HC Deb 17 October 1939 vol 352 cc662-6
25. Miss Ward

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in order to avoid delay in the payment of separation allowances, he is considering an alteration of the present unsatisfactory machinery?

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hore-Belisha)

There were 289,381 claims for family allowance received as at 8th October last. Of these, 281,302 were paid as at the same date. The outstanding claims amounted to 2.7 per cent. Most of these have since been cleared, and, of the balance, a large number are likely to be inadmissible. I fully appreciate the desirability of there being no outstanding claims, but I am afraid that this is sometimes inevitable since the essential particulars are often not forthcoming. Every possible step is being taken to ensure that all outstanding cases are cleared up with the minimum of delay and that the machinery should work as rapidly as possible in the future. I naturally very much regret any case of delay which, in some cases, is quite inevitable owing to no fault in the machinery, but to the conditions in which large numbers of individual claims are being dealt with, some of them being incomplete and others wrongly directed. I am having the whole machinery examined so that on the War Office side there may be as few imperfections as possible.

Miss Ward

Has my right hon. Friend made inquiries from the Families' Association, the Unemployment Assistance Board, and from the general officers commanding the various areas as to the value of the present machine as it operates now?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Yes, Sir. I welcome any suggestions and, as I have told my hon. Friend, I am having the whole machine looked at again. She will see how few proportionately are the number of cases which are not promptly dealt with.

Miss Ward

Has my right hon. Friend asked for a report from these different sources?

Mr. T. Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are cases of regular soldiers whose wives were entitled to allowances from 1st September who have not yet received any allowance and to whom no allotments have been made?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Yes, Sir. That may be so. I candidly admit that there are cases of this kind. I have looked into cases as far as I can where my attention has been drawn to them, personally. It often transpires that it is not the fault of the machinery but of the imperfect particulars given and the difficulty of tracing them. I do not wish to excuse any delay, but I wish to assure the House that I am going through the machine in detail, because I do not want these cases to arise.

Mr. Buchanan

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it simple and easy for a person to give particulars? Is he sure that the particulars for which he asks are asked for as simply as they might be?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

That is exactly what I am trying to do. The man is now given his form to fill in on his medical examination instead of at a later stage, so that the allowance may be ready. I will do my best to expedite in every possible way the payment of these allowances. I am afraid there will always be in individual cases some disappointment, but it is not always the fault of the machinery.

Mr. Grevil Hall

Will the right hon. Gentleman invite the commanding officers and others to send in evidence or will he wait for it?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

That has not only been done but a special tour is being made to investigate on the spot. I am fully aware of the desirability of dealing with these claims quickly, and I hope the delays will not be too numerous.

Mr. David Grenfell

Is it not possible now to arrange so that each individual soldier in filling in his form shall have the assistance of someone connected with the right hon. Gentleman's Department to ensure that no delays shall ensue, and that these men shall receive the allowance due to them immediately?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Assistance is already available. If anything more can be done to avoid mistakes and delay I am only too anxious to do it.

39. Viscountess Astor

asked the Secretary of State for War whether the regulations provide that an unmarried woman who has been living with a soldier for six months prior to his enlistment shall receive the same allowance as a wife?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Yes, Sir, provided that she was wholly or substantially maintained by him on a permanent domestic basis for a continuous period of not less than six months immediately before the date of his joining the colours.

Viscountess Astor

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that this is conducive to decent married life?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I think it is conducive to decent treatment of the soldier in the circumstances.

Mr. Thurtle

May I ask whether this is not in accordance with common sense and the feeling of the country; and that the country thoroughly approves of it?

Mr. Duncan

Does the right lion. Gentleman include widows as unmarried women?

Viscountess Astor

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it is very difficult when some of these young men know that by living with a woman for six months they can get the same as a marriage allowance?

40. Mr. Ede

asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been called to the difficulties experienced by the wives of Territorial and other soldiers living in districts where the cir-cumstances of the past few years have compelled working people either to buy their houses on an instalment plan or to pay rents of £ a week or over, to maintain themselves and the soldiers' children on their separation allowances; and what practical steps he is taking to remove these difficulties?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

A certain measure of protection is given in these cases by the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act, 1939, and the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Act, 1939. In addition, where there is hardship due to the man's being called up for service, which cannot be met by the normal allowances or in other ways, application may be made for special assistance, which will be considered by the Military Service (Special Allowances) Advisory Committee.

Mr. Ede

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how long he expects it will take to reach a decision in these cases, because a large number of them are applying to the public assistance authorities?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I do not think there is a large number, but I could not give a reply on particular cases without notice.

Mr. G. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider setting up a Civil Liabilities Committee, such as was set up and worked well in the last war, instead of this committee, as nobody can get anything out of it?

44. Sir A. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for War whether the separated wife of a soldier called up for service is entitled to maintenance allowance for herself and her children?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

A separated wife is eligible for an allowance as a dependant under certain conditions which are set out in Army Order 170 of 1939 of which I will send my hon. and gallant Friend a copy.

Miss Ward

May I ask whether these cases will be dealt with expeditiously, and not held up, as in the case of the small number of people who have still not received allowances?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I do not know why the hon. Lady tries to make the most of the difficulties. I have told her I will do my best in all cases.

Viscountess Astor

Suppose a man who is separated from his wife has been living with a woman for six months prior to being called up, does this woman get a maintenance allowance?

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