HC Deb 05 August 1943 vol 391 cc2532-4
Mr. A. Henderson

My hon. Friend asked me if I would deal with the gap that occurs in a number of cases between the cessation of the payment of family allowance and the securing by the wife either of an order made by the deputed officer under Section 145 of the Army Act or, alternatively, by a court of law. In the case of an application to the deputed officer, in a very great majority of cases there need be no delay having the effect of penalising the wife, but I admit that in the case of an application to the court there might be in some cases a delay of a week, or even a month, and in extreme cases possibly longer. As I understand my hon. Friend's intervention, his argument would be that in those cases the payment of family allowance should continue, at any rate until an order is made either by the deputed officer or the court of law. We have endeavourer; to close the gap in cases that come under the jurisdiction of the deputed officer, and, even though it has not been found possible to make contact with the soldier to hear his side of the case, in April last, by a Statutory Rule and Order, power was given to the officer deputed by the Army Council for the purpose by Section 145 (2) of the Army Act, if it appears to him that a prima facie case has been made out for the making of an interim Order against the soldier to make an order for such deduction and appropriation of pay, not exceeding the amount set out in Section 145, to take effect pending the further examination of the case. That means that Whereas prior to the making of this Order, where it was not possible to make a final decision, in the meantime the wife was deprived of her means of subsistence and was not entitled to the family allowance—the husband might be here or in India or in some other part of the world—there is now power to make an interim order, and it has had the effect of protecting the interests of the wife in a considerable number of cases.

As regards cases where it is not possible for the wife to have her case determined by a court of law within a reasonable space of time, I am quite prepared to consider the point to which my hon. Friend has referred with the object of ascertaining whether it is possible to bridge the gap. I cannot take it further than that, but I will undertake to examine the problem. I hope I have removed misapprehensions with regard to the way in which the system operates, and I hope my hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Daventry and Preston will, in the light of what I have said, acknowledge that, whatever ground there may be for improvements, the A.C.I. to which they have drawn attention certainly does not operate unfairly so far as the wife is concerned and that, broadly speaking, under the system that operates to-day in cases where husband and wife are estranged the War Office has established machinery which enables their officers to deal sympathetically, and in the vast majority of cases expeditiously, with cases that come to their notice. Where there is weakness in the procedure to which attention has been drawn, I will gladly re-examine the position with a view to effecting any improvements that may be practicable.

Mr. Mathers

We have been given to understand that the wife's position is protected. Is it not possible for the soldier to rid himself of his obligation to make the 3s. 6d. allotment by nominating the other woman to receive it?

Mr. Henderson

That is not possible. The dependant's allowance, which would be the only allowance that could be paid to a woman who is having relationships with a soldier, is not payable unless the person concerned was being substantially maintained by the soldier prior to his having joined the Army and for a period of at least six months. If it is a case of a liaison which has been contracted since the soldier joined the Army in no circumstances will he receive any assistance from the War Office to maintain her.

Major Manningham-Buller

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman consider whether the family allowance should not be continued in the case where the wife petitions for divorce from the date the petition is heard instead of stopping it automatically when a petition is served on the soldier? It serves no useful purpose in view of the machinery we have been told about and it would save a lot of trouble.

Mr. Henderson

I am not prepared to enter into any commitments, but I will include that question in the examination I am making.

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