HC Deb 13 February 1979 vol 962 cc933-5
1. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the state of Great Britain's national defences.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

Britain's defences are based on the collective effort of the North Atlantic Alliance. There is no evidence to suggest that the Alliance's policies of defence and deterrence do not remain fully capable of preserving the security of all its members.

Mr. Jessel

In view of the massive growth in the potential of the Russian forces, when will the Government strengthen the morale of our own Armed Services by honouring their pledge to bring the Forces' pay to proper comparability levels?

Mr. Mulley

The pay day for the Armed Services is 1 April. It is the Government's intention fully to honour the undertakings given last year to restore full comparability in two roughly equal stages this year and next.

Mr. Crawshaw

Is not my right hon. Friend being a little complacent on this issue? In view of the continual buildup of the Eastern bloc, does he not agree that the greatest danger to the peace of the world lies not in our having arms, but in our not having them in sufficient numbers to deter aggression from anybody who thinks in that way?

Mr. Mulley

I accept my hon. Friend's great interest and concern in these matters. However, I am sure that he will agree that today no nation is able to secure its own safety by its own efforts. That is why we are—and have been—in the North Atlantic Alliance. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not wish us to change that posture. We make a substantial and important contribution to that alliance.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Will the Secretary of State confirm that from 1 April the Forces will he paid not only the first instalment that he mentioned but the full comparability element for the rise in civilian earnings which occurred in the current year?

Mr. Mulley

We have frequently made this clear and given that assurance. Half of the arrears will be paid fully updated in the light of the recommendations that we are due to receive from the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which alone can evaluate the movement of the comparators.

Mr. Grocott

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in a recent answer to me he said that every man, woman and child contributed the equivalent of £125 a year to our defence costs? This represents about £10 per week for the average family. Does he think that this is good value for money? Has he made any estimate of how much each family would pay if he acceded to the numerous requests for increased expenditure being made by the Opposition?

Mr. Mulley

I am in some difficulty in answering my hon. Friend. We have not been given any indication of what spending, if any, the Opposition would advocate. We hear suggestions of vast increases in defence expenditure, unspecified in the same breath as calls for vast reductions in public expenditure generally. That is a problem which I have never yet been able to solve.

Sir Ian Gilmour

In view of the continuing drain of skilled men from the Armed Forces and the importance of keeping up their morale, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that 14½ per cent., which is what The Guardian today reports Whitehall sources as saying is the kind of sum the Forces can expect, would not come anywhere near meeting the Government's inadequate pledge of last year? Does he agree that if the present outward public posture of the Government on pay is taken at its face value, about 20 per cent. will be the bare minimum that they should expect?

Mr. Mulley

It is difficult, without the completion of the normal operations of the review body, to give a percentage. The 14½ per cent. arises because 5 per cent. has been added to 9½ per cent. I made clear, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last year, that the two stages to comparability would be fully updated. Already, as their pay dates came earlier in the round, similar commitments to the police and firemen have been fully honoured.

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