HL Deb 26 November 1985 vol 468 cc791-3

2.50 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why they have reduced the local overseas allowance of Her Majesty's forces in Germany.

The Minister of State for Defence Support (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, local overseas allowance in Germany was adjusted downwards earlier this year because the gap between the cost of living in the United Kingdom and the cost of living in Germany had significantly narrowed. The same review resulted in an increase in LOA in other parts of the world. My noble friend may care to study the Written Answer which I gave on 6th June last, which describes the LOA system in detail.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, is he aware that the average single serviceman in Germany is now £3 a day worse off? Furthermore, is he not worried that we spend so much money on training our highly skilled army only to find servicemen leaving it as a result of the cut in LOA? Is that not a dangerous false economy?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, this was not an economy; it was an adjustment in the allowance arrangement which was no longer justified. However, the point to which my noble friend referred is a proper one. It is the case that the PVR rate has nudged upwards in certain areas recently, but that is as much a result of improved conditions outside the services as of any problems within them.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, with the highest respect to the noble Lord the Minister, who I am sure is doing his best for all the members of the forces, was his not a very unsatisfactory Answer? The Minister made reference to some readjustment because of prices in Germany as compared with prices in the United Kingdom. However, has the Minister taken into account the boring conditions in Germany, the fact that servicemen are tied down there for many months on end, and that the terms, conditions and environs in Germany are quite different from those at home? Sometimes there are also considerable transport difficulties for servicemen who want to pay a visit to the United Kingdom. Are all those considerations taken into account? They are factual and not imaginary aspects. Will the noble Lord the Minister try to persuade his right honourable friends in the Treasury—if such is possible at all, at any time—to reconsider the situation and give the members of our forces the conditions to which they are entitled?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I hasten to agree with the noble Lord that we want to provide the very best possible conditions of service for the members of our armed forces, and the Government have a good record in that regard. We are constantly seeking to improve the various terms and conditions of the allowances which they have. For example, I was recently able to announce the provision of the third school children's visit—a matter which had greatly concerned members of the armed forces living in Germany and elsewhere. That will result in an improvement of, say, £200 a year for those serving in Cyprus, for example, and rather more for those serving further afield. All of that has to be done within the context of what can be generally afforded.

As far as local overseas allowance is concerned, the adjustment of that allowance was the result of the fact that the cost of living in Germany is no longer higher by a significant margin than it is in the United Kingdom.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, if I may put another question with your Lordships' permission, I ask the Government to cut down a little on their fantastic ideas about space wars and satellite battles, and all the rest of it, which are purely imaginary and which are never likely to happen, and instead give to the people in the forces the conditions to which they are entitled and for which they were recruited.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can only say again that I entirely agree with the noble Lord that we have a need and a duty to provide the members of our armed forces with the very best possible terms and conditions, obviously within the resources we can make available. We have a very good record in that regard. As a matter of fact, the total annual bill for allowances of all kinds in the armed forces is something of the order of £600 million a year. That is a figure of which we can be proud.

Lord Alport

My Lords, can my noble friend quantify his phrase "nudged upwards", preferably by rank?

Lord Trefgarne

Not without notice, my Lords, because the rates vary according to the different categories. The area where perhaps the greatest concern is being shown is that of technically qualified officers, where naturally the rewards and opportunities outside the armed forces are particularly great.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, is it not the case that the reductions in Germany have had some effect on morale? Is it not precisely within that sphere to which the Minister has just referred that effects have been felt upon morale? Is it not the case that there have been significant disparities as between the ranks in the reductions and the effects of the reductions? If that is the case, can the Minister provide details—not necessarily immediately but in the form of a table—showing the effects of those disparities?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is certainly the cast that the adjustments to LOA did bear differently on different ranks and different categories, particularly as regards single and married men. But as regards the latter category, the effect of the cost of living of course bears differently.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, does my noble friend realise that basically the problem is with the young, unmarried soldier? On the last visit which some members of the defence group made, it was only servicemen in that category who had any gripes at all; all the married servicemen were perfectly happy.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is the case that the young, unmarried soldier receives hardly any LOA; the rate is just about zero at the moment. But, then, the increased expenses which he incurs are minimal as well, because he does not have a wife or family.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how the allowances and pay of British troops in Germany compare with those of the other troops there?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not have those figures before me, but I shall see what I can discover and let the noble Lord know.

Lord Carver

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister confirm that commanding officers were given all the necessary information in order to explain to the troops under their command this perfectly reasonable adjustment?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for that intervention. Commanding officers were certainly given all the information that they could have needed for this purpose. However, I have to confess that some of the information was not given to them as quickly as it might have been. We are seeing what we can do to overcome that in the future.