HC Deb 13 May 1918 vol 106 cc11-3

asked the Minister of National Service if he will give a ruling on the practice of the Department in interpreting the concession that the only surviving son of a widow who has lost one or more sons in the War shall not be called up for military service; whether the National Service representative on the Carnarvonshire County Appeal Tribunal was justified in maintaining that the concession did not apply to the case of a widow who gave birth to a son three months after the death of the father, which child is now two months old, the only other child of. the widow being a son of military age who is the sole support of his mother; whether the concession applies in the case of the only surviving son of a widower who has lost two sons in the War, one seriously wounded and another in the hospital, and a fifth now serving in Mesopotamia; and whether the National Service representative was justified in maintaining that the term, "the only surviving son of a widow," did not include the case of a widower in the case indicated?


I assume that the concession to which the hon. Member refers is the provision in the Proclamation of the 20th April permitting application for exemption to be made to a tribunal on the part of a man decertified by the Proclamation if he is the last surviving son of a widow of whom at least one son has died as a result of wounds received in, or sickness contracted by, service with the forces during the present War, The limits of this provision are clearly defined, and, although I recognise that cases of inevitable hardship will occur outside the scope of the provision, I regret that it is not possible to extend its application beyond the limits laid down, which were decided upon after full consideration of the difficulties involved.


Has the hon. Gentleman seen the report in the Press on Saturday of the only surviving son of a widow being taken because of the birth of another son some months ago, and does the National Service Department accept that decision?


I have seen the case, and unfortunately it has been my duty to see many most distressing cases, but as regards the last part of the question it is a matter for the decision of the Government as a whole. The emergency is very great. This method of recruiting men was put into effect only after what happened in France, and my right hon. Friend has to advise the Government that, distressing though it may be, men cannot be obtained unless the strictest regard is paid to the rule which has been laid down.


Are we to understand that the representative of the Ministry of National Service in the case mentioned has contended that a child two months old must be regarded as disqualifying the widow from the protection given as regards the only surviving son?


Can the Government explain how a child two months old is going to be able to support the widowed mother? Mr. BECK: It is not a question of support. That should be dealt with by separation allowances. The Regulation is an endeavour to prevent an entire family being wiped out. I agree that cases of distressing hardship are brought to our notice, but as the War lengthens it brings ever greater sorrow in its train. This we must face if the War is to be won.


Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Italian Government has just made a series of wide exemptions dealing with such cases?


I am not aware of it.


Has any calculation been made to see what would be lost to the Army by trying to meet such extremely grave and hard cases?


Yes. We have endeavoured to make calculations. There are very few data available, but we do believe that once you open this door wider— it is open to a small extent already— it will mean many thousands of cases.


Can the hon. Gentleman state what the figure of his calculation was?


I could not possibly do that.