HC Deb 05 July 1900 vol 85 cc648-73


MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

rose in his place, and asked leave to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, "the composition and the scope of the reference to the Committee to be appointed to inquire into the treatment of sick and wounded British soldiers in South Africa"; but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. SPEAKER called on those Members who supported the motion to rise in their places, and not less than forty Members having accordingly risen:—


I do not want to go into what has already passed, but it will be within the recollection of the House that last week a letter from the hon. Member for Westminster appeared in The Times in regard to the treatment of British soldiers in South Africa, and especially with regard to their treatment in the hospital at Bloemfontein. The letter naturally attracted considerable attention, and the First Lord of the Treasury was asked whether he would find some opportunity for the House to discuss the matter. The right hon. Gentleman very fairly agreed to put down on Friday last a nominal Vote for the Medical Department of the War Office in order that a discussion might take place. The discussion then took place, and, so far as I understood it, the Under Secretary of State for War did not traverse in the main the statements made by the hon. Member for Westminster; he practically admitted that in the main they were correct, although in some cases there was, perhaps, a certain amount of misconception and exaggeration. With regard to the Cape, the hon. Member for Westminster, in his speech rather than in his letter, stated certain facts, which were met by the Under Secretary saying that the War Office had complied with every demand made upon them by the local authorities, and at the same time he stated that a very large number of telegrams had passed between the local authorities at the Cape, both medical and military, and the War Office. I asked whether he would submit those telegrams to the House, and he declined to do so. With regard to Bloemfontein, the defence was that of military necessity, that the troops were advancing, that the matter was within the discretion of Lord Roberts, and that Lord Roberts no doubt would be responsible if any person were responsible. In fact, we were leered at; we were taunted with trying to attack the Government under the pretence of attacking Lord Roberts. That is the past history of the case. Before the debate the right hon. Gentleman agreed to appoint a Committee, and, as he stated this evening, to appoint it at the request of Lord Roberts. I would point out that it was not alone at the request of Lord Roberts that that Committee was wanted. The request was made by the hon. Member for Westminster; it was supported not only by Members on this side of the House but by a good many on the other, and certainly there was such a strong feeling throughout the country at the revelations made by the hon. Member for Westminster that there was a universal opinion that some sort of inquiry or investigation ought to be made. This evening the right hon. Gentleman has told us what the composition of the Committee is. He tells us it is to be a small Committee, that it is to consist of three persons. The first is Dr. Church, a medical gentleman; the second is Professor Cunningham, an anatomist; and the third is Lord Justice Homer. That hardly meets the requirements of Lord Roberts. Lord Roberts is afraid of there being too many doctors, and he asks that besides two or three doctors—[An HON. MEMBER: One or two.]—he says, "Besides one or two doctors, let us have some men of common sense." Far be it from me to say that Lord Justice Romer is not a man of eminent common sense; but still he is only one, and, with all respect to Lord Justice Romer, he is an eminent legal Chancery lawyer, and he is not what I should call a man of business. [" Oh, oh!"] I draw a distinction between a lawyer and a man of business. A lawyer may be a man of business, but it is not his speciality; the lawyer's speciality is to make money over quarrels about other people's business. But, anyway, Lord Justice Romer is only one, and I think the House will understand what I moan when I say that we want men on this Committee who are practical men, who are engaged in business, who are men of sound common sense, and by whom we shall have a sound, thorough, businesslike investigation, and a Report upon the results of that investigation. I cannot understand why we are to have two doctors on this Committee. Sir William Stokes has defended the doctors; Sir William Stokes has accused my right hon. friend and others of uttering un- truths. Members of a profession are always inclined to stand by their profession. When it a question which seriously affects the whole medical profession, and embraces so large a field as this inquiry ought to embrace, surely we ought not to have two medical men on the Commission forming a majority of the Committee. It seems to me somewhat remarkable that the Government should take upon themselves the appointment of the members of that Committee, and decide upon the reference which is to be put to them, without any consultation with the House of Commons. According to all constitutional doctrines the Ministry is absolutely responsible for what goes on, and they are directly responsible to this House. Whoever heard of gentlemen who are, to all intents and purposes, the defendants in the case, appointing their own jury? The House ought to have some sort of control in this matter. The appeal was made to the House of Commons, and we cannot shirk or avoid our responsibility. The House of Commons ought to have a voice in the matter as to what the reference is to be, and also in the composition of the Committee. The general usage is that their names should be submitted in some sort of way to the House of Commons. We know what takes place when a Committee of this House is appointed. The names are first submitted to us, and the House decides whether it accepts them or not, and it may change a name, and urge that this or that gentleman should be added if it thinks fit. If this Committee is to secure the confidence of the country, there must not be a majority of medical men upon it, and the House having been appealed to by the hon. Member for Westminster, and a discussion having taken place upon this subject, it is perfectly illusory to have such a discussion unless the House has some voice in the composition and reference of this Committee. I do not say for a moment that the Government are guilty, or that any particular person is guilty. I am aware of the great misery and suffering which is always involved in war; but there is certainly a primâ facie case that the sufferings might have been mitigated had there been more care shown either by the Government or by their officials, and I do not fix the responsibility upon any particular person. We have the fact before us that a most horrible state of things existed at Bloem- fontein, and that even at Cape Town it had been shown that there was not a sufficient number of nurses or orderlies. It appears from what was stated that even in a simple case like the provision of bandages for the wounded they would not have been able to obtain them had it not been for the fact that there happened to be a considerable number of bandages in the hands of a private firm. I have moved the adjournment of the House in order that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury may have an opportunity of doing what I think he is bound to do under the circumstances, and that is to take an early opportunity of giving the House an occasion to express its. views upon the reference to and the composition of this Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman does not do that, then I hope hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House at all events, and even some hon. Members on the other side, will register by their votes their protest against the course which has been, adopted.

*MR. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)

In seconding the motion of the hon. Member for Northampton I desire to say that I take this course without any previous arrangement with the hon. Member. I do not think that it is unreasonable, under the circumstances, for me to ask to be heard on this subject. I object, in the first place, to one name as being that of a gentleman who ought not to be on such a Committee when the responsibility of the Army Medical Department is directly attacked. I would remind the House that I have not myself attempted to localise the responsibility for what I saw in South Africa; but of course the Army Medical Department must necessarily be largely implicated in the question The hon. Member for Northampton has called attention to the curious divergence of the composition of this Committee from the expressed wish of Lord Roberts Lord Roberts's words were, "a small Committee, consisting of one or two medical men of recognised ability, in whom the public have full confidence, with some men of sound common sense." I ask whether a Committee which has a majority of medical men upon it is a Committee framed in accordance with the desire of Lord Roberts? I object to this Committee because it has that majority of medical men. The difficulty of arriving at an accurate opinion with regard to what has taken place in South Africa from medical sources has, I believe, already been illustrated in the case which was the only precedent we have for such a Committee. That was at the time of the Crimea, when the letters of the present Sir William Howard Russell awoke the country to the true state of things, and a Committee of this House was appointed to inquire into the case. When those letter's appeared, describing, in terms singularly like those I have myself felt compelled to publish, the inefficiency of the medical arrangements in the Crimea, the chief medical authority on the spot, Sir George Brown, was going about in this country saying that everything was absolutely perfect. There are many other analogies between this case and that. Mr. Roebuck brought the matter before the House. A Parliamentary committee was appointed and Mr. Roebuck, the chief accuser of the medical arrangements in the Crimea, was appointed chairman of that committee. The House will remember that the Aberdeen Ministry went out on that proposal, but Lord Palmerston came in, and he accepted the Committee. I know what the answer to this will be. I shall be told that at the same time a Sanitary Commission of three was appointed, two being doctors and one what was called an engineering member, to go out to the Crimea. But the object of that Commission was not to inquire into what had happened, but to at once take in hand the bettering of the arrangements on the spot. Therefore, of course, it was composed of experts. There was another serious difference between that Commission and the present one. That Commission was appointed not by the Government which defended the medical arrangements in the Crimea, but by the Government which came in on the strength of accepting the fact that those arrangements were insufficient. I desire to ask the House, which I think is always generous to an individual, to consider for a moment the curious position in which I myself am placed. I can assure the House that I would not call attention to this if I did not think that some slight consideration of it on the part of the Government would really facilitate the cause we all have at heart, and that is getting at the truth of this matter. What is my position upon this question? I made certain statements in the press. Those statements I repeated in the House and added to them other statements, which together constituted a grave indictment of the medical arrangements in South Africa. That placed me in the position of a plaintiff; but the thing has turned round, and now I am in the position of a defendant—defending the accuracy of my statements, and what I believe to be the great interests involved in proving their truth, if they are true. I know what the Government will say. The Government will say that they will call me as a witness and enable me to state my case. They may possibly say they will accept my suggestion of other witnesses who should be called. But is that enough in this case? Is it not the usual practice that a man placed in my position should have the right to watch the case on his own behalf? Has he not the right to put what questions he likes to witnesses, and to cross-examine all the witnesses? I daresay that some skilful dialectician on the front bench will find flaws in this analogy, but to me it seems to be close enough for my purpose. My facts have been questioned. Of that I make no complaint. But my motives have been bitterly attacked, not in the country, not in the press, but in a more influential, though more limited circle. I had no motive, no shadow nor shred of any motive or reason, for making these statements except my determination that they should be made public, because I knew that by that means, and that means alone, could we obtain a reform of that terrible condition of things. That is my position, and with my facts questioned and my motives attacked I put it to the House whether some claims do not arise out of that position—some claims to me with regard to this Committee. I do not ask that those claims should be considered. I do not wish to put them forward, and I am quite willing to lose sight of all personal considerations, if the Government will allow me to co-operate with them to a certain extent in enabling this Committee to get at the truth of the matter at issue. My suggestion briefly is that I should be permitted to suggest to the Government a name for them to add to the Committee. I promise to suggest the name of one whose impartiality, ability, and qualifications cannot possibly be questioned. I have waited day by day in the hope that I might receive some communication from Her Majesty's Government on the subject. If the absence of any wish that I should co-operate with them in this matter is due to an assumption on the part of the Government that they are on one side and I am on the other—an idea which can only be based on another assumption that the medical arrangements in South Africa are perfect, or as perfect as possible—then I deplore that I, as a loyal member of the party for fifteen years, am placed in that position, but I put aside personal considerations and personal ties to my party, and I say that the logical outcome of that position, if the Government are on one side and I am on the other, is that one side is appointing the judges to try the issue. I deplore it if that position should arise. I do not believe for a moment that the Government would wish such a position to be set up. I do not believe that they would perpetrate a personal injustice, but I must say for myself that, considering the experience I have had of this particular subject, and the knowledge I have gained of all its branches, I should be in a position to facilitate the inquiries by the course I have suggested.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Mr. Labouchere.)


I confess at once that I share to the full the disappointment that has been expressed by the two hon. Members who have spoken at the constitution of this Committee. But at the same time I am most anxious that we should, if possible, avoid the bringing in of anything like party recrimination or party feeling in the matter, and that we should not present to the world at large the spectacle, apparently, of the Government unwilling to give a full inquiry as alleged by their opponents, and their opponents clamoring for a fuller inquiry in the face of the Government. I do not think that that would be a seemly position for the House of Commons to take up in a matter which we all admit to be so grave, and a matter which affects so deeply the feelings and sentiments of a large part of the population of this country. The point that strikes me as most unfortunate is that which has. been referred to—namely, that there is not a sufficient representation of ordinary laymen—that there is, in fact, none at all if you exclude a judge from the category of laymen. There are two eminent doctors, of whom most of us have nothing to say, for the simple reason that I am afraid the great majority of us do not know much about them; but I take it for granted from, their position—one academicals, the other in his profession—that they are capable and competent men, and also that they are high-minded, straightforward men, who would do their duty while in such a capacity. I make no doubt of that. Besides them there is only an eminent judge; but what is wanted, surely, of all things, is what my hon. friend spoke of as the man of business, or, rather, the business man—a man accustomed to bring his common-sense and experience of life and affairs to bear upon such problems and difficulties as 110 doubt have presented themselves in South Africa. There are many men of that kind who could be obtained, and whose positions and character before the country would secure the complete confidence of public opinion. Let me point out also that this is not a mere question of the technicalities of the medical profession. There is the whole question of transport and of the power of organising relief in such a case as this, upon which surely it is most desirable to get the opinion of men qualified to give that opinion. A number of names occur at once of men who, if they would undertake this patriotic duty, would, I am sure, satisfy the mind of the country and give solidity to the Commission, and secure that success for it which I am afraid it will not secure if it is constituted as proposed. I venture to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. I have said that I have the strongest possible wish not to appear as if we were fighting with each other on a matter such as this, where the character of the country stands at stake before the world. It is also a matter which touches the hearts and feelings of many people who have relatives there, or may in the future have relatives undergoing the chances of war in South Africa or in other parts of the world. Will the right hon. Gentleman not listen to what I would put forward, even as a friendly appeal, if he will allow mo to say so—namely, that two Members should be added to the Committee, and that those two should be chosen not from any party purpose or on account of any prejudice they may be supposed to have? On the contrary, they should be men who are least likely to have prejudices, but competent men with that priceless quality, common sense, to which Lord Roberts alluded. I do not know any test, I am bound to say, except the test of their past record and their character in the eyes of the country. If two men of that character were added to this Commission, I am certain there would be a great feeling of relief throughout the country. But if that is not done, and if we are to have two doctors, however eminent, and a judge, however eminent, and nobody else, then the feeling of disappointment will be great, and I am afraid the chances of a successful result will be small.

*SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)

I would wish to say a few words on this motion, and the tone of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite enables me to do so. I feel deeply concerned in this matter. In my early youth I was a witness of terrible scenes in the army before Sebastopol, owing to disease and insufficient preparation. It was reported by the Medical Commissioners that 50 per cent. of the regiments engaged in the siege had died of disease in six; months. Thank God we have had nothing like that at the present time; but there is great reason to believe that the best use has not been made of the means placed at the disposal of the authorities in South Africa by Her Majesty's Government. I believe ample provision had been made, that nothing had been stinted, but I believe sufficient use was not always made of it. Letters by the last mail from South Africa, the truth of which I cannot doubt, showed some shortcomings. The state of several hospitals near Cape Town, and of hospitals in other parts of the country, showed that insufficient use had been made of the supplies, forming, in fact, a very heavy indictment against the Army Medical Department which required to be thoroughly investigated. There was, it is charged, a reluctance on the part of the medical officers to call for things necessary for the comfort and well-being of the sick, who, even within the last few weeks, had been lying in a miserable state and without proper shelter in places where there was no difficulty as regards transport. We have all heard of it; the newspapers are full of these cases. I admit that some of them may be exaggerated, but I am convinced that there is foundation for others, and that an inquiry which would command public confidence is required as to whether the best use had been made of the means provided by the Government with, I believe, lavish hands. I should like to avoid inconveniencing Her Majesty's Government in any way, but I think the inquiry should be one in which the public would have full confidence, and that men of common sense are required on it besides doctors.


The Government have been attacked by three gentlemen for three quite distinct offences in connection with the appointment of this Commission. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton, who moved the adjournment of the House, invented an entirely new constitutional principle which, with all the zeal of a discoverer, he expatiated upon in his observations. The hon. Member thinks that the Commission ought not to be appointed by the Government, but ought to be practically appointed by the House of Commons. It is a new doctrine, and one to which I noticed, with pleasure, the right hon. Gentleman opposite did not subscribe. It is one which was never practised by the party opposite, or by the party to which I belong, and for which, I believe, there is no precedent whatever. Of course, this House has a voice in regard to all that pertains to its own Committees. The reference is submitted to the House, and can be amended; and the names are submitted, and can be objected to or approved. But that practice is without precedent or example in the case of Commissions of this kind.


There are many Commissions appointed by Act of Parliament.


The hon. Gentleman never suggested an Act of Parliament. An Act of Parliament must he submitted to this House and the other House, and go through all the formalities of the Legislature. A statutory Commission is on a quite different footing from ordinary Commissions, to which this belongs. Such Commissions have never been submitted to the House of Commons in the way the hon. Gentleman suggests, and I trust that, for the convenience of Parliamentary procedure and the preservation of the responsibility of the Government, this well-recognised principle will never be departed from. That point practically exhausted the hon. Gentleman's criticism. He did indeed gay that the Government are the accused parties in this matter; and that therefore they ought not to appoint the judges in their own case. But I beg to inform the hon. Gentleman that the Government are not the accused parties. When I suggested the other day that there was an attempt to drag in the Government and to make a party question of it I was met with loud cries of "No, no," and of general repudiation from gentlemen on that side of the House. I leave the hon. Member for Northampton, who moved the motion for adjournment, and turn to the speech of the hon. gentlemen who seconded it. I do not quite apprehend the object of the hon. Gentleman's speech, unless it was to suggest that he should himself be the man of sound common sense for whom Lord Roberts asks and who, according to the critics of the Commission and of the Government, is not to be found adequately represented on the Commission as it is constituted. The hon. Gentleman said that he found himself placed in a position of great difficulty. I am sorry that my hon. friend should be placed in such a position. But if he is so placed—and I do not know why he should think that he is—surely he himself is the only person who has placed him there. He tells us that he has been attacked as to his facts and his motives. I do not know who has attacked him as to his facts or as to his motives. I am perfectly certain he cannot quote a single phrase or suggestion made by anyone on this bench attacking either his facts or his motives.


I considered it an attack upon my motives to convert the statement of facts which I made into an attack upon Lord Roberts.


The hon. Gentleman indeed criticised somebody, and who that could be unless it is the responsible officers in the field we were unable to discover, and the hon. Gentleman has been unable to explain.


I did not. criticise anybody. I criticised a state of things.


There is no such thing as criticising a state of things You may describe a state of things, but you cannot criticise a state of things.


I am extremely sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but I must ask him, in his own words, where or when I criticised any person, and who that person was?


My complaint against the hon. Gentleman is exactly that his criticisms were all of this, vague and obscure character. If he was merely narrating a very tragic and deplorable state of things without suggesting that. blame existed anywhere, he was really wasting the time of the House of Commons. It is only because the blame must rest somewhere, and in order that that blame may be brought homo to the proper quarters—it is only on that hypothesis that it was legitimate to bring forward this heartrending description at all. I am not aware that the hon. Gentleman made any secret of the fact that he thought that in the organisation of the advance to Bloemfontein and Kroonstad there had been mistakes made as to the transport arrangements for which someone was to blame. But I return to the hon. Gentleman's speech. Nobody here has attacked his facts or his motives. But if everybody whose motives are criticised or whose fact's are attacked is to form part of the Commission or is to be consulted as to its constitution, it is evident that the task of the Government would be never ending; and we should have to consult not only the hon. Gentleman, but the many eminent persons with whom he has come into conflict in this controversy. It is evident that they cannot all be members of the Commission; and that if they were they would be much more occupied in fighting among themselves than in investigating the charges committed to them. But the hon Gentleman appears to think that we have shown an almost callous disregard of his feelings. I hope that we are not open, to that charge; but the fact is that I did not in this matter consider the hon. Gentleman one way or the other. In constituting the Committee I did not think of the hon. Member at all from the beginning to the end of the business. I hope it does not show a hard and callous heart on my part, but that is the fact. The hon. Gentleman, in accordance with his sense of duty, brought forward facts—or what he believes to be facts—and laid them before the House. I confess that when the hon. Gentleman had done that, I thought he had done all that his ordinary sense of duty required him to do, and that we might put him and his proceedings out of account, and set to work to find out what foundation there was for the charges which he had made. The difficulties, the somewhat imaginary difficulties, of the hon. Gentleman under the heartless treatment which he has received in the formation of this Commission are illusory evils, and I think a little consideration will convince him that they have no real existence in fact. I leave the hon. Gentleman's personal complaints to come to the more objective criticism of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman seemed to take it as an axiom that, on the face of it, this was not the kind of Commission which would command the confidence of the country. On the face of things, it seems to me exactly the kind of Commission that would command the confidence of the country. No doubt it might be possible to find two additional persons who are thoroughly competent to join in this important inquiry. But my own view of a committee of investigation is that the smaller it is the quicker is its work and the more effective. That is the only reason why the Government preferred a Commission of three to a Commission of five. There may be something to be said for a Commission of five; but on the face of it, and on the obvious merits, there is an immense deal more to be said for a Commission of three. If you have a Commission of three, it is impossible to conceive a Commission which is more fitted than this one to carry out the work entrusted to it or which, on the face of it, is more impartial. What is one of the charges made against this Committee? The charge is that there are two medical men upon it. These medical men have no connection with the Army Medical Department. [An HON. MEMBER: Professional bias.] As the House very well knows, there has been a considerable conflict between the profession and the Army Medical Depart- ment, and I should have thought that; if there was a danger it was the danger of injustice to the Army Medical Department, who are carrying on their duties under conditions not very familiar to doctors and surgeons at home accustomed to the perfect equipment of a London,, Edinburgh, or Dublin hospital, and likely to be shocked beyond reason at the inevitable shortcomings which it is admitted on all hands must occur when you are dealing with the exigencies of a rapid campaign. Therefore, I do not think that there is anything in the fact that these-gentlemen are doctors which, considering their position, will make them in any sense lenient to the failures, if there have been failures, of the Army Medical Staff. I have not the honour of Dr. Church's or of Professor Cunningham's acquaintance. But I am informed that Dr. Church is not merely the official head at the present moment of the medical profession in this country, but that he is the President of the Royal College of Physicians, who, more than anyone in living memory, thoroughly enjoys the confidence of his colleagues, and is believed by them to be a man of peculiar fairness of mind, with a, great power of organisation and business, capacity. I am informed that the same qualities of common sense as well as high scientific qualities might be predicated of Professor Cunningham. There are some Gentlemen in this House, no doubt, who know him; and I have taken some trouble to make myself acquainted with his career and attainments.


He is a Professor at Trinity College. He is not in practice.


Exactly. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly accurate. That of itself goes to show that Professor Cunningham is a man who is independent of those waves and currents of medical opinion which are regarded as objections to doctors. Though not a practising doctor, and not actively connected with the medical profession, Professor Cunningham has, however, taken the most brilliant degrees in medicine and surgery, and is thoroughly well equipped from a professional point of view. There remains Lord Justice Romer; and can prejudice go further—I was going to say, can party feeling go further—than this calm assumption on the part of the hon. Gentleman opposite that because a man is an eminent professor, or an eminent physician, or a distinguished judge, he therefore cannot have those qualities of practical common sense which are supposed to be found in other more fortunate sections and branches of the human race? When Lord Roberts spoke of common sense, he did not mean to imply that doctors had not common sense; still less did he mean to say it of so brilliant and distinguished a judge of the High Court, a man of the business qualities and the impartiality and the power of collecting and sifting evidence like Lord Justice Romer, which are the qualities you want in a man who is to preside over a Commission of this kind. This Commission, as I have indicated it to the House, has the great qualities of knowledge and impartiality stamped upon it. It has among its members two of the most highly-qualified and independent members of the medical profession. It has at its head a judge of the High Court in this country; and if confidence and impartiality are not to be secured by a Commission of that kind, then I despair of any Government or any House of Commons or any responsible Minister being able ever, now or in the future, to constitute a Commission which shall command the confidence of the country. I am sorry that this deliberate attempt has been made, before its labours have begun, to asperse the impartiality of the Commission; I deeply, profoundly regret it; but I firmly believe that when the names I have mentioned go forth to the country the people will not agree with the critics of the Government on this occasion, but that they will universally feel that the Government have striven, by names unexceptionable in themselves and by the smallness of the number, of which complaint has been made, to give the test security that their labours shall not only be rapid and effective, but rapid and conclusive.

MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)

I think that the House, or at least the large majority of it, without any distinction of party, must have listened with astonishment and disappointment to the right hon. Gentleman, to the somewhat cheap sarcasms which the right hon. Gentleman thought it to be in good taste to launch against his own supporter, the hon. Member for Westminster, and the thin debating points he sought to make against the hon. Member for Northampton. All these must have struck the House as being singularly out of consonance with the feeling which animates the majority of the House. When the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to the appeal made by my right hon. friend—and a more temperate and more reasonable appeal was never made by a Leader of the Opposition—accuses us of making this a party question on this side of the House——


I never said so.


Yes; and of deliberately aspersing this Commission—I say that he is attributing to us motives which are entirely unworthy of any body of English gentlemen, and totally out of keeping with the feeling which pervades all classes of the community in relation to this most painful subject.

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)



The hon. Member for Central Sheffield says "No," but I believe the right hon. Gentleman fails to apprehend altogether the source and the character of that disappointment. We do not dispute in the least the eminent qualifications of these gentlemen. One of them is, we know, President of the Royal College of Physicians, and if you are to have a medical man on the Commission, as you must have, I do not suppose it would be possible to have a better representative. Another gentleman is Professor of Anatomy in the University of Dublin. I have no doubt that he is a gentleman of the highest academicals attainments, but whether a gentleman whose experience is confined to a chair of anatomy is most calculated to add strength to a Commission of this kind is a matter on which I must be allowed to express a doubt. And as to Lord Justice Romer, the third member of the Commission, no one who has had the great advantage, as I have bad, of practising before him can dispute that he possesses all the highest judicial qualities. But when all is said, when all these admissions are made—and I make them fully and freely—the right hon. Gentleman has not met in the least degree, I will not say the protest, but the appeal, of my right hon. friend. What is the ground of it? It is this. Here is a matter which avowedly affects the feelings and the sentiments of a vast number of people in this country, and the health and lives of our soldiers in South Africa, as well as our operations in subsequent campaigns. Grave charges, charges of the most serious character, vouched for not only by the hon. Member for Westminster, but by almost a cloud of witnesses, have been made in respect of the provision against sickness made in the course of this campaign. The Government confess that they want to have these charges investigated to the bottom, and by a body which will command universal confidence throughout the Empire. These being the conditions under which you are acting and the objects which you are professing—I believe honestly professing—to seek to attain, in order to arrive at the best means of improving these conditions and of attaining these objects you appoint a Commission the majority of whose members will be medical men. I say to treat this primarily or fundamentally as merely a medical question is entirely to ignore some of the most important considerations. It will very likely turn out—I make the hypothesis merely because I have no knowledge—that as far as doctors, nurses, and orderlies are concerned everything was done that human skill and devotion could do, given the conditions under which they had to act. It will then become a question, and this will be the fundamental question which will govern the enquiries of the Commission, whether the conditions under which they were acting were avoidable conditions, or brought about by want of foresight or neglect on the part of those responsible, and, if so, who is responsible for that state of things and how can its recurrence be obviated. It is trifling with the intelligence of the country to say that an investigation of that kind, a Commission composed mainly of professional medical men, is the best Commission that could be constituted. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow us to treat this question in a dispassionate and impartial spirit, I want, if I can—the light hon. Gentleman makes it very difficult—like my right hon friend, to come to a modus vivendi acceptable to us all. May I once more, notwithstanding all that the right hon. Gentleman has said, put it to him whether, in the interests of securing unanimity in this House and general confidence in the country, he should not accept the suggestion, the most temperate and moderate suggestion of my right hon. friend—not necessarily, of course, now—to add to this Commission two men of experience in business, men of reputed common sense, men whose names would command general confidence? If he will give a response to that appeal, I believe he may confidently count on ascertaining the truth, on fixing the responsibility on the right shoulders, and, more important than all, on preventing a possible recurrence of this horrible state of things.


I venture to occupy the time of the House for a moment or two upon this important occasion, because I should not like the Government and my right hon. friend to believe that all those who sit upon this side of the House are satisfied with the constitution of this Commission. My right hon. friend said the smaller the Commission the better, but upon those grounds he might have appointed one doctor to examine into the whole question. Allow me to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the object which I know he has in view, and which we all have in view, is to ascertain the whole truth about this question. With regard to the statements of the hon. Member for Westminster, though I make no statement for or against his veracity, I have no doubt, and I believe also the Government have no doubt, that what he says he saw he did see, and the Government appreciate the necessity of finding out the whole truth of this allegation, and whether it affects the medical officers or the transport. But they have appointed two medical men and a judge. I venture to say that if this was a question of investigating the mode in which the sick were treated in South Africa two doctors would be eminently satisfactory, but that is not the question. We want to know whether these horrible sufferings described so vividly by my hon. friend could or could not be obviated. What are the facts? We want to find out first of all whether the allegations of my hon. friend are true, and whether the medical appliances and equipment were satisfactory at Bloemfontein and elsewhere, and we want to find out whether the transport is to blame for not bringing up to Bloemfontein those appliances which it is said might have been brought up. Who is to examine into this? Not the doctors. They, I fancy, will probably examine into the way in which the patients were treated, and I have no doubt that these two medical gentlemen—against whoso reputation nobody can say a word—will say that all that medical science and skill could do under such circumstances has been done. We believe that nobody says a word against the treatment so far as the treatment could be carried out. I do not know if other Members have had experience of these matters, but I have. I have seen a doctor called in in an intricate case, and what was the inevitable result? That that eminent person comes out from the consultation and says everything possible that could be done has been done, but that he had advised a modification of the treatment. These gentlemen will, I have no doubt, do their best, but the esprit de corps which exists pre-eminently amongst doctors will of necessity bias their minds. But who is to judge upon the other questions—as to whether the transport arrangements were satisfactory, and, if the allegations which the hon. Member for Westminster made in drawing attention to the problem are true, the blame undoubtedly does attach to the transport for not bringing up in time those medical comforts, etc., which were wanted at Bloemfontein and elsewhere. Is Lord Justice Romer to go into the question of transport? I do not wish to say anything with regard to his Lordship, but I should think the only thing he knew about transport was transporting prisoners. I say if this Commission is to be constituted, it must not be a Commission in which the majority are doctors. I say, without the slightest hesitation, that this Commission, if it examines the whole of these matters, will not and ought not to have that weight with public opinion which we all hope a Commission appointed by the Government should have. We want the mind of the country sot at rest, and in order to do that a Commission ought to be appointed whose decision will carry weight with it. I venture to suggest to the Government that the proposition made by the hon. Members on the opposite benches, that two lay members should be added to this Commission, would enormously add to its weight, and at the same time would effect the right hon. Gentleman's desire, and not only throw more light on to the question, but would carry that light into the heart of the country.

*CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

Perhaps I might be permitted to take part in this debate, because I feel very strongly upon this question. I pointed out some time ago that we should want two or three Army corps for this war in South Africa, and I also pointed out that the Army Medical Department was not sufficiently strong in point of numbers. Now that the Army medical arrangements have broken down we are to have an inquiry as to how that took place. It can only have taken place for one of two reasons: either the Medical Department was in itself defective, and they had not the personnel and the stores they required; or the blame must be cast upon the Transport Department, because, assuming that the personnel and the stores were sufficient, they did not bring them up at the proper period; yet we are to have a Commission appointed of which two members are members of the profession of the Army Medical Department, which it is suggested is to blame—that is not the class of Commission to deal with that question—and added to them we have a judge to do—what? To inquire into the question of transport! I firmly expected to see one of the most eminent of our traffic managers of the great railways of this country upon this Commission. What the country is looking at is this. They have made great sacrifices, and have made them willingly, but they have been under the impression—and it has been said that this is no party question, but I say it is most distinctly a party question—that everything that could be done had been done for the sick and wounded. If the Government declares war it is their duty to be prepared for it and the conduct of it. After the Egyptian campaign the medical arrangements were found to be very defective, and the medical men connected with the Army Medical Department were absolutely deficient in numbers to deal with the situation as it developed in South Africa. What the country wants to know is on whom does the blame rest—upon the authorities at home, who did not take steps in time, knowing as they must have known that in South Africa there must be an enormous amount of enteric fever at the close of the campaign; or upon the medical men, who were unable to carry out their duty owing to defective transport? The country want to see the responsibility put upon the shoulders of the proper persons, and they want to know why they wore led to believe when they made these great sacrifices that their sons and their relatives were, so far as the medical arrangements were concerned, receiving every attention. They want to know why there was any suppression of what has taken place, and why from the press reports they were led to believe that everything was all right and in order. I will simply conclude my observations by suggesting that two lay members who have a knowledge of transport should be added to the Commission.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire)

said he did not propose to occupy the time of the House more than a few moments. He merely desired to express a wish that the right hon. Gentleman would add two more members to the Commission. Speaking for the prevailing feeling in the south-west of Scotland, from which he had just returned, upon this question, he could say that nine people out of ten did not believe in two doctors who would invariably agree with regard to the Commission. These medical gentlemen were the best men that could be got, and he did not impute that they were in any way unfit persons. Lord Justice Romer also was an extremely able man, but if the right hon. Gentleman would appoint two additional lay members he would have the country at his back. If he went to the country with the Commission as at present constituted, although no doubt the Commission would report unanimously, the country would have no confidence in it.


I feel very strongly indeed upon this question, one aspect of which is liable to be overlooked if the Committee is constituted as suggested. I desire to support the application which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman, because we all know that there is a chance when these operations are over of a general inquiry into the whole question of the war, and if we withdraw from that inquiry as we shall by this Commission, the whole of the Medical Department, we are absolutely bound to make this part of the inquiry thorough; because it will not be held at any other time. Now, I am not able to convince myself that the Committee as constituted will be likely to thoroughly investigate the condition of the Army Medical Department, and to ascertain what has been well done and what has been ill done in the campaign. The Army Medical Department is alleged to have failed to some extent, but it is a miracle to some of us that it has succeeded to the extent it has. The hon. Member for Northampton was correct when he said that the constitution of the Army Medical Department has been condemned over and over again. I was present when the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for War told us that the Department had been increased tenfold since the war began.


Order, order! The hon. Member is now discussing a matter outside the range of the motion.


All I wish to point out is that the efficiency of the Army Medical Department, having regard to the constitution of the Commission, is not likely to be thoroughly and satisfactorily investigated. I should like to be able to carry the inquiry a great deal further than a purely medical inquiry, so that it should ascertain not only the facts as to whether there were a certain number of medical attendants, nurses, and so forth in South Africa, but whether the provision was such as to enable them to work with efficiency, and whether their inefficiency has been referable to the conditions under which they had to work. I am quite confident that the attention of someone should be directed to this. The right hon. Gentleman asked who has been charged with the responsibility for this matter. I do not believe that the responsibility will be found to rest on the medical men or the attendants. I believe that the responsibility will be found to rest for whatever has been done amiss with those who organised the Army Medical Department on the present basis, and I want someone not deterred by professional antecedents from bringing home directly that responsibility.


In reply to what has fallen from my hon. friend who has just sat down, I would venture to deprecate any extension of the already large subject of inquiry which is to be committed to this body of gentlemen. When they have completed their labours and made their report to the Army Medical Department, either they or another Commission may be entrusted with the further inquiry my hon. friend desires. But let us in the first instance try to get to the bottom of this specific and limited, though all-important, subject. I would ask my hon. friend to take that as a sufficient reply, as indicating, at all events, my personal feeling on the point he has brought before the House. May I also say, what I did not like to say by way of interruption of the right hon. Gentleman, that I certainly never intended to reflect on gentlemen who sit on the Front Opposition Bench? I am not aware of anything that has fallen either from the Leader of the Opposition or those in his immediate confidence which indicates that he or they had any desire from the beginning of these transactions to turn this into a party question; and if I used any phrase of that kind that justly bore that meaning it must have been by inadvertence. I certainly neither felt it nor thought it. It is perfectly evident to me, after listening to what has passed, that the general sense of the House is in favour of an increase in the size of the Commission. I frankly say that, in my opinion, the House is wrong. I think the proposal of the Government was unquestionably a businesslike proposal and one likely to lead to the most rapid and satisfactory results. But I notice that not only those who may be said to be professionally opposed to the Government take a different view, but also the right hon. Gentleman opposite and friends on this side of the House who, I believe, are anxious that this Commission should enjoy general confidence. It is because I fear that the kind of criticism passed on both sides of the House on the Commission in its narrower aspect may in the mind of some outside the House shake their belief in it, that I think the view held by the House is one which ought to be considered by the Government, and considered very favourably. I do not think, after what has occurred, it would be possible to restrict the number to three. I ought frankly to say to the House that under the circumstances I cannot ensure that the three eminent Gentleman I have named can be regarded as having given a. final assent to serving on the Commission. I know that the chairman was greatly induced to consent to go through all the toil and responsibility which presiding over such a Commission would entail upon him by the fact that he thought the small ness of the number would greatly facilitate the operations of the body. I certainly shall have to appeal to him again regarding his services and ask whether he is disposed to give them. Though I think the two eminent doctors—or, rather, the eminent doctor and the eminent man of science—who. have already accepted places on the Commission know too much of the House of Commons to take quite seriously the criticisms which have been passed, still I confess that after they have read the statements in. debate that the fact of their being doctors prejudices them in favour of the Army Medical Service, and that their opinion is not to be trusted on that ground, they may, perhaps, think that they are not called upon to go through all the labours that the work of this Commission will entail. I earnestly hope that, will not be the case. I think myself they would be very ill-advised if they took too seriously this particular class of criticism, and I shall regard it—I say it with a full sense of responsibility—as a great public calamity if, in consequence of these somewhat reckless attacks, they should think it necessary to decline to serve. In the meanwhile, I shall do my best, though against my own judgment, to consult with my colleagues as to how we can best increase the number from three to five. I imagine that the House will entirely, at all events, agree with me in this: that the one thing to be avoided is the appointment of a politician; by profession.

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

I think the right hon. Gentleman has rightly interpreted the feeling of the House of Commons by agreeing to the extension of the Commission. I think it is very important indeed that in connection with this very important matter, in which the people of the country take so keen an interest, the members of the Commission should be increased by a certain business element, which I am sure will be welcomed by none more than by the eminent medical men who are to be on this Commission.


After this concession—in somewhat ungracious terms—by the right hon. Gentleman, I would ask leave to withdraw my motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.