HC Deb 01 May 1900 vol 82 cc489-93


MR. McKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)

I do not propose to do much more than formally move the motion which stands in my name. The principle of the motion is exceedingly simple. It is to extend the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, with appropriate modifications, to soldiers and sailors who may he killed or injured in the course of their employment. The operation of the Workmen's Compensation Act is now thoroughly understood. Under that Act it is recognised that if a workman is incapacitated by accident from continuing his employment, he should be compensated, and that if he is killed his widow and children should receive a benefit. There is, in principle, not the very least reason why the same measure should not be extended to soldiers and sailors. The principle, indeed, is admitted under the system of pensions, but these pensions do not compensate the soldier or sailor in anything like the same degree, or to the same amount, as that by which the injured workman is now compensated. What this House has done in imposing liability on employers in regard to their workmen it should be equally willing to impose on itself, as representing the taxpayers, in regard to our soldiers and sailors. The real question, so far as I can see, is, whether our soldiers and sailors, their widows and children, should be compensated by the State, or whether we should allow them to become a charge on the ratepayers. I submit that on a motion of such extreme simplicity as this there is very little indeed to be said, and I trust the House will agree with me that there is an immediate necessity for the legislation indicated.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)

I beg to second the motion, which I think is one that commends itself to the common sense, spirit of fairness, and the justice of the House. The State ought to be the model employer, and I think that what the State has imposed on other employers it ought to accept for itself.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That there is urgent need to extend the Provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, with appropriate modifications, to the Naval and Military servants of the State who may be killed or injured in the course of their employment."—(Mr. M'Kenna.)


The hon. Gentleman who moved the resolution said that if there is no provision for the naval and military servants of the Crown the burden was laid upon this House to rectify the omission. As a matter of fact, however, apart altogether from the pensions which are earned in respect of service, provision is made in respect of injuries of as satisfactory a character as that provided for civilians under the scheme of compensation in the Workmen's Compensation Act. In order to justify that statement let me give a few examples of the compensation granted in a few recent cases in which both sailors and civilians have derived benefit after injury in Her Majesty's service under these regulations. A civilian, aged fifty-five, service eight years, wages 36s. per week, or £93 17s. a year, got jammed in a lathe; effect, a severe wound on the left thigh. He received a pension of 7s. 2d. a week. Another civilian, shipwright, age fifty-six, service thirty-five years, wages 38s. 6d. per week, or £101 per annum; fell and fractured his right femur; compensation 11s. 9d. per week. Now take the case of a sailor: first-class petty officer, age thirty-two, service thirteen years, pay 17s. per week; injury caused by diving at a depth of 180 feet resulting in vertigo and general paralysis. He got a pension of 10s. 6d. a week. I would also point, out that these men have this advantage, that their cases are subject to re-survey, when, if it is proved that their condition has become worse, their pensions are increased. I would point out that if the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act were to be applied to the sailors and marines in the Naval service they would be deprived of the privilege of drawing their whole pay without deductions while in hospital. Then compensation is provided for the widows and children of soldiers and sailors who are killed on duty. The widows of such able seamen and others on the lower deck receive pensions varying from 3s. 6d. to 6s. 6d. a week, and, in addition, 1s. 6d. to 2s. a week is paid for each child dependent on them.


That is not true, surely, in every case of a widow?


It is in every case where the injury has been received not due to the man himself—according to; the regulations.


The regulations say "may."


Yes, but I have gone back many years and I find that, it is the invariable practice of the Admiralty to use their power in this direction, Take the case of a widow with two children. She would receive a pension something like £16 a year, which would compare more than favourably with what she would receive under the Workmen's Compensation Act. I trust that the House will agree, after what I have said, that no action such as is proposed is necessary, and that due provision is made both for the men themselves and their widows and children.

COMMANDER BETHELL (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)

I think it would be wrong that a resolution of the character of that which we are now discussing should be taken without some comment upon the position. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty has met the case of the hon. Gentleman by saying that the provisions of the service give remuneration in all cases out of the same fund to the widows and children; but surely he has a little overstated the case. I think I am right in saying that in cases of accidents the widows and children have only received a gratuity of the amount of the man's wages, and that after that they have been entirely dependent on the bounty of their friends. In the case of men killed in action the Admiralty may give a pension to the widow, but in cases of accident they frequently do not give pensions at all. I do not think the resolution of the hon. Gentleman meets the case, though I am not now going to argue that. I desire to take this opportunity of drawing attention to the many widows who will suffer from the war in which we are at present engaged, and the endeavours made in this House and by representations made to the Treasury on behalf of the widows of seamen, soldiers, and marines. I think the Government of this country ought undoubtedly to see that the widows of persons slain in the service of the country, whether in action or by accident, should receive such a pension as would enable them to live under the same conditions as they did in the lifetime of their husbands. It is surprising that this question has not come before the House before, and if there is any advantage in the war in which we are now engaged, it is that it has brought this question before the Government, and that the widows will receive such a pension as they are entitled to. Then there are the men disabled in the service, who do very often receive a gratuity but not a pension, and if they do receive a pension it is a very small one.


I can assure my hon. friend that that is not a correct representation of the facts. There are cases in which the service has been very slight, and the injury has not resulted from the service, where gratuities have been given. But, where the accident has actually resulted from the service, I have never known a case where the fullest pension has not been given.


What I say is that I do not think in every case where a man is compelled to leave the service through disablement he should receive a pension for life, but in cases where a man is seriously injured, to the extent of losing a limb or a hand, and has, in consequence, been dismissed from the service and is unable to earn his livelihood, he should not be dismissed with a gratuity, but he should be granted a pension. He is entitled to be taken care of.


As the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War has not seen fit to offer an explanation so far as the War Office is concerned, and as the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty has made an answer which I can only, I am sorry to say, characterise as disingenuous, my only course is to press this resolution to a division.


I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Member, but I gathered that he addressed himself chiefly to the Admiralty. The hon. Member made his speech short, and so, apparently, expects a short reply. The matter is one which deserves consideration, and it is receiving that consideration. The resolution proposes that the War Office should adopt the procedure of the Workmen's Compensation Act with modifications, but in respect of soldiers who are injured a good deal has already been done. A man who is injured is entitled to from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. a day, and where the injury resulted in total incapacitation I have never known anything less than the highest award being given. A man incapacitated in battle receives 2s. 6d. a day. When the accident occurs in time of peace 2s. is given in order to leave a higher margin, because we prefer to give something more in the case of an injury received in action. Under the Act the widow of a man killed receives £150, or three years wages, whichever is the greater; but under the War Office Regulations the maximum that can be given is one year's wage, and even that is not given when provision is made by the Commissioners of the Patriotic Fund. The War Office is now waiting the Report of Lord Justice Collins's Committee on the various funds, and the Government do not wish to commit themselves to any statement on the subject until they have had the benefit of that Report. I, however, quite admit that the plea put forward by the hon. Member is one which must command the earnest consideration of the House, especially having regard to the events through which we are now passing.