HL Deb 16 May 1916 vol 21 cc1048-53

THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can now state precisely what provision will be made for disabled soldiers upon their discharge from hospital pending the payment of their pension.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I do not desire in putting this Question to detain your Lordships with any lengthy remarks, because I have already felt it my duty to address the House more than once upon this point. Shortly stated, the situation is this. When soldiers are discharged from hospital disabled—that is to say, discharged not only from hospital but from the Service as well—there is an interval before their pension is fixed and begins to be paid. That interval ought to be short, but it is sometimes long. In any case it is absolutely necessary that some provision should be made during the interval for the soldier's livelihood and for the livelihood of his dependants. Certain concessions have already been made by His Majesty's Government, but we all thought they were inadequate. I am given to understand that, having taken time to consider the matter, the Government are prepared to go further than they have done hitherto. I therefore put this Question to my noble friend in order to give him an opportunity of stating exactly the position which the Government take up at the present moment, and how far they are prepared to go.


My Lords, this is the third time that this matter has been brought before the notice of your Lordships' House. On March 15 I asked my noble friend opposite whether disabled soldiers received pay until such time as the pension was awarded. The noble Lord replied— Pension dates front the time of discharge. There should be no period of time during which a man is not in receipt of pay or pension. I further asked my noble friend whether the gratuity of £2 awarded under Royal Warrant No. 1117 was given to the men. He replied— The £2 gratuity on discharge is credited to the man's account by his paymaster and issued as part of his balance. It is provided that a man going on pension shall have at least 20s. in his pocket on discharge, even though the account is in debt. All men should be settled up with on discharge. I may point out that the position is still very unsatisfactory. I give every credit to the Chelsea Hospital Pensions Committee for doing their best, but it appears to me that they are totally understaffed.

I would like to state a few cases to your Lordships. Private H. Walker, late of the Scots Guards, was discharged on April 28. On May 11, although he had written to the paymaster for arrears, he had had no money, nor even an answer to his letter. He has had no money since his wife's separation allowance stopped on April 28. This man had twenty years' service. The next case is that of Private F. J. Ardley, aged 20, of the City of London Regiment. He was wounded in the spine, and is paralysed in one arm and one leg. At the end of March be was discharged from the London General Hospital; yet on April 26 he had not received back pay or pension, and was without any means at all. His father is in the Army and his mother is living on the separation allowance. The next case is that of Trooper J.J. Impleton, of the 1st Life Guards. He had been receiving 25s. a week—now reduced to 10s. a week—and ls. 3d. a week for his child for life. This is all he has to live upon. I may mention that his left leg has been amputated, and he is suffering great pain in the stump. Then there is the case of Private H. A. Clarke of the 8th Royal West Kent Regiment. He lost a leg at Loos; he was discharged from Millbank Hospital, but has not yet had any pension. The only money he has received was £2 paid on February 23, since which time he has not received a penny or any reply to his letters. Private Samuel Wood, of the 1st Lancashire Regiment, was discharged from the London Hospital, and sent to the "Star and Garter" with injured spine. He is very worried about his wife and children. It is five weeks since his wife drew the separation allowance. He has no pension, and nothing to send to his wife. The last case with which I will trouble the House is that of Private H. Power, of the 8th Manchester Regiment. He has received no pay since his discharge on March 16. He is now in the Lewisham Military Hospital with asthma. He tried to get civilian clothes, but had not the 17s. 6d. to allow him to pay for them and return his khaki. If he got pay and arrears of pay he might be able to push along until he secured employment. At the present moment his wife is penniless, and he is still wearing his uniform.

Though the Chelsea Committee is very much overworked, I submit that it is our duty in both Houses of Parliament to see that these things do not occur. These men were told that they would never suffer for their patriotism, and that, if wounded, they would get a good pension and be well looked after. I can vouch for the eases which I have read out, and I hope my noble friend will be able to tell us something to prove that the Government are going to put a stop to this sort of thing. There may be many of these cases of which none of us are aware, for unless a man has a powerful friend he cannot get his case known. Consequently there may be many of these men suffering the greatest distress at the present moment. I hope that we shall get a satisfactory answer from the Government.


My Lords, I can assure the House that the Secretary of State deplores the existence of these cases, the hardship of which is patent to us all; and if the noble and gallant Lord will be so good as to send me particulars of the cases he has mentioned I will look into them myself at Chelsea and see that as little delay as possible occurs in regard to relief. Some time ago when, at the instance of the noble Marquess opposite, I explained the system of pensions, there was one matter which rather perplexed him, and I was not in a position at the time to give any satisfactory reply. The noble Marquess will remember that I stated that a man who lost a leg received 25s. a week for two months after discharge, but if he had lost an arm he received only 20s. a week. The noble Marquess wanted to know why a leg was valued at more than an arm. That matter has been gone into, and I am pleased to inform the noble Marquess that an arm is now to be regarded as of the same value as a leg, and whichever of these limbs a man loses he will receive the 25s.

I think I am right in assuming that this Question of the noble Marquess's arises out of one or two replies which I have given, and also owing to representations that have been sent to me from various sources as to delay in paying pensions when pay has ceased on discharge. I have been the recipient of a great number of these cases and have done my best to hurry matters up, sometimes, I am pleased to say, not entirely without success. But now I am glad to be able to tell the noble Marquess that the Secretary of State has made new arrangements by which the discharged soldier will be kept in touch with and a payment will be guaranteed to him every week from the date of discharge until the Chelsea Commissioners have settled his claim for pension. The main new departure is as follows. If by the date of the man's discharge the Pensions Issue Office have not received the decision as to pension from the Chelsea Commissioners, they will on the date of discharge issue to the man 10s. if he has no dependants, and 20s. if there are dependants, and the payment of this sum will be repeated weekly until the pension question is settled. When the Chelsea Commissioners have decided the pension, if it is more than the 10s. or 20s., as the case may be, the Pension Issue Office will refund the balance. That is to say, if the pension in the ease of a single man should be 15s.—namely, 5s. more than the weekly temporary allowance of 10s.—the extra 5s. will be refunded to the pensioner; but if the pension should turn out to be less than 10s. per week, a refund on the part of the man will not be required. And, further, a man who has been waiting some time for his pension will receive the arrears of the 10s. or 20s. unless he has been receiving aid from the Soldiers' and Sailors' Help Society. But the soldier will not be called upon to refund money to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Help Society.

In reply to the point raised by the noble and gallant Lord opposite I may explain that when a man leaves, the officer in charge of the hospital provides him with plain clothes, advances £1 of the pay warrant gratuity that becomes due to him on discharge, and gives him a railway warrant to his home, which the man should reach twelve or thirteen days before his formal discharge. The officer in charge of the hospital notifies the soldier's paymaster, who arranges (1) for rations for the soldier between leaving the hospital and his discharge; (2) for a cash allowance instead of clothes if the man already has a suit of plain clothes; and (3) for his approximate balance of pay. If the soldier is in debt to the public no deduction is made from the rations or from the clothes allowance, so that the position will be materially improved.

The noble Marquess referred to the delays that had taken place at Chelsea. Nobody deplores those delays more than the Chelsea Commissioners themselves. But the work which has been thrown on the Chelsea Commissioners has been very heavy. Cases have come in at the rate of nearer 6,000 than 5,000 per week. Each case has to be tabulated, various references have to be made, and very often the papers are sent up incomplete; but when, which unhappily seldom is the case, the missing documents are not important, the case is proceeded with and adjudicated upon. To show how great has been the work, I may mention that some of the clerks at Chelsea have been working often up to three and four o'clock in the morning to expedite the cases. The noble and gallant Lord opposite said that more staff is needed. He is quite right. We want more room and additional staff. Construction has either begun or will be immediately begun to increase the accommodation, and a much larger staff will then be employed, which we trust will result in more prompt dealing with the cases. In the meantime there is this provision for ready money to be given to the soldier immediately on his discharge, and it will be continued until the pension is payable. It is hoped that in this way delays may he prevented in future, and that these men who have done such good service will no longer have this suffering imposed upon them.


My noble friend said that the money, a very large sum, advanced to the men by the Soldiers' and Sailors' Help Society will not be deducted from the man's pension when it is given. Are the Government going to refund the money to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Help Society?


I believe that some arrangement has been come to on this matter between the War Office and the society.