HL Deb 25 March 1901 vol 91 cc1072-9

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether any alterations have been made since the commencement of the South African War in the dates and system of awarding pensions to soldiers disabled by wounds and sickness due to active service; and whether His Majesty's Paymaster General, as Chairman of the Board of Chelsea Commissioners, can give any information on the subject. I have not placed this question on the Paper because I have the slightest misgiving about the Chelsea Commissioners doing their duty with regard to pensions to disabled soldiers. On the contrary, I have every reason to believe that the noble Duke and his colleagues have exercised their discretion with zeal and industry, and with an adequate idea of the importance of pensions to disabled soldiers. When for a short time I was myself a Commissioner at Chelsea Hospital, it certainly did seem to me that the scale of pensions was by no means too liberal; and since I have ceased to be a Commissioner—some six years—the question of pensions has naturally come very much more to the front. Every year that the establishment of the Army is increased the difficulties of recruiting are increased, and there can be few things more detrimental to the recruiting sergeant's success than that after a long and arduous campaign a large number of soldiers should be discharged throughout the kingdom with a pension inadequate to the injuries they received during the campaign.


My Lords, I have much pleasure in answering the question which the noble Lord has brought before your notice, and perhaps it might be as well if in my reply I gave the noble Lord a short outline of the manner in which the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital are granting pensions to those soldiers who have been discharged from the Service owing to wounds they have received in action, or through sickness, the result of service in the field. I will first, if your Lordships will permit me, bring before your notice and deal with those men who have been discharged for wounds. Previous to the South African campaign, for example the campaign in Egypt, those men who were wounded and consequently discharged from the Service were awarded by the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital a pension which the Commissioners considered to represent the permanent loss in earning power to the individual from the result of his wounds. The rate of pension varied, in the case of private soldiers able partially to earn from 6d. to 1s. 6d., and in the case of those totally unable to earn from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. These pensions when granted became permanent; that is to say, the wounded man received in proportion to his disability a permanent pension from the State varying from 6d. to 2s. 6d. a day. That was the system adopted by the Commissioners in granting pensions for wounds before the South African War.

Since the commencement of that campaign no alteration in the rate of pensions for wounded men has been made in the Royal Warrant. No wounded man, if partially disabled, can get more than Is. 6d. or if totally disabled more than 2s. 6d. But the Commissioners unanimously agreed to make a somewhat new departure in granting the pensions embracing a different principle from that adopted previous to the South African War. They decided in almost every case to grant the maximum amount of pension at once. That may seem to your Lordships a very simple and popular proceeding, but it was undertaken for the following reason. They realised that in the case of a man who had received a wound, necessitating very often an operation and frequently painful treatment, the shock to the system was, as a rule, very great for the first year; that the man required rest and careful treatment, and that his scale of comfort, therefore, should be as high as possible to expedite his recovery. These views, which seemed reasonable, found support from the medical officers whose advice was sought, and they concurred in and supported the views of the Commissioners.

The effect of granting maximum pensions for the first year to wounded men has had this result, that many men who under the old system, would only have been awarded 6d., but who have been granted 1s. 6d. a day, have, with the extra shilling, been able to obtain a higher scale of comforts, and at the end of one year we have found, on examining their condition, that they have recovered in a most satisfactory manner. I do not think that I should occupy your Lordships' time with numerous cases. Two instances will suffice to prove my point. A private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders received a wound at the battle of Magersfontein. The wound disabled him one half. This man formerly would have been awarded 6d. or 9d. a day, but he was granted 1s. 6d. After a year's rest the Medical Report says his wound only slightly interferes, and he has therefore been awarded a permanent pension of 9d. The wisdom of giving the higher rate of pension is manifest in this way, that this man has recovered in one year from his disability, and has thus been enabled to return to civil employment, and to earn 25s. a week as a builder's labourer. There is another instance of a private in the Rifle Brigade who received a gunshot wound in the head. His wound disabled him one half. He was awarded 1s. 6d. This year he was so far recovered that we were enabled to pension him permanently at 9d. a day. He is now earning as a bricklayer's labourer £1 a week. There are many other instances, my Lords, of men who were wounded and who were granted 1s. 6d. for one year, and who after one year, have been enabled to take up civil employment and to earn sufficient to justify us in placing them on a permanent pension of from 6d. to 1s.

It appears, therefore, that although the change of system involves a greater expenditure in earlier stages, nevertheless there are good reasons for believing that it secures ultimately a greater advantage to the wounded soldier, with a proper regard to the economy of the public service. After twelve months, all the cases of men who have been wounded in the South African War are again brought up before the Commissioners. Their condition is examined, and we then grant them a permanent pension on a scale which appears to us to be a right and proper one. The men who, after a year, are found to be slightly impaired, receive 6d. a day: those who are found to be impaired, 9d. to 1s.; those who are materially impaired, which would be nearly equal to the loss of a limb. 1s. 3d.; those whose wounds are equal to the loss of a limb, Is. 6d.; and those who are wholly unable to contribute, through the result of their wounds, 2 s. 6d.

I now turn, with your Lordships' permission, from the discussion of the wounded to the consideration of those rendered unfit or broken by disease. In this branch of the subject we have again modified the original conditions. Formerly—that is to say, before the war—the men who were discharged for sickness received daily pensions of 6d. if they had served under six years; of 7d. if they had served between six and twelve years; and of 8d. if they had served between twelve and fourteen years, and a halfpenny a day in addition for every year's service after fourteen years. All these pensions granted to men of under fourteen years service were conditional; that is to say, the Commissioners could at any time after the first year, at their discretion, make the pensions permanent, or they could discontinue them in the case of any man who was able to earn a full livelihood. In April, 1900, a warrant was issued enabling the Commissioners, to award from 6d. to 1s. at their discretion to privates whose disability was due to exposure in the field. The rate awarded was to depend on the loss of wage-earning power, and the length and character of the service were, of course., to be taken into consideration. Again, following the same principle, which I have endeavoured to explain to your Lordships, the Commissioners found it advisable to grant the maximum amount —that is. 1s.—in almost every case, in order to enable the men to have sufficient means to accelerate their recovery.

Since the South African War, and until quite recently, the Commissioners have been granting 1s. a day to all those who have been discharged from the Service through sickness in that campaign. Yet even this amount was deemed not to be sufficient, and numerous cases were brought before our notice of men who were totally unable to earn through the effects and results of severe illness contracted during the South African campaign. Among the cases-that came before our notice there is one striking example—the case of a gunner. This man was invalided from South Africa with a bad attack of enteric, and when his case came before the Commissioners the Medical Report said that the whole of one side of his body had become completely paralysed, that he was quite unable to work for his living, and that be was never likely to recover. This man was living near or among other discharged privates who were in receipt of 1s. 6d. a day, the result of wounds, but they were in a better condition than be was because they were able to get about and earn something towards their livelihood. In this instance the man did not wish to press his claim, for to use his own words, he "did not desire to base any claim he might have on the compassion of his country or any flimsy pretext of that sort."

It seems, therefore, to the Commissioners that, while it may be more honourable to be wounded in action against the enemy than to be reduced by disease, the misfortune to the individual is the same, and that, though the one case appeals more strongly to the public imagination, both have an equal claim upon the public bounty. We made a strong recommendation to higher authorities, in which we received the support and assistance of the Junior Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, who is the Treasury representative on the Chelsea Board. Our representation has had this result, that we have been granted power to treat those cases of disease due directly and wholly to war service at the same rate, and on the same scale, as that allowed for disabilities from wounds, which your Lordships will recollect is 1s. 6d. for those who are partially disabled and 2s. 6d. for those totally disabled. I have not alluded to the rates of pension granted to non-commissioned officers, for your Lordships will readily understand that we are guided by the same principles, though, of course, the awards are at a higher rate. I may mention here that this somewhat new principle of awarding pensions is not retrospective; it does not apply to any campaign previous to the commencement of the South African War.

I fear that I have answered the noble Lord's question at some length, and I fear, also, that I have trespassed too long on your Lordships' time in venturing to explain the principle upon which the award of pensions are now being granted; but I have done so because I feel that it is a subject which affects the comfort and well-being of a great number of those who have served their country with distinction in the past. I will only venture to add, in conclusion, that it has, been the earnest endeavour of the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital to grapple with the subject of pensions, and, with the approval of His Majesty's Government, to award them in a liberal and generous spirit. We have felt that, in dealing liberally with those who have served their country well in the past, we will induce others to serve her well in the future; and that, of the vast expenditure which this war has necessitated, no part will be more readily and cheerfully borne by the nation than the comparatively small sum which is required to provide honourably for those who have lost their health or strength in the public service.


I am sure your Lordships must have listened with much satisfaction to the clear statement made by the noble Duke on this most important matter. It seems to me that the rules laid down by the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital are admirably suited to the occasion, but I hardly think it is necessary, in the case of the loss of a limb, to call upon a man to come up again at the end of a year. I trust that the Commissioners will exercise pressure with the authorities in order to get the rule with regard to soldiers who have entirely lost their health in the operations in South Africa extended to other campaigns. There are no doubt cases of soldiers who have suffered from disease contracted in the hardships of the Tirah campaign, and who are equally deserving of liberal treatment with those who have suffered from disease contracted in South Africa. I commend these two suggestions to the noble Duke.


Perhaps it might interest the noble Earl to know that a Committee has been appointed at the War Office to discuss the whole question of pensions, and will go into the point he has mentioned.


I have heard with great satisfaction the statements of the noble Duke and the Under Secretary for War. I suppose some discretion is exercised by the Commissioners in the granting of the maximum pension at once. So far as I can gather from the statement of the noble Duke, a man who is only slightly injured, and whose injury does not interfere at all with the performance of his ordinary work as a citizen, is given the same pension as a man who is almost completely disabled—namely, 1s. 6d. a day for the first year.


I am afraid I cannot have explained myself clearly. Men who are wounded are pensioned at 1s. 6d. a day if they are partially disabled, and at 2s. 6d. if they are totally disabled. At the end of the first year they come up for re-examination, and if they have returned to civil employment and can earn their own livelihood, they get a permanent pension of 6d. or 9d.


I do not think that quite answers my point. I entirely agree that disease and wounds ought to stand on the same footing with regard to a pension, but I cannot find in the Royal Warrant any distinction made between wounds and disease. The words are, I believe, "wounds or injuries received on active service or on actual military duty." I was surprised to find that it required a new Warrant in 1900 to include exposure in the field under the head of disease.


Formerly it was necessary to make a special application to the Treasury in any case of disability through illness. The present arrangement is that, with the concurrence of the Treasury representative on the Board of Commissioners, these cases are dealt with without the necessity of making a special application to the Treasury.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six of the clock, till to-morrow, half-past Ten of the clock.