HC Deb 25 November 1965 vol 721 cc767-74
The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr George Brown)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the pay of the Armed Forces and of the higher Civil Service.

As the House will be aware, the Government are committed to carrying out a review of the pay of the Armed Forces at two-yearly intervals in accordance with the procedure described in Cmnd. 945, dated February, 1960. The current review has been proceeding on the basis of that paper, which provides, first, that changes in the pay of Service officers would in future be governed broadly by the relative changes in the pay of comparable grades in the home Civil Service, and, secondly, that changes in the pay of sailors, soldiers and airmen would be governed broadly by changes in the average earnings and wages in manufacturing and certain other industries as notified by the Minister of Labour.

Before reaching a decision about the current review, the Government are requesting the National Board for Prices and Incomes to advise them whether the increase in pay produced by the applica- tion of these formulae are, in relation to total emoluments, consistent with Part I of the White Paper on Prices and Incomes Policy—Cmnd. 2639—and, in particular, are consistent with the criteria laid down in paragraph 15. The Board is being asked to pay special regard to the need of the Services to recruit and to retain on a voluntary basis sufficient men to meet the commitments of the Services and the special features of Service life.

The Board is being asked to report not later than 18th January next, so as to allow the new rates of pay to be implemented on the due date, 1st April, 1966.

I should also inform the House that the Standing Advisory Committee on the Pay of the Higher Civil Service has recently conducted a review, and has recommended increases in salaries for the grades concerned. The Government are also requesting the National Board for Prices and Incomes to examine and report on the Committee's recommendations in relation to the considerations set out in Part I of the White Paper on Prices and Incomes Policy.

I will, Mr. Speaker, with permission, circulate the text of the Standing Advisory Committee's Report in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am also placing copies of it in the Library this afternoon

Mr. Iain Macleod

Is the First Secretary aware that this statement will be greeted with dismay and with anger, at least on this side of the House? I should like to ask him three short questions. The first is a question of clarification. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has the report in relation to the Higher Civil Service and is to publish it, but, following on our exchanges yesterday with the Secretary of State for Defence, can he confirm that he has not seen the report on the Armed Forces but that he is referring the principle?

On the question of referring the principle, which is my second question, what qualifications does he think that Mr. Aubrey Jones and his Board have for considering matters connected with the needs of the Services and the special feature of Service life? Is not this a matter on which the Government should make up their own mind?

Thirdly, is not the fact that what the First Secretary is doing is to force those who have no union and will not strike to go to this Board so that the right hon. Gentleman may achieve at least one success for his incomes policy?

Mr. Brown

On the question of the Grigg details, we have not yet completed the review which began in April, although it is coming towards the end now in the ordinary way. As my right hon. Friend said yesterday, we do not yet have the detailed figures, but we know enough to know that the increase in pay alone will be coming out at something of the order of 18 per cent. or 19 per cent. Taking pay and all emoluments together, it would come out at something around 12½ per cent. if present information is borne out in fact. I might remind the House that the period taken in the review is, as to the overwhelming part of it, the period for which right hon. Gentlemen opposite were responsible, and not ourselves. On the third part, we are acting on what we understand the review is likely to show.

As to the qualifications of the Board, it is, of course, open to all hon. Members in the House to make their own judgment on the individuals and on the Board as a whole, but the fact is that this is the body, a Royal Commission, set up to do exactly this job and to give exactly this advice. It therefore seems quite proper to us that any of these questions should be considered there. This is a policy that applies to all incomes. It is not intended as a restraint on incomes, but as a way in which rises in incomes may be tested on their merits and criteria against a national policy. There seems nothing wrong in that, except that I gathered that the right hon. Gentleman did not think much of the people on the Board. That, however, is a matter of personal judgment, and not one of principle.

As to the issue of the Government making up their own mind, perhaps I might remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are five months from the end of the review period. At the end of the day, the Government must, and will, make up their own mind. What we have been quite determined not to do is what the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did in 1962, which was to wait until the very end and then arbitrarily reuse the Forces something it was felt they were entitled to. I said then that I thought that to be wrong, and I remain of the same opinion. That is why we are not walking that particular road. The case of the Forces will be considered on its merits by the Board, just like other cases, and the Board's advice will be before the Government. The Government, when they make the decision, can make it knowing that the national interest and all the relevant considerations have been taken into account.

I really think that the right hon. Gentleman's last remark was unworthy of him. We are not forcing anyone without a union anywhere. We are, in fact, taking very great care of these people in the Forces precisely because they are without a union.

Mr. Hamling

Is my right hon. Friend aware that our hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy expressed the hope in April last that there would be a substantial increase in pay for men serving with the Royal Navy?

Mr. Brown

Having announced this reference, it would be wrong for me now to seem to commit the Board, but I should have thought it exceedingly unlikely that my hon. Friend should turn out to be anything but accurate.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While endorsing all that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has said, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman recognises the very considerable stimulation to recruiting which the Grigg proposals brought about and, bearing in mind that even with that stimulation the target will not be hit, will the First Secretary be very cautious indeed before running the risk of in any way causing a reduction of Service pay, because the Services expect an increase? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that if the Board comes to the conclusion that the Services have come off less well than industry the Services should be given a commensurate increase?

Mr. Brown

As to the value of the Grigg Report, I stand by what I have said about that in the past. I have not changed my mind on that in the least. But we now have in operation a prices and incomes policy which was not then adumbrated. Obviously, the criteria involved there must be taken into account as well as the statistical exercises involving Grigg, but we are very well aware—I certainly am—of the importance of this Report in encouraging people to recruit and, much more important in some Services, to sign on for retention with the important knowledge that there is some system for seeing that they will not be left out when changes in the remuneration of the community as a whole are taking place. The hon. Member can have it clearly in mind that we shall not only be very cautious but very firm in our decision to see that that is taken into account. On the question of recruiting and retention difficulties at the moment, we have specially inserted both in today's statement and in the terms of reference, which the hon. Member will be able to see soon, that this is one of the special considerations that must be taken into account.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Should not the right hon. Gentleman have made it clear to the Armed Forces long before this that this was going to happen? Hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House, especially the Ministers responsible for the Forces, must know that the Grigg principle has been the basis of Army life for the last four years and that any betrayal of this principle will be regarded as totally scandalous, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it to be so. To come before this House and say that these men, who cannot protect themselves in any way, are now in the hands of a purely arbitrary board is shocking and disgraceful.

Mr. Brown

I cannot remember whether the right hon. Gentleman was or was not holding office in the 1962 Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was."] If he was, I wonder whether he would like to stand up and deal with what happened then. We are referring this matter for independent examination in November. The right hon. Gentleman cheated them in February of that year.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must not debate this now. I must protect the interests of hon. Members who are interested in the Second Reading of the Bill on the Order Paper today.

Mr. Heath

The First Secretary, if I heard him right, said that he adheres to the Grigg Report, and therefore presumably to the principle of comparability——

Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood that you were bringing questions on this matter to an end. The two previous questions were consecutive questions from the other side of the House. If these questions are continuing, surely it is the turn of a hon. Member on this side of the House, but if they are not, then the right hon. Gentleman has no right to ask a question.

Mr. Speaker

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I gave way, however, to the Leader of the Opposition as a matter of traditional courtesy.

Mr. Heath rose——

Mr. William Hamilton

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some while ago there was a Report from the Select Committee on Procedure on this very issue. I am not sure whether there was a recommendation in it about the monopolising of Question Hour or supplementary questions by Front Benchers. If there was not, there ought to have been. Could you reconsider your decision? Are questions on this matter being reopened? If so, then I think I have a right to say that I have the same right to ask questions as the right hon. Gentleman has.

Mr. Speaker

On the first issue that seemed to be raised, the hon. Gentleman must know that there is neither Government nor Opposition Front and back bench in my mind when I am choosing those who ask questions. The whole House is one to me. I have always, however, considered that it is the custom to extend certain courtesies to the Leader of the Opposition, and, unless the House directs me not to do that by Resolution, I would propose to continue that custom.

Mr. Heath

Is the First Secretary aware that he said that he adheres to the Grigg Report and, therefore, presumably, to the principle of comparability, and that this applies also to the Civil Service, and that this means that in referring the matter to the Prices and Incomes Board he is referring something which is really a matter of making up a comparable amount in the past on terms which are really dealing with something which ought to apply to the future, and that, therefore, he is abandoning the responsibility of the Government to make their own decision, which we did—we made our own decision—and passing it to the Prices and Incomes Board? If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the principle of comparability still for both the Defence Services and the Civil Service, what is the point in referring it to the Prices and Incomes Board?

Mr. Brown

I tried to deal with that. If it is the view of the right hon. Gentleman that referring anything for examination, report and advice to a body outside the Cabinet is thereby abandoning Government responsibility, why did the previous Government make such wide use of Franks, Kindersley, Guillebaud and all the other outside bodies—and Grigg? Clearly, this is not a tenable position. That is the question to which the right hon. Gentleman really ought to address himself. I say that I stand by the Grigg Report. The Grigg Report was for a system of biennial reviews. The Grigg system is based upon comparability. That is its only base. In the White Paper that is one of the criteria. What we are saying is that this must be judged against all the criteria set out in Part I and, in particular, paragraph 15. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman would not bubble so much he would hear me better. I am dealing with this as a serious exercise, not looking, as the right hon. Gentleman is looking, merely for stalling points here and there. [Interruption.]

Mr. Heath


Mr. Brown

That is the sort of moment when one wishes that television cameras were in the Chamber. If the Forces have their recommendation which arises under Grigg examined against the other criteria set out in paragraph 15, which have to do with the other things which are tremendously important to them, they will not be disadvantaged thereby and the prices and incomes policy will be supported thereby, and it seems to us that the Government, when they come to make their decision and accept their responsibilities at the end of the day, will be in a very much better position than the right hon. Gentleman was when he made that disgraceful decision in 1962.

Following is the Standing Advisory Committee's Report: