HC Deb 31 August 1914 vol 66 cc536-46

I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the friendly millionaires who support him who is really responsible for our unrivalled trade being almost unaffected, as they are boasting to-night: Does the Government fancy that it is responsible or do the millionaires think that they are responsible? The fact is, the great security of our continued trade is due to about 2 per cent. of the manhood of this nation who are prepared, at the rate of 6s. 8d. per week, to risk their lives on the battlefields of Europe. I would urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to forsake the callous indifference of this and preceding English Governments in their treatment of the soldiers who keep 98 per cent. of the manhood of the country snug, safe, and prosperous. Let him forsake the old time callous indifference and increase the allowances to the wives and children left behind and the pensions, too, of the widows and children, who will number thousands upon thousands before this horrible war is over. Let him also increase the pensions to brokendown soldiers who come back from the firing lines. Although I have tried since five o'clock, I regret I have not been able to speak before. I think the House would have been better engaged in considering its serious obligations to these brave men rather than dealing with other questions which, to my mind, are quite outside the main issue that faces this country and empire—the success of our men in the field.

The separation allowance at the moment to a soldier's wife is 7s. 7d. per week and 1s. 2d. per child per week. So if a wife has two children she will have 9s. 11d. weekly while her husband is abroad. The soldier at' the front gets 6s. 8d. per week, and if he dies his wife is left with a maximum pension of 10s., and an average pension of 7s. 6d. I put it to the House and especially to the Chancellor of the Exchequer who at any rate is not ungenerous to rise to the occasion now and guarantee double the present separation allowances to the wives and children of those who represent the first line of real sacrifice in all this huge area of armies, and to double the separation allowances in every soldier's home, not only in the case of soldiers abroad, but of those those who are under orders to go abroad.

When it comes to the pension, I would urge him to make £1 the minimum pension granted to any widow whose husband sacrifies his life for every Member of that Government and for every one of the 98 per cent. who neither can go or will go to fight their country's battles abroad. I further put it to him in reference to the disabled soldiers that he ought in their case to guarantee a minimum of 20s. per week as long as their disability lasts. I will not delay what is left of the House for a moment, although I speak here with considerable feelings of conscience, because I have been one of those who have been sent up and down the country to encourage recruiting, and scores of men who have joined and sworn allegiance to the Crown have turned to me and said, "We look to you to see that the Government looks after the wife and kiddies while we are away and if we never come back." I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that the obligation is upon him who controls the money bags of the country to see that he reflects the best spirit of the country, which I know is universal, and that no broken soldier either wants for lack of a few shillings and that no wife or child or widow or orphan goes short of bread and meat because the husband and the father has died for him and this old country and Empire.

With reference to the officers, there have been hundreds of men killed in the recent contests who get only 5s. 3d. a day from this ungenerous Government, although no more ungenerous than any preceding Government. The minimum pension for the widow of an officer should be raised to £100 and the minimum for a child should be raised to £25. The total disablement pension should be raised to £150 for an officer. I say these things because it is the least this old House can do and it is what the 98 per cent. who will not or do not go to the front would like to see done for the officers and men of our Army fighting and suffering there. I omitted one point: I think a minimum grant by way of allowance of 2s. 6d. a week should be given to every child of a soldier, whether it is an orphan of a dead soldier or the child of a father who is fighting abroad for his country. All these allowances are only to soldiers who are abroad or under orders to go abroad. I believe that, in granting these, as I hope the Government will grant them, that they will carry with them the views of those who think seriously about the great issue before us. At any rate, without apologising to the House for speaking at this late hour, I intend to keep pounding at the Government, as I have done ever since I came into the House, I intend to stump the country on it, if necessary, and I intend to vote against the Government if necessary. I will do my duty to my conscience and these men who are fighting for me and mine by endeavouring to do what is only fair and seeing that this great country looks after the wives and children of those who are away, and the orphans and widows of those who never come back. It may mean a half-penny on the Income Tax; it may mean, at the most, a penny on the Income Tax; but I appeal to the House, would anybody be mean enough to sit at home while others fight for him and deny this small token of respect and regard for those heroes who have enabled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to stand at the Treasury Box to-night and boast that England's trade and England's millionaires are unaffected by this ghastly war?


I very cordially agree with what has just fallen from the hon. Member, but at the same time when he speaks for the Army and the 98 per cent. there is another force which ranks before the Army and which is more important to this country than the Army. I wish to say a word about the Navy. It is a very important matter, so important that a perfectly plain statement is sufficient, and I wish to make a perfectly plain statement. It is not a party matter and I do not wish it to be made a party matter because I want the moral support of the whole House, such as it is to-night. It is the failure of the Government to give a separation allowance to the sailor's wife. The soldier's wife receives 7s. 7d. a week and 1s. 2d. for every child. On the other hand the sailor's wife receives absolutely nothing. There is no separation allowance for her or for the wife of the Royal Marine or for the child of the, sailor or of the Royal Marine. The Special Reserve man receives 7s. 7d. a week. The ordinary A. B. under six years' service, I believe, receives 11s. 8d. Some of these men are able to send home 10s. a week to their wives. There is nothing for the child, and on 15s. a week the woman and her children have to pay rent and live. At present there is no work to be had. I speak of my own constituency. There are large factories there, but they are closing down because, owing to the benefits of free importation, the majority of the goods they make up are made in Germany, and because of the war they are not now being sent and the factories are closing down, and these poor women are absolutely unable to earn a penny. What is the consequence to them? They can seek charity, they can starve, or there is another alternative, which I will leave to the imagination of the House. It is not possible for these poor women to live on what their husbands are able to send, even if they are able at present to send it, and it is not fair or just-that people on whom we depend in our first line should be worse treated than the soldier. Take a soldier with three or four children. His wife is 6s. or 7s. a week better off than the sailor or the marine in the same position, and that is a position which is shameful to this Government. I shall be told the cost is prohibitive. The cost is something over £2,000,000. We are now probably paying out over £500,000 a day. It means, therefore, two days expenditure of this country to put this matter right, and it is a matter which should be put right even if it means the expenditure of three days. It is necessary for these men who are fighting, and they are probably going to fight during the whole of the long, cruel winter in the North Sea, to know that while they are fighting, while they are ready and willing, as we have seen, to give, their blood for their country, that their wives and children at home, should be looked after by this great country, and not go through what they are going through now in Portsmouth, absolute starvation, because these women can get-no work, they will not beg, and they will not steal. They have only to starve.


I should like to support my hon. Friend the member for Portsmouth in everything he said to-night. I go further, and ask the Secretary to the Admiralty if he will give some information to the House as to why a distinction is made between the soldier and the sailor. The right hon. Gentleman is very courteous to me, and he always answers my questions very clearly. He has also written to me some very polite letters, but he has always said that it is impossible to do what I asked him to do—in fact, impossible to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth asked him to do to-night. I wish to know why it is not possible to place the sailor's wife on the same platform as the soldier's wife. I believe I am right in saying that separation allowance is made to the wife of the Royal Marine when he is on land on active service, but when the Royal Marine is afloat the separation allowance does not stand. What does that mean? If I am rightly informed, it means that the wives of the Royal Marines who have been landed at Ostend are not to be allowed separation allowance because they are landed from ships. The fact of their being on land—at least, so I am informed—does not mean that they are eligible for separation allowance. I think the House will agree with me that the sailor's wife should be considered in exactly the same manner as the soldier's wife. The sailor's wife and family are living in exactly the same circumstances as the soldier's wife and family. The sailor and the Royal Marine on active service have to face the same danger as the soldier on active service, and yet the soldier's wife is given privileges which are not given to the sailor's wife and the Royal Marine's wife. I do not want to suggest that any of those privileges should be taken away from the soldier's wife. On the other hand I should like to see something added to those privileges. What the House would like to know is why the same privileges as are now given to soldiers' wives are not extended to the wives of sailors and Royal Marines.

Mr. HOGGE rose—


The hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak.


I only asked a question as to the Press Bureau.


I have the hon. Member's name in the list of those who have spoken.


I only asked a question, though I should have liked very much to be called upon if I had been able to catch your eye. I hope the Government will take into consideration what has been said by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Greenwood). I do not think the question of money should affect the Government on this point. This war we are waging is not only for ourselves but for posterity. It means the whole future of the British empire, and why these charges cannot, be carried as part of the National Debt I do-not know. They ought to be carried as part of the National Debt every whit as much as the money we are expending now. I hope that the Financial Secretary will convey to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has always shown himself extremely sympathetic to those who have lived in those conditions, that public opinion expects that, at any rate, a minimum ought to be paid to married men, not less than £1 a week for their dependents, and that would be the beet stimulus to recruiting that we could possibly have. It is absolutely hopeless for Members of this House attempting to help in the present situation. A great many of us have volunteered in quite a number of ways. Two ways have been suggested to me. One was to go on local relief committees. In a great many cases that is already being very well done in the localities. If you take our large corporations you find sufficient men of public spirit who are doing all that kind of work that is required. The second thing offered to me was a clerkship in connection with the organisation of relief in London, I believe under someone-called Morant, whoever he may be. I replied to that suggestion that that seemed to me to be the very class of work that ought to be given to unemployed men.

A great many clerks are now thrown out of work and it seems to me an absolute shame that any of us should step in and do this work and keep people out of employment. If these are the only suggestions that can be made it seems to me that we are in an extremely hopeless position. The Government should bear in mind that many of us are prepared to give up our vacation in the periods when we are not sitting here to do anything that is really helpful. The Government have a vast reserve of strength in the House here quite willing to help. They have made the age so high as to prevent some of us from enlisting as soldiers and going to the front as many of us would do if we got the opportunity. We are all anxious to help and I hope that the Secretary to the Treasury will convey this to the Government in the period which elapses before we return, is there nothing which the Government can suggest to Members of this House which would make them really feel that in addition to all they are capable of doing in other ways they are having a real hand in the business of the State? There must be many of the Government Departments which must at present be capable of reinforcement. For instance the Scottish Board of Agriculture is looking after putting men on the land. Men cannot be got on the land because of the paucity of staff in connection with the Board of Agriculture. A great many of us would be quite willing to go on the Board of Agriculture for the next six months to expedite men going on the land. There are a good many things of this kind which may be considered before we come back to the House. I believe the hon. Member for Sutherland is right. The people of this country do not keep their end up with regard to the money which they pay to soldiers and sailors. We ought to make that the first consideration. We ought not to be afraid of increasing the National Debt if need be by paying these people not only what they deserve but something really that we cannot express in money, our appreciation of the services rendered not only to us at this time but to the whole future of the British Empire and to what I consider the leading civilisation in the world.


No one, I think, will charge me with lack of sympathy with these men, and their wives and children. I am myself the son of a non-commissioned officer. Therefore he will not accuse me of lack of sympathy with soldiers' wives and families, especially at this time. Goodness knows I should never begrudge them anything in any circumstances. But I think that my hon. Friend is not fully familiar with the provision which the State makes, first as regards soldiers' wives and children. I will place in his hands the full statement of the public assistance which is given to the soldier's wife.


From the State?


From the State. I quite agree that the soldier's wife does get assistance now from public funds during this war, whether the husband is carried on the strength or not. She will get 1s. 1d. a day separation allowance; 2d. for each child; 6d. a day if she lives in London, and 6d. from her husband's pay if he is abroad, and a 1d. for each child if he is abroad. That is the case of the private's wife. The colour-sergeants, quartermasters, and warrant-officers of equivalent rank get a higher allowance. In the case of the private's wife it work's out at 2d. less than £1 a week. In the case of colour-sergeants, quartermasters, and warrant-officers the amount is rather larger. I am taking the case of the wife living in London and her husband abroad, and if my hon. Friend (Mr. Hamar Greenwood) will do me the pleasure of reading through carefully the provisions from public funds for the soldier's wife I think he will see his way to modify some of the rather severe statements which he has made. I will put it into his hand, and he will then be in a position to see what the State does. In regard to the sailor, he is, generally speaking, better paid than the soldier. Apart from his substantive pay he may get what is unknown in the Army, except in the artillery and engineers, namely, non-substantive pay, and one out of every two sailors in the British Navy-gets non-substantive pay ranging from 2d. to 1s. 7d. a day. In addition to that, if you examine the number of petty officers, chief petty officers, and warrant officers you will see that the opportunities for advancement are much greater than in the case of the soldiers.

At this moment it is not legal to deduct anything from a sailor's pay in support of his wife or other dependent relatives, but as the two hon. Gentlemen opposite know from their great acquaintance with the dockyard, a great many sailors make remittances to their wives, and a great many more declare allotments month by month in favour of their wives or other dependent relatives. On the 1st August, before the declaration of war, we had 73,000 allotments to deal with, and to send out to sailors' wives, and in many cases to aged fathers or mothers. During the month of August, since the beginning of the war, the number of allotments has been increased by 37,000, so that last Saturday we sent out for the first of the month 110,250 allotments, which will be received regularly month by month on the declaration of the sailor in favour of his wife or other dependent relatives. The average amount is two guineas. That figure takes no account of the remittances which many sailors make by way of postal orders in private letters to their wives, or by the official remittance system of the Admiralty. During August from 7,000 to 10,000 remittances went out from the sailors in addition to the allotments. My rough estimate is that the number of married men with the Fleet is from 80,000 to 85,000, so that if they send 110,250 allotments I find that a very great majority of sailors' wives are assisted regularly by these allotments from the husbands' pay. It is also true that the blue-jackets, in addition to assisting their wives do, in many cases, help aged parents out of their pay. The Soldiers and Sailors Families Association, which is an excellent organisation, has been very rapidly mobilized, and is now receiving grants from the Prince of Wales Fund. It is doing its best to meet any cases of temporary difficulty which may have arisen from the rapid mobilization, the non-receipt of remittances, or the nonpayment of allotments.

I desire to pay a tribute of gratitude to all those who have assisted in giving at once, so much help to those who, for the moment, find themselves in temporary distress. No doubt, in rapid mobilization of large numbers of men, there must be cases of temporary distress. The great bulk of these cases, from the first of the month, will now find themselves in receipt of regular contributions from their husbands, and a large number of persons in each locality, connected with the services, and others, are only too glad to do what they can for those whose husbands, whose fathers, or sons may be serving their King and country at the present time.


Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to my question with regard to the Royal Marines at Ostend?


The Royal Marine, when he is on shore, detached from headquarters on special duty, gets the separation allowance, but he is then treated under the Army Council Regulations. Therefore, the wives of all Royal Marines, whether married on the strength or not, if they are on detached duty on shore, get the separation allowance.


Will the men at Ostend get the separation allowance?


Are they on shore at Ostend?


Certainly they are.


Then they will get the separation allowance.

Question, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn till Wednesday, 9th September," put, and agreed to.