HC Deb 15 February 1897 vol 46 cc495-8

(1.) "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 158,774, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding Her Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898."

Resolution Read a Second time, and agreed to. (2.) "That a sum, not exceeding £5,937,800, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Pay, Allowances, and other Charges of Her Majesty's Army at Home and Abroad (exclusive of India) (General Staff, Regiments, Reserve, and Departments), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898.

Resolution read a Second time, and agreed to. (3.) "That a sum, not exceeding £295,800, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge for the Pay, &c, of the Medical Establishment, and the Cost of Medicines, &c, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898.

Resolution Read a Second time.

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

said he was glad to find that the grievances of the Army Medical Department were now attracting the serious attention of the War Office, and when he told the House that the Department was seriously undermanned, that civil practitioners had to be largely used to fill up the ranks, and that only 25 candidates could be found to compete, if such a term could be justified, for 40 vacancies, it must be evident that there was something far wrong about the present system. However, he was grateful for the concessions that had been made. The arrangement of Indian pay is most satisfactory, and the reduction of Indian service from six years to five, would be well received by the medical profession, and would be most beneficial to the health of the officers concerned. He hoped that the War Office would also give sympathetic consideration to the modest plea put forward by the Army doctors for an occasional short leave for study purposes, so that they might remove the rust of foreign service and keep up to the advancing progress of professional science. Rut these concessions, gratifying though they were, could not be accepted as a final settlement unless to them were added the fulfilment of the strong desire of the Department for definite military titles in a definite corps, like the Royal Engineers. This worked well in Italy and America and elsewhere and was found to be most beneficial and essential on active service, now that Army surgeons were called upon to perform so many strictly military duties. The compound titles, cumbrous though they were, had worked well and were so gradually familiarising the combatant mind with the idea of militarism in connection with doctors, that no doubt before long the process of evolution would make the further stage of progress easy. In conclusion he asked his right hon. Friend to consider whether he could not improve the social position of the doctor, by attaching for a definite number of years to a regiment.

MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants,) Basingstoke

called attention to the terrible increase of disease in the Indian Army, notwithstanding the advance of medical science and the great ability of the Army doctors. He represented Alder-shot, where there were 16,000 soldiers; he had 2,000 soldier constituents, and, therefore, thought it his duty to call attention to this painful subject. The increase of a certain disease among the men in India was of the most appalling nature. Last Session he had moved for a Return on the subject; and the information given was certainly startling. Gibraltar had recently been described by the Under Secretary for War as a healthy station, and in a certain sense it was healthy. The number of men sick there in 1893 was 27 per thousand, and in 1894 30 per thousand, as compared with 16 per thousand in England. But in Bengal the admissions to hospital had increased from 449 to 500 per thousand; in Madras from 483 to 516 per thousand, and in Bombay from 436 to 544 per thousand. Therefore he ventured to call the attention of the House to this terribly increasing form of disease. The case of the West India regiment was equally bad, but he should not read the statistics. Now, what ha wished to ask the Government was whether the medical department could not do something to stop or mitigate the formidable ravages of this terrible disease. It was not his purpose to suggest what should be done, but surely, at a time when they were told that it was necessary to increase the Army because it was too small, it would be much better to stop a disease which was disastrous to so many men in the Army. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought it would be a waste of time to discuss the matter, and he simply asked his right hon. Friend whether he would give it his attention. He had no doubt he could suggest what could be done.


said he quite realised the object of his hon. Friend behind him in bringing the subject before the House, but he was afraid the remedy for what he complained of was not in the hands of the medical officers but of that House. A change had been deliberately made in accordance with a strong expression of opinion in Parliament. That was in 1893, and in that year and since then it appeared from the statistics that there had been a development of the worst form of disease. His hon. Friend had not been quite clear as to the figures. Reference had been made to 400 or 500 per thousand, but in India the admissions during the year were not admissions of different men, but of the same men coining back to hospital on several occasions. Consequently it was to be hoped there was not nearly so large a proportion of individual cases as suggested by the figures. Still, it was so serious that the Secretary of State for India had found it necessary to appoint a Departmental Committee. Pending the Report of the Inquiry he was sure the House would not expect him to say anything further. His hon. Friend opposite had mentioned several points which he asked him to consider. They were all points of a practical nature. If it were possible to attach medical officers to regiments when they first joined it would, no doubt, have a good effect in many ways. At the same time the present system had been adopted after great consideration, and he doubted whether it would be possible to carry out the arrangements suggested by his hon. Friend. He hoped that on, one or two other points his hon. Friend had mentioned he would be able to give satisfactory assurances.


asked whether the result of the Inquiry by the Departmental Committee would be laid on the Table?


I think the question ought to be addressed to the Secretary of State for India.

*CAPTAIN PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)

said that the responsibility which this great national evil threw upon the House was enormously increased by the fact that it involved not only men but largo numbers of mere boys, and he ventured to impress upon the House the gravity of the responsibility they owed to the soldiers whom they got to serve the country. While this state of things was prevalent, it was not a matter for surprise that some parents felt a reluctance to sec their boys entered in a service which in so many cases caused them to end their days in hospitals and workhouses, owing to their invalided and unhealthy condition.

MR. HUBERT DUNCOMBE (Cumberland, Egremont)

said he desired to ask whether an opportunity of discussing this question would be given this Session after the Departmental Committee had reported? If the right hon. Gentleman could do that he thought the Vote might pass without further protest, but if not, he thought no man who had taken an interest in the matter could allow the Vote to pass.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

asked whether the right hon. Gentleman, pending the Report of the Committee, would appeal to the medical authorities at Netley Hospital for a Report of the condition of things in that Hospital. He was informed that the condition of the troops there was too bad for words. He thought it would do no harm if a few Members of that House went down and saw with their own eyes the condition of the poor fellows in Netley Hospital.


said that he understood that the Indian Committee had themselves visited Netley and made investigations there. Under these circumstances he thought it only proper to await their Report before taking further steps.

Resolution agreed to.