HC Deb 08 November 1977 vol 938 cc463-6
5. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what preliminary arrangements he has made to increase the pay of the Armed Forces when the time is appropriate to do so.

12. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to receive the next report from the Armed Forces Pay Review Board.

17. Sir Anthony Royle

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what action he is taking to increase Service men's pay in view of the damaging slump in morale throughout the three fighting Services.

Mr. Mulley

The Armed Forces Pay Review Body is responsible for recommending increases in forces' pay. It has already begun the work of collecting the necessary information on which to base a recommendation to take effect from 1st April next year.

Mr. Cronin

While the Armed Forces must, like everyone else, conform to the Government's pay policy for the time being, will my right hon. Friend ensure that when they receive their next pay increase it will be the substantial one that they justly deserve? Furthermore, will he make sure that the Armed Forces are not penalised because they do not have trade unions or because they adopt an attitude of disciplined restraint and consideration for the public interest?

Mr. Mulley

I am sure that the considerations my hon. Friend mentions are well worth stressing, because they are very important factors in the situation. But, as he says, the Armed Forces, like other sectors, have to conform to Government pay policy, and, in particular, to the procedure whereby the Armed Forces Pay Review Body makes recommendations. These are due to be implemented on 1st April after 12 months.

Mr. Goodhart

Is the Secretary of of State aware that many soldiers are paid less than the firemen whom they will probably be replacing in our cities next week? Is he aware of the widespread feeling that Service men have fallen badly behind in the last two years? Will the Armed Forces Pay Review Body be bound by the Government's 10 per cent. guideline in April?

Mr. Mulley

As the Armed Forces Pay Review Body was informed at the time of the statement regarding future pay policy, it will be for it to make recommendations. For our part in the Ministry of Defence, we are supplying the Review Body with all the information we can so that it may form a judgment. I know that there is real difficulty about the question of comparability, which is very strongly felt in the Services.

Sir Anthony Royle

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is grave danger of serious demoralisation throughout the Services at present, that his own people inquiring into Service pay have discovered that some officers are drawing social security and rent allowances, that there are officers in great difficulties in their own areas and that many of them, so it is reported in the Press, have been moonlighting? Will the Secretary of State comment on the fact that this is gravely demoralising many Service wives and Service families?

Mr. Mulley

I appreciate, and I think we all understand, that there is strong feeling among the Armed Forces that their pay has lagged behind. However, as we all know from our constituency experience, many other sectors also feel that their pay has left them with serious financial problems. But it is totally untrue to say that any member of the Armed Forces is drawing social security benefit, because a condition of such benefit is that one is not in employment. A number are drawing rent and rate rebates, but I remember that when those rebates were introduced by the Conservative Government it was proclaimed that there should be no question of anyone's being ashamed to do so. They are designed particularly to help very large families. Officers and other ranks with large families qualify for the rent and rate rebates. The numbers are about 10 officers and 6,000 men.

I have no information on moonlighting. By definition, we do not have information about how many people do jobs on the side, but I suspect that the practice is not confined to the Armed Forces.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Will my right hon. Friend take into account the fact that when a large number of people are unemployed there is a greater likelihood of young men and women going into the Armed Forces? Will he ensure that when full employment returns the rate of pay for people in the Armed Forces will not create such dissatisfaction that they will want to come out?

Mr. Mulley

It is our object, as soon as conditions permit, to restore the full comparability of the military salary.

Mr. Shersby

Is the Secretary of State aware that a senior aircraftman, married with two children, at RAF Uxbridge, in my constituency, earns only £56.57 per week gross and that after paying tax, rent, national insurance and RAF benevolent fund contributions he receives not more than £34 per week plus £2.50 child benefit? Is that the kind of payment that the Secretary of State feels is right and proper for a senior aircraftman whose job is an integral part of defending this country? If the right hon. Gentleman does not think so, will he do something about it—and do it quickly?

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman will understand that it is for the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to determine these matters. I should be most grateful if he would let me have the details that he read out, together with any supplementary information he may wish to let me have privately about his constituents, because we want them brought to the attention of the Review Body.

Mr. Loyden

In view of the statements made from both sides of the House about members of the Armed Forces not being eligible to join trade unions, and the great disability that this imposes on them, will my right hon. Friend now agree to open up trade union membership and begin negotiations with the Armed Forces about pay?

Mr. Mulley

I am not at all sure that that would solve our problem of dealing with the Armed Forces within the Government's pay policy. On the other hand, I have no objection in principle to the Armed Forces, if they are so minded, seeking such representation.

Sir Ian Gilmour

The right hon Gentleman's ridiculously complacent answers will have done yet further damage to the morale of the Armed Forces. Is he definitely ruling out any interim settlement before next April? Does he realise that unless he takes the shackles off the Armed Forces Pay Review Body a 10 per cent. increase—which I understand is all it is allowed to recommend—will leave the Armed Forces about 30 per cent. behind comparable people in civilian life?

Mr. Mulley

The right hon. Gentleman has enough experience to know that it would be most unwise to predict now what the Review Body might recommend in April. What we are doing is pursuing the matter of Armed Forces pay within Government pay policy, exactly as the right hon. Gentleman did in 1973 and 1974, when he required the Armed Forces to be subject to the then statutory incomes policy.