HC Deb 27 June 1978 vol 952 cc1196-8
6. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what advice was given by higher authorities to Service men against their wives attending the parliamentary lobby on pay.

Mr. Mulley

The Ministry of Defence has issued no such advice. I should like to make it clear that Service wives are completely free to speak in public, write to the Press or contact their Members of Parliament and that any anxieties about possible retaliation against their husbands are completely groundless.

Mr. Wall

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Is he aware that wives alleged that pressure was put on their husbands to advise them not to attend? Will he make it clear to commanding officers that wives have the right to lobby Parliament or to visit Members of Parliament on any matter they choose, Service pay included?

Mr. Mulley

We have made the position absolutely clear throughout. Indeed, from the number of letters that right hon. and hon. Members have sent to me there does not appear to be any great inhibition—rightly so—on the part of wives. Indeed, there is no reason why Service men themselves cannot contact their Members of Parliament.

Mr. James Lamond

Is not the rather pathetic sight of Service men's wives coming here to lobby Parliament, appearing on television or writing to the Press on behalf of their husbands another clear indication that it would be far more sensible if we regularised the position and allowed Service men to take part in negotiations about their own wages? Is it not time that we encouraged them to join a proper trade union?

Mr. Mulley

I am not at all sure that my hon. Friend's suggestion would entirely remove the problems. Although I firmly believe that the Government's pay policy has been absolutely essential to the economic recovery of the nation, nevertheless I know that many of my constituents and others who are in trade unions are not totally satisfied with their pay settlements. I do not necessarily think, therefore, that the matter would have been resolved in this way.

Rear- Admiral Morgan-Giles

Does the Secretary of State think that it was or was not a pity that no Members from the Labour Party were present to hear the views of the Service wives?

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

That is untrue.

Mr. Mulley

I read in the Press about arrangements for such a lobby, but until late in the afternoon I had no intimation that the wives wished to see me. Certainly I would not have thought of visiting them without prior notice. I have written to several of the wives concerned. If they had intimated their desire to see me, I would naturally have tried to rearrange my programme, but we had no intimation that they desired any such interview. Frankly, I have other things to do than just sit in the Central Lobby in the expectation that somebody might want to see me.

Mr. Ron Thomas

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that, whereas many working people are dissatisfied with pay policy, it is difficult to find another example where they have to send their wives here to lobby Members of Parliament? I urge my right hon. Friend once again that the only way to deal with the problem is by effective trade union organisation and effective collective bargaining to look after the pay and, indeed, the working conditions of the workers and technicians in uniform.

Mr. Mulley

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for again making quite clear his views on this subject. I do not happen to think that the particular problems we had with regard to pay would have been easily resolved. Other problems could have arisen. As I have said, one of the difficulties is that I am not at all sure that the Armed Forces are at present anxious to join trade unions, but this is obviously a problem which we must look at in the longer term.