HC Deb 14 March 1940 vol 358 cc1404-35

5. "That a sum, not exceeding £35,307 17s. 9d., be granted to His Majesty, to make good excesses of Navy Expenditure beyond the grants for the year ended the 31st day of March, 1939."

No. of Vote. Navy Services, 1938, Votes. Deficits. Surpluses.
Excesses of actual over estimated gross Expenditure. Deficiencies of actual as compared with estimated Receipts. Surpluses of estimated over actual gross Expenditure. Surpluses of actual as compared with estimated Receipts.
£ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d.
1 Wages, etc., of Officers, and Men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and Civilians employed on Fleet Services. 157,694 15 3 25,773 1 2
2 Victualling and Clothing for the Navy. 119,481 17 2 115,151 12 4
3 Medical Establishments and Services. 20,957 18 5 2,645 13 5
4 Fleet Air Arm
5 Educational Services 2,917 1 9 260 0 7
6 Scientific Services 4,566 7 2 6,389 14 6
7 Royal Naval Reserves. 69 2 11 15,369 8 2
8 Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, etc.:
Sec. 1. Personnel 119,646 13 11 65,667 6 11
Sec. 2. Matériel 353,839 5 7 487,240 4 7
Sec. 3. Contract Work 65,686 6 3 12,239 6 9
9 Naval Armaments 376,391 19 7 467,113 4 10
10 Works, Buildings, and Repairs at Home and Abroad. 9,299 0 8 36,763 4 11
11 Miscellaneous Effective Services. 80,579 18 8 14,156 11 0
12 Admiralty Office 12,423 0 11 6,179 18 5
13 Non-Effective Services (Naval and Marine), Officers. 3,091 17 7 1,791 7 0
14 Non-Effective Services (Naval and Marine), Men. 12,316 17 4 5,273 5 3
15 Civil Superannuation, Allowances, and Gratuities. 55,284 9 8 1 9 11
Balances irrecoverable and Claims abandoned. 1,184 19 2
Excess Vote 594,538 14 3 751,838 15 6 1,067,779 11 6 243,290 0 6
35,307 17 9
594,538 14 3 751,838 15 6 1,103,087 9 3 243,290 0 6
£1,346,377 9 9 £1,346,377 9 9"

First Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)

I regret that on the Report stage those of us who are on this side of the House cannot follow the usual practice of discussing in general the speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War made on Tuesday and of dealing as we would like to do with some of the things concerning the Forces. It may be, of course, that other Members will want to discuss some of these matters, but in view of the very important statement that the right hon. Gentleman made in respect of allowances, we wish to concentrate on the statement he made with regard to concessions, and to try and measure their effect upon the people who are going to receive them. It will be remembered by the House that the right hon. Gentleman made a very thorough statement follow- ing a promise he made some weeks ago to give consideration to the question of these allowances. Might I say, as one who was here when the last Debate on allowances took place, that both I and my colleagues appreciate the fact that the right hon. Gentleman sat through the whole of that Debate, which was on the Adjournment, and listened very patiently to the complaints that were made on that occasion. That was refreshing, because it had appeared to us—and I think the House had become generally conscious of it—that the heads of Departments, since the war, were not putting in too much time on the occasion of Adjournment Debates.

The right hon. Gentleman said, on that occasion, that he would give consideration to the points raised in the Debate, and it would be less than just if we were not to say that he has carried out that promise. Although it does not give full satisfaction to those on this side of the House, it is only right to say that we appreciate the fact that he has, obviously, thoroughly gone over the whole system of allowances and made some concessions. These concessions have, rightly, received a good deal of public notice because of their effect upon the lives of the mass of humble people. But I think the right hon. Gentleman himself will agree that the conditions of the allowances to the dependants of soldiers are so complicated that it is important that we should closely examine them in order to see what has been done and what has been left undone.

I think it is important that the beneficiaries should understand what they are likely to receive, and it is also important that the House and the country should not be misled on the point that, in spite of these concessions, there will still be large numbers of dependants to whom they will mean nothing at all. The right hon. Gentleman gave a good deal of attention to the points we raised concerning the very strong bar that was put up against any parent receiving a pension unless the father was incapable of earning his living. It would be almost true to say that it is practically impossible under the old conditions for any parent to receive an allowance. Up and down the country fathers and mothers have been to Members, or written to them, complaining that they were refused an allowance and that the paymaster used to write them a short note simply saying he had decided that no allowance was admissible in their case. Under the old conditions that was almost a farce, and I am glad to say the right hon. Gentleman has put that matter right. He has broken down the barrier of incapability. But I am not quite so sure what will be the total result of that action.

The Financial Secretary to the War Office told us in the Debate the other night that about 20 per cent. of the claims which had been rejected would now be admitted as a result of this change. I hope so, and in view of the lack of general statistics on this matter we shall have to take that statement as a fact. That is a concession for which we are not ungrateful, because it concerns a really vital matter, and we can only express the hope that the figure which was given by the Financial Secretary will be confirmed in practice. I should like to ask what will be the awards in these cases. Does this mean that parents will get awards of 12s. or 17s.? That, I take it, all depends on the amount which the son had been contributing towards the home, and on whether or not he had made an allotment.

On the question of allotments, let me refer to the statement of the Financial Secretary to the War Office on Tuesday night to the effect that there were some 50,000 young men who were making no allotments. We have always to bear in mind the fact that in this Army, as the result of conscription, which applies to all without regard to class or anything else, there must be a large number of young men who come from professional families and whose fathers are in receipt of good incomes. One can understand that young men in those cases do not make any allotments. I notice that the Secretary of State for War shakes his head. I do not deny that in some cases—

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

I think the hon. Gentleman is misinterpreting the statement of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office. He did not say that 50,000 young men were not making allotments. He said there were 50,000 who had claimed dependants' allowances and that as those allowances had been refused, the men had then said they would not make allotments themselves.

Mr. Lawson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation. I had not time to look up the OFFICIAL REPORT of the speech of the Financial Secretary to the War Office. All I know is that the statement, as I have made it, appeared in the newspapers without any modification, and I am pleased to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I know that there are odd cases in which young men have not made allotments and in which I think allotments ought to have been made. That is probably the experience of every Member of this House. But having said that, I think it is to the credit of the young men of this country that in the great mass of cases they have deprived themselves of spending power, in order to make, at least, the minimum allowance laid down by the War Office. I should not quibble about the demand that allotments should be made before allowances are made, because if young men do not think it worth while to allot something then it shows that they have no regard for their homes. In the last war many men were left with less than 3s. 6d. for themselves. Some of us have had experience in that connection.

It will be interesting to see how this matter works out in practice and what awards will be given. I only hope that it will prove to be the case that 20 per cent. of cases which have hitherto been refused will now receive allowances as a result of this concession. I, for one, do not belittle the concession. It must be borne in mind that we have, so to speak, started from scratch in the matter of these allowances, and I must confess that in view of the small amount of notice which was taken of previous criticisms on this matter, I almost despaired that any proper notice would be taken of it until there was a real appeal from the country, as a result of the feeling which was undoubtedly growing. I am glad, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman has taken notice of our representations.

The right hon. Gentleman also told us that the widows' allowance would be raised from 20s. 6d. to 24s. in the cases of those who were living alone. We would like to know the exact value of that concession in terms of money. For instance, if a widow who is in receipt of a pension of 10s. a week has two sons in the Army—and that is the kind of case with which one meets rather too often—and those two sons have allotted her 7s. a week each that means that the widow, with her pension, is getting a total of 24s. a week. Does that also mean that she receives nothing under this concession? I expect the right hon. Gentleman will give us an explicit answer upon that question later. There is some doubt in the minds of hon. Members upon this point. We are grateful for the White Paper which does much to simplify these conditions, so that people can come nearer to understanding them than was possible before. On page 5 the White Paper sets out the case of a household in which certain factors are to be disregarded. First, there is rent; secondly, there is the first 5s. of sick pay from a friendly society; thirdly, the first 7s. 6d. a week of any benefit under the National Health Insurance Acts; fourthly, the first £1 of any wound or disability pension; and, fifthly, half any weekly payment by way of compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. Do these apply in the case of the widow? It does not seem to me that they are applicable in those cases. If they are not, it means that although the right hon. Gentleman has increased the amount which a widow can receive if she is living by herself, yet, if she has two sons in the Army, the concession means nothing to her. In similar cases, in which rents of 12s. to 14s. had to be paid, I found that women had to go to the public assistance officer for help, which is a shameful state of affairs.

As I said in the last Debate, the woman who has lost her husband has often a great struggle to bring up her family. Boys often declare that when they grow to be men they will do great things for their mothers but it is just at the time when a boy really becomes useful, when he would be able to make easier the lot of a widowed mother, and give her some reward for her labour and patience in bringing up a family without the help of a husband in the home, which is a big moral as well as economic factor—it is just at that time, that these boys are, by law, taken away from their homes. Is it right that a widow in such a case should receive nothing by way of compensation for the loss of those boys? I do not think any Member of this House would deny that women in those circumstances are entitled to a definite allowance. I fear, in spite of the concession which the right hon. Gentleman has made, that in cases such as I have described a woman will receive nothing in respect of her sons having been taken into the Army. Suppose one son goes to the Army and another is left. Then the means test comes into operation. In fact, the woman would receive nothing under those conditions. This is one of the outstanding instances in which, despite the right hon. Gentleman's sympathy, these arrangements will work out in practice in such a way that those who ought to be recipients of allowances will get no satisfaction at all from the concession.

The right hon. Gentleman settled, I think to the satisfaction of most Members, the question of separated wives. That was a great grievance, and I would like to put one point to him concerning it. Most Members know what was happening previously. I do not know what is the new name which it has been decided to apply in these cases—

Mr. Stanley

"Unmarried dependants living as wives."

Mr. Lawson

That is a very useful definition, but rather long to be memorised easily. The real trouble in the case of the separated wife was that she did not get the amount which had been granted to her by the court. The right hon. Gentleman has settled that, and I, for one, am pleased. The decision has given satisfaction and has relieved Members of the House of a great deal of correspondence. But magistrates, when making these court orders, were accustomed to allow for changes in circumstances, such as changes in wages and definite changes of that description. There has undoubtedly been an increase in the cost of living since most of these orders were made, and I wonder whether it would not be possible to take that fact into consideration. I do not want to be considered unthankful for what has been done, but as we are resolving ourselves into a kind of committee, to pool our experiences and to examine these concessions and their effect in the light of experience, I think it would be well to take note of the fact which I have mentioned with a view to its consideration later. Dependants may receive more than one allowance. That, again, is an advance.

There is the position of dependants of apprentices and students. The right hon. Gentleman has decided that the case of apprentices who might have finished their time and would have advanced, had it not been for the war, to full-time workmen's wage, and also the case of students, shall go to a central committee which is considering all these matters. Has he also considered that in ordinary industry there are masses of youths who receive a wage very often based on their age and that in a few weeks or months they would have been receiving perhaps 1s. a day or more increase as a result of age? But there is a still more vital thing. There are lots of youths, particularly in the mines, but generally I think throughout industry, who have gone into the Army, who were day-wage workers, but who in a short time would have become piece-rate workers. That means quite a big difference to their home. I think these young men should have the same opportunity of going to this central committee for consideration as apprentices and students.

It seems to me that this is the kind of thing which ought to be dealt with by some local committee rather than by the Central War Emergency Committee. On our local authorities are people of great experience; they know the localities and sometimes the families concerned. As a rule you can get indirect as well as direct knowledge of working conditions, wage standards and the families concerned, which would be far more useful in dealing with these problems than any knowledge you can get in a central committee sitting in London. I think the right hon. Gentleman would be wise to take note of the requests which have been made that some sort of local committee should deal with these matters before they arrive at the central committee. In the last war the old age pensions committee dealt with them. It was formed largely of councilors and co-opted people. They brought a very wide experience to bear on these matters, and it will be admitted that they did extremely useful work. I am afraid that this central committee will be blocked up with work. As a matter of fact, it is blocked up now with cases from all over the country which it has to survey. It is overworked and lacking proper time to deal with the mass of cases which are brought before it. From the point of view of bringing practical experience and some human warmth into the problems which will arise from allowances, I think the right hon. Gentleman would be wise to take note of the requests, which have been made repeatedly from this side of the House, that some local committee should be called into being to examine these proposals.

The outstanding thing about all these concessions is that the household means test still stands. I have tried to bring some sort of measured judgment upon the concessions which have been made. I am not unmindful of the fact that one-fifth of the earnings of each member of the household is now to be disregarded; that is a concession on the household means test, but we have this household means test again in dealing with the question of allowances. It seems now to be ubiquitous. It turns up everywhere, and it is fast becoming a dominant principle in our social legislation. Indeed, it is fast becoming a dominant issue in the country. Its effect on family life is one which ought to receive careful consideration. First we had it in unemployment, then we got it with old age pensions, and now it comes in again in allowances, and, later on, we believe it is going to be applied to workmen's compensation. We deal with this as a social and economic issue, but I confess that I am very much disturbed about its effects upon that vital thing in our national life, the family. Whichever way you look at it, it has a disintegrating effect. In this case, if a boy allots 7s. and the income of the family is a certain amount per head, his family gets nothing. You have men now facing the enemy who are conscious of the fact that although they are making a decent allotment from their wages, their services to their families are completely ignored.

One of the things of which we have all been proud is the place the family holds in our social and national life. I do not say that the bond is merely financial or economic, but in various ways this does affect the spiritual bond of the family, and I say that we should get some impartial investigation into the result of the operation of this principle of the household means test upon that vital thing in our national life called the family. Indeed, if this principle had been extended in peace-time from unemployment, I think there would have been a great upheaval in the country. There is undoubtedly much feeling about it, because it is felt that the opportunity of the war has been taken to extend this principle to these allowances with its derogatory effects upon family standards. The practice in the last war was altogether different. The only thing of which notice was taken was the contribution towards the home before the soldier went into the Army. There was no means test. The one standard was the contribution made by the soldier before he went into the Army.

Mr. Stanley

There was a limit.

Mr. Lawson

There was a limit, it is true, and the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what it was, but all that I can say is that I wish the same practice applied now as applied in the last war. And for a certain reason. If the War Office cannot get rid of this household means test, which the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) proved by figures was worse in this case than in unemployment, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should give serious consideration to a minimum flat-rate allowance for soldiers. I shall not discuss the question of pensions, but allowances have an indirect effect, and I make that suggestion because the right hon. Gentleman has said that the Minister for Pensions is going to consider certain aspects of this matter. When I last spoke I had a handful of cases, some of them of sons who had been lost in the sinking of the "Royal Oak." There was one case in particular of a mother in Hartlepool who lost two sons in the "Royal Oak," who had allotted her 7s. each. That mother lost not only her sons but her income of 14s., and no pension has been granted in her case.

Although we cannot discuss that matter, the fact remains that there is no guarantee that parents will receive anything when sons are lost. As a matter of fact, it is a certainty that, according to the present principles, they will get nothing, unless some alteration is made. I want the right hon. Gentleman to give very serious consideration to the question of a minimum flat-rate allowance, where there is an allotment, of course. The fact is that, in spite of the sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman has shown in this matter, there will still be masses of people who will get no allowances. Although I am as pleased as anyone can be with the concessions that have been made, and appreciate those concessions, I am afraid that the general impression that was given to the country was that almost automatically allowances would be paid to a great number of families which are not receiving them at the present time; but I repeat that masses of people will get no allowances. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that there will be disappointment in the country when the real facts come to be known, and that great dissatisfaction and a sense of injury will be felt by those who have sons in the Army.

I should say that at least half of the men in the Army are single men. These young men are giving of their best, as their fathers did. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give further consideration to this problem of allowances, and to give some consideration to parents whose sons have been taken from them and who have lost their income at an important stage in their lives. It is one thing for well-to-do families, but it is quite another thing for humble working-class families to have their sons taken from them at a time when, naturally, they expect to get some little benefit from those sons. Fathers and mothers labour hard and save very little when their boys are young; at that time it is all expenditure; but they look forward to the time when their boys will be able to give them some little benefit, and indeed it is in those years that, as a rule, the parents manage to save what little they can for their old age. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to keep an open mind on this business, to take note of the criticism that has been made in all good faith and based upon experience, to bring his sympathy to bear once more upon this problem, and He be just as thorough in dealing with the grievances that will emerge as the result of the application of these concessions as he has been in overhauling this system within a very short time of his coming into office. If he does that, he will merit the good will and sympathy of the House in connection with a problem which has been obscured by the vast events of the war, but which nevertheless is very real and vital to great masses of our people.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Molson (Derbyshire, High Peak)

Despite the criticisms which the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has directed to the financial provisions for dependants, I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may well be gratified by the general approval with which the greater part of his speech was received. I consider that the explanation of that is to be found in the amount of attention which he devoted to what I may call the more human sides of War Office administration. He devoted a great deal of time and attention—just as, obviously, in his administration, he is devoting a great deal of thought—to improving the conditions and comforts of the troops. What is being done in the way of improving living conditions and what is to be done in future to provide the troops with opportunities for education, and so on, will go some distance to bring good out of evil. This war, which we all so greatly deplore, is at any rate having some beneficial effects, as is apparent to those of us who see the young men who, six or nine months ago, bore all the marks of living in conditions in which there was inadequate food, and unhealthy conditions, and who during the last six months have obviously improved greatly in physique and character.

I should like also to express thanks to the Secretary of State for what he said about the searchlight and other anti-aircraft units in this country. As one who has seen the men who were engaged in searchlight work during the long and bitter winter, I am very glad that their patience and cheerfulness have been noted and have received words of appreciation from my right hon. Friend. I suppose that during the long hours of darkness, which in December began at a quarter past three in the afternoon, when the men were not allowed off their sites, they listened with more attention than they do in peace time to the speeches of prominent politicians. It has been noticed that although many other branches of the Army, and many other people engaged in the defence of the country, have been specially mentioned, the men engaged on searchlight work have generally been omitted. Previously, the only exception to that was when my right hon. Friend himself referred to them in his speech at Newcastle. I can tell him that his reference was noted and very much appreciated.

My reason for intervening in the Debate this afternoon is to draw the Secretary of State's attention to the working of the scheme for combing out skilled men from the Army. It is universally admitted that to increase the industrial production of this country to a maximum is every bit as important as to have a large Army. I have had some opportunities of seeing cases where men are being retained in the Army who would, I am sure, be doing far more valuable work if they were returned to industry. Recently, I have made it my business to ascertain from the Ministry of Labour the exact principles upon which this comb-out is being conducted, and I venture to suggest to the Secretary of State that the comb-out is defective both in principle and in administration. The explanation of the comb-out which I have received is that under the War Time Schedule of Reserved Occupations a number of important industrial and other occupations are divided into three categories according the men in them are reserved at the ages of 18, 21 or 23. Now that the comb-out is being extended to the Air Defence of Great Britain, steps are being taken to ascertain which of the men were previously engaged in these occupations, and those of them who have reached the ages of reservation are being noted. Then one of two things may happen. If there is in the Army some Army trade exactly corresponding to the civilian occupations, those men will be transferred from the unit in which they are at the present time to the technical unit in which their special skill will find a use. If there is no such special occupation, they will then be allowed, if they so desire, to return to civilian life, and to go back into their own industry. When it is stated in those words, the scheme appears on the face of it to be perfectly reasonable, but as a matter of fact, it is so narrow and hedged in by so many restrictions that there are being retained in the Army at the present time a great many men who, I am sure, ought to be spared and who would be serving our war effort better if they were released.

My first criticism of the scheme is the introduction of these age limits. If an industry like the manufacture of aircraft, for example, is of sufficient importance for it to be a reserved occupation, surely there ought to be no special age limit. Surely, there is one criterion and one criterion only. Will any particular man serve the country better in the Army or in his own industry? It does not follow necessarily that a young aircraftsman engaged in manufacture who is under the age of 21 can be more readily spared from those aircraft works than another aircraftsman who is four or five years older. In the case of the aircraft industry the age of reservation is 21.

I should like to quote the example of a boy who is now aged 19 and who was working for Handley Page for 2½years before the war broke out. He was engaged on what must be, I think, a very highly skilled job; it was that of reading blue-prints which came from the drawing office of new designs and producing the aircraft accessories which were being made for experimental purposes. Because he is only 19 and the age of reservation is 21, he is being retained in the Army, where his skilled services are not being employed, and where he is actually employed as a clerk and sometimes as a motor driver. It might be supposed that when he reaches the age of 21 he will go back to the Handley Page works. In that case I would observe that he will then have spent two years losing such skill as he acquired in the 2½ years before the war before the aircraft industry gets his services again. However, I find that he will not go back into the aircraft industry—and here I come to my second criticism. It is that except for this particular comb-out, the operation of the Schedule of Reserved Occupations is not retrospective in its effect. This means that industry will have lost for the whole duration of the war those young and highly skilled men whose patriotism led them to join the Territorial Army shortly before the war broke out.

My third criticism is that the comb-out leaves to the men the option of staying in the Army if they wish to do so. Surely the needs of industry, and especially of industries vital to our war effort, are such that option ought not to be left to the men. Just as it is not possible for men who are in reserved occupations to join the Army, surely those required back in industry ought not to be allowed to stay in it. The anomaly in the case of some units, at any rate, is even greater, because these men receive special trade rates of pay while they are in the Army on account of their skill in some particular occupation upon which in fact they are not engaged. I used to pay a lance-corporal 6s. a day because of the skill he had acquired when working for Scammells, who are now producing so many of the large vehicles for the transportation of our guns. The work he was doing was normally paid at the rate of 2s. 9d., but because he was a highly skilled workman from Scammells he was paid 6s. on account of valuable work he was not doing.

The fourth criticism that I wish to make is that the comb-out does not apply to non-commissioned officers. Perhaps I may cite a concrete case which I know is an illustration of many. It is the case of a non-commissioned officer who had been engaged in the manufacture of Bren guns. Every effort has been made by the firm which employed him to secure his release, and they even wrote to the Under-Secretary of State.

Mr. Stanley

Did they write to the Ministry of Supply?

Mr. Molson

I think they did. They wrote to about four or five different authorities and, I think, also to the Ministry of Supply. I have not the letters with me, but I will inform myself on that point if my right hon. Friend wishes me to do so. In any case I should have thought that the Under-Secretary of State would have referred them to the appropriate Ministry if they were writing to the wrong Department. It might be supposed that the reason the Army was retaining that man was because he was engaged in the repair of Bren guns. If that was so, I should admit quite frankly that there was a good case in favour of retaining him, but the unit with which he was serving is not armed with the Bren gun. Fifthly, I would point out that under the present procedure there is no opportunity, so far as I know, for a man who has some special skill but has not been actually engaged in some important industry, to leave the Army and go into an industry where he could apply his skill. Again I will quote an example which has come to my notice. It is the case of a young man who had been engaged as a skilled watch repairer. Three different firms of aircraft instrument manufacturers said they were acutely short of skilled labour and would be very glad to employ him, but because he does not come into a reserved occupation, as far as I can ascertain, there is no likelihood of the comb-out applying to him.

My final criticism is not of the principles of the comb-out, but of the administrative machinery by which it is applied. There is no authoritative body to decide whether, after hearing evidence on both sides, a man is likely to be of more value in industry or in the Army. What happens is that the employer who desires to have a man's services back writes to the Ministry of Supply, or to whatever Government Department is chiefly concerned, and then there ensues a tug-of-war between the Service Departments concerned and the Supply Departments. The Department concerned with industrial production may be any one of four. It may be the Ministry of Supply in so far as the supplies are required for the Army; it may be the Air Ministry, which, as I understand it, arranges for its own supplies; it may be the Admiralty; or it may be the Board of Trade. With reference to the last Department, I would say that for the winning of the war it is no whit less important that our export trade shall be maintained and developed than that our armament industries shall be expanded. But, as things are, there is no single body or Government Department which can take a broad national view of the importance of increasing our industrial production. I assumed that it was the Ministry of Labour which was entrusted with the responsibility for organising the use of our man-power, but I find that in these matters the Ministry has no power to intervene.

It is for that reason that I raise this matter on the Army Estimates, and I would beg my right hon. Friend to give sympathetic attention to it. I realise that what I am asking him to do is to take something more than a purely Departmental view. It is only natural and proper that the Army, where it has good men—and these skilled men do make extremely good soldiers—should be anxious to retain them if it is possible so to do. My right hon. Friend was previously President of the Board of Trade and is now a member of a War Cabinet, and therefore I think he will take a broad and not merely a Departmental view. I trust that he will give careful consideration to these criticisms which I have ventured to put before him, and that in future we may have a better co-ordinated and planned scheme to make the best use of our man-power.

4.52 p.m.

Mrs. Adamson (Dartford)

To-day we can discuss a variety of subjects, but I intend to confine my remarks very largely to the question of dependants' allowances. I hold the view that if the nation commands the services of its people, it is our responsibility to ensure that the men's homes and their dependants shall be maintained in decency and comfort until they return. I believe that the majority of the Members of this House view with dismay the existing circumstances, and they recognise that the dependants' allowances are niggardly and totally inadequate to meet the needs. I speak as a practical housewife and as one who knows what it is to bring up a family on a working-class man's wage. I would say without fear of contradiction that it is an utter impossibility for the soldier's wife to keep her home going, to do her duty to her children, to safeguard their health, and to pay 20s. in the £. I say that you are placing an impossible burden on the shoulders of the wives of the men who are giving their services to the State. I feel it my duty to voice this opinion in the House this afternoon.

I do not know what the experience of other Members of this House is, but for my part I am inundated with letters on this great human problem. I cannot go to my constituency without finding a queue of wives, mothers and men in the Service waiting to interview me on these aspects of Army life, and I am frequently stopped in the street by men who are home on leave. I have also received letters from men in the Forces about the plight of their homes and their children and of the utter impossibility of the women being able to keep their homes going on these inadequate allowances. We have to realise our responsibility and if we wish the men in the Forces to give of their best, we should see to it that their womenfolk and children are maintained in decency and in comfort while they are away. We should free the men from all worry of this kind.

I notice in the new White Paper which has been placed at our disposal to-day, outlining some of the changes in the dependants' allowances, that they do not affect the rates and conditions of allowances for wives and children for whom family allowance is admissible. To-day a private in the Army allots 7s., and there is a family allowance of 17s. for a wife, making a total of 24s., with 5s. for the first child, 4s. for the second, 3s. for the third and subsequent children. I admit that, so far as the children's allowances are concerned, it is an improvement on what applied at the beginning of the war. Some of us urged for a flat rate per child irrespective of the number of family, but the Government in their wisdom did not see fit to grant that request. I would point out that the bulk of the 24s. available to the wife, if she happens to be living in a big town or city, is eaten up by rent, rates and incidental expenses for the home. There is very little left for food or clothing, and in hundreds of cases wives are compelled, no matter what their family responsibilities may be—whether they have young children or not—to try and find work outside their homes.

In my constituency I have a large number of owner-occupiers—people who have been compelled to go into building societies in order to acquire a roof over their heads. There have been hundreds of letters sent to the building societies asking them to withhold the payment on the capital. I have had to ask them to allow any repayment to stand over until such time as the soldier can apply to the War Services Grants Advisory Committee for a supplementation of the family allowance. The majority of the building societies have been quite decent about it. Of course they have asked that, as soon as any decision was made by the committee, they should be informed by the soldier's wife, and they were perfectly willing to allow that only interest charges should be payable whilst the man was with the Forces, but I think the experience of the building societies would be that in thousands of cases they had no payment whatever for at least the first four or five months of the war.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman why the extra allowance of 3s. 6d. per week is made to soldiers' wives who happen to live in London? I do not begrudge anyone's extra allowance, but London has not got a monopoly of high rents. There are many important cities and towns, to say nothing of the outer belt of London, where rates are as high as in London; indeed, in some parts of my constituency there are people paying higher rents for a certain type of house. I have here a large number of letters from women in my constituency asking why they cannot have this extra allowance and pointing out that their rents are as high as if they were living in London, I am very sorry that this allowance is confined to London, and I hope great pressure will be brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman to extend it to other parts of the country.

I have been asked by the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association to raise a point about the solider's wife who happens to have one child. They feel that in these cases special grants ought to be made. I myself believe in a flat rate for each child, but these organisations have asked me to put the point forward, and I do so accordingly. I have been interested in the position of the widowed mother. Very frequently the son who is in the Army has been the mainstay of the home, and these women have had a raw deal from the authority. I had a letter from a woman who told me of her difficulties. Her eldest son had joined up several months ago. He had allotted her 7s. a week and had also made an application that she should be treated as a dependant. They stopped the allotment from the allowance each week. She only received it for two weeks, and she heard nothing at all about her special application for a dependant's allowance, though she had written over and over again to the paymaster of the regiment and to the commanding officer. The son, who was a good son and had helped in every possible way to maintain the home, was very distressed at these revelations. If this was an isolated case, one might put it down to an oversight or to pressure of work.

Mr. Stanley

When such a grave case came to the hon. Lady's notice, why did she not take the obvious step of sending it to me to enable me to investigate it?

Mrs. Adamson

I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made that observation.

Mr. Stanley

Has she not done it before?

Mrs. Adamson

The Department gets a great many cases from me, because directly I have any complaint by a constituent or a friend I send it to the Financial Secretary. I am giving particulars of this case, and I ask for an inquiry. There have been a great many of these cases. I feel very sorry for a widowed woman whose eldest son has been taken away and who is left in a position like this. I hope that greater consideration will be given to women in that category.

I should now like to say something about a very difficult problem. I have not spoken on it before, because I thought a great deal too much publicity was given to it. I refer to the problem of what has been termed the unmarried wife. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is happy about the official designation. I attended a women's meeting some time ago at which there were representatives from religious societies, and they were most indignant that any term should be applied which seemed to lower the status of marriage. I invited women who made the objection to try to help them to get a correct designation. I know the difficulties of the Department in trying to get that. Among the designations brought forward was the term "cohabitee." I said that did not sound very nice. After a great many other suggestions I said, "Let us be dignified about it," and I put forward, in my humble way, the suggestion of "lady consort," but that was thought much too dignified. I am not going to criticise the right hon. Gentleman for accepting the highest ecclesiastical dignitary's designation.

As one who has done a great deal of social work in the old days, when we had boards of guardians, I know a great deal about this problem and its repercussions. I was very indignant at the action of certain commanding officers in setting aside court orders. A lady whom I know had an order for 14s. a week for herself and her child. She wrote to the commanding officer about it, and he set aside the court order and wrote back and told her she would get 2s. 11d. a week paid monthly. That meant that she would receive for one month less than the amount of the court order for one week. Cases like that arouse indignation, and it is certainly very difficult for the legal wife and her legitimate child. The new White Paper says: Where there is no court order but the Army Council are satisfied that the wife has been deserted or left destitute without cause, stoppages from the soldier's pay can be ordered for her support up to the full amount permissible under the Army Act. I want to know what exactly that means, because we realise that there are large numbers of wives whose husbands have left them but who have been unable for financial or other reasons to obtain a court order. I want to know what the position of the legal wife in a case of that kind is to be. I know that there are other procedures which can be carried out, but I should like an explanation of that part of the White Paper. Certainly we ought to see to it, whilst we desire to deal with the problem from a human angle—and we admit that it is difficult—that we safeguard the interests of the legal wives and legitimate children.

The question has been raised about delays in the payment of allowances. I am informed by a member of a county council that they have had a great many cases to deal with. First of all, if a woman cannot get her allowance through she is told to go to the U.A.B. When she gets her family allowance through she is expected, of course, to see the U A.B. officer with a view to repayment of all or some of the money. If she is unable to pay her way, she makes an application to the War Grants Advisory Committee, and I understand that she has been in many cases advised to go to the public assistance committee. To my mind the whole thing makes it very difficult for the soldier's wife. She has debt accumulations, and she has the worry of trying to get enough to enable her to live, and all this could be obviated if the Government would face up to the problem and accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend on the Front Bench and grant a proper allowance in respect of each Service man's wife on the same lines as is done for the Canadian soldier. I have been informed that the wife of a Canadian soldier gets £1 18s, 10½d. per week and 13s. 4d. for each child. If we could have a flat rate for women and children, we should obviate all the unnecessary delay and humbug in their being sent from one committee to another. We should certainly obviate the necessity for the means test procedure, which the majority of women resent.

This is a great human problem, and I feel that we ought to do justice to the gallant men who are giving their services to the nation. I repeat that we have no reason to be proud of our treatment of the wives and dependants and of the parents of the men in the Services. The Government flatly refuse to face all the implications of the inadequate allowances that are given, and I hope and trust that public opinion will be roused to the fact that it is their job and responsibility to give fair play and just treatment to the men who are doing their bit in the defence of the nation.

5.17 p.m.

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft (Bournemouth)

As one who has been associated in one form and another with the Army and the Auxiliary Forces for such a long period of years that I hardly like to recall them, I have no complaint to make when I hear the great stream of desire which goes forth that the conditions of the fighting men and their wives and dependants should be on an adequate scale. I have attended every Army Debate in the House for 30 years. In most of those years I have heard hardly a single word in support of those of us who pressed for better conditions for the British Army. The terrible conditions after the South African War were never hardly considered, and hon. Members, if they so choose, can remind themselves of those conditions by consulting any South African veteran. I need hardly say that I do not in any way complain of the great desire that has shown itself in recent years in order to see that that kind of thing will never occur again. I am glad to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for the concessions which he has recently made, but nothing, I imagine, could ever be adequate enough in war time to give satisfaction to all of us.

Our burden is colossal, but those of us who fought in the last war can at least say that our womenfolk are being treated immeasurably better in this war than during that. We are all more and more becoming impressed with the colossal scale of expenditure in this country, and I cannot help wondering whether the phrase, "niggardly and totally inadequate" which was used to describe the allowance in the case quoted of the wife and four children, was justified when, in fact, at the lowest it represents £106 per annum, without any allowance that might be given by the committee which decides on hard cases. When we compare that with the conditions in France, where the soldiers are getting 1d. a day simply because the country cannot afford more, and their wives and children cannot have anything like this amount, I would beg hon. Members not to exaggerate the situation or to convey to those who are defending our lives the notion that their families are being forgotten.

Mrs. Adamson

Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman keep a wife and four children on £106 a year?

Sir H. Croft

I do not want to go into personal matters. I only ask whether anybody could have dreamt during the last war that £106 would go into a home when the man was being kept, clothed and housed? Having said that, let me say that I rejoice at the concessions that have been made and that I am certain that if the burden becomes intolerable, Parliament in its wisdom will reconsider some of the cases that have been referred to.

With regard to the general welfare of the men, I have made it my duty, almost every week-end, without any official position, to drop in and say a word wherever I could find troops billeted. I think it will comfort Members to know that my experience has been that the conditions really are admirable compared with the conditions that my men and officers had to suffer in the first three months of the last war, when we were dossed down in billets without any kind of warmth and my officers were sleeping on stable floors.

We thank God that we have been able to make such provision as we have at the present time. In spite of all the stories which come forward—I do not know with what object—to try and distress the mothers, wives and sisters of soldiers, we must admit that in 99 cases out of 100—and I am sure the hundredth will be put right by my right hon. Friend—the conditions of British soldiers are such—and the Canadians in the country tell me the same—as will compare favourably with the conditions of soldiers in any other war. We have had many discussions on Army affairs, but if we go home and read our OFFICIAL REPORT, we will be surprised to find that, whereas we are concerned, and rightly so, with the comfort of the troops and their dependants, hardly a single word has been uttered as to how we can prosecute the war, and get on with the job of defeating our enemy, so that our fighting men may return to their former avocations.

The question has been raised repeatedly, and not unnaturally—it was raised for a moment or two in the Debate the other day—of commissions in the Army. Ever since we decided to have the Military Service Act it has been obvious that as the days go by practically every commission will have to come from the ranks. That principle has been accepted. Unless we can have a small flow of youths who are ready, as I would like to see them, make the Service their profession from 17 years of age, all commissions will henceforth have to come through the ranks. There is little doubt about that. An hon. Member mentioned the other day the case of two non-commissioned officers who to his knowledge were fine officers and he thought they ought to have commissions. I only want to utter this caveat. I beg that in any pressure we may try to bring to bear on the War Office in future we shall never allow the old school tie, or the fact that a man is a non-commissioned officer, or the fact that he happens to come from the working-classes to be of any influence.

One thing and one thing only matters in war, and that is life and the preservation of the men so that they can successfully carry out their duties. In order to get that, we must aim at one quality only, and that is leadership. Who can tell, other than the man who is responsible for the fighting efficiency of his unit, whether a soldier ought to have a commission? The commanding officer, if he is worth his salt, knows every man in his battalion. He sees them every day, and he can pick out almost in a week the man who has the qualities of the soldier and who is likely to prove a leader. The company commander must know to a greater extent, and the platoon commander, or the platoon sergeant-major as he is now, must know better than anyone outside which of the men ought to be promoted. The people who know, perhaps even better than the officers, whether a man has qualities of leadership are the men who are serving with him. When a man is called out on the square, when he is controlling a section in training, the men will know at once whether he is a leader.

Now that we have to recognise the general principle that all promotions must come from the ranks, I hope that we may not receive so many letters from the general public saying, "Our Tom has not got a commission," or, "My boy was a scholar at Balliol; why hasn't he got a commission?" The answer is because he has not yet proved among his fellows that he is fit to lead. If there is any variation of that one test, we shall see the kind of tragedies that we saw in the last war, when in the later days young officers, with the best will and great gallantry, were hurriedly sent out to us. Many of them proved themselves utterly incapable in the vital moment under hell's fire to be able to lead their men, to force them to take cover and to see that their conduct under fire was guarded and careful. That is not the only thing that matters. The British officer in the past—and anyone who served in any capacity will agree—has always had the tradition of being a kind of father to his men. Otherwise he was an unsuccessful officer. I can speak from a wider angle than some, because I happened to be in all the different branches of the Service in the last war. I went out as a Territorial officer. I was then for a long time in a brigade of the Regular Army, and later I had the honour to command troops of the new Army. Nothing ever impressed me in my life more than when I saw the Guards Brigade coming out of the first battle of Ypres, when the men were almost skeletons after all they had gone through, and all the officers, although they might be ready to drop with fatigue, made it their first business to see that the men were fed and that their quarters were comfortable. It is that spirit which will count so much in successful leadership in the Army. I regard it as one of the essentials for success.

I would add this word to the Minister, that his predecessor made a mistake, I think, in imagining that when the second battalions of the Territorial Army are built up they can be officered out of the existing quotas of officers serving in the Territorial Army. I think it would have been wiser had he brought in, for every battalion, four or five older officers who had been in the last war, who had proved themselves leaders in action, and had made them captains and majors and perhaps even commanding officers of the new-found units. I am sure that would have given a better start to the units from the point of view of tradition. There would have been officers accustomed to look after the men. Although I am a product of the Territorial Army myself I feel we are rather too much inclined to avoid offending Territorial feelings by bringing in outsiders at the start. We need only keep them for six months, and then they could go on to some new unit.

If the right hon. Gentleman has it in mind, as some think will be necessary, to build up new divisions, I hope a little more care will be taken to see that there is seniority, wisdom and experience in the original officers for the new units. I regard that as essential. Some people seem to think that this is to be a war of fixed positions. If it remains static the Germans will, in my opinion, suffer even more from boredom than we do, because the Germans have been taught that the German Army is the German nation, that their soldiers are super-men, that, whatever the impediments, they can break through and conquer their enemies. Therefore, I am not one of those who believe that the Germans can afford to sit tight, and if that be true they will endeavour to seek a war of movement, to bring about fluid warfare somewhere by getting round or through one of our flanks. They will look for the weakest point in the circle. That being the case it impels us to exhort our military chiefs to see that the British Army is trained from the start to meet all the conditions of open warfare which they are likely to encounter. There may be danger, should there be any pressure to get men trained, if we do not look all round the picture.

In the retreat from the Somme in 1918 there were, to my certain knowledge, five divisions, no single unit of which had ever had practice in fighting a rear-guard action. That speaks much, perhaps, for the offensive ideals of the British Army of those days, but the truth was that their training had been forced. Had they received training in fighting a rear-guard action, gallantly though they fought against immense odds in that retreat, the advance of the Germans might have been a great deal slower. Therefore, I express the hope to the present Secretary of State for War, as I did to his predecessor, that he should not act on the assumption that this must be a static war, a war of men sitting in the trenches, in which, we have been told, the British soldier would carry out his traditional role of digging in. That is not his traditional role. His traditional role is to defeat the enemy in a war of movement.

Anybody who studies the history of the final break-up of our enemies in the last war will realise—and this implies no lack of compliment to the French, who had borne such an immense share of the great burden—that it was in fact the British Armies under Haig who broke the Hindenburg Line, it was the corps under Lord Cavan which broke the Austrian Lines, it was the corps under Allenby in Palestine and under Marshall in Mesopotamia which broke the two Turkish fronts, and it was Milne's Army at Salonika which broke the Bulgar line. Those are facts which the British people remember, and when we are told of the invincibility of the German army let us remember what our British troops have done before. It has been my privilege to visit various commands, and I can only say that I have seen a wonderful spirit in all ranks. I believe that we have now the finest material we have ever had, and I believe that if there is no favouritism and if we keep politics completely out of the Army, we shall have a British Army which will achieve the same fame and glory as before when we have finally to smash those fiends on the Continent of Europe.

5.37 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)

There are two points which the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) made to which I should like to refer. In the first place, I did not like his suggestion that we on this side are too much interested at the moment in dependants' allowances and not sufficiently interested in winning the war.

Sir H. Croft

I did not mean to suggest that.

Mr. Macdonald

I think that was the suggestion behind the statement. I am pleased to know that the hon. and gallant Member did not mean it.

Sir H. Croft

We ought to think of the war as well.

Mr. Macdonald

I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree with me that we on this side are just as eager that this war should be won as is any other Member of the House, and though we may approach different questions in a different way I do not think any Member ought to suggest that he is more in earnest about winning the war than we are.

Sir H. Croft

Hear, hear.

Mr. Macdonald

The other point he dealt with was the amount of time spent in training the soldier. I want to ask the Secretary of State what time is allowed for that. A month last Saturday 250,000 men were registered and last Saturday another 300,000. Of the 250,000 registered a month last Saturday many have not yet been called up. Is he not in danger of delaying the calling up too long and not allowing sufficient time for the men to be adequately trained? He may tell us that there is an ample supply of men in France, that all the accommodation available is being used for training and that men cannot be called up any quicker, but I do not want the time to come, which may come, when men will have to be rushed untrained into the fighting. I hope the Secretary of State will see to it that all the men are sufficiently trained in case they are needed.

I also want to refer, though in the reverse sense to which the hon. Member for the High Peak Division (Mr. Molson) dealt with it, to another question. A good number of men have been called up from among that section of miners who are essential to the industry. The Minister knows me sufficiently well to know that I do not suggest any preferential treatment for the miner, but I feel that there ought to be consultation with the Mines Department to see whether the time has not come when certain sections of miners should be exempt from calling up—in the interest of winning the war and for no other purpose. I do not want to keep miners in comparatively safe positions at home—they never are, either in peace or war—but in the national interest there should be an examination of the mining industry with a view to a certain restriction being placed upon young boys being taken away for service, because they are vital to the industry. If the Government want an extra output of 40,000,000 tons of coal the miners will devote themselves to securing it, but it is going to be impossible if this section of the miners is constantly depleted without regard to output.

Let me now compliment the Minister on the very lucid and comprehensive statement which he made on Tuesday. When he became Secretary of State for War I heard many people casting doubt upon his competence to fill the position as adequately as his predecessor. I say frankly that I did not share those doubts. I have known him now for many years, I have watched him for 11 years, I have seen him on the back benches and in many positions on the Front Bench, and I knew that he had the capacity; and was more than ever convinced of it on Tuesday. No one could have given the comprehensive and lucid survey of the Army which he gave us on Tuesday in so short a time who had not devoted himself very thoroughly to his job, and I pay a very sincere compliment to him upon the way in which he discharged that onerous task.

I wish to refer briefly to the question of allowances. It is uppermost in our minds and, after all, it is vital. The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth told us quite candidly that anxiety in the mind of the soldier would militate against his efficiency, and it is from that point of view alone that I approach the question and from no other aspect whatever. I am anxious that our fighting men, the men who are giving all for us, should have no anxiety about their dependants. That is my sole consideration. I wish to thank the Minister for the substantial concession he has made, which will do much to remove the anxieties of men in the Fighting Forces. There are one or two points, however, which I wish to put to him about allowances. He made an announcement of a 20 per cent. reduction in the calculation of the earnings of every member of the household. Is he satisfied that that concession will do all that he wants to do?

I know of a number of cases which will come in under the new scale. A case was brought to my notice this morning in which a claim had previously been turned down and I was delighted when I examined it to find that it will now be admitted. The father is earning £2 5s. a week, a son (now in the Army) earning £3 a week and a daughter earning £1, and there is the mother and a child. At present, owing to their earnings, they are not in a position to make a claim, but on making calculations under the new system I find that they will be within the scheme, and I was very pleased indeed. I should like to know whether there is any intention of reviewing cases from time to time. The position is that a statement is taken from the soldier on enlistment and a decision is made. The Minister knows the mining industry fairly well, and will realise that a soldier's father may meet with an accident some weeks later and his earnings may be very substantially reduced. Is it the intention, when there are fluctuations in earnings, that further consideration shall be given to the case? I am afraid cases will be reviewed where things are the other way round. Supposing that at the time of his father's enlistment a boy is 13½ and at school and some time afterwards he goes to work and earns 12s. to 15s. a week. I am sure that the additional money coming into the home would be taken into account. This question of reviewing the income is vital, because circumstances fluctuate rapidly in the industrial areas, and I wish the Minister to have regard to the fact that though the first decision in a case may be just and generous such variations may occur in the family's position as to call for further consideration.

In his winding-up speech on Tuesday, the Minister dealt with a number of matters. I wish to bring forward the position of students. I have in mind a case in which the Minister of Labour kindly granted a student a postponement of the date on which he should join up in order to allow him an opportunity to take his degree at Leeds University. He expects to get his degree round about June or July and then he will join up immediately. The Minister was kind enough to say that regard would be had to earning capacity in such cases. How will such a young man be dealt with? He will leave the University with the intention of becoming a teacher. Is the Minister going to take it for granted that he would then get a teacher's salary in the ordinary way? What has the Minister in mind? The same point arises in connection with an unemployed person. In the mining areas there were many unemployed men who at the time of their enlistment were bringing into the home only unemployment benefit. Is that all that will be ascribed to him, or will he be ascribed at the grade of work at which he was employed in the mine? I feel sure that the Minister will see to it that the miner gets according to whatever his grade may be—to certain grades certain things. What I wish him to keep in mind is this: Do not treat the man, because he is unemployed, as earning only 17s. This is his sole contribution to the family income, but he is entitled to be considered in a different category. Otherwise you will find that man has been unfairly penalised—

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