HC Deb 25 October 1944 vol 404 cc149-51
19. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for Air why certain responsibilities are accepted for wives or women living as wives, legitimate or illegitimate children and dependants of British or British West Indian citizens when serving in the R.A.F. if enlisted in Great Britain, but only for wives, legitimate children and no dependants of similar citizens if enlisted in the British West Indies; and if he will abolish this discrimination.

The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)

As the reply is necessarily long, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Sorensen

In that reply, is the Minister giving an indication whether any attempt is being made to remove this discrimination?

Sir A. Sinclair

I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that there is no discrimination on racial grounds. A British West Indian subject of colour, enlisting in this country, would qualify for the allowance to which my hon. Friend has referred, subject to the normal conditions, while a white resident of the West Indies, entering the Services locally, would not do so.

An Hon. Member


Following is the reply:

Family allowance in respect of wives and legitimate children is a recognised element in the peace-time pay code of the three Services and is payable at appropriate rates to all qualified personnel recruited into the Imperial Forces in this country or overseas. Dependant's allowance, and the special dependant's allowance which is payable in respect of an unmarried dependant living as a wife or children who are brought up as members of the soldier's, rating's or airman's household, were however introduced for personnel enlisted in this country as emergency measure consequent upon the adoption of national service, for it was recognised that it would be wrong to compel a man to leave his civilian employment without making provision for the maintenance of such dependants. Similar arrangements have been made in those colonies where conscription has been introduced.

Payment of dependant's and special dependant's allowances is conditional on the fulfilment of certain clearly defined conditions, e.g., dependant's allowance is payable only if the man made a substantial contribution towards the support of the dependant before his enlistment, while special dependant's allowance is payable only if it is established that the woman lived with him as his wife and was maintained by him on a permanent basis for a period of not less than six months immediately prior to the date of enlistment; and applications are in this country investigated in detail by the Assistance Board before an award is approved. These arrangements, which are common to the three Services, have not been extended to cover schemes of voluntary enlistment in the Colonies, and such an extension would result in obvious difficulties in view of differences in local custom and the necessity for detailed investigation and assessment.

A scheme for voluntary enlistment of West Indians for ground duties was started a year ago and it should have been explained to all recruits that they would not be eligible for dependant's allowances. I am not, however, satisfied that during the early stages of recruitment the position was made clear beyond all possibility of misunderstanding. Arrangements have in consequence been made to investigate claims as a special exception to the general rule in cases where the airman may have been led to assume that these allowances would be issued. I would stress that there is no element of racial discrimination in the procedure I have described. A British West Indian subject of colour enlisting in this country would qualify for these allowances, subject to the normal conditions, while a white resident of the West Indies entering the Services locally would not be eligible.