HL Deb 13 June 1994 vol 555 cc1433-6

2.58 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, with some regret 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: Who appoints the Royal Air Force Pay Review Board, what is their definition of "performance pay", and what consultants they have hired to help them in considering it.

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

My Lords, the Armed Forces Pay Review Body and the Senior Salaries Review Body are appointed by the Prime Minister. In asking whether performance pay could be applied to the armed forces, we have in mind a concept in which the remuneration of individuals or groups is linked to an assessment of their performance. The choice of management consultants to assist the review bodies with their work is a matter for them.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that helpful beginning of an Answer. I have two supplementary questions. I know that it is wrong, but I hope the House will forgive me. How do the Government relate the concept of performance pay to the ancient and highly efficient practice of promotion from rank to rank? The second question is this: are these pay boards themselves subject to performance pay reviews and, if so, how is their performance judged and by whom?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I shall take the noble Lord's second supplementary question first; it is always a difficult question to answer: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Appointment to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body is, as I am sure the noble Lord well knows, an extremely carefully considered matter in which the remit is clear and in which a broad range of experience is sought for the appointees.

As far as the question of promotion and rank is concerned, I have no wish in any way to be unhelpful to your Lordships, but the way in which the review bodies approach their work is a matter entirely for them. The noble Lord may raise his eyebrows at me, but I have to advise your Lordships that one of the virtues of having an independent pay review body is that the Ministry of Defence has very little influence on what its deliberations may take into account.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, the practice of performance pay began in industry —did it not?—and it was at the instigation of government that it moved to the Civil Service, the police and now to the armed services. So may I assume that by natural progression the next step will be performance-related pay for Ministers?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, among many other things, the noble Lord was a most distinguished Home Secretary, and he will know as well as I do whether or not such a thing will be desirable. As far as the armed forces are concerned, the jury is well and truly out on performance-related pay, and far be it from me to speculate, even in your Lordships' House, on what the review body will recommend. As I said to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, some weeks ago, that body suggested that the matter should be examined in its last annual report, and therefore, it is doing so.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most important personal qualities in the armed forces is leadership? Does he also agree that in the chiefs of staff and the senior commanders in the armed forces the Minister and the Government have available to them, at no extra cost to the taxpayer, the very best possible advice on leadership? Is it true that the Minister believes that promotion is not the best way of rewarding performance in the armed forces?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I always answer probing questions from the noble and gallant Lord with due diffidence in view of his extraordinary experience in these matters, which is infinitely greater than mine will ever be. My clear impression is that a number of jobs are held by people of equivalent rank, some of which are more onerous than others. It is within that rank that perhaps we have to consider whether there are other ways of recognising that additional responsibility. I take no position on the question of whether performance-related pay is the right way to go about it, but I look forward to the report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body on this subject with as much keen anticipation as the noble and gallant Lord.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, will the noble Viscount at least assure the House that the pay of front-line troops will not: be related to performance? Does he agree that the motivation of servicemen differs from that of civilians and owes a lot more to things like tradition, morale, discipline and loyalty? The Government do not seem to acknowledge that difference or to understand the reasons why our armed forces are so well respected at home and abroad.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, particularly when one considers the works of such major writers on the subject that he has just addressed as, for instance, John Keegan, who in a number of books has tried to address the question of why people fight. I wholly agree with the noble Lord that ethos is very important and is probably the determining factor. I must reiterate that the Government's position is that they have an open mind on this question.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, following my noble friend's replies, should not the term "performance pay" be changed to something more appropriate where the armed forces are concerned, otherwise it will become a target for levity and for such light-hearted questions as whether sergeant-majors should be assessed by the volume and ripeness of their utterances on the parade ground or whether women who get pregnant should be given double compensation if they produce twins?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, my noble friend tempts me strangely in trying to draw comparisons between the performance of sergeant-majors and women in their production of, on the one side, volume and, on the other, children. Clear reservations have been expressed in your Lordships' House both today and on a previous occasion as well as in parts of the armed forces and, indeed, outside, as to how performance pay might be applied. I can only reiterate to your Lordships —I am sorry to repeat myself—that, if noble Lords would care to look at paragraph 40 of the last report by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, they will see that this is a subject which the body would like to address. We look forward to its report with keen anticipation, being well aware of the difficulties to which your Lordships allude.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, why is the Minister being so coy about this? All your Lordships know that performance-related pay for front-line troops, which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned, is rubbish. We all know, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said, that performance-related pay for the chiefs of staff is rubbish. Why does not the noble Viscount come clean and say, "This is something that we shall shelve quietly"? Furthermore, I have now asked the Minister once in a Written Question and I ask him again whether it is not the case that public money is being spent on consultants by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Are we not entitled, as a House of Parliament, to know whether that public money is being spent and how much?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, does not appear to have been listening to what I have been saying. If that is so, I clearly have not made myself as clear as I would have wished. I say to the noble Lord exactly the same as I said to him not only in your Lordships' House, but also in a letter that I wrote to him pursuing his last foray on this question. The hire of consultants is not a matter for the Ministry of Defence; it is a matter for the Armed Forces Pay Review Body which is an independent body. It is that very independence which we must value and which the armed forces themselves value for one very good reason. It is a body the deliberations and conclusions of which they have come to trust and which we throw away at our peril.