HC Deb 14 November 1939 vol 353 cc523-9
15. Mr. Dobbie

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that many soldiers and their wives, who have entered into financial obligations for buying their house when in civil life, are unable to keep these payments up to date on their military pay; what financial assistance is he prepared to give these people; and is he ready now, in view of the many anomalies in regard to soldier's pay, at once to make considerable increase in such pay?

16. Mr. Ede

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the wife of No. W/6083670, Private C. E. G. Watts, 2/5th Queen's Royal Regiment, Royal West Surreys, has to keep herself and seven children, after paying rent and insurances, on 29s. 4d. a week; that she applied for public assistance and was granted 20s. by the relieving officer, who instructed her to apply to the regimental paymaster for supplementary assistance; that the regimental paymaster, Ashford, replied informing Mrs. Watts that she was receiving the full amount of family allowance to which she was entitled; and will steps be taken to ensure that in this and similar cases the regimental paymaster shall assist the soldier's wife in getting the case properly put before the Military Service (Special Allowances) Advisory Committee?

39. Mr. Georģe Hall

asked the Secretary of State for War the purpose of the inquiry conducted by representatives of the War Office in towns in South Wales; has he received a report of this inquiry; and will it be published?

75. Mr. Price

asked the Secretary of State for war whether he will now reconsider an increase in the allowance for children of men serving in His Majesty's Forces to the rate of 5s. for each child?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

As I have a long reply to make, perhaps I may be allowed to make it at the end of Questions.


Mr. Hore-Belisha

As the House is aware sailors, soldiers and airmen are paid upon a progressive scale, which rises in accordance with their ability and length of service. At the same time each man is provided with clothing, food and accommodation. In addition, if he is married, he is entitled, subject to fulfilment of the prescribed conditions, and provided that he makes an allotment to his wife, to an allowance in respect of her and of any children he may have. The minimum rate of marriage allowance which was until April, 1938, 7s., was then raised to 17s., an increase which gave general satisfaction, and at this figure it now stands. Shortly before the war the qualifying age for marriage allowance was reduced to 20 and for the period of the war there is no age limit at all.

The allowances for children are 5s. for the first child, 3s. for the second, 2s. for the third and is for every child thereafter. These allowances, in conjunction with the wife's allowance and the allotment made by the soldier, had under peace conditions been accepted as adequately meeting the circumstances. Since then, however, it has been represented in regard to some of those, who have left their civilian occupations and who have had to accommodate themselves to new conditions, that hardship has arisen, especially since these men, unlike regular soldiers who have had opportunities of increasing their pay, are mostly starting at the bottom of the ladder.

A Debate recently took place in this House, in which it was stated that the commitment of rent was, in many instances, out of relation to the allowances received and that because of this factor in particular, moneys which might have been spent upon the family sustenance were hypothecated to this item.

Some ten days ago officials were despatched from the War Office to investigate conditions in the South Wales area, where it had been reported that difficulties were being encountered. I have now heard from the officials in question that high rent is indeed the principal cause of strain upon the family resources. I am glad to say that the machinery for the payment of family allowances was, generally speaking, reported to be working smoothly.

His Majesty's Government have had these matters under consideration and I am glad to announce that the Military Service (Special Allowances) Advisory Committee will be empowered henceforward to grant up to £2 a week exclusive of and in addition to the other allowances received from Service Departments, instead of as at present a maximum of £2 inclusive of such allowances. This will enable additional assistance to be granted in cases of hardship due to special factors such as high rent. I will circulate to the House some supplementary particulars including a description of the procedure to be followed, and I trust that this will be made widely known.

It is hoped that the new arrangements which I have described will relieve the main cause of any hardship which may have been felt. In addition, however, His Majesty's Government have decided in the conditions of the time to raise the rates of allowance for children after the first child, and in future instead of these rates being 3s. for the second child, 2s. for the third, and is each for subsequent children, they will be 4s. for the second child and 3s. each for all other children. Thus, to take the large family for which it has most frequently been represented that the allowances are insufficient, in a household with eight children, which is possibly not normal, there will be paid in respect of a soldier on the lowest rate of pay to the wife 17s., plus 7s. allotment in respect of herself equals 24s., plus 5s. for the first child equals 29s., plus 4s. for the second child equals 33s., plus 3s. each for the remaining six, equals 51s., and further, in the event of any special circumstances such as high rent a claim can be made and met to the extent of a further £2a week should the claim be justified. In order that the new scheme may come into operation with machinery adequate to cope with it, payment of increased children's allowance will begin in three or four weeks' time and will be retrospective to 13th November or the nearest related pay day.

The cost to the taxpayer will naturally depend on the numbers and age groups of those enlisted. On present figures it will add in the case of the Army alone to an existing annual expenditure of some £10,000,000 on children's allowances, some £2,000,000 and this is expected to be doubled in due course. These figures exclude the present cost, estimated at some £25,000,000, of the allowance in respect of the wives themselves, which is a rising figure, and the cost of the allowances to be made by the Military Service (Special Allowances) Advisory Committee which cannot be estimated. His Majesty's Government trust that the easement of the position for the families of soldiers, sailors and airmen which I have announced will be found generally acceptable.

Mr. T. Williams

While we naturally welcome the concessions which have been made, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman meant that the total cost to the Army of separation and children's allowances will be £10,000,000, or whether he meant that the extra cost of the revised allowances would be £10,000,000?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I said that the present cost to the Army alone of children's allowances was £10,000,000, and these concessions will add another £2,000,000. which sum will in due course be doubled and, therefore, become £4,000,000. The cost of the other separation allowances, those of the wives, for instance, is £25,000,000 a year, which will also rise considerably.

Mr. Butcher

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how the allowances compare with those in the French Army?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I believe the maximum allowance in France for a wife is 14s. a week.

Mr. Dobbie

The Minister has referred to an allowance for rent. Does that also include the obligations of men who were buying their houses and are under financial obligations in consequence?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Yes, Sir, most certainly. They will be entitled to make a claim, and their claim can be met in appropriate circumstances to the extent of £2, exclusive and apart from the allowances which I have announced.

Colonel Nathan

Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to make the possible £2 retrospective to the beginning of the war; or, if that be impossible, can he promise that a discretion shall be given to the committee in special cases of hardship which have arisen since the beginning of the war?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I would not like to say more than that they will date from yesterday, but I shall be ready to see whether that is possible. The hon. and gallant Member will realise that every claim varies in character, and it would give rise to considerable delays, and perhaps some disappointment, if I made such an announcement now.

Sir J. Smedley Crooke

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statement which he has made will give general satisfaction throughout the country?

Sir W. Brass

In view of the fact that these concessions are made for rent, would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to give some indication to the country generally of what are the basic rents above which claims can be made, so as to clarify the position?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

That, again, is a matter for this Special Allowances Committee, which has to take all the circumstances into account, and I think it would be unfair to name a stipulated rent and say everyone beneath it will be excluded.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Is anything being done for dependants other than wives and children?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I read with very great care the Debate on this subject which took place in the House, and I have met all the points which were made in that Debate. If hon. Members look at the Debate they will see that the real grievance was the high rent, and that I have endeavoured to meet, and in addition the Government have increased the children's allowances. No case was stated on behalf of other dependants which is not already met under the present procedure. Obviously, we want to treat our armed forces as fairly as possible within the resources of the country, and as no case for dependants was made which is not already met I have not included dependants, because the Government have not considered that matter.

Mr. T. Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that I did state in the course of my speech that in the Great War any mother could make a claim to 5s. per week for every unmarried son under 26 years of age? Under the Regulations now made no mother, widowed or otherwise, can make any claim at all, unless and until she has passed through the means test laid down in the regulations. Is he also not aware that I definitely said in my speech that I did not want to prolong it because so many other Members wished to speak?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

If the hon. Member looks at what we are doing now and what we did in the last war as a whole he will find that more generous treatment is now being provided. In the case of dependency there must, of course, be an inquiry to establish the facts; there are no other means of doing so. A mother who is totally dependent can get up to 26s., I think, and not 5s. We make it a question of fact. I think the scheme as a whole is more favourable, and if it is suggested that it is not I am willing to look into it, but I think what I have said is accurate.

Miss Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance that the investigations will not be carried out by the investigators of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and also ask when the rules governing these new special allowances will be issued?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

As I have said in my answer, a full description of the whole procedure covering the points raised by my hon. Friend will be circulated.

Miss Ward

May I have an answer to my first question?

Following are the supplementary particulars:

Military Service (Special Allowances) Advisory Committee. This Committee was originally appointed in June, 1939, by the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War, the Secretary of State for Air and the Minister of Labour, to consider applications for special monetary assistance from those who, notwithstanding the special protection afforded by the Orders in Council made under the Military Training Act, 1939, and the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act, 1939, and any normal allowances granted for families and dependants, were unable, by reason of undergoing a course of training or of being called out for service under those Acts, to meet their financial obligations, whereby serious hardship was caused. On the outbreak of war it was decided that the Committee should deal with similar cases of hardship due to the calling up of men for war service. The Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Charles Doughty, K.C., deals with applications both from officers and from other ranks. In order to simplify the procedure and expedite consideration of these applications, each of which requires separate investigation, a new procedure is being introduced which is as follows: — When a soldier is serving overseas, a form of application (No. M.S.A.C. 21) may be obtained by the wife or dependant from any local office of the Unemployment Assistance Board or from the Regimental Paymaster of the man's unit. The wife or dependant should send a postcard to the local Unemployment Assistance Board Office, or to the Regimental Paymaster marked "Special Allowance" and stating her (or his) name and the address to which the form should be sent. The addresses of the Unemployment Assistance Board offices and of paymasters may be obtained at any Post Office. The form may then be completed and signed by the wife or dependant on the soldier's behalf, and should be returned direct to the office from which it was received. Where the man is in this country, he should make application himself on a form which he will obtain from his Commanding Officer. When the completed form is received, the necessary investigation will be carried out as rapidly as possible and the application transmitted for the consideration of the Advisory Committee. Some measure of decentralisation of the work of the Committee is about to be tried experimentally with a view to seeing whether the machinery would thereby be improved. For the Royal Navy the Director of Navy Accounts, Admiralty, Bath, Somerset, and for the Royal Air Force the Director of Accounts, Air Ministry, Tetbury, Gloucestershire, take the place of the Regimental Paymaster; in the case of the Royal Marines the Paymaster at the Royal Marines Division to which the man belongs.