The present Government have implemented the recommendations in successive reports, of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Retention throughout the lifetime of this Government has to date been significantly better in the armed forces overall than it was immediately prior to May 1979. The services have in hand certain measures to improve the retention rates of particular categories of personnel.
In view of the very angry reaction from service men in Germany to the cuts in the local overseas allowance — a reaction of which all hon. Members have been made aware—is the Minister saying that what are real cuts in the living standards of those personnel will not lead to any problems over retaining key personnel in Germany?
As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, we are all aware of the disappointment that was felt in Germany about the outcome of the LOA review. I remind the House, as my hon. Friend explained in the Adjournment debate on 20 May, that the LOA is not pay but is in addition to pay to compensate service men for the differential in the cost of living between the United Kingdom and overseas. When that differential narrows the LOA is reduced, and when it widens it is increased. It has to be seen in that light. The overall view in the three services across the world is that the LOA is an important protection for service men so that they know that when they are posted overseas they will not suffer a major reduction in take-home income because of having to bear the increased costs of the overseas postings to which they are sent.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the reduction of the LOA, particularly in BAOR—I have just returned from a visit there because my son is serving in that part of the world—has had a dreadful effect not only upon young officers but on skilled NCOs? Is he aware that these young people are likely to come out of the Army, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) said, as soon as their period of service is ended? Therefore, will my hon. Friend take up some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) in a recent Adjournment debate and look at the possibility of providing further free transport to and from Germany and the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend has already kindly written to me on that point and I shall be sending him a considered reply. We are continually looking at the various allowances that are available to our service men to try to ensure that we give them, within the limits of justifiable public expenditure, the best possible conditions of service package. We shall continue to do that.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the things that keeps service men in the service is professional pride in their job? Does he realise that the Government's cost-cutting exercise—[Interruption.]
Does the Minister realise that the present cost-cutting exercise undertaken by the Ministry of Defence has resulted in a reduction in training ammunition for the services and has meant that in many cases they are not able to afford the fuel for aircraft and military transport that is needed for effective training? What will the Minister do to ensure that there are reasonable professional standards in the services?
Judging by the enormous increase in real terms — 20 per cent. — under this Government, professional satisfaction among our service men is at a higher level than it was when the hon. Gentleman decided to come out of the services.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in spite of the marked increase in morale in all the armed forces since 1979, there has been some deterioration in the services in recent months, particularly among Army officers, and some disquiet about their future and that of other ranks? Is this not a matter of the gravest importance, into which we should look very carefully?
I can confirm that the Department, and Ministers as they go around the services, are very much aware of my hon. Friend's point. That is why we are continuing, with the principal personnel officers, to look for ways in which we can do our best to improve overall conditions of service for the armed services. Our record on service pay is altogether better than that of our predecessors.
Is it not the case that the rate of outflow of naval officers is reaching crisis proportions and that it is now the highest figure since the 1970s? Is he aware that in the recent Southampton incident, involving a collision, there was a direct relationship between the lack of experienced officers and the difficulties in which the ship became involved? Is it not arch complacency for the Government to say that officers are in good heart when they are leaving the Navy in such dramatic numbers?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is in a very poor position to accuse the Government of complacency. I remind him that in the financial year 1978–79, the last financial year of the Labour Government, premature voluntary retirements by men in the armed services had risen to 4·4 per cent., which is a record high over the last 10 years. This is in comparison with the last financial year 1984–85, for which the figure was 2·5 per cent.—a very substantially lower figure than when this Government came into office.