HC Deb 11 May 1860 vol 158 cc1169-76

, in rising to move that an humble Address should be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she would be graciously pleased to reconsider the Warrant granting Pensions and Allowances to Officers of the Land forces, limited to Wounds and Injuries received in Action, disclaimed any intention of impugning the manner in which the Secretary of State for War had carried out the warrant; and said that his only object was to extend the powers of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the granting of pensions to wounded officers. The warrant was dated the 13th of June, 1857, and contained eleven clauses. At that late hour he would only refer to two or three clauses, and particularize one or two cases bearing upon each. The first clause to which he would call attention was that which permitted the recommendation for a pension of an officer who had lost a limb or an eye, or had totally lost the use of a limb, or had sustained a severe injury in action equal to the loss of a limb. The officer whoso case he would mention with reference to this clause served with that gallant band of heroes which was commanded by the late Sir Henry Havelock. At the outbreak of the mutiny in India he found himself in command of the light company of his regiment, and was sent to keep open the communication between Allahabad and Benares—a duty which he performed with the greatest success. When Mr. Moore, a ma- gistrate of the district, was murdered, he proceeded with only forty men to the scene of the murder, defeated a body of 1,500; rebels, and destroyed the village. He afterwards escorted a battery of artillery a distance of 150 miles, and then joined the force under the command of Sir Henry Havelock, and assisted in the relief of the Residency of Lucknow, during which operation he prevented the rebels from carrying off a gun which they were most anxious to secure. In that service he was wounded in the elbow. It was a day or two before the wound could be attended to, and the amputation was at last performed in a house in Lucknow through which shot and shell were falling at the time. The operation was performed with an instrument so blunted by use that hospital gangrene ensued, and on his arrival in England he was obliged to undergo another amputation of the arm. Nor was that all, for after the greatest suffering, he had had within the last six weeks or two months to undergo the same operation for the third time. That officer—like the others he had alluded to—with a modesty that did him great honour, had requested that his name might not be made public. The commander of his regiment had recommended him to the favour of His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief as a young officer who had charge of the light company for a period of two years, and had commanded it in six actions, in each of which he had acquitted himself with a quickness and intelligence deserving of the highest praise. Wishing to obtain further compensation for having to undergo all the suffering incident to so protracted a cure, that officer made an application to the War Department. The answer he received from the Secretary of State was, that the pension awarded to officers sustaining injuries in action only commenced one year after the date of their wounds; and that, as the applicant had had awarded to him the utmost amount to which he was eligible under the regulations in consideration of the wound he had received on the 25th of September, 1857, the Secretary of State for War was precluded from complying with his application. It must have been very painful for a man of his right hon. Friend's kindly feelings to write such a letter as that to so meritorious an officer. The next case he had to mention was that of a young officer who distinguished himself very much in the attack on the Redan, and was severely wounded on the 8th of September, 1855. The wound was followed by partial paralysis, but he was able to rejoin his regiment in the following year. He was examined by a medical board at Gibraltar, who reported that his wound was equal to the loss of a limb, and he received a pension. He came home to England, and was again examined by a medical board, who reported that his wound was nearly, but not quite, equal to the loss of a limb. On that report his pension was taken away from him, and he was told that he must go on half-pay before he would be allowed a pension. But to go on half-pay would be to deprive himself of all prospect of professional advancement. He was at present the second captain in his regiment; if he were on half-pay, and supposing he ever got back again on full pay, he must go to the bottom of the list. The last case he would mention was that of an officer who was shot in the thigh at the battle of Inkermann. A medical board reported in his case that his wound was nearly equal to the loss of a limb; that his leg had been shortened four inches, and that he was incapacitated from performing the duties of an officer of infantry. He applied for a pension, and the answer he thought went far to prove that the notorious Shylock must at one time have been War Minister, and that the forms he instituted kept their place to the present day. The reply stated that Mr. Secretary Herbert was prepared to recommend him for a pension of £70 a year for two years, from the date of his retirement on half-pay, and on his expressing his willingness to refund six out of the eighteen months' gratuity he had already received. This, he thought, was Shylock's pound of flesh without the penalty of the one drop of blood. He could scarcely believe that this application had come under the notice of the Secretary of State, for, with his kind heart, he never could have directed such an answer to be written. It certainly never could be the desire of Parliament or the people that such bargains as this should be made with men who were ready at any moment to sacrifice their lives for their country. He had spoken to many officers on this subject, some of whom had themselves been wounded—the Duke of Richmond, for instance—who all agreed that the working of this warrant was most unjust. All he wished was that the Secretary of State should have the power of dealing with distressing cases, such as these be had quoted, and in order to secure responsibility, he would propose that all cases dealt with beyond the terms of the warrant should be entered on the Estimates every year, as in the case of officers receiving good-service pensions. The hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded by moving the Address.


seconded the Motion.


said, it was time some specific regulations were made on this subject, both as regarded the army and navy. He read the regulations as to pensions with respect to the navy, from which, he said, it appeared Her Majesty reserved to herself the right of granting annual pensions; but it was provided that if there was a wound equal to the loss of a limb the party should receive a gratuity equal to one year's pay, and the expense of his cure. Upwards of a hundred years ago the Admiralty made an order that no officer whose wound was not equal to the loss of a limb should receive a pension. His was a case in point. He received a severe wound, and made application for a pension; but the answer he received was that his wound was not equal to the loss of a limb. The men were in a worse position than the officers. They did all they could to get men to enter into the navy; and was not one of the inducements to enter that if they got wounded they would be provided for? and yet there was no provision for that.


thought these warrants were not Acts of Parliament, and might easily be altered by the Secretary of State with the assent of the Commander-in-Chief. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would take the matter into consideration, with the view of framing a warrant better calculated to meet the jus-tics of the case. He could multiply the instances of hardship, such as those that had been so well detailed by his hon. and gallant Friend in respect of officers; and the grievance was, if possible, worse in the pensioning of soldiers.


It is extremely difficult in cases of this kind to oppose the feelings of generous men, after listening to descriptions of cases of great affliction endured by officers after long service; but I must put it to the House, and to the gallant Officer opposite, whether it is quite just and fair to bring forward cases of this description in the House of Commons before any notification has been made to the military authorities of the cases to be adduced, and the facts by which they are to be supported. We are told that warrants are not Acts of Parliament; and that they can be altered by the Secretary of State and the Commander-in-Chief; but if I am to adopt proposals such as that now submitted in deference to the feeling of this House, what becomes of the authority of the Commander-in-Chief? He has not been consulted; his opinion has not been taken; and I, as a civilian, should have altered a regulation without going to the military authorities for their opinion at all. In all cases of this description you must have rules laid down by which those in authority are to be guided, and those rules must be founded on some intelligible principle. I take the case of the very gallant officer mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend, and who underwent three amputations of his arm. He has done eminent service—his service is not to be rewarded by the amount of pension for wounds—pensions are not given in compensation for the suffering or amount of pain that may have been endured, but for the disability consequent on the loss of a limb, or equivalent to the loss of a limb. An officer cannot receive the pension unless he goes on half-pay, because the fact of his being on full pay shows that he is able to follow his profession. In this particular case the officer received, and most justly received, at the hands of the Commander-in-Chief promotion to a company in another regiment without purchase. The question is simply whether under the peculiar circumstances of the loss of a limb, aggravated in his instance by the increased personal suffering of throe different amputations, you can apply a different principle to this particular case; not that I undervalue suffering, but the principle being that you compensate not for suffering, but for disability consequent upon suffering. The gallant Officer asks how I could make such a bargain, awarding two years' pension if the officer gave back six months' gratuity. I am bound while the warrant exists to act upon it. I have no power to depart from it. Either a year's gratuity may be given or, in an aggravated case, 18 months' gratuity; but, if that be followed by a pension, the gratuity must be confined to a year's gratuity, and six months of that gratuity must be refunded. The other ease mentioned by the hon. and gallant Officer is one, I am ashamed to say, I am unacquainted with. But on the whole of this subject let me say that it is impossible for me, on a Motion made in this House, to give at once an opinion as to what should be done. I am bound to consult others—I am bound to let others have the full weight of their authority. I am against giving an unlimited authority or enlarged powers to an official in the situation I hold. I have no objection to take the responsibility of these decisions, but you will not find two Secretaries of State whose decisions are the same. I find in a particular case unlimited discretion given as to the giving of pensions to the widows of general officers. I am very much perplexed as to the amount of those pensions. I have tried to frame a rule that should be followed; but here is the result. I looked back to the decisions of several Secretaries of State, and find that they have never been guided by the same rule. One said, "Such and such a general officer's widow was born in a high rank in society; her requirements, therefore, are greater;" and she would be awarded a pension on a higher scale than another general officer's widow, who had not been so high-born. I have not acted on that rule. I thought the sole rule should be not the rank of the lady but the rank of the deceased husband—military, not social rank. There are numberless decisions, however, proceeding on exactly the contrary principle; and I also find pensions given to ladies without children larger than those given to widows with a numerous family to support. And what is the consequence? Why, nobody knows on what principle you act; one person is refused, and another in a similar position has her claims allowed—and such different treatment is imputed to partiality. It is dangerous then, I say, to give great discretionary powers without strict rules being laid down as to how the discretion should be exercised. There is undoubtedly a disposition to give all you can, but in dealing with a large department and a large profession that is impossible. I do not think large discretionary powers would work well; yet I quite admit that there are points in the warrant that might be improved. But as to what we should do, and to what extent we should go, I must consult others before forming or giving an opinion. I trust, after what I have said, the gallant Officer will not press the Motion to a division, or I shall be obliged, from the duty I owe to myself and the service, to resist it.


said, that the Motion was merely for a recommendation of the reconsideration of a warrant which was the cause of cases being treated with undue severity. As that was the only object, and as the right hon. Gentleman had admitted that the warrant was not perfect, he thought it would be better that the Motion should be withdrawn, and the matter left in the hands of the Government.


said, he could not agree with the recommendation of the hon. Gentleman, and he considered the explanation of the Secretary of War most unsatisfactory. A great deal of injustice was done by the present system. If, therefore, the hon. and gallant Member went to a division he should vote with him.


I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will take the advice which has been given him by an hon. Gentleman on his own side of the House, and withdraw his Motion, resting satisfied with the assurance which he has received from my right hon. Friend near me, that he will communicate with the officers of those departments concerned in this question, and endeavour to find out whether the existing regulations may not be improved, in reference to the particular points under our notice. For my own part I confess that I should, even if this Motion were carried, feel very much at a loss how to act upon it, inasmuch as I was unable to understand from the hon. and gallant Gentleman what the special matters are in reference to which he wishes the existing state of things to be altered, and to what extent that alteration, if we agree to make it, should be carried. I myself have had some experience in this question, and I may state that when I was at the War Office I found it extremely difficult to frame regulations which should include every case which ought to be included, and to exclude those with respect to which allowances ought not to be made. The temper of the House itself, I may add, interposes no small obstacles in the way of dealing satisfactorily with the subject. At one time it is disposed to make the most liberal grants of every sort and kind, while at another time a different mood comes on, and it complains of the great expense which is incurred, and urges the Government to limit the amount laid out in the shape of grants and pensions. This has happened, for instance, in the case of pensions for wounds; for, when first the warrant with regard to them was established, the pension allowed increased with the promotion of the recipient, so that the pension granted to a lieutenant became augmented as he reached the ranks of captain or major. Subsequently the House relapsed into a more economical frame of mind; that regulation was altered, and the pension continued to be of the same amount as that which was originally conferred. The House will, I think, under these circumstances, perceive that it is hardly dealing fairly with a Government to make such alterations as are now proposed without specifying more particularly in what those alterations are actually to consist. I trust, therefore, that hon. Members will be disposed—seeing that they give my right hon. Friend credit for being anxious to adopt as far as possible the existing: regulations to meet the claims preferred by officers in consequence of the wounds which they may receive—to look upon it as the wisest course to pursue to allow my right hon. Friend to take the matter into consideration in conjunction with the officers of the several Departments interested in the subject—receiving also any suggestions which the hon. and gallant General opposite might wish to make to him in private with all the attention which they deserve. That being done, my right hon. Friend would then on a future occasion be in a position to state to the House what, upon full consideration, and with a due regard to public economy, he would be able to effect in the matter. A more satisfactory result would, in my opinion, by that means be brought about than by the adoption of an Address which points to no specific objects.


, in reply, said that when he brought the subject under the consideration of the House four years ago, a promise was made that the warrant should be reconsidered. As, however, nothing had since been effected in that direction, he felt it to be his duty to persevere in his Motion.

Resolved, That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to reconsider the Warrant granting Pensions and Allowances to Officers of the Land Forces, limited to Wounds and Injuries received in Action.