HL Deb 15 June 1891 vol 354 cc384-6

in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is true that, at the instance of the Board of Guardians of the Portsea Island Union, a portion of the pension granted to John T. Freeman (a warrant officer of the Royal Navy) in the year 1880, has been allocated for the support of his wife, who deserted him 20 years ago; and, if so, whether there is any redress for such an injustice; and to move for a list of the services of the said John T. Freeman, said: My Lords, in asking the question which stands in my name, I trust I may be permitted to say one word in explanation of it. John T. Freeman, a warrant officer in the Royal Navy, had seen a great deal of active service, and had become entitled in the year 1880 to a naval pension. About 20 years ago he was deserted by his wife, and had not until the other day heard anything of what had become of her. It was a great astonishment to him, therefore, as well as a great vexation, to find that the Portsea Board of Guardians had made an application to deduct part of his pension for the support of his wife, who had been taken into the Union. I believe that the Naval Authorities thought it hard that a man who had been deserted 20 years previously by his wife should have had such an application made on him; but after consulting high legal authorities they were compelled to make that deduction. No doubt this man would have done better to have taken the usual course of advertising to warn tradesmen and others that he was not liable for his wife's maintenance, but, considering the fact that she had deserted him for 20 years, he thought there was no likelihood that any such claim would be made. Seeing that this is a case of great hardship and altogether opposed to one's usual ideas, the desertion having continued for so long a period as 20 years, I venture to ask Her Majesty's Government this question, with the view of seeing whether it can be removed by disallowing the charge.


My Lords, I trust my noble Friend will not feel it any act of discourtesy towards himself if I ask permission of your Lordships to read what I may term my "brief" from the Admiralty. The fact is I have been laid up for some time past, and have, therefore, been unable to look up the matter previously. The information with which I have been furnished on the matter is this— The Board of Guardians of the Porsea Old Union having made a claim upon the Postmaster General under the Act of Parliament 2 and 3 Vict., cap. 51, to be paid the expense of the maintenance of this man's wife out of the pension due to him as a chief gunner in the Royal Navy, the Admiralty have authorised the necessary abatements to be made from the pension. In a case such as this the Admiralty have no alternative but to carry out the order obtained under the Act, and cannot question the circumstances under which it was made. If there be any reason for claiming exemption under the Act in question, it would be necessary for the pensioner to take steps to prove the same before the Justices of the Peace in the usual manner. It is provided by Section 4 of the Act mentioned, that Where it shall be made to appear to the Justices that the woman relieved, or to be relieved, as the wife of the said pensioner is notoriously profligate or cohabiting with any other person than her said husband, it shall be lawful for the said Justices, and they are hereby required, to refuse making any order with respect to the payment of the said pension.' That appears to be the only exemption allowable, and unless Mr. Freeman can prove that his wife's desertion was further aggravated to that extent, he must submit to the allocation of a portion of his pension towards his wife's maintenance. My noble Friend, in his printed question, asks what Mr. Freeman's services have been, and I am furnished with the following particulars. He entered the Navy in November, 1840, as a boy of the second class; he served for 10 years and 98 days as seaman; as a petty officer for 23 years and 43 days—as a warrant officer; and for 2 years and 106 days as chief gunner with commissioned rank. I may add that during this long career in the Navy he gave uniform satisfaction and was finally pensioned in 1887.


My Lords, I only wish to say one word with regard to this matter. I am Chairman of a Board of Guardians myself, and I know that pensions are always subject to allocation to a wife's maintenance. It is a regular thing, a general rule, and there is no exemption whatever. It is a rule followed by all Boards of Guardians.