HC Deb 21 November 1978 vol 958 cc1078-81
10. Mr. David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current recruiting target for 1978 for the Army; and how successful it has been to date in meeting that target.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Since April this year, the Army has recruited some 15,000 men and women. This figure shows an increase over the corresponding figure for last year of about 2,000 and reflects a significantly increased target for 1978–79. The numbers recruited nevertheless fall short of this target. It has never been the practice to give details of recruiting targets.

Mr. Price

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best "recruiting sergeants" for the Army are the current serving officers and men, and the extent to which they are satisfied or dissatisfied with their current terms of service is reflected in the recruiting figures?

Mr. Brown

I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman has said. Conditions of service are extremely important. The Government have already recognised the Armed Forces as a special case as regards pay awards. A forward commitment was made in April 1978 to restore the full updated military salary in two approximately equal stages by April 1980. That means that the award on 1st April 1979 will be substantial.

Mr. Woodall

Is my hon. Friend aware that young people are marrying much earlier, and that for the young married man who joins the Army there is the additional problem of the payment of the child benefit to his wife? Unlike his civilian counterpart, the benefit cannot go to the mother direct but has to be paid through the soldier's pay. Will my hon. Friend give consideration to this problem and ascertain whether he can make arrangements for soldiers' wives— especially when the husbands are serving overseas— to receive child benefit direct as in civilian life?

Mr. Brown

That matter has not been brought to my attention before. It is an interesting matter and I undertake to give it consideration.

Mr. Goodhart

As recruiting is directly related to pay and conditions, how will the Government's 5 per cent. pay policy be related this year to the Armed Forces?

Mr. Brown

The forward commitment that the Government gave this year was specific. The forward commitment was to recover the 18 per cent. short fall in two years plus whatever is the going rate. I am not privy to what the Armed Forces Pay Review Body will recommend to the Prime Minister in March 1979. We shall all have to wait and see what the board recommends before there can be any announcement.

Mr. Ron Thomas

Is my hon. Friend aware that the only real way to deal with conditions in the Services is to encourage trade union organisation in the Armed Forces and the setting up of effective collective bargaining machinery?

Mr. Brown

That is becoming a hackneyed question. We encourage those in the Services to join trade unions so that they are ready to establish themselves in civilian employment at the end of their service. Beyond that we have no evidence that there is great demand for trade unions in the Armed Forces.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the good recruiting figures, welcome though they are, are no adequate substitute for the many trained and skilled men who are leaving the Army and the other Armed Forces? Does his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regard this as another one of his greatest achievements, or does he intend, at last, to do something to stop the disastrous exodus?

Mr. Brown

The facts are as the right hon. Gentleman has conceded. Recruiting figures have risen considerably this year. We are still short of target because of the increase in strength of 6,000 men for the Army announced earlier in the year by my right hon. Friend. Furthermore, we concede that more people have left the Army by PVR than we consider desirable. The forward commitment of the Government on pay and conditions will, I am sure, have a stabilising effect. When next April comes and the Armed Forces realise that the Government have made a firm commitment and are carrying it out, I am sure that the situation will improve still further.

Sir Ian Gilmour

What is the good of the hon. Gentleman saying that the forward commitment is having a stabilising effect when he knows that the exodus is continuing and that there is no stabilising effect?

Mr. Brown

I said that the pay award this year has had the effect of bringing about an improvement. When the Armed Forces realise next year that the Government have given a firm commitment to the Armed Forces and that they intend to honour it, we shall see a vast improvement.