HC Deb 08 June 1883 vol 280 cc85-90

, in rising to call attention to the subject of Militia Surgeons as regards pensions; and to move— That the continual refusal by the Administration of pensions to Militia Surgeons, compulsorily retired at 65 years of age, after long periods of service, and of compensation to those surgeons who have been deprived of a large amount of their incomes by the establishment of Brigade Depôts, to which pensions or compensation they consider themselves justly entitled; as also their complaints and great dissatisfaction thereat, embodied in a Petition from them lately presented to this Honourable House, be referred to a Committee to inquire into the reasonableness and justice of their complaints, said, he would, at the outset, make an appeal to the Prime Minister to at once grant the request for a small Committee, and thus save much time. The case was a very hard and an unjust one as affecting the Militia surgeons, who felt much aggrieved, and the Government would do a generous act by conceding the moderate request made. [Mr. GLAD-STONE dissented.] He was sorry to see the right hon. Gentleman signify his dissent, because the refusal would oblige him to state the complaints of the Militia surgeons at some length. The Motion did not ask the Government to grant pensions, but simply to allow a Committee to hear and consider the grievances under which these officers laboured. Since 1855, the question had been several times brought before the attention of the House; and it had been practically admitted, again and again, that the Militia surgeons had just ground for complaint, and were entitled to compensation on compulsory retirement at the age mentioned. Promises had been several times made that their claims should be fairly considered, as appeared by letters addressed to him (Sir Eardley Wilmot) from the War Office, and to other hon. Members who had asked Questions upon the subject in the House. Yet, in face of the admissions made by previous Secretaries of State for War, the present Government were prepared to turn the surgeons adrift at 65 years of age, after 25 or 30 years' service, without any pension or compensation. No one could deny that that was a great grievance; and ho would venture to say it was one at which the people generally of the country would be very indignant when they were informed of the facts. Under the alterations consequent on the adoption of short service and the brigade depot system Militia surgeons wore now deprived of many emoluments which they formerly enjoyed; and the argument that, on leaving the Service, they had their private practice to fall back upon, and therefore were not in need of pensions, was unfair and misleading, because the circumstances were such that few of them had any private practice, at least to the extent intimated, nor could those re-commence a professional career at an advanced age, and with a gap made in it by a long employment in the Militia, in many cases at a considerable distance from their homes. He proceeded to enumerate the several Statutes passed since 1829, in every one of which the clause giving the same retiring pensions to the Militia surgeons as to the adjutants was to be found; and if the pensions granted were only those available for surgeons who had retired previously to 1829, as the Circular of the Secretary of State for War assumed, how could it be possible that, after the lapse of 50 years, any surgeons could be found to take the benefit of the Act passed in that year, whereas, as late as 1882, an Act was to be found still keeping alive the claim to retiring pensions? There were analogous cases that he thought justified the claim of the Militia surgeons. For instance, pensions were granted to the surgeons when the Prisons Bill was passed four years ago, and also to the Poor Law medical officers. Personally, he had no interest in the matter; but he was confident that when a grievance as strong as this was fairly presented to the House hon. Members would not ignore it. The promise had been made that the grievances of this class of officers should be remedied, and it seemed to him (Sir Eardley Wilmot) that it was unworthy of a Liberal Government to act as the present Government had done in respect to the matter; for the case was that of a deserving class of men, who had served their country faithfully, and whose claim was moderate and reasonable. At the present time there were only 30 Militia surgeons who asked for pensions; and surely the request to give an officer at 65 years of age, after a long period of service, 6s. a-day for the few remaining years of his life was not an excessive demand. He, therefore, submitted his Motion to the House with a feeling of confidence that it would be adopted.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that outside the House there was a considerable sympathy with these gentlemen and their grievances. The grievances of these surgeons were two-fold. The first related to compulsory retirement. These men had been induced to join the Army, under conditions which permitted them to continue in the Service until they were incapacitated by age or ill-health, and they were now compulsorily retired at 65 years of age. It was a serious matter for these surgeons thus to be suddenly and compulsorily retired. Many of them had suffered in their practice from various causes, such as the necessity of suddenly leaving their home and their practice, irrespective of other engagements. The addition of their official income was such as to make their practice sufficient for a living; but when the official income was removed they were unable to live on their private practice, and many of them had arrived at a time of life when it was impossible for them to improve their private practice, consequently they had been suddenly reduced to a state of great poverty. One of these gentlemen, to his knowledge, was actually in the workhouse. It was said that these surgeons had never been on the permanent Staff, and, therefore, had no claim to pensions; but there was nothing in the Militia Acts which implied that it was necessary that surgeons of Militia should belong to the permanent Staff. The second grievance of these surgeons was that they had to submit to very great loss of income consequent on Lord Cardwell's arrangement, by which the brigade depot surgeons took all the recruiting profits from them. These profits made up a great portion of their income, and their emoluments had in this way been, in some cases, reduced from £300 to £100 a-year, or even less. Promises had often been made to investigate individual cases; and a Departmental Committee, such as was now moved for, was a tribunal whose decision the surgeons would be well content to take.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the continual refusal by the Administration of pensions to Militia Surgeons, compulsorily retired at 65 years of age, after long periods of service, and of compensation to those surgeons who have been deprived of a large amount of their incomes by the establishment of Brigade Depôts, to which pensions or compensation they consider themselves justly entitled; as also their complaints and great dissatisfaction thereat, embodied in a Petition from them lately presented to this Honourable House, be referred to a Committee to inquire into the reasonableness and justice of their complaints,"—(Sir Eardley Wilmot,) —instead thereof.

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


said, ho was certain that the Finance Department of the War Office—and he believed the House itself—owed much to the hon. Baronet opposite the Member for South Warwickshire for bringing this question before their notice. The matter had been brought before the House in the shape of Questions, both by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy), and also by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson). It had already been considered by three Secretaries of State of different political opinions — namely, by Lord Cranbrook, by his Successor, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Lancashire (Colenel Stanley), and by his right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Childers); and, on each occasion, the decision had been adverse to the claims of the surgeons, both as regarded loss of income and loss of fees for the examination of recruits. There was no exceptional hardship in the position of Militia surgeons. Her Majesty had the power of deciding at what age Militia surgeons should retire; and it was considered that the extension of the age for retirement from 60 to 65 years of age—when the age for retirement of combatant officers was fixed at 60—was a sufficient relaxation. No pensions had over been granted to officers who were not on the permanent Staff, and no Militia surgeons had over been on the permanent Staff since the year 1829. At that date, when the Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister, and Sir Henry Harding Commander-in-Chief, a Circular was issued, stating that Militia Surgeons would be struck off the permanent Staff, and from that time no pension had been granted to a Militia surgeon. In the following Session of 1829 a Bill was passed into an Act, at the instance of the Government, to carry out the change, and the question of pension to Militia surgeons was not raised for many years. At the time of the Crimean War, when the Militia went to the Ionian Islands, a Circular was issued by Lord Panmure, stating that no Militia surgeon would be entitled to a retiring allowance unless he served for 10 years; but it so happened that these Militia regiments were embodied for no longer than two years. It was, therefore, clearly understood, from the terms of the Circular of 1855, that the Militia surgeons were not entitled to any allowance except for embodied service. In 1876 a Warrant was issued by Mr. Gathorne Hardy; and it was stated that nothing contained therein should be held as giving a medical officer of Militia a claim to a pension or retiring allowance. The case of these gentlemen had been submitted by the War Office to his hon. and learned Friends the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, and they had given it their most careful consideration. They had supplied the War Office with their opinion in writing, in which they decided against the claims of the Militia surgeons, both as regarded law and equity. There was another point, and that was, were these officers so badly off as had been represented? He was sure that the Secretary of State for War would be the last man to deal hardly with men who were poor, and possibly retiring from age or infirmity; but it must be remembered that the Militia surgeons received full pay at the rate of £1 a-day for the time that they were out with their regiments; whilst as they were only out, as a rule, for a month at a time, he could not admit that their private professional practice had been thereby ruined. The War Office must employ, whenever practicable, for the examination of recruits, the Army surgeons whom they paid all the year round. With regard to the Motion as it stood on the Paper, he must point out that the "continual refusal" referred to had not been by the Administration, but by the three Administrations preceding the present. He hoped the hon. Baronet would not divide the House after this explanation; but if he did take a division, this was the only answer which he (Sir Arthur Hayter), as a Minister, could give.


, in supporting the Resolution, said, he knew of one case, during the Crimean War, in which a Militia surgeon was called upon to be away for 12 months with his regiment, and to break up his home, and all his professional connections; and now, at the age of 65, although in full health and vigour, he was called upon to resign, with nothing to fall back upon. Whatever was done generally, he hoped this case would receive special consideration at the hands of the Government.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 61; Noes 48: Majority 13.—(Div. List, No. 122.)

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."