HC Deb 05 July 1867 vol 188 cc1141-7

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the Report of the 10th of August, 1866, of the Committee appointed to inquire into the Rank, Pay and Position of the Medical Officers of the Army. On this subject he could not help recalling to mind the period of the Russian War, at the commencement of which the Crimea was the veritable Aceldama of the British Army—and reminding the House of the noble exertions of Lord Herbert and Miss Nightingale to remedy the then existing evils. With respect to the proceedings of the Select Committee of 1866, it appeared from the evidence of Professor Longmore, Dr. Rees, and Dr. George Johnson, that the chance of promotion for medical officers in the army was so small that only inferior candidates could be expected to enter the service. In 1865 the candidates were almost all of the third class. During the present year the highest number of marks obtained was 1,079, the maximum being 3,400; and the lowest number was 146, the minimum being 1,034. The conclusion which the Committee of 1866 came to upon the evidence was that there was a considerable deficiency of candidates of that high class of professional attainment who it was hoped would present themselves as competitors, and they recommended that a better system should be adopted, and that the Warrant of 1858 should be carried out. The evidence also showed that the candidates were not well-educated professional men, and therefore a greater number were rejected in 1865 than in 1863. He thought all the facts proved clearly that the non-execution of the Warrant of 1858 had had a progressively injurious effect upon the qualifications of the candidates for the Army Medical Service, and therefore the Committee of 1866 were perfectly right in issuing the recommendations for the Government to act upon. Those recommendations were—first, that at all boards except courts martial and inquiries into military offences, medical officers should sit according to their medical rank, as ordered by the Warrant of 1858, and not attend merely as witnesses (the present system was that they were summoned merely as witnesses, and were not allowed to sit on the bench upon ordinary inquiries); secondly, that the senior military officers should preside, but that the medical officer should have the same relative position according to the rank which he held as the military officer; thirdly, that in the monthly Army List the names of the medical officers should be published in the ordinary course; fourthly, that medical officers ranking with field officers should be allowed to hold the same position as military officers of the same rank; and, fifthly, that an increase of pay should be granted according to the scale fixed by the Government. The Warrant carrying out this last recommendation was dated the 1st of April last, and made no reference whatever to the other recommendations of the Committee or the Warrant of 1858. The medical officers, therefore, did not know whether the Warrant of 1858 was in existence, or whether it was intended to carry out the other recommendations of the Committee. The medical officers were satisfied with the rate of service pay as settled by the Circular of 1866, but not with the retiring pay allowed by the Warrant of 1st April. After a certain period of service a surgeon-major was entitled to retire upon a rate of pay which should not exceed one half of his full pay. Thus, a surgeon-major of twenty years' standing would be entitled to a retiring pension of 12s. a day, while an assistant surgeon who might have served thirty or forty years would only be entitled to a retiring pension of 8s. 9d. a day. The half-pay ought to be regulated by length of service, and not by the name given to the officer. At a recent meeting in Dublin a Resolution was passed on the subject, and condemnatory of the Government for not declaring whether the Warrant of 1858 was or was not to be carried out. With reference to the period of five years mentioned in the proviso in the Warrant of April he would allude to Returns which had been laid on the table in 1861, and which showed the number of assistant-surgeons and surgeons in the Service to be 738, while the average vacancies were only eighteen, so that by seniority an assistant surgeon would have to serve forty years before he could attain the rank of surgeon, and after that time he would be entitled to only 8s. a day. The Returns on the same subject, which applied to Her Majesty's troops in India as well as at home, embracing the last ten years showed that it would take an assistant-surgeon thirty-one years to become a full surgeon, and even then he would only be entitled to a retiring pension of 8s. 9d. a day. The remedy for that, in the opinion of the medical officers, was for the Secretary at War to fix a time within which assistant-surgeons would be entitled to rank as surgeons. It was also suggested that instead of assistant-surgeon the title of junior surgeon should be given them. He did not see why there should not be in a regiment two surgeons as well as two captains and two majors. Their real grievance was that by the seniority principle of advancement they might serve thirty-one years as assistant-surgeon, with a retiring pay of only 8s. a day. The promotion was fixed at ten years in the naval service, and at twelve years in India, and the medical officers saw no reason why similar rules should not prevail in the ordinary service of Her Majesty. That was a matter which the Secretary for War ought to take into consideration. There was also a difference between the cavalry and the infantry service with respect to medical officers. In the cavalry, although the pay of other officers might be increased, there was no increase in that of the medical officers. In the cavalry, the medical officer had to keep a horse, for which he had to pay 8d. a day for forage, while in the infantry the medical officer received 1s. 10d. a day for his horse's forage. He thought that medical officers in both these branches of the service should be put on the same footing. He was persuaded that such a reform would be not only fair and reasonable, but would be the very best economy. It would not be disputed that a good regimental doctor was worth a hundred times the pay he received, whilst a bad regimental doctor would be a positive loss. The Emperor Napoleon declared that his Surgeon General O'Leira was worth six generals, and he (Mr. Synan) considered that a good regimental doctor was at least worth one general. Sir James Outram, also, on his death-bed said— It pains me to think that the services of medical officers are so ill requited, and that my efforts to obtain justice for them have been attended with so little effect; but the time is coming when they must be properly recognized—the next war will settle this long controversy terribly in their favour. The hon. Gentleman, in conclusion, moved the Resolution of which he had given notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the alteration made in the Royal Warrant of the 1st day of October 1858, has not only operated prejudicially to the interests of the medical profession, but produced an injurious effect upon the Military Service of the Country, and that it would tend to procure a better qualified class of Medical Officers, and thereby promote the greater efficiency of the Military Service generally if the recommendations of the said Committee were carried out in their integrity,"—(Mr. Synan,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that if the hon. Member was of opinion that the medical officers of the army had not been treated in a satisfactory and deserving manner, he was quite right in bringing the subject under the notice of the House. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member that the army ought to have competent and well-qualified surgeons, and it was no less essential that they should be treated, both by the army and by the Government, in a most kind and liberal spirit. No class of persons, indeed, were more entitled to consideration, honour, and credit, than the medical officers of the army and navy. Wherever there was danger they were always ready to share it; they were always willing to do even more than their duty, and from considerations both of good feeling and good policy they were entitled to the most generous treatment. The question, therefore, really was, whether or not, looking to what had taken place of late years with respect to both services, the medical officers had at the present time any ground of complaint? The Member for Limerick seemed to think they had, and in support of this view had adverted to the Warrant issued in 1858. That Warrant was issued at a time when his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire was Secretary for War, and he thought it would be admitted that it was conceived in a spirit of the greatest kindness and generosity towards the medical officers of the army. But the hon. Gentleman complained that that Warrant had been subsequently allowed to fall into neglect. Now, he believed the Warrant was not carried out to its full extent, and the result was that evils and inconveniences arose, so that a further inquiry became necessary. Accordingly in 1866, a Committee was appointed, presided over by Sir Alexander Milne, who was now one of the Lords of the Admiralty. The hon. Gentleman now complained that the recommendations of that Committee had also been neglected. He must say, however, that, in his opinion, the hon. Member had somewhat overstated this part of his case. The hon. Member had referred to a point on which the medical officers were very sensitive—namely, their relative rank in regard to the other officers of the army, and particularly to the position which the medical officers occupied when called upon to assist in mixed Boards of Inquiry. The fact, however, was that the Committee recommended that when medical officers were engaged on such boards they should be entitled to occupy the position which their relative rank entitled them to; but at the same time it was recommended that mixed boards should not be continued. Now, whatever might be the merits or demerits of these mixed boards, he, being an unprofessional man, was unable to say; but it was at all events clear that that recommendation absolutely confirmed the rule that if medical officers did sit on mixed boards they should have the benefit of their full rank. Then as to the position of medical officers at the mess, the recommendation was that if they did not enjoy their full relative rank they should be allowed to hold the second place. That recommendation also had been acted upon, and in his judgment met the difficulty of the case. Again, there were recommendations respecting the position which medical officers were to occupy in the army, and the greater part of these recommendations were acquiesced in. It was true that a recommendation that they should be restored to the classification which they formerly held had been disapproved at the Horse Guards and at the War Office; but this was, he believed, a point of minor importance. The hon. Gentleman had thought that the medical officers should be allowed to have chargers, and to appear mounted on parade; but the fact was that the recommendation was to the effect that it should be compulsory on them to do so. It appeared, however, that whether in consequence of medical officers of infantry regiments not being skilful, or from other causes, that this was regarded by the medical officers not as a boon but quite the reverse, and therefore the recommendation had not been enforced. He was surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have touched so lightly on the rate of pay which the medical officers received, and in this respect he challenged the hon. Member to say that they were not most generously and liberally treated? [Mr. SYNAN: I said so.] Surely, then, when the hon. Gentleman made a complaint that these officers were not well treated, he must admit that that was a most important exception. He did not believe that any Gentleman would remain thirty years an assistant-surgeon if he were worth promoting. With few exceptions he believed that the recommendations of the Committee had been literally and in spirit carried out, and that the army surgeons, so far as these recommendations were concerned, had no ground to complain. That there was a deficiency of candidates both for the army and the navy was unfortunately the fact; and he should be glad to make any arrangements which he consistently could make in order to render the military service more attractive.


said, he thought the officers both of the army and of the navy had been very handsomely rated as to pay by the right hon. Baronet. As the right hon. Baronet said the whole cause of the dissatisfaction existing among the medical officers of the army had arisen from the alteration in the Warrant of October 1, 1858. Had that Warrant been carried out Parliament would not have heard a word of these complaints, and the present dearth of first-class medical men in the army would not have been as lamentable as it now is.


said, that after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman he should not press his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.