HC Deb 12 July 1963 vol 680 cc1694-704

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. G. Campbell.]

3.59 p.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

One of the functions and duties of Parliament, besides controlling the expenditure of the Executive, is the protection of the private rights of constituents. There are specific occasions in Parliamentary time when this can be done, and if there is to be another Consolidated Fund Bill I shall be delighted, because that will provide another occasion on which I can protect the interests of my constituents.

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. G. Campbell.]

Mr. Yates

This afternoon, therefore, I want to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War not a matter of the Consolidated Fund Bill which, this year, involved the sum of £59 million, but the loss sustained by a warrant officer, after 18 years' service, of £640 4s. 1d., which he paid over to the War Office.

The name of the warrant officer is Mr. G. H. Gilmour. He left the R.A.O.C. when he was declared redundant and took up a job in the Civil Service, in an established post. I shall ask the Minister to re-examine the regulations which he can make in order to see that in future other soldiers are not put in this disability. I want to deal with the matter as one of principle more than anything else. I do not suppose that Mr. Gilmour is ever likely to see his £640 4s. 1d. back, or any part of it, but he feels that what I have to say today may help some other Regular soldier in his position.

Let me, first, put certain matters on the record. Of all the Departments of State that one has to deal with as a back bencher the War Office gives the maximum possible help. I have had seven years' experience of this. Although the War Office takes its time, it is very thorough in ail its researches, and the Minister or the Under-Secretary of State, if he wishes, can be associated with this complaint.

The second point is that Mr. Gilmour is not now a constituent of mine. He used to live in Trench, at Donnington, near the Command Ordnance Depot, but earlier this year he moved into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). So that there should be no mistake about the position, my hon Friend replied to my letter, suggesting this Adjournment debate, in the following terms: I think it would make far greater sense for you to continue to handle the matter but I should, of course, be interested to know the outcome. For that reason a Member for one constituency is dealing with the case of the constituent of another. It does not often happen.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) is not here. He is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for War, and he was most kind to me in inquiring whether I had put down a Question on the matter, or had seen the Minister, or whether this Adjournment debate was necessary. As he has probably studied the papers closely he will have noticed that I wrote to the Minister last December, that a Question was tabled on this case on 24th April, and that I discussed the matter with the Minister about two weeks ago.

Let us consider the facts as given by Mr. Gilmour. I do not intend to rely upon my own memory. I intend to use two documents: first, a letter which he has written to me; and, secondly, a document sworn on oath in April of this year, before a solicitor in Wellington, in the County of Shropshire.

Let me refer to Mr. Gilmour's military history. He enlisted in Norwich on 16th December, 1943, in the Gloucestershire Regiment, and was transferred to the 4th Battalion the Welsh Regiment and took part in the Normandy campaign, landing at Arromanches on 18th June, 1944. He was one of the 12 survivors of his platoon and the platoon was mentioned in dispatches. He was promoted corporal in the field and his European campaign ended with the regiment in Hamburg.

Continuing his Regular service to the Crown, he was transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in 1954 and held the rank of warrant officer. Thereafter, to the best of my knowledge, he served the Army well and faithfully until the time came when he was told that his military career should be ended because the War Office wished to make a change of policy and decided that he should be discharged earlier from the Services.

From there I go straight to the document which he has sworn and which I now wish to bring to the attention of the Minister.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

What was his rank on discharge?

Mr. Yates

He was a warrant officer, class II. His actual rank is not given; the document simply states that he held the rank of warrant officer, but I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Under-secretary will know whether he was class I or class II.

Mr. D. Jones

And his age?

Mr. Yates

I cannot give his exact age, but I have no doubt that the Minister will be able to give that, also.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

His official age?

Mr. Yates

His official age will be given by the Minister.

I now turn to the affidavit sworn on 9th April, 1963, at Wellington, which covers the whole aspect of the case and on which I intend to rely. The document states: On 28th March, 1963, I was prematurely retired from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps…with the rank of Warrant Officer Class II. having completed 18 years 103 days' service, for which I was awarded 22 years' reckonable service. I presume that that means full pay, allowances and everything else. I was awarded the following pensions, terminal grant and special capital payments: (i) total weekly pension of 88s.; (ii) terminal grant £686 8s. 0d.; (iii) special capital payment £1,250. Before going out of the Army, he thought that it might be a good thing to try to prepare himself for civilian life. He therefore passed an examination, which was restricted to the Services, which enabled him to obtain an appointment as an established clerical officer in the Civil Service. He had an advantage in that way. The scheme was run by the Ministry of Labour and National Service and it had special vacancies for ex-members of the Armed Forces.

As soon as he took up the appointment, he was invited to repay to the War Office £640 4s. 1d. He was employed in that established job precisely six months. When leaving his work with the Ministry of Labour and National Service, he applied to the War Office for an adjustment. He did not, of course, say that he should get back everything that he had handed over to the War Office, but as he was no longer staying in the Civil Service he thought that out of his gratuity a refund would be coming to him out of ordinary common sense, fair play and equity.

But, oh, no. He was told that if he had been declared redundant within six months in the Civil Service he could have got his money back, but Army Council Instruction 385 of 1958 made repayment possible only if redundancy occurred within the first five years of his serving in the Civil Service. So he had a shock.

The conditions of A.C.I. 385 of 1958 were never brought to his notice at the time he applied to sit the examination for the established post in the Civil Service, or at the time of his discharge, or at the time of making the refund to the War Office. Nor was he warned at the time of taking up his established post that there was any Government document or any advice on conditions of service, or in the pamphlet dealing with premature retirement from the Armed Forces—which is Cmd. 321—or by the Civil Service Commissioners in their conditions of service.

Mr. Gilmour says in this document that had he appreciated what would hap- pen he would certainly have considered applying for an unestablished post. If he had applied for an unestablished post he would, of course, have had his £640 4s. 1d. returned to him; but he was in an established post, so he lost it.

I think that the next thing we ought to deal with is his own feelings in the matter. He said that he chose the Armed Services as his career and he served loyally for 18 years, and he says it was no fault of his that his Army career was suddenly terminated, and he felt that the loss of £640 which he voluntarily paid back to the War Office was neither fair nor just.

I must say that when I look at the case with care I feel that it is time that the War Office made other and better regulations for cases like this. What would I recommend? It is all very well being critical, and bringing up cases of this nature, but we in the House ought to say what we feel it is right and fair to do.

If a man takes an established job in the Civil Service and then decide she cannot stomach the Civil Service and has paid the £640, or whatever it is, to the Department concerned, there should be some form of sliding scale. If he is not able to carry on his career in the Civil Service, part of the money should be rerurned to him. I realise quite well that it he had had a permanent and satisfactory established job in the Civil Service, any chance to ask for his gratuity back, shall we say, after three or lour years, would have been completely out of the question.

I feel that this is a case which raises a matter of principle, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us whether he thinks it possible to bring in regulations for a sliding scale so that such people can recover some of their gratuities. If not, will he kindly see that the A.C.I.s which govern situations like this are brought to the attention of Service men, either when they sit examinations, or at least in the papers governing the discharge of Regular soldiers? I hope that the Minister will be able to help us.

4.15 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. James Ramsden)

I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) for being so good as to say what he did about the care with which the War Department tries to deal with individual cases.

It takes a great deal of trouble, and it is kind of my hon. Friend to pay that tribute to the Department.

Perhaps I might, in my turn, congratulate my hon. Friend on the clear way in which he deployed the facts of this rather complicated case on behalf of his constituent. It is not an entirely straightforward matter, so I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if, in replying, I try to set it out in my own way. I do not think that I shall fail to cover any of the points that he made.

As my hon. Friend said, Mr. Gilmour was formerly a warrant officer class II in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He was discharged on 28th March, 1962, after 18 years 103 days Colour Service on reduction of establishment. I am sorry I have no note of his age at that time. His engagement had been to complete 22 years' service, and he was one of those who had to be prematurely discharged so as to bring about the planned reduction in the size of the Armed Forces which was being implemented at that time. Like others so affected, he was entitled to the terms of compensation announced in the White Paper of July, 1957, Cmnd. 231.

Mr. Gilmour got a pension and terminal grant based on 22 years' service, that is, on the service he had actually done together with the period by which his career had been shortened by his premature discharge. That is the reason for the reckonable service being 22 years. He also received a terminal grant amounting to £815 2s. 0d. I think that was the figure given by my hon. Friend.

Mr. W. Yates

I accept that figure.

Mr. Ramsden

In any case it is not material to this argument. In addition, he received a special capital payment of £1,250. It is this last payment with which we are concerned here, but I should perhaps remind my hon. Friend of the considerations that underlay the decision to make these special redundancy terms available to discharged Servicemen at this time.

They were intended—and this was explained in the White Paper—as com- pensation for having one's service curtailed unexpectedly, as compensation for loss of promotion prospects, for the loss of higher rates of pension which might have been earned by longer service, and, finally, in consideration of the additional difficulty of finding employment in civilian life which might come about from an abnormally high number of people coming out of the Services all at once and being a drag on the market.

With this in mind, that is the problem of helping those who were discharged to find employment, certain special schemes were devised under which vacancies were reserved in the Civil Service, in established posts, for ex-members of the Armed Forces. They had to submit themselves to the qualifying examination, and if all went well they could get one of these jobs.

This is what Mr. Gilmour did. He took an established post in the Ministry of Labour under the special scheme. But the White Paper had made it plain—and I quote from paragraph 20—that officers and men who, within 2 years of the date of compulsory retirement, take up Retired Officer or similar posts in the Service Departments, or who obtain established appointments in the Civil Service or the Foreign Service under special schemes for reserving vacancies for ex-members of the Forces, will be required to refund part of the special capital payment they will have received under this scheme. Their retired pay or pension and terminal grant will not be affected. The point of this arrangement was that inasmuch as the special entry scheme and the vacancies reserved for discharged Servicemen made it easier for them to obtain employment, those who took advantage of it and obtained employment did not need the full amount of the special payment. The special payment was to help over difficulty in getting employment in the special circumstances of abnormal redundancy; but so was the special entry scheme—this was designed to meet the same point—and the reserved vacancies in the Civil Service that went with it.

A man was entitled to the help of the one or the other, but not both. Mr. Gilmour, having succeeded in a competition limited to ex-members of the Forces and having obtained a reserved place, was required to make a refund of part of the special payment, which in his case amounted to £640 4s. 1d. This he did.

In November of the same year, about six months later, he wrote to my hon. Friend to say that he had now left the Civil Service for a better job and had asked for the £640 to be repaid to him but that this had been refused. I have also seen a letter which he had written just before, on 24th October, to the Army Pensions Office making a similar request, which the Army Pension Office was obliged to refuse. That was just before he approached my hon. Friend.

Mr. D. Jones

Does the Minister say that Mr. Gilmour left the Civil Service of his own accord and was not made redundant? The impression I gained from the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) was that he was made redundant.

Mr. W. Yates

I am sorry if there has been a misunderstanding. Mr. Gilmour was not made redundant from his work in the Civil Service. He did six months in an established post in the Civil Service and was then offered another post outside the Civil Service, which he took up.

Mr. D. Jones

He was not made redundant.

Mr. Ramsden

In reply to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones)—I do not think this conflicts with what my hon. Friend has just said—Mr. Gilmour left the established post in the Civil Service of his own accord.

Mr. D. Jones

This is important.

Mr. Ramsden

As the hon. Member says, this is important. In subsequent letters Mr. Gilmour made two points, which I will try to deal with. In dealing with them I will meet a great part of the case my hon. Friend has made today. The first point was that the conditions of A.C.I. 385/58 were not brought to his notice at the time he had to make the refund and that, if they had been, he would naturally have considered the possibility of asking for an unestablished post. I cannot after this lapse of time confirm one way or the other whether Mr. Gilmour had read and, if he had read, had fully understood the implications of the A.C.I. I accept it from him that he did not. I might perhaps legitimately argue that, as it was published while he was still in the Army, his attention would have been called to it. But my hon. Friend has been in the Army, and so have I. I do not think that either of us would lay our hands on our hearts and say that we always read a Detail, although it was certainly our duty to do so, as it is that of any soldier.

I leave that point. I think that the commonsense way to look at it is this. The fact remains that Mr. Gilmour voluntarily went in for this special scheme of entry to the Civil Service, which involved surrendering this quite considerable sum of money as part of its terms. I find it a little difficult to understand how any normally prudent person could have done so, and could have given up this quite considerable sum of money without demur, without the question having cropped up in his mind as to why he was being made to give it up or without his having some understanding of why it was fair that he should be asked to do so.

Secondly, Mr. Gilmour said that, not getting back his £640 and having worked for the Civil Service for only six months means in effect that the cost to him is over £100 a month for the time he was in the Civil Service and he cannot believe that it can be the intention of the Treasury that his period with the Civil Service should be paid for in this manner.

Here, with respect, he has missed the whole point of why those who went into the Civil Service under the special scheme had to refund money. The part of the special sum they had to refund—£640 in his case—was paid on account of what difficulties there might be in finding a job, and because through Government action, and through no fault of the individual, he had lost one job, and security, and the chance of increased rights of pension. By getting established employment in the Civil Service under special arrangements made by the Government all this came back to him, and with it the need for the extra money, and the claim to the extra money, disappeared.

In the case of some people who took new posts on discharge and who made refunds, it is true that the new posts might themselves disappear and the persons might find themselves redundant again. This was recognised, and so it was provided that in such a case the appropriate part of the refund should be paid back. But this did not apply to those who had taken established jobs in the Civil Service, because there are other arrangements to safeguard the employment of established civil servants. In no case did it apply to anyone who gave us his job under the special scheme voluntarily, and of his own free will, as did Mr. Gilmour.

This is what the case turns on. The £640 was part of the payment made to Mr. Gilmour because he found difficulty getting a job, but we found him a job under the special scheme and so he had to give back the £640. If we had allowed him to keep it, or if we gave it back to him now, this would amount to double compensation. We should be paying twice, because he would have had both a chance of a specially reserved Government job and the money, whereas the two were intended as alternatives. He chose the job rather than the money and then gave it up for a better job which, as I have said, he did entirely of his own free will.

But that does not alter the fact that the Government had already discharged their duty to Mr. Gilmour. I cannot accept that we any longer have a special obligation towards him. I am in no doubt that the present position in which he finds himself is fair from the point of view of how he has been dealt with and how the Government have dealt with his case.

My hon. Friend said that he wished to treat this as a matter of principle and to raise the general issue, and I take it that by that he means that for the future we should take what steps we can to see that any misunderstanding which there might have been in this case does not recur. I will certainly look into that. My impression is—1957 is now some time ago—that we have come to the end of dealing with those whose cases fell to be dealt with under this procedure, and I do not know that this point is immediately relevant. But I will undertake to examine the position in the light of what my hon. Friend has said. If we can do anything to prevent even a misunderstanding from occurring in the future, we shall certainly do it.

Mr. W. Yates

I do not know what future policy is to be, but if there is a Ministry of Defence combining all the Services, so that there are some reductions in the War Office and other Service headquarters, and if there has to be a reduction in the number of warrant officers and other Regulars because the Government want to reduce establishments, would my hon. Friend please see that the regulations and the pamphlets which are given to those who want to claim special benefits draw attention to this point?

Mr. Ramsden

I will certainly look at the possibilities in that direction, but I would not like any undertaking which I have given in this sense even to imply that when A.C.I.s are published and attention is drawn to them in the normal way in unit orders that absolves anybody from the obligation to read them and know what is in them.

Mr. D. Joness

I am not by any means convinced that it is the money of which Mr. Gilmour is ready to complain. I think that his complaint is about his compulsory retirement. I wish that the Under-Secretary had told us the age of this officer, because it occurs to me that as we have always been short of serving soldiers, he could have been transferred, with advantage to the Service. I think that that is where his complaint lies.

Mr. W. Yates

He is my constituent and I can say categorically that Mr. Gilmour retired after 18 years' loyal service to the Army because he realised that he had to go. He never made any specific complaint to me about being forced to retire earlier than he would have done if he had completed his 22 years' service.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock.