HL Deb 06 February 1918 vol 28 cc393-8

THE EARL OF NORTHBROOK had the following Questions on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether under the Order in Council now in force "alternative pensions" may in certain cases be granted to widows of men who have lost their lives during the war, such alternative pensions being computed on the pre-war earnings of the deceased men; whether the pre-war earnings on which the alternative pension is to be based are defined to be the average weekly earnings during the twelve months preceding the outbreak of war; whether under the Instructions for the Assessment of Alternative Pensions issued by the Ministry of Pensions, the average weekly earnings in the ease of sailors serving before August, 1914, are to be computed from the actual pay drawn by the man as ascertained from the Admiralty ; whether His Majesty's Government are aware that the Admiralty refuse to give to War Pensions Local Committees the information necessary to enable them to compute alternative pensions on this basis, and that consequently in some cases widows of sailors do not receive the alternative pension to which they are entitled under the terms of the Order; and whether they will cause inquiry to be made into the matter with a view of remedying this hardship.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have put these Questions on the Paper at the request of the War Pensions Local Committee of the county of Hampshire, of which I happen to be the Chairman. I believe that the Questions on the Paper accurately represent the provisions as to the assessment of alternative pensions that are contained in the Order in Council now in force; therefore, it is unnecessary for me to trouble your Lordships with any further remarks upon that matter. But the Hampshire War Pensions Local Committee are having a difficulty in obtaining a statement of the pre-war earnings of the men when they were in the service of the Admiralty prior to the outbreak of the war. The Admiralty apparently decline to do more than supply particulars of the rate of pay and allowances for the men in force at the date of mobilisation. Moreover, the instructions of the Ministry of Pensions to War Pensions Local Committees with regard to the assessment of alternative pensions purpose to limit the applicant to such information as the Admiralty supply on a prescribed form, and that prescribed form provides for particulars of the pay at the date of the outbreak of war only.

I do not know whether the Government will be prepared to say what authority the Ministry of Pensions has for varying the rate of pension from the scale that is laid down in the Order in Council now in force. I will admit, however, that in the majority of cases a man's position gradually improves with his service, and that it may be an advantage to the man to take 1914 as the standard rather than the average over the preceding twelve months. But there must be a considerable number of cases when that is not so, and I venture to give your Lordships an instance to the point which has come before the notice of the Hampshire War Pensions Local Committee. A certain Mrs. Wade, the widow of A. E. Wade, acting chief engine-room artificer, who served in the Navy from March 26, 1903, until his death on August 22, 1916, applied to the Comity War Pensions Local Committee for an alternative pension. It is the duty of the Local Committee first of all to decide whether the applicant, who is receiving a minimum pension, is entitled to receive an alternative pension, which in some respects is a little more beneficial to the recipient. Secondly, it is the duty of the Local Committee to recommend the assessment on which that pension shall be made. Now the Committee came to the conclusion that Mrs. Wade was, under the Reglations, entitled to receive an alternative pension. The information before the Local Committee went to show that Wade had previous to the outbreak of war, served several Years in a submarine, that he was recalled to the submarine after the war was declared, but that on August 4, 1914, which was the date for the assessment of the pension by the Admiralty, he was serving on a battleship at a considerably lower pay and allowances than he had been receiving during a considerable part of the preceding twelve months; and therefore for the Committee to have assessed the widow's pension on the basis of the man's pay on August 4, 1914, instead of on his average earnings for the twelve months preceding mobilisation, would have considerably reduced the amount of the pension which the Committee contend the widow is entitled to receive under the Order in Council. We consequently made a representation of the case to the Ministry of Pensions, which elicited a reply acknowledging the receipt of the letter re A. E. Wade, and stating that for the purpose of an alternative pension the pre-war earnings of a sailor serving at the outbreak of war might be computed from the actual pay which he was receiving at the date of mobilisation, with an addition representing the value of emoluments as set out in Schedule I of the Instructions, and that an application for an additional pension in the case of Mrs. Wade should therefore be submitted on that basis.

The Secretary of the Local War Pensions Committee was then instructed to write to the Ministry of Pensions to the effect that it appeared to the Local Committee that this method of computation might in some cases be inequitable, and that in the case of Mrs. Wade it was understood that until a few months prior to the outbreak of war the deceased served in submarines and was then in receipt of higher pay than at the date of mobilisation, and that moreover the method of computation now proposed did not appear to accord with the pre-war earnings as defined in the Royal Warrant and Order in Council, that definition being a man's average weekly earnings during the twelve months preceding the outbreak of war. The reply which the Committee received to that letter was that at the present time it was impossible for the Admiralty to compile the particulars from which the exact average weekly earnings were to be calculated, and they were of opinion that the method now in use as an alternative to such calculation afforded in the great majority of cases an equitable assessment of the man's actual pre-war income; but that if in the case of the late Mr. Wade there were grounds for thinking his actual earnings would show an average materially higher than the figure furnished by the Admiralty, if the information supporting that view could be supplied they would endeavour to verify the particulars. It must be understood, however, that such verification must involve considerable delay, and it was quite out of the question to take similar action in all cases of naval officers' pensions.

My comment on that letter is that it is obviously impossible for the widow to furnish the War Pensions Local Committee with evidence as to the actual amounts that her husband received in each week during the year ended August 4, 1914. The Admiralty alone has access to that information. My Lords, I would submit that the principle of dealing with pensions on a calculation which affords in the great majority of cases an inequitable settlement, or in other words a system of averaging, and so computing pensions that while one applicant may receive too little another may receive more than he is strictly entitled to, is an absolutely wrong one; and I would contend that all persons in very humble circumstances of life should receive the actual pensions to which they are entitled. I hope that His Majesty's Government may be able to give an assurance that the Ministry of Pensions will in future furnish to War Pensions Local Committees the information which is necessary to enable them to assess alternative pensions in accordance with the scale laid down in the Order in Council which is now in force. I beg to put the Questions standing in my name.


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot reply to the case of Mrs. Wade, to which the noble Earl has referred, as I had no warning that this particular instance was to be mentioned; but my reply, I think, will cover a general definition of the pre-war earnings and the method adopted by the Ministry. An alternative pension may be granted to a sailor or soldier disabled in the war if he can show that his minimum pension, with children's allowances (if any), together with the average earnings of which he remains capable, are less than his pre-war earnings. Under the Warrant pre-war earnings are to be taken as the whole of the pre-war earnings up to 50s. a week and one half of any such earnings between 50s. and 100s. a week. The widow of a sailor or soldier who is in receipt of a minimum pension may be granted an alternative pension equal to half the alternative pension which might have been awarded to her husband had he survived and been incapable of supplementing his pension by earnings. The widow's alternative pension represents, therefore, one-half of her husband's pre-war earnings up to 50s. a week, and one quarter of any such earnings between 50s. and 100s. a week. A widow is only entitled to an alternative pension if it exceeds the amount of her minimum pension and children's allowances. The main factor in the assessment of an alternative pension is thus the pro-war earnings of the man. The Royal Warrant and Order in Council provide that "pre-war earnings" shall, in the case of men who were in employment, be the average weekly earnings for the twelve months ending August 4, 1914, computed generally in the same manner as for the purposes of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906.

It will be recognised that, owing to the lapse of time, the verification of pre-war earnings is, in many cases, a matter of considerable difficulty. In the case of small businesses time sheets have often been destroyed for the whole or part of the year before the war, or insufficient records were kept. In large businesses records are available in most instances, but the depletion of staff renders it a matter of extreme difficulty for the employer to work out what is often a complicated calculation. And the circumstances which make it difficult for employers of men in civil life to give accurate particulars of pre-war earnings are present to a much larger degree in the case of men who were serving in the Navy or Army at the outbreak of war. The much larger numbers of men concerned in relation to the individual employer and the pressure of work on the staff of the Admiralty and War Office are factors which must be taken into consideration.

The Ministry recognised at the outset that it would be desirable, if possible, for the pre-war earnings of serving sailors and soldiers to be assessed in a precise manner. They conferred with the Departments concerned, and on the urgent representation of the Admiralty and War Office a certain procedure was adopted, which forms, as I presume, the basis of the views expressed in the noble Earl's Question. It was impressed upon the Ministry that it would be practically impossible for the Admiralty or the War Office to compile particulars which would enable the actual average weekly earnings over the twelve months to be computed, and it was urged that an equitable assessment could be obtained by reference to the pay drawn on mobilisation. The Ministry have agreed to adopt this method as providing a working rule for Service cases. It may not be theoretically accurate, but it is thought to be not unfair. In fact, it is in very many cases actually favourable to the pensioner by reason of the sailor or soldier having earned a progressive increment or promotion during the year previous to mobilisation.

The Ministry do not, however, desire that the method of computation which they have had to adopt and which the consider forms an equitable basis in the vast majority of cases, should cause hardship in an individual case. Where, therefore, an applicant for an alternative pension has good grounds for considering that the average earnings calculated over the whole twelve months would show a figure materially higher than that furnished by the Admiralty under the present procedure, the Minister is prepared to ask the Admiralty, as an exceptional measure, to endeavour to furnish a complete statement of the man's earnings for that period.


I thank the noble Earl for Ins reply. I do not know whether he has quite met the point which I endeavoured to put. I gave the case of Mrs. Wade only as an illustration of what may happen. Had this woman's husband joined the Navy after the outbreak of war, there would have been no difficulty in assessing her pension on the average weekly earnings of her husband. We have had no difficulty in those cases in obtaining information, and this seems to me rather a hard case. Because of the fact that this man happened to be for some years serving in the Navy this woman seems to be in a position in which she is likely to receive a lower scale of pension than she is entitled to under the terms of the Order in Council.