HC Deb 25 April 1978 vol 948 cc1155-7
3. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will increase the number of soldiers in the British Army of the Rhine.

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

The manpower establishment of BAOR is kept under regular review. No decision to increase it has been taken.

Mr. Townsend

Is the Minister aware of the widespread feeling in BAOR that units are being asked to do more with fewer men? Will he confirm that some soldiers have been doing a 70-hour week, and that BAOR has specifically asked for an extra 2,500 men?

Mr. Brown

I am not prepared to comment on reports of this nature on the number of soldiers that BAOR has or has not requested, or to disclose what proposals may or may not have been made.

Mr. Grocott

Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to cost this and other proposals from the Opposition for increased defence expenditure? Will he give some estimate of what would be the effect on taxation of these additional costs?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. In fact, the Opposition are screaming for cuts in public expenditure all the time. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) is giving commitments which would cost goodness knows how many thousands of millions of pounds.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Since it is well known that large numbers of tanks have had to be put into mothballs because there are not enough men in BAOR to man them, how can the Under-Secretary dare to give such a complacent answer to my hon. Friend's Question? What is the Under-Secretary doing to remedy this disasterous situation?

Mr. Brown

On the main question, I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Stretford on 17th April. If I were to spend time in replying to speculative Press reports with the hand of the hon. Member for Stretford behind them, I would be doing little or nothing else.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Since I know for a fact that those tanks have been put in mothballs, how can the Under-Secretary dare to atempt to deny that that is so?

Mr. Brown

Because the right hon. Gentleman well knows, since he held the senior office of Secretary of State for Defence in the last Tory Government, that this is not the sort of information that we discuss publicly.

5. Mr. Goodhew

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received regarding the non-eligibility for social security benefits of members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces serving in Germany.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

I am not aware of any formal representations on this matter, but I know that there has been concern in the Services. While this is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, since the relevant regulations apply to Service men and civilians alike, discussions have been held between this Department and DHSS since last year.

Mr. Goodhew

In that case, the hon. Gentleman must be aware that, although they pay United Kingdom income tax and, indeed, national insurance contributions, the members of the Armed Forces in Germany are not eligible for any social security benefits. Is not the Under-Secretary aware that there are many families whose tour has some time to go when a son finishes school, and he is suddenly unable to obtain employment in Germany, and cannot come home without his family, and has no social security benefits. What is the Under-Secretary doing about that?

Mr. Brown

I have already indicated that we have had discussions with the DHSS on the matter. The question of eligibility for benefits is not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Churchill

Will the Minister explain why Forces in Germany, for example, have been charged full earnings-related national insurance contributions when they cannot derive the benefits? They cannot get the family income supplement. If they have teenage children of 16 or 17 who have just left school, they cannot draw unemployment benefit. This is doing the forces out of tens of pounds per week for which they would otherwise be eligible.

Mr. Brown

The discussions are mainly concerned with family income supplement, unemployment benefit and supplementary benefit. The first two are payable to the dependants in Germany only under restrictive conditions. The third item, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, is not payable at all.