HC Deb 30 October 1990 vol 178 cc859-60
8. Mr. Watson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what consideration he has given to the pay and conditions of United Kingdom service men and women in the Gulf.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

My right hon. Friend has already announced measures that will ensure that no service men or women will suffer a net reduction in pay and allowances as a result of service in the Gulf. Many of our service personnel in the Gulf are living in difficult conditions, but I am satisfied that the services are doing their very best to ensure that the general welfare and morale of our troops is maintained.

Mr. Watson

It is noticeable that the goalposts have shifted since 18 October. On that date the Minister said in a written reply that no one serving with the forces in the Gulf would lose out financially as a result of that service. We hear now that that relates only to pay and conditions. Are not service personnel in the Gulf obliged to pay an additional loading on life assurance premiums, most of which they are obliged to meet out of their own resources? Should not it be the case that no person serving with the forces in the Gulf is out of pocket financially? Should not the Minister deal urgently with the matter?

Mr. Hamilton

Service men are faced with additional life assurance premiums, but the vast bulk of the money is now being found by the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Colvin

Will my hon. Friend confirm the high morale among both service men and British civilians employed on defence contracts in the Gulf? Will he further confirm, as he will have understood from his visit to the Gulf, that military personnel there say that, if it came to a war, they would rather be attacked by chemical weapons than by conventional weapons because of the highly efficient state of our nuclear, biological and chemical equipment that provides protection against chemical warfare? I have learnt that that equipment is the envy of our American allies.

Mr. Hamilton

I must confess that I did not find any service men who made a comparison between wanting to be attacked by chemical weapons or by conventional weapons. I suspect that if it came to a war, they would be in danger of being attacked by both sorts of weapons. The morale of the service men whom I met was very high. I found that they had great confidence in the NBC clothing and equipment that we provided. They regard it as being some of the best equipment available in the world to any soldiers. As for civilian employees, I was told by the Saudis that they were encouraged by the support that they were getting, particularly from the employees of British Aerospace.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister accept that I shall try to put this issue very gently to him? I accept that no service men will be worse off, in net terms, but yesterday I had a telephone call from the wife of a naval service man. She said that her husband and others are severely stretched financially, to the extent that some of the naval personnel are giving blood for money in order to be able to telephone home from the Gulf. That is disturbing and I trust that the Minister will investigate all the circumstances that are imposing onerous burdens on our service men in the Gulf.

Mr. Hamilton

Our initial concern was that people would be worse off as a result of moving from Germany to the Gulf and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has ensured that that will not happen. On general rates of pay in the Navy, on the whole the Armed Forces Pay Review Body addresses that problem and ensures that rates in all three services are comparable with civilian rates of pay. That is a much bigger issue and is addressed every year by the AFPRB.

Mr. Conway

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the field conditions applying to the service men in the Gulf would apply in any case if they remained in Germany and were out on exercise? That being so, will my hon. Friend assure the House that their families will not suffer the loss of the local overseas allowance, which may otherwise be the case?

Mr. Hamilton

The local overseas allowance payable in Germany reflects the higher cost of living that people have to bear as a result of being in Germany. That higher cost of living does not apply in Saudi Arabia. It is, therefore, sensible to phase out the local overseas allowance only when people move to an area where the costs are not so high. Having said that, many of those who have moved were previously paying accommodation and food charges which, under field conditions, they do not have to pay. That is why we have taken the overall question to assess whether, in terms of net take-home pay, they are worse off than they were before and we are ensuring that they will not be.