HL Deb 03 February 1881 vol 258 cc44-7

in rising to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether he will consider the feasibility of applying the sums accruing from Stoppages of Pay and Provisions to the formation of a Fund for the relief of the Widows and Orphans of Officers and Seamen whose lives might have been lost while serving on board any of Her Majesty's Ships lost under exceptional circumstances, such as attended the cases of H.M.S. "Captain," "Eurydice," and "Atalanta," said, that the Return laid on the Table of the House of Commons did not contain all the information he had asked for on a former occasion. It appeared from that Return that the amount saved to the Exchequer last year from stoppages of pay on account of imprisonment, hospital, desertion, leave, and other causes, and the value of provisions saved from similar causes, amounted in the aggregate to £58,151. He wished to put it to the kind consideration of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the House, whether, out of that sum a Fund might not he established for the relief of the widows and orphans of officers and seamen lost in circumstances such as those to which he had referred; but he sought this not so much for the families of officers, as for those of the seamen, the widows of officers being entitled to allowances. He asked whether the sailors of Her Majesty's Navy, who were exposed to so many dangers, should be in a worse position as regarded provision for their families than other men in the Public Service? Dockyard men, when disabled, were entitled to 10 or 12 years' pay, while sailors in the Navy were only entitled to one. It could not be that the seamen deserved it less than the others, for he (Viscount Sidmouth) was sure there was a general feeling of sympathy with them in the country. If their Lordships looked to the number of seamen who had been lost during the last century, he thought they would agree with him that the loss of seamen's lives at sea could scarcely be described as an exceptional occurrence. The country dealt liberally with soldiers, and seamen and marines should not be the only classes in the Public Service excluded from benevolent provision. Public subscriptions in cases such as those to which his Question had reference could not be depended upon. In the case of the Captain, £60,000 was subscribed by the public; but in that of the Eurydice, the amount only reached £20,000; and in that of the Atalanta, it dwindled down to £9,000, of which £3,000 was raised about Plymouth and Portsmouth from persons connected in some way or other with the Navy. He thought the widows and children of our seamen and marines who lost their lives in the discharge of duty ought not to be left to depend on the precarious support of subscriptions. Their distressed circumstances should be met in a better way, and the sums which he had indicated, and which only went to benefit the Exchequer, would form a very proper fund for the relief of the widows of seamen. He, therefore, trusted that his Question would receive a favourable answer.


in reply, said, he need hardly say that he agreed with the noble Viscount (Viscount Sidmouth) in the sentiments he had expressed towards the Navy. He was afraid, however, that a Return laid upon the Table of the other House had given rise to an incorrect impression— namely, that a sum of £58,151 was every year paid into the Exchequer in respect of stoppages from sailors in the Navy. As a matter of fact only a very small proportion of that sum—£6,897— represented the actual saving in the sense of being paid into the Exchequer. The amount was made up of various items. The amount shown in the first item of the Return—that was, £18,209 —was due mainly to pay suspended when men were in prison. Those men were practically out of the Service, being discharged from ships' books while undergoing imprisonment; and as they were not included in the numbers on which Vote I was framed, no provision for their pay was included in the Navy Estimates. This was a cessation of pay corresponding with a cessation of work, at her than a mere stoppage, and the mount could not be regarded as in any ease the property of the men. As to the second item, £5,470, when men were in hospital beyond a certain period a deduction of 10d. a-day was made from their pay; but that went towards the cost of their maintenance in hospital. As to the third item, £1,256, the amount due to deserters and the value of their effects left behind them, that was a bond fide receipt, which wont into the Exchequer; but a sum equal to that, if not larger, was charged to the Navy Votes in respect of debts irrecoverable on account of the desertion of the men who owed them. The fourth item was £26,319, the value of provisions saved when men were on leave; but, as regarded that, it was to be borne in mind that the circumstance of such a saving was taken into account in framing the Estimate for Vote 2, and that if the amount of it was to be appropriated to any purpose, it would have to be specially provided for in the Estimates which would have to be increased accordingly. The fifth item, £6,897, made up of deductions of pay for leave-breaking, &c, was paid into the Exchequer. Marines on shore were subject to fines for drunkenness, which, under a Circular of August 17, 1872, wore divided between two Divisional Funds for the benefit of the men while serving. In the Army, similar fines went to a Fund out of which gratuities were paid to men on discharge. There was, in fact, no saving which the Board of Admiralty could recommend the Treasury to appropriate as shown by the Return. There were, however, a few sums analogous to certain payments which, in the Army, were appropriated for the benefit of the soldiers. For instance, as regarded unclaimed estates of deceased seamen and marines, no separate account was kept of them previously to 1873, and the Navy Votes were to that extent benefited; but since then separate accounts for each year had been kept, and it would be for consideration whether the balance on each account after the lapse of six years, during which claims might be preferred, should be paid into the Exchequer or otherwise appropriated. Those balances would only, probably, amount to from £200 to £400 a-year. The Regimental Debt Act of 1863 provided that the balance of unclaimed effects of soldiers, after a lapse of more than six years, should be formed into a Fund for the benefit of the widows and children of soldiers dying on service, and he would take care that the Committee now considering the subject of the Pension List of the Navy should, at the same time, consider if some arrangement might not be made similar to that in the Army, whereby these amounts might be applied to the benefit of seamen's widows and orphans, together with the question of the application of the sum of between £6,000 and £7,000, which of the whole £58,000 was the amount which found its way into the Exchequer. He could not say anything further on the subject, considering that the dead weight of pensions had been increasing very largely for several years past.


said, that the noble Earl had not explained about the provisions.


said, that the seaman's ration had been fixed, after most careful consideration, as that which was needful to keep him in health and full bodily vigour, and his saving any portion of it, except rum, was not desirable. To prevent waste from carelessness, however, he was paid for what he did not eat; but the rates paid—except for rum—were kept low in order to discourage savings for the sake of the payment. Such payments were unknown in the Merchant Service, and were a free gift to the men in the Navy—a bonus, in fact—and conferred no claim whatever on the seaman to the difference between the actual cost of the articles and their savings' prices.

House adjourned at half past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.