HC Deb 21 March 1978 vol 946 cc1307-8
9. Mr. Boscawen

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many Service men's families in the United Kingdom are at present receiving means-tested rent rebates.

Dr. Gilbert

About 5,900 Service men in the United Kingdom are in receipt of rebate under the Services' rent and rebate scheme.

Mr. Boscawen

That is absolutely disgraceful. The Secretary of State ought to resign.

Is it not true that the increase in pay which Service men may receive shortly will mean very little after the poverty trap has taken away some of it?

Dr. Gilbert

The hon. Gentleman, unfortunately, was not in the House when I said that Conservative Members should say whether they support pay policy, with the unfortunate consequences that it has had. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body report for 1974 made absolutely clear that it would be out of the question—in fact, patently absurd—to pay all members of the Armed Forces a wage that would suffice to keep them above the eligibility level for rent and rate rebates, for the simple reason that rent and rate rebates are not only a function of social policy but are also related to the size of the Service man's family.

Mr. Litterick

What percentage of the Armed Forces is represented by the figure of 5,900 Service men in receipt of rent rebates? How does it compare with the proportion of the employed population who are also in receipt of means-tested rent rebates?

Dr. Gilbert

With some very quick mental arithmetic, I would say that it is about 1.5 per cent. of Service men. I am not responsible for the other matter raised by my hon. Friend. I am sure that he would want to have considered figures, and I suggest that he tables a Question.

Sir Ian Gilmour

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) said, the figures are disgraceful. May I say, in answer to the Minister's rather absurd rhetorical question, that we do not support any incomes policy that discriminates so outrageously against the Armed Forces.

Dr. Gilbert

It is absolutely scandalous that the right hon. Gentleman should make that sort of allegation at the Dispatch Box. I am glad to see that he has the grace to smile, and I put that on the record. But it is scandalous to suggest that the pay policy has been designed or operated to discriminate against the Armed Forces. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, and I repeat, that the Armed Forces have had the maximum amount possible under two consecutive stages of pay policy. It is not true, as the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) suggests, that other people in the community have done better. Although some people have done better, it is not true to say that everybody else has done better. Many other people in the public service have had no opportunity to benefit from wages drift, overtime or productivity settlements.