HC Deb 09 December 1977 vol 940 cc1858-949

11.25 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure a reasonable increase in the remuneration of servicemen and servicewomen in the armed forces and a substantial improvement in their conditions of service. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members who are experts in defence matters will wish to take part in the debate. I am not an expert in defence matters. The only time that I tried to take part in a defence debate I was standing at the Bar of the House listening intently when a demonstration developed in the Gallery and bundles of leaflets were thrown. Unfortunately, someone forgot to take the string off the bundles and I was one of the unwilling recipients of the bundles, one of which landed on my head. That has deterred me from attending defence debates.

As I said, I am not an expert, but that might be an advantage, because I wish to express the ordinary civilian citizen's anxiety about the pay and conditions under which our Service men and women have to carry out their duties. The ordinary citizen asks "Why are we giving them such a raw real?" There is no doubt that our Service men and women are getting a raw deal. They have a raw deal in the amount that they are paid relative to the unique and difficult task that they have to undertake. They have a raw deal relative to employment in comparable jobs—if there are such comparable jobs. They have a raw deal in the conditions under which they must carry out their duties.

I have received no direct complaints from Service men. The anxieties that have been expressed to me are from those who are acquainted with Service men's families. They are concerned about the standard of living of Service men and of the way in which they have to make ends meet under the difficult financial congraph in that report states that

One cannot disregard the opinion of the ordinary man in the street about the Service men's difficulties, nor can one disregard the frequent Press reports about conditions in the Services. No doubt hon. Members have seen the article in The Timesthis morning. An early paragraph in that report states that Discontent with pay among British soldiers in Northern Ireland is causing an unprecedented number to apply for discharge by purchase. It has left those remaining in a mood of anger and frustration which has been little publicised because of military rules. The writer backs this up with facts which he has apparently obtained from interviews. From one artillery regiment of 350 men serving in Northern Ireland he reports that Over the past five months 34 of the men have applied for premature voluntary release, compared with a total of 31 during the previous two years. There is that increase in the desire to get out of the Army—no wonder, when the report says that of the 180 married men in the same regiment 61 were receiving rent rebates this month. This is an illustration of the difficulties that Service men have in meeting ordinary household expenses from their pay.

I was interested in the latter part of the article, which quotes one soldier as saying Because of military discipline we have only three ways of making our case: courageous senior officers, our wives, and anonymous letters. I hope that, after our debate, the sergeant who said that will be able to add "debates in this House". I hope that as a result of this debate the Government will come forward with a much firmer policy to assist men in the Services than they have stated up to the present.

May I justify with a few figures the anxiety expressed by the public, reiterated in Press articles, felt by those in the Services and expressed, more and more, by senior officers on behalf of the men serving under them? The article in The Timesgives one amazing figure. The average wage for an ordinary soldier serving in Ulster is 33p an hour. I am sure that many of us who employ odd-job gardeners or "a woman what does" pay them more than 33p an hour. If the figure in the article is correct, it is an utter disgrace.

The average industrial wage in this country is £76.80 a week. A private soldier gets £23 less than that. His weekly wage of £53.55 is two-thirds of the industrial average. If he is a married man with two children living in Army quarters, his take-home pay is £32.27 a week. Officers do not fare much better. An unmarried second lieutenant gets £60 a week—about £16 less than the average industrial wage-and his take-home pay is £33.38. I have people corning to my constituency surgery who receive as much as that in unemployment and supplementary benefits and who still complain that it is not enough to live on.

Of course, a soldier gets his accommodation and food, but has to pay for them out of the gross figures that I have given. I shall try not to give any more figures, because too many can be confusing.

The figures that I have already given represent the so-called military salary which, until I started to examine the matter, I had always thought was genuinely fixed on the basis of the level of salaries in comparable civilian jobs, minus the cost of accommodation and food in civilian life and plus something called the X factor to account for special factors in Service life, such as frequent moves, separation, long hours, discipline and so on, which are not suffered by civilian employees. I understand that X is 10 per cent. of the salary for men and, in careless abandon of the Sex Discrimination Act, 5 per cent. for women.

It is obvious that the result is not now comparable with other employment, and the X factor seems to be completely unknown. How has this happened? How is it that we thought we had fixed some years ago a military salary which would compare well with other employment? What has gone wrong with the wage-fixing machinery. It was a wonderful idea to have such a military salary. It was accepted in principle by the Labour Government in 1969 and brought into operation by the Conservative Government in 1971. It involved the creation of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. When I ask what has gone wrong, I doubt whether, in the presence of so many defence experts, I really need to answer that rhetorical question.

The Review Body's comparison of other jobs has been obliged to keep within the Government's pay limits on the salary side, but to disregard any limits in the cost of accommodation and food. This is clearly spelled out in the Review Body's sixth report, which says that Once again, therefore. effectively we are free only to recommend whether the pay of members of the armed forces should be increased by the maximum amount allowed by the pay limits, or by some lesser amount. —in other words, not by the amounts they found, by job evaluation, to be comparable to civilian employment. In relation to the cost of accommodation and food, which is deducted from the gross salary, the Review Body says that although it is bound by pay limits set by the Government on salaries, it takes the actual comparable costs for accommodation and food. Why should there be two rules which together work so unfairly and which, certainly this year, have resulted in what has been called "an Irishman's rise", in which a rise is given in the salary and taken away by an increase in the cost of accommodation and food?

It may be said that there is nothing new in what I am saying. The Review Body's report was presented in April and we had a debate on the Army in the same month, with another on the RAF and another on the Navy in May, and a debate on all three Services in June. In addition, this whole matter was debated in another place only two days ago. So why this motion now? I bring it up again because of the mounting public concern and because it is obvious that the Government do not share that concern.

This was shown in a most amazing way in another place two days ago. About half the 5½hour debate dealt with Service pay and conditions, but this aspect was disposed of by the Government spokesman in fewer than 100 words. After all that debate and all the learned and informed comments of noble Lords, the Government spokesman said only this: The Government are aware that at present Service pay rates do not reflect full comparability. We and the Armed Forces must await the recommendations of the Review Body. The implementation of the pay award on 1st April next year is bound to take full account of the Government's pay policy, which is itself in the overall national interest. But the Armed Forces should be in no doubt that the Government intend as soon as the situation allows to restore and return them to the fully comparable pay position implicit in the military salary concept." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 7th December 1977; Vol. 387, c. 1725.] Analysing that passage, the noble Lord who was the Government spokesman in the other place was saying "Wait until April and you will get a 10 per cent increase and, at some unknown date in future, we shall restore comparability in your pay with that of civilian pay."

On 16th June the Secretary of State said much the same thing in this House, but he took 16 columns to say it.

What are the Government now saying to the Armed Forces? In face of all these reports of anxiety being shown by the public and of deep concern amongst those in the Services, the Government are saying We know that you are getting only two-thirds of the average industrial wage, which is not a comparable salary at all, we know that you are paying full price for living and eating, and we know that you have special duties to perform, but you must wait until next April. When next April comes, you still will not get a comparable salary. You will be required to pay more for eating and living, because the cost will have gone up. Heaven knows what special duties you may be called upon to perform. But, never mind, you will get the 10 per cent. Soldier, you will get £26 less than the average wage then, not £23 as now."

If the 10 per cent. is to be applied overall, the gap between comparable salaries and the soldiers' earnings must get bigger.

I think that even in June the Secretary of State was insensitive to what was happening regarding public feeling on this matter. He said: The process of job evaluation made it possible in normal times to derive rates of pay for the services which were comparable with rates of pay in civilian life. However, in these abnormal times—surely no one will quarrel with that statement—the operation of the voluntary incomes policy "— I stress the word "voluntary", because it is forced on the Review Body— has meant that we have had to suspend the use of comparability as a criterion for Service pay. That fact has been acknowledged by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. It was acknowledged in its last report and in the report that appeared previous to that a year before. That is recognised by the Government." —[Official Report, 16th June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 602.] The Review Body called attention to another matter that the Government recognised and acknowledged at the time. On page 3 of its report, it stated: The Government has said that it intends to provide flexibility in whatever arrangements will follow the current restraint measures after 31 July 1977. We welcome this recognition of the need for flexibility. For the armed forces, it has two aspects. First, it has to allow for justice to he done in relation to earnings outside, so that comparable and competitive rates of pay can be re-established. Second, the form in which it is provided must he directly applicable to the pay and rank structure of the armed forces. I should like the Minister to tell the House later what undertaking was then given to the Review Body. I point out that the Review Body said that the Government gave it an assurance. In short, I suppose the Government said to the Review Body "Stick to the pay limits now and after 31st July 1977 we will bring in some flexibility." Nothing has been done about that since July. Yet the Review Body was obviously given an assurance that the Government would act.

What are the Government going to do about this matter? I ask for a better undertaking than has been given so far. I suggest that something better than the 10 per cent. should be given in April and that there should be comparability at some stated future date.

Having regard to the assurance that was given to the Review Body, the Government should have given an undertaking long ago, and certainly in the debate in June. But nothing has been done, despite all that was said in the debate in June and all that has happened since.

Perhaps I am being unfair to the Secretary of State in saying "Nothing". The right hon. Gentleman made two suggestions about the way in which Service men and women could overcome their financial difficulties. The Secretary of State is not exactly a romantic figure, but he almost burst into that romantic ballad "Moonlight and Roses." On the question of moonlighting, the right hon. Gentleman said "Of course, we do not mind if you take jobs in your spare time." The RAF boys immediately disclosed that they had found "The Way to the Mars." They had been employed in a factory in spare-time jobs.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Did the Secretary of State explain how spare-time jobs were to be done in Ulster?

Mr. Page

The right hon. Gentleman certainly did not. I am left puzzling over that.

We have great admiration for "Dad's Army". But when the Services are cut down to their now comparatively small figure, we expect them to be full-time experts—not "Dad's Army," but a sort of "Fred's Army."

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Karno's Army?

Mr. Page

Karno's or the Secretary of State's name; I do not mind which. The Secretary of State's first suggestion was that Service men and women could supplement their Service pay in the way outlined.

The right hon. Gentleman's second suggestion—I am glad that he is present—was that they could join a trade union. On the face of it, that must be an attractive suggestion to those in the Services, because they see only too plainly—indeed, they have seen this in the last day or so—that, unless they have industrial muscle, they will not be successful in their claims.

Those who criticise everything else in Europe assure us that forces' trade unions in Europe work very well without endangering discipline. That sounds naive. I do not believe that the proposal for Armed Forces' trade unions was genuinely made to improve Service men's pay and conditions. I believe that it was made in the hope of dragging the Army, the Navy and the Air Force into the web or the so-called solidarity of the trade union movement so that the Armed Forces will never again be able to protect the public against strikers who put the lives of the public at risk.

Those who advocate trade unions for the Services seek primarily trade union power, not the welfare of the Forces. We see from the article in The Timestoday that the vultures, as it were, are hovering over the Armed Forces to seize them into trade unions. There is a whole list of trade unions which are ready to pounce. They hope that those who are criticising the Government will cause disquiet among Service personnel. That is the last thing that I want to do. I want to speak for the Armed Forces and about public anxiety regarding them. I do not want to increase disquiet among Service men and women.

Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)

Is it not true that if trade unions were established in the Armed Forces the arguments that they would put forward about pay and conditions would be the same as those that my right hon. Friend is advancing?

Mr. Page

That is true. What I am complaining about are the methods that might be used. Consider the case of the firemen in Bootle, recently, who picketed supplies reaching the fire-fighting soldiers and publicly declared that they intended to make it as uncomfortable as they could for those soldiers, who were protecting people's lives, because the soldiers were using a civilian hall, or something like that. Consider, too, the case of the firemen's leaders who proclaimed on radio the other morning that if the fire officers who are assisting the soldiers go back to work after the firemen's strike is ended, the firemen will walk out. If that is the attitude that we get from the formation of a union, how can it be said that trade unionism in the Armed Forces will have no effect on discipline? An episode of "Dad's Army" with Corporal Jones as the shop steward and Captain Mainwaring as an ordinary member of the union would be good entertainment.

Furthermore, how could it be said that we could keep the Army out of politics? What about the political levy?

However, I believe that both officers and other ranks in the Services are so disillusioned with the Review Body, with the way the Government have hamstrung and fenced in the Review Body, that there is a demand for an Armed Forces' negotiating body, on the lines of the Police Federation. I am not setting out any particular model. I merely repeat what has been told to me by those who are in touch, particularly with officers, with the Services. It is said that a proper negotiating body would get over the difficulties which they are experiencing. This is how the Services are placed at the moment. I hope that the Opposition Front Bench will consider coming forward with some proposals of this sort. Otherwise, we may find that we are saddled with some disastrous form of trade unionism in the forces.

Mr. Victor Goodhew(St. Albans)

Is it not the Secretary of State for Defence who should be fighting the case for the Armed Forces? Is it not he who is ultimately responsible for the morale and the state of the Forces? Should not he be the negotiator, making certain that he is not overridden by any of his Cabinet colleagues?

Mr. Page

Of course that is so, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point. However, these arguments were put to him in the House in June and now I am trying to press things home because nothing has been done to make pay and conditions of service any better since we last debated the subject. If the Secretary of State will not do anything about it, the Opposition must make their proposals. A policy of waiting until April and then awarding 10 per cent. is not good enough. A policy of telling Service men to supplement their pay by working at a petrol pump, on a paper round or by pulling pints in a pub is not good enough.

A lot has happened since June. Much that has happened ought to have convinced the Government that it was necessary for them to come forward with a positive improvement in Service pay. Let me list what has happened since June. We have had the new pay limits brought into operation, the 12-month rule and the 10 per cent. It can be seen that these will put the Services at an even greater disadvantage as compared with civilian employment. Second, we have had the Chancellor of the Exchequer telling us how marvellously the country is doing, how he has money to give away. Yet he has given none of it away to the Services. Third, we have had the special duties, the fire-fighting, the Bermuda incident, and so on—all in addition to the Northern Ireland commitment. This has shown the over-stretch from which the Services are suffering.

We have had many more high-ranking officers than ever before coming out demanding increased pay for their men. I understand that the guests at the Adjutant's annual party were shouting "Rhubarb" at a Defence Minister. I am assured that it was "rhubarb" and not "rubbish", but it is the same thing. The final, overpowering, reason why something should be done immediately for Service pay has to do with yesterday's offer to the firemen. There must now be an announcement by the Government that there will be an increase in Armed Forces' pay, without waiting any longer, and a firm programme for reaching comparability over a period of months. The Government cannot be so utterly cynical as to award to the striking firemen what seems to be almost a blank cheque and send away empty-handed those who saved the country from the disasters which could have resulted from that strike. This appears to be a most cynical attitude—" Disregard the Services, they are all right. Never mind about them. But we have to gain votes from clearing up the firemen's strike." Votes seem far more important to the Government than the welfare of the Services. The Government can put things right today by coming forward with a firm policy, stating quite definitely when the Services are to get comparability with civilian occupations and something better than 10 per cent. before next April.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Myer Galpern)

There are about 20 right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate. I make an earnest appeal for brevity so that as many hon. Members as possible can take part in the debate before it ends at 4 o'clock.

11.57 a.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has spoken about his diffidence in taking part in a defence debate. I share that diffidence. I have always had the utmost admiration for the topics chosen by the right hon. Gentleman and the manner in which he has discoursed upon them. Whether it be lotteries, rating or any other subject, the right hon. Gentleman always puts forward his views with considerable force and skill. The motion which he has moved is an example of his ability to select a matter which calls for our cost urgent attention.

I begin by observing what a change the years have brought in the remuneration of members of the Armed Forces. When I joined the Army during the First World War, I earned a "bob" a day and out of the weekly earnings of 7s. a week the sum of 3s. 6d. was allocated to the family. A shilling a day! I wonder how many hon. Members remember a song sung by Hetty King during the days of the Great War. The first line was: On Sunday I walk out with a soldier". The last lines went: And on a Saturday I'm willing to earn the King's bright shilling. And make a man of any one of you. I remember that with my first shilling I began smoking. I bought an ounce of tobacco, a pouch, a pipe and two boxes of matches. I received a halfpenny change out of a shilling. The years have passed and inflation has taken its toll. Now we have the urgent question of adequate remuneration for the Forces, and we have to think of a sum far removed from the amount paid in those bygone days.

The problem has been highlighted in recent times by the dangerous and arduous duties undertaken in Northern Ireland and the task that the Armed Forces are performing in tackling the fire situation. Those have brought matters to the fore in an acute form. Certainly, in the words of the motion, they are entitled to reasonable remuneration, and certainly it is essential that there should be a substantial improvement in the conditions of their service.

We know that criticism has been made recently of the temporary unsatisfactory conditions under which some of the men serve. I do not suppose that any Member in the House, of any party, would dissent from the view expressed in the motion. Nor would any member of the public. Unfortunately—I am afraid that I have to turn to this—we have to deal with the immediate situation.

What will economic conditions permit? How many categories of special cases are there? There are the police, the power workers, the miners and now, very urgently, the firemen. All of them press their undoubted claims, and there is the clear threat that, if the Government give way to one or other and put forward approval of some form of special treatment by giving remuneration in excess of their guidelines, workers in other fields will certainly press their rights. If this happens, bang will go the 10 per cent. limit and the hope of getting inflation down and the restoration of the economy. We as Members surely recognise that that is the dilemma. It is all very well pressing what are undoubted claims and pointing out the grave injustice, but that is the dilemma. We have to consider what has to be done to meet the perfectly just case of the Armed Forces.

One has to remember that it is inappropriate to make comparisons of the pay of specific ranks in the Armed Forces with the pay of workers in other spheres. The conditions of service are very different. There is the careers structure and the promotion scale. That is something which cannot be compared. Again, there are the allowances granted. There is the question of accommodation and food to be taken into account. There is, for example, the service allowance for soldiers serving in Germany, to meet the higher cost of living abroad. There is the problem of the payment made to soldiers serving in Northern Ireland, about which Questions have been asked in the House and to which the right hon. Member for Crosby has referred.

I understand from answers given by the Minister that changes have been made there which mean that there is a substantial benefit to men of the permanent staff living with their families in married quarters and to single members of the permanent staff. Men serving under field conditions are relieved of their normal accommodation and messing charges.

But—the right hon. Gentleman very rightly referred to this—there is a very scathing article in The Times this morning. The Government must have regard to what is said in the article about the danger of soldiers leaving because they cannot possibly exist on the wages that they are now paid.

The media have referred in recent weeks—the right hon. Gentleman drew attention to it—to what is called "moonlighting". That is the taking of other jobs by Service men in their spare time in order to earn more money. I understand that it is said that Service men are free to do this provided that it does not conflict with their duties of service. But is the Service man to be so badly paid that he has to have recourse to this method of augmenting his pay?

Again, the query has been raised—the right hon. Gentleman referred to it—whether Service men should be permitted to join a trade union. I know that the essential function of a trade union is to look after and try to improve the lot of the worker, his pay and the conditions under which he serves. Indeed, in some countries, such as Austria, Belgium and Sweden, trade unions are recognised for this very purpose with regard to Service men. The position in this country appears to be that a Service man may join a trade union provided that military discipline is not affected. Of course, he is forbidden to take part in any industrial action. Perhaps the only real benefit that could possibly accrue to a Service man from joining a trade union would be that it might be helpful to him when he returns to civil life.

To suggest that a trade union should have the job of safeguarding the lot of the Service men would certainly he a revolutionary idea. I personally support what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that it would be a very dangerous step, particularly when industrial action is taken. Indeed, in my view, it is not necessary and it would, as I have said, create difficult relations and possibly difficult situations.

It is not necessary because, after all, each of the Services has a personnel liaison team which visits units to explain matters of pay and conditions of service and to receive the men's reaction. The Service man has the right to put his grievances to the authorities. Indeed, we as Members of Parliament know that members of the Armed Forces may even write to us about their grievances.

The main point is that there is, in fact. the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's argument about not waiting until April and about the necessity for urgent action. I join with him in hoping that some sort of action might be taken in the very near future in order to deal with the position. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body will no doubt take into account the Government's pay policy and the guidelines laid down. It is an independent body. Therefore. it can make any recommendation that it thinks fit.

I understand that at the moment that body is now engaged in collecting data for its next report. The next award for the Services can be implemented with effect from 1st April next year in accordance with the 12-months rule. I know that the right hon. Gentleman asks why we should wait for that, but it is 1st April. Something might be done, I suggest, in the meantime. I hope that the Pay Review Body, having collated the facts of the position and having gone into it carefully with its independent attitude, will put forward some solution of the problem.

The Government, whilst maintaining the necessity to stay within the guidelines, have shown some flexibility in their plans to help the police and in the proposals announced yesterday by the Home Secretary in an endeavour to settle the firemen's strike. The Pay Review Body, as I have said, has to take into account these many factors, to some of which I have referred, but particularly, I suggest—I echo what the right hon. Gentleman has said—the dreadful urgency of the situation.

We certainly cannot expect members of the Armed Forces to face dangers in Northern Ireland or to be called upon to carry out the hazardous tasks of firemen without being properly recompensed. I hope that the Government will, in their own way and in conjunction with the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, find a satisfactory way to deal with the problem as expeditiously as possible.

12.9 p.m.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

This debate comes at a particularly timely moment because it follows less than 24 hours after the Home Secretary gave, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said, a blank cheque to the firemen. The fact is that, in evading their responsibilities of paying a proper wage to the Armed Forces, the Government have got themselves into considerable confusion.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body has effectively been discarded and the Government are resisting these claims, sometimes on the ground of muddling up the Armed Services with the whole of the public sector and saying that public sector claims above 10 per cent, must be resisted. At other times they muddle up the element in the whole question of a restricted defence spending budget. They say that the money just is not there because the budget has fixed a certain level of spending, and, never mind the Armed Forces Pay Review Body or any- thing else, there is no money available to pay the scales that should be paid.

Now, at any rate, the Home Secretary has conceded that the public sector is not some enormous amorphous body where a universal level of wage rise should be paid across the board. By his statement yesterday, the Home Secretary has accepted that the public sector contains those whose training, whose exposure to danger and whose status effectively demand a higher rate than is paid to those whose work might be virtually unskilled. These latter can enjoy a certain security in their jobs which they would not enjoy outside the public sector and therefore, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, they do not merit the same level of award as those in that more elite sector which the right hon. Gentleman recognised yesterday.

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman recognises just how wide is the public concern at the low level of Service pay and just how much resentment there was at the realisation that the soldiers who were doing the job of the firemen were being paid less than the level which was bringing the firemen out on strike.

As we know, alas, there are many items of obsolete and defective equipment, the design of some of which dates back to World War Two, being used in the Services. It is useful to illustrate the disparities by taking certain of these items and comparing the wage levels at the time they were introduced and those paid to the people now operating them.

The Royal Navy is still using largely a torpedo that was designed and used in World War Two. When Royal Navy artificers were using that torpedo in 1946 they were on the same wage rate as their civilian counterparts, but today they are about 60 per cent to 80 per cent behind.

The Canberra bomber, which, to our lasting shame, is still operational in the Royal Air Force, is another illustration of what I am saying. When it was introduced, the aircrew were about 30 per cent. behind their civilian counterparts on their pay rates, but now they are seven to eight times behind.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

The Canberra bombers are in many cases about 10 years older than the crews who are manning them.

Mr. Clark

That is a very good point, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making it.

Not only are the Green Goddess vehicles in many cases older than the crews who are manning them, but when they were first operational the REME privates who were servicing them were on a comparable scale to their civilian counterparts. Now—I know this from letters from my constituents—they have a take-home pay of about £48 and they see their civilian friends, and possibly even relatives, earning about £80—nearly double their own pay.

We cannot have both those elements simultaneously. Low pay or pay below comparable civilian standards can be tolerable if someone is in an elite unit, or his status and equipment are such that he feels that he is recognised by both the country and the Government and, that he is discharging a vital and essential task. When a soldier has to wait for up-to-date equipment, or if he feels that he is under-equipped, that can be more acceptable if at the time he is being paid at any rate about the same as his civilian counterpart. But what is highly dangerous is a combination of low wages and obsolete, defective and deficient equipment.

We know the answer that comes from many Labour Members. All that they recommend is unionisation. I do not for a moment believe that their motives are primarily to improve the lot of members of the Armed Forces. Their motives are the same as those that lead them to want to get rid of the elite units, to advocate that we should disband the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment and to snipe at and criticise units such as the SAS. Their motives are similar to those of the Lambeth councillors who referred to the Armed Forces as the mailed fist of the State and denied them the right to march through the borough. That statement has not been repudiated. We have not heard anything said against the mayor of the local council who imposed that ban by the hon. Member in whose constituency that was done.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

Is it the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Labour Party wants to do away with the SAS or the Parachute Regiment —regiments which have some of the finest traditions in this country? Is he asserting that we want to do away with them?

Mr. Clark

Certainly not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already appealed for brevity. The Chair cannot stop interventions, but it would be helpful if hon. Members who wish to catch the eye of the Chair would refrain from intervening because by so doing they might get an opportunity to make their own points. Interventions only add to the length of the speech of the hon. Member who has the Floor at the time.

Mr. Clark

None the less, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to repudiate what the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) said, because that is not the impression that I want to give. I recognise that he and many of his hon. Friends and many members of the Government are not of that mind, but I believe that the motive of the majority of Labour Members, certainly those below the Gangway, who constantly pretend that the answer to the pay and conditions of the Armed Services is unionisation, is not primarily the welfare of members of the Armed Services but to reduce their status and effectiveness and subordinate them to the political arm of the movement whose interests they wish to promote.

If further evidence of that is required, the hon. Gentleman has only to look at the recommendations that some Labour Members make to cut defence spending by a further £1,000 million. It is plain that the origins of the trade union movement, which were based on the need to protect and advance the welfare of its members, cannot be satisfied by unionising the Armed Forced while at the same time drastically restricting the amount of money that employers are allowed to pay.

Fortunately, the Minister has at hand the means and the excuse to give us the assurance that we need, because, as we know, the real need to restrict Armed Services pay arises from defence cuts that have eaten into the amount of money available to satisfy them. I have attended every debate on this subject since entering the House, and on every occasion the excuse has been that defence spending has to be a proportion of and geared to the reduced level of GNP.

Only last week, the Prime Minister said that it was the case that GNP was rising and that next year our growth in GNP will exceed that of any other member of the European Community. Very well, we accept this. Can the Minister assure us now that as our GNP rises, so defence spending will rise at any rate in proportion with it—because it was cut in proportion with the fall? And can he tell us—if he corroborates his right hon. Friend's assertion—that defence spending will be raised and that many of the claims from this side of the House will be satisfied in the very near future?

12.20 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

Some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) were of a rather wild nature. I was puzzled, for instance, to hear that I, as someone who sits below the Gangway, was determined to unionise the Armed Forces and subjugate them to the political purposes of the Labour Party.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on having introduced the motion and on having spoken to it so ably and highlighted in a very lucid way the problems of the Armed Forces as regards pay. I hasten to add that the Government also have problems in coping with the pay difficulties of the Armed Forces, because obviously they are constrained by their present wages policy, which I personally regard as being absolutely essential to our economic future.

I appreciate that the Government are in real difficulties, but the whole purpose of having a Government is that they should overcome difficulties. We have people such as my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence in the Government because we know that he has the ability to cope with complex situations. I have no doubt that when my hon. Friend has heard the views of the House he will discuss matters with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and that some satisfactory conclusions to our deliberations will be the result. Obviously, it cannot happen today.

There is no doubt but that there is a widespread impression that the Armed Forces are being badly treated as regards pay and conditions of service. This has been evidenced, though not so much from the Armed Forces themselves. The right hon. Member for Crosby said that he had not heard complaints from the soldiers themselves. It would indeed be very uncommon to hear complaints from the more disciplined regiments. This is one of the reasons why we should look after the interests of the Armed Forces. Because they are uncomplaining, because they have a steady adherence to motives of discipline and looking after the interests of the country rather than themselves, they deserve extra help from us. It should not be a reason for them to be exploited.

There is no doubt but that in the Press and now in the House there is an impression that the Armed Forces are being badly treated. This has been highlighted by the miserable affair of the firemen's strike. It is absurd that the firemen should be receiving on average £12 a week more for not fighting fires than the men who are actually doing their job for them. This obviously must be completely wrong.

We should examine the facts. The right hon. Member for Crosby pointed out—rightly—that the average weekly industrial pay packet amounts to £76 and that the Armed Forces are receiving £23 a week less than that. That cannot be right. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Secretary of State for Defence, he introduced the whole concept of military pay so that it should be on comparable terms with industry. Viewed in that light, these figures indicate that the Armed Forces have slipped back very severely as compared with industry generally.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the average rate of pay for privates in Northern Ireland is at present 33p an hour. I have great admiration for a certain lady who cleans my house in Wimpole Street. She is well into her sixties and she comes from Jamaica. I would not say that she is particularly well educated, but she is admirable in every possible way. She gets more than double that rate of pay. It cannot be right that soldiers in Northern Ireland who are doing very skilled and very dangerous work in the most unpleasant conditions should be receiving less than a cleaner in the centre of London.

The great problem is that the Armed Forces have lagged behind industry mostly during the past two years. By and large, until about 1975 the Armed Forces were reasonably content with their lot as regards pay, The figures given in column 77 of the Official Report of 16th May 1977 show that from July 1975 to July 1976 the earnings of the Armed Forces increased by 9.6 per cent. whereas during the same period industrial and average manual earnings increased by 13.9 per cent. That is a staggering difference. From July 1976 to July 1977 the earnings of the Armed Forces increased by 4.8 per cent. whereas average industrial and manual earnings increased by 6 per cent. Again, there was an enormous difference.

The comparison is worsened when one considers what happened to the increase in pay. During the last period—from July 1976 to July 1977—the increase in wages of the average soldier varied between £2.50 and £4 a week. For his accommodation he had to pay an extra £.1.05 to £2.52 a week. His food charge increased by £1.12. This brought about the absurd situation that many soldiers and airmen were having deducted from their pay more than their actual increase. One can imagine the discontent that arose as a result of that.

There are some other facts to be taken into consideration. Quite a large number of Service men are now receiving supplementary benefit. Supplementary benefit surely goes to people who are very badly paid and who are in the low income groups. Quite a few married quarters are empty—I am sure the Minister will agree that this is the case—because soldiers are seeking cheaper accommodation.

I am sure that the Minister will not seek to deny the current practice of moonlighting. We know that Service men all over the country are doing extra jobs at the weekends or in the evenings to supplement their pay. Perhaps one of the more comic aspects of this is that we heard the week before last that aircraftmen in the Midlands were working in a Mars bar factory in between doing maintenance work on aircraft.

Mr. Graham Page

Per ardua ad Mars bar!

Mr. Cronin

This is another indication that Service men are being grossly underpaid. There is no escape from that fact.

I suggest that the Government have a real duty to be good employers. It must be accepted that the Government are not being good employers of the Service men at present, although the Government are obviously bound to some extent by their own pay policy.

Obviously the Service men are not alone in their hardship over pay. I should have thought that a very large proportion of the total working population were dissatisfied with their pay. The important thing is that Service men are suffering much more in comparison with workers in industry generally. I can see no good reason why Service men should be singled out as the people who should suffer more as a result of the very proper desire to maintain the Government's pay policy.

Service men accept the Government's pay policy by and large, but something can be done for them within the Government's pay policy. There is little doubt that the matter of pay and conditions of work is having a very deleterious effect on the morale of the Services. In the best regiments this is being kept under control to a large extent, but certainly among those in mid-career and the more skilled senior NCOs there is grave discontent.

I recollect visiting Germany a few months ago, in the company of some hon. Members here. We were entertained in the sergeants' mess at corps headquarters at Osnabruck, and we were entertained also by the RAF Bruggen NCOs. There were about eight of us on the delegation, and the impression given to all of us was that those NCOs were gravely dissatisfied with their lot. They were quite vociferous about it, and one wondered how long an organisation could continue to run with that degree of impaired morale developing.

I come now to the remedies that we can suggest to the Minister. It has been suggested that the Services should be unionised. It is easy to make risible points about that. One can say that Service men would probably ask for danger money and that night patrols might be difficult because of demands for overtime —all manner of absurd points of that kind—but, in my view, it is most undesirable that the Services should be unionised, for the following principal reasons.

First, the authority of the officers would inevitably be undermined if there were the possibility of a Service man appealing to his union. I see no way of avoiding undermining the authority of superior officers. Moreover, if Service men had unions, presumably their pay and conditions of work would be negotiable. But it is unthinkable that questions of operational discipline should be negotiable. How does one separate the two? I envisage the two situations gradually merging and causing great inefficiency.

Moreover, once Service men began to have unions, the question of the right to strike must arise sooner or later. It is unthinkable that we should have in our Services any situation in which strikes could be even contemplated.

I believe that those reasons alone should be enough to dismiss the whole idea of having unions in the Armed Forces. But I put it to the Minister that the substitute for unions is the assurance that the Government look after the interests of the Armed Forces in the matter of pay and conditions of work. We in the House should be the shop stewards. We should be the union representatives of the Services. We—not just the Minister—should be their representatives, and we should insist that the Government take appropriate action in the matter of pay and conditions of work.

I greatly hope that the Minister will give a reassurance to Service men today. I hope that he will not talk too much about what splendid pensions they have. The vast majority in the Services are young men, and it is difficult to make them feel happy by telling them they will have splendid pensions in 20 years' time or splendid remuneration later in life when at this moment they are having acute difficulty in supporting their wives and children, I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not talk too much of pensions and later payments.

I hope also that the Minister will not talk too much about the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. In my view, that body is now discredited. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body should have its reputation rehabilitated by being given the authority to allow handsome pay increases in the near future.

The most important consideration is that Service men's pay and conditions of work should have comparability with the rest of industry restored. That is all that the Service man wants. He only wants a fair deal, and he wants to have his pay and conditions of work made comparable with those of other workers in the country

A Government who, to a large extent, exist politically through the support of the trade unions must conform to trade union policy. They must be a good employer, and they must be seen to be a good employer. There is, however, a widespread impression—there is considerable truth in it—that the Government are not at present being a good employer of the Armed Forces.

Finally, I suggest that a Government who base themselves politically on the tenets of Socialism are in duty bound to look after people in the lower income groups. A private, trooper, aircraftman or sailor is equally as entitled to the good treatment and fairness which one expects from a Socialist Government as is any other worker in the country.

12.36 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on introducing this debate and on the general support which he has earned for it throughout the House. I apologise to the Minister at the outset for having to catch a train fairly early to my constituency. I shall accordingly be fairly brief.

The fact which has clearly emerged from the speeches on both sides thus far is that the House has a special responsibility for Service pay. I agree with the suggestion just made by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) that we should seriously consider reviving the old idea of a Select Committee of the House concerned with the Armed Forces. I am sure that that would not be a bad idea. Otherwise, these questions are raised occasionally, there are short debates, and they are then lost to sight.

The subject raised by my right hon. Friend's modest motion today is highlighted by the settlement, or attempted settlement, yesterday for the firemen. Immediately, we see ourselves moving to a stage when the police are given something and the firemen are given something, yet essential justice is denied to our Armed Forces, which, after all, are the most important component of out country's defences but which, unhappily, are today in disarray.

I shall not bore the House with figures save but one. I think it fair to say that there has been a cut in Armed Forces pay since 1974—a cut of about 10 per cent., if not more. I remind the Minister and his colleagues on the Front Bench that when I was a small boy there was something known as the Invergordon mutiny, and that was over precisely that figure of 10 per cent. I suppose that there is equality of misery under this Government, but the inequality of the misery in the Armed Forces is outstanding and alarming.

Far more important even than the sense of injustice which Service men are feeling now, however, is the question of of the efficiency of the Services. Without doubt, unless some sort of comparability with industrial pay is restored, Service men will go out, and key men will go out. As evidence for this, one need only look at the falling number of men signing on for more than three years. Of course, with the highest unemployment we have known in this country since the 1930s, there are plenty of recruits coming along—there is no better recruiting master than mass unemployment—but Service men are going out, and here lies a serious problem. The Minister knows that they are going.

I take three examples from the Royal Air Force. First, there is a shortage of flying instructors at the Central Flying School. They are seven short. That is a tiny figure, hut it indicates a desperately serious bottleneck in the training of Royal Air Force flying personnel. Second, I take the question of station commanders. Out of 18 places offered, five have been turned down because officers simply cannot afford to take the job. Next, I take the case of air traffic controllers. The pay of a Royal Air Force air traffic controller, a skilled officer, is about £5,500 a year. The equivalent civilian pay is about £8,500 a year. It is no wonder that young men are emigrating to get nice jobs overseas.

Those are facts, and it cannot be denied that the Armed Forces are now faced with falling efficiency. One could give a long list of what is happening. Any comparability study will show the facts. The House must recognise that, in the matter of pay, what we are now seeing is merely the tip of a military iceberg which is in danger of foundering—if icebergs founder, and I rather think that they do. This is the alarming aspect. The forces are not only up against the question of the Government's pay policy guidelines but are up against the constrictions of the defence budget.

If one studies the record of successive Governments—no names, no pack drill—one finds that the amount of the defence budget spent on equipment, which is the key matter for a fighting force, between 1955 and 1970 averaged about 42 per cent. Since then, the figure has been about 33 per cent. We simply cannot afford an increase in military pay at the expense of equipment. But that is what one is always in danger of seeing.

This is why I believe that, such is the urgency of the matter and such is the obloquy surrounding the weak body which produced the last report, there must now be a major change and reconsideration in this matter. I go along with Lord Shinwell in believing that there should now he a 10 per cent. increase in pay for the Armed Forces and that the next review of their pay should be in about a year's time. So much work has to be done that a new body must be established to do it and to see that comparability is achieved.

Let no one conceal the fact that this will not be a cheap operation. Merely to make a 10 per cent. increase across the board for the Armed Forces will cost about £150 million. Bringing the pay up to what is probably necessary would cost about £450 million. But the extra money must not come off the defence budget for equipment.

One of the great tragedies of the Healey-Carver administration was the reduction of the Territorial Army. Whether that can be undone, I do not know. It is even more of a problem now that we have a shortage of manpower in the Armed Forces. Taking into account the shortage of men serving in Europe, stated at 2,500, and the 18,000 taken away for fire-fighting, there is a manpower deficit of about 20,000.

When the Conservatives are returned to office, they must face the fact that we need a new approach. We must use cheaper manpower, for example, at some point, at the same time seeing that skilled men in the Armed Forces get pay on a comparable basis with skilled men in industry. We have to think again about the defence budget. Even accepting the sort of budget we have today and the 350,000 men in the Armed Forces, we shall be faced with a very large bill to bring them up to the proper standard of pay and to see that our forces remain as efficient and as well equipped as any in the world.

12.44 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I suppose that the temptation is very great to make party political capital out of the grievances, anomalies and injustices which inevitably arise out of the Government's attempts to keep some semblance of control and restraint in wages and salaries as part of the overall strategy of combating inflation. The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) posed, I was going to say, the deceit of his party, but I will call it the dilemma, in calling for increased public expenditure of a very significant amount while urging the Government, almost in the same breath, to engage in more swingeing cuts in public expenditure. But that is the Opposition's dilemma, and they have to try to put on an air of credibility with the electorate when they propose those two diametrically opposed propositions.

I think we all agree that inflation is the enemy of us all and that there is increasing evidence that the public in general are supporting the Government's policy in attempting to defeat it. In that process there are bound to be grievances, which the Opposition are entitled to exploit for their own cynical—that was the word used by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page)—short-term political advantage. That is what they are doing today. Let us not hear otherwise. We understand it. I hope that the public outside will understand it.

I hope that when we draw attention to this fact the Opposition will not say that we are anti the Armed Forces. It ill-behoves the Tory Party to talk about the Labour Party being opposed to the Armed Forces. The greatest exploitation of the Armed Forces took place in the last century and in this century right up to the Second World War under Tory Governments. I was one of those who suffered. So the Opposition need not preach to us about the welfare of the Armed Forces. The fact that the public are in general with the Government in the fight against inflation must be disconcerting to the Opposition.

I can understand why the Opposition seek to exploit each case. In the first instance it was the police. The Opposition said "We must give the police a blank cheque". In the Press and on radio and television, they said that we should give the police what they were asking for. They talked of law and order and violent crime being on the increase. Apparently it all started in 1974, when the present Government came to office, and it was because the Labour Government were not giving these people exactly what they wanted.

The same thing happened in the case of the firemen. The Government have gone a long way in trying to redress the undoubted grievances of the firemen. I do not know whether the Opposition approve of that or whether they want the Government to give a blank cheque to the firemen and now to the Armed Forces as well.

It is interesting that with the firemen's strike the Service men's grievances were brought into sharp focus. Again the Opposition, no doubt with the most honourable motives, brought attention to the fact that the men who were brought in to protect lives and property that might be jeopardised as a result of the firemen's strike were getting lower pay than the firemen. But that sort of thing is not exceptional. Nurses called out on duty as a result of the strike are getting far less pay than the firemen. So are the ambulance men and others.

Let me remind Tory Members that when they were seeking to implement their 3½ per cent. pay policy way back in the early 1960s the first people to be clobbered by them were the nurses. There was not then a debate of this kind in the House. The former Mr. Speaker, Selwyn Lloyd, was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, and he told me privately that he had to start somewhere. They had to strike at one of the weakest sections of the community, and the weakest section then was the nurses. They had no bargaining power. The Tories are arguing now that the Forces have no bargaining power and that the Government are clobbering the Forces. Let not the Conservatives preach that doctrine and expect that the public will forget their attitude to the nurses 15 or 20 years ago.

When this policy was being introduced the Prime Minister said that it was a policy of very rough justice, and, of course, it is. We all share the concern that has been expressed in the debate for our Armed Forces, but I hope that the Opposition will tell us quite clearly what they would intend to do. They have initiated the debate, and they ought to tell us what their policies would be if by some great misfortune they became the Government after the next General Election. Would they disband the inde-dependent Review Body which now seeks to—[Interruption.] I want to be quite sure what the Tories are saying. Are they prepared to say that in all circumstances they would accept all recommendations of all independent boards which are set up to ascertain the pay and conditions of every group of workers in the public sector? If that is not their intention, let them say what is their intention.

The Review Body will come forward with its proposals early next year. Evidence can be submitted by the Tory Party, by individuals and by any kind of organisation to that Review Body as to what it should recommend. But would any Government give a blank cheque that it would underwrite everything that such a body recommended? [Interruption.] I am expressing my own view, and the Tory Members who are interrupting from a sedentary position may have an opportunity later to spell out their party's official policy on these matters.

Are the Conservatives prepared to say that they will accept in principle every dot and comma of every recommendation of every independent board which sits on these matters? If so, I suggest that such a policy would be a dereliction of governmental duty. No Government can say that the buck stops here. The Government of the day must reserve the right to take account of such recommendations in the context of their overall policy. In the national interest they must reserve the right to accept, reject or modify the recommendations of such bodies.

Mr. Churchill

The hon. Gentleman must know that only yesterday the Home Secretary made it very clear that the Government were giving a blank cheque to the firemen and that they were prepared to accept the commitment to full comparability of pay.

Mr. Hamilton

Yes—over two years. It was made quite clear that the firemen would get the 10 per cent. now and that the comparability would be phased in over two years. If the Tories accept that, will they accept it for the forces? I would be prepared to do that, but it would be interesting to know whether the Tory Party would accept it.

I was interested to hear what was said about trade union membership for the forces. I do not care one way or the other, except to point out that a soldier is still an individual member of our society and should have a perfect right in principle to join a union. I believe that every professional Member on the Conservative Benches is in a union. Every Member on the Labour Benches is compelled to be. [Interruption.] This is a matter of principle. We are compelled in a sense, but there is not much compulsion. By conviction, we feel that we should be in a union.

There are no more vehemently closed shops than those which Conservative Members join when they are in the legal profession, the medical profession and most other professions. They have a closed shop par excellence.

I say quite frankly that a member of the Forces with a craft would be extremely wise to join a craft union. On leaving the Forces he would find it extremely difficult to get a job unless he was in a bona fide trade union before the event.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make it quite clear, however, that if a soldier joins a union he will not be allowed under his terms of contract to take industrial action. That is a reasonable proposition to make. I might add that the proposition propounded by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was not an exceptional one, because several European countries—I think, Austria, Sweden and Belgium—have unions of one kind or another with membership in the forces. I do not think that they find any great difficulty in allowing their soldiers to be in those trade unions. Let no one make the kinds of extravagant claims that have been made in the course of the debate on this matter.

Great play has been made of moonlighting. In proportion to the membership, there is not a bigger moonlighting organisation than the House of Commons. The lawyers come in on a Friday and make their speeches because from Monday to Thursday they are mostly practising in the courts. They have to justify their membership of this House by coming here and making their speeches, which they give to the local Press to show how active they are in the House of Commons. In fact, membership of the House of Commons is regarded as a moonlighting job by a large number of Tories. I can go into the Library any evening and see hon. Members preparing their briefs for the courts.

I suppose that the two moonlighters par excellence are the two ex-Prime Ministers. One of them has hired a train in order to promote the selling of his books. The other appears on television to speak about his book. Perhaps he will also hire a train.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting rather wide of the subject of Armed Forces' pay and conditions.

Mr. Hamilton

I am talking of moonlighting and trying to show that, if some members of the Forces are moonlighting, it is not an exceptional practice. It is perpetuated by a large number of Tory Members and by some of my hon. Friends as well. I am making no party political point on this. Moonlighting is practised by a number of accountants who are engaged by public corporations——

Mr. Goodhew

Will not the hon. Gentleman admit that he has done some moonlighting himself in writing a book? As it is in denigration of the Royal Family, I hope that he will not sell any copies.

Mr. Hamilton

It was a best seller, because people were so anxious to read the truth about these matters.

Reference has also been made to the hardship of the Forces, and I am provoked into mentioning the hardship of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. There are some soldiers who have never been to Northern Ireland but whose wives have been given £5,000 a year tax-free by the Government. Maybe it is compensation. I do not know.

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Hamilton

Would the hon. Gentleman like me to spell it out? All right, I am referring to Captain Mark Phillips. He is the one I am talking about. I will leave it at that. I hope that the penny has dropped. Some Opposition Members are dull, but I have spelt it out sufficiently for them to know what I am driving at. Opposition Members have asked for information and I have given it. It is now on the record that that soldier has never gone to Northern Ireland. There are men in my constituency who have had at least four terms in Northern Ireland. I think that it is the most unpopular station for the British Army.

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman interrupts from a sedentary position as if he is half staring mad. I think that he probably is. That is the information that comes to me from constituents. I can only speak from what they tell me.

When the Review Body makes its recommendations, I hope that the Government will say—I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will do so today—that the Forces will be given now exactly what the firemen are being offered and that over a period of two years they will have comparability with the firemen. I hope that the Government will see to it that Forces' pay, taking into account the fact that they do not pay rent and rates and the things that other people have to pay. [HON. MEMBERS: "They do."] I am saying to my right hon. Friend that he should seek to treat the Forces in exactly the same way—no more generous and no less▀×as the Government yesterday said they intended to treat the firemen.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether, for once, he is speaking more from ignorance than from malice when making his observation about Captain Mark Phillips? If it be the case that that officer has not served in Northern Ireland, does not that arise from the security considerations connected with his membership of the Royal Family? The hon. Gentleman ought to be a little bit more well informed.

Mr. Hamilton

I am sorry that I allowed the hon. and learned Gentleman to intervene. I know that Conservative Members do not like references of that kind. Nevertheless, I shall continue to make them because they are made in many letters to me from soldiers in Northern Ireland. It is a point that is repeatedly put to me, and I am putting it on the record. I am saying it because Opposition Members seek to exploit the undoubted hardship and grievances of the men serving in Northern Ireland for their own party political ends.

There is no doubt that those men have grievances. I want the Government to make some effort to remedy that, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will not take any lectures from the Tory Party on this matter.

1.3 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

To be fair to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), he is perhaps more famous for moonshining than for moonlighting.

I apologise at the outset for being unable to stay to the end of the debate, but I have to travel to my constituency, which is a long way away, for a meeting this evening. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) for not attempting to catch the eye of the Chair at this precise moment.

At the moment there is a common appreciation among the public about the versatility and the cheerful readiness of the forces to perform tasks which they are basically not trained to do. There is perhaps a greater appreciation of the role of the Forces than there normally is. We are also, as a public, more aware of the widespread discontent which now pervades the forces since the last pay review. It appears from my inquiries that young soldiers and junior officers are most badly affected by the failures to maintain comparability over the past three years. However, I do not think that that should be exaggerated.

The one thing to which I objected during the firemen's and police officers' debates was not comparing like with like. When the average industrial wage is compared it should be compared to the average Army wage. It is wrong to compare the lowest wage, as the firemen did, and as we have done today, with the average. I do not think we do anyone any good by doing so.

We do not do our country, or the cause of content among the Armed Forces, any good by not comparing like with like. Having said that, we have to recognise that the Forces generally have been and are under very great strain at present. The hon. Member for Fife, Central rightly referred to Northern Ireland and the representations that he has received about that Province. That adds a tremendous burden in terms of training and effort, and again it is the young soldiers who are most seriously affected.

It is positively obscene that an all-volunteer force fighting in Northern Ireland while at the same time maintaining the BAOR should have some of its young soldiers on supplementary benefit. That is entirely wrong.

Secondly, there has been the great additional burden of providing an alternative fire-fighting force. That imposes particular strains on certain people. For example, married troops are particularly affected, because young unmarrieds who are out of barracks have additional allowances which give some benefit, and they often seem to enjoy the experience far more than marrieds do. It also deprives many of the troops, especially the marrieds, from taking moonlighting jobs. In fact, two sergeants, with their tongues in their cheeks, complained to me that the firemen have taken all their moonlighting jobs.

The sudden call of troops to a peace keeping rôle in Bermuda is a salutary reminder of their rôle in the community. Because of cuts over the past few years Service men have often been forced to work excessive hours. Their rôle has not changed, but there are fewer to perform the tasks. This applies particularly in BAOR.

The last point that we should take into consideration is the grave uncertainty over the future of those in the Armed Forces, because of cuts. One of the advantages of Service men—I do not think it can be overlooked—is that they have good pension facilities as well as security. But when that element of security is undetermined by uncertainty about their future it is a matter to which we must pay considerable regard.

I make no bones about it; the defence sphere is one of the most vulnerable elements in the agreement between the Government and the Liberals. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence have been made well aware that the Liberals will not go along with the Government on the projected defence cuts. We voted against the Government during the vote on the Defence Estimates earlier this year—only four days after the agreement between the Liberals and the Government had been entered into.

In another place this week the Liberal Peers have displayed their dissatisfaction about Government defence policy. I quote the Leader of my Party, who, in his speech to the Liberal Party Assembly, said we can and will oppose those cuts in defence spending which would take us below our obligations to collective security in NATO I have made my party's position clear. It is, therefore, a very important sphere with which we are dealing today in terms of the arrangement between ourselves and the Government.

This country simply cannot afford to have disgruntled and discontented Armed Forces upon whom increasing burdens are placed and who increasingly feel that they are being used as dogsbodies and are losing out in their comparability with those in other occupations who do not have to face greater dangers or who do not have greater skills than do Service personnel.

It is understandable that there should be renewed calls for unionisation. I do not happen to agree. I think that would be disastrous for our Armed Forces. They do not have the same tradition as in the German armed forces in the 1920s. There are reasons for the introduction of unionism there. I do not think that the Dutch forces, to give one example, have benefited from unionisation. On the other hand, the situation imposes an obligation on this House—an obligation that has been generally recognised from all sides—to remove the causes of discontent that are responsible for these pressures for unionisation in the Armed Forces.

Therefore, we regard as very important the restoration of morale and confidence in the forces—and our continued obligation to collective security in NATO—through a clear commitment by way of pay to the future well-being of our Service men as was yesterday accorded to the striking fireman.

I am all for the Government's 10 per cent. policy. There is a fantastic amount of hypocrisy about it. We have the extreme Left wing, for example, saying that the miners are a special case. We have many, but by no means all, Conservatives saying that the police must he a special case, or that the Services must be a special case. The truth is that in the country's present predicament none of us can be special, and we must therefore keep to the 10 per cent. policy.

Nevertheless, for the morale of the country it is essential for the Government to demonstrate that striking against the public interest does not bring greater rewards or greater appreciation for the participants than for those who have stepped into the breach so willingly and done the work which the striking firemen were doing, and to whom we all owe so much. I do not think that we should take them for granted.

With that in mind, I turn to the practicalities of the matter, with which we should all be concerned. Obviously we cannot make an exception to the 10 per cent. rule. But what can be done? I suggest that the Government, although they must stick to the 10 per cent, guideline, should give the maximum available under the guideline.

Then I consider what might be done by way of short-term arrangements which could possibly help. From my inquiries, I understand that the major disappointment arising out of the last award was not so much the award itself as the claw-back. It was the fact that the assessment of the cost of what might be called, in the old-fashioned term, the "perks"—the rent allowances, the food, and so on —went up very appreciably, so that many people received very little.

We know that one of the causes of discontent in the police force, the Fire Service and everywhere else is that because of inflation, food costs more, rent costs more, and so on. The Services are rather like the miners in some respects. They live in separate enclaves in many ways and do not appreciate that many of the things which they feel are equally felt elsewhere. Nevertheless, I think that there is scope here to abate temporarily the claw-back for these old-time free perks, so that appreciably more take-home pay is made available in the next award, unlike the last time round.

It is not beyond the wit of man, especially negotiating man, to bring about a solution that will result in the claw-back being considerably less in the coming review.

Other matters that have been raised in debates in this House can be arranged to assist Service men. I think that the arrangement that was proposed yesterday for the firemen should be looked at very carefully as a possible precedent for the Service men.

In the meantime, we can, for example, exempt Service men from the effects of the 1974 Rent Act. We have heard about the real hardship caused to Service men when they are posted abroad and want to let their houses furnished. When they return, they want to get possession as soon as possible. They suffer excessive hardship under the 1974 Rent Act, and a very small amending provision could remove a considerable cause of discontent in that respect.

Similarly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer could bring in changes to enable Service men to get tax relief on mortgages if they are obliged to serve elsewhere. At the moment, they are deprived of tax relief on mortgages which they are paying for houses which they regard as home when they have to live elsewere in married quarters.

In the longer term, it would be very wise for the Secretary of State for Defence to ask the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to assess what Service pay should be at the end of the 12-month guideline period, bearing in mind the matters that emerged in the debate on the Sixth Report that wages to the Services must be competitive and that Service men cannot ameliorate their financial position by, as it were, working longer hours or moving to new and more highly-paid jobs. The Review Body would do well to study whether the X factor should not be reassessed. I have referred already to the many jobs that Service men are called upon to perform and the great public obligation which I think we owe them.

As I understand it, the X factor was assessed at 10 per cent. I quote from the Third Report: The X factor is an element in the military salary which, on its introduction, was designed to compensate for the balance of advantage and disadvantage of Service life by comparison with civilian life. Because it was added to salary levels based upon outside comparison, its effect was to ensure higher earnings for Servicemen than for those doing comparable jobs in civilian life. Erosion of this lead defeats the object of the X factor. The object has been defeated. The truth is that the Review Body has held rigidly to the various pay codes, whereas outside they have not been held to so rigidly. That accounts for the erosion of the comparability. But some readjustment of the X factor could compensate for this.

I suggest that the recommendation about bringing the Forces back to the comparability that they enjoyed three or four years ago could be implemented in two stages—in October 1978 and again in October 1979. I suggest that there should be a two-stage plan, exactly like that put forward yesterday for the firemen. This would move the average Service man to where he deserves to be. It would also remove the severe danger to morale that exists among a body of men who are called upon to perform what are among the most dangerous and distasteful tasks in our society.

Surely we, as a House, and surely the Government, owe it to the Services to ensure that if the 10 per cent rule cannot be broken—I do not suggest that it should be broken—there is a clear and unambiguous commitment to the serious plan that I have outlined.

1.18 p.m.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

The whole House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) for the opportunity to debate this crucial issue, which has received far too little attention. The question of the firemen's pay is in the public eye at the moment, because they are on strike, but a far graver crisis exists within the Armed Forces. The only difference is that it is concealed by the fact that they have no means of expressing their discontent.

The Government have broken faith with the Armed Forces by insisting on full comparability of charges while denying comparability of pay. This was especially evidenced by the so-called "Irishman's rise" earlier in the year, when the Armed Forces received a pay increase of 4.8 per cent. while their charges for accommodation and food went up by 13.2 per cent. and 20.8 per cent., respectively.

It is regrettable that in its Sixth Report the Armed Forces Pay Review Body failed to state how far below the level of comparability the Armed Forces had fallen, but it is inexcusable for the Government to continue to deny this figure to the House, as they have been doing.

What is the reason for the cover-up? Why will not the Government say how much the forces have fallen behind in comparability? Is it 20 per cent., 25 per cent., or even 30 per cent.? The Minister of State has no right to deny these facts to the House of Commons. I defy the hon. Gentleman to name any section of the community that has been more callously and unfairly treated by this Government than have the Armed Forces. These men and women, whose loyalty and devotion to duty command the admiration of the nation, who willingly bail out the Government by doing the most dirty and dangerous jobs when those who get paid far more—such as the Glasgow dustmen and the firemen—go on strike, feel frustrated, disillusioned and cheated. They have every right to feel that way. They are, convinced that this Government are taking unfair advantage of them and of the fact that they have neither unions nor the right to strike.

They do not ask for either. All they ask is for a fair deal. They look to the Service Ministers, to the Minister of State and, above all, the Secretary of State for Defence, to speak up for them and to protect their interests. Thus far, they have looked in vain. They have been let down.

Since this Government took office the miners have received pay increases totalling 113 per cent. and average industrial earnings have increased by 68 per cent., but the armed forces have been the Cinderellas, with a miserable 48 per cent. Almost every penny of that has been clawed back in higher charges. The result is that by September this year, the month for which we have the latest figures for average industrial earnings which excludes non-manual workers—

Mr. Hooson

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I was looking not at industrial earnings but at the industrial wage. The industrial wage includes foremen and others.

Mr. Churchill

But it does not include managing directors and other managers. Average industrial earnings in September were £80.30. A private in the widest band—Scale C, Band 1—was 38.8 per cent. down on the average industrial earnings. A sergeant with 12 years in service, on Scale C, Band 5, was 2.4 per cent. down on average earnings. A lieutenant on the mid-band in the incremental scale was 4.4 per cent. down. This is evidence that this Government's pay policies have been fairer to some than to others. Naturally those with the biggest industrial muscle, who have gone to the Government wielding the biggest stick, have benefited most from such a policy.

It has come as a surprise to the public to learn that the troops who are standing in for the firemen are working an 84-hour week, which is double that of the average person. I do not knock the firemen—they earn every penny that they are paid, and more—but it is only fair to say that the Service men who are replacing them are receiving between £10 and £12 per week less for their 84-hour week than the firemen receive for their 48-hour week.

Up to Monday the casualties suffered by the troops totalled 159, and since then there have been two fatalities in the Manchester area, which every hon. Member deeply regrets. We should pay tribute to the troops for the wonderful job that they are doing.

If the public knew the full facts of the conditions under which the Forces are serving they would be very angry indeed. I have visited our Forces in Northern Ireland several times in recent years. It has long been accepted, not least by the Forces themselves, that duty there is dangerous, the hours are long, and living conditions leave much to be desired. They have put up with all this, and more. The House will wish to pay tribute to them for risking their lives in order to protect the civilian population.

Some of these men are on their seventh or eighth tour of duty.

On the occasion of my last recent visit to Northern Ireland I was appalled by the conditions that I and my hon. Friends the Members for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) found. Some units in Belfast and Londonderry are currently being worked a 108-hour week. A specific example is the 47th Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery, which is currently manning the Cromac Mission, in the Markets area of Belfast. Not only are they living in overcrowded and substandard accommodation; they are being worked unacceptably long hours. They work 18 hours on and 9 hours off, on a 27-hour cycle. If they come on duty—not just on call—at 8 a.m. they do not finish until 2 a.m. the next day. I am talking of a 108-hour week not for one or two weeks but for the entire duration of the unit's tour of duty in Northern Ireland.

Does the Minister really believe that a man whose life is at stake because he is wearing the Queen's uniform in the streets of Northern Ireland—a man upon whose split-second reaction may depend the lives of innocent civilians in a crowded street —can be fully up to the mark when he is being worked 108 hours a week, week in and week out? The Minister should not have to resort to his raft of gifted and distinguished civil servants to answer that.

We know what happens to the Secretary of State after only an eight-hour tour of duty. Many people would feel that it comes ill from him to fine young Service men who are being worked an 18-hour day when they report for duty a few minutes late because of their exhaustion. How is a married man, who earns in some cases as little as £48.16 gross—including his 50p a day danger money and before deduction of tax, national insurance and accommodation—expected to pay fines of between £50 and £100? Is the figure quoted in the Sun yesterday correct? Is it right that fines in Northern Ireland exacted from the troops this year will total £108,000?

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

I rise because of my hon. Friend's reference to the 47th Regiment. The families of the Service men in that regiment are in Colchester, and additional burdens are being placed on them because the military hospital is to be closed down and Service men will be wondering whether their families are being properly looked after.

Mr. Churchill

I know the lengths to which my hon. and learned Friend has gone to represent the Colchester area on the question of the hospital closure.

It is well known how deeply the Labour movement feels about the sweated labour that is exacted by capitalist taskmasters of the Dickensian era. It is even know what it thinks of George Ward, who pays the average Grunwick worker a mere £54 for a 44-hour week —or £1.23 per hour. The Secretary of State felt so strongly about this matter that he joined the picket line outside Grunwicks. Was there ever greater humbug and hypocrisy?

I challenge the Minister to say whether he can discover any employer other than the Secretary of State for Defence who works his employees 108 hours a week on a sustained basis. Can he find any employer in the land who pays less than 50p per hour for an arduous, skilled and dangerous job?

I make this undertaking to the House: if the Minister can find any capitalist employer who is so hard-faced, demanding, and mean, I shall willingly be the first to stand in the picket line.

The Armed Forces work very closely with the police, especially the RUC in Northern Ireland. Like the police, they do not have the right to strike, and hon. Members may feel it instructive to examine the pay of the Forces relative to that of the police. A police constable, as soon as he is qualified, is paid a basic £52.60 a week including an unsocial hours payment. If he were asked to work 108 hours in a week he would get 68 hours overtime at time-and-a-third, or time-and-a-half, which would add up to £108.80, giving him a total wage for the week of £161.40. On top of that, if, like the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), some of whom I visited in Northern Ireland, the police constable lived in Essex, he would get a tax-free accommodation allowance of £19 a week. This all adds up to more than £180 a week for a newly-qualified constable—while the Secretary of State pays a private on the streets of Northern Ireland less than £50 gross a week. I hope that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body will note this example of comparability, or lack of it.

The appallingly low level of pay is causing extreme hardship to many members of the Armed Forces, especially those with young families, and is aggravating the problems that already exist with family separation. Service men who are unable to afford to pay for their married quarters in the United Kingdom while they are on duty in Northern Ireland have been forced to give up the quarters and to send their wives home to live with their—the wives'—parents, with the consequence that the family is separated, not merely for the four months of the tour of duty in Northern Ireland; when the husband returns to London or Colchester, he no longer has married quarters in which his wife can live with him.

Then there are those who come from Germany and suffer from the loss of the local overseas allowance and end up substantially worse off through their tour of duty in Northern Ireland. To quote but one example, a sergeant who is married, with four children, pays £19 a week for his quarters in Germany. That includes heating and lighting. This year he has been absent from those quarters for no less than eight months and he is currently losing £1.95 a day in local overseas allowance. Taking account of the 50p a day danger money, which is worth only 34p after tax at the standard rate, he is £11.27 worse off every week during his service in Northern Ireland. On top of that, the cost of the family living apart is substantially greater than if it had been able to continue living together.

It is generally unacceptable to hon. Members that Service men should suffer financial penalties through their service in Northern Ireland. An indication of how widespread the hardship is among the forces may be gained from the fact that some units have two-thirds of their married men of the rank of lance-corporal or below drawing rent rebates. That includes some men who have no children. The Minister of State is always telling us that the reason why so many soldiers qualify for rent rebates is that the number of children in a family is one of the factors that is taken into account. But now even soldiers without children are qualifying for rebates—apart from others who qualify for family income supplement.

There are senior aircraftsmen on RAF bases who, if they have a wife and two or theree children, are faced with the choice of heating or eating; they cannot do both. The Secretary of State is smiling. I ask him whether, if his net pay, after accommodation had been paid for but before any other costs had been met, was less than £30 a week—which is what a senior aircraftsman receives—and if he had to pay up to £10 a week for electric night-storage heating for a poorly-insulated building and his family of five were left with no more than £20 a week for clothes, food and all the other essentials, he could live on that? I know that I could not.

The Secretary of State has made light of the moonlighting that is taking place. Is it right that pilots or air traffic controllers—my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby mentioned that some people were going to work at a Mars factory near West Drayton, and no doubt some of those were air traffic controllers —after working a full week for the Secretary of State should have to go moonlighting to keep their families? These are men on whom life and safety rests, but the Secretary of State seems to regard moonlighting as perfectly normal.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

I should make this matter quite clear: I was asked whether there was any objection to members of the Forces doing what many people in many other occupations, including hon. Members, do, namely, earning money outside their main occupations. I said that provided it was understood by all concerned that it did not interfere with their military duties, I did not see why a restriction should be imposed on them which was not imposed on their civilian counterparts.

Mr. Churchill

Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that it is wholly wrong that men who serve the country in this way should be required to do moonlighting jobs because of the poor level of pay that they receive?

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Dr. John Gilbert)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that troops should be forbidden to take any other jobs?

Mr. Churchill

I am suggesting that they should be paid the rate for the job that would not require them to do that.

Dr. Gilbert

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question? Is he suggesting that the troops should be forbidden to take other jobs?

Mr. Churchill

I have made it clear that what is needed is that they should be paid properly. It would not then be necessary for them to do other jobs.

In human terms, there is no question that the Government's Scrooge-like attitude to the Forces is causing a great deal of personal hardship and suffering. There would be few in this country—apart from the Socialist Ministers—who do not bitterly resent the fact that those who do such unstinting service to the country in most dangerous circumstances should be so miserably treated.

Why do civil servants do so much better? They always seem to do much better. Foreign Office civil servants who let their homes when they go abroad on official duty and come home to find that the tenants refuse to leave have their legal fees financed by the taxpayer and are accommodated by the taxpayer. Not so the Forces personnel. When one puts the question to Ministers and asks why troops should not be treated at least as well as civil servants, the answer is that this is not within the Pay Code.

Why do civil servants on detached duty in Northern Ireland get a free travel warrant every weekend, 52 weeks a year? The troops on four-months duty get a single warrant. Those on a two-year tour of duty get no more than eight per year. Why should there be this discrimination against the Armed Forces?

However, the situation is infinitely graver than the many instances of personal hardship would indicate. Where in seven years the Provisional IRA has failed utterly to make so much as a pinprick in the morale of the Armed Forces, the Secretary of State for Defence and his Socialist colleagues have succeeded, in the past seven months, in particular, in demoralising not just the Army in Northern Ireland but the men and women in all three fighting Services.

We are seeing the beginning of the disintegration of Britain's Armed Forces before our very eyes. I pick my words advisedly, and cite as an example a company of the 47th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, in the Cromac Mission in Belfast, where out of 95 men, no fewer than 21, including four sergeants, have announced their intention of quitting by June next year.

Is it any wonder that one of the privates to whom I spoke, who was on £48.16 per week gross—£28 net take-home pay—told me that he had been able to secure the promise of a job in civilian life with £70 per week take-home pay?

In the Royal Air Force, the situation is equally grave, with the increase in PVR applications up by over 25 per cent. this year alone. Indeed, certain key personnel—pilots and engineers, in particular—who have expressed their wish to buy themselves out have been forbidden to do so for up to four or, in some cases, five years, because there are so many others in the queue before them.

I should like to know whether the Minister of State would care to deny that that situation exists. This may be a situation that gives great comfort and satisfaction to the enemies of this country and to certain hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway—not the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) and others who are here today—who would like to see the Armed Forces weakened, demoralised, unionised and on their knees.

The alarm bells are ringing. When will the Secretary of State and his colleagues wake up to the gravest crisis faced by our Armed Forces since the war?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has on many occasions promised greater flexibility under stage 3 of the Government's pay policy. On 30th June last, when introducing stage 2, he was reported in The Times the next day as follows: Mr. Healey, the Chancellor, promised last night that the next stage of the pay policy…far more flexible than its predecessors. Later, the report stated: The next stage would be 'a much less rigid, much more flexible policy to remove some of the distortions in the negotiations of wage agreements which are inevitably created by the very strict and rigid policies of the past.' On 17th May this year, addressing the CBI annual dinner, the Chancellor said: As we move after July into a period of greater flexibility in pay policy". Where is that greater flexibility? It does not seem to be around very much.

Then on 24th May we had the Prime Minister's undertaking to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Referring to the difficult situation of forces serving in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister said: There is a review body considering this difficult question —this was in May, after the Sixth Report had been produced— and the Government will approach it with every sympathy and a desire to help…As soon as the review body has reported—and I hope that it will be very soon—we shall do all that we can to remedy any anomalies that have occurred."—[Official Report, 24th May 1977, Vol. 932, c 1185.] We look to the Prime Minister and to the Secretary of State for Defence to live up to that undertaking, given five months ago by the Prime Minister. When will it be implemented?

At the moment, the Armed Forces appear to be on target for a 10 per cent. increase in pay next April. I am bound to say that even if charges were frozen forces personnel would still find themselves falling behind, relative to the rest of the community. What is needed from the Government is a firm commitment to restore at the earliest possible moment the fundamental basis of the military salary, namely, full comparability of pay. Nothing less will do.

Only yesterday the Government undertook to guarantee full comparability to the firemen. The Opposition and, I believe the whole House of Commons expect the Government to give no less a commitment to the Armed Forces.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

I listened with great care to what was said on this subject by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill). I think that his attempt to divide certain people from others was wrong. The hon. Gentleman compared one section of workers with the Armed Forces in derogatory terms. I want to see fair play for the Armed Forces in their own right, not in comparison with others. It is wrong to draw comparisons between what different people earn.

I support wholeheartedly the motion in the name of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). However, I disagree with many of his comments. If we are to get fair play for the Services, we must try to look at this subject without introducing extraneous matter. The right hon. Gentleman said that a large number of Service men are seeking to buy themselves out or are not re-signing when their time is up. That is no doubt true at the present time. The numbers leaving the services are increasing. That is because the position in outside industry, comparably speaking, is far better than in the Services.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to members of the Forces joining trade unions. I want to be quite frank about this matter. As was mentioned by one of my hon. Friends—and I am sure the Opposition will agree—craftsmen in the Army, the Navy and the Royal Air Force should, nearing the end of their service, have the right to join the trade union of their choice if it fits their occupation so that they may enjoy the benefits of trade union membership when they leave the Services.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to trade union officers hovering like vultures trying to get into the Services. I thought that that was going a bit too far. During the last war, many trade union officers were the link between the Government and production. Trade union officers were able to keep production going in the new factories which had been erected. We should not use derogatory terms about people, such as trade union officers, who during the last war played an important part in keeping production going. We should choose our words carefully.

I served my stint during the last war, as did many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. I should like to refer to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) said about the First World War. I do not know why the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) is laughing. I remind him that my hon. and learned Friend is the only surviving Member of the House who served in the First World War. That is to his credit.

My hon. and learned Friend referred to a song about making a man out of anyone for a shilling, but he did not tell us whether he took advantage of it. The only song I remember during the war—we used to sing it as children—was "Mademoiselle from Armentières." We used to put our own own words to it.

The right hon. Member for Crosby has performed a first-class service in bringing this matter to the attention of the House. However, I have to disagree with the phrase that the right hon. Gentleman used when he described trade union officers as hovering like vultures. He ought to have chosen his words a little more carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) mentioned Northern Ireland. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Northern Ireland with my hon. Friend and several other colleagues last year. I agree 100 per cent with the comments about the conditions of the forces in Northern Ireland. We have to remember that the Army in Northern Ireland is operating under siege conditions. We have such units there as the SAS, the Parachute Brigade, infantry regiments and, of course, the Gunners, who are always called out at a time of need. We cannot expect, with troops operating under such conditions, often tucked away in some remote place, that they can live in conditions similar to those at the Ritz Hotel. Their conditions cannot be palatial in those circumstances. We cannot expect the men to have first-class conditions in their fighting posts in Northern Ireland. The troops recognise that fact.

However, while there cannot be first-class conditions in the fighting positions, there can and should be first-class treatment for the men when they are away from the battlefield. Further, they should be assured that their wives and children will not suffer in any way when they are taken from Germany or some other part of the world to serve a term in Northern Ireland. Most of the dirty work of the Northern Ireland campaign has to be done by the British Army. We hear talk of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, but over 90 per cent of the trouble in Northern Ireland is dealt with by the Army. The men of the infantry and artillery regiments are among the lowest-paid in the British Army. If we ask the men to do this work, we must pay them for it. I am right behind the campaign to get increased pay for our Service men who have to do the dirty work in Northern Ireland, Bermuda and elsewhere.

I come from a family which has a long Army tradition, and so I have a soft spot for the Army and am concerned more with the Army than with the other Services. There must be a method by which to increase the reward given to our men. There must be financial and home security for the women and children who are left behind.

We have also heard about moonlighting in the Services. To hear some Conservative Members talk, it might be thought that this was something new. It has been going on for over 50 years, but it may have reached higher proportions today. The same is true in civilian life. This is because of the economic demands made upon people who are paying for their motor cars, colour televisions and wall-to-wall carpeting and who are perhaps buying their own homes. I remember that before the war, in the insurance industry, I came across people who had two or three jobs. It is the same today. I wish that the Opposition would not try to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Mr. David Walder

The hon. Member has told us that he used to be a soldier. Does he not remember being told that he was on duty 24 hours a day and liable to be called out for service at any time? Does it not slightly conflict with the Service man's duty if he is also engaged in some other occupation?

Mr. Perry

When I joined the Army in 1940, I was not told that I was on duty 24 hours a day: I knew that I was. We all knew that we were there for the duration. However, I have always felt that a person in the Army who could not take an order did not have the right to give one.

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

As my hon. Friend says, moonlighting has gone on for a long time under successive Administrations. Is he aware that no member of the Armed Forces can take a second job unless it meets criteria set by his commanding officer? Does it not follow, therefore, that those who knock moonlighting are knocking the professional ability of commanding officers who, having considered the facts, have granted permission to a professional soldier to do a second job?

Mr. Perry

I take my hon. Friend's point. We have to remember that some people in the Services are more able to moonlight than others. Some have jobs in the War Office, some have jobs in depots. Some people in the services have never seen a day's active service. They do a stint from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.—not at all like the soldier serving in Ulster or in Bermuda. He is on duty round the clock. It is the minority in the Forces who do the work, taking part in defensive and offensive missions. We make a mistake if we lump everyone in the forces together. For every member of the Armed Forces who is called upon to serve in Northern Ireland, Bermuda or elsewhere, there are at least three others who are not so called upon.

I am concerned for the 25 per cent. who have to do the nasty work. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have served in the Forces and I am sure that, with me, they are as concerned as anyone for the welfare of the Forces. I am sure that they will take note of what has been said here today and do what they can for the ordinary private soldier, aircraftman or seaman—all the people who are suffering at present because of being moved from place to place, because of the level of family allowances or because of their Army accommodation. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to look into this matter and put right any wrong which exists.

2.0 p.m.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

I agree with most of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), but on the question of trade union membership I think he has missed the point. It is the case—I am not quite sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciated this—that members of the Armed Forces have the right to become members of a trade union. The fact is that, at least up until now, very few have done so, for the simple reason that successive Governments have taken adequate care to ensure that the interests of Service men are properly looked after and that the pay and conditions of Service men are adequate. No longer is that true.

Secondly, I have nothing whatsoever to say against moonlighting, but I believe that it becomes unacceptable when it is necessary for a member of the Armed Forces to moonlight in order to provide himself with a basic standard of living.

I want to make three brief preliminary points and a couple of slightly more substantial ones. First, I think it bears repeating that when we look back through our history, we find that when this country has been at peace it has usually treated our defences and our Armed Forces with some degree of disdain, and often, perhaps, even with a lack of consideration for our own self-interest. But what is remarkable at the moment on the question of inadequate pay is the point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), that there is now very real and growing public concern about the conditions of the Armed Services and of our defences.

Secondly, we are at the end of a period during which, for almost 10 of the past 13 years, the country has been under the rule of Labour Governments. The consequences of that today is that we live in a country which, in comparison with most of its main competitors and its EEC partners, is almost totally impoverished. More particularly, this means that the remuneration of anyone in the public service—be he a policeman, a civil servant, a fireman, a Service man, or even a Member of this House—is almost totally inadequate. Most of these people are in a greater or lesser state of ferment or grave worry about how to make both ends meet. Thirdly, it is a well-known fact that a considerable proportion of the Labour Party is opposed to defence expenditure of any kind. Many more members of the Labour Party genuinely believe that a cut in the defence budget will leave more money available for the social services or for other and more immediate forms of benefit for the population. Labour Members may care to reflect—it may be paradoxical, but none the less it seems to me to be true—that as our defence budget has been steadily cut, far from there being more money available the country's fortunes have been steadily eroded. Many people might think that they have plummeted.

I turn to my two more important points. First, I would like to deal with the question of the standard of living. I start by quoting a welfare officer who is constantly in touch with soldiers in my constituency and in other parts of my county. The words used by this welfare officer to me in introducing her comments—I wrote them down—were I don't care what Mr. Mulley says. A very large number of soldiers are very poorly paid. More and more Service families have chronic financial problems. We have heard already that the adverse consequences of this are many and varied.

An example that was given to me was that many Service families are now cashing in insurance policies and very few now are insuring even their personal belongings. Indeed, if it were not for the appalling unemployment that exists, undoubedly many more members of the forces would be moonlighting, if they had the opportunity to do so.

We have heard a lot of comparisons during the debate. I think that they cannot be emphasised enough. The Library supplied me with some figures of gross weekly earnings. They relate to April of this year. But since then the only class of employee mentioned that has had an increase is the police. The average gross weekly earnings of policemen are £80.50 a week, those of firemen, £71.10 a week, and electricity power plant operators, £82.30 a week. We then go to the Armed Forces, in which a corporal on Band 3, Scale C, receives £75.03, and we go right down to a private on Band 1, Scale A, receiving a mere £41.30. Thus, it is not the least surprising that there is very considerable dissatisfaction among Service men.

I refer the House to the SSAFA News of autumn this year. There is an example of a private soldier with a wife and three children, taking home, after rent has been paid, £35 a week. The point made is that that works out at £1 per person per day in that family, for everything—food, heat, clothing and all the basic essentials. The SSAFA News goes on to point out that if one of the children, for example, needs a new pair of shoes it cannot be provided unless the whole family makes major sacrifice.

The point is made again that when—as in the case of this particular family—a family obtains rent rebates this often means that it is not eligible for family incomes supplement. It is pretty disgraceful that we should be thinking in terms of anybody in the Armed Services being in the position of needing family income supplement in any case.

A number of Questions on this subject have been asked in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), in a Question to which a reply was given in Hansard on 11th November 1977, asked for figures relating to the changes in the real value of weekly basic pay for Service ranks. He started with a lieutenant-colonel with four years in rank. The comparison of 1974 pay with 1977 pay, in real terms, is minus 18.54 per cent. It goes through to a private, Class 1, Scale B, Band 2, for whom the figure is minus 8.71 per cent. Time without number one can produce more and more examples of the appalling deterioration in the position of Service men's remuneration.

The effect of this is very considerable. Undoubtedly, many Service men are in a position in which they are finding it difficult to keep a family. Indeed, because it is difficult for some of them to maintain payments of one kind or another they are becoming an administrative burden to the Service and are bringing the Service and sometimes their units into disrepute through no fault of their own.

Another very serious consequence of the present pay rates is the decreasing use of married quarters. It is remarkable that in July 1977 there were 15,300 married quarters unoccupied, compared with only 7,500 in 1974. That has happened simply because the rents demanded have increased out of all proportion to pay increases. In particular, it means that there has been a breakdown of the military unit as a family. Many wives now live away from their husbands, and this undoubtedly has an effect on esprit de corps. It would be a brave man, or a fool, who would claim that the standard of living of Service men is not unacceptably low.

My second point relates to the economics of defence. It does not seem to me to be wise or to make any kind of economic sense whatsoever to pay people so badly that they are constantly dissatisfied and looking for alternative forms of employment in spite of the fact—this is the important point—that their training has cost the country vast sums of money.

I shall illustrate that by reference to the training costs of pilots and air crew. I am informed—these figures may not be precisely accurate, but I think they are reasonably so—that the cost of training a fast jet pilot amounts to between £260,000 and £270,000. The cost of taking a Hercules or VC10 crew through basic flying training amounts to between £550,000 and £650,000. One could go on. The cost is very considerable.

When one looks at the flying pay of pilots and compares it with what pilots in civil airlines receive, one finds that the comparison is odious indeed. I am told that a group captain is paid £8,758 gross, while a flight lieutenant is paid £5,495 gross. Let us compare that group captain with a senior captain first-class in British Airways. He will receive about £14,000, while a captain second-class will receive between £11,934 and £13,000. That is British Airways, and I have not noticed that British Airways pilots have been particularly happy with their lot. That is not surprising, because they go round the world and can compare their pay with that of pilots in other airlines.

There is one airline, which has a British base and which operates in the Far East, in which, after the beginning of January, the more senior pilots will be paid just over £30,000, with a tax rate of only 15 per cent. Is it surprising, against that kind of background, that so many pilots in the Royal Air Force wish to depart as soon as possible to go into civil aviation? In spite of the fact that, from the very beginning, they had a vocation to serve in the Royal Air Force, and to serve their country, we are treating them so badly that we are destroying their sense of vocation.

The differential between what a Service man receives and what can be received in a similar occupation in civilian life is so great that expensively trained men are leaving, and more and more would leave the Services if it were not for their contracts. Pilots are only one example. What I have said is of equal importance in other aspects of Service life.

I end by emphasising three points. First, we are in the state in which we are today solely and simply because of the incompetent way in which the Labour Government have governed this country. Secondly, even so, it is of the greatest importance that the Government should provide members of the Armed Services with hope that their conditions will be improved, and improved quickly. Finally as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford (Mr. Churchill) said, it is of paramount importance that we return at the earliest possible date to full comparability.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)

It is a sad commentary on the Labour Party that, on a day when we are discussing a defence matter which requires, I suggest, no expert knowledge of defence but merely a familiarity with the plight of many of one's constituents, once again one sympathises with a Labour Defence Minister who is in the familiar position of the boy on the burning deck Whence all but he had fled", apart from the support of his hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), whose speech I enjoyed.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

They say that a gunner is worth six men in any other regiment.

Mr. Walder

The hon. Gentleman and I had the distinction of serving in the best regiments in the British Army. The only trouble was that they were different.

I shall not weary the House with facts and figures. Everyone concerned with Service pay knows what I might call the basic figure. The take-home pay of a second lieutenant and a private soldier—and their equivalents in the other two Services—is, in rough figures, about £33. If there has been any advantage to the nation in the firemen's strike, it is that it has highlighted the incredible situation in which soldiers are doing the task of men who are on strike and are being paid considerably less to carry out that task.

Now that we are entering the so-called voluntary phase of the Government's economic policy, which, curiously enough, seems to be more compulsory than its two predecessors, the Services will again suffer. They are promised 10 per cent. in April of next year, and it is suggested that this produces some kind of comparability with industry. It does not. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) made that very clear on the straight financial figures. I suggest, however, that there is a little more to this than mere money, because comparability with their opposite number in industry and commerce is almost impossible for Service men and Service women.

Someone in industry or commerce would probably attract bonus payments for particular tasks carried out and would be paid overtime—and, on occasions, double overtime. The Service man is very unlikely to be in a position where he can say "I shall have two successive weekends free", but this is something that one can almost predict in many industries. In industry and commerce there are often advantages such as mortgage facilities for employees. I understand that they are available to employees in the Fire Service, which again highlights the difference. Mortgages are not available in the Services.

The Services will receive, in effect a smaller financial increase, but their accommodation and food costs have risen. I know the genesis of the military salary, and I know, too, that when it was first introduced it was praised by both parties, but we are now seeing a situation in which the operation of the military salary in conditions of inflation and a pay pause works positively to the disadvantage of the Service man. The result is that there are families on social security, some on family income supplement and some on rent rebate, and there is also the question of the other matter that has been mentioned—moonlighting.

The Minister was, I think, seeking to destroy my point about moonlighting when he said that this happened only with the permission of commanding officers. I suggest that commanding officers will grant permission for Service men to engage in another task, if it is possible, only if they are not going to be called upon for other and more important tasks. Plainly, a commanding officer would not grant permission to men in a battalion actively engaged in Northern Ireland. This is precisely my point. A battalion employed in Northern Ireland is carrying out an arduous task. The men are separated from their families. The men in the battalion would not be allowed to moonlight, so they suffer from both disadvantages.

On the wider scene, undoubtedly there are many complaints that the Services might level againt the present Government. We have learned recently that the British Army of the Rhine is about 2,500 men short and that there are overstretched battalions serving in Northern Ireland. My own locally raised battalion in Lancashire has done a considerable number of tours there. At the same time, the Spearhead Battalion goes off to Bermuda. There are problems, to say the least—because one wishes to be charitable on a Friday—over equipment for the Services.

We all know the results. The rate of premature voluntary retirement has increased. There is a queue in all three Services of people who want to get out. The rate of re-enlistment—this applies particularly to the best trained and most valuable men—has decreased. I have no doubt that we shall see an effect on the recruiting figures. I have never argued that large-scale unemployment outside necessarily puts people into the Services. There are people who will go into the Services and people who will never consider the Services as a career whatever might be the pressures outside. However, unemployment outside affects re-enlistment.

Let us think of a young man contemplating taking up a Service career. He will know about the dissatisfaction over pay and conditions. He knows of the arduous conditions. At the same time, if he picked up his paper last week he would have read that new recruits—the type of person he was thinking of being—had been told to go home because there were not enough instructors to instruct them as they were occupied as part-time and low-paid firemen. What a wonderful invitation to join the Services. Does it not make nonsense of the advertisements which are still carried in the newspapers seeking to get young people to take up the Services as a career?

Undoubtedly, Service morale is low. One of the reasons is that the Service man sees an indifferent Government. Certainly, judged by their actions, the Government are indifferent to the Service man's problems. On a normal day in this Chamber, there are to be found a considerable number of Labour Members below the Gangway who seem, from what they say, to be positively antagonistic towards the Services.

The left wing of the Labour Party seems to suggest that the remedy for all this lies in the establishment of trade unions, which, as I know from talking to Service men, the Services do not want. However, if there were to be such unions the very points made from these Benches today might well be the sort of complaints that the Service men would seize upon.

On the subject of having unions for the Services, it must be remembered that the motivation of a trade unionist is entirely different from the motivation of a person who chooses the Services as a career, the person who chooses a disciplined life. I suppose that a trade unionist, if he is very successful, might at the end of his career end up in another place. So also, I suppose, might the very successful Service man. But the risks in his getting there, the dangers suffered and the whole attitude to life are very different.

If one is making a comparison between the Services and industry and commerce, one knows—I suppose that the Minister would criticise this as some form of old—fashioned paternalism-that in the Services officers and NCOs spend far more time over the welfare of those under their command and their families than do their comparable equivalents in industry.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency—knowing of the motivation of people in the Services, knowing of their sense of duty and conviction, knowing that they are bound by convention not to be political and not to agitate, and certainly they cannot go on strike—for a Government such as the present one to take advantage and to tend to take refuge in talking about the qualities of those in the Services. It always gets a cheer in the House, and rightly so. But to take advantage of that knowing full well the problems that face Service people, and which could be removed by Government action, is a form of hypocrisy. It Is either hypocrisy or incompetence.

I suggest to the Benches opposite—which are occupied by two hon. Members—that the Labour Party, which often in the past railed against the industrial conditions in the nineteenth century, has almost succeeded in bringing the Forces back to the conditions that existed in the nineteenth century. I cannot resist ending my speech by quoting Kipling talking, in effect, about Service pay: Think what 'e's been, Think what 'e's seen. Think of 'is pension an'— GAWD SAVE THE QUEEN!

2.26 p.m.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on tabling and introducing the motion. I doubt whether there have been any periods in recent history when dissatisfaction over pay, benefits, charges and so on has been so evident as it is today in the Armed Forces.

Hon Members may have seen in Wednesday's edition of the Daily Mail a letter from a serving soldier in which he said: with each pay rise all our charges go up and swallow the rise. In one survey done recently we were 25 per cent behind the rest of the British population in pay. I do not know whether that soldier was right in quoting that survey or whether the result of the survey was correct. I hope that the Minister will take note that people are constantly using figures which may or may not be correct. What we want to know is the correct figure for the comparison of Service pay with average industrial earnings. The soldier continues in his letter: I ask myself, is it worth the effort, the tears and the agony, and like most of my comrades, I am becoming demoralised. We neglect at our peril the state of morale in the Forces. That state has been brought about by the sheer neglect of the present Government to listen and respond to what Service men and the Service chiefs have been saying for months. We in the Conservative Party have been constantly badgering the Secretary of State to show some flicker of response to what is urgently needed—that is, action to correct the situation over pay and the way in which Service men have fallen behind in the pay race. The Secretary of State is at the apex of the pyramid, and it is up to him to take some action.

I turn to the conclusions set out in the Sixth Report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body of April of this year. It is stated in paragraph 23: We have again focussed attention on the shortfall in relation to the pay levels justified on the basis of outside evidence … We attach particular importance to the need for a measure of flexibility in the period after 1st August 1977 in a form that is directly relevant to the armed forces pay system. My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby quoted the earlier paragraph dealing with the matter of flexibility, where it is clearly stated that the Government said that they intended to provide flexibility in whatever arrangements followed the current restraint period after 31st July 1977. We want to know what that undertaking was and when it was given. What reasons were given to the Pay Review Body for that flexibility not being included in the present pay restraint measures?

There is no doubt in my mind that the Government have failed our Service men and, more than that, they have failed to justify the action that they are now taking in maintaining pay restraint in the Services. They owe everyone an explanation as to why those statements are made in the Sixth Report of the Pay Review Body. No explanation has yet been given of why the Government have failed to carry out their undertaking.

The rise which Service men received last time has been clawed back by higher accommodation and food charges. I cannot see anything in the pay guidelines to warrant these increases in accommodation and food charges. There is nothing in the report of the Pay Review Body to indicate that, under the guidelines, the Government had to increase those charges. Complaints have been aired today by my hon. Friends and by Labour Members about the sense of grievance which the Service men feel because the higher charges have taken away the benefits of the pay rise awarded to them earlier.

What is needed now is a clear comparison to show where Service men stand on pay compared with industrial earnings outside. At present, the Service man cannot see what the comparison is. The Government owe it to the Service man to show exactly what sort of sacrifice he is making for a voluntary pay restraint over which he has no control.

The Government should now give the Pay Review Body three tasks. First, it should set out the comparability of existing rates of pay in the Services with existing rates outside. This independent body should define exactly where the Service man stands, to clear up such misunderstandings—which may or may not be right—as exist in the mind of the serving soldier who wrote to the Daily Mail saying that there was a difference of 25 per cent. The difference may be 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. Let us know the facts.

The Pay Review Body should also consider the X factor—that is, the present benefits and allowances for such things as travel by wives and children, additional pay for special duties such as flying, serving in submarines or in Northern Ireland, separation allowances and so on. Surely, it is not inconceivable that it would be possible to raise the allowances to a more realistic level. An allowance of 50p per day for serving in Northern Ireland is an insult to the soldiers serving there. The Pay Review Body should show how these allowances and X factor benefits should be increased so that Service men could see that at least something was being done to compensate them for the rough time that they are having.

Much has been said about moonlighting, but I think that it is irrelevant to what we are discussing. We turn a blind eye on whether a Service man goes off on weekend leave and paints somebody's bathroom or bedroom to earn a little extra to pay his heating bills or whatever it may be. What concerns us is the fact that he has to do these things. Many Service men serving in ships, serving abroad or on special duties cannot do this. They cannot earn any more money and are therefore suffering more than others are.

Third, the Pay Review Body should set up a phased plan to bring Service men's pay up to the level of industrial earnings. It should be for the House to decide when that phased plan should be introduced. I see no reason why we should not have a debate on it to decide exactly the timing of the phasing in of increases in Service men's pay to bring them up to the level of outside earnings.

We have heard Labour Members supporting Service men today. Let us put it to a vote. Let us see whether the House is prepared to give Service men special treatment outside the pay guidelines to ensure that they have a better deal.

The Secretary of State has acknowledged that in principle he had no objection to members of the Services joining trade unions. That was a very significant statement. To my mind, it was rash and out of character. We have to have a debate on this subject, which has been brought up so many times today. I believe that the Secretary of State has let a tiger out of the cage, and it will be a ferocious and difficult tiger for him to ride. I say this not because I am in any way against trade unions—I believe that they have a use in our industrial relations and they are part of today's society—but I am absolutely against trade unions being formed in the Armed Services for the purposes of increasing pay, ensuring better conditions or any other matters they care to raise.

My main reason for saying that is that we have in the Services today a divisional system which is finely tuned to carry the message, to listen to what Service men are saying, to listen to their representations and complaints. Through senior officers, commanding officers, right through to the Service chiefs themselves, the messages are coming. No one could say that that message is not being ex- pressed loud and clear. The only person who is deaf to the message is the Secretary of State. The Service chiefs are, so to speak, the union bosses. The organisation is there—everything is there—to bring matters to the attention of the Government, and to the Secretary of State at the apex of the pyramid, so that they understand what those justified complaints are.

I am particularly worried about the possible consequences of the Secretary of State's statement. Union leaders are now away from the starting block, judging by reports that have appeared in the Press. Last Sunday, we were able to read in The Sunday Times that the Society of Civil and Public Servants is considering an internal report on the type of Service men suitable for membership, and that it may have its eye on about 20,000 officers.

That Press report stated: A much bolder line is being taken by Clive Jenkins's Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, which won a fight for recognition of 1,000 members employed in service clubs and shops run by NAAFI. Two years ago this union decided in principle to recruit senior NCOs and commissioned officers when the time was ripe. I suggest that the time is ripe now. The lid has been taken off the question of whether one should have unions in the Services, and there is nothing to stop unions being formed in the Services. If we consider what that will mean to the Services, it brings us to the crucial point of where discipline stands and what would be the result of activities that could be brought by trade unions in support of claims on pay and conditions.

For centuries our Services have relied on discipline and allegiance to the Crown. These have been the cornerstone to the significant authority of the Services. Where would the unions stand? Where would authority and discipline stand against a union which said that its men would not turn out to act as a guard of honour for a visiting Head of State?

What will happen if the Service man who is a member of a union is told that his union supports a union which has brought out groups of people like the firemen, and the Services are being called in to carry out the services of other union members, and the Service men are told that it is not in line with the policy of their union to seek to carry out those duties? The Service men may be put in a position of refusing to do their duty. They would be in the position of disobeying an order. Would they, in fact, be disobeying orders? We have to look at all the scenarios that could arise. I believe that we will begin to see members of the Services joining trade unions because they are so frustrated that they have no alternative but to seek some other way to bring pressure on the Government. Indeed, there could even be pressure on union members in the Armed Forces not to work weekends, for example. It is horrifying to think that we are talking about this sort of thing happening.

Earlier this week, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) said that the best way to break the power system in the Armed Forces and to improve pay and conditions was to get Service men to join trade unions. Who is talking about breaking the system? The system we have got in our Armed Forces is the best in the world. It is the beginning of the end if we allow the unions to bring their politics and all that we see happening every day this year into the Armed Forces. It will be the beginning of the destruction of the Armed Forces that we know.

To those who point out that other European countries' forces have unions, I reply that I do not think that we want to compare ourselves with those in West Germany, Holland and Luxembourg. For example, union pressure in Holland led a Service man to refuse to deal with terrorist activities when South Moluccans held up a train. He said that he had been forbidden to do so by his union. He was not charged with disobedience but was allowed to leave the Armed Forces honourably. That is not the way we want to do things. The Secretary of State for Defence should rethink what he is doing to our Armed Forces by giving credence to the idea of trade unions operating in them.

2.42 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) quoted SSAFA News about the experience of the SSAFA Council worker in his area. I am a member of that council, and it is extraordinary how SSAFA is now becoming an active crusading force. Never before has that happened. SSAFA has always been a rather quiet welfare organisation, but in the last few months it has felt compelled to enter the political arena and make positive complaints on behalf of Service men.

Why has the temperature altered so dramatically about Service men's pay in the last six months? There are three fundamental reasons. First, the hardship is now pressing more sharply on the individual Service man. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), in his admirable speech from the Opposition Front Bench, referred to the case of a gunner in the 47th Field Regiment whom he had met in Belfast and who is leaving the Army soon to take a job which will give him a take-home pay of £70 a week.

I, too, talked to that gunner. He has served in the Army for six years—three years in boy's service and three years in man's service. At the end of that six years, he can afford one pair of shoes and one civilian suit. He had married quarters in Colchester which he has been forced to give up, and his wife and child have moved back to the family in Leicester. Is it surprising that after six years that young man, who wanted to make a lifetime career in the Army, feels that he has to give up?

Secondly, my hon. Friend referred to those who have to choose between heating and eating. I have talked in the last week to a Service man who had to make such a choice. In this case it was a sergeant in the Grenadier Guards with 10 years' service. He could not afford to provide the food he wished for his family if he kept on his electric heating in off-peak hours. When sergeants are placed in such a situation, is it any wonder that there is a feeling of bitterness?

My old regiment has been providing fire protection in my constituency for the last three weeks. Half of the married riflemen doing so are on rent rebate. In the last few months, there has been a growing feeling that people in the Armed Forces were slipping behind in comparability.

The Inkerman Company of the Grenadier Guards is at present in Londonderry. It employs an elderly lady to come in and clean and do a little washing-up. The take-home pay of that elderly lady is almost as much as that of the company sergeant-major. It is an extraordinary situation.

I recently visited the RAF station at Bruggen, in Germany. Only one officer on the station can afford domestic help, and he is the station commander. He employs a cleaning woman for several hours a day, and she gets paid as much as a Royal Air Force flight controller who, in operational circumstances, could be in charge of a nuclear strike aircraft positively armed. Is it surprising that there is dissatisfaction?

In Northern Ireland, there are members of the Armed Forces serving side by side with the RUC and a number of other security organisations which have been called in, quite rightly, to help in searching pedestrians and people going into shopping precincts. During the last Paisley strike, as one might call it, three RUC sergeants in one area were drawing more in overtime pay than the basic pay of a major in one of our battalions in Northern Ireland at the time. Is it surprising that there is dissatisfaction?

The third reason why the temperature has risen so sharply in recent months has been the report of the Review Body. Apart from its findings, the terminology of the report was a disaster for all concerned. It gave members of the Armed Forces the erroneous impression that senior officers were not prepared to speak out on their behalf. They know that Ministers will not speak out on their behalf, but Service men believe that their senior officers should speak out on their behalf. Senior officers have spoken out on their behalf, but it was not clear from anywhere in the report that senior officers have done their job in this respect.

As a result of that, in order to restore their credibility with their own men, one has seen in recent months a marked change in attitude on the part of senior officers. They are now prepared to be very voluble indeed. There was recently an exercise in Germany when it looked as though, as a result of possible changes in local overseas allowance, there would be a cut not just in the value of the pay of the Armed Forces but in the actual amount that they were to receive each week. The effective protest against this was undoubtedly led by senior officers.

In the old days, few complained about re-engagement and the state of morale. People were understandably anxious to put the best possible face on the situation. After all, this is a perfectly natural human reaction. If the Leader of the Opposition were to come to Beckenham and ask "How is morale in the Beckenham Conservative Association?" one would naturally be inclined to say that everything was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. There is always a tendency on the part of company commanders, when asked by outsiders "How is morale and what is the re-engagement rate like?" to put the best possible face upon it.

That has dramatically changed in the last few months. Far from putting the best possible face on it, company commanders seem anxious to point out the number of people in their units who are now anxious to leave the Armed Forces. Certainly the figures are frightening. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford referred to the battery in the Cromac Mission where 21 out of 95 men are hoping to leave by June, including four sergeants. I was told the other day that there have been 130 applications for eight redundancies among sergeants and warrant officers in the Light Division alone. I asked one company commander in the Grenadier Guards recently how many of his company wished to leave. He smiled at me and said "Everyone".

The Minister has been asked to say whether the figure quoted in the Sun of £108,000 for fines in Northern Ireland in the last year is correct. I also press the Minister on this, because the question of fines in Northern Ireland has, I think quite rightly, been highlighted by the Sun. As I understand it, most of these fines are for loss of or damage to equipment. In the Forces today, if a soldier loses a piece of equipment he has to pay for it. Much of this equipment is very expensive. Indeed, it is estimated that an infantry commander can have under his control weapons worth £1 million. The night sight, which is so valuable in Northern Ireland, costs £1,300.

An unfortunate soldier, in climbing up into a sentry post in Northern Ireland the other day, managed to drop his rifle on to two other rifles, smashing the night sights. In theory, that unfortunate man is now liable to repay the Army £3,000 for the damage which he did accidentally. If he has to pay that amount off, he will have to remain in the Service for the next 33 years. While that may be desirable on some grounds, I cannot think that it is fair. I should have thought that a more relaxed view could be taken about fines for loss of equipment and damage to equipment under active service conditions in Northern Ireland.

Indeed, I would hope that in the near future the whole question of Northern Ireland pay and allowances could he examined. We appreciate that the Government are bound by the 12-month rule. We appreciate that they have bound themselves, despite their claims about flexibility, by a 10 per cent, rule for people in the public service and for uniformed Service men. I hope that the Armed Forces this afternoon can be given the same assurances as the firemen have been given, and as the police were given at a rather earlier date. I hope also—I was encouraged by a shake of the head from the Secretary of State for Defence a few moments ago during an earlier speech—that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body can be told that there will be no need next time to raise the charges and the rents——

Mr. Mulley

I make it clear that it is not for me—or, indeed, for anyone else—to give instructions to an independent body. This must be clearly understood. What the Ministry does—with the support, of course, of the Chiefs of Staff—is to place all the necessary information before the Review Body, but as an independent body it must make its own decisions.

Mr. Goodhart

I do not wish to go into the whole question, which has been thrashed out before, because other hon. Members wish to speak. But that is not the impression that has been given by the Review Body itself.

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

It would be misleading to leave by itself what the Secretary of State has just said. In his letter to me, he said that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body was an independent body, but he went on to say: In past years, however, in order to counter the serious inflationary situation facing the nation, the Government announced measures for restricting the level of pay increases which, in common with others, they asked the Review Body to comply with. With regard to this year, the Secretary of State said The Government hopes that they —that is, the Armed Forces Pay Review Body— will again have regard in the national interest to what is said in the White Paper 'The Attack on Inflation after 31st July 1977' including the Government's request, that they should continue their task within the guidance in this White Paper". In view of what the Secretary of State said, is it not quite misleading to suggest that the Review Body is independent? The real situation is that it is independent only so long as it does what it is told by the Government.

Mr. Goodhart

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I hope that the Secretary of State will give them as well as us a nod and a wink when it comes to the question of rent and charges.

Meanwhile, I also hope that the Government will do something for the Service men in Northern Ireland. Surely, under the Government's own pay guidelines there is a substantial case for increasing the 50p daily allowance that is paid there. Of course, the value of that allowance has gone down sharply, and it is now worth about half what it was when first given in April 1974.

The Forces in Northern Ireland are working up to 90 hours a week. When people are working extra hours, coupled with a reduction in the number of soldiers in Northern Ireland, there must be increased productivity that can be taken into account. When those soldiers have placed upon them this tremendous extra burden of hours, surely there is a case for saying that the allowance they receive should be increased beyond the flat 50p. I hope that in the coming pay review the Northern Ireland allowance will be increased from 50p a day to £10 a week.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I should inform the House that, quite apart from the Minister, who will desire to speak at some point, there are also seven hon. Gentlemen who are anxious to speak. It would therefore be for the convenience of those who have not yet caught the eye of the Chair if those who speak do so briefly.

3.2 p.m.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

One of my reasons for participating in the debate is that I have three Royal Air Force stations either in or immediately adjacent to my constituency of Uxbridge, and because thousands of my constituents serve at RAF Uxbridge, West Drayton, or Northolt. I have come here today to speak to the House on their behalf.

I am sorry to see that apart from the Secretary of State and his Ministers there is only one Member of the Labour Party on the Back Benches. I hope that that fact will be noted by my constituents in Uxbridge when they read the report of this debate.

I am a regular visitor to the Royal Air Force stations in my constituency and I can claim to have direct knowledge of what my constituents are thinking about the way in which their standard of living has fallen as a result of the disgracefully low level of pay that they now receive. I know about the way in which young men and women serving their country are having to supplement their meagre incomes in order to feed, clothe and house their families. I know that because of their magnificent loyalty to the RAF they are extremely reluctant to complain about their position. Recently, however, I have detected a serious and important change in attitude among those people that I have met.

My constituents at Uxbridge are manning the fire tenders and are no longer able to supplement their income as they have done during the past few months and years because the striking firemen have taken their places at the Mars factory in Slough. I understand that no less than 111 airmen at RAF West Drayton have applied for posts at the Mars factory. That is about one-third of the airmen at that station. These men and women have made it clear to me that they cannot go on as they have been doing in recent months. I therefore want to tell the House today about the desperate circumstances in which they are placed.

I have no doubt that the Secretary of State and other hon. Members who are here today will have read the recent reports in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and other national newspapers about the moonlighting activities of Royal Air Force persnnel. One paper—I think that it was the Daily Mail—carried the headline. The RAF's new moonlight squadron". This referred to the fact that, as a result of a survey carried out at RAF West Drayton, no fewer than 81 per cent. of single and married personnel were found to be having to supplement their Service incomes. That is a very serious matter.

The survey also showed that, of the moonlighters, 7 per cent. of officers were single and 2 per cent. Were married. Amongst the airmen, 33 per cent. were single and 37 per cent. were married. Thus, the total of single and married RAF personnel at West Drayton who are moonlighting to supplement their incomes is 30 per cent.

But, if we look at the figures for males with working wives, we find that of the officers, taking the rank of squadron leader or above, 70 per cent. are working, whilst amongst those having the rank of flight lieutenant and below the figure is 69 per cent. I can also tell the House that 71 per cent. of warrant officers and senior NCOs and those of the rank of corporal and below find it essential for their wives to work in order to supplement their incomes.

To sum up this brief statistical analysis that I have tried to give, I can tell the House and the Secretary of State with complete confidence hat 81 per cent. of all single and married personnel are working at other jobs in order to supplement their totally inadequate Service pay.

I have made it my business to find out the reasons for this so that I can tell the House today. The reasons are as follows: 67 per cent. are moonlighting in order to maintain a reasonable standard of living; 20 per cent. are moonlinghting to be able to repay their mortgages; 4 per cent. are moonlighting in order to pay for their children's university or other educational fees; 3 per cent. are moonlighting to meet hire-purchase payments; 3 per cent. are moonlighting to save for a family; 2 per cent. only are moonlighting to buy a few luxuries; and 1 per cent. are doing it for other reasons.

Will the Secretary of State remember the figure? There are 67 per cent. moonlighting in order to maintain an acceptable standard of living. This is totally unacceptable to my constituents in Uxbridge. It is not a situation which I as their Member of Parliament am prepared to tolerate, and I hope that it is one which the Secretary of State is not prepared to tolerate.

To illustrate the very serious hardship now being experienced, I want to give the House one or two examples of the pay of my constituent airmen serving in the rank of senior aircraftsman. An SAC with three children receives a weekly entitlement of £58.25, including his London pay—because West Drayton and Uxbridge are in the London area—two pay supplements and a rent or rate rebate. But, after the deduction of the Royal Air Force Dependants' Fund contribution, rent, national insurance and tax of £6, even at the new reduced rates announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his recent statement, the net weekly entitlement after deductions of £18.41 is only £39.84, plus a child allowance of £4. No wonder a senior aircraftsman with three children needs to go moonlighting, with only £39.84 in his pay packet at the end of the week. An SAC with two children is even worse off. His net weekly entitlement is £36.51.

These figures do not take account of the every-day costs of living that all of us have to meet. A reasonable estimate which I have made of these expenses is something like this: food, £5 per person per week—I believe that the latest Government statistics show that the estimate is £20 per week for food for a family of four—gas and coal, between £3 and £4 a week; electricity, between £3 and £4 a week; and a household with both electricity and gas will probably have to pay in the region of £5 a week.

Therefore, if we look at the net weekly pay for an SAC with three children of £39.41 and we deduct the basic essential living expenses to which I have just referred and which I calculate to be about £33 a week for food, light and heat, it will be seen that there is only £6 a week left for clothing and other basic family and household expenses, not to mention any form of leisure activity, entertainment, essential travelling to see relatives, and so on, and all the other expenses which we in this House have to meet as ordinary citizens.

The House will appreciate that many of my constituent Service men and women who are giving their lives to the service of their country, are on the breadline. They are suffering serious and unwarranted financial stress and anxiety because the Government are adopting such a mean and penny-pinching attitude towards the Armed Forces.

The wives at RAF West Drayton have adopted the slogan "Join the Forces, live poor and die in poverty". That is no laughing matter. Any glamorous image that there may have been of the RAF and in the other Services has been squashed by the wives whose service in terms of hardship is tremendous.

The headline in my local newspaper states that these moonlighting jobs "are no skylark." I shall not quote from that newspaper. It is too depressing to read, and I am sure that the House has this afternoon heard of many of the difficulties which Service men face. Not only are Army personnel suffering; there are plenty of young pilot officers with one child who are receiving rent rebates because of their relative state of poverty. We have reached the situation where Service pay is nothing less than a public scandal.

I want a cast-iron assurance from the Minister that there will be a quick statement and that in the meantime action will be taken to relieve the abject poverty under which my constituents are forced to live.

There is another matter which is of grave national importance and to which I wish to draw the Secretary of State's attention. He knows as well as I do the purpose of RAF West Drayton. It is one of the most important stations in the United Kingdom. I shall say no more than that. Has the Secretary of State thought what might happen if there were an emergency and if that station had to call in the men and women who serve there? Where will he find them—at the Mars factory in Slough? The Service men there cannot afford telephones. There is a system operating whereby one man can bring in another 10, but it will be difficult to call them in if they are working in a factory or decorating someone else's home.

Mr. Wellbeloved

This is a matter of fundamental importance. I tell the House again that the commanding officers—including the commanding officer at West Drayton—are required, before they give permission for moonlighting, to ensure that such activity will not interfere with the efficiency of their stations, or with safety. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) has cast a doubt on whether that criterion has been applied at West Drayton.

Mr. Churchill


Mr. Wellbeloved

I have sufficient illustrations of the irresponsibility in these matters of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), such as his argument about "eat or heat". I am sure that at West Drayton permission granted for moonlighting in no way detracts from the operational ability of that station, or from its heavy responsibilities.

Mr. Shersby

The Minister's intervention is totally unsatisfactory. He knows that I regard the commanding officer at West Drayton with the utmost respect. How can the Minister expect him or any other commanding officer to be able to control the situation when personnel cannot afford to eat, drink and clothe their families? How can that commanding officer or anyone else satisfactorily control that situation? I totally reject the Minister's intervention. It is unsatisfactory and unworthy of him.

We are not talking about the integrity of commanding officers, that is beyond question. I am worried about the inability of the RAF and the other Services to do their stuff because of the terrible situation in which airmen go home and their wives pass them on the doorstep on their way out to work. The airman has to cope with the household chores, and both he and his wife have to work long hours in order to survive. That is no way to provide a fighting service.

I have considerable respect for the Secretary of State. Every hon. Member knows the very difficult position in which the Armed Forces are placed. I ask the Secretary of State to take with him to the next Cabinet meeting some powerful guns from Northolt, Uxbridge, West Drayton, Northern Ireland and the many other places that have been referred to in the debate. In RAF parlance, it is about time that he scrambled for action, because if he does not, the Forces will.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

One of the saddest and most disgraceful things about the subject we are discussing is that we are talking about a section of our community whose qualities are those that we are supposed most to admire. Hon. Members who have visited Armed Forces during their parliamentary duties—and I have done so over many years—whether in Aden during the Radfan troubles, Borneo during the Indonesian intervention, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cyprus, home-based Service establishments, Northern Ireland or the Navy at sea, find all the time the enthusiasm. professionalism, complete dedication, unquestioning loyalty and patriotism that we have come to expect of our forces—despite all the uncertainties that have been thrown in their path, including large-scale redundancies in recent years.

It seems extraordinary that when we are dealing with that type of person we should get the impression that the Government take them for granted. I do not take them for granted, and I fear that we are getting to the stage where there is a danger of morale breaking down entirely. This is the sort of thing that happens slowly behind the scenes and, rather like metal fatigue in an aircraft, one does not become aware of it until the machine breaks up—and this is likely to happen in the Armed Forces if something is not done swiftly.

It is vital that we should make clear that we do not take for granted the unending patriotism and loyalty of the Armed Forces and that we realise that there is a limit beyond which they cannot be pushed if they are to remain efficient. We do not wish to see that breaking point reached.

The military salary has been a great error because it has not been applied properly. We have heard that, although the Pay Review Body has been able to ante-up the charges made on the forces, it is leaned on by the Government as to the increases in the so-called military salary that it can recommend.

I remind the Minister that Service men are not able to make a choice in their accommodation or even in their food if they live in barracks. They have no opportunity to make economies in these areas.

Other hon. Members have mentioned the problem of night storage heaters. It is no good Ministers saying that what my hon. Friends have said is not true, because it jolly well is true. Anyone who has visited forces establishments or who has constituents in the Armed Forces knows that this is so.

On comparability, I hope that the Minister will tell us the figures that he is working on because, according to my reckoning, Forces' pay is now about 30 per cent. below the level set when the military salary was introduced. The Minister should also remember that when we talk about basic wages in industry and elsewhere we are not talking about total earnings, because those workers can do overtime and so on. Basic pay in the Armed Forces is basic pay. It is the lot. Basic pay equals earnings in the Armed Forces.

There are many other irritants caused by a mean attitude towards the Services. For example, a member of the Armed Forces in Germany who buys a car can bring it back to this country free of any duty provided that he has had it for a year in Germany. However, if during the year he goes to Northern Ireland for four months and is then posted back to England at the end of the year, he does not satisfy the demands of the Inland Revenue to get that relief. The man who goes to Northern Ireland and risks his neck for four months in the course of the year does not get the relief, whereas the man who remains in Germany all the time does. Is that sensible? I suggest that that is another example of complete insensitivity to the needs of the men in our Armed Forces.

There is also trouble with the letting of houses and capital gains tax. There is often a lot of argument at the end of a Service man's career about having let his house for too long and, therefore, ranking for capital gains tax.

The miners say that in another year they will start asking again for £135 a week. Farm workers have got more than the Government's so-called limit. Air traffic control assistants have had more than the famous 10 per cent. Firemen are to get 10 per cent. now and they have the promise of a new pay structure regardless of the economic constraints of the time.

In another place, Lord Peart said: The implementation of the pay award on 1st April next year is hound to take full account of the Government's pay policy, which is itself in the overall national intrest"—[Official Report. House of Lords, 7th December 1977: Vol. 387, c. 1725.] I want to hear today, as does the House, that the economic position of the day will not be tied round the Service men's necks if it is not to be tied round the firemen's necks. The Government cannot have it both ways.

I should like to know what the Government's pay policy—the 10 per cent.—is supposed to he. We keep hearing of the 10 per cent. guidelines. The Chancellor of the Exchequer originally said it was to be a 10 per cent. increase over all income for the country as a whole. But we know that that has become the minimum increase for basic pay. If it means an increase of 10 per cent. on basic pay, in terms of earnings it will be 15 per cent. or 16 per cent. Is that really Government policy? The Government have said that they are imposing this limit on everybody else and that. therefore, Service men and others must abide by it. However, it is clear that the 10 per cent. on earnings has become 10 per cent. on basic pay as a minimum and that industrial workers are doing so much better than the Armed Forces.

In view of the large drift downwards that has occurred as a result of Government policies being imposed on the so-called independent Pay Review Body, it is vital that the Minister should make it clear not only that the Armed Forces will get 10 per cent., which I think should be in the immediate future, but that, even if they stick to the 12-month policy, it will be brought up to true comparability in due course and will not be affected by economic constraints of the day. If that is all right for the firemen, it should be all right for the Armed Forces too.

3.24 p.m.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

I agree so very much with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) and others who have spoken similarly in the debate In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) gave graphic examples of Service constituents in grave financial difficulties who have been moonlighting and so forth. Many other specific examples have been given. Therefore, in view of the time, I shall not quote examples from my constituency, but many are to be found there. Many Service men are moonlighting because they are suffering financial hardship. Indeed, some senior non-commissioned officers, who should not have to think of moonlighting, are having to do two jobs. It is an appalling situation.

Over the years that it has been my privilege to represent Colchester I have had ample opportunity to see how superbly the Army has performed. On about eight or nine visits to Northern Ireland—I have another coming up next week—I have witnessed how efficiently the soldiers have coped. In every defence debate we rightly pay tribute to our troops in Northern Ireland. We say, proudly and truthfully, that ours is probably the only army in the world that could cope with that situation over a prolonged period. These tributes are read by the forces and listened to in the House, and then the Services find that they are not followed up with proper support, logistical or financial. Consequently, the Services tend to think that we are hypocritical. The men even find that they have to take a second job.

The highly successful advertising campaign describing the soldier as a professional has rather a strange ring about it today. He is indeed a professional soldier, but also a professional riot controller when he goes to Northern Ireland and, from time to time, a professional dustman and a professional fireman. Further, he is paid less than any of these other "professionals". This monstrous situation ought not to be tolerated any longer. It is not only a question of pay. We have seen how, in the last so-called pay increase, enormous rises in rents, and so on, ate away virtually the whole of the increase.

The Secretary of State was quoted in the newspaper today as saying that there has been an "enormous misunderstanding" about Service pay. I do not understand how there has been a misunderstanding. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can explain. It is as clear as the noses on our faces that the Services have been hard done by recently. It is ironic that when they are being called upon to act as firemen they are being paid less than the people whose jobs they are doing.

An important factor concerns the services provided to Army families and to the Armed Forces generally. We have a classic example in my constituency, where the military hospital is due to be closed within the next few weeks, in spite of the fact that £200,000 or so has been spent on it in the past 18 months, bringing it up to first-class standards. There is piped oxygen to all wards, and a new operating theatre. Now it is to be closed. This is a grave blow not only to the Army and Army families in the Colchester area, but to the civilian population.

Over the years the hospital has made a magnificent contribution to the health services in the area. It is true that the Jarrett Committee recommended that the hospital should be closed. We, when in Government, said that we would not implement that recommendation and that the hospital should be kept open at least until there is a new civilian hospital in Colchester. It might have been sensible to propose closing the military hospital when it was possible to have a wing in the new hospital utilised for military personnel. What will happen until the new medical unit is built in Colchester? How shall be deal with the ordinary burns and abrasions which are suffered on the ranges at Colchester?

A new medical centre is to be built at a cost, we are told, of £90,000. No doubt it will be over £100,000 by the time it is built. What will be the effect on the morale of a soldier serving in Northern Ireland if he feels that his wife or his children are not receiving first-class hospital treatment back home? Imagine a young corporal whose wife is pregnant for the first time, and who is worried, too, about financial matters. The military hospital in Colchester dealt admirably with maternity cases. The effect on the morale of such a young soldier who was unsure whether his wife was receiving proper medical attention could be serious.

What I suggest should be done concerning pay is that we should carry out an exercise similar to that which was done for the police some years back, and which resulted in the Willink Report. Let us have a full report on this to give the forces pay comparability with the industrial average. Let us work out the financial formula. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) pointed out, it is very difficult to have comparability. Let us have a report presented by a person of the calibre of the late Sir Henry Willink, if we can find such a person. The report could well devise a formula to try to keep our Armed Forces pay and the pay of the police out of the bargaining arena, so that we could have a formula in which various grades were a certain percentage above the national average for that category.

That is the only long-term way of dealing with the situation.. It should be dealt with as a matter of the gravest urgency. Immediately, what should be done is to give those serving in Northern Ireland an increment.

In the broader sphere, I would like to make one comment. I do not often quote the Bible, but one of my favourite quotations from it is Where there is no vision, the people perish. One of the difficulties besides pay and immediate conditions is the pattern of service within the Army now. We have to see an initiative from the Government relative to the Service pattern becoming more attractive than it is, with the provision of opportunities for service in other parts of the Commonwealth, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, being increased.

At the same time, I hope that the Government will take an initiative in trying to refurbish the spirit within NATO. It is no good the Secretary of State's signing declarations, after meeting NATO leaders, calling for an increase in expenditure and coming straight home and cutting it unilaterally. I suggest that he should do exactly the reverse. He should take the opportunity today, as things are apparently going so much better for us economically, to state that part of the additional wealth will be used to assist our Armed Forces and to bolster our contribution to NATO. I would like to see a major initiative about NATO by our example, and an initiative on the abolition of the geographical guidelines.

The Government ought to take the initiative of saying that we shall now increase the proportion of our gross national product that goes on defence. I am sure that if that were done there would be an immediate raising of morale within the Armed Forces. If we could also have an indication today that the matter will be dealt with generously and will be reviewed by a Willink-type report, there would quickly be a transformation in the morale of the Armed Forces, which I think is getting dangerously low.

3.30 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maiden-head)

In the very few minutes that I have to make a contribution I would like to make a plea on behalf of my constituents of Windsor, which is a garrison town. I must add my name to the plea that has been made in the House for the pay and conditions of the Services to be looked at very urgently. The public is extremely disquieted, and it is now a matter of urgency to ensure that some machinery is put on foot by the Government to make a rapid and realistic improvement both in the pay and conditions of Service men throughout the country.

The firemen's strike brought out two things of importance. First, it showed us the skill and versatility of our soldiers, who were able to cope in the most difficult circumstances. Secondly, working as they were alongside the firemen for much longer hours, it showed that the whole basis of Army pay has been unrealistic since 1975 and that men were being asked to do jobs for which they were being unrealistically rewarded.

It is time that the Government appreciated that there is real public concern about this matter. As stated in The Times and other newspapers, there are Army families now drawing rent rebates and other State benefits, and being obliged to moonlight. The Minister is, of course, right about their having to get their commanding officers' consent before they can take on other jobs, but I put it to him that the point is not whether they have to obtain their commanding officers' consent. I put it to him that there are many soldiers who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) said, have to do another job simply because their pay and allowances in the Forces are inadequate to meet basic requirements.

It is not a question whether they ought or ought not to take on another job. I am in favour of their being allowed to to do so. I do not see why they should not. But they should not have to do it because their pay and allowances are insufficient to support them in a reasonable manner.

The other point relates to the number of men who are trying to purchase their discharge from the Services. If the matter is looked at realistically, one realises just how much money is spent on training men, especially senior NCOs. A figure of £250,000 has been quoted as the sum involved in training highly technical people, and when they leave the Army they cannot be replaced. If, as an insurance policy only, we were to pay the Armed Forces more and provide better allowances fewer men would apply for discharge. They are doing so only because they can get better jobs outside and can no longer afford to live in the Forces.

The Minister knows as well as I do that many people wish to stay in the Services but say "I cannot look forward to keeping my family in a reasonable state, and therefore I must leave the Forces". It is no good the Ministers saying that people in the forces can moonlight and get more money. We must make sure that there is an urgent review of the whole system of pay and remuneration for the Forces. It is no good the Ministers hiding behind the Review Body. The Government might not have an absolute discretion, but they can say to the Review Body "Why not look at the allowances? Why are these men being called upon to pay so much more in proportion for rent and food when their salary is increased?"

The situation is ridiculous. The answer is not to unionise the Army. The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) dealt with this point very well and fairly. That is not the way to deal with the Armed Forces. I do not think that anyone in the forces wants that solution. What Service men want is a fair deal in comparison with other people for the long hours and dangerous jobs that they are called upon to do. I repeat that all that they want is a fair deal. It is up to the Government to consider the matter urgently before it is too late and before too many men apply for discharge and the morale of the Armed Services is destroyed.

3.38 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)

I imagine that I have only a few minutes in which to make my speech. and I shall confine myself to two points.

First, is it not extraordinary that, as we have throughout today been dealing with a section of our work force which, by common consent, is underpaid, whose job entails danger to life and limb and whose importance to the country is vital, we have been faced by empty Labour Benches? Is it not understandable, therefore, that throughout the Services there is a feeling that the party which supports the Government has no real interest in the defence of our country?

I trust that when the Minister replies to the debate he will scotch once and for all the fraudulent pretence that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body is truly independent. If he wishes support for that proposition, let him look at paragraph 3 of the 1976 Fifth Report where it says: The White Paper says specifically that. where the Government is the employer, it will ensure that settlements comply with the pay limits, and refers directly to the position of the armed forces both in this context and in relation to a request to the three independent Review Bodies, each of which is concerned with a group whose pay is not negotiated, to comply in their recommendations with the pay limits. Let us not have any more hiding behind the independence of the Pay Review Body.

Let there be an instruction that in the next report of the independent Pay Review Body it shall set out in an annex to its report its recommendations for every rank and every trade, and what it really believes those ranks and trades should receive, and then, at least, the Forces will know how far they have fallen behind.

This is a most timely debate because it coincides with the publication of the magazine Soldier, in which there is a two-page article by the Adjutant-General. He says that the vital issue is restoration of comparability. That is exactly what the Chief of the Defence Staff, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Neil Cameron, said on 1st December to the Air League. It is a measure of the anxiety that the Government's neglect of Armed Forces pay has given rise to in the minds of their senior Service advisers.

As only yesterday for the first time a Royal Air Force aircrew officer, so I am informed, handed in his kit and just left rather than join the queue, which is eight years long now, of those wishing to leave, I trust that we shall hear that the Government are at least now going to change their approach to those who serve them and us so faithfully in the Armed Forces and will give them a fair deal.

3.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Dr. John Gilbert)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), first, on his good fortune in raising this debate and, secondly, on his choice of subject. One of my reasons for regretting having been taken off Treasury business was that I was no longer able to debate matters with the right hon. Gentleman, who today, as always, presented his case with great courtesy and, if I may say so to him—if compliments from me do not embarrass him—in very moderate language, which was in marked contrast to the language of some of his colleagues.

I agreed with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman said. One point that struck me as slightly quixotic in what he said was his suggestion that the forces needed a new negotiating body, but he shrank from the idea of a trade union. I should be interested at some time to hear the right hon. Gentleman explain precisely what he had in mind in that connection.

We on this side of the House have no quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman's basic thesis. It is true that there is anxiety in the Services about their present pay and conditions. It is quite justified anxiety, and Ministers and Service chiefs are very well aware of it and have been for some time.

The right hon. Gentleman is also quite right in saying that comparability has been lost really over the period since the 1975 pay award was made. It was from that date that the difficulties started to mount up. My right hon. Friend has acknowledged precisely that on more than one occasion in the House.

Mr. Churchill

Before the Minister of State leaves the point about comparability, can he say by how much the Armed Forces have fallen behind in comparability?

Dr. Gilbert

I have hardly got to the point of comparability yet. I was hoping to cover the whole gamut of the debate in the course of my remarks.

Let me say straight away that we completely agree with the terms of the motion tabled by the right hon. Gentleman. It expresses, in very responsible terms, the concern that the House and the country feel about the pay and conditions of the Armed Forces. The country as a whole—I am sure that I speak for the whole House here—continues to recognise that it owes the Armed Forces a very great debt of gratitude. In Northern Ireland they have for a very long time carried out a difficult and dangerous task with qualities of courage, efficiency and perseverance that we have long expected of them.

In their present fire-fighting duties the Services are, of course, quite predictably displaying precisely those same virtues, again in direct assistance to the whole community.

Against this background the Government are, of course, concerned that the Armed Forces should get a reasonable increase in their pay and a substantial improvement in their conditions of service.

Most of the debate today has concentrated, quite understandably, on questions of pay rather than of conditions. It is right and proper that that should be the case, because pay is the basic problem. However, before turning to the role of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, perhaps I can touch on a few of the peripheral issues that have been raised today.

Many hon. Members have raised the subject of moonlighting. I must say that I very much agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). It really verges on hypocrisy for us in the House, of all people, to criticise people outside for [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Members of the Armed Forces are allowed to take up temporary employment during leave or part-time work in off-duty hours, subject to their commanding officer's approval. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force said when he intervened, any criticism of any particular instance where members of the Armed Forces are moonlighting as an indication—this has been suggested by the Opposition—that they are not meeting their full Service obligations is a direct criticism of the commanding officers concerned.

Mr. Buck

What we criticise is that it is necessary for Service men to do it. Of course, out of kindness, a commanding office, even, perhaps, at some risk to efficiency, may sometimes be tempted to allow it when he ought not to do so. Let the Minister admit that. He must understand the point that is made.

Dr. Gilbert

I gather that the hon. and learned Gentleman is criticising commanding officers because they are in certain circumstances exercising a discretion which they ought not to exercise. That is not the position at all——

Mr. Churchill

It is wholly irresponsible for the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State to seek to shift responsibility for this critical situation on to the commanding officers at West Drayton or any other Royal Air Force station. The responsibility rests squarely with the Secretary of State for Defence and the Labour Government.

Dr. Gilbert

We shall come to that in a moment. In any individual case it is the responsibility of the commanding officer whether or not permission is granted, and criticism that suggests that permission should not be granted because operational efficiency is affected is criticism of the judgment of the commanding officer concerned.

Mr. Shersby


Dr. Gilbert

There is no escaping that. Earlier in the debate, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) said that moonlighting was terrible. He said—I take his point—that Service men ought not to want to do it— —

Mr. Churchill

Ought not to need to.

Dr. Gilbert

—ought not to need to— but then, when I asked whether he was proposing to ban moonlighting, the hon. Gentleman gave no answer. Of course, one understands that the hon. Gentleman shouts so much that his hearing may be slightly affected, so I repeated the question to make sure that he heard it. Again, he declined to reply.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman declined to reply, because there can be only one of two answers—"Yes" or "No". The hon. Gentleman was reluctant to answer "Yes" because that would have made him very unpopular with the Armed Forces, and he likes to be popular, above everything else. On the other hand, he did not want to answer "No" because to do that would totally destroy his case. Thus, the hon. Gentleman is on the horns of a dilemma, and I invite him once again to resolve it.

Sir Ian Gilmour


Dr. Gilbert

No, not the right hon. Gentleman. Let the lad speak. Is he or is he not prepared to ban moonlighting? I make that third offer to him.

Mr. Churchill

There is no right hon. or hon. Member in the House today who will suggest that moonlighting should be banned. That is certainly my view too.

Mr. William Hamilton

Let us have "Yes" or "No".

Mr. Churchill

The objection is that it should not be necessary. Moreover, from an operational point of view, especially in the Royal Air Force—at the high level described by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) —81 per cent. moonlighting on top of their RAF duties is an unacceptably high figure.

Dr. Gilbert

Now we have it. It took three attempts, and the answer is "No". I am glad to hear it. The reason why the hon. Gentleman now gives the answer "No" is that between my first invitation and the second when I posed the question, the hon. Gentleman no doubt consulted his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), who knows very well that moonlighting has existed in the Armed Forces for some time.

Incidentally, I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, because he had an opportunity recently to try to make some political mileage out of this matter but declined to do so. He knows very well that moonlighting in the Armed Forces has been going on for many years. It was done at the time of the last Conservative Government and it will continue. whatever the rates of Service pay.

The basic problem is pay. We are in this situation because of pay policy. It is not the first time that the Review Body has found itself involved in constraints in its recommendations because of pay policy. Not so many years ago, it was up against not a voluntary pay policy but a statutory pay policy—the pay policy of the Conservative Government. That had implications for what the Review Body was to recommend at the time. If Opposition Members say "But that only deals with the question of pay. What about charges?" I remind them that at the time of the Tory statutory incomes policy the Review Body was constrained, as far as charges were concerned, by the Housing Finance Act—and we all know what that did to rents at a time when pay was being statutorily held down.

It is insufferable impertinence and hypocrisy for hon. Members opposite to try to suggest that we have suddenly interfered with the independence of the Review Body, that it is working under constraints which have never existed before and that it is due only to the Government's meanness that the Armed Forces find themselves in their present position.

Mr. Mayhew

Will the lion. Gentleman hoist—in the fact that the criticism is that the Government persist in claiming that the Review Body is independent when it is not, for the reason that I tried to explain?

Dr. Gilbert

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I am coming to that point.

As I was saying, we are in this difficulty because of pay policy; it is quite simple. Many people in the country, and not only in the Armed Forces, are in a position where they do not get overtime or wage drift, and where they are tied down to a 10 per cent. pay increase and have to face charges in excess of the increases they have been able to gain for themselves. That is not to say that we welcome such a situation. We regret very much that the Armed Forces find themselves in this position. But they are not unique in that respect. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central pointed out, the public support the pay policy. There is no ambiguity about that, and it would be nice to hear it echoed by the Opposition from time to time as clearly as my hon. Friend spelt it out today.

The pay policy has two main constituents. It has the 12-months rule and it has, we hope, a ceiling of 10 per cent. on earnings plus self-financing productivity deals. I am glad that some Opposition Members at least acknowledged that the Armed Forces do not contest the 12-months rule. Their due date is 1st April next, and the question is what the Review Body will recommend and what will be the Government's attitude to that recommendation.

I think it is very sad that hon. Members opposite talk in terms of the work of the Review Body being discredited. It does a great deal of good. Its members work extremely hard and without pay. The House should pay tribute to the work of the Review Body, which does its conscientious best for the Armed Forces.

Until now, Governments have always given an award of the full amount recommended by the Review Body. There is, however, a clear distinction, not only in theory but in fact, between the recommendations of the Review Body and the awards made by Governments. I have immediately to qualify what I have just said. It is not the case that all Governments have automatically given 100 per cent. award of the recommendation of the Review Body. There was one occasion when a Government did not give 100 per cent. of the full recommendation. On that occasion it gave more than 100 per cent. That was in 1974, under a Labour Government, who are being accused now of being so mean to the Armed Forces. Therefore the hon. Gentleman is wrong.

There is a clear distinction between what the Armed Forces Pay Review Body recommends and what the Government award. It was a Labour Government, not a Conservative Government, who did so much about the Armed Forces pay and on one occasion awarded more than the recommendation of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Let us have that absolutely firmly on the record.

The position at the moment is that the Ministry of Defence is putting to the Review Body in the clearest terms the Forces' case on all the major issues concerning pay and charges, including the value of the x factor and the way in which the charges are calculated. The recommendations of the Review Body must be implemented in a way that is consistent with the Government's pay guidelines, and this may involve phasing over a period. The Secretary of State for Defence is determined to ensure that the military salary is brought up to date and that full comparability is restored as soon as pay policy permits. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] As soon as pay policy permits.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Earlier, the hon. Gentleman seemed to be saying that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body is not independent but that that is all right because it had not been independent when the Conservatives were in power. He then said that it is independent. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that what the Secretary of State said in his letter to me—that the Review Body should pay attention to the Government's counter-inflation policy—is true or not? Is the Review Body free to make its recommendation or is it bound by pay policy?

Dr. Gilbert

It is recommended to make recommendations. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman understands the position. He has borne responsibility for these matters. The Review Body is recommended to make recommendations in line with Government pay policy. It is not nobbled by any statutory policy. There is no change whatever. Let no one suggest that we are suddenly introducing an element of interference into the deliberations of the Review Body.

My right hon. Friend has made it absolutely clear that comparability will be restored just as soon as pay policy permits. Of course, it is impossible for me to speculate as to what the Review Body will recommend. [Interruption.] It may be more, it may be less. It will be for the Government to justify their decision. There will be no question of hiding behind the recommendations of the Review Body. An award will be made by the Government and the Government will seek to justify their decision, whether the amount is more than, the same as or less than, the recommendations of the Review Body. The Government will stand by their recommendations to the House in this respect. Let us have no more of the suggestion that the Government are hiding behind the Review Body.

It does the Services no good at all for the picture to be distorted. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) pointed out—he has apologised for the fact that he had to leave—it is quite wrong to compare the lowest Forces' pay with the average industrial wage, which is what the hon. Member for Stretford is always trying to do.

Mr. Churchill

I did not say that. I said with the main band.

Dr. Gilbert

The lowest Army rate with the average industrial rate. A private's pay has always been below the average industrial wage.

Mr. Churchill

rose— —

Dr. Gilbert

I will not give way. I have given way many times. A private's pay has always been below the average industrial wage. When the Conservatives were responsible for these matters, a private's pay was about 25 per cent. below the average industrial rate. There is nothing new about that. [Interruption.] I have already said that we have agreed that comparability has not been sustained. If the hon. Member for Stretford had been listening rather than shouting, he would have heard what I said earlier in my reply. I am quite sure that the Review Body will note this——

Mr. Graham Page

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure a reasonable increase in the remuneration of servicemen and servicewomen in the armed forces and a substantial improvement in their conditions of service.

  2. c1949
  4. c1949