HL Deb 07 December 1971 vol 326 cc676-80

2.37 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether members of the Forces engaged in Ulster are regarded as on active service and receive additional payment.]


My Lords, Servicemen's duties in Ulster are part of their normal terms and conditions of service. They are not regarded as on active service and receive no extra pay and allowances for service in Ulster; nor would extra payments be made if they were declared as on active service.


My Lords, if these men are not on active service, may I ask the noble Earl how he defines their service? Is he aware when our Forces were in Aden, where the situation was far less tragic and difficult than it is in Ulster, and where the amenities were far better than they are in Ulster—for example, in accommodation and, also, in the assistance of the NAAFI, which is not available in Ulster—the men received the standard overseas allowance? Ought not something to be done for our Forces in Ulster? If, for technical reasons, they cannot receive the standard overseas allowance which is payable when men are overseas, why cannot they be given some ex gratia payment?


My Lords, to answer the noble Lord's first question, they are not in fact on active service; they are at present engaged in assisting the Civil Power. With regard to the noble Lord's last point, he will be aware that a different scale and system of pay came into operation in April of this year. Under this scale an X factor is included, which takes account of the peculiar circumstances of men in the Armed Services compared with those in civilian life.


My Lords, is not the situation in Ulster unique in our history? Can the noble Earl inform your Lordships' House whether there has ever been any similar situation, when men have been engaged in service of this character which is defined as "assisting the authorities to maintain order"? Surely this is something unique and ought to be treated as such.


Yes, my Lords. I think that it probably is unique in this respect; but whether it is or not completely unique is of course a matter of history. In fact, the conditions of pay and service under which the Forces in Ireland are operating at the moment are those which have only recently come into use. As I said earlier, this change has been made only during the last 12 months.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that this problem of active service is one that has confronted us in the past? Is he also aware that for a long time our troops in Aden were not on active service, and it was only in the final stages, after there had been actual open battles, that the change was made? None the less, is the noble Earl aware that the X factor is not intended to cover a specific issue of this sort, and that it is a general factor? May I therefore ask the noble Earl whether he will bring my noble friend's Question, and the various answers, to the attention of the Secretary of State?


Of course, my Lords. I will certainly bring the noble Lord's observations, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, to the attention of my noble friend the Secretary of State. But I am bound to say that I am advised that the only effect of declaring a state of active service is that the Force Commander's powers are increased, and a court-martial can inflict the death penalty for certain offences under the Army Act. It does not mean that those on active service will receive any higher remuneration.


My Lords, speaking as the father of one of the boys referred to in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell—who is in Northern Ireland not for the first time, and who is, I believe, serving in the noble Lord's old regiment—may I ask the noble Earl whether the Government will seriously consider additional emoluments of some sort, if only to reduce parental contributions?


My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord's question does not have a slightly different slant from that posed by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. But I will certainly convey his opinions to my noble friend.


My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the increases in pay earlier this year, to which he referred, were intended mainly to bring about better recruitment and to bring the forces up to the level of what they might earn in civil employment? Does he further agree that the job being carried out by Servicemen in Ulster is probably far more difficult than it was in the Cyprus situation? There is some disquiet in the country, and will my noble friend undertake to look into this matter and make a Statement at a future date?


Yes, my Lords, I will certainly bring my noble friend's observations to the attention of my noble friend. I would agree with him entirely that when the new military salary scale came into operation it was in order to bring the remuneration of the people in the Armed Forces in some degree into line with those in civilian employment. But on top of that was added an X factor which was in fact supposed to take into account the peculiar circumstances which anyone who accepts work in the Army is bound to entertain. However, I would entirely agree with my noble friend that the people who are at the moment serving in Ulster are having a quite unique and a most distressing time.


My Lords, would the Minister not say that this is extra active service in the light of the fact that our soldiers in Northern Ireland do not know who is their friend or who is their enemy?


I entirely agree, my Lords, that the work of the soldiers in Northern Ireland is in this respect quite unique.


My Lords, will the Minister consider recommending to the Secretary of State the payment of special danger money on top of the ordinary payments which the Servicemen are getting?


My Lords, I think that that point was considered some time ago. The noble Lord will remember that the new military salary payment was in fact originally suggested by the Prices and Incomes Board, and that it was accepted by the previous Government and by this Government; and when that decision was made the possibility of what is described, I think, as combat pay was considered and, for a variety of reasons, was rejected.


My Lords, will the noble Earl say whether or not the dependants of soldiers killed in Northern Ireland are entitled to pensions, or, if they are not on active service, whether they are not so entitled?


My Lords, there is the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act, which is a Northern Ireland Act, and which is civilian legislation, of which troops or their dependants may take advantage. They may claim from the Government of Northern Ireland, in the courts, for relatives who have been killed or, indeed, for themselves if they have been maimed.


My Lords, is the noble Earl not aware that anybody killed or injured in circumstances which are attributable to service is entitled to an appropriate pension? This applies in peace or war, provided it is attributable to service. Perhaps I may ask the noble Earl to look at this matter again, because there are other defects in what he has said which I will not take up the time of the House in looking at now.


My Lords, would it not also be appropriate, in the case of those who are killed in Ulster, for the rule to be changed so that estate duty should be remitted when these lives are prematurely shortened?


My Lords, under the Finance Act 1952, I think it is, those who are killed through warlike acts do not have to pay death duties or estate duty.


My Lords, may I say to the noble Earl that, in view of the unsatisfactory answer I have received, for which I do not blame the noble Earl, I shall await events and raise the matter again on some other occasion.


My Lords, in order that we might understand this matter a little better, can the Minister explain what is the difference between something which is unique and something which is completely unique?


My Lords, I think there has been an unmistakable and understandable concern expressed in your Lordships' House about the conditions of service of our troops in Northern Ireland at the present time. My noble friend has said that he will pass on to my noble friend the Secretary of State for Defence the very strong views expressed. I think we should leave it there now, but, of course, this is a matter of deep concern to us, and noble Lords may well wish to revert to it at another time.