HC Deb 14 August 1916 vol 85 cc1420-3
15. Sir H. CRAIK

asked she Secretary of State for India whether he has now communicated with the authorities in India and obtained their consent to the publication of the Report of Sir W. Vincent, General Bingley, and Mr. Ridsdale with regard to the medical arrangements and transport in Mesopotamia; and whether the Report will be laid upon the Table before the Recess?

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Chamberlain)

Copies of the Report and of the Commander-in-Chief's memorandum upon it were dispatched from India last month. The Appendices, including the evidence were sent early this month. I am informed by the Viceroy that a general review of the Report and its Appendices will follow as 30on as they have been fully examined. Since the Vincent Commission reported, Parliament has appointed a Statutory Commission to inquire "into the origin, inception and conduct of the operations of war in Mesopotamia" including, inter alia, "the provision for the sick and wounded," and this Commission is specifically directed "to proceed with all possible expedition to inquire with regard to the provision for the sick and wounded" and to "report the result of their inquiries on this matter as soon as they are completed." All the documents emanating from the Vincent Commission will be laid before the Statutory Commission as soon as they are received, and will, I think greatly faciliate their task. But meanwhile the matters treated by the Vincent Commission must be considered as still sub judice, and their Report cannot be published. The House has the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War that everything possible is being done to remedy the defects disclosed which were largely, though not entirely, due to difficulties of transport.

I should add that I have seen an advance copy of the Report. In addition to criticisms of Indian military organisation—a matter which is now engaging the serious attention of His Majesty's Government— it mentions certain officers by name as having a grave responsibility in connection with the state of affairs disclosed by the investigation. For various reasons the Commission was, I believe, unable to examine any of these officers in person. They will no doubt be so examined by the Statutory Commission by whom their case and the measure of their responsibility will be considered. Meanwhile I may say that the officers so named have vacated their positions, and new appointments have been made to the posts formerly held by them.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are still very unsatisfactory reports coming from Mesopotamia, and can he assure the House that any suggestions made by the Vincent Committee will at once be carried out to ameliorate the conditions?


I am aware that everything is not yet satisfactory. That was stated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War the other day. Although the difficulties of transport have not yet been wholly overcome and cannot be wholly overcome for some little time, I believe that matters are very much improved. The new Director of Medical Services in India himself went to Mesopotamia on his way to India and dealt with the defects which he found, and I think that everything possible is now being done to set things straight.


Are we to understand that the only effect of the appointment of the Statutory Commission so far has been to delay the issue of the Report of a Commission which was appointed in February last?


My hon. Friend's question tempts me to recall to him his observations when the announcement of the appointment of the Vincent Committee was made. He had not at that time the confidence in his Report or the anxiety to see his Report which he now expresses. It is quite obvious, since the Statutory Commission has been appointed by Parliament to investigate the very questions which were referred to the Vincent Committee, that they must be considered as sub judice, and I, am unwilling to, and cannot, produce the Report until the Statutory Commission have considered it. I said that the appointment of a Statutory Commission would not be used by His Majesty's Government as any reason or excuse for not taking immediate steps where such were shown to be necessary, and to that I adhere.


Will the Report of the Vincent Committee be published eventually whether it is in agreement or in conflict with the Report of the Statutory Commission?


His Majesty's Government, I believe, on my suggestion, made a promise, a voluntary promise, to the House some time ago that they would lay Papers with ' regard to the Mesopotamian operations. When those Papers were collected and submitted to our military advisers they reported that it was contrary to the public interest to publish them, because they would give information of military value to the enemy. I cannot promise to present any further Papers with regard to military affairs in Mesopotamia or the operations there until those Papers have been seen and examined by the General Staff.

66. Mr. GRANT

asked the Secretary of State for War if the scale of pensions for deaths due to such diseases as cholera, which are incidental to the conditions of campaigning in Mesopotamia, can be on the same scale as pensions appertaining to death on the battlefield or from wounds received; and, if not, could he explain the reasons for such difference?


The Regulations follow the recommendation of the recent Select Committee in maintaining the specially high pensions which have been granted for a century to the widows of officers killed in action.

65. Mr. GRANT

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that in many instances the kits of soldiers who have been killed or who have died in Mesopotamia have never been delivered to the relatives; and if he can give some assurance of better arrangements in this matter for the future?


I regret the delay involved in the present procedure regarding deceased soldiers' effects, and am in communication with the Government of India in view to simplification and acceleration of the arrangements.

64. Mr. GRANT

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware of the many instances where money has been sent by soldiers serving in Mesopotamia to this country through the Post Office, but without intimation being sent to the intended recipient, has never reached its destination; and if such sums can by some means be delivered to the proper quarters?


My attention has not been called to many such instances. Money may be remitted by the troops in Mesopotamia either by postal order or by money order. No particulars are available as regards postal orders, but I find that about 6,000 money orders were advised from the field in Mesopotamia during the last six months. All these have been delivered except about forty, where the addresses were incorrect or insufficient, and in those cases the senders have been notified. If particulars are furnished to me of any case in which a remittance sent home by a soldier from Mesopotamia has not been delivered, I shall be glad to make inquiry.