35. Miss Rathbone
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has considered the case, of which particulars have been furnished him, where a naval officer who has made no contribution to 175 the support of his wife since September, 1939, is continuing to draw and to pocket for his own use the wife's allowance appropriate to his rank; and how far this is permitted by Admiralty regulations in the case of commissioned officers and of ratings, respectively?
I have investigated the case to which the hon. Member refers and have ascertained that in fact this officer is paying to his wife, who has charge of the child of the marriage, a far greater sum than he is receiving as marriage and children's allowances. Under the Officer's Marriage Allowance scheme marriage and children's allowances are issuable to an officer who is separated from his wife whom he does not maintain provided he is responsible for the maintenance of his child or children. The position is different in the case of ratings since the marriage allowance is paid direct to the wife.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the money paid by the officer to his wife is paid by order of the court and is the amount appropriate for the support of the child and that a woman would be misappropriating money if she should use it for herself? So the question of the officer retaining the wife's allowance is really irrelevant to the question what he pays his wife for a different purpose.
I have no evidence of any widespread failure on the part of naval officers to meet their commitments, but, surely, if there is some disagreement on the part of the lady in the particular case as to the ruling of the court, she always has the court at her disposal.
Does the right hon. Gentleman admit that there is a distinction made in the Admiralty between officers and ratings and that officers are given the power, if they are mean enough to use it, of appropriating to their own use money paid by the taxpayers for the support of their wives, whereas a rating is not so permitted? Does he really justify such a class distinction?
The whole basis of the allowances is different, and it is not possible for me under the Act of 1865 to make any change in the law. But, in fact, we have no evidence of any widespread need to change the law.