Orders of the Day — Armed Forces (Doctors' and Dentists' Pay)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th January 1967.

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Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West 12:00 am, 30th January 1967

I am coming to the incomes policy in a moment. Now I am dealing with the fact that by the Government's own admission they have broken away from the analogue which has underlain the last two awards. They did this not only without any indication that they intended to do it, but they did it in contrast to the plain implications of the words of their own White Paper. They did so for reasons which were in no way a matter of national emergency, which were in no way connected with any financial crisis, which were in no way connected with the prices and incomes policy. They had not just noticed this on 20th July. They did not look at the recruiting figures for the Services and for the National Health Service on 20th July and say, "Goodness me, there has been a change in the relative recruitment to the Armed Forces and the National Health Service". As the hon. Member made clear, whatever change of this character has been taking place in fact, has been taking place gradually.

If they intended to break away from the analogue, why did they not say so in the White Paper? Why did they not, at any rate, include some sort of hint and say, "By the way, we are looking at this on a broader basis than hitherto. We are examining the analogue". They did not say that at all. They used a perfectly stereotyped expression which to the reader could have only one implication—that there was no change and that it was a matter of formality that, unlike the previous White Papers the actual rates did not happen to be yet included in the appendices when it was published.

Thus they broke the implicit pledge contained in their own White Paper. They broke it in a way which has been fully disclosed only this afternoon and on grounds about which we have been given an inkling for the first time this afternoon.

Then there was the explicit pledge that the revised rates of pay, as heretofore as on all analogous previous occasions, though to be published separately, would be effective from 1st April, 1966. This direct breach of a plain, printed, published promise and undertaking they excuse on grounds of their incomes policy White Papers.

Whatever may be the merits or the justification of the general policy underlying those White Papers, the application to this case, to the pay of the Service doctors and dentists, is no more or less than a sophistry and a twist. The words in the second of those White Papers were, Where a commitment existed on or before 20th July, 1966 to review pay with effect from a prior date, but the amount of any improvement had not been determined by 20th July, the operative date should be deferred for six months. That is the announcement to which the Government pretend they are referring their decision in this case. Two views may be taken of the policy and justice of a Government who, having a commitment to review pay with effect from a previous date and being in negotiation with their employees about it, then say, while those negotiations are still going on, "By the way, as a result of our economic position and our pay pause, we do not now propose to implement anything on which we agree until six months after that prior date." But there is no analogy, or only a grotesque analogy, between that situation and the position of this tiny number, some 2,000–3,000 people in the whole of the Defence Forces, whose pay rates did not happen on this occasion to be included in the appendix to the White Paper of March, 1966. It is absurd to pretend that this case has any analogy with any of the other injustices and absurdities which are being committed under the Government's incomes policy White Papers.

We have had mention of the firemen, for instance. I will not enter one way or another into the justice or otherwise of the firemen's case and grievance. But here is not a case of all the firemen being deferred; here is a case of 1 per cent. only of the firemen being deferred on grounds which are wholly accidental and wholly artificial.

The Government also say, "You know, we are not treating these people as members of the Armed Forces. They fall to be treated as doctors." The Minister told us, "Their pay comes into a different time scale from that of other officers", though he had the grace immediately to admit that their pay has hitherto always been adjusted at the same time as the pay of other officers. The Service medical and dental officers would be very glad indeed if they were being treated on the basis that they were doctors; for the doctors' pay increase is being actually paid out six months before the increase of the Service doctors and dentists. Throughout the debate we have heard how different has been the rate of increase agreed for the doctors in the National Health Service and the 10 per cent., that arbitrary figure of 10 per cent., which has been accorded to the Service medical and dental officers. Away with the argument, "We are not treating these people as Service officers, we are treating them as doctors". Would, indeed, that the Government on this occasion had treated them as doctors. They would have settled for that.

There are two aspects to this policy decision which we have been discussing. There are two rôles which the Government have to play in taking the sort of decision which the Minister and the Government have taken wrongly in this instance.

In one rôle, they are the paymasters of their servants. They are deciding in the name of the public what rates of pay they shall offer in order to retain or recruit to the public service the numbers and quality of servants whom they require. If they err in their decisions on that score, the result will be that they will not recruit so many or so good as the public service requires and they will have to stand, in consequence, the criticism of this House and of the country.

I may say, on this matter of the effect on recruitment, that the Minister of State gave a very misleading picture by looking at the totality of Service medical and dental officers. He should rather have looked at the general duty officers in the Services if he wanted to see the effect on recruiting and the writing on the wall. For example, in the Army, on the general duties side, there is a deficiency of 33 per cent. below peace-time establishment at the rank of major, and below the rank of major a deficiency, I understand, of 70 per cent. Therefore, let not the hon. Gentleman be deluded or try to delude others with generalised figures. Let him look to those points in the Service where the realities of recruitment show most readily and where the damage is soonest done.

This then is one rôle of the Government—to recruit the right numbers and quality of people for the public service. But there is another rôle, and in that rôle the Government has decisively and dangerously failed. It is the Government's rôle as the guardian of the public faith. I do not often have a kind word to say for the Prices and Incomes Board, but I would commend to the Government its statement of principle in this matter. It occurs in paragraph 25 of the Board's report on Armed Forces Pay, Cmnd. 2881. The assurance of a biennial pay review by which Service emoluments are brought broadly into line with those outside the Services has now been in existence for some years. It features in the leaflets and booklets … and provides a basis for the career expectations of those who have joined. It could not in our view be abruptly withdrawn without adversely affecting the retention of personnel when a period of engagement has been completed as well as recruitment. Unless and until the Government duly notifies the members of the Armed Forces that a new system of review of their emoluments is to be adopted, we consider that there is a commitment. We on this side of the House consider that there is a commitment in plain words which has been directly broken by the Government's decision. Let not the Minister talk about 1962 and the implementation in 1962 of the Grigg settlement in two phases. On that occasion the Government told the public and the Services what they were going to do, and they did it. Here, the Government have said one thing, have promised one thing, and have done another.

There have been a good many poignant illustrations quoted during this debate of the corrosive effect which a breach of faith of this kind can have on morale in the Services. Sir Alexander Drummond, who was lately Director General of Army Medical Services, wrote to me today saying: I have never during my 36 years' service met with such disappointment and bitterness in the Medical Services as we have today. But this sort of thing goes further than those who are the immediate victims. If one strikes at the faith of government, if a Government says, "Yes, we printed that, we said that, but we are not going to do it because things have changed", the whole relationship between Government and the citizen is in danger of being altered.

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State said that he had been absent during most of the debate because he w as busy over the relations of this country with Malta—with Malta, Mr. Speaker. The faith of Government in carrying out a pledged word—nothing is more precious than that; nothing ought to be more precious to this House, and we on this side will assert it.