HC Deb 10 August 1914 vol 65 cc2298-308

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he can give an assurance that the wives and families of the soldiers and sailors who are fighting the country's battles will be provided with such food and clothing as they require, and will not be turned out of their houses because they cannot pay their rent? I think that is a fair question to ask, and I ask it now because I had not an opportunity of doing so before.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)

As the House is aware, soldiers on duty will receive separation allowances, and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced at Question Time that separation allowance will be given not only to those married on the strength but to those married off the strength. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to know what the separation allowance is?

(1) Separation allowances are granted from Army funds to the families who are not in public quarters at the following daily rates according to the rank of the soldiers, namely, warrant officers 2s. 3d., quarter-master sergeants and equivalent ranks 2s. 1d., colour-sergeants and equivalent ranks, 1s. 4d., sergeants, corporals, and privates and all equivalent ranks 1s. 1d. The above rates are increased by sixpence per day for families who were residing in the London postal area on the date of mobilisation, and continue to reside there. Children of any of the above, i.e., boys under fourteen and girls under sixteen, 2d.

(2) When the family is in occupation of public quarters and is provided with fuel and light, the wife will receive separation allowance while her husband is separated from her by the exigencies of the Service at the reduced rate of fourpence a day for herself, and three-halfpence a day for each child subject to the above.

(3) When the soldier's child or children are motherless the rate of separation allowance is fourpence a day for each child.

(4) Payment of separation allowance is made monthly in advance by means of Army money orders payable at the post offices. Families of Reservists are paid by the Army paymaster from whom the men receive their reserve pay prior to their being called up for Service. And the families of soldiers of the Territorial Force are paid by the secretary of the County Association by which the Territorial Force unit is administered.

(5) The first payment to families is made as soon as possible after the men rejoin for Service, and covers the period between the date of rejoining and the end of the month; later payments are made on the first of each month in advance.

(6) These issues are irrespective of any allotment of pay which the soldier may make.


Including those married off the strength?


Yes; as the right hon. Gentleman, the Prime Minister, promised at question time, the allowance is made for the first time to those married off the strength. It was not done in the case of the South African War. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, which has many branches, will give all possible help, as will the mayors' committees which are being formed by the President of the Local Government Board. In these circumstances we do not consider it necessary.


Will the right hon. Gentleman answer question nineteen?


I have not got the answer here.


I was not able to gather whether the right hon. Gentleman's answer with regard to the allowances made to the wives and families covers the case of members of the Session staff of the Houses of Parliament who may be called upon to join the Reserves. Possibly the hon. Gentleman may not be able to give me an answer just now. This is a case which intimately concerns the House itself. It has been brought to my notice that there are cases of the wives and families of members of the Session staff whose natural anxiety has been greatly intensified by the uncertainty as to their future means of subsistence. These men have been called to the Reserves, and they are not in the same position as civil servants. I want to press the point that the matter should be looked into as closely as possible, and that the answer when given should be circulated without delay to the responsible authorities in order that the natural anxiety of those intimately concerned should be allayed.


I understand that the wives are to get separation allowances whether married on or off the strength. Will the same apply to the widows' and children's pensions should the necessity arise? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman means to include those pensions in the same category as separation allowances. I think I am right in saying that the widows and children of such have not been recognised for pensions. If they are now to be recognised for pensions, I am anxious that it should be made quite clear, and I trust that the Government will provide for the widows and children. There is one other question which I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider. There are a large number of able-bodied men in this country not qualified now to be recruited, and I suggest to him that there are men over thirty-five or forty years of age who are willing to render what service they can. If a defence force was established, and he appeals through our borough and county councils he will get a large body of men who might be used for some military purposes—for instance, to relieve those persons watching railway bridges and telegraph wires, and such duties, and set free for other duties those at present engaged upon them. I had some communication with the Financial Secretary to the War Office last Tuesday and Wednesday. It was suggested that the Home Secretary should take these men on, but I believe he does not think he has power. It is no answer to say let these men enrol as special constables. That is not the kind of service that they could render. There are some who might act as special constables, but there are a large body of them with large Volunteer experience which might be of some value. The Local Government Board or some voluntary body might be entrusted with the recruiting and organisation of such a force.


I wish to ask the Under-Secretary if he would be good enough to make clear something that is still in doubt. The question that I desire to put to him is contained in a telegram which I received this afternoon, and which asks me to obtain definite and reliable information whether the National Fund will be distributed amongst the wives and families of soldiers and sailors, or whether it is to be dealt with by the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. I understand that in order to avoid overlapping and confusion, the local authorities are to be the local means for the distribution of these funds, and that they do not go direct to this particular association. This is the point I wish to have informaton upon, so that the local authorities may know what is the plan adopted for the distribution of these funds.

Major HOPE

I notice from Section 115 of the Regulations for superannuation allowances that the wives of soldiers get 1s. 1d. without quarter or lodging money. If the wife remains in public quarters it seems to me that she will only get 4d. I wish to know if I am right, and I would like to have some assurance on this point.


I wish to know if the right hon. Gentleman has looked into the matter with regard to the purchase of meat last week, when a large quantity was purchased by the War Office above the ruling price. It is very important to the poor people that the Government should not go into the market and purchase things above the ruling price. There is another case which has just come to my notice with regard to the purchase of fodder. Last Wednesday above 100 tons of hay was offered for sale at 60s. and 65s. per ton, but it was agreed to purchase the same hay for the Army at 80s. a ton, or 15s. a ton more than the same farmer who was selling the hay had asked for the best hay he had. This kind of thing makes a lot of difference to those who desire to purchase fodder and food at the lowest price, and it is not right for the Army officer to offer from 25 to 45 per cent. above the ruling price of the market for fodder.


I wish to ask a question with regard to the impressment of cart horses by the military authorities. Already there has been four different sets of officers or men taking cart horses for Army purposes. In many cases these men have not got any actual authority, although nobody doubts them, but the farmers are in a somewhat bewildered state, and I have been asked to bring this matter to the notice of the War Office. I think those who take horses at a moment's notice should produce a warrant to show that they are acting under the authority of the Government. I am told on the most credible authority that many of these gentlemen, who are undoubtedly doing their work well, have not got that authority upon them, and in order to give confidence to those who are asked to give up their horses I think these men should have in their hands some authority to show when it is asked for.


I wish to call attention to the maximum cost price which has been agreed to for the food supply of the people. As far as my Constituency is concerned, the maximum is much too high, and the shopkeepers are already fixing the price at the maximum. I want some notice to be taken of that point and the new Order made. I also would like to know whether the men who are called up to the Colours from the dockyard or the arsenal are to receive the same treatment as civil servants.


I wish to support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Colchester in regard to Yeomanry who have served in South Africa, some of whom are married men. I think we should have some such force as the hon. Member suggested, because they will not join as special constables, although they would be willing to join a military force. Many of them have spoken to me and expressed their willingness to join the military service. I do not wish now to go into the question of the reserve of horses. I have pointed out the shortage to the House a good many times, and it has been ignored. What I want to say now is that I think it would be a very great advantage if the right hon. Gentleman opposite would see that instructions are given not to take single horses from the local butcher and tradesmen.


There has been a repetition of speeches, calling special attention to the hardship of Reservists called up from the Civil Service, and requests have been made constantly to civil servants and even to those who are on the establishment of this House, and in other ways connected with Government Departments that special treatment and special assistance should be given to the wives of these men, and that every opportunity should be taken to protect their interests. I hope the Government will remember that all the men who are fighting for us are equally important to us, and bear in mind that the man who goes into the Army for a short time and when his engagement is finished, and he is lucky to get into civil employment, and a regular occupation under Government is in a better position than the poor soldier whose time has expired, and who cannot get Government employment, and is often obliged to go into casual employment. Those men are in an infinitely hopeless position than the man who has been working under the Government. It is easy for the State to keep occupations open for these men when the war is over, if they are fortunate enough to return, but the best intentioned employers in the world cannot keep all the places open for their men, because there are different circumstances which they will have to meet while the war is on. I rather object to these constant demands being made upon the Government to secure the position of those in the Civil Service who happen to have been called out. While I do not want the civil servants to be forgotten in any way whatever, at the same time I hope that all our attention will not be paid to them, and we must also recognise the unfortunate position of the other part of our military forces who, after the war, may have to return to intermittent employment.


I wish to ask a question about guaranteeing the rent of these men. The Special Reservists and Territorials are in a different position to the Regular Army soldier. They have got their homes, and they would go to the front with very much greater confidence and case of mind if they knew that their homes would be safe, and that there would be no fear of them being broken up owing to the non-payment of rent during their absence. If the Government can assure these men that they will receive assistance from one or other of these special funds it would do much to case their minds and encourage them to do their duty as they intend to do.


I wish to refer to a question which was put in the House this afternoon, and which was not answered—I refer to the insurance of fishing vessels against war risks. In many of the ports of the United Kingdom, and those in my Constituency, there are thousands of men who have been thrown out of employment in a most sudden and drastic manner. The fishing was going on as usual, and was being conducted successfully, and the men were looking forward to a highly satisfactory fishing season. All in a moment a bolt from the blue—shot without warning—made it impossible for them to make any arrangement whatever, and they found their industry paralysed and their means of living taken away from them. In my own Constituency hundreds of these men are out of employment, their great fishing fleet is lying idle, and there is no security for them because the Government have not seen their way to do for them what they have undertaken to do for the mercantile marine. These men do not understand, and cannot be expected to understand, why they should be treated differently to those engaged in the commerce of the nation. Why should fishing vessels and their cargoes receive no protection from the State, when other vessels and ships of all kinds carrying cargo are guaranteed against loss or capture and are able to keep the seas under all conditions? This is a more disastrous thing for the fisherman than for the owner of merchant vessels, because the fisherman is a poor man, dependent entirely upon the sea. He is bringing in food for the use of the nation, and should continue to bring it in at a time when it is perhaps more needed than at any other time.

There is certainly some scarcity of food in this country at present, and yet one great source of food supply is being cut off unnecessarily. I do appeal to the Government to take measures which will enable these men to put to sea—I do not say under all circumstances, or in all localities—but I do ask that they should be given an opportunity of going to sea and of pursuing their calling and bringing in their cargoes. I would ask the Government to take into serious consideration whether the large stocks of herrings already cured and prepared for shipment to the markets of Germany and Russia cannot be made available for the food of the people or for the use of the Army or Navy during a time of crisis such as this. It is useless to send out the fleets to get more herrings if these enormous stocks remain unsold, and I beg the Government to consider whether they cannot be made available in that way, or whether the Government machinery for the distribution of food, which we understand is to be created, cannot give an eye to the herring fishing industry. I think that some answer should be given to this question, because it is one of life and death. Ruin is staring thousands in the face through no fault of their own, through an accident over which they have no control, and it is, I think, very hard that they should be expected and compelled to bear so large a proportion of the general burden.

Sir J. D. REES

I want to support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Starkey). I am not sure that in the reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Astor) the Government met the point. The Government is asked to pay the rent, subject to some limitation as to the amount of rent paid, of Reservists, Special Reservists, and Territorials who are called up. They are generally older men than the men in the Regular Army. They have probably been longer married and have larger families and larger houses. The lodging allowance made to wives of soldiers in the Regular Army will not suffice to meet then-needs, and it seems only too likely that when they return from the war they may find their homes broken up. That would be a painful and intolerable thing for the country to contemplate, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman meant that. The Prime Minister told me to-day that Lord Kitchener was considering the propriety of detaining some of the officers, I believe some 1,400 in number, who are now about to be returned to the Army in India. There can no longer be any impropriety in my urging most strongly that this should be done, and in begging the right hon. Gentleman to press it upon Lord Kitchener, who obviously, and beyond doubt, will understand the issue better than any other man. Nevertheless, I may be allowed to tell the right hon. Gentleman that large numbers of these officers thoroughly appreciate the fact that the danger-spot now is Europe, that it is a European and not an Indian war, and that there is no danger to India, and that they are wanted here. No European nation can now attack her. Japan is our friend; China is occupied with her own internal revolutions; and there is no danger at present. The people of India have given the most satisfactory proofs lately, even those who might be supposed to be what is called seditiously inclined, of their desire to support the British Empire in the day of trouble. It therefore seems to me that it would be a most unfortunate thing that such a large number of officers should be returned, probably in one or two transports, liable to some accident upon the sea, whereby a large number of lives of incalculable value for filling up the vacancies in the Territorials, and the new 100,000 force upon which the country looks with such confidence for its defence in this crisis, would be lost. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to press this from me. I do not venture to address the House of Gommons without having received a very large cumber of representations from the officers themselves, who are convinced, and they are most excellent judges, that they are wanted here in Europe and not in India at the present time. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made a most satisfactory statement about the measures taken to endeavour to bring home those British subjects who are unfortunately cut off and kept abroad by the war. Might I ask him if he will inquire as to the whereabouts, and endeavour to assist a late highly-respected Member of this House, and a present Member of the other House (Lord Joicey) and his family, who have not been heard of for something like a fortnight, and about whose fate there is considerable anxiety felt in many quarters.


I have put his name on the list that already contains two or three thousand others, and we will do our best.


I heard this afternoon that the Port of London Authority, I presume on the instructions of the Admiralty, have stopped dredging for Thames ballast. Probably the House knows that we have just come, I hope, to the end of a very disastrous building strike, and this Thames ballast—

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