HC Deb 15 March 1979 vol 964 cc886-903

12.57 a.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I wish to raise, under Supplementary Estimates—class 1: Defence—the question of the pay and allowances of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. I start by apologising to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the staff of the House for keeping people up at this late hour. I also apologise to the Minister. But, since he bears overall responsibility for the welfare of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, I am sure that he will not object to discussing the important matter of their pay—even in the middle of the night.

As the Under-Secretary knows, thousands of naval officers and ratings are awake and alert in many parts of the world and doing their duty at sea at this hour. I believe that the Minister's heart is in the right place and that he has a real concern for the good of the Royal Navy. Because he has served in the Royal Navy, he will know all about keeping middle watches.

On a wider issue, I realise that there is to be a defence debate the week after next. So often in such debates there is no clear thread. Strategy, weaponry, discipline and constituency points are all jumbled together. I want to place on record the situation regarding Service pay and allowances as a subject on its own.

I realise that the report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body is due within the next few weeks and that the Minister is, therefore, in a difficult position. He will doubtless say that there is nothing that he can tell the House at this time. That is not the point. From the Opposition Benches it is important to raise this issue before the review body's report is finalised and before it is considered by the Government, not afterwards. This seems to me a good moment.

Nobody will deny that forces' pay is a subject of great importance. Nobody will deny that there is currently a great torrent of pay claims in the civilian sector, particularly among civilian Government employees. My fear is that the problems of the forces' pay are once again being neglected in the rush of claims in other sectors, particularly those sectors which are prepared to take militant action to embarrass, or even to blackmail, the Government. The forces, of course, are not.

That fact throws a direct moral responsibility upon the Cabinet and upon Government Ministers, particularly Service Ministers, to see that the forces get a fair deal. The situation is that the forces are not getting a square deal at all—far from it. The theory is that forces' pay awards since 1971 should be settled by comparison with a range of civilian earnings. This is exactly what has not happened. The forces have been falling behind year after year ever since the scheme was introduced in 1971. Their shortfall has been at a cumulative and accelerating rate, particularly from 1975 onwards.

This is a difficult matter to represent statistically in a speech. I should like to give some examples. The official figures mention soldiers, but comparable ranks in the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines are paid the same rates. Let me compare the weekly wages of a private soldier with those of the average manual worker. In 1972, the civilian got £32-odd and the soldier £26-odd. In other words, they were in a comparable bracket. Now the soldier gets £52 and the civilian manual worker gets more than £80. In percentage terms, the soldier has risen from 100 units in 1970, the base year, to 248, while the civilian has gone from the same starting point to more than 300.

Senior officers have seen their pay and differentials even more massively eroded. But their chief frustration is the knowledge that the men whom they command are not getting a fair deal over pay and that they are seen to be powerless to do anything about the men's pay. As the Minister, with his Service background, will understand, that is a serious matter.

I should like to give another striking example. London Transport bus drivers, according to Ministry figures, earn an average of £99 a week. That is a little over £5,000 a year. It is, I suppose, the rate for the job, and I do not query the amount. But a naval lieutenant flying a helicopter or a Harrier jump-jet gets less, at least until he becomes a very senior lieutenant. The Minister has served in the Fleet Air Arm. Can he look me in the eye and say that this situation is right and fair? He does not look me in the eye.

Another example concerns the fabled Winchester dustmen. I have nothing against them, and I am glad that their dispute is settled. They will now earn at least £85 a week and certainly over £2 a hour. I am not complaining about that, but I would point out that the Green Jackets, from the same city, serving in Ulster draw less than 50p an hour, less than one-quarter of the dustmen's hourly rate. The Royal Marines in Ulster receive the same. Is that a fair and just reward for these Servicemen? Is the Minister able to look me in the eye on that one and say that that is fair and just?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

It seems that the Minister has developed a squint.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Is £1 a day extra pay a fair reward for undertaking a 90- or 100-hour week in Northern Ireland?

The Minister will not have to squint for much longer as I turn to example No. 4. On 25 April 1978, the Prime Minister announced pay increases for the forces for the next 12 months. It amounted to a 10 per cent. increase plus 3 per cent. on the"X factor ". That was a total increase of a shade over 13 per cent. The latest Department of Employment official figures in the Department's Gazette show that average civilian earnings taken over all industries have increased by 16.4 per cent. since then. So already the Services have fallen even further behind than they were at this time last year.

That indicates how correct my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was when, at the time of the announcement, she said: As average earnings for the nation as a whole are rising by about 14 per cent. a year and as forces' pay has fallen behind that of their civilian equivalents by some 32 per cent., is the Prime Minister aware that this award means that for another year the Services are going to stay as far behind as they are now? The Prime Minister made a specific promise on 25 April 1978, when he referred to a firm pledge to bring the Armed Forces up to equivalent and comparable levels in the next two years."—[Official Report, 25 April 1978;Vol. 948, c. 1180–2.] Despite that assertion the forces see themselves falling further and further behind.

How has all this arisen? I want to be objective and not merely critical. I think that we must blame the Government principally. Individual Ministers may have been pressing for fairer treatment for the forces. I am confident that the Navy Minister himself has been doing so. However, we must bear in mind the results and face the fact that they have been entirely unsuccessful.

I am afraid that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body cannot escape some of the blame. In successive reports it has made its recommendations within the constraints of the Government's declared pay policy, rather than doing its sums and declaring what comparability levels should be. For example, in the second paragraph of the 1977 report it stated: Once again, therefore, effectively we are free only to recommend whether the pay of the Armed Forces should be increased by the maximum amount allowed by the Goverment's pay limits or by some lesser amount. Everybody else except those in the Services has driven a cart and horses through the Government's pay norms. It is sad for the nation, but that is the case.

It should be for the review body to report the comparability figures and for the Government of the day to take the political decisions to pay them in full or in part. The Government of the day should take the political odium if they decide not to pay to the extent of the full comparability figures.

To be fair to the review body, through the years it has given the Government ample warning about the difficulties that might be expected to arise. It has pointed out the problems of compression of differentials, the problems of the X factor, food and accommodation charges and"overstretch ". It has drawn attention to the continuing shortfall on pay.

It is true that cuts in the equipment of the forces worry Service men just as much as their pay. However, I am talking about pay.

The review body is composed of distinguished and well-meaning men and women from many walks of life. It is most regrettable that that body should have become an object of suspicion among many in the Armed Forces, who now tend to regard it as the Government's poodle rather than as a free and independent body. I do not envy its members their task and I admire their meticulous, painstaking attention to detail, but it is difficult to acquit them of being politically naive. For example, in the last paragraph of their 1978 report, they fudge the whole issue by recommending that the Government should give a firm commitment that fully up to date rates of pay will be implemented by 1st April 1980 at the latest. Given this invitation to spread out over two years the additional pay already overdue to the forces, the Government inevitably grasped it. The whole concept of comparability implies that the forces will be one year behind civilian earnings in any case—in itself a great disadvantage at a time of rapid inflation. Therefore, it is absurd to compound this difficulty by spreading overdue payments over a further period. To do so is not only grossly unfair to Service men, who lose permanently the amounts due to them, but it increases the Government's difficulties when the time comes to make good their promises.

The effects of this unfair treatment of Service men goes far and wide. Many Service men are in real financial difficulties. It is true to say that all are coldly and silently furious about the situation, and we saw the regrettable spectacle of Service wives in the mass lobby last summer.

Recruiting difficulties and applications for premature retirement are worrying, and the latest defence review White Paper—Command 7474—has a paragraph, paragraph 403, headed"Outflow"which reads: The total numbers of men and women leaving the Services for all reasons during 1978–79 continued to include an unusually high outflow among the more experienced and highly skilled categories following requests for premature voluntary release. If current rates of outflow from this source continue, the consequences in the loss of trained officers and men will be serious for the Armed Forces, and the Government attaches great importance to correcting this trend. Well, what are the Government doing about it?

The paragraph continues: Dissatisfaction with pay was certainly one of the main reasons for the outflow; but undoubtedly other contributing factors were conditions of service generally, including the turbulence and increased family separation which have been unavoidable consequences of the 1974 Defence Review. It is ironic, Mr. Speaker, to read that turbulence and increased family separation were the unavoidable consequences of that review, because we were told at the time that the defence review was designed to produce a period of stability for the Armed Forces.

I repeat, Mr. Speaker, that I am trying to be constructive—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. For the record, I must ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he can look me straight in the eye and still address me as"Mr. Speaker ".

Rear-Admiral Morgan

-Giles: I am sorry for that oversight, Mr. Deputy Speaker—or is it in order to call you"Sir "?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Yes, of course. It is only that later my wife may ask me where I was at this time of night. If she sees that Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, she will not believe me.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I see your problem, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My wife has no such problem.

What must now be done? I have not used the words"What must be done to restore morale?"It is to the eternal credit of the men of all three Services that their morale remains as good as it is despite the fact so many of them feel that the Government have given them a dud cheque, or"green rub"as they say.

What I am asking is what must be done to be fair to the forces. First and foremost, the Government should restore full comparability now and not wait until April 1980. This would involve an average increase of more than 30 per cent., and that is the difficulty. But I believe that the Government should have the political courage to grasp this nettle.

A much larger percentage of the increase could be included under the X factor. The public would understand that the forces receive no overtime—not even those serving in Northern Ireland and working more than 100 hours a week. They understand that striking is unthinkable for the forces. They understand that moonlighting is almost impossible—certainly for those serving in the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines. The Government could and should grasp this nettle now. I see no other way in which the forces can be given a proper deal.

Service men understand the nation's difficulties and they are willing to bear their fair share of any necessary restraint. They are not asking to be treated as a special case. They are only asking to be treated as a normal case—that is, to be paid at the fair and agreed comparability which they have been promised and which is the essence of the scheme which has now been in force for six or seven years.

Above all, Service men have a pride in themselves and in the job they do. They are accustomed to straight talking and direct action. They want a fair deal immediately and, for all that they do for us, they deserve nothing less.

1.18 a.m.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) on setting out some of the real problems facing the Navy, the Marines and other Services. He did so in his usual robust and clear fashion.

It is timely to discuss this matter now. It may well be that the words that are said tonight will be read by those in the Armed Forces Pay Review Body who are considering what might be announced in a couple of weeks. We will not have time adequately to discuss the narrow issue of pay and the growing and changing effects that pay is having on attitudes in all the Services. Certainly, even a short debate in the early hours of the morning is better than not discussing the subject until after Easter when a Supply day perhaps could be arranged.

I used the words"growing and changing ". The Minister probably recognises in his heart of hearts that it is not just simply a question of comparability and the amount by which the Services have fallen behind. That is not an issue. The Services are all behind the curve of pay rises across both public and private sectors. Last year the Government promised that they would have caught up by 1980. The forces still do not believe it, and will not do so until they see it. I hope that the Minister tonight will repeat that pledge as unequivocally as the Secretary of State has done. It needs saying again and again because too many times Service men have felt that they have been let down by promises made and not kept by their political chiefs. How the Government keep their pledge will depend on the terms in which the review body reports. We cannot do more than speculate about that now.

Any report should take into account all the factors of the last pay round. Perhaps we could be told tonight what is the cut-off date for the consideration of pay rises by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Will the latest settlements in the public sector be taken into account? Will settlements made between now and 1 April be taken into account? Will the review body be made to say that it was forced to stop looking at pay round rises at some date in January, February or March 1979? If that is the case, it will further undermine the forces' morale. The forces are suspicious of what will come. They are also suspicious of the silence maintained by Defence Ministers over the past months.

Last week I was a member of a delegation that visited the Services in Ulster. We went all round the Province seeing mostly Army personnel, but we were briefed in Lisburn by the senior naval officer in Northern Ireland. It was brought home to us time and again that this period is important. One commanding officer to whom we spoke had brought his battalion back, for the second time in his two-and-a-half-year period of command, for a four-month tour of duty. He said that after he left Ulster 16 months ago he lost 75 men from his 550-strong battalion by premature retirement. Service personnel cannot leave the forces during a period of active duty. That wastage was largely due to low pay. This problem has been a running sore for so long that it has now gone far beyond the simple lack of money: it is a lack of faith in the Government's intention to reward them for the arduous and dangerous duties that they perform. It is not just the money. The principle that they see behind the withholding of what is received by everybody else in our community in the private and public sectors is getting them down. Both Service men and their wives are affected by this situation.

I was present in the Lobby last year when nearly 1,000 Service men's wives appeared. Not one member of the Ministry of Defence came to see those women, who wanted to complain face to face about the conditions under which their husbands served. Those wives were not all members of the Conservative Party, although I doubt whether there is a Socialist left in the Services now. They came from constituencies all over the country. Not one Minister could find time to talk to them.

We cannot tell what form the review body's recommendations will take. However, if the review body follows the form of the past three or four years, there may be a percentage recommendation, or a recommendation for an increase in the X factor. The Government pledged themselves to accept this in full. They have not made clear how they will split the amount between this year and next year. Perhaps the Minister will help us on that matter tonight. Any back-tracking or failure to give the absolute maximum this time round will continue the disastrous series of trends affecting morale, recruitment and premature retirement in the Services.

The recruitment figures are not as bad as they might be in the circumstances. But the main point has been missed: the problem cannot be demonstrated in the bare, basic figures. We are losing the middle management, the senior lieutenants and the young captains, their equivalents in the Navy and the Air Force, the senior corporals, the sergeants, the young staff sergeants and their equivalents in the other Services. They should be the petty officers, sergeant-majors, commanding officers and ships' captains over the next five to 10 years. We cannot replace them by taking on another bunch of 18-year-old recruits from civilian life and turning them into Service men.

We are losing the seedcorn of future command—the future staff officers, the people who will advise Ministers on policy and strategy within the Services. They are the ones who are getting out, and they are irreplaceable, except over a very long period of years.

Simply to talk blandly about figures of recruiting and figures of retirement is to hide that basic fact. Experienced Service men cannot be hired. There is only one school in which anyone can learn how to become a petty officer, a sergeant-major, a colonel or an admiral, and that is by going up through the system within the Services and serving at every level of command, on board ship, in the air or in the Army.

The other factors on pay that I want to stress are those relating to comparability and overtime. No one is asking that a Service man should be paid overtime. It would not be possible. It would create more anomalies than it would solve. That is accepted. There is resentment, however, when basic rates of pay are compared. This resentment has grown over the past two years in direct proportion to the number of occasions when Service men have been required to serve alongside civilians. It is something which has grown throughout our society.

It was not until the Service men had to put out the fires for the striking firemen that they realised just how much the firemen were being paid for putting out those fires. It was not what the newspapers said they were being paid. It was not what the union leaders said they were being paid, which is always the basic rate, the lowest possible figure which can be used for bargaining. The Service men realised how much the firemen, with weekend work and overtime, were taking home to their wives and families.

Standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with firemen, ambulance men, dustmen and many of the people in the public service here—and in Northern Ireland alongside the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the prison service—the Ser- vice men can actually see the difference in standards of living. They go to the houses of their friends and colleagues in the prison service and the police service, and they see what they are able to buy for their families and the way they are able to clothe their children. They compare this with their own lot, usually with their family 100 miles or more away, either back in this country or, worse still, left in Germany.

This has become a much more running sore in Ulster over the past year than it ever was before. Although it looks as though, roughly speaking, a constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary gets much the same as a private soldier or a marine for doing roughly the same job, that is for a 40-hour week in the case of the policeman and in the case of the prison officer. I pay tribute to the policemen and the prison officers. No one is complaining about what they are getting.

There are three groups of people—I use Ulster as an example because it is easily comparable—all doing an exceedingly dangerous, unpleasant duty for their country, whether it be in the RUC, in the prison service or in the Services. They are all at risk of being killed, whether by being bombed or shot—and, alas, many of them are. They are all doing a most important and vital job. The statistics will say that they are, roughly speaking, grade for grade, drawing the same pay. The facts are that there are prison officers—I do not begrudge it—taking home £8,000,£9,000and £10,000 a year because of the amount of overtime they are doing, because of the danger money they are getting and because of the"dirty"pay they are getting for working in the H-blocks and so on.

It is the same with the RUC, particularly with those who are confined to the rural area police stations, where they have to work incredibly long hours. They get paid for those incredibly long hours. In any rural police station that one visits, there will be a sergeant and a couple of constables running the show There will also be a troop of soldiers doing exactly the same work. They are working cheek by jowl, and the policemen are taking home two or three times the amount of money that the soldiers get. The soldiers are seeing it. Their resentment is seething and growing, and the anomaly is totally unsustainable.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that he and the Secretary of State intend to take a more robust attitude towards the report and recommendations than they have in the past five years. The Government are dying. They have only months to live. If Ministers in the Service Departments wish to leave office feeling satisfied that they have done their best for those whom they are paid to look after, the least they can do is to see that Service men are properly rewarded for the dangers that they face, for their selfless devotion to duty and for everything else that they do for which we have to thank them.

1.31 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. A. E. P. Duffy)

The House is aware of, and appreciates, the very great interest that the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) has always shown in the Armed Forces and his concern, especially in the past two years, over Service pay.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman was good enough to acknowledge my understanding and concern about pay and allowances in the Royal Navy and I am grateful to him. I am glad to have an opportunity to say something about pay and allowances and about the mechanism that regulates the pay of the Services.

Hon. Members who are present for the debate are particularly concerned and informed, but the whole House knows that the pay of all three Services is reviewed annually by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Its members work extremely hard, without pay, and are responsible for making recommendations on Service pay to the Prime Minister.

In the course of its work, the body is free to seek whatever evidence it wishes. It visits units and establishments of the Armed Forces, including the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, and receives evidence from the Ministry of Defence. The body must make up its mind on the evidence that it has obtained to put whatever recommendations it considers appropriate to the Prime Minister. Throughout the whole of its work, the body exercises complete independence.

After the report has been submitted to the Prime Minister, it is for the Government to take the necessary decisions in the light of the recommendations and the public interest.

The timing of the report on the 1979 award is a matter for the body, but I expect it to be presented to the Prime Minister some time towards the end of this month. Personally, I think that it may slip a week, but I expect my right hon. Friend to have the report by the end of the first week in April. That is the timetable that I envisage. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that I am not in a position to say more than that, and I certainly cannot forecast the findings of the review body.

I can make these observations about some of the remarks that have been made in the debate. In my experience—and I have been Navy Minister for almost three years—there can be no question of neglect. If I thought that there was, I would cease to be Minister tonight. I visit shore establishments and ships ceaselessly. I am off on a visit every week, sometimes on more than one visit, as, for example, next week, when on Tuesday I shall be in Portsmouth and on Wednesday in the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester. The people I meet on these visits are interested and concerned, like everyone else in our society nowadays, in the question of pay, allowances and comparability. But I have yet to meet any Service man—although he may exist and may so far have eluded me—who has thought he has been unfairly treated.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

Oh, no.

Mr. Duffy

Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will not be surprised to know that I have not met any Service man who has given me the impression of being, in the words of the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester, coldly furious.

Mr. Mates

More is the pity that the Minister did not come when he would have met a thousand hotly furious wives of Service men. They were certainly publicly stating their discontent.

Mr. Duffy

I shall come to that.

It also follows from my experience, which I am fairly relating—and it is capable of a certain degree of checking and validating and, therefore, must square with other people's impressions—that I cannot entertain seriously the charge of scepticism made by the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). I have not encountered that anywhere on the part of any Service man. I have not found anywhere evidence of a lack of faith in the Government. I rarely undertake any visit where I do not at some point in my exchanges with personnel find myself ranging far and wide in discussion that touches on Government policy. That would provide the opportunity for a man or woman somewhere—an officer, rating or"Wren "—to make the point about the lack of faith. I cannot honestly recall that having been made at any time.

Let me turn next to the wives' lobby. I thought that this matter was dealt with last year, either during the two-day defence debate or during the Navy debate. I challenged then the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) about who was responsible for booking the room in which the Service men's wives were received. The hon. Member admitted that he was, if not wholly, certainly partly responsible for the booking. All hon. Members know the arrangements for lobbying. Lobbyists now entering the Palace of Westminster through St. Stephen's entrance are quickly siphoned off into a room. All that is understood. I cannot imagine any other arrangement nowadays.

The room into which those naval and, perhaps, Army and Royal Air Force wives were siphoned on that occasion had been booked in the name of Conservative Members of Parliament. I do not blame them for that, but neither must they blame Labour Members, including Ministers, for not being present at what was a Conservative meeting in the Palace of Westminster. Nor can I accept the hon. and gallant Gentleman's charge that there were no Service Ministers present and ready, therefore, to receive those wives, because Ministers were present but they were not able to see them in that room. They were waiting to see the wives, and some, of course, were seen, but not in the numbers in which they were received in the room that was booked for the lobby. I hope that that matter is now dispensed with for the second and last time.

However, to return to the 1978 award, as the House knows, the Armed Forces were treated as a special case in relation to pay policy and given a forward commitment that would restore comparability of earnings with civilian employment by April 1980. Indeed, the House will recollect the positive steps taken by the Government on Service pay from April 1978 and their forward commitment. Specifically, the award raised the military salary by an average of 13 per cent., including increases of 50 per cent. in major forms of additional pay such as submarine, diving and parachute pay. Northern Ireland pay was doubled to £1 per day. Separation allowance was increased by about two-thirds. In addition, a standstill was applied to charges for accommodation, pending a further examination by the review body. Taken together, these elements represented a general overall increase last year of about 14 per cent. in Armed Forces' pay.

The House will also recall that the Government made a specific commitment on the restoration of fully comparable rates of pay. The commitment was that from 1 April 1979 the Services will have a pay increase which will consist broadly of half the amount required to bring them up to the full military salary as at April 1978, together with whatever amount is required to update the award to April 1979.

To answer yet another of the queries raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, recent settlements in excess of 5 per cent. will, of course, in this way, be taken into account.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I am grateful to the Minister for what he is saying and for replying in a full way to the points made from the Opposition Benches. However, does he really take the point—I have tried to make it clear; I hoped that I had done so—that these deferred steps towards comparability are permanently depriving the men of the money which they should have had year by year, which will now never be paid to them even if they eventually catch up to comparability? It is a really massive shortfall in what they rightly consider should have been their deserts. I quite appreciate that it is not the Minister's fault personally. It is the Government's fault.

Mr. Duffy

In so far as there are grounds here for grievance, I think that hon. Gentlemen present will agree that this is a universal grievance.

Mr. Mates


Mr. Duffy

It is certainly expressed universally, and presumably it is felt universally. One meets it on all sides. Who does not feel this sense of deprivation in our society nowadays?

I repeat the commitment. From 1 April 1979, the Services will have a pay increase which will consist broadly of half the amount required to bring them up to the full military salary as at April 1978, together with whatever amount is required to update the award to April 1979. This, of course, will arise from a further recommendation in the review body's 1979 rpeort. In 1980 the Services will receive the remaining half to bring them up to full military salary at April 1978 together with the appropriate up dating between April 1979 and April 1980.

The result will be that in April 1980 the Armed Forces will have the full military salary fully updated to the then current levels. There can be no ground for the apprehension expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester that Service men fear that they will fall further and further behind. This commitment is clear and will be honoured, regardless of any pay policy which might be in operation over the period. It is again reflected in paragraph 147 of the"Statement on the Defence Estimates "—Cmnd. 7474—published only last month.

As regards pensions, the Government have already fully protected Armed Forces pensioners by basing pensions from last April on the fully comparable rates of military salary recommended by the review body last year. I recognise that pensioners who retired from the Armed Forces in 1976 and 1977 have been adversely affected by pay restraint. I appreciate the concern of hon. Members and have said so at this Dispatch Box. But this position is not confined to the Armed Forces. It exists right across the public services. That is where much of the problem lies. The studies that we have undertaken suggest that the implications for the whole system of public service superannuation schemes could be considerable. I cannot at this stage pre- dict whether or when any practicable or acceptable solution will emerge.

As regards allowances, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines receive the allowances available to all three Services. Most of these compensate for expenditure actually incurred and are regularly adjusted—usually annually—to take account of any changes.

Overseas allowances are intended to enable personnel to maintain a standard of living similar to that which they would have enjoyed in the United Kingdom and will therefore vary from area to area.

As regards the effects of the 1978 award on manpower—I note what was said by both the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield about recruiting and retention—the numbers recruited overall to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines during the present financial year show increases over the same period of last year and compare reasonably well, as the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester noted, with the numbers recruited in recent years.

The rate of premature voluntary retirement, however, remains too high. This, along with the increased manpower requirement, has led to an increase in the current recruiting targets. We therefore need to recruit more than we did in the last few years. Pay is not the only factor affecting retention, but I believe that, as the pay of the Armed Forces returns to its proper level under the Government's forward commitment, the current manpower problems will begin to disappear.

As regards accommodating any pay award to the Armed Forces within the defence cash limits, to the extent that the settlement may exceed the Estimates provision, the Government will decide in the light of all the circumstances at the time whether the defence cash limits should be adjusted to meet any additional costs.

The review body is now preparing its report for 1979 and will be forwarding it to the Prime Minister within the next two to three weeks. I repeat that the Government will honour their commitments as I have described them, that the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines—perhaps I may speak also on behalf of the Army and the Royal Air Force—will as soon as possible be well under way to restoration of full comparability as we have promised. The award will be announced as soon as we can, but in any event increases will become effective for all the Armed Services from 1 April 1979.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Would I be in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in thanking the Minister for replying to the debate and you yourself, Sir, for sitting it out?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No, that is not in order. Only Ministers can, with leave of the House, speak more than once during a debate.