HL Deb 15 December 1937 vol 107 cc507-12

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, I beg formally to put the Question which stands on the Order Paper in his name—namely, to ask His Majesty's Government what are the present regulations with regard to allowances for the wives and children of married soldiers under the age of twenty-six; whether any alteration in these regulations is contemplated; and to move for Papers?


My Lords, perhaps I have been at closer quarters with married soldiers and their problems than most members of this House, and so I am venturing to say a very few words on the subject. So far as the rates of allowances themselves are concerned there does seem to me to be a great deal of room for improvement. If I am right the allowances are intended to cover the married soldier's expenses in the matters of providing lodgings, heating and lighting and of moving between stations. They may have been adequate at some time in the past, but in practice they very rarely cover these present-day costs, particularly in cases such as those of the permanent staff of the Territorial Army, and, if I am not mistaken, there is no provision whereby the rate of allowance can be increased in stations where rents are specially high, or in cases such as that of the Territorial Army Staff in the City of London, who have to live on the housing estates a long way from their place of duty. We are led to expect many reforms in the Army these days, and perhaps it is not too much to suppose that an inquiry into this subject is already being undertaken; if so, may it be hoped that it will lead to rather better treatment for those people who are already entitled to marriage allowances?

The question of marriage allowances for soldiers under twenty-six years of age is a very different matter indeed, and, even if it is desired to take every step to increase the population of this country, I feel that there are many very much better ways of doing it. There may be callings in which a young man under twenty-six can safely marry and bring up a family, but to my mind the Army is not one of them. It can never be a place for the young married man, and will never be so, whatever allowances it may be decided to give. I think myself that the great majority of those who join the Army realise this perfectly well, for it is certainly not the best recruits who marry at an early age. The conditions in the Army for young men are all against marriage. Most recruits, at least in the fighting arms, come to their foreign service within the first three years of their service in the Army. Apart from that, there are a great many stations, not only abroad but even at home, like Salisbury Plain and Catterick, where accommodation of the right kind is extremely hard to find at a reasonable price. On top of that, frequent moves make it impossible for a young married soldier to rent a house of his own or to take advantage of hire-purchase schemes to furnish that house. He is forced to live in rooms, and if he is ordered abroad his wife and family will have to be left behind him in almost every case. Then, when the time comes for the soldier to leave the Colours and start his life afresh in civil life, another period of hardship will be in store for him.

It is for these reasons, I imagine, that the age for marriage allowance is fixed at twenty-six years of age. But that means in practice that soldiers will not qualify for marriage allowance until they have extended their service with the Colours, that is to say, until they have decided to make the Army their profession, and at that time they are, or certainly should be, within measurable distance of being allotted a Government married quarter, wherever they are stationed. For such men, those who have made the Army their profession, the treatment should be as generous as it is possible to make it; but in my experience as a regimental officer, which covers some time, I feel that to give marriage allowances to the younger man is to do nothing but to subsidise improvidence. The present good rule fixing the age at twenty-six years acts as a very salutary deterrent to early and improvident marriages, and that deterrent in my own experience is very often necessary. To lower the age for marriage allowances then would, I feel, bring in the long run nothing but distress to the individual, and a good deal of disrepute to the Army, which we should all be concerned to avoid. For that reason I hope that this Motion will not be accepted.


My Lords, I am sure I shall be interpreting the wishes of your Lordships if I make it my first duty to-day to extend our congratulations and best wishes to the noble Viscount who has just addressed the House. It is surely all to the good of your Lordships' House that we should have in future the benefit of the experience of one who has had a distinguished career in His Majesty's Army; and, if I may strike a personal note, I am indeed glad that it falls to my lot to press these congratulations upon the noble Viscount, because my last service in another place was that period of two years in which I had the honour and pleasure of serving his distinguished and beloved father.

I am extremely sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has been unable to get here this afternoon, and I wish to begin my speech in answer to him by thanking him for letting me know, as soon as he put down this Motion, the lines on which he wished the investigation to be made, and on which he proposed to address your Lordships. I shall, therefore, stick, as far as possible, to those lines which he set out in that previous notice which he gave me. I should like to explain first of all to your Lordships what the Army has in the past done for the married soldier, and what it now does for him. Before the War there was no special provision for the married soldier other than a separation allowance, which was issued only when the soldier was unavoidably separated from his family by the exigencies of the Service. There was no age bar, but the separation allowance was issued only to soldiers on the married quarters roll, which included then, as it does now, all warrant officers and colour-sergeants, 50 per cent. of sergeants and some 3½ per cent. of corporals and privates. The total cost of this allowance in 1914 was some £45,000 a year.

To-day a great deal more is done for the married soldier. In the first place there is to-day, as there was before the War, the married quarters roll, which now includes some 16,000 soldiers. Of these some 14,000 are in public quarters, and may be regarded as being in comparatively comfortable domestic circumstances. The remaining 2,000, for whom public quarters are, for one reason or another, not available, get lodging allowances at what is known as the "married rate." In addition, all families on the married quarters roll receive marriage allowance, regarding which I will give further details in a minute or two, less 1s. a day. This deduction represents that part of the marriage allowance which is already covered by the free quarters or lodging allowance which I have just mentioned. It is important to bear in mind that all these families on the married quarters roll get free conveyance on change of station both at home and abroad and also free medical attention.

In the second place there is a group of soldiers, some 5,000 in number, who are on the marriage allowance roll. This covers all soldiers, other than those on the married quarters roll, who have attained the age of twenty-six and are married and living with their families. The allowance continues to be issued when the soldiers are separated from their families by the exigencies of the Service. The weekly rate of this marriage allowance at present is 10s. for the wife if the soldier is not on the married quarters roll and is receiving pay at 3s. 8d. a day or less. For soldiers in receipt of higher rates of pay than this, the weekly rate of marriage allowance is scaled down below 10s. to 7s. In addition to that, 5s. a week is payable in respect of the first child, 3s. for the second child, 2s. for the third child, and 1s. for the fourth and each additional child. The total annual cost of marriage allowance in the year 1937 is £656,000, which compares with the figure of £45,000 in 1914 which I mentioned just now, and illustrates the very large increase that has been made in the provision for the married soldier.

For married soldiers under the age of twenty-six, which is the main point raised in the noble Lord's Motion, no provision by way of marriage allowance is made at all. The age bar of twenty-six was introduced in 1920 after very exhaustive consideration by a Joint Committee on which the three Service Departments were repre- sented. It must be borne in mind that a large part of the Regular Army is always outside the United Kingdom, and it is physically impossible for units sent overseas to take with them an unlimited number of wives and families. There is also a very strong objection to any system which encourages men to marry and then separates them for periods of, perhaps, five or six years from their wives and children. Consequently, it was felt at the time that it was desirable to discourage the young soldier from marrying with all the attendant difficulties that such an action would involve, and that the way to do this was to fix the age limit at an age that would in practice exclude the great majority of short-service men in the Army. The majority of Army recruits, as your Lordships are well aware, enlist at the age of about eighteen or nineteen and usually pass to the Reserve after six or seven years' Colour service—that is, before they have reached the age of entitlement to marriage allowance.

The considerations which then determined the policy of the Army still hold good to-day. If the age limit were reduced below twenty-six the result would undoubtedly be an increase in the number of marriages among young soldiers. If it were carried down as low as, say, twenty-one, as I think was going to be suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, it would admit large numbers of soldiers on short service, both those who are married already between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-six and others who would be induced to marry by the extended scope of the allowance. The result would be an increased pressure on the very inadequate accommodation which exists at a certain number of military stations for the families of men who are not entitled to public quarters. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War said yesterday in another place, "the Army deliberately appeals to celibates." For the present, therefore, I think I may say that the policy of His Majesty's Government is to do what they can to improve the circumstances of married soldiers over the age of entitlement to marriage allowance, but to take no step that would act as an inducement to quite young soldiers to get married and thus involve their families in hardships which are practically inevitable.

This policy is in no way affected by the recent decision to take in as recruits married men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight. No married man is enlisted under the age of twenty-six unless he can show that his family is adequately provided for. This condition was imposed in order to prevent any addition in the number of wives for whom insufficient provision can be made by their husbands. The real problem is created by the marriage of young soldiers after enlistment, and, as I have already stated, it is not the policy of His Majesty's Government to encourage such marriages by any alteration of the Regulations. I should just like to add, before I sit down, that I shall bring the statements made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, to the notice of my right honourable friend, who is, of course, examining this problem to-day. But I do not think I can add any information on the Question put down on the Paper, and I hope the noble Lord or his representative will feel that I have dealt with the matter adequately.


My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity of joining with the noble Lord opposite in welcoming the noble Viscount as a speaker in our debates and in congratulating him on his first contribution. I should also like to express the hope that his specialised experience may be available to us on other occasions. The noble Lord for whom I am speaking regrets very much indeed that he is unable to be in his place this afternoon to put his Motion, and I am sure he would wish me to express very cordial thanks to the noble Lord for the extremely comprehensive and detailed reply he has given in answer to this Question. I beg leave, on behalf of my noble friend, to withdraw the Motion that stands in his name.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.