Volunteer Forces (Pay and Compensation)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:37 am on 19th December 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier , Canterbury 12:37 am, 19th December 1990

I am most grateful for this opportunity to deal with an issue related to that which the House has just debated. The House has been reminded that, as we approach Christmas, we may also be approaching the prospect of war in the middle east. That is an especially sombre prospect for people serving in our armed forces in the middle east, for those on their way there and for their families. But I have every confidence that they will do their duty, if they have to, in the best possible fashion.

My hon. Friend the Minister knows that, in the short time I have been in the House, I have taken an interest in the terms and conditions of service of our regular armed forces. Tonight, however, I should like to focus on our volunteer reservists, of whom I understand up to 1,500 —possibly more—may be required for service in the Gulf. I want to focus more specifically on remuneration and compensation for members of the volunteer reserves who may become casualties as a result of service in the Gulf or of ordinary training. There is an overlap, because some of the people called up for the Gulf may go elsewhere to take the place of Regulars.

The problem is an old injustice that goes back many years and is best illustrated by describing two incidents that occurred during my service in the Territorial Army. Fourteen years ago, the members of my platoon were climbing from the back of a four-tonner in Norfolk. It was a bright, moonlit night and the vehicle was parked on a broad piece of open road and showing lights, as the rules required. A drunk came driving down the road with his car headlights off and drove straight into the men climbing from the vehicle. He knocked three of them over and forced three more into a knot under the back of the vehicle. One man was crushed against the vehicle and suffered multiple injuries to his legs.

As a result of those leg injuries, that soldier was away from his civilian employment for nearly a year. His employer was a responsible company and said that it would like to make up the difference between the money that he received as a private from the Territorial Army and his civilian pay. He was training for a professional job, and there was a substantial difference between the two rates of pay. When we tried to arrange that, we found that the Ministry of Defence policy, which has remained the same under successive Governments, is that, in such cases, any money that a soldier receives from civilian employment is deducted pound for pound from his Ministry of Defence remuneration. Therefore, that man received no money from the Ministry of Defence during the time that he was away from work.

A similar incident occurred three months ago in the home service unit in which I now serve. One of my best and keenest soldiers, a man in his early 40s who had been out of the TA for some 10 years, decided to rejoin, with the rank of private. He fell on an assault course and broke his arm and will be off work for approximately six months. He had reached quite a senior supervisory level in his civilian employment, but for reasons of safety his job required him to have the effective use of both arms. His employer was willing to pay half his normal salary while he was sick, but because that is slightly more than his pay as a private, he receives no money from the Ministry of Defence.

With the Gulf crisis looming larger and many hundreds of Territorials required in the Gulf, it is essential for this matter to be reviewed. A few days ago, I quoted to my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces a letter which sets out three basic questions summarising the problem. My hon. Friend the Minister has told me that he has seen that letter. My first question is general and asks whether this system could be urgently reviewed so that injustices can be righted. I understand that there are only a few dozen cases each year and if so, it should not be expensive to put the matter right for all time.

Secondly, there is the more immediate question of what will happen in the meantime to Territorials who find themselves in the position that I have described as a result of having volunteered or been called up for service in the Gulf. For example, let us examine the case of one of my constituents who is self-employed, has therefore a high income and mortgage commitments and so on. He fully recognises that, while he is serving in the Gulf, he will have to accept some cut in income. If he returns from the Gulf with severe injuries and is unable to work for nine months, and if one of his regular contractors is willing to help him out with a payment because of a long-term contract, will the money be deducted pound for pound from his Ministry of Defence salary?

Will this unjust system apply to Gulf casualties, or, indeed, to people who suffer training accidents while filling the place of a regular soldier who is in the Gulf?

My third question is: what would be the position of a Territorial soldier who, rather than merely being off work for a while as a result of an injury, becomes disabled, is severely wounded, perhaps has his leg blown off or is made blind? It is important that we should be able to reassure anyone in that position.

I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind two categories of people when he considers these questions. The first are those who volunteered before the order was signed. It is important, given the terms and conditions that have been extended by the sensible system that my right hon. Friend has introduced—getting the Order in Council signed, but then asking for volunteers and calling them up—that the guarantees given to such people are extended to those who volunteered before the order was signed. The other category are those who may be injured when filling m elsewhere, although they are not casualties in the Gulf.

I do not want to labour this point late at night. This is not a packed House, and I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is sympathetic, as, I am sure, are all hon. Members who are present. However, it is an important issue. First, it is disturbing for Territorials who are considering service in the Gulf not to know where they stand on these matters. As recently as last Saturday, I was approached by a constituent, who is a nurse in the TA, and who is concerned about this. She is anxious to do her duty, she is worried about the possibility of casualties in the Gulf, and she wants to do her bit out there to help them. She wants to know what her position will be should she volunteer to go out there and become a casualty herself. She is happy to face that risk, but she wants to do so on a equitable financial basis.

I hinted at the second reason at the beginning of my speech. It is the longer-term fact that we are anxious, with "Options for Change", to get maximum value for money out of our armed forces, and this must mean a greater burden falling on the TA. One of the triumphs of the Ministry of Defence over the past three or four years has been the successful setting up of the National Employer Liaison Committee, and I pay tribute to the work of Tommy MacPherson and his team. It must be obvious that this is exactly the kind of issue that can only cause friction between employers, who see the Minister of Defence as being unreasonable—it is not just this Government, for the anomaly has existed for a long time—when, if they are willing to put money into the pot, the Minister then removes it.

If we want to make a success of the TA, the small sum of money involved is worth expending, to remove this source of friction for both the soldier and his civilian employer. As it happens, the soldier involved in the incident that I described, who is now recovering from his broken arm, is an exceptionally good soldier. Perhaps as a small compensation for his injury, Corporal Chatterton has been picked out for promotion, and he has bent over backwards to say nothing against the Army or the unit. Nevertheless, it is not right that his fellow soldiers should see him suffering considerable financial hardship because of his injury.

I end where I began: with the possible onset of war in the Gulf, it is important that this small but irritating and worrying anomaly should be ironed out. Territorials who go to the Gulf should not feel that they have an enormous advantage over the Regular Army but it is important that, if there is a great difference between their pay in the TA and their pay in civilian life—perhaps because they have a junior position in the TA and a senior in civilian life—and they are willing to go there and their employers are willing to help out, they will not be penalised financially if they become casualties.

I end with my three questions in reverse order. First, what is the position of the TA soldier or his naval or Air Force counterpart, who becomes permanently disabled? Secondly, what is his position if he becomes a casualty and is off work? Finally, will my hon. Friend urgently review this matter for the long term, so that this anomaly can be straightened out?