HC Deb 17 June 1869 vol 197 cc134-7

rose to call attention to the anomalous position of the Clerks of the Works and Clerks of the Royal Engineer Department, and the denial of Pensions to their widows; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, they are entitled to or should be granted the same rights and privileges, according to their relative rank, as are extended to other non-combatants in the Military Service. The clerks by the Royal Warrant, Article 101, were placed in the position of having what was called relative ranks—that is to say, those of the first-class were entitled to rank as captains, those of the second as lieutenants, and those of the third as cornets or ensigns. The widows, therefore, were entitled to demand a pension. Besides, those gentlemen were placed under the Mutiny Act, and were bound at a moment's notice to go to any part of the world when required, and to encounter the risks of war and the dangers of unhealthy climates. In China they had been compelled to attend the commanding Royal Engineer in the field; and, were officers with whom they had actually served consulted, their merits would be acknowledged and their claims conceded. Why, then, make a distinction between them and other non-combatants, such as chaplains, commissariat officers, purveyors, and others? These gentlemen were many of them well connected, yet a little unkindness of feeling appeared to have been manifested against them because they were called clerks, yet claimed to be commissioned officers. He maintained that, if it were right to give them the relative rank of officers, they ought to have the same privileges, and their widows the same pensions as those of commissioned officers. It might be said that the clerks might insure their lives, but they could not do this without forfeiting their insurance when they went on foreign service, or without being required to pay such an amount of premium as could not be spared out of their salaries. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving his Resolution.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the Clerks of the Works and Clerks of the Royal Engineer Department are entitled to or should be granted the same rights and privileges, according to their relative rank, as are extended to other non-combatants in the Military Service,"—(Mr. Montagu Chambers,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


admitted that his hon. and learned Friend had stated the case fairly from the point of view of those whose claims he had advocated; but he should remind him that in granting pensions and allowances it was necessary to draw the line somewhere, and make a distinction between different classes of officers. His hon. and learned Friend claimed to have the clerks of works, and of the Engineer department placed on the same footing as other non-combatants, because they were exposed to the same casualties. But this was not so. The officers of the Commissariat department and of the Store department were, of necessity, obliged to deal with the Army in the field, and expose themselves to the danger of being shot; but the clerks of works had no such duty imposed upon them, and were not subjected to the same dangers. During the Crimean "War there were only two clerks of works in the East at all, and they were at Scutari, many miles away from any firing. His hon. and learned Friend might ask why were commissions given to officers of the Commissariat and Store departments? Expressly because their widows might receive pensions if they lost their lives under fire. The question of the pensions had been considered by the late Sir George Lewis, who, after a careful investigation, decided positively that these gentlemen had no right on which to found their claim. The question had been likewise referred to three other Secretaries of State, who had arrived at the same conclusion, General Peel, indeed, not only investigated the case himself, but referred it to the Committee on Pay and Allowances, who reported that the civil officers of the Royal Engineer Department ought not to be included in the present classification, because they had special allowances granted to them under the Warrant of 1858. The position of these gentlemen was by no means a bad one. There were at the present moment forty-four clerks who had been, or were about to be acting surveyors, and who received from £330 to £500 at home stations, while at foreign stations they had additional allowances. Clerks of works of the first class had a salary of £230, which rose to £300; clerks of the second class had from £150 to £220; and clerks of the third class from £110 to £140. In addition, all these clerks were allowed lodging money. He trusted the House would not agree to the Motion, which, if passed, would necessitate the addition of £3,800 to the burden of the Estimates.


said, he was not satisfied with the hon. and. gallant Gentleman's explanation. Between 1858 and 1867 no fewer than twelve of these clerks of works had fallen victims in the discharge of their duties in the public service, and he could see no reason why their widows should not receive pensions. He referred in particular to the case of one of his fellow-townsmen, Mr. Lacy, a young man of great promise, who died from the effects of sunstroke on the West Coast of Africa, and whose widow was not under the present system entitled to any pension. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was wrong in saying that these officers had nothing to do with the fighting department. That the contrary was the fact was shown by the case of Mr. Henry Rees, who, when in Gambia, was ordered by the officer in command to accompany him in an expedition against the blacks.


said, that though all of us were economists in general, we had no regard to economy when our interests were specially concerned. This matter had been fully considered by successive Governments, and it would be impossible to enforce economy if the present Motion were agreed to. The case mentioned by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire) was no doubt a hard one; but he was informed that the gentleman in question went out voluntarily, having his allowance largely increased in consequence of the risk he ran.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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