HC Deb 09 March 1964 vol 691 cc121-31

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £136,500,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of the Air Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1965.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

We come back here to pay as we did in the case of the Army, and I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he can tell us a little more about pay agreements and whether the Services are ever likely to have a long-term pay agreement like that which has been announced for the Civil Service. Is flying pay still given, and how is pay to serving officers covered in review? What provision is made for long-service pay?

Mr. Frederick Motley (Sheffield, Park)

The time has passed quickly, and we do not want to take too long over these Estimates, but in addition to dealing with the points made by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), I hope that the Under-Secretary will confirm that the increase in this Vote is due largely to increased pay and that there has been no other basic changes in the arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman said in the Estimates debate last week that a review was in progress in connection with overseas allowances. Presumably such a review was likely to recommend higher allowances. Has this matter been settled, and is the figure in the Vote for overseas allowances calculated to cover the increase contemplated by the review? In particular, is there provision in the Vote for the decision, which I understand has already been taken, to pay an overseas allowance to the R.A.F. at Gatow and Berlin?

I also raised in the Estimates debate the question of education allowances, which is a particularly contentious point with serving officers who feel that they are being less fairly treated than are members of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office. The Under-Secretary made the point, and there is some force in it, that the schools provided for the R.A.F. are not usually available in the vicinity for the families of diplomats. At the same time, I feel that if there is to be a review, as the Plowden Committee suggests, of education allowances for the overseas services of other Government Departments, Service people should be brought into the picture and should have an increase comparable with that granted to the diplomatic service.

I wonder, also, whether there is any differential for those officers who are serving in places where there are not R.A.F. schools. For example, in Washington and such places, just as there are Foreign Service officers, there are air attaches. When they are in exactly comparable circumstances to Foreign Service officers, are they given the same allowances in respect of boarding schools and free passages for their children to enable them to visit their parents?

On the general issue of recruiting I am sure that we are all pleased to know that there are no serious recruiting problems. The figure reported by the Secretary of State was extremely encouraging, although we know that the Service is contracting, and that makes the recruiting problem somewhat easier.

I should also like to know whether the Under-Secretary has anything to tell us about the rather special problems which have beets discussed before about doctors an I dentists.

Finally, can he say a little more than he was able to tell us in the previous debate about the new scheme for the ground trades which is to be introduced on 1st April? The White Paper says that it is proposed to have a new career structure for the ground trades, and we should like to know whether this involves higher expenditure and in what way it is claimed by the Government to be superior to the existing arrangements.

I am sure the Committee agrees that adequate provision for ground trades is an essential part of the job of the Royal Air Force. We not only require skilled aircrews, but we have to ensure that we have adequately trained and paid technical people to do the important job of keeping the aircraft serviced. Therefore, it is important to know, first, that there is a proper scheme for these personnel, and, secondly, with the run-down that must have affected many of the ground crews—the blockage following Thor and so on—whether there is dissatisfaction in the Service and whether there are complaints that promotion opportunities have been blocked as a result of the contraction of the Service.

The Committee will be obliged if the Under-Secretary can deal with some of these points. One understands that to expect the hon. Gentleman to answer a lot of questions is asking a great deal. He complained on a previous occasion that I had asked 21 questions. Today I shall probably ask more than 21 questions, because that is the only useful thing we can do in a debate of this character. However, if we ask him too many detailed questions which he is unable to answer off the cuff, we shall not hold it against him.

Mr. Frank Taylor (Manchester, Moss Side)

I should like to refer to the R.A.F. Regiment. This Regiment has a very fine history and an equally important future. However, it seems to be very much out of the public eye, for we hear very little about it.

It would help me and others as well, no doubt, if we could hear how the R.A.F. Regiment is getting along, how its numbers are deployed, whether recruiting is up to expectation and, more important, what is its future role. Is the need for it increasing or diminishing? Can my hon. Friend say anything about its future recruiting requirements?

I understand that there is a new trade structure, and I should like to know how that is progressing. Is it up to expectation, or does it require revising?

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Julian Ridsdale)

I should like, first, to thank the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) for his reference to the questions which have been asked and my ability to answer them. I shall do my very best. It is good to know that he is sympathetic to my problems.

I should like, first, to deal with the questions which were asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). The increased estimate in Vote 1 is the result of the increases in pay which have been announced from 1st April this year. These increases stem from the third of the biennial reviews which the Grigg Committee recommended should be held. As hon. Members know, the object of these reviews is to ensure that the Service man is not left behind as national prosperity increases.

7.45 p.m.

On this occasion the increase will be of the order of 7½per cent., which, since it is taken over a period of two years, is well in accord with the Government's incomes policy. Broadly speaking, the increases amount to about is. 6d. in the £, although room has been found for special improvements where we felt it necessary, or as an incentive to recruiting. To give a few examples, a recruit gets 1s. extra a day, a sergeant an extra 2s. 6d. a day and a squadron leader an extra 5s. 6d. a day.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye asked about a long-term agreement such as the one announced for the Civil Service last month. This long-term agreement was made after the Service review had been completed, but, since the pay of officers is linked to that of certain Civil Service grades, this settlement will clearly have reprecussions on officers' pay in the next review. However, it is impossible to be specific on this point since the Civil Service grades concerned are the subject of a pay research exercise. Nevertheless the awards which are finally given will, of course, be taken into account in the 1966 review. We would certainly be prepared to consider the desirability of a similar long-term agreement for the Royal Air Force. As I say, we have only just finished the third of the biennial reviews recommended by the Grigg Committee, and so far they have all worked exceedingly well.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye also asked about R.A.F. long-service pay. The system by which N.C.O.s get special recognition by way of higher pay for long service has been altered to bring it into line with that of the Army and the Navy. Up to now, increments have been given for total service and service in a particular rank. This has caused one or two anomalies which will be made worse when the new pay structure comes into force later this year. In future, extra pay will be given for total service only and so will give greater reward for the long-service N.C.O.

I was asked about flying pay. At present, flying pay is given to all flying officers up to the rank of air commodore, provided they are completely fit to fulfil the flying commitment. They are paid whether or not they are actually in a flying job. However, under the new career structure which was introduced in 1960, officers can serve until they are 55 and, if medically fit, they can go on drawing flying pay up to the date of their retirement. But, of course, the chances of their ever getting a flying post diminish sharply towards the end of their career.

In future, the rate of flying pay for officers on the general list will be reduced gradually by two-year steps from the time that they are 47 until it drops to a minimum of 5s. a day. Flying pay was originally introduced in 1950. This does not mean that an incentive is not now needed, but we cannot justify paying the full rate to officers who are unlikely to be called upon to fly again.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked about local overseas allowances which are paid to Service men at certain stations abroad to meet the essential extra costs as compared with the United Kingdom, in order to maintain a reasonable standard of living. The rates of allowance vary from area to area. In each area there are different rates according to the man's rank, whether or not he is married and, for those whose families live with them in the overseas area, whether they are living in married quarters or in accommodation rented privately. The allowances for each area are reviewed periodically, normally at interval; of three or four years, but there are arrangements for revision when it can be shown that costs abroad have increased more than in the United Kingdom.

In the Air Estimates debate I was able to give the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park some information about Berlin, when I told him that in the past local overseas a lowances had not been paid to those air personnel serving in Berlin, although an allowance is paid to those serving in West Germany. The reason was that the overall costs incurred by the Service men in Berlin have not recently exceeded those incurred in this country. However, as I mentioned the other night a recent review has shown that current prices there justify a small rate of local overseas allowance.

For single and married personnel not accompanied by their families, this rate will be the same as for West Germany. The rate for married accompanied men will be less than for West Germany because personnel in Berlin have special facilities for buying the more important foodstuffs at low cost from R.A.S.C. sources and N.A.A.F.I. prices in Berlin are slightly lower than in West Germany. The Berlin rates will apply as from 1st July, 1963, although a slight adjustment in the married accompanied unaccommodated rate will be necessary on ls April, 1964, to take account of the increase in marriage allowance which takes place on that date.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked me about Service education allowances. We discussed this the other evening in the Air Estimates debate and there is not a lot more that I can say. Allowance; are often the only form of assistance available to those serving abroad in the diplomatic services, but the Royal Air Force helps parents in various ways—for example, by providing a range of free Service schools both for day and boarding children in the main overseas areas, by paying local school fees where schools are not provided and by paying educational allowances for children at boarding school or in a guardian's care when attending day school. At present, over 80 pet cent. of Royal Air Force children of school age attend Service schools overseas or day schools in this country.

Mr. Mulley

I pressed today the point that there are some—perhaps not a large number—officers and airmen who are away from centres where there are other R.A.F. personnel and, therefore, they cannot take advantage of any general arrangements which are made. If they are serving as air attaches they are in identical circumstances to diplomats. I wondered whether people in that situation were given any different treatment from those who, the hon. Gentleman has said, have these other facilities open to them.

Mr. Ridsdale

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. I was coming on to deal with the point. Those people have no different allowance, but, obviously, this a point which we shall note, because if the foreign service is treated differently, we shall have to see whether anything is necessary. That is as far as I can go at this stage. There is, however, an increasing tendency for parents to make use of the assistance available towards boarding education at home. The children of 5,100 officers and 1,500 airmen are benefiting in this way. A wide range of schools is used, including many boarding schools maintained by local education authorities. For example, the London County Council has recently allocated 120 places in a new hostel for the children of Service men serving overseas. Nevertheless, as I said the other night, the increases recommended by the Plowden Committee for the Foreign Office must clearly be considered by the Service Departments. This is what we shall do.

I was asked about the recruitment of doctors and dentists. At the time of the 1962 pay review, it was clear that the Services could not hope to attract young doctors of the right quality unless they could offer them a substantial improvement over the remuneration which they could expect in civilian life. The pay scales for the medical services were, therefore, revised accordingly.

Since then, civilian doctors and dentists have received a pay increase and under the 1964 Services Pay Review, therefore, increases have been given which are intended to restore the differential established in 1962. We have introduced other measures to attract doctors, including improved prospects of promotion and a greater degree of recognition of experience and general practice outside the Service. I hope that this will achieve the desired result. At present, we are 30 or 40 doctors short, but similar measures in respect of dentists have proved even more effective and the Dental Branch should be fully manned in the next few months.

I have been asked also about recruiting and the lull in recruiting, as well as the trade structure. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park mentioned, the total number of recruits which we have needed has been a good deal less than in previous years because of the progressive reduction in our needs. This phase of low recruiting is, however, nearing its end and, although vacancies are still few, the numbers will pick up considerably from about the middle of the year. We shall then once again be out to attract substantial numbers of recruits and far fewer will have to be turned away. The effect of these reductions on career prospects has been taken into account, although there has been a slowing down of promotion to the rank of sergeant and above. The new trade structure for airmen has a bearing on this point.

The new trade structure, which comes into force on 1st April, 1964, divides the R.A.F. trades into two main groups: the list one trades with the higher skills and the list two trades of semi-skilled and administrative trades. Under the new scheme, all tradesmen will be required to pass successive examinations for promotion. The list one trades, subject to this proviso, will be subject to time promotion to the rank of corporal, sergeant and chief technician. In the list two trades, promotion to these ranks will be against establishment vacancies coupled with the higher rate of pay for increased trade skill.

In detail, the transitional arrangements for transferring airmen to the new trades structure are quite complicated although the basis of the change is that we are moving from a complex system to a much simpler one. It has, therefore, been a big task putting the new arrangements across to airmen and explaining to each individual how he is affected, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. F. Taylor) will, The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park and however, be glad to know that the arrangements are working very well and smoothly.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked about the effect of manpower reductions on promotion opportunities. As to officers, many factors are involved in determining rates of promotion, probably the most important being the age/rank structure in a particular branch and the extent to which officers retire at optional points. Promotion can be maintained to some extent by adjustment in age bands, encouraging voluntary retirement after the age of 50 and, as a last resort, by redundancy schemes. However, the general reductions of the past four or five years, including the end of the Thor programme, have not of themselves created major promotion bottlenecks. By and large, their effects have been contained within our general arrangements for controlling promotion.

In the rather complex structure of the ground' trades, overall reductions in establishment do not necessarily cut down chances of promotion since much depends upon the ratio of posts between one rank and another and the length of engagements on which airmen are serving.

There are two ways in which we are keeping to a minimum the effect of the reduction of career prospects. The first is by removing certain inequalities of opportunity between trades. This is done by the 1964 trade structure. The second is by limiting to some extent the numbers who stay on for a career to the age of 55. Nevertheless, I should emphasise that plenty of opportunity remains for pensionable engagements of 22 years. Apart from this, the introduction of the 1964 trade structure in April will help with the promotion problem in some sectors by introducing a measure of time promotion for certain more highly-skilled airmen.

The voluntary free discharge scheme, introduced before Christmas, has also helped by providing a number of extra vacancies among senior n.c.o.s. Clearly, the problem of promotion where numbers are falling can be difficult. We are taking, and will continue to take, all possible measures to maintain the prospects of a worthwhile career. I assure the Committee that morale in the ground trades is good and also that far-reaching changes in the trade structure have been well received.

8.0 p.m.

I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side about the R.A.F. Regiment. It has a strength of about 4,500 officers and men and is organised into 10 L.A.A. and field squadrons. Four are in the Far East, three are in Cyprus, one is in Aden, leaving a strategic reserve of two field squadrons in the United Kingdom.

The Parachute Squadron is allocated to Transport Command but is available for emergency operations which do not concern Transport Command. It has, indeed, just been deployed to Cyprus. The regimental personnel are trained in the basic infantry rôle but the squadrons are also able to convert quickly to the light anti-aircraft rôle.

The regimental squadrons are responsible for the ground defence of the R.A.F. but are used for a variety of roles. Regimental personnel are playing a valuable part in the peace-keeping rôle in Cyprus. They are also responsible for the fire services at Royal Air Fore stations. Some 2,400 of the personnel are engaged in these duties. We have no difficulty in getting recruits and find no problem in training the men for the variety of important tasks they are called upon to perform. At present there are no plans for enlarging the Regiment.

Mr. Mulley

Will the hon. Gentleman look again at the question of the local overseas allowance in Berlin? I understood him to say that it would be paid as from 1st July last. We are glad that the Air Ministry has at last recognised that there is a difference in the cost of living as between West Berlin and this country, but it seems extraordinary that this has taken so long. Quite a number of personnel will have been posted away from Berlin since 1st July last year. I hope that the allowance will be paid to the men very quickly indeed.

Obviously, I have not the statistical evidence with me, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look again at the differential between costs in West Germany and those in Berlin. This has always been the fall-back answer by the Air Ministry for not paying any local overseas allowance to Berlin. Now the Air Ministry says that it will pay an allowance. If the hon. Gentleman goes into the stiles of N.A.A.F.I. charges in particular he will find that they are the same in West Berlin as in West Germany.

A grievance will still be left behind unless the hon. Gentleman can substantiate for our men in West Berlin the reason for the difference between them and their colleagues at R.A.F. stations in West Germany. Unless he can make the position clear there will be trouble. This aspect should be looked at again.

Mr. Ridsdale

We are well aware of the motto, He gives twice who gives quickly.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £136,500,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of the Air Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1965.