increase in 1956 and one before that in 1950. I am bound to say that I expressed my views on this in the debate the other night, and I was glad to find that on the whole, the hon. Member for Bermondsey, gave me his support. I do not think that in the present financial climate, there would be justification for this increase. National Service men do receive allowances, and there is the system of National Service grants to which I have already referred.

The hon. Member also spoke of support costs in Germany. I am afraid that I am not in a position to add to what I said the other day. The whole matter is under discussion in N.A.T.O. at the present time.

He also advocated that we should spend money on giving a civilian suit—

Mr. Chetwynd

No; not give the suit, but give the man the money with which to buy it.

Mr. Amery

The hon. Member is quite wrong if he thinks that the Army is not interested in a smarter uniform. It is. There was perhaps one point in his speech which was a little out of date. He said that the soldier is a civilian in uniform. That was absolutely true when we were thinking of a large conscript Army. Then men were being brought out of civilian life against their will to serve in the Army. But volunteers are joining the Army precisely because they want a different kind of life from civilian life. To such men a smart uniform has a very great appeal. I think we would be very ill advised to spend our money, at any rate at this stage, on better civilian clothing. First priority must be given to the demand for a smart uniform.

Mr. Mellish

That is quite right, but the man goes in the Forces full of keenness, and then he gets married, when the problem of the civilian aspect starts. We were trying to think about the civilian aspect of his life, and one encouragement would be to give him a civilian suit.

Mr. Amery

I do not say that there might not be a time when we could investigate that. But the first priority should be given to providing these men with a smart uniform.

The right hon. Member for Dundee, West asked me about establishment of the War Office. This will of course take its cut before the re-organisation is through, and it will be a pretty severe one. But as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, in the period till then the burden cast upon the War Office is greater than ever before. The whole period of re-organisation will be a difficult one. Thereafter the smaller the Army, the more important it will be to have really high-class Intelligence, really swift mobility and really good weapons. All these things call for a fairly strong administrative corps, and so impose a certain burden on the War Office.

I think I have covered most of the points raised in the debate. I apologise to any hon. Members if I have not met their points. If there have been any omissions, I will try to correct them by writing to the hon. Members in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

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