HL Deb 08 July 1941 vol 119 cc674-80

THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER rose to draw attention to the discrepancy between the rates of family allowances paid to Channel Islanders serving in His Majesty's Armed Forces whose wives and children are still in the Channel Islands, and the family allowances paid to Channel Islanders serving in His Majesty's Armed Forces whose wives and children are in Great Britain; and to move for Papers.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I think it is perhaps somewhat unusual to raise from these Benches the question of Army pay, but the circumstances are exceptional. The Channel Islands are in my diocese, and I have a large number of friends both in the islands and among the islanders who are now in Great Britain, and, through correspondence and interviews, a difficulty has been brought before me repeatedly in connection with the allowances which are paid to families of men who are serving in the Forces. In the last war a large number of men from the Channel Islands served in His Majesty's Forces, and in this war also from all the islands there have come a large number of men. I do not know the numbers; if I knew them it would be unfitting to give them.

For the purpose of this question these men may be divided into two groups. There are those who have their families on the mainland, and there are those whose families are left in the islands. There are the men who were able to arrange for the evacuation of their families before the islands were occupied by the Germans. They are relieved from any pressing anxiety about the safety of their wives and children. They are able to see them from time to time. They can correspond with them freely and they know that they receive the ordinary maintenance payment which is made to all those who are serving in His Majesty's Forces in accordance with certain conditions. I take only the case of a private: a private pays 1s. a day, 7s. a week. He receives maintenance allowance for his wife of 18s.; 7s. 6d. for the first child, 5s. 6d. for the second child, and 4s. for each subsequent child. But there are many who had to leave their wives and families in the islands. Your Lordships remember the stress and strain and to a certain extent the confusion at the time when the Germans were about to occupy these islands. Many of the men came away understanding that their wives and families would follow them almost immediately. I have no doubt it was firmly believed that this was possible. It has not proved possible, and though they are serving in the Forces many of them are in this island, and their wives and children are still in Guernsey, Jersey and Sark, and it is impossible for them to see them. Communication with them is most difficult. I wish something could be done to expedite communication with the Channel Islands. It takes longer for an answer to be received from a letter addressed to the Channel Islands—far longer—than to receive an answer to a letter addressed to a prisoner of war. It is quite true that a number of brief answers have been pouring in during these last weeks. Most of them are in reply to letters which were written months ago.

In addition to all these anxieties which these men have about their families in the Channel Islands, there is the financial anxiety. At first they found it impossible to receive for them any kind of family allowance, but last January the Government made an important concession by which 13s. a week was to be put aside and paid into an account for the men whose families remained in the islands. But it is from this that there arises a very real sense of grievance. Take two men, both of them islanders serving perhaps in the same battalion, with exactly the same number of family dependent upon them. There is a man with his wife and two children, and he has them in Great Britain. He receives £111s., but the unhappy man who has his family in the Channel Islands receives 13s. I am told also—and I know this is a fact—that many of the Channel Islanders have large families. A family of five children is nothing unusual in the Channel Islands. A man with a wife and five children who are in England receives £2 3s., a man with this family in the Channel Islands receives to his credit 13s. I do not think it is surprising that there is a sense of grievance about this.

Perhaps I might read a letter which I have received, but of course I cannot give the name of the writer, although I know him very well and know that he is a man serving in the Forces. He says: Men contribute in all cases roughly half their pay. It therefore follows that soldiers whose wives and families are in this country derive far greater benefit from the same contribution than do their unfortunate comrades, who, through no fault of their own, are separated entirely from their wives and children. Is this fair? This does cause a great deal of distress and anxiety. The men are terribly anxious as to what is happening about the maintenance of their families and what will happen at the end of the war. Probably two things are happening. In some cases the wife is using all the savings. The Channel Islander is prudent and saves, and the wife of such a man is quite naturally drawing upon all the savings that they have. Or the difficulty is met in another way. It is possible—this is not certain, although I see it was stated rather definitely as the case in one of our daily newspapers—for the States to know what the maintenance payment is. If the States—that is the Parliament of the Islands—are making this payment the difficulty is, that they are making it according to Channel Island law—and I speak cautiously on this, and I think perhaps the Lord Chancellor might speak a little cautiously about Channel Island law. I understand that according to Channel Island law the money, if it has been paid by the States, will be demanded back from the man as soon as it is possible to make a demand, so that these men who are serving the Crown here are afraid that when they are able to go back to the islands they will find that all their savings have been spent and that the States are demanding repayment of the money which has been advanced to their dependents.

That is my case which I am putting before the War Office. I know there is another side, and that it is not quite so simple as I state it. There is not really discrimination especially against the Channel Islands. The War Office are applying a rule which applies to men who have their families anywhere in occupied territory or where they are outside the sterling group, and of course there is a very natural care that if you make an exception you will not know where to end making exceptions. Personally I am never afraid of making an exception to a rule, if it is an exception that does not start a dangerous precedent, and I venture to say that here is a case for an exception which does not start a dangerous precedent. I would say that the case is exceptional. Here you have men coming from islands which for nearly 900 years have shown unswerving loyalty and fidelity to the Crown, and therefore I think there is a case for having some exceptional treatment for him. It will also be said, I have no doubt quite correctly, that this allowance is paid to a man when he is maintaining his family and that it is impossible for the men who are separated from their families in this way to maintain them. But I would point out that they are separated from them through no fault of their own.

It will be said that it is impossible for money to reach them, that it is still quite uncertain what kind of treatment they are receiving, and what their actual financial position is, and that, as the money in any case could not reach them at the present time, it is very difficult for the War Office to lay down some new principle dealing with this particular case. Well, there may be great difficulties in dealing with the matter at the present moment, but what I would venture to urge is that the Government should make such a sympathetic reply as to show to the men who are serving, and all those who are concerned with the islands, that when the war is over this matter will be given the most sympathetic consideration. What I would ask for is this. If you cannot at once put the men who have their families in the islands on the same basis—I wish you would—as the men whose families are in Great Britain, at any rate cannot you make some promise to them, give some reassurance that when the war is over the men whose families are left in the islands will not be. in a worse financial position than men whose families have been in Great Britain all the time?

I would end with rather a general observation. I know that a large number of the islanders are feeling that we do not always quite sufficiently realise the tragedy of their position. Amidst the many cares and interests of the war, it is not possible for us to concentrate our attention all the time on one particular aspect of it, but there are large numbers of the islanders who feel that perhaps we are not showing to them all the sympathy which they have a right to expect. I am quite certain all of us are deeply concerned about the islanders and that the Government and all of us are eagerly looking forward to the day when the islands will have their freedom restored to them, when those who are exiles will be able to return. If the noble Lord who is to reply can give a sympathetic answer.—I am certain he himself is most sympathetic in this matter—it will reassure and encourage large numbers of islanders with whom we have every sympathy. I beg to move.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that we understand very easily the concern of the right reverend Prelate in regard to these most loyal members of the British Empire who happen also to live within his diocese. I can assure him that it is our desire in every respect to be sympathetic because it has been a tragedy to us to realize how many of the wives and children of men who are already in this country are still left in these islands under enemy occupation. I want, however, to stress, if I may, the particular principle on which we have to base our action. Family lodging allowance for officers and family allowance for soldiers are payments made to the personnel concerned by the State, towards the current cost of maintenance of the officer's or soldier's family. If, in fact, the officer or soldier is not maintaining his family, then the allowance is not paid. In the case of the Channel Islands and all the other cases where it is not possible to make remittances through normal channels because the family is in enemy or enemy-occupied territory, these allowances are not issuable. As a special concession, however, it has been agreed that a grant at a lower rate than the normal allowances may be given, which, together with allotments from the officer or soldier, shall be "banked" until such time as it is possible to release the accumulated sum—in the normal event after the war. This grant is in fact not a current maintenance payment but a grant made to meet special circumstances.

Finally, I want to make it quite clear that Channel Islanders whose families are still in the Channel Islands and all other British officers and soldiers whose families are in enemy-occupied territory are treated in exactly the same way as regards allowances. Even if it were possible to find some means whereby allowances could be paid to families in occupied territory, the payments would mean a loss of exchange to ourselves to the benefit of the enemy. I have seen in the papers a statement which suggests that where family allowances were in issue to soldiers' wives in the Channel Islands prior to the occupation by the enemy, payments equivalent to these allowances are being made. The source of the payment was not indicated, and I cannot confirm the statement. If payments are being made, and if any claim for recovery is eventually presented to the soldier, the War Office will take into account the fact that family allowance has been withheld. I will only say one thing further, and that is with regard to the point raised by the right reverend Prelate concerning the difference between two soldiers, one who has his family in the Channel Islands and the other who has his family in this country. One must take into account the fact that where the soldier's wife and children did escape to this country, he undoubtedly will have to incur very considerable expenditure, which probably may exceed the difference in the allowance. I do not say that in any unsympathetic way, but we must realise that.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his reply, and especially for his statement that at the end of the war, if the local authorities in the Islands have been making these payments, the Government will take that circumstance into full consideration. I wish, of course, that he had been able to go further, but I am sure the Channel Islanders will appreciate his sympathetic reply. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.