HL Deb 16 May 1878 vol 240 cc5-11

EARL DE LA WARR rose to move for recent Correspondence between the War Office and Boards of Guardians with reference to the allowances to the wives and children of the Army Reserve men who have been called into active service. In the few remarks which he wished to make on this subject, it was not his intention to ask Her Majesty's Government to anticipate what they might propose to communicate to Parliament at a future time; but it was, he thought, desirable that Parliament should know on what grounds the allowances proposed to be given had been fixed; and he thought, also, it would assist in giving this information, if the Correspondence to which he referred in his Notice of Motion were laid upon the Table of that House. The case, as their Lordships were aware, was a new one. It could not have occurred before in its present form, as this was the first occasion on which the Act of Parliament, under which the Army Reserve was called out, had been put in force. There arose, therefore, a new question—What was to be done to provide for the families of those men? It might be argued that they should be treated in the same way as the families of other men in the Army were treated. But it must be remembered that those men, in many instances were, when they were called out, in a different position from what they were when they first entered the Army. Since they had retired into the Reserve, not a few had become settled in comfortable homes, and were engaged in employments where they were in the receipt of good wages. Many, for instance, were servants of railway companies, and were filling places of trust. But, by the summons which they had received, and which had been so readily responded to, much had of necessity been given up, and their families had become dependent upon other means of subsistence. It had been communicated officially by the Secretary of State for War that a fixed allowance would be given to the wives and children of those Reserve men, and that the sum so fixed was 6d. a-day to the wife and 2d. a-day to each child. Now, it seemed to him that those sums could hardly be considered adequate as a means of support, and he did not believe it would satisfy the country as sufficient. In consequence, applications had been made to Boards of Guardians for further assistance, and a question had arisen whether out-door relief from the poor rates should or should not be given, and whether what was called the workhouse test should be applied? Now, he must say he was one of those who thought that this question ought not to have arisen. He could hardly conceive anything more detrimental to the well-working of the system of the Army Reserve than this—that the family of a man, who had readily and cheerfully obeyed the summons to serve his country, should be compelled to resort to parish relief, and even, perhaps, to the workhouse, to mingle with the idle and, it might be, with the worst class of the population. Not only, moreover, would it be a burden which ought not to be thrown upon the ratepayers, but he did not believe that the country would look with any degree of satisfaction upon such a result. But it must come to this if the allowance were not increased. He would ask—Was it possible that a woman could live on 6d. a-day and a child upon 2d. a-day in decent respectability to provide everything? and if there were small children to be taken care of, nothing more could be earned. Even if the husband should be able to save something out of his pay, it could not be more than would suffice for the house rent. It seemed to him that the case should be regarded as exceptional, and might be dealt with in an exceptional manner, without establishing any inconvenient precedent. It was considered so by the Act of Parliament, which treated it as a case of emergency. The country desired that adequate provision should be made for the families of those men, to enable their families to remain in comfortable circumstances until they could return to the position they had formerly occupied. Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for recent Correspondence between the War Office and Boards of Guardians or members of Boards of Guardians relative to allowances to wives and children of the Army Reserve men who have been called into active service.—(The Earl De La Warr.)


said, he knew, from his own observations, in the case of some men of the Reserve who were now under his command, a good deal of distress was felt by their families in the interval between the time the men left home—namely, the 19th of April, and the issue of the War Office Instructions of May 3rd for the payment of the separation allowance monthly in advance to their wives and children. He did not think that the wives and children of any of the Reserve men should be thrown on the parish by reason of the men having obeyed the call made on them; but it must be borne in mind that the wives of those men were in the same position—or, rather, were not in as bad a position—as would be the wives of men who were now serving with the colours if the latter were sent into the field. The men of the Reserve had, as the noble Earl had stated, been in good employment, and had had an opportunity of making some provision for their wives, which it was hardly possible, even with the greatest self-denial, for the married soldier to do when serving with the colours. The question was a rather difficult one, and their Lordships should not come to a hasty decision with regard to it. It seemed to him, if anything extraordinary was to be done for the wives of the men of the Reserve, it ought to be out of Imperial, and not out of parish funds. The question was, however, one which ought to be considered carefully. Any off-hand opinions on it would be valueless.


said, that if, after the explanation he was about to give, his noble Friend still pressed for the Papers, his right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War would have no objection to their production; but he thought that his noble Friend, knowing what he was going to say to the House, ought to have framed his Motion rather differently. Only seven or eight Papers of the description of those referred to by his noble Friend had reached the War Office from Boards of Guardians, and not one of them touched the point which was the mainspring of his noble Friend's speech. If the noble Earl thought that in obtaining those Papers he would get some support for the proposition that the allowances granted to the wives and children of men of the Reserve was not sufficient, he might tell him that no such allegations were made in any one of the communications from Boards of Guardians. He would not follow the noble Earl in the questions he had raised. As had been well remarked by the noble Earl, the question of the sufficiency or insufficiency of the provision made for the wives and children of those men was one which ought not to be decided off-hand, and on a side issue of a very different kind. If the noble Earl thought right to proceed with his Motion, he (Viscount Bury) should propose to omit the words "or number of Boards of Guardians," as some of these gentlemen might object to the production of what they might have written in their individual capacity.


said, he was glad that his noble Friend (Earl De La Warr) had called attention to this matter. It was a very important matter, and a large number of persons were interested in it who had no one to represent them either in that or the other House of Parliament. No doubt, cases of great hardship were not uncommon. Only that day a letter was placed in his hands representing the condition of a very respectable family in a small town of his diocese. The wife had lived in comparative comfort and affluence with her husband while he was at home; he had now obeyed the call made on the Reserves, and the wife was left in a state of absolute destitution, and with her young child was obliged either to starve or beg—the only other alternative was to apply to the parish. He hoped this was an exceptional case; but there could be very little doubt that, when the matter was fully stated, the Government and the country would be fully alive to the importance of the matter. Everything which threw light on the question was most important. What could be more detrimental to the public service than that the idea should spread among the labouring class that when they were willing to serve their country—as it must be admitted they were—the country was indifferent to the sufferings of those near and dear to them? He did not believe that either the Government or the country was really indifferent to them; but the labouring classes had no knowledge of what was being done in the matter, and everything which threw light on the circumstances would do good as tending to dissipate an impression which certainly, to some extent, and not unnaturally prevailed, and which was calculated to do a great injury to the public service.


wished to express his opinion that this question was a most important one—no doubt, it was a difficult question also. He, for one, thought that when men came forward, through a sense of duty, and in response to the call of their Sovereign, their families ought to be supported. He had never been more distressed than on hearing that some of the wives and children of the Reserve men would be obliged to seek parochial relief; and it had even been suggested that the wives of men of the Reserves, who could not support themselves and their children, should have the workhouse test applied to them. He objected altogether to such treatment. What was needful should be done direct by the Government, and he could not for a moment suppose that objections to that course would be raised on either side of the House of Commons. He could not doubt the feeling of the House and the country; but the question was a difficult, delicate, and intricate one, and would require very careful consideration. The cases were very different. The circumstances of the families of some of those men were good; those of others of them were comparatively bad. No hasty decision in the matter ought to be come to; but he hoped that, whatever was decided to be done, it would be done by a grant from Parliament, to be carried out by Government officers, and not by the parochial authorities.


said, he had heard the tone of this conversation with great pleasure. It was impossible to suppose that the Government and the country could have any ungenerous feelings in the matter; but he fully agreed in the remark that it would be imprudent of Parliament or the Government to express itself hastily on the subject. It was quite clear that this question must come under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. It was as yet in its infancy, and a reasonable time must be allowed for due consideration how the emergency could best be met. He sincerely trusted that what the illustrious Duke had said would be borne in mind, and that no man's wife or children would be so dealt with that they or he should be regarded as paupers by reason of the fulfilment on his part of this honourable obligation to the Crown. At the same time, it must be remembered, also, that when they established the Reserve they made an important change. Under the former state of things, the theory was that the Army was a celibate Army. The permissions to soldiers serving in the ranks to marry were very few, and their position was exceptional; but when they invited 60,000 or 80,000 men to go into the Reserve, while giving the Government power to call on them to return to the standards in case of need, they virtually invited them to enter civil life, to marry, and to maintain themselves. A great many difficult questions naturally followed. At first, the number entering the Reserve were few—they were now increasing in considerable numbers year by year, and the question, therefore, was becoming of more and more importance. He was willing to believe that the Government would deal with the matter in a just, fair, and generous spirit; but he hoped that nothing would be done hastily. He thought the premature publication of isolated and, as yet, unconsidered cases of hardship might be mischievous, and could do no possible good. What the country would want to know was not what complaints had arisen, but how these complaints had been dealt with and redressed. He was willing to repose confidence in the Government, believing that its proposals would be generous, and such as to meet the necessities of the case.


said, that although, in his opinion, the allowances were sufficient in the majority of cases, no doubt, there had been cases of hardship. The question was a difficult one, and careful inquiries should be made to test the statements of women representing themselves to be wives of men of the Reserve.


was understood to suggest that a voluntary effort to assist the wives and families of the Reserve men ought to be encouraged.


hoped that his noble Friend would withdraw his Motion for the production of the Papers. The subject was one of a very interesting character. It had already engaged the attention of the Government, and, indeed, of the country. One change had already been made. The wives and children of the men of the Reserve were now receiving money in advance instead of in arrear—which, of course, was an advantage, and which showed that the matter was one to which the Government were not indifferent. The production of the Papers asked for by his noble Friend would lead to a false impression, and, therefore, he hoped his noble Friend would not press for them.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.