War widows’ pensions – from the armed forced or from the state – have always been intensely debated in British politics. A state-funded war widows’ pensions scheme was not introduced in Britain until the First World War, so the debate reproduced below predates any coherent approach to war widows’ pensions. The debate raises important questions about how we define a war widow, and which women should be eligible for support in this category. Many charities only provided assistance to war widows who had been “on-the-strength”, for example, meaning women who travelled with their husbands during their postings abroad. A serviceman’s cause of death has also been a determining factor throughout the history of widows’ pensions.
Resolution reported, “That a sum, not exceeding £1,468,200, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the expenses of Naval and Marine Pensions, Gratuities, and Compassionate Allowances, which will conic in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1912.”
Motion made, and question proposed, “That the House cloth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.”
LORD C BERESFORD: I wish to ask a question about the regulations relating to the allowances to the widows of officers and men who are slain in action. There is very little given to the widows and orphans of these men who lose their lives in the Service. I maintain that a man who is blown up in the boiler-room, who dies from sunstroke or dysentery through hard work is losing his life just as much in the service of the country as the man who is killed by shot and shell, and the country should take care of those he leaves behind. The Admiralty do recognise this to a certain extent, but only in regard to the question of gratuity or compensation, and it is not a pension. I think the scale of allowance in the case of a man who is slain is 5s. a week to the widow and 1s. 6d. per child. In the case of a second petty officer the amount is 6s., a first petty officer 7s. 6d., and a. chief petty officer 9s. Gratuities are only allowed to the widows and children if the man dies within two years of the accident.
There is one case which is particularly hard, and that is the case of insanity. We have a large number of those who are injured in the spine sent to the asylum, and in these cases the widow does not get a single penny out of that man’s pay, because what he is entitled to goes to the asylum. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will put this matter right. This is a substantial grievance, because, although such a man does not lose his life it is often worse for the widow, because she has to support her husband, which she would not have to do if he had been killed. I was delighted the other day when I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer recognise these cases, and state that they were more or less a scandal to this country. This is a rich country, and these men are ready to go out and be shot perfectly cheerily any time they are called upon, and as far as the Navy goes the men are always on active service. They are upon active service all the time, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look after these widows who are so tremendously handicapped by their husbands being injured and rendered perfectly incapable of employment.
MR. HOHLER: I wish to raise a point connected with the Greenwich Hospital Age Pension Fund. I think it is now generally recognised that the only means we have of calling attention to this matter is by Debate in this House. The point I wish to raise is the question of the fulfilment of a promise which has been made publicly to the men in the Navy. I have in my hand the answer which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty made to a deputation of these men who asked that their payments should be made under the Greenwich Hospital Age Fund. On 16th November, 1909, the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty put in writing his answer to the deputation as follows: — Dear Mr. O’Neal, To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I think it is desirable to repeat in writing the statement which I made this morning to the deputation from the Naval Pensioners’ Association. I am glad to take this opportunity of stating that the Treasury have agreed that the cost of age pensions to the men of the Seamen Pensioner Reserve, which has hitherto been automatically transferred to Greenwich Hospital Funds on the men attaining fifty-five years of age, shall, as from the 1st April, 1910,, continue to be borne by Naval Funds until such time as these men be granted age pensions from Greenwich Hospital Funds in the ordinary course of selection from the whole body of pensioners. This concession will, I am glad to say, have the effect of adding a fairly respectable sum to the amount available for the award of fresh Age pensions. That was a very clear and definite statement. It is important to bear in mind with regard to the general body of the Navy who are eligible for this pension that they come on at the age of sixty-three and sixty-four, whereas the men belonging to the Seaman Pensioner Reserve are transferred upon attaining fifty-five years of age. We are, of course, grateful for what the Admiralty propose to do, and if I am right in the interpretation which I put upon the Financial Secretary’s language it admits of no doubt as to what is meant. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, speaking on 20th March last, said: — What we did from the let of April was this. We have taken off the Greenwich Hospital Fund from the age of fifty-five to the average age at which, in other circumstances, they would come upon the Greenwich Hospital Fund, all. Seamen Pensioner Reserves, and made their pensions a charge upon Naval Funds. Mr. Hohler: At what age? Dr. Macnartrira: At about sixty-four. Mr. Hohler: I can supply the names of several at sixty-four who have not got on. Dr. Macnamara: We have to consider if a man has a reasonable competence, and that some other men are more necessitous. The Seamen Pension Reserves came upon the Greenwich Hospital Fund at fifty-five. We have now taken them off the Greenwich Hospital Fund at fifty-five up to the age they would otherwise come upon the Greenwich Hospital Fund, that is sixty-four, and made them a charge upon Naval Funds. If the hon. Gentleman will refer to page 168 of the Estimates, Vote 14, he will see that under the head of ‘Pensions and Gratuities to Seamen and Marines, the amount estimated shows an increase of £45,000. I think a considerable portion of that is due to the fact that we have taken the Pensioner Reserve off and kept him on Naval Funds until he reaches the age when, together with other applicants, he might come on the Greenwich Hospital Fund.”—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March. 1911, col. 188.] That is a very clear and definite statement. I thought at the time the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, though his intention was excellent, had made a mistake with regard to the figure. I desire at once to acknowledge he himself said he would look into it, and he approached me and told me that upon examination of the Vote he found he had made a mistake. The result, therefore, is that no provision has been made to carry out the promise made to these men in December, 1909. If you turn to Vote 14, Sub-head C, you will find that, so far from £45,000 going to provide their pensions, the only possible increase is one of £4,000, and in fact what the Parliamentary Secretary thought he had done has not been done. I do not doubt the perfect good faith of the Admiralty in this matter, but I want that promise publicly given carried out, and I want the men of the Seamen Pensioner Reserve transferred from the Greenwich Hospital Age Fund to the Naval Fund until in the ordinary course they would come upon the Greenwich Hospital Fund—that is to say, at sixty-four, or it may be sixty-three—so as to put them exactly in the same position as the rest. This is a fund intended for the whole body of the Navy, and the Seamen Pensioner Reserve is a Reserve created for the benefit of the nation, and it should be a charge on the Naval Fund. I say unhesitatingly that the whole method of dealing with this Greenwich Age Fund has been for years nothing more nor less than a misapplication of a trust. It has been recognised, and in December, 1909, the Parliamentary Secretary made a definite promise to the men that this should be done, and in the Debate he stated it had been done. That is an error, and all I ask is that it should be done. Therefore, I beg to move a reduction of the Vote by £100, to try and ensure this shall be carried out.
MR. SPEAKER: I have already put the Question, “That the House doth agree with the Committee,” and I cannot put the reduction, but I have no doubt the First Lord of the Admiralty or the Parliamentary Secretary will reply.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (DR. MACNAMARA): The Noble Lord, the Member for Portsmouth (Lord Charles Beresford), says that if a man is killed in action his widow gets a pension and his child an allowance, but if a man is killed other than in action, say by an explosion or something of that sort, the widow gets no pension and the child no allowance. I think he is wrong. If a man is killed in action, his widow gets a pension and his children an allowance from the Naval Fund. The widow of a man killed in an accident, say, an explosion, gets, so I am advised, precisely the same pension and his children get precisely the same allowance, partly from the Naval Fund and partly by an augmentation from the Greenwich Hospital Fund. That is how the matter stands. If the Noble Lord will look at page 172, Vote 14 (K), he will see there is provision for augmentation from the Greenwich Hospital Fund in the case he has in mind. The hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Hohler) raised the question of the Seamen Pensioner Reserve and our transference of their pension from the Greenwich Hospital Fund to the Naval Fund as from 1st April last year. There seems to be a misapprehension. All the men who get the Greenwich Hospital Pension, with the exception of the Special Greenwich Pension, which is given to the men who have not served long enough to get a Naval Life Pension, are men in receipt of Naval Life Pensions. I am afraid that is not generally understood. There are men on the Greenwich Hospital Pension Fund whose naval life pension amounts to as much as £44 per year. What we have to do is to take each case and consider the necessitous character of the applicant and the smallness of the pension and, if we can, augment it as far as the funds will allow. The Seamen Pensioner Reserve was established in 1870, and, as an inducement to recruits, an undertaking was given them that they should come upon the Greenwich Hospital Pension Fund in augmentation of their Naval life pension at fifty years of age, or five years earlier than the other Naval Life Pensioners were eligible to come on. I am not going into that proceeding. It was the subject of considerable comment. Those men remain on the Greenwich Hospital Pension Fund for the augmentation of their Naval life pension from fifty-five up to the age at which other pensioners come on the Naval Pension Fund, that is about sixty-four or sixty-five. Then we said that, as from 1st. April last year, we would make t he charge for this augmentation on Naval funds and not on the Greenwich Hospital Fund up to the age at which a man might ordinarily come upon Greenwich Hospital funds. Using the words “taken off” suggested that what we did was to take off up to the age of sixty-four, or thereabouts, all the men of the Seamen Pensioner Reserve, instead of which the men of the Seamen Pensioner Reserve who are on the Greenwich Hospital Fund now remain on, but, as from 1st April, in all future cases Naval funds, and not the Greenwich Hospital Fund, will bear the augmentation from fifty-five up to about sixty-four. That is the change we have made. It is not retrospective, and I ought not, to have used the words “taken off.” I imagine the hon. Member thinks that as from 1st April last year we took all the men in receipt of Greenwich Hospital pensions right off and put them on Naval Votes. That is not what happened, and I am sorry that I put the matter in such a way, which no doubt I did, as to make it appear retrospective. What we did was to let the men remain, but for the future the Seamen Pensioner Reserve will come on Naval funds for augmentation, and not on the Greenwich Hospital Pension Fund, until he reaches the age at which he would otherwise be eligible to receive the Greenwich Hospital Pension. As a matter of fact, the result of that change enabled us last year to give 70 per cent. more Greenwich Hospital pensions than in the year before. In addition to that, we transferred as from the same date from the Greenwich Hospital Fund to Naval Votes the cost of the maintenance of the Lunatic Pensioners at Yarmouth, costing roughly about £2,000 a year. I hope I have made perfectly clear the change which I am glad to say took place on 1st April last year.
MR. FALLE: It is rather late in asking a question, but I should like to draw the attention of the right lion. Gentleman to one small point on the subject of pensions. If a man who is in receipt of a pension, say, for the loss of a limb, is fortunate enough to obtain a civil appointment and a small weekly wage, his pension is immediately dropped? That seems to me to be a grossly unfair thing to do. The case I have in mind is that of a first-class petty officer in receipt of a pension for the loss of his leg. It is just enough to keep life in him and no more. When he reported himself the second year, the doctor asked him if he was not able to obtain employment. He said, very cheerfully, “I am glad to tell you, sir, I am now caretaker in a store, receiving 10s. a week,” and within ten days he found his pension had been cut £4 10s., and, as he told me with a sickly smile, “none of my mates who unfortunately come into my position will, I think, be anxious to obtain civil appointments.” This is a thing which, it seems to me, should be remedied and remedied at once. If a man is in receipt of a pension for the loss of a limb he should not have that pension cut if he is able or fortunate enough to obtain civil employment. There is one small point more I wish to make. The Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to make special arrangements in the Insurance Bill for the Navy and Army. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman to use his great influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have this done at once. There is apparently a surplus of nearly half-a-million, and there could be no better use of that surplus than to take, say, a quarter-of-a-million to attend to the wants and absolute necessities of the men in the Navy. As my colleague truly said, men who lose their lives in the Navy through accident in a time of peace have given their lives for their country just the same as if they had been killed in a time of war, and their widows and representatives and their children should be properly looked after. The whole scale of pensions should, in my humble opinion, be largely increased.
Question, “That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution,” put, and agreed to.