HL Deb 23 March 1993 vol 544 cc164-7

2.59 p.m.

The Duke of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many redundancy notices have been served on members of Her Majesty's forces in foreign territories and whether they consider it desirable in such circumstances to ask those servicemen to serve out their remaining time on active duty abroad.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, I am aware that 2,406 personnel have been issued with redundancy notices while serving in overseas countries. All Army redundees can apply to spend the last six months of their service in the UK.

The Duke of Manchester

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. First, if a serviceman is killed during action, is his wife or family entitled to the redundancy and also the lump sum of money which would normally be due to him? Secondly, if he is lucky enough to receive that money and his wife subsequently remarries, would she be entitled to carry on receiving the pension which she would be receiving normally prior to remarriage?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I can tell the noble Duke that the arrangements for widowhood as a result of spouses being killed during the course of action are, we think, generous and would certainly apply in those circumstances. So far as concerns pensions, if a widow remarries and is widowed a second time, she has the ability to apply for a pension. The record shows that over 75 per cent. of those who apply do qualify and receive the pensions that they would have been qualified to receive had they not remarried.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is it not somewhat clumsy and insensitive to serve a redundancy notice on a soldier serving overseas?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I have to say that I had expected the supplementary question of the noble Duke to be more along the lines of that posed by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I am very pleased that my noble friend has enabled me to try to explain the reasoning behind it. It has indeed occasioned a great deal of criticism, not only in the public press but also among Members of your Lordships' House. I think that I should first make it clear that, so far as I am aware, there has been absolutely no criticism from serving members of the forces about the way in which redundancy notices have been served. I am pleased to be able to make that statement, because an enormous amount of trouble has been taken to ensure that it should be done in the most sensitive way possible.

However, I should point out to my noble friend that there are three considerations, above all, that dictate the way in which redundancy notices are served. The first is mobility. The tour length in Yugoslavia, and many of those in Northern Ireland, is only six months. Therefore, it is perfectly possible for an officer to be serving in one theatre when selected for redundancy and in another when notification is made. Secondly, I should point out to my noble friend that the numbers involved are very considerable—between 30,000 and 40,000 officers and soldiers move between operational and non-operational theatres in any one year. The picture is constantly changing. Thirdly, it is only right that people should be treated in exactly the same way no matter where they are serving, as indeed is the case so far as concerns their pay.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, can the Minister please inform the House whether one of the main problems facing soldiers who are made redundant—that of housing—will be carefully considered by the Government? They are not on the housing ladder and, in the past, that has been one of the great problems which they have had to face.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am genuinely extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for raising that question. Housing is one of the principal concerns and one of my principal responsibilities within the Ministry of Defence. An enormous amount of time and trouble has been taken on this matter. As regards redundees, it is important that they should have housing available to them. For that reason, Old Sarum (the Joint Services Housing Office) has been established. I would encourage all redundees to make contact with that office. They are warned to do so before they go.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, bearing in mind the increasing number of calls by the United Nations on military forces to police the trouble spots of the world, why are we continuing with redundancies? There is no questioning the fact that if troops are called for to act on behalf of the United Nations there will be an even greater number of British lads involved to the point where the United Kingdom may be denuded of its own infantry forces. Should not the Government re-appraise the whole situation now and stop this nonsense of reducing our infantry forces?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Dean, said. I also noticed what the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, said in an article in The Times today. As I have said before, if we see that the commitments outweigh the troops available for performing them, we shall re-examine the situation. That is not the case at present.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, my noble friend said that in most cases servicemen would be able to spend the last six months of their service in the United Kingdom. However, can he say whether or not that will be possible as Options for Change begins to bite and as commitments look as though they might expand?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I can reassure my noble friend. As I said in my original Answer, everyone in the Army who wishes can spend the last six months of his service in the United Kingdom.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, can the noble Viscount tell the House how many advertisements for recruits to the Army have been inserted in the press during the past year and what was the cost involved?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I cannot, off the top of my head, say what such costs would be, but I would say to the noble Lady that I make no apology for recruiting advertisements being issued in the press. As she will be well aware, it is important that career structures should be maintained in the Armed Forces. If we do not recruit at the bottom, it will be very difficult to promote people and to keep going the promotional ladder and careers.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the noble Viscount said that he had heard no complaints about the procedure that has been adopted. However, will he perhaps talk to the eight officers who were handed compulsory redundancy notices while on active service in Bosnia? Further, will he perhaps talk to the 36 officers who were handed compulsory redundancy notices in Northern Ireland? Does he really think that that is a proper way for Her Majesty's Government to proceed?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, when I said that there has been no complaints, I include both those categories—that is, including those gallant soldiers who have received compulsory redundancy notices. I should point out that it is only the officers in phase 2 of the redundancy programme who have been made compulsorily redundant. The rest are volunteers. If there are complaints, I should very much like to hear them. I can only repeat that we have not received any complaints so far and that a great deal of trouble has been taken over this programme.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that with the storm clouds beginning to blow up in Russia, as they are in Yugoslavia, Options for Change is beginning to look more and more like "options for chaos and catastrophe"?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I hope that, by implication, my noble friend is not trying to suggest that we should send British soldiers to the former Soviet Union for peace-keeping purposes. I hope that the lessons we learned in the early 1920s will prevent us from doing so.

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