HL Deb 29 March 1916 vol 21 cc530-5

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether permission may not be granted to soldiers serving abroad to remit sums now standing to their credit, and to make weekly allotments to the Post Office Savings Bank, through the company pay lists and regimental paymaster as they arc now permitted to remit to wives and next-of-kin.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, here is another Question which looks a very simple matter. I think the object of the proposal which I venture to make is one which will commend itself to all your Lordships. It is simply the facilitation of thrift on the part of soldiers serving in the field. We hear a great deal about thrift in these days, but in this House, at any rate, we have not yet succeeded in bringing about any practical measures for its promotion. I expect we all agree that it is difficult to drive people to economise if they do not want to do so; but it is a very different matter when our efforts are confined to giving opportunities for thrift where people are themselves anxious to save. That is all that the suggestion contained in this Question aims at.

I may say that I would not have raised this matter if it had not been brought to my notice, not once but several times, as a matter of real practical importance by commanding officers at the Front. what they tell me is that those soldiers at the Front who have no near relation at home to whom they make allotments very often do not know what to do with their money. They are most anxious, in many cases, to make some provision for themselves after the war is over. They have very often abroad really no opportunity of spending their money. I have been told that their disregard for the money for which they have really no use is so great that in many cases when they are changing a silver piece and find difficulty in getting change, which difficulty is, no doubt, often artificially created, they go away without troubling about it.

There is a great deal of waste of money on the part of soldiers at the Front simply because they do not know what to do with the money they have got. The Army is now a very large one, and this is a matter where hundreds of thousands of people are concerned. Surely it is a very important object to encourage saving on the part of the men at the Front, because one of the greatest difficulties in the future is going to be the total lack of ready money on the part of men discharged from the Service until they can get employment, which, as we all know, will be difficult to obtain immediately when the war is over. It may make the greatest difference to thousands of men whether they have a few pounds in their pockets then or not, and it seems to me that it is a matter of great importance to enable them, if they desire to do so, to save money during the war. They have not got the opportunity at present. Of course, they can make an allotment in favour of a relative, and if it is a near relative, well and good. But it is not particularly attractive to a soldier to stake an allotment to some distant next-of-kin about whom he does not care. What he wants to do is to save a little money for himself against the daywhen he will certainly need it.

What can the soldier do at present? He can either keep the money in his pocket, which he is very unlikely to do, or else he can buy a postal order and send the money over here. But that is not easy for a soldier in the trenches. Besides, there is this further discouragement, that at present if he is in France he has to pay I do not know how many francs for his £1 at home—I mean he loses heavily on the transaction. My proposal is simply that a man should be able to make an allotment to himself, just as he could make one to a dependant, and that the allotment so made should be invested for his benefit in the Post Office Savings Bank at home. The idea is to enable the man, without any trouble, without any of those complications which are often so difficult and puzzling for a man of slight education, to save money in a simple way. I dare say there are difficulties about it, but I cannot conceive that the difficulties can be very great, and the object is so very important that really I think, unless the difficulties are quite insuperable, an effort should be made to get over them.


My Lords, I desire to support very strongly the arguments which the noble Viscount has placed before you with regard to this question. Owing to the great liberality of the Government, the excellent rations the soldier gets, and he many societies who are looking after him and send him tobacco and various comforts, the men really do not feel it necessary to purchase many articles in France; and when they come home with a comparatively large sum of money, although they are well received and looked after at the railway stations, in some cases they get into bad hands and then unfortunately their money disappears. I think that the gallantry in action of our men at the Front is only equalled by their extraordinary good conduct when they come home. You see a few cases of spurious a men who have never belonged to the Service who dress themselves up in uniform and commit crimes; but how seldom have you seen in any newspaper a report of a man belonging to His Majesty's Service who has come home from the Front and committed some civil offence in England? I am sure it would be a great advantage if this request of the noble Viscount could be accorded to the soldiers. There may be technical difficulties with which we are not acquainted. I can only say that from what I have heard there is a very strong feeling amongst the officers of the Army, and principally amongst the regimental officers, that the men under their command should have the facilities asked for.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has asked a Question of very great interest regarding the soldier and his pay as it effects him to-day, and the Question has a bearing on a soldier's financial position on his discharge or at the red of the war. I may say that the Secre tary of State is at one with the noble Viscount in wishing to give facilities for the saving of money, and he agrees that the plan should be as simple as it can be made. This matter has been a subject of very careful consideration between the Secretary of State and the Postmaster-General, and hope to be able to show that to some extent at any rate the Secretary of State has anticipated the wishes of the noble Viscount.

Perhaps I may mention two points of history in this matter. At one time, as I have no ditabt the noble Viscount is aware, a Military Savings Bank was instituted, but it was never very popular. It did not turn out a successful banking operation, for after few years of its existence the annual withdrawals greatly exceeded the deposits. Therefore in consequence of this, and owing to the increased facilities offered by the Post Office Savings Bank, in 1896 this Military Bank was closed to new depositors. As the noble Viscount is aware, a soldier serving abroad may make remittance free of charge through the regimental paymaster to his wife or a friend either of whom can invest it in the Post Office Savings Bank. This, however, has not proved an attractive method, for soldiers do not care to invest their savings in the Post Office Savings Bank, but that facility still exists. For instance, a man drawing 5s. or 6s. a day and wishing to send his wife 2s. a day or 14s. a week could do so by an automatic process, and his wife would receive it from the Post Office. But to have a system by which very small sums weekly would be universally dealt with would involve an enormous addition to the already immense amount of clerical work; and I am told that at present there are 15,000 clerks employed in regard to soldiers' pay and relatives' allowances.

A consideration of the whole subject seems to show that there are two objects to be aimed at—(1) an inducement to the soldier, whether at the Front or elsewhere, to save; and (2) a ready access to money on arrival from the Front. Arrangements have been made by which the soldier serving at the Front or elsewhere may through his squadron or company officer invest in War Saving Certificates or Exchequer Bonds. Of course, Exchequer Bonds would apply to some of those soldiers who, like motor drivers, and so on, are in receipt of something like 6s. a day. Noble Lords know that a War Saving Certificate can be purchased at 15s. 6d. which at the end of five years, at compound interest, is worth £1. At the conclusion of the first year's deposit the 15s. 6d. is worth 15s. 9d., and thereafter interest is earned at the rate of 1d. per month, the money remaining invested until the man is discharged or until the end of the war. Each soldier will be provided with a book; and as well as taking care of the soldier's money at 5 per cent. for him, the Post Office as a precaution against loss or robbery will take care of the book for him while the soldier continues in the Service. This, perhaps I may point out, is applicable to soldiers at home as well as abroad. I hope the noble Viscount will see that there are advantages in this scheme. It is safe, Depreciation cannot take place; the deposit would be paid out in full to the soldier or his relative if no interest is payable; and the rate of interest is high. The capital with the interest is returnable On discharge or at the end of the war when the soldier is likely to need it the most—that is a point which the noble Viscount made in his speech—and it is hoped that squandering of funds on festive occasions, and so on, may be thereby prevented. It is further hoped that these advantages may induce soldiers to save, whereas the facilities for investing in the Post Office Savings Bank did not thus succeed.

Stress gas laid by the noble Viscount or the noble and gallant Field-Marshal upon the fact that the soldier should have this information put before him so that he could understand what to do. In reply to that I may say that leaflets have been issued setting forth the advantages of the scheme in simple language, and officers commanding have, through an Army Order, been directed to see that the leaflet is brought to every man's notice and that he realises its contents. I mentioned a second point, which is that money should be readily accessible to the soldier on his arrival on leave. As has been pointed out by the noble and gallant, Field-Marshal, there have been, unhappily, cases—at least I am told so—where soldiers returning on leave with a considerable sum of money have been met by ruffians well versed in the confidence trick, and their money has been taken from them. But I am glad to say that now—I am speaking of my own personal knowledge, not from the War Office—these soldiers are met by members of a most admirable force known as the National Guard, who wear uniform; and they are the same individuals who have been performing most valuable service to enable hospitals to be ready for bomb raids, and so on. In regard to money being readily accessible, it is known that many soldiers dislike travelling with a considerable sum of money; indeed, it is undesirable that they should. To obviate this, and to meet their immediate requirements, a number of paymasters have been detailed to he at the stations so as to furnish money to these men in such modest sums as they may require. I may add that should these proposals fail of success the Secretary of State will again consider with the Postmaster-General whether any more attractive plan can be devised. I may have seemed to have travelled a little outside the limits of the Question put by the noble Viscount, but I have ventured to do so because the subject is one of such extreme interest and importance. I hope the noble Viscount will see that, although we have not gone quite as far as he desires, at any rate a great attempt is being made to meet the wishes he has expressed.