HC Deb 28 July 1977 vol 936 cc1258-77

7.33 a.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, to Ministers and the staff of the House for keeping you out of your hammocks on this morning watch. I do so only because I believe that something is very wrong with Service pay.

I get this message loud and clear in my constituency where we have a Green Jackets depot, the Royal Hampshire Headquarters, the Army Air Corps at Middle Wallop, the Headquarters of the Army Pay Corps at Worthy Down, a large part of the garrison of Tidworth, RAF Andover, which is in the process of closing down, and the Royal Engineers establishment at Barton Stacey. I also get the same message about pay from my past Service contacts, and from working with the Defence Committee, for example, on a recent visit to HMS "Hermes" in the Mediterranean.

At all levels in all three Services there seems to be not only disappointment but a worrying sort of silent, clench-toothed anger. The senior officers have had their differentials eroded yet again, but their frustration comes from a different reason. It is because they know that the men whom they command are not getting a fair deal about pay and yet they, the senior officers, who wish to look after them, are powerless to do anything about it.

The whole basis of the annual awards, as I understand it, is to achieve comparability with civilian life. I imagine that the Minister will agree that that is the starting point of what we are trying to achieve. The Minister indicates assent. Yet it is crystal clear that that has not been achieved. What are the facts? Under phase 1 and phase 2 of the Government pay policy average industrial earnings increased by no less than 22½ per cent. in the 21 months up to March this year. Meanwhile, to cover the 24 months up to the same date the Armed Forces have been accorded two pay rises totalling only 14.9 per cent.

The forces are being squeezed into the straitjacket of the Government's incomes policy whereas everyone else in the country seems to be managing to avoid it. The point that the Minister does not seem to have hoisted on board is that each year that that happens the effect is cumulative, because if one does not achieve the starting point in a given year one goes further and further astern of station and gets even further behind.

Several most glaring anomalies were pointed out during the most recent debate on Service pay and conditions. For example, an RAF Phantom pilot receives less than a London bus driver. The Secretary of State demonstrated outside Grunwick against the "slave wages" there, and yet the average wage of a Grunwick employee turns out to be only 53 pence a week more than that which the right hon. Gentleman pays the soldiers that he sends to fight in Northern Ireland. We heard of unskilled civilian employees in Navy short messes with a take-home pay, including overtime, of £80 to £110 a week, which is far more than is received by the skilled petty officers on such stations, who receive about £50 a week.

There are other anomalies within the Services. There are problems about food and accommodation charges and the effects of the Rent Act on Service families who own or who wish to own their own homes. There is the matter of tax relief for the Navy personnel overseas and so on. One must ask whether the present level of the "X" factor is adequate compensation for the enormous turbulance of Service life.

I shall stick to the main issue, which is comparability. Apparently the Government have admitted that there is no comparability, because during the last debate the Secretary of State said: When the pay of the Armed Forces was reviewed in 1976 it was, like all other wage settlements under round 1 of the pay policy, strictly subject to the round 1 guidelines. It was inevitable that the pay award of April 1976 could not retain the pay comparability that had been achieved in April of the previous year. I cannot see the logic of that. If Service pay were to be raised properly, it would not be out of step with comparability with the previous year or any other time.

The Secretary of State went on: The Armed Forces were not alone in that respect because the effect of the voluntary incomes policy has been to disturb relativities right across the board."—[Official Report, 16th June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 603.] I agree with the point about relativities within the Services, but comparability means the same pay limits for the Services as for outside workers—and that has not been happening.

The Services are getting what sailors call a green rub. We must look at the system to see what has gone wrong. I am sure that individual members of the Pay Review Body are distinguished, well meaning and infinitely painstaking people, but their terms of reference are at fault. The body should do its job of evaluating the work and coming up with genuine comparability with industry—the figure that would give true comparability, regardless of Government constraints. The Government could then apply pay policy restrictions if necessary and take the political odium for doing so.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

I see that the Minister is shaking his head, but the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend is exactly the way to do it. When the Pay Review Body had provided comparability between the Services and industry across the board, it would be clear to the Service man that the Government had decided not to implement the body's report.

An analogy is what happened with the Boyle Committee and hon. Members' salaries. No one told Lord Boyle not to decide what hon. Members should be paid. He was told to decide the rate for the job, compared with other jobs, and it was the Government who told us that we could not have the increases because of the pay policy.

There is anger in the Services because they feel that the Review Body is discriminating against them or at least not telling them what they are worth. The Review Body is the only yardstick for a Service man. It has been accepted as an independent and fair-minded body that does not take political factors into account. I hope that the Minister will say something more constructive on this matter than he has said in our previous two debates.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

If the review body's comparability figures were correct and the Government's constraints were being observed in industry, there would be no discrepancy to rectify and Service men would know where they stand. Now they feel only that they have been done out of something and they do not know what.

The Secretary of State was right when he said that Service men are willing to bear their share of the burden of economic difficulties facing this country. They are not trying to get away from that, but they should not be asked to bear more than their fair share. They should not be asked to bite the bullet while average industrial earnings race ahead of the Review Body's recommendations.

We are talking about a military salary that is the only means of existence for 330,000 men and women who have no industrial muscle and who are under a contract with the Government that they cannot break. They have no overtime or productivity deals applicable to their conditions of service. It is not fair for the Government to seek to shelter behind the skirts of the Pay Review Body. It is clear that the Review Body is unhappy about the results of its own work. In paragraph 8 of its 1976 report it states: If, in the long term, pay levels are to be maintained for the Armed Forces that are competitive with pay levels for comparable work outside, remedial action will be needed. We regard it as our duty to make these problems known to the Government to enable account to be taken of them in the development of future pay policies and measures It appears that the Government took no heed of that paragraph. No action is apparent.

In its 1972 report in paragraph 2 the Review Body states: Once again, therefore, effectively we are only free to recommend whether the pay of the Armed Forces should be increased by the maximum amount allowed by the pay limits, or by some lesser amount. In paragraph 23 it states: 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. That brings the matter right up to date in two days' time. The Review Body concluded that only if a measure of flexibility in the period after 1st August is provided will it be possible to begin to deal with the problems that I have described.

Faced with these words from the Review Body, surely we should expect a statement from the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army. All we have had hitherto is a reply by the Secretary of State to a Question two days ago when the right hon. Gentleman was asked what will happen after 1st August, the period highlighted by the Review Body. He replied: A 12-month gap between pay settlements is a key element in the orderly return to normality on pay in all sectors."—[Official Report, 26th July 1977, Vol. 936, c. 164.] Will the Government take action, or having imposed an unfair pay settlement on the Armed Forces will they allow them to sweat it out?

I have said enough to indicate that soldiers, sailors and airmen are being disgracefully treated and that the trouble lies at political level. Many hon. Members and others have referred to morale in the Services being at rock bottom, or have used similar emotive phrases. I do not think that that is so. I do not join in that hue and cry. In general, despite being blatantly under-paid, the forces are angry. However, they still perform their duties in a way that makes them the envy of our partners in NATO. Certainly they have the admiration of the whole world. Above all, our Service men have a pride in themselves and a pride in the job that they are doing—[Interruption.] Perhaps I might have the Minister's attention before he cooks up his little scheme with his Whips. Service men are just as much worried by the cuts in their equipment as about their own pay. I wish that the hon. Gentleman could have heard some of the comments made to me about the Government's defence policy as a whole.

Mr. Mates

I take this opportunity to confirm what my hon. and gallant Friend has said about the state of morale of the Forces, especially the soldiers in Northern Ireland, where I was some 10 days ago. They are angry but morale remains high. That can continue only if they are convinced that they are getting a fair deal.

As a cheeky young soldier, perhaps I may point out to my hon. and gallant Friend from the Senior Service that the soldiers in Ulster are being scandalously treated. They are getting a daily allowance of 50p, which allowance is taxed and was awarded to them in 1974 and has not been changed since then. The Minister looks bored. He has heard me say this before. When I visited the Republic of Ireland, I discovered that Irish soldiers on border duty south of the border—indeed, on the day I was there, I saw troops from both sides searching for the body of Captain Nairac—are drawing £1.50 a day because of their service in the Northern Ireland context, although on the southern side of the border. That disparity of three to one is not something of which anyone who has responsibility for the British Army should be proud.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

That is another telling point.

I sum up what I have been saying in this way. Officers and men go into the Forces not for profit but to do a worthwhile job. They should be rewarded fairly and they should be given the tools to do the job.

7.51 a.m.

Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)

I am very glad of the opportunity to intervene in the debate and to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Win- chester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) on crystallising some of the problems and emphasising them in a correct manner.

My interest in these matters has arisen as a result of an enormous amount of correspondence I have received from constituents, and in particular from serving members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. It was only a few weeks ago that I received several letters from constituents serving in Northern Ireland expressing very deep concern about the level of pay and conditions of work, and particularly about the level of allowances.

Some time ago I received a very difficult letter from one constituent, in the sense that it enclosed stamps to the value of 3p and said, Would you please pass this to the Prime Minister because this is the amount of the pay increase I have just received. We here, your constituents and, indeed, all of us, feel very strongly about the way in which our pay has been reduced over the last few weeks, months and years, in comparison with that of other Government employees. Because of these letters, I read very carefully the report of the debate in the House on conditions of service. I was very concerned about some of the comments made by the Secretary of State, who seemed to glory in the fact that the Services had been treated on all fours with the rest of the community. My hon. and gallant Friend has already quoted part of what the Secretary of State said. The Secretary of State also said: it is not my party's policy that the Armed Forces… should be exempt from the sacrifices that have been made by the trade union movement. However, in these abnormal times …the operation of a voluntary incomes policy has meant"— as my hon. and gallant Friend said— that we have had to suspend the use of comparability as a criterion for Service pay."—[Official Report, 16th June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 602.] This raises a major fundamental question as to whether it is right to treat members of the Armed Forces on all fours with the rest of the community at a time when there is economic difficulty.

I pose this question. There are elements in the rest of the community who, because of their industrial muscle, have been able to secure for themselves a better position than others in the community. We all know the case of the miners. Is it really to be the test not of how much power and muscle one has but of how much one is prepared to use before one's case is accepted in its true validity? If there ever was a special case for ensuring that Government employees, in particular —and, indeed, members of the community at large—had not only comparability but proper pay and conditions of work, surely it is that of the Armed Forces, and particularly those serving in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mates

My hon. Friend is making a sound point. Would he care to speculate as to what might happen if we were to reach the stage with regard to the Armed Forces that we have now reached with the police? The police now feel that they need some sort of industrial action at their beck and call in order to get themselves a fair deal. I hope and pray that our Armed Forces never reach that stage, but it is a prospect that should not be ignored.

Mr. Hunt

I hope that the Minister will respond when he replies to this short debate. That is a very worrying situation, because the Government have it within their control to moderate and regulate the position. If they allow the situation to go on as it is at the moment, my hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) will be proved correct.

There is, and there must be, a limit to true loyalty. Certainly with regard to the police, many long-serving members whose integrity, honesty and loyalty have never been called into question are seriously considering withholding their work and their willingness to work, not in a strike performance but in protest. Far be it from me to suggest that the Armed Forces will ever reach that stage.

Knowing many of them, I know that we have a fine body of men who would not seek to take any action to disrupt the regulation of life in this country or, indeed, in any part of the world where they serve, but is it right that we should test their loyalty and take them to the brink by placing them in a situation in which they are suffering? I have read the last two debates on this subject, and certain figures are extremely worrying. When one analyses the amount that is paid in rent by married couples the dominant partner of whom is serving in the Armed Forces, one begins to realise why the situation is so critical.

Some figures have already come up in the debate, and the Minister will know them very well. I do not need to repeat them. But the insurance position has not been dealt with properly, especially with regard to those serving in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the position in Northern Ireland highlights the position throughout the Armed Forces, because there the inequalities are emphasised and it is from there that I have received representations from my constituents.

The Minister will know that I have been in correspondence with him on the case I raised on the Adjournment concerning Bombadier Heinz Pisarek. That case highlights another difficulty whereby men cannot enter service in Northern Ireland and relax in the knowledge that their dependants will be looked after if they are killed or seriously wounded.

In the case I have just mentioned, the widow will get no compensation. I understand the calculations that have been gone into. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office has spent a great deal of time explaining to me how they are arrived at. That is another area of grievance.

One can crystallise the difficulties by talking about the fact that there are many lance-corporals and privates who in our terms are living below the poverty line. How can the Government be satisfied with a situation in which a large number of privates and lance-corporals are receiving rent rebates and other benefits of that sort? This means that they are living below the poverty line. Their wives do not have the same job opportunities in Northern Ireland as they might otherwise have had.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field highlighted the whole affair. He posed the question of whether it was right that anybody serving in Northern Ireland should move to less comfortable and more onerous circumstances and suffer a reduction in pay and living standards. My hon. Friend posed that question time and again in the last debate. The only response that I could see was the Minister claiming that my hon. Friend was dealing more with the problem than with the solution.

If it is not for the Opposition to emphasise a problem, what are they to do? Obviously, it is within the Government's power to do something. I hope that the Minister will be forced to treat members of our Armed Forces as a special case. If we recognise that there is an argument for industrial workers such as coal miners to be treated as a special case, what case could be more special than that of the men who are willing to risk their lives, their families and their capital by serving in Northern Ireland with a future which is less rosy than it would be if they were engaged in almost any other occupation?

A constituent sent me 3p in stamps and said that that was his pay increase. He added in his letter Are you going to do anything about it? I want to write to my constituent and say that as a result of this debate the Minister has said that he is willing to force through the Cabinet an acceptance of the fact that members of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland are a special case.

The Opposition are prepared to march to No. 10 with the Minister to demand that from the Prime Minister. We are prepared to support the Minister. He could use his natural abilities—eloquence, charm, efficiency, intelligence and economic brilliance—to demonstrate to the Government that we are not prepared to sit back and allow the Armed Forces serving in Northern Ireland to be discomfited in this way.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester mentioned the figures for average industrial earnings. They were horrifying. Far from being treated as a special case, Service men are being treated in the opposite manner. They are being treated as if they were so ordinary and so low down in the calibre list that they have no case at all.

The Minister cannot be satisfied with that. Men are being posted from superior and more comfortable billets and are being made worse off by going to Northern Ireland, where there are more dangers and increasing difficulties, where there are no job opportunities for their wives, and where rents are higher. It is wrong that they should be worse off as a result of being posted to Northern Ireland.

The vital question of Army pay and conditions in Northern Ireland has been raised on many occasions in the House. Time and again hon. Members in all parts of the House have urged Ministers to take action to remedy the situation. Many of these men are living below the poverty line. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] If Labour Members who are now shouting had been here earlier, they would have heard my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester giving the figures. They are figures of which we should be ashamed. I know that many of my constituents feel that the case in this respect is extremely strong.

Will the Minister urge his governmental colleagues to treat the Armed Forces as a special case? If he were to do so, I am convinced that he would find support both in the House and in the country. Let him ask himself why this matter has been so sensationalised in the Press. The answer is that the Press knows that this is a matter of deep public concern. Before the situation becomes worse, the Minister should respond by giving us the assurances that we seek.

8.6 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) has given us a further opportunity to debate a subject to which the House devoted more than four hours of its time as recently as 16th June. Since then several hon. Members have tabled Questions on various aspects of the subject. It is inevitable, therefore, that today some of the ground previously covered in debate and in Questions will be gone over again. I have no objection to this. The pay and allowances of the Armed Forces are a complicated question which is perhaps clarified by some repetition.

More importantly, however, I welcome this opportunity to restate the importance that we as a Government have attached to ensuring that the Armed Forces in the context of current pay policies are treated fairly and equitably in regard to their pay and allowances. I also welcome the opportunity of placing again on the record the Government's appreciation of the Armed Forces' loyalty, professionalism and devotion to duty, sometimes, as the House knows, in very difficult situations in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the world where they are required to serve.

A great deal has been said and written on the subject of the recent pay award for the Armed Forces. We have been accused of giving pay increases with one hand and taking them away with the other in increased food and accommodation charges. The long-standing arrangements for the concurrent changes in pay and charges inevitably mean that on 1st April each year the Service man in considering his disposable income looks at the net difference between his increased pay and increased charges. This year, as everyone knows, the general cost of living increased significantly. This has meant that the service charges which reflect outside costs have also increased, with a corresponding significant impact on the net effect of pay and charges taken together.

The pay award itself was the highest that could be given under phase 2 of the present pay policy. The increases in charges were the minimum which could be applied consistent with the long-established formulae for their calculation. In this pay review, therefore, the Services were thus treated no better or worse than any other sector of the community. We might, indeed, have held down or abated the accommodation charges, but if we had done so we would, under the pay policy rules, have had to accept an offsetting reduction in the level of the pay award. Such a reduction in accommodation charges would thus have benefited those housed and fed by the Services to the detriment of those who make their own arrangements. The latter have already had to find from their own pockets and without the benefit of the current pay rise all the additional costs which are now in part reflected in the revised level of charges. I believe, therefore, that it was right that the Services should accept the maximum possible pay increase rather than allow this to be diminished in order to lower accommodation charges.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

The Minister is on exactly the point I was trying to make, but he still does not seem to have got it. He says that it is the maximum possible amount that could be given, but we are talking about comparability with the level that industry has gone up to. That has nothing to do with what the Government say it should have gone up to. Each year the Services should be brought up to what industry has actually gone up to. The Government have not been able to restrain pay to exactly what they hoped at the beginning of each round. Maybe they cannot be blamed, but that is the position. The Forces should be brought up to true comparability, regardless of what the Government guideline says, because that is where industry has gone, for better or worse. Can the Minister meet that point, which is serious?

Mr. Brown

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body has stated, and I accept, that the Services generally have fallen behind their civillian analogues during the operation of stages 1 and 2 of the pay policy. The reasons for this are well known—the movement in outside wages in the period between the 1975 pay award for the Services and the introduction of pay restraint, and subsequent wage drift in outside employment. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body in its reports has represented that this falling away from comparability should be put right as soon as practicable, and I accept this as a general aim as soon as it is practicable in the context of pay policy and the economic health of the country generally.

The hon. and gallant Member has again today, as in an earlier debate, argued forcibly that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body should have published in its report—even if only for information—the pay rates for the Services which were shown to be justified by comparability with outside analogues. The Pay Review Body is an independent one, and its report is, of course, its own, but I can understand that it would not be attracted to the idea of constructing a hypothetical range of Service pay rates. The process of job evaluation leading to an assessment of pay comparability is a complex one and subject to a variety of factors, none of which remains constant for very long. Inevitably the results vary from time to time and relativities between different pay groups can change.

I would not wish to speak for the Pay Review Body, but I would understand if against this background it considered that hypothetical pay rates might be misleading for the future and might indeed give rise to expectations which might not in the final event be justified and met. Against this background, therefore, I consider that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, in a situation in which it, in common with the other two Review Bodies, has been asked to comply with pay policy, adopted a sensible and responsible approach and attitude in its recommendations.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

The hon. Gentleman says that the Review Body has been asked to do this. Who asked it to do it?

Mr. Brown

That intervention shows the mistake of giving way. I am coming on to that precise point.

Mr. Mates

I can understand that it might be embarrassing if the Review Body were to produce a set of statistics which meant pay rises that would put the Government's pay policy in jeopardy. But what is unacceptable is the corollary: "We cannot give the Forces the rise to which we know they will be entitled, because of pay policy. Therefore, we shall not bother to see where they are with respect to outside industry. We shall not make the comparisons, because it would be tedious and lengthy, and we cannot implement them anyway." Therefore, for two years and for another year to come this exercise will not have been conducted.

Is it any wonder that this is causing the greatest concern among the troops because they do not know whether or to what extent their pay has fallen behind that of industry? The Review Body is there to do a job, and the Government have decided that it is not to do the job. Is it any wonder that morale is so low and that people are so upset about it?

Mr. Speaker

That is long enough for an interruption. The hon. Member was not addressing the House. He was interrupting the hon. Member who was addressing the House.

Mr. Mates

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to get the Minister to answer the question. I have made three attempts to do so. You know, Mr. Speaker, that this is a cause that is dear to my heart. I want an answer.

Mr. Brown

That is about the fourth speech that the House has heard from the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), and it is the fourth intervention in this debate.

I was very pleased that in the debate on 16th June both Opposition and Government speakers paid tribute to the valuable work done by the Review Body, and I would not wish this opportunity to pass without again putting on record the gratitude of the Government for the work which the Review Body has given and is giving to its important duties.

So much for the past. Clearly the country still faces a period in which the need to restore our national economic health will be of paramount importance. The Chancellor in his recent statement has made clear the determination of the Government to ensure that the gains of the last two years in the fight against inflation are not thrown away in a free for-all wages scramble. No one would obtain long-term benefit from such a situation, least of all the forces.

The cornerstone of the present policy announced by the Chancellor is strict observance of the 12-month rule. There can be no exceptions, and, although I appreciate the difficulties under which the Services and their families are at present living, I cannot see any way in which they can expect an additional pay award before their traditional pay review date of April next year.

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body will continue to collect information on pay comparators so that, as in previous years, it will be able to recommend to the Government next spring appropriate pay increases and charges for the Armed Forces. In formulating its report, the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has been asked by the Prime Minister to make its recommendations within the policy recently set out by the Chancellor.

I appreciate fully that Service men and their families are, like many others in the community, under financial pressures and are suffering a real loss in their living standards—

Mr. David Hunt rose

Mr. Brown

I will not give way again.

Mr. David Hunt

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps the Minister did not see who was attempting to intervene. He said "Not again", but I have not attempted to interrupt him before.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order for me. It is for the Minister to decide when he gives way.

Mr. David Hunt

I thank the Minister for now giving way. There are many people who believe that members of the Armed Forces should be treated as a special case. The Minister is right to say that other people are suffering sacrifices, but no one else in the community—or, at least, very few people—is putting his life at risk as members of the Armed Forces are doing.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Member cannot have been listening. I said that there can be no special cases.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the whole long trend of argument about public expenditure, this Bill is the last stage, and perhaps the only stage, when Back Benchers can nut considerations of the kind that my hon. Friends have been putting with great skill and fluency to Ministers. One has great respect for the Under-Secretary, but for him not to answer questions and instead to read carefully his prepared brief is to treat the whole House with contempt. This debate will be read by members of the Armed Forces. Surely it is within the power as well the wit of the Minister to understand the delicacy of the position and at least to treat the House with a little more courtesy.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman should know me well enough to realise that I am one of the most courteous of hon. Members, and I should have thought he would concede that there is no hon. Member who talks to more Service men than I do in the course of a week, month or a year.

The Parliament Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development (Mr. John Tomlinson)

My hon. Friend has no need to apologise.

Mr. Brown

I am certainly not apologising. I was saying that Service men, like many others in society, are suffering from a real fall in their living standards. They will be disappointed, as many others in the community will be, that the 12-month rule means that they have to wait until April for their next pay review.

I become rather tired of being berated for the fact that the Northern Ireland pay allowance is only 50p per day. It is true that it has been 50p per day since 1974. I should have liked to see it increased, but within the constraints of the pay policy we could not increase it unless it came out of the local figure in the settlement. I remind the hon. Member for Petersfield in particular that his Government had nearly four years in which to recognise the awful conditions of Northern Ireland and make a special Northern Ireland payment. That was left until this Government came to power. I cannot stand this hypocrisy any more—

Mr. Mates rose

Mr. Brown

—and I am certainly not giving way any more to the hon. Gentleman. The House will remember that quite recently, in recognition of the operational situation in Northern Ireland, we introduced field conditions for the permanent garrison there. That decision carried significant financial advantages for the Service men affected. In addition, over recent weeks the Government have taken the decision to continue the longstanding exemption from tax which the Forces enjoyed in respect of their leave warrants and home to place of duty entitlements. Previous Finance Acts had raised some question as to whether these allowances should be taxed. The Finance Bill which this House has just despatched to another place now contains explicit provisions to exclude the Services from taxation of their leave concessions, and the same Bill makes changes in the arrangements for mortgage interest relief which, I believe, will prove of value to the Services.

No one knows more than I do about the situation in relation to the Armed Forces, particularly the Army, and of the hardships which are being suffered in many cases. The Armed Services are pushing at an open door so far as the Government and I are concerned. We recognise the difficulties and, as soon as the present constraints are eased, we will do what we can to get pay towards comparability. I would be a hypocrite if I said or created the impression that next 1st April we shall ensure that the Armed Forces get back to comparability. I do not want to be a hypocrite and I do not want to be a party to any such assurance. Clearly, it is not possible to recoup what has been lost over two years from a tight incomes policy.

Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 31 (Majority for Closure).

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to seek your guidance on the possibility of moving another motion to close the debate?

Mr. Speaker

We have only just dealt with one, and it is very early in the morning to ask me difficult questions.

Sir Bernard Braine

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is accustomed to Governments moving the closure on Consolidated Fund Bill debates at an early stage on the morning after the start of the Second Reading. That did not matter so much in the days when the House and Back Benchers in particular exercised effective control over Government expenditure. That has not been the case for some considerable time.

Hon. Members


Mr. Mates

on a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

order. I cannot take a point of order. The House has instructed me that I must put the Question at once.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 55, Noes 12.

Division No. 231] AYES [8.25 a.m.
Armstrong, Ernest Harper, Joseph Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Atkinson, Norman Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Richardson, Miss Jo
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Healey, Rt Hon Denis Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Horam, John Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Huckfield, Les Snape, Peter
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Stallard, A. W.
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Clemitson, Ivor Jeger, Mrs Lena Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) John, Brynmor Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lipton, Marcus Tomlinson, John
Deakins, Eric Luard, Evan Tuck, Raphael
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Maclennan, Robert Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Dormand, J. D. McNamara, Kevin Ward, Michael
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Meacher, Michael Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mikardo, Ian
Ennals, David Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Mr Alf Bates and
Fraser, John (Lambeth, (N'w'd) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Mr Thomas Cox.
Freeson, Reginald Pendry, Tom
Durant, Tony Newton, Tony Sainsbury, Tim
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Osborn, John
Hunt, David (Wirral) Prior, Rt Hon James TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
MacGregor, John Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr Michael Mates and
Mather, Carol Ridley, Hon Nicholas Mr Norman Tebbit.
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral

Indeed, some of the troubles with which we are confronted today stem from the failure of the House of Commons to do this and the frustrations caused to Back Benchers as a result.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am coming to that, Mr. Speaker. It is a monstrous invasion of the rights of the House of Commons—

Mr. Speaker

That is an argument. What is the point of order that the hon. Member wishes me to settle?

Sir Bernard Braine

I was only saying in passing that this is a monstrous invasion of the rights of the House of Commons in the very important matter of control of expenditure. This is the last opportunity that Back Benchers will have to express their views on the way in which taxpayers' money will be spent. Had the debate started yesterday soon after Question Time, the House would be content to leave the matter where it is, but the debate started very late—

Mr. Speaker

With every respect to the hon. Member, he is arguing his case. The House has decided to carry on with the business. Another hon. Member is waiting to address the House.

Sir Bernard Braine

That is perfectly true, and it is one more illustration of the defective way—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has not got a point of order. I have not heard a single word that is a point of order for me. We are all aware that this is the last day, and it has been a rough week. The hon. Member must put a point of order or resume his seat.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that we are carrying on with our business, will you inquire whether the Prime Minister will make a statement on whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) was bugged when he was Prime Minister? Will there be a statement on that today?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Gow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Should there not be a statement from the Leader of the House, who is now in consultation with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, about the Government's intentions for the remainder of today? When the Government can get only 55 hon. Members to support them in the Lobby, it leaves us in a state of bewilderment about the rest of today's proceedings. [An HON. MEMBER: "We could go on for another two weeks."] That is an excellent idea. Perhaps we could have a statement to that effect from the Lord President.

Mr. Speaker

I have had no request for a statement. The House has just decided to carry on with its normal business.