HC Deb 29 July 1964 vol 699 cc1643-54

2.57 a.m.

Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)

First, may I make an apology to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force for bringing him here at this slightly advanced hour? On the other hand, may I welcome him by saying that his presence is an admission by the War Office, at long last, of its immensely inferior place in the scheme of things these days? The Army has given way to the dominant arm, and I have no doubt that at moments of emergency the Air Force will now perform its vital duty.

The story I have to unfold is largely concerned with the image of itself which the Army is giving through the War Office and the effect of the recruiting figures, which are always on the borderline of adequacy even now. The story begins in 1957, when it was decided very considerably to reduce the strength of the Army, and Army Council Instruction 385 of 1957 was issued to govern procedure.

At this time, Warrant Officer Greenspan was serving in the Army Educational Corps and in due course he was given warning of his impending discharge on 1st September, 1961, in the following terms: In accordance with War Office letter 18/GEN/3748(P.A.3(a))"— which is the light-hearted way the War Office has of referring to its personal letters between sections of the Department— the above-named"— which is Warrant Officer Greenspan— will be compulsorily prematurely discharged"— and I underline this— under the terms of A.C.I. 385/57. On 12th September, 1961, 12 days later, the Army Education Centre told the Combined Records Office that Warrant Officer Greenspan was a little anxious about his situation because he did not consider that the A.C.I. in question, if paragraphs 27 and 20 were read in conjunction, referred to him, and as he could not be selected for premature discharge, he would, by inference, not be entitled to redundancy terms under that A.C.I.

On 14th September, 1961, the D.A.G., Rhine Army, replied that this warrant officer was eligible. On 16th September, Mr. Greenspan forwarded the necessary Appendix to the A.C.I. and expected to be told about his position in regard to redundancy. On 1st November, 1961, no answer being received, the Army Education Centre wrote and asked whether any reply was likely to be forthcoming.

On 9th November of that year, a reply came from the Army Pensions Office: Reference to your memorandum, I am to inform you that the case of the above-named Warrant Officer is held up pending a ruling from higher authority on the rates to be applied on this type of engagement. In other words, it was the first admission that it was getting itself into a jam.

On 5th December, 1961, after some telephone conversations between the Education Centre and Headquarters, 1st Corps, copies of all relevant correspondence were forwarded once with the following comment: Although the Army Pensions Office letter states that a decision would be given as soon as it is received, the extent of the delay in this case is considerable (i.e., from 16th September). This really must rank as one of the understatements of all time, seeing that it was now December.

The same letter states: other Educational Corps other ranks have known their redundancy terms since July. I rather fear that the uncharitable could assume that the authorities had, in fact, discovered what has always been the basis of Mr. Greenspan's case, that he was being improperly discharged under an A.C.I. which did not refer to him. In other words, a bureaucrat in a Department had made an idiot of himself; and we have recently seen an example of how thoroughly this can be done.

An answer eventually came on 12th December, 1961, and it stated: It is emphasised that the figures given relate solely to pre-discharge under the White Paper and the A.C.I. quoted above …". I stress "under … the A.C.I. quoted …". The answer went on: and must not be applied to termination of service in any other circumstances. A little later we shall see the War Office saying that this warrant officer was not discharged under A.C.I. 385, and that, therefore, these figures do not refer to him.

It was about this time that I started corresponding with the War Office. I received on 31st October, in reply to my second letter about this warrant officer, a letter saying: Warrant Officer Greenspan says that he cannot be discharged under A.C.I. 385/57, but in fact this A.C.I. is not the authority for his discharge and I am sorry if he has been given the impression that it is. Well, you can take your choice from that. At one time the Department said that it was; now it says that it was not. I seems hardly surprising, in view of the quotation from the Army Pensions Office letter which I have just given, that the impression which Mr. Greenspan should not have had was firmly in his mind.

After further correspondence I received another letter from the War Office which said: First, I must make it clear that Mr. Greenspan was not discharged under the terms of A.C.I. 385/57. If my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary, who is carrying this burden gallantly, but under some difficulty, will cast his mind back to the quotation I gave from the letter from the Combined Record Office letter of 1st September, he will see that this is precisely what Mr. Greenspan was discharged under. If I may refresh his memory, it was stated that he would be compulsorily prematurely discharged under the terms of A.C.I. 385/57. It does not seem to me to be either my job or Mr. Greenspan's to sort out the rather ludicrous confusion between the various branches of the Army in this matter, and it really does not seem that either of us can decide, other than by spinning a coin, whether the Record Office or the War Office is telling us the truth. We have two quite incompatible statements. It would appear to me to be at least fair that the Army should accept that it made a classic blunder and should try to redeem the blunder by giving Mr. Greenspan at least a gratuity which other Educational Corps warrant officers got.

After further correspondence, I got another letter from the War Office on 10th July, 1963—two years having passed since the beginning of the controversy—which said: Looking at the matter in retrospect, I think that it was unfortunate that A.C.I. 385/57 was ever mentioned in connection with soldiers of the R.A.E.C. who were being prematurely discharged. It may have been unfortunate, but it was not my fault, and it was not Mr. Greenspan's fault, that this began, and I agree warmly with that statement.

The letter continued: In view of the confusion that has arisen, it is now apparent that it would have been better to have issued separate instructions. This, again, is an opinion which cannot be faulted, but, of course, it was not done; these separate instructions were not issued. It seems to me, therefore, that the War Office is bound by its previous statement. The letter went on to say that the authority for Mr. Greenspan's discharge was Queen's Regulation 61. It stressed the obvious by saying that This, indeed, is the only authority for the discharge of any soldier. That is a partial truth. It is true that Queen's Regulations are the only authority for the discharge of any soldier, but it specifically states that Queen's Regulations cannot be brought into action without a definite authority. However, no such authority had been quoted up to this moment, and on 25th November, 1963, I received a letter from the War Office which said that the authority to use Queen's Regulations, paragraph 503, was given to the officer in charge of Combined Records in a War Office memorandum, the enormously long reference of which I will not repeat.

The same letter said: At no time have we said that Mr. Greenspan was discharged under the authority of an Army Council Instruction. Going back to what I started with, it is obvious that originally the War Office had said that that was exactly what he had been discharged under. In view of this, I regard this statement as one of the most outrageous ever made by a Government Department.

I then asked whether I could see the memorandum. I regret to say that the War Office refused to let me see it, on the ground that it was of a confidential nature. I did not say that it was a classified document in any way, and I felt slightly hurt that after spending about 14 years in various forms of intelligence, I should be considered a security risk even to see a confidential document. I am quite unable to understand why it should not be shown to a Member of Parliament. I might mention en passant that I tried to raise the question of privilege and discovered from Mr. Speaker to my horror that this House had no power to compel the production of this document, an omission which we shall have to remedy.

I am much more unable to understand why Mr. Greenspan was never shown the authority for his discharge. This seems to me to be a curious breach of the decencies. It is not that he did not ask to see it, because he did. There is no doubt that this refusal to be frank about what the War Office was doing must leave a nasty smell behind it. I cannot understand why the Department does not try to dissipate this.

From this same letter I extract another quotation, mainly for its humorous content: I can understand that the stock letter used by the Army Pensions Office to notify him of his awards may have been rather confusing. The stock letter was intended to be used primarily for notifying awards to soldiers who qualified for the normal terms of pension by being discharged from an engagement committing them to at least 17 years' reckonable service. When the War Office threw Mr. Greenspan out, he had 16 years' and 329 days' service. So this was hairsplitting.

The clear fact appears to be this, that Mr. Greenspan was discharged with an unblemished record and an exemplary character, and he was a warrant officer, and in spite of this, he was not allowed to see the authority for his discharge or even able to see who signed it. There can be no doubt that really the authority for his discharge was this A.C.I. 385, and this, after specifying to which warrant officers it applied, said in paragraph 27 that warrant officers other than those classes mentioned in paragraph 20 will not be selected for premature discharge. This shows that the redundancy scheme is not meant to apply to men in Mr. Greenspan's position at all. Therefore, he must have been discharged under another authority covering the Educa- tional Corps only, but there is no sign of this anywhere.

For premature discharge from his engagement Mr. Greenspan received the sum of £79 3s. 7d. How was this sum ascertained? Presumably all payments by the War Office can only be made on the authority of a Royal Warrant. The only one promulgated on redundancy was Army Order 139 of 1957 which, the War Office admits, does not apply to Mr. Greenspan. So it has to face the fact that has improperly handed over £79 odd for which it had no Royal Warrant. I think that that needs a little explanation as well.

It really is a hard case, and it does not do the Army's image any good. It throws my mind back to an occasion when I really lost my temper, in 1944, when, after a very meagre rise in pay for the Armed Forces, I came home on leave to hear the War Office blandly explaining that there were a number of fringe benefits to Army pay, including free accommodation, whereas at that time about half the Army were living in slit trenches. It really was not a very generous gesture. This has been one fault throughout of the War Office: it never does make a very generous gesture.

Some time ago, a couple of thousand years or so, a Gallic chieftain, Brennus, was weighing out the tribute of Rome, and when he was accused that he was not being fair he flung his sword into the scale. May I do this now, in concluding? I have conducted this war for 2½ years. I just point out to the War Office that it need not suspect, merely because this is the end of a Parliament, that this is the end of the war. I can assure the Department that it is going on for at least another five years.

3.14 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Julian Ridsdale)

I have been asked by my colleagues in the Army Department to reply for them.

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) on his tenacity, and on the manner in which he fights for his constituents. As Under-Secretary of State for Air, I know that he pressed me over the case of Mr. Hughes. After looking through this Army Department case I am afraid that it is another one of those difficult ones about where one draws the line. The great misfortune is that it has to be drawn somewhere, and someone must always be so close as to make him feel that he has been hard done by. I have the greatest sympathy for those in that position, but alas, in Government one cannot please all the people.

Let me deal with the details of this case. Perhaps it would be helpful to the House if I were to explain briefly the reasons which led to the decision to make the Royal Army Educational Corps an all-officer corps since this was the occasion for Mr. Greenspan's premature discharge from the Army. The Army needed professionally qualified instructors, and it had proved impossible to obtain enough as other ranks. Perhaps I may enlarge on that. It was considered that to obtain the maximum benefit for the Army education service—which is responsible for such tasks as the education of soldiers at unit level; the education of boys at Army apprentices' schools and junior leaders' units; the education of Army children overseas; and language training—the Royal Army Educational Corps instructors should be fully quaified teachers.

It had become apparent that, when National Service came to an end, the Army would be quite unable to recruit enough Regular soldiers with these qualifications. Only by offering suitable candidates officer status could service in the Army be made attractive enough to compete with the conditions offered in civil employment to men with the qualifications required. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, which already had all-officer education corps. The decision to make the Royal Army Educational Corps an all-officer corps was taken after full and careful consideration. When it was taken the Director of Army Education wrote personally to every member of the corps explaining the reasons for the decision and the possibilities for their future in and out of the corps.

I think it fair to say that everything was done by the Directorate of Army Education and the War Office to go into and ease the problems which the decision to make the corps an all-officer corps necessarily caused some individuals who were warrant officers like Mr. Greenspan or N.C.O.s in the corps. Mr. Greenspan served in the Army from 5th December, 1946, until 24th March, 1949, as a National Serviceman. He then enlisted on a short service engagement—on 11th April, 1949—and subsequently re-enlisted on 17th November, 1951, on a 12-year engagement of five years with the Colours and seven years with the Reserve. It is important to set out the different nature of these engagements because it is on the type of engagement a man has, and which Mr. Greenspan had, that the grounds for giving him a gratuity and pension when he is discharged from the Service are based.

I should like to deal, also, with what I feel are two important points in this case: the reasons for Mr. Greenspan's discharge and the earlier change—at his own request—of the type of engagement he was serving on. First, I must make clear—because there has been confusion about this—that Mr. Greenspan was not discharged under A.C.I. 385 of 1957. He was discharged quite legally under the terms of Queen's Regulations 1961, Serial XXVI, "on reduction of establishment"—

Mr. Wise

There was still no authority for bringing that into force.

Mr. Ridsdale

Authority to implement this provision was given by the War Office to the Officer-in-Charge, Combined Record Office, on 6th July, 1961. This exercise of authority by the War Office was perfectly proper and in accordance with the terms of the Regulations.

Here, I think that I might with advantage turn aside for a moment to look at the point my hon. Friend raised about the decision my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Defence for the Army made not to let him see the Combined Record Office letter he mentioned. The House can be reassured that there is nothing sinister about this. As was explained to my hon. Friend in the Answer to his Question earlier this year, the letter is not a classified document, but it is confidential in the sense that it is an internal departmental document which, by well-established practice, should not be disclosed outside official circles. Government practice on this is as outlined by the then Lord Chancellor in another place on 16th June, 1956. It is one of a class of documents whose disclosure would not be in the public interest.

To return to Mr. Greenspan's discharge, my hon. Friend has expressed considerable concern at the confusion he feels has arisen from the references to A.C.I. 385 of 1957 which, he feels, were misleading. That A.C.I. was concerned with men who were to become redundant as the result of the decision to reduce the size of the Army, which was announced in the Defence White Paper of April, 1957. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army feels that perhaps in the light of hindsight it would have been preferable not to mention it in connection with soldiers of the R.A.E.C. who were being prematurely discharged because of the decision to make it an all-officer corps.

Perhaps I can put the matter into clearer perspective if I explain why the A.C.I. was mentioned. This A.C.I., which referred only to soldiers who were likely to be declared redundant because of the planned rundown of the Army, was neither an authority for discharge nor for the payment of compensation. Its purpose was, among other things, to set out the principles under which soldiers were to be selected for premature discharge, to invite volunteers for premature discharge and to inform soldiers how they could obtain advice about their position.

The only reason it ever became in any way applicable to men of the R.A.E.C. was that soldiers of that corps who were serving on engagements which, had they been serving in any other part of the Army, would have brought them within the field for consideration for premature discharge, were given the same facilities for obtaining information. The compensation paid to such men and the advice and assistance available to them was the same as that for men from the rest of the Army who were being prematurely discharged as redundant.

It was felt that as A.C.I. 385 of 1957 was well known in the Army, the information it contained would be useful to soldiers of the R.A.E.C. who were being prematurely discharged, but, as I have said, in view of the confusion that has arisen, it is now apparent that it would have been better to have issued separate instructions. This does not mean that there was anything improper about Mr. Greenspan's discharge. Mr. Greenspan was discharged prematurely for a quite different reason.

By September, 1957—although a final decision had not been taken—it seemed reasonably certain that the R.A.E.C. would become an all-officer corps from 1st April, 1963. As a consequence, it was a prudent step to refuse to extend the service of other ranks whose engagements were due to end after 31st March, 1963, unless they were willing to transfer to another corps and were found suitable for transfer. They were, in addition, considered for commissions or offered teacher training courses.

Mr. Greenspan was, unfortunately, not educationally qualified for either of these alternatives and there is no record that he applied for transfer to another corps. In these circumstances, it was inevitable that Mr. Greenspan had to be discharged before 31st March, 1963. It was decided that members of the R.A.E.C. whose service had to be prematurely terminated because of that decision should be given compensation as if their discharge had been necessitated by the rundown of the Army.

This scheme of compensation, which was promulgated by a Royal Warrant published as Army Order 139 of 1957, applied, however, only to men who were serving on 22-year engagements or those on other types of engagements who would, at the end of the service to which they were committed, have at least 17 years' reckonable service for pension. For members of the R.A.E.C. who did not satisfy these conditions, special compensation terms were provided.

Men who, like Mr. Greenspan, had served five or more years, would receive £100 for each year of service for which they were committed, but were unable to complete, in addition to any gratuity for which they might be eligible by length of service. Men with less than five years' service would receive £50 for each year of service completed. Unfortunately, Mr. Greenspan was not serving on a 22-year engagement and, had he served until 16th November, 1963, when his last engage-men was due to end, he would have been 36 days short of 17 years' reckonable service. He did not, therefore, qualify for compensation under the terms of Army Order 139 of 1957, and fell to be treated under the special arrangements I have just described.

It may help if I restate the position with regard to Mr. Greenspan's engagement. In June, 1954, when he was serving on an engagement of five years with the Colours and seven with the Reserve, he considered changing to a 22-year engagement. At that time, there were two courses open to him. First, he could change directly to a pensionable 22-year engagement, which would have run from 11th April, 1949, when his continuous Colour service began or, secondly, he could initially extend his service to complete 12 years which would not qualify him for a pension, but then, at a later date, change to a 22-year engagement. Under the second alternative he would qualify for the immediate payment of a bounty of £100 when he extended to complete 12 years' service. The Officer-in-Charge of Combined Records explained these alternatives to headquarters troops, Malta, in a letter dated 22nd June, 1954.

In August, 1954., Mr. Greenspan extended his service to complete 12 years with the Colours, and accordingly became committed to serve until 16th November, 1963, and received the £100 bounty. It was then open to him to apply to change to a 22-year engagement, as the Officer-in-Charge of Combined Records had advised, but he made no inquiry about this until October, 1957, by which time the uncertainty about the future of the Royal Army Educational Corps had made it necessary to refuse extensions of service beyond 1st April, 1963.

As my hon. Friend said, when Mr. Greenspan left the Army on 31st January, 1963, he received compensation of just over £79. This was to cover the period by which his actual service fell short of the service to which he was committed, and was calculated under the special arrangement I have mentioned. He also received a normal Service gratuity of £305 9s. 8d., which he had earned by his service.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is sorry that Mr. Greenspan feels that he has in some way been done out of compensation to which he thinks that he was entitled, but it is clear that this is not so. Had he elected in 1954 to undertake the 22-year engagement the position would have been different, but the fact is that he did not do so; he elected to complete 12 years, and take the immediate bounty of £100. He may consider himself unfortunate at having narrowly missed the greater benefits for which he would have been eligible had he satisfied the conditions of Army Order 139 of 1957, but there are no grounds on which he could be treated exceptionally.

My right hon. Friend, now the Minister of Defence for the Army, and the Under-Secretary of State, have both explained in letters to my hon. Friend why Mr. Greenspan could not be allowed to extend his service to complete a pensionable engagement, and how, since he was either unable or unwilling to follow any of the other opportunities open to soldiers of the R.A.E.C. there was no alternative but to discharge him as redundant.

There were numbers of the corps who did not qualify for compensation granted to those discharged as a result of the general rundown of the Army, and Mr. Greenspan was, of course, one of them. Special terms of compensation, however, were obtained for these people. In view of the fact that the Army had no alternative but to discharge Mr. Greenspan, and that special terms of compensation were obtained for him and those in a similar position, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State cannot agree that there is anything at all improper in the way in which the Army has dealt with Mr. Greenspan.

It is true that he missed the greater benefits of the compensation paid to those discharged as a result of the general rundown of the Army by a very small margin, but the line has to be drawn somewhere, as I have said, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army can see no grounds for treating Mr. Greenspan differently from the other soldiers who were in the same position as himself. However, I should like to assure my hon. Friend that I will draw the attention of my colleagues in the Army Department to the points which he has raised in the debate, and I wish him good fortune in sharpening his sword in the coming months.