HC Deb 10 February 1960 vol 617 cc469-71
The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement on officer career structures.

In November, 1958, the Government put in hand an examination of the officer career structure in the Services following a recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Recruiting that officers should be given the choice of retirement before 40, when their resettlement problems would be least, or employment until 60 or so. This examination has now been completed and I am glad to be able to inform the House that all three Services will be able to go a long way towards meeting this need.

The Army and the Royal Air Force are introducing entirely new career structures which will mean that, generally speaking, officers other than those on short service commissions will be offered a career to at least 55, or, alternatively the opportunity to retire with a pension at 37 or so. The Royal Navy has already introduced a career structure which gives a career until at least 50 to lieutenant-commanders on the general list and to later ages to officers of higher rank. This will continue. These changes will, of course, have to be introduced gradually and it will not be possible to offer the new terms to all officers now serving. The details of how the scheme will be operated in each Service will be set out in the Service Estimates Memoranda.

There will be an entirely new code of retired pay to match the new career structures Full details of this will be found in a White Paper on Pay and Pensions now available in the Vote Office.

The Government believe that this is a necessary and major reform of great importance and one which will have a significant effect on the attractiveness of the Services as a profession.

Mr. G. Brown

May I, first, thank the Minister for making this statement and say that we welcome it as, apparently, a step towards the implementation of the recommendation of the Grigg Committee, which we all welcomed at the time it was made? There are two points that I would like to put to the Minister.

The recommendation of the Grigg Committee was that officers should have a choice. The words used by the right hon. Gentleman might appear a little ambiguous. May I have it made clear that it is the officer who may choose to retire at 37 or so with a pension, or go on to the age of 55, and that if he elects to go on he can, other things being equal, be assured that the Service will not decide to get rid of him in between—in other words, that he can be sure of his career to the age of 55?

Secondly, to raise a more minor question, I understand that the Minister has stopped the previous practice of putting the quarterly recruitment figures in the Vote Office. Will he look into this and see whether he can revert to the practice which formerly applied?

Mr. Watkinson

To deal with the minor issue first, if it is the wish of the House to have this information—I had thought that it might not now be required—I will certainly reinstate it.

On the broader question, I cannot, of course, give an undertaking that every officer will be able to choose. But the Grigg Committee's desire was that, in general, an officer should be able to choose and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will see from the White Paper, which is rather detailed, that as far as possible choice is preserved. I must, however, make it plain that it cannot be guaranteed to every officer.

Mr. de Freitas

As I deferred asking a supplementary on Question No. 9 until I heard the Minister's statement, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether an officer will be free to elect to retire with a pension at any time between the ages of 37 and 55, or whether the option can be exercised only at the age of 37?

Mr. Watkinson

The White Paper sets out a graduated scale of pensions covering the period from age 37 or so until 55 or so. That is the grade of pension that the officer will receive if he retires in any of the intervening years.

Mr. Brown

The Minister did not deal quite with the point which I had in mind. I understand that not every officer can have this guarantee, but if an officer is offered this choice and elects to stay on, then, other things being equal, if he does not do anything wrong, and so on, will he be assured of a career till he is 55?

Mr. Watkinson

Let me give one example. In the Navy, of course, there is already a differentiation, if a man does not go through the promotion grade of lieutenant-commander. In the Army, if an officer fails his promotion examination—for example, to major—then he may fall outside the scheme to the extent that he would not have the option of retirement exactly when he might wish.