HC Deb 24 February 1987 vol 111 cc130-1
13. Mr. Allen McKay

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on morale in the armed services.

Mr. Freeman

Morale in the armed services remains high.

Mr. McKay

Will the Minister then say why it is that there are cuts in recruitment to the Royal Navy and cuts in expenditure on the Royal Navy and why it is that middle officer personnel are leaving the Royal Navy? Will this not reduce the operational effectiveness of the Royal Navy?

Mr. Freeman

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there has been a significant increase—approximately 20 per cent. in real terms — in expenditure on the armed services since the fiscal year 1978–79. That has involved a substantial amount of re-equipment, including re-equipment for the Royal Navy. As for the premature voluntary retirement figures, which are often cited as a symptom of morale, those figures in the Royal Navy have stabilised and the trend is down.

Mr. Sackville

Does my hon. Friend agree that nothing could depress the morale either of our armed forces or anybody else in this country who is interested in defence more than the plans of the Opposition to abolish Trident, the nuclear deterrent, and to leave this country vulnerable to nuclear blackmail?

Mr. Freeman

I agree with my hon. Friend. The figures for PVR applications, as opposed to exits, in the last year of the Labour Government were almost twice as high as the rate today.

Mr. Duffy

Does the Minister not think that morale in the Royal Navy must suffer when, given the mining threat, they see that little more than half the minesweepers and minehunters that were ordered under the £1 billion modernisation programme are likely to come on stream by the 1995 deadline, given the curbs on defence spending?

Mr. Freeman

This Administration has ordered many more ships in the same period of time than did the last Labour Government. As for recruitment to the Royal Navy, we continue to meet our targets.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Minister not agree that while the PVR rates may have stabilised, they have stabilised at the lowest figure since the mid-1970s, when unemployment was considerably lower than it is now, and that there is little incentive for those individuals who wish to remain in the Royal Navy to do so, given the unpleasantness that much of their work pattern is forcing upon them?

Mr. Freeman

I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. Indeed, I am not sure what the direct correlation is between the rate of PVR applications and exits and the level of unemployment.

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