HC Deb 24 January 1978 vol 942 cc1166-9
12. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if, in view of increasing concern over the low levels of Service men's pay, he will take steps to increase Service pay.

Mr. Mulley

Service pay will be increased from 1st April next, after consideration of whatever recommendations the Review Body on Armed Forces Pay makes.

Mr. Townsend

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the recent firemen's strike brought home to everyone the disgracefully low rates of pay of Service men, especially bearing in mind their technical ability, their long hours of work and their importance not only to the Government but to the country as a whole?

Mr. Mulley

Awareness of the fact that the Services have slipped behind in comparability terms was underlined by recent events, although it was reported on by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body in its report covering the previous two years. We cannot depart from the anniversary of the last pay award without breaching the 12-month rule, and, therefore, no pay increase is possible before 1st April.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is considerable dissatisfaction about pay in far wider groups than merely the Services and that the method of setting this right is usually trade unions? Would he not agree, therefore, that it is time that the Armed Forces had trade unions and free collective bargaining?

Mr. Mulley

As I have explained before, I do not think that trade union organisation of the Armed Forces would assist us in these problems. There are, of course, special circumstances in the Services which would lead to additional problems. My hon. Friend should understand that one of the reasons why the Services do not want trade unions is that many of those who advocate unions also advocate substantial reductions in defence expenditure, which would lead to redundancies in the Armed Forces.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us who have a good deal of respect and affection for him regret his unwillingness to give evidence to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body? Is he aware that there are difficulties in the Services, as some of my hon. Friends and I have found out, and that large numbers of young married men who have served our country well are contemplating leaving the Services unless the Review Body's report gives them a fair deal? Will he put his personal authority, which I respect, behind the demand that our Armed Forces should be paid very much more than they are getting at present?

Mr. Mulley

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his kind personal references. I know from the correspondence that we have had of the difficult financial circumstances of some of his Service constituents, but it would be wrong for me to seek an invitation from the Pay Review Body because it is an independent body. It was unfairly criticised in some quarters last year, and I do not wish to take any step which might make it appear that we are trying to interfere with its independence. The right time for ministerial intervention is when the Review Body has made its report.

Mr. Churchill

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Armed Forces and the whole country will warmly welcome the fact that he has completely changed his previous mistaken position in regard to the desirability of trade unions in the Armed Forces? Will he give a personal undertaking that the Armed Forces will be treated no less favourably than the firemen for whom they stood in so courageously?

Mr. Mulley

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I have in no way changed my views about trade unions or trade union organisation of the Armed Forces. If he cares to compare my answer with that which I gave last time, he will see no substantial difference. On his second point, it would be unwise and certainly improper to anticipate the report of a body which has not yet formulated any recommendations.

19. Miss Fookes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence by how much the pay of Service men and women has increased since February 1974; and how this compares with the average pay of people employed in civilian life.

Mr. Mulley

Average earnings statistics are not a suitable basis for comparing Service and civilian pay. I did, nevertheless, provide information relating the pay of representative Service ranks to average earnings of full-time male workers for a reply to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on 1st December last and to which I would refer the hon. Lady.

Miss Fookes

In the absence of actual figures this afternoon, may I impress upon the Secretary of State that the Services feel strongly that they are dropping far behind their civilian counterparts and are rapidly losing faith in the Armed Forces Pay Review Body?

Mr. Mulley

I think that it would be unfair for them to criticise the Review Body, because it was not possible, in its view, to give detailed figures last year. I am sure the hon. Lady appreciates that the discrepancies will vary quite substantially as between different ranks and different trades. It is only by a comparison of the civil earnings of counterparts of Service men that we can learn the extent to which they have fallen behind. For that reason, average earnings could give a misleading picture.

Mr. Ioan Evans

When my right hon. Friend is reviewing Service men's pay, will he consider giving a higher rise to the lower ranks, a lower rise to the higher ranks and no rise at all to the top ranks?

Mr. Mulley

I think my hon. Friend will be aware that the top ranks in the Services, together with top civil servants and others, have been severely restricted. An indication is that the pay of Members of Parliament and Ministers has been restricted. It will be for the Review Body to consider that aspect along with the others.

Sir Ian Gilmour

The Secretary of State has referred to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. As both he and his right hon. Friend the Minister of State have made it clear that the Review Body is bound by the Government's guidelines, will he say in what respect the Review Body is independent?

Mr. Mulley

The Review Body is free to publish a report giving all the considerations that it deems relevant. It has been asked by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to pay regard to the Government's pay policy. It must be expected that any ministerial outcome must be within the pay guidelines.