HL Deb 07 February 1980 vol 404 cc1497-9

3.10 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the ratio of the pay of a Marshal to that of a private soldier, or conscript, of the Soviet Army; and how this compares with the equivalent ratio in the British Army.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I understand that a Marshal in the Soviet Army receives about 50 times the pay of a regular private and about 240 times the pay of a conscript soldier. A Field Marshal in the British Army receives in gross pay about nine times more than the lowest paid private.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his most remarkable Answer. May I ask him whether he is aware that this means that the Russian conscript gets about 50p a week. As he is being paid for slave labour, it is little wonder that the Russian Army is so big. With regard to regulars, who therefore receive about £3 a week, would my noble friend be prepared to ask the International Labour Organisation—one of whose objects, among others, is the conditions of pay around the world and upon whose executive council the Russians have a seat—whether they will look into this gross exploitation of labour in order to man the Russian peace-time army?

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. I have a feeling, though, that he is going a little wide of the original Question. It is difficult to draw any comparison between the pay of British and Russian soldiers and their conditions of service since the structure of the two armies is very different. Moreover, the official exchange rate does not give a realistic reflection of the purchasing power of the rouble. If, however, the noble Lord pressed me for a figure, I should have to say that at present rates of exchange a Field Marshal is paid almost double the salary of a Marshal in the Soviet Army, and that the lowest paid British private earns approximately 50 times more than a conscript in the Russian Army and 10 times more than a Russian soldier who has volunteered for regular service. But I must emphasise that such direct comparisons should be treated with caution. With regard to the International Labour Organisation, I must inform my noble friend that this organisation is outside military matters and that therefore I am unable to answer that particular part of his question.


My Lords, while not agreeing at all with the sins of omission of the Soviets, and whether or not Russian soldiers are slaves, may I say that millions of us were grateful to them at Stalingrad when they died in their millions in those days fighting for this side of the world?

Viscount LONG

Yes, my Lords, I agree with the noble Lord in what he says about those days, but not about the present moment.


My Lords, will my noble friend seek some way of drawing these figures to the attention of those who still believe that the Soviet Union represents an egalitarian Utopia?

Viscount LONG

Yes, my Lords; I will draw attention to my noble friend's question. But we are still a little worried about how much money our own soldiers are being paid at the moment.


My Lords, I am sure the Minister would agree that, in view of these interesting and very egalitarian figures, it might be well worth recruiting in the Soviet Union!

Viscount LONG

Yes, my Lords!


My Lords, we have to take into account that pay is not the only consideration. There are such things as allowances. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, looks like all amateurs who have completely ignored the fact that allowances, because they are not taxable, are very often much more important than pay. If one is going to make any comparison, at least it should be done competently by someone who understands what he is talking about.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, one is talking of privileges and comparisons. The two categories of senior party members and important military officers in the Soviet Union often overlap. They enjoy many privileges, including free medical services and free housing, and special prices for consumer goods in the shops. This is on top of the wage they get. That is one of the reasons why it is difficult to draw a direct comparison between the two armies.


My Lords, is not the real truth the fact that the original Question was below the level of the intelligence of this House?

Viscount LONG

No, my Lords. It was, if I may say so, a very important Question.