HC Deb 16 January 1940 vol 356 cc9-12
18. Captain Plugge

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will state the number of complaints received as to nonpayment of wives' or dependants' allowances, respectively, in each week since 14th December?

Mr. Stanley

A large number of letters connected with wives' and dependants' allowances are received daily by the War Office and the Army Pay Offices. Most of these letters emanate from persons, claiming to be dependent upon soldiers, whose claims are either under investigation or have not previously been initiated. Complaints from wives regarding nonpayment of family allowance are relatively rare. To attempt a classification which would be of any value would impose a heavy task on staffs already overworked, and would seriously delay current work.

Mr. George Griffiths

Is the Minister aware of the long delays that occur in the case of allowances to dependants other than wives? I hope that now he has got this office he will stir them up.

Mr. Stanley

I will look into the matter, but the information which I have is that the number of complaints of nonpayment, or of payments being overdue, where the allowance has been granted, are very few.

Mr. Griffiths

There are thousands.

Viscountess Astor

Will the Minister make it plainer that when a soldier applies for an allowance for what the authorities are pleased to call an unmarried wife—though there can be no such thing—that the wife who has been granted a separation by the court shall have the first call on the man and not the unmarried wife?

Mr. Stanley

That point is dealt with in the next Question.

Mr. Macquisten

In Scotland the law recognises marriage by habit and repute, although there has been no marriage ceremony.

19. Captain Plugge

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the procedure in respect of a claim for allowance by a deserted or separated wife; and whether the authorities also simultaneously entertain a claim by an unmarried wife living with the husband in question?

Mr. Stanley

As regards the first part of the Question, a soldier's deserted or separated wife desiring to prefer a claim against him for maintenance should report the circumstances to the headquarters of the Military Command in which the soldier is serving, or, if he is serving with the British Expeditionary Force, to the officer in charge of records of his unit. If the address of the officer concerned is not known, the application may be sent to the War Office. If a court order has been made in respect of the case, a copy of this should accompany the application. In such cases, the soldier concerned may be placed under a compulsory stoppage of pay as provided in Section 145 (2) of the Army Act, and if, in the case of a man who has been called up for service in connection with the war, the amount so stopped is appreciably less than that which he was contributing towards the maintenance of his wife before being called up, special assistance in respect of this deficiency can be granted by the Ministry of Pensions if this course is recommended by the War Service Grants Advisory Committee.

As regards the second part of the Question, the existence of a deserted or separated wife does not debar the soldier from obtaining a special dependant's allowance for an "unmarried wife," subject to the conditions laid down in the regulations.

Mr. John Morgan

Does not the War Office pay any grant at all to a separated wife, supplementing a court order, as in the case of a dependant's allowance?

Mr. Stanley

As I understand it this allowance can only be paid to a separated wife where there is no court order if when the man was called up, there was actual dependence. Where there is a court order what can be done is to make a stoppage of pay, and application can be also made to the War Service Grants Advisory Committee.

Mr. Morgan

Does the War Office treat the separated wife as not a wife at all in the sense that they do not make her any sort of dependant's allowance over and above the court order?

Mr. Stanley

It depends upon whether she is in fact a dependant.

Viscountess Astor

Is it not true that owing to that unfortunate phrase "unmarried wife" many soldiers put down the unmarried wife to receive the allowance, although an order has been made upon them by the court to pay an allowance to their wives; and is it not true that the War Office has made things so obscure that these women—

Hon. Members