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Servicemen: Remuneration And Conditions

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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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 whether they will revert to the practice of giving Servicemen free rations and accommodation.

My Lords, the noble Lord is referring to the system in force before 1970 under which single Servicemen received part of their remuneration in the form of free rations and accommodation. This was superseded in 1970 by the current arrangements under which Service personnel, like the rest of the community, receive a full salary out of which they pay for food, accommodation and other expenses. There is no intention of reverting to the old system, which was found to have many disadvantages when it was reviewed by the National Board for Prices and Incomes in their 116th report in 1969.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that when the last pay increase came for Servicemen practically all of that—and in some cases more than that—was taken up by increases in the rent and ration allowances? Is he further aware that I can take him to parts of this country—I admit only to parts because it depends on the local situation—where quarters are empty because officers and other ranks have found it cheaper to get accommodation elsewhere? Finally, will he tell the House how many Servicemen are on supplementary benefits, especially among those serving in Northern Ireland whose families are left behind in Germany, and how many elsewhere are having to "moonlight" to make ends meet?

My Lords, the whole House is aware of the noble Lord's concern in these matters. I cannot give detailed answers on the last two points that he raised when he asked for precise figures on two particular issues. I am aware of the situation which arose last April when, I think in the Armed Services Review, Servicemen received "an Irishman's rise". But there were Round 2 guildelines relating to the rise in the value of free food and accommodation which, even under the old set-up, would have been offset against the pay supplement in 1969 and before then. We must take a slightly longer view of the situation beyond the present moment.

My Lords, quite apart from the merits of the original suggestion, will the noble Lord bear in mind the very general disquiet which is felt about the rate of remuneration and other rewards for Her Majesty's Forces who cannot after all, strike, and do, as a matter of fact, perform services when others are depriving the nation of theirs?

My Lords, I think my noble friends and I, and the whole House, are aware of this. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Shinwell has tabled an Amendment to Wednesday's Motion which in fact covers this point.