HC Deb 04 June 1868 vol 192 cc1124-6

, in rising to call attention to the position of the Clerks in the Engineer Department, said, that he received from the Under Secretary for War in 1866 an assurance that the case of these clerks should be referred to a Committee then sitting. Formerly they had the privilege of rising to places of trust and great emolument—even as much as £800 a year—but in 1858 a change was made, and now they could not rise to salaries of upwards of £270, with very slow promotion. Besides the officers he had mentioned, there were others, such as purveyors, keepers of stores, and others who are called civil officers, and upon whom, by a Warrant issued in the present year, was conferred what was called relative rank. This was a mischievous course to be taken, one which had in no single case produced good, but had in very many instances tended to bring about confusion. Then, further, all the civil officers were, or were supposed to be, entitled to certain allowances, which, indeed, were actually granted to all such officers except those engaged as clerks of works and clerks in Engineering Departments. The latter received these allowances when they went abroad; but when they returned to this country they were deprived of them. There was no reason why these allowances should be given to one class of civil officers and denied to others. All other civil officers, moreover, were entitled to pensions for their widows and orphans; but he held in his hand a list of several of these officers who had died abroad from the climate, and it was hard that their widows should receive no pensions. It might be said that they were entitled to superannuations under the Superannuation Act; but considering that they could hardly expect to arrive at salaries of £270 a year, their superannuation allowances would be exceedingly trifling. These officers were not only employed in distant and unhealthy countries, but they were sometimes under fire. It was strange that when the Committee on Army Organization sat it did not consider their case. In March, 1863, a Warrant was issued from the War Department actually granting these allowances, and they were even paid; but two months afterwards the order was cancelled and these gentlemen were made to refund the money. Some learned au- thorities held that under the circumstances they had a legal right to that allowance; but certainly they had a moral title to it. The number of these officers was lessening every day, from the circumstance of the War Department preferring to take the clerks from the military profession; but as long as any of them remained justice ought to be done to them and he trusted that a favourable answer would be given to his question, Why they are refused certain allowances which they claim under a Warrant, and the right of pensions for their widows granted to other Civil Officers of the Department?


said, that previous to the time when these officers were made liable to service abroad there might have been some reason in not giving their widows pensions; but since they had been employed in every part of the globe the case was very different, because even where they had insured their lives the insurance companies would not allow thorn to keep up their insurances when they went to unhealthy climates. In one case one of these gentlemen, having been sent to Cape Coast Castle, the insurance company refused to renew his life policy, and he died from the climate, leaving a widow and five children, who thus lost every farthing of the insurance money. When the matter was represented to the War Office, the Department said there was no special provision for such cases, and nothing could be done for the widow. In another instance one of these officers died in the West Indies through having been ordered to remain at a station from which the troops were removed on account of its unhealthiness, and his life insurance was forfeited in consequence. If the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Pakington) looked into the merits of that question, and did not suffer himself to be misled by the permanent officials of his Department, no doubt he would favourably entertain the claims of these unfortunate men.


considered that these officers were in the same position and exposed to the same dangers as army surgeons and other non-combatants, and that it was but fair that their widows should be placed precisely upon the same footing as the widows of non-combatants or regular military officers.


said, he was not disposed to admit that these clerks in the Engineer department ought to be regarded as soldiers; but he could not deny that there was a great deal of force in what had been urged as to the dangers of climate to which they were undoubtedly exposed. His hon. and gallant Friend (General Dunne) stated in the first place that those officers were refused certain allowances which they claimed under warrant; and next he complained that the right to pensions for their widows was not conceded to them. With regard to the first point, the fact was that those appointments were civil appointments, to which, therefore, the Superannuation Act did not apply, and the Treasury had clearly decided that under the existing law the War Department were not authorized in giving pensions to the widows of those who held them. He admitted, however, that hardship arose, and a case recently came under his observation in which one of those men, in the prime of life, was sent on duty to the coast of Africa, and died there, leaving his widow in a position of great distress. Under the existing law it was not in his power to award a pension to that widow. He agreed with what had been said that evening to this extent—that the state of affairs should be re-considered, for the purpose of seeing whether the Government ought not to be empowered to grant pensions under certain conditions. With respect to the claim to certain allowances, however, he did not think that that stood on the same footing. The allowances were claimed by Engineer clerks under a Royal Warrant of March, 1863; but in Mays 1863, that Warrant was cancelled, and the previous system, under which these clerks had no claim to the allowances, was reverted to. His predecessor in the War Office was pressed on this subject, and the whole question was referred by his right hon. and gallant Friend (General Peel) to a Committee. The result was that the Committee came to a distinct decision that these officers had really no claim to come within the system of military allowances.