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Chief Of Defence Staff

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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Q2.

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the Chief of the Defence Staff.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) on 25th January.

Will the Prime Minister seek an early meeting with the Chiefs of Staff, when he will hear of their grave concern at the growing scandal of financial penalties that are suffered by all Service men as a result of their service in Ulster? Will he say unequivocally that, notwithstanding the pay policy, he is not prepared to head a Government that demands of our forces repeated financial and personal sacrifices because of their enforced and continued series of duty in Northern Ireland?

It has been recognised that we could pay our forces in Northern Ireland a great deal more and they would still earn it. However, the House as a whole has accepted the pay policy—[Interruption.] In that case, some hon. Members have not accepted it, but it is Government policy and we cannot go beyond it. There would be repercussions. What about the position of the firemen and the police in Ulster? [HON. MEMBERS: "They have had a rise."] Everyone has had a rise, including the Armed Forces, within the limits of the pay policy. This is one of the difficulties of following a pay policy. I have every sympathy with those gallant men there and with the firemen and policemen, but we cannot make an exception for one without unravelling the whole pay policy.

Has my right hon. Friend noted the mature self-confidence of the President of the United States in opposing any sabre-rattling against Communist régimes? Does that not seem to be at odds with the attitude displayed by the Opposition, particularly the Leader of the Opposition?

President Carter has undoubtedly taken a very forward view of this matter. He is well aware of the arms build-up in the Soviet Union, but he is trying to get a new relationship and new approach to them. I hope that the Conservative Party will be able to follow his lead.

May I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates)? Is there not a committee sitting to consider how the present difficult position of forces serving in Northern Ireland can be alleviated? Is he saying that the Committee will not consider how to end the bitterness that is felt because our forces are severely worse off, financially, as a result of being posted to Northern Ireland? Was not the position of BAOR forces adjusted because of the exchange control problems? Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long".] It is a difficult question, on which there is a lot of bitter feeling among those doing a most hazardous job for Britain. Will the Prime Minister accept, as a general guideline, that no Service man should be worse off as a result of being posted to duties in Northern Ireland?

The Secretary of State for Defence has just told me what I was aware of before, namely, that there is a review body—[Interruption.] I wanted to check my memory. If the editor of the Daily Mail had checked his facts, he would not have made mistakes. There is a review body considering this difficult question and the Government will approach it with every sympathy and a desire to help. I went to Germany recently to see our forces there and I know that there are great difficulties caused by transfers to and from Germany and Ulster. As soon as the review body has reported—and I hope that it will be very soon—we shall do all that we can to remedy any anomalies that have occurred. In relation to what the right hon. Lady said much earlier about the police, they, like everyone alse, must operate in the background of the pay policy.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Chief of the Defence Staff, will he explain to him that increases in defence costs in line with the recent communique from NATO would be in contradiction to our promise to the electorate at the last election, and would severely damage our economy and our people, whose living standards are falling?

In order to squeeze out inflation, the living standards of our people have been depressed for the last 12 months. That has now reached an end, and I trust that from now on they will begin to rise. Of course, defence costs have had to play their part in this. I am pleased to say that this has not affected the front line, though it has affected some of the support operations.

The Prime Minister blandly asserts that our Armed Forces have received increases as great as is permitted under the Government's pay policy, but how does he explain that under phases 1 and 2 average earnings have increased by 19·9 per cent. while those of the forces have increased by only 14·4 per cent.? Does he regard that as as square deal?

The hon. Gentleman has a great capacity to use particular figures on particular occasions. The increase given to the Armed Forces was a result of the review body's report, and it has borne rather hard on them because of the offsets in respect of increased charges for accommodation, and so on. In logical terms and when talking to the soldier in the field, it is difficult to defend, but the House must look at the overall background. As I have said twice already, we shall do all that we can to try to assist the situation.