HC Deb 25 May 1916 vol 82 cc2330-45

I wish to join in the appeal that has been made by other Members of the House to the Government to give fair, good, and generous consideration to the claims of men who have broken down in the Service, and I am going to ask the Financial Secretary to take to heart what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board said last night. He said last night, in dealing with the claims of men who may join the Army and ask for assistance for rent, school fees, and other things, it is suggested that the Commissioners are going to consider those cases, and that if there is a doubt they are going to give the claimant the benefit of it. In connection with these people who break down in health in the Army and who are discharged from the Army, we should also give them the benefit of the doubt. Do not compel them to prove that their health broke down owing to being in the Army. I wish to join in what has been said about the careful and very considerate manner in which the Under-Secretary for War and the Financial Secretary have gone into every case which I have brought before their notice. But I would like to point out that there might be some attempt made to prevent anomalies in regard to the amount of the pensions granted. I have had cases where mothers have lost sons under exactly the same circumstances, and yet the pensions have been different. I think there ought to be some uniformity in connection with the amount granted to the mothers whose sons have been killed in the War. I know it is difficult to have absolute equity in these matters, but I suggest that some handbook or circular laying down the conditions under which pensions are granted should be issued. A friend of mine who was making an application said he had found that the circulars dealing with pensions referred him to Order So-and-so, and he found that what was stated in the Order contradicted the information given in the circular. If some common-sense circular could be issued it would be a guide to everybody, and it would be of immense benefit, not only to the applicant, but to the Government as well.

I also wish to support the remarks made with regard to the taking into the Army of men medically unfit. I had two cases sent to me this morning, and the examination of these men took place on Tuesday last. In one of them the man had been suffering for eight or nine years from double hernia. He was examined by the medical board in Battersea, and they said that if he underwent an operation he would be fit for service, and they have actually passed him for foreign garrison duty. Another man who was examined at the same time by the same medical board, and was suffering from a bad single hernia, has also been passed for garrison duty. Doctors who will pass men of this kind are not fit for their position, and they ought not to be paid for such cases. I think the Government should put their foot down on examinations of this kind, and declare that doctors must not pass such men into the Army. It only means that these men will undoubtedly break down abroad, and will become a source of unnecessary expense, and they will require attention when they are discharged from the Army. I have had a large number of complaints regarding the period which elapses between a man being discharged and actually getting his discharge, or his insurance book, and in this way he is prevented from getting employment. Something ought to be done to expedite the handing over to these men of their insurance books.

There is another matter in regard to which I have already had a chat with the Financial Secretary, and it applies to the different rates of pay that obtain at the present time in the rural districts in regard to the manufacture of aeroplanes and the parts of aeroplanes. There are firms manufacturing aeroplanes and parts, and they pay from 11½d. per hour to the men doing the woodwork. We must remember that the woodwork, or some of it, is of a very delicate nature, and it has to be very carefully balanced, or the machine is soon out of order or will not work at all. Other firms manufacturing aeroplanes for the Government and parts are paid from 1d. to 2½d. per hour less than the men who are doing the same kind of work for the Government. I am told that the Government is paying a fixed scheduled price, and if that is so then the firms I refer to are either robbing the workmen or the nation. What I am insisting upon is only in accordance with the Fair Wages Clause. This is a new industry in the course of development and there is no rate fixed, but they should take the Fair Wages Clause and see that the wages paid are those paid by the best firms. If that course were adopted we should have a great deal more contentment and satisfaction amongst the men engaged in the manufacture of aeroplanes and aeroplane parts at the present time. I may point out that it is taking the officials of the trade unions all their time to keep their men at work on account of dissatisfaction, and unless something is done very soon the War Office can rest satisfied that there is going to be trouble of some kind or another with regard to this matter. I hope that this question of equality of wages in doing Government work will receive the careful and best attention of the Financial Secretary to the War Office.

Colonel YATE

I wish to ask the Under-Secretary for War if he can tell us, when he rises to reply to this Debate, what is the meaning of the retention of so many unfit men in the service. If any reason can be given for it then we can realise what is the necessity for it. We hear on all sides about these unfit men. Only the other day an hon. Member stated that in the drafting battalion to which he belonged they were dealing with many men who had been rejected for service abroad. We want a number of drafts to keep up our battalions abroad, but we do not want unfit men. I heard of a division which was preparing to go abroad, and I heard it stated that only 35 per cent. of the men were fit to be trained, 35 per cent. will require three months' nursing and careful handling before they are fit to be trained, and the remaining 30 per cent. will have to be discharged altogether. Now is it not better to discharge that 30 per cent. and not keep them on? Now that the Military Service Bill has been passed I see no necessity for having an abnormal number of unfit men in the Army. We only need a sufficient number of these men to keep up our garrison strength, and all the rest are better in civil employment. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us is there any special reason why these men should be kept, and, if not, will he try to bring in some measure to keep them out of the Service and replace them by fit men?


My hon. Friend the Member for the Wellington Division (Sir C. Henry) raised a point of great interest to the House in regard to giving some mark of distinction to those soldiers who have been dismissed the Service owing to illness, or wounds, or some other cause of disability. I suggested that it might be possible for the brassard to be granted to these men, but my hon. Friend did not seem to think that that would be a sufficient mark of distinction for them, and he suggested a medal. As the House is aware, a medal is given for special service, and I could not possibly give an answer to that point committing the Government in any way in that direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) has asked me several questions about granting medals in this war, and I can assure him that the matter is engaging the careful attention of the Government. I understand that the Prime Minister is going to make a statement conveying the decision of the Government in the usual manner on that subject. With regard to the men who have been invalided out of the Service who joined the Service at the beginning of the War and who gave no service and have been in hospital ever since they enlisted in August, 1914, when they joined in considerable numbers, and who really have rendered no service to the State, I think it would be a prostitution of the medal to give such men this decoration. If we did this we should be granting a decoration to men who have not really done the service which the medal would lead people to suppose they had done. I should have thought that a brassard was not an unsuitable decoration for men in the Service if they have not really been the heroes that some of our men have been. The matter is now under discussion, and I do not think that I can say more than that it is engaging the attention of the Government as a whole.

The hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) has brought to the attention of the House a certain change of procedure in the medical examination of recruits after they have been brought into the Service. I think he directed my attention to this matter at Question time. I am not really able to give any further reason for the alteration than I have already given. The medical board which has been set up, I am assured, is a more efficient body than the body which originally passed recruits into the Army. The standard for general service is as high as it was at the beginning of the War and in peace time. It has not been lowered, which I know is universally disbelieved and particularly by hon. Gentlemen in this House. I will give my hon. Friend an illustration. My Noble Friend the Secretary of State for War received a complaint from the lord-lieutenant of a county that considerable numbers of unfit men had been drafted into two certain battalions in that county. Lord Kitchener sent down, first of all, the surgeon-general, and then another general officer, to inquire into this particular case, and the answer came back from both of those officers that the lord-lieutenant had got hold of a mare's nest. I do not know whether that is typical of all the cases which have been brought to my notice. I am bound to say that they come from so many and from such diverse sources and from so many quarters that I am constrained to believe there may be something in them. The reason for not considering it essential in all cases that a recruit should be examined by the battalion medical officer as well as the medical board is to save time, to economise, and also to demonstrate that the Army believes in its medical board. If you do not believe in the medical board, then get one in which you do believe. I would say, further, that if a recruit is discovered not to be up to the standard which is considered proper for general service, then he ought to be examined. If there is anything wrong he ought to be examined. I suppose my hon. Friend would say that he ought never to be put into the Army.


Could not we compromise? Supposing a company officer discovers a man in his draft not able to under go the training, could he not bring it to the notice of the medical officer with a view to his being examined?


I can certainly promise, where the medical officer of a battalion notices that any particular recruit is unable to undergo the strain of training for foreign service that the man will be examined by the medical officer. That, indeed, is the constant and continual practice. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) announced that a medical officer, forsooth, has been rash enough to pass into the Army for garrison duty two men who had hernia. It has been decided by the military medical authorities, after taking counsel with the greatest civilian doctors in this city, that men with hernia, properly supplied with trusses, are perfectly able to undertake garrison duty abroad, and anybody who is acquainted with friends suffering from that disability knows that they are perfectly able to undertake that duty. I have had servants of mine who have been able to do a very fine day's work although suffering from hernia, and it would be a mistake to reject at sight everybody who has hernia. I know many such men who have been rejected on account of that fact, but who would be very anxious to undertake military service.

I should like to disabuse the minds of hon. Gentlemen who consider that the Army has been taking in the maimed, the halt, and the blind in order to swell the numbers of the Army. There never was a greater mistake made. There is absolutely no desire to take men who are not fit, and, as I have explained before, you now have your men graded for certain classes of work, and garrison duty abroad is the lowest but two. Clerical work at home is the first, garrison duty at home is the second, and garrison duty abroad is the third. Then you come to certain forms of work and labour, and finally to general service, as requiring the most efficient physique. It really would be a mistake if the House were not to encourage the Army Council in that policy. It is the greatest saving of man power; it is the most economical manner in which we can employ the man power of the Army; and because we pass into the Army for garrison duty abroad men with hernia, I do not think we ought to be charged with the folly in which my hon. Friend tried to make the House believe we were indulging. The proper perspective in which to view this particular question is to look at it from the national standpoint, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool looks at it. I am glad that he adopts that view, and I shall certainly do all that I can to uphold the view he takes. It is highly undesirable that we should have in the Army men who are unfit for the service to which they are to be allotted, and I can assure the House that the Army Council have no desire to pass into the ranks men unfitted for the duties they will be called upon to perform.


May I ask whether the Army Council is prepared to take one-eyed men for rifle practice and for fighting in the trenches at the front, because there are cases within my own knowledge where such men are being taken. The man suffers very severely because of the conditions of his service, and one does feel inclined to doubt whether this kind of man can be made an efficient fighter.


If my hon. Friend puts that question to me, I should say: Yes, it is perfectly possible, and I have known cases myself. The hon. Member for Lewisham, the late Mr. Penn, was one of the most efficient men behind the gun I ever saw in my life, and he had only one eye. He was a most beautiful shot. I have known another man. The Army are not refusing to take men because they have only got one eye.


I rise to make an appeal to the Financial Secretary to the War Office which I have made to him on more than one occasion before. I do not know that I should have risen on this occasion, but I have been moved to do so by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Manchester (Mr. Needham), who called attention to a particular case bearing on the general case that I have raised in this House. He pointed out that there was a lad whose father, when he went into the Army, was quite able to take care of the family. The father then died, and the family was no longer provided for. The lad, however, was not able to secure, separation allowance for his mother, because it was said that she had not been dependent upon him. The reason for that was that she did not need his support at that time. There are cases where the family circumstances have changed in a similar way without the death of the father. There are cases, for instance, where the son of a widow did not support his mother before, but where after he had been a certain number of months in the Army the circumstances changed, and she needed support from him, but he was not able to get separation allowance for her. He might, indeed, make her an allotment of 3s. 6d., but that was the extent of the support he could give her. Then there was the case of the apprentice, where the lad was learning his business, and where the mother was supporting him until such time as he would be out of his time. Afterwards, perhaps, she was unable to support herself any longer, but she was not able to get any separation allowance, because she had not been actually dependent upon the lad before he went into the Army. This is really a very great hardship. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to put the matter right. You have at present two lads serving side by side whose family circumstances at home are very much the same. One lad, besides his pay, is getting dependant's allowance for his mother, but the other, whose mother needs it just as much, is quite unable to get dependant's allowance, because of this principle of pre-enlistment dependence. I know the right hon. Gentleman has told us several times that it does not rest with him to change this principle, but private Members, especially in these times, have very limited powers, and I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who I am perfectly certain deals with all these questions fairly and in a most courteous manner, to use his influence and to have this wrong principle altered. I do not suggest that anything indiscriminate should be done, or that every soldier who did not secure a separation allowance when he first joined the Army should be at liberty subsequently to secure a separation allowance without inquiry into his case, but I do suggest that there should be some special committee to inquire into applications of this sort, and that where good cause can be shown for a departure from this principle, special permission should be granted for a separation allowance on the same basis as if there had been actual dependence before the lad enlisted. If the right hon. Gentleman will give his attention to the question, I am sure that he will be conferring a great boon upon many suffering people whose young folk have given themselves to the service of the country.


I make no complaint at all, of course, that the subject has been raised to-day, because I know it is one which engages the attention of hon. Members to a very special degree, but with the exception of one or two matters the ground which has been traversed is very familiar. I have listened to a great number of speeches in the course of the last twelve months on the questions which have been touched upon, and I have endeavoured to make quite clear what we do, why we do it, and the reason why we cannot do more. The hon. Gentleman has raised the question of pre-war dependence. I admit that hardship is occasioned to many families by reason of the fact that the assessment of the separation allowances must depend upon pre-enlistment dependence. My hon. Friend said, in view of that hardship I ought to have appointed a committee to examine into those cases and, in cases where hardship is proved, to make some additional allowance. I would remind my hon. Friend that that is exactly what the Government have done. We must adhere, for the purposes of the general issue of separation allowances, to the customary criterion of pre-war dependence, but in order to meet hard cases the Government have called into consultation the Statutory Committee of the Royal Patriotic Fund to deal with them and to give extra allowances where the hardship is proved.


But not a single shilling has been paid yet.


My hon. Friend is aware of the difficulties which have caused the delay that has taken place—first, in the appointment of the Committee, and, secondly, in its getting to work. The delay, I hope, will vanish shortly. I was only calling these things to the recollection of my hon. Friend in order to show that the course that he recommended had been taken. Among the points which break rather fresh ground are, first of all, the question of the widow of a man who has died of disease aggravated, though not caused, by service. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) has commented on the long delay which has taken place in the publication of the Royal Warrant dealing with these pensions, which both he and I had hoped would have been published long ago. I should like to take the House into my confidence about what has happened, and how the matter rests. When we were discussing this question, some time ago, I expressed my opinion, for what it was worth, that the grant of the aggravated pension — the four-fifth's scale pensions in cases where the disease had been aggravated by service—must carry with it some corresponding pension to dependants when the man died. When we came to translating the promise into performance, it seemed to me, at any rate, that, although we might, without any great difficulty, give four-fifths of the appropriate pension, there was another aspect of the question that ought fairly to be considered.

There are two categories of aggravation to be borne in mind when we are dealing with diseases that cause death. First, there is the disease which would have been fatal in any case, but the fatal termination of which has been accelerated by service. There is, on the other hand, disease which might not necessarily have been fatal, but has been made fatal by service. It seemed to me that the second category has a stronger claim on the State than the first. Let me give an illustration. Take the case of a man suffering from disease which in any case would have killed him in a couple of years. Owing to the hardships he endured in the course of service he dies within twelve months, and his death has been accelerated by twelve months. On the other hand, you have another man suffering from disease who might have lived another ten or twenty years, but who, owing to the hardships he endured, died within one year. The loss to the dependants is clearly greater in the second case than in the first.

I wanted to see whether we could not, instead of adopting a rigid four-fifths pension, introduce a system of gratuities which might be of greater value to the dependants. Here is where the delay in the publication of the Warrant has been caused. Of course the House will readily understand it does not rest with the War Office. When settling a thing of this kind it has to be discussed with the Treasury, and we have to act, as far as we can possibly, with the Admiralty, and so forth. Delay, therefore, is almost inevitable. We looked closely into the question of gratuities, and it became obvious that the system would necessarily involve most careful reports from various localities on the circumstances of the widow and dependants, and so forth, and it was specially desirable that we should have some careful local body on whose report we could place very great reliance. The matter was referred at once to the new Statutory Committee, and I do not think I am improperly betraying any secrets when I say that this matter is being discussed with great care by the Department, and that the delay which has occurred has been occasioned solely by a desire to do what is really the best and to give the most generous and appropriate treatment to the dependants of these men. We have not come to any definite agreement upon this question, but I am in hope daily we shall reach it, and as soon as we do we shall be able to proceed forthwith with the publication of the Warrant.


Does that apply to cases where a man dies after his discharge?


Yes, it applies to all cases. I hope what I have said will make it quite clear to my hon. Friend that it is not owing to any wilful neglect on our part that the Warrant has not been published. I hope we shall be able to make some useful Amendment in it. If the House will allow me I will pass over the criticisms levied against the Chelsea Commissioners, of whom I am one, on the ground that their administration of things has been the negative of generous. That complaint has been made before. I have endeavoured to meet it on previous occasions, and if I have not convinced my hon. Friend by the many speeches I have made, I am afraid that I am not warranted in hoping for success now.


Our experience does not square with your statements.


I come next to the point raised by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Wing). He raised a question with which I dealt some little time ago—at the beginning of the month—as to the dire straits in which men are placed after their discharge and before their pension is fixed. It was in the first week of this month that I promised we would issue allowances to men pending the fixing of their pensions. It was on the 4th May I made the promise, and already we are making payments in no fewer than 10,000 cases a week. The House will remember that what I promised was that the single men should get 10s. a week and the married men 20s.; that where the pension is greater than the allowance, the allowance shall count toward the pension, that where it is less, the difference shall be written off at the expense of the State, and in the cases where on inquiry no pension is granted we will not endeavour to make any recovery on account of the allowance which has been made. Ten thousand of these allowances are being paid per week. I think the House will see that I have not wasted time in redeeming my promise.

Then the same hon. Member commented on the difficulties which are experienced by the wives of missing men. He said they suddenly found their separation allowances stopped and widows' pensions issued in their place. But I would like to remind my hon. Friend what happens in these cases. When a man is reported missing he is treated as still alive—we hope for the best—for a period of four weeks. At the end of the four weeks for the purposes of his pay and so forth we presume his death, and then for twenty-six weeks from that date the full separation allowance is continued to the wife, as if her widowhood was already an ascertained fact. It is only therefore after the expiration of thirty weeks from the date on which the man is reported missing that the separation allowance comes down to the pension scale. I do not think that is really ungenerous treatment on the part of the State, and possibly my hon. Friend had rather forgotten the full circumstances when he commented on the matter in the way he did.

6.0 P.M.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) asked that in dealing with pensions we should give the soldiers the benefit of the doubt. That is exactly what we do in every case. We do give the soldier the benefit of the doubt, and I can assure my hon. Friend that the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital are always ready to do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutherlandshire (Mr. Morton) asked if the widows of men who died after their discharge will get a pension. Yes, they do get pensions in cases where the man dies from wounds received in action, or from disease commencing during or caused by service. The hon. Member mentioned the Brora case. My hon. Friend will remember the reason why the widow in this case has got no pension hitherto has been owing to the fact that it was certified the disease was not caused by service. Whether or not the case will come under the new Warrant which I hope will be published in a few days—whether or not it will be found that the man's disease was aggravated by service I cannot say, but if it can be, the widow will get her four-fifth's pension if that is the form of award ultimately decided upon, and I hope she will be one of the first to receive the benefit of the new and extended scheme. I should like to say one word of comment upon the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) the day before yesterday. I am sorry I was not here when he spoke, and I am sorry he is not here while I am speaking. The fact was that I was busy at the War Office at the time he spoke, and as soon as I heard that the speech was being made I came down to the House, but arrived just too late. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that in the early days of the War the Government had requisitioned Hundreds, and, I think thousands, of omnibuses belonging to the London General Omnibus Company and they had to pay a pretty smart price for them. He went on to say that if the War Office had had a little greater wisdom than they possessed at the time—I may mention that this was before I became Financial Secretary—they would have made an arrangement for taking over the London General Omnibus Company in the same way that they had taken control of the railways. My hon. Friend said that if we had done that we could have made a very much wiser bargain, but that we had not done so. He said: What has been the result? If the proposition made by the company when they were in a hole at the beginning of the War had been accepted, in 1914 no money would have been paid to the company; in 1915, I am informed, some £30,000 would have been paid; and this year, as far as one can judge, very little more on the average would be paid; whereas, if my information is correct, we have already paid the company for vehicles requisitioned £430,000, and more is still due."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd May, May, 1916, cols. 2041–2.] I have only one or two observations to make upon that speech. There is really no analogy whatever between the London General Omnibus Company and the railway companies. When we took over the railway companies we did so in order that we might control the traffic. What we wanted from the London General Omnibus Company was not the control of the traffic. We wanted the vehicles they possessed, and we wanted to take those vehicles for service in France. To say that the London General Omnibus Company came to the War Office and begged that some arrangement might be made similar to that which was made with the railways is to show a complete ignorance of the draft proposals which the company made to the War Office. If my hon. Friend had had any idea of the proposals that were made, he would have seen that his statement was entirely unfounded. With regard to price, he said that we should have had to pay £30,000 last year, nothing in 1914, whereas we have paid £430,000 now. My hon. Friend does not suppose that if we had only paid £30,000 last year that we should have been left in possession of all these vehicles. We should have had to pay for them in the end. Whether we paid this year, next year, or whenever we ceased using the vehicles, we should have had either to hand them back to the company and to have borne the cost of reinstating them in a condition in which they could earn money on the London streets, or else we should have had to pay the purchase price. I went into this matter most carefully myself. The negotiations, which took months, ensued between me and the London General Omnibus Company with regard to the price that was proper to be paid. I do not doubt it is a matter which will come under the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee, and, when it does, and if the proposals which were made by the London General Omnibus Company in the early days of the War are laid at the same time, it will be seen that what has actually taken place has been a good bargain for the State.


What was the sum?


I would rather not say at the moment. That is all I wish to say on the matter. I regret I was not able to deal with my hon. Friend's speech the moment it was made, but I thought it was desirable to say these few words with reference to it lest the House and the country should be left under a misapprehension as to the facts.


There are three points to which I should like to refer. In the speech just delivered by the Financial Secretary to the War Office he made no reference to the allowances in regard to pensions that are to be given to disabled soldiers. I was informed this afternoon by Mr. Pearson, who is dealing with the question of the blind people, that where a disabled soldier receives a pension of 25s., or less or more, the Government only allow 2s. 6d. per child, whereas, on the other hand, in regard to separation allowances they allow 5s. per child. I should like to know why it is that when under the separation allowance 5s. per child is allowed, but that when a man is put out of action and receives a pension you only allow 2s. 6d.? It is evident to everybody that no mother living can keep a child upon the sum of 2s. 6d. per week. I understand that Mr. Pearson and other people are trying to get sufficient money by public contributions to make up the difference between the 2s. 6d. allowed by the Government and the 5s. allowed under the separation allowance. This is a great grievance and one that requires rectifying at the earliest opportunity. The second point is with regard to the married men who are to be called up under the Military Service Act and who have no children at all. It appears that there is going to be great hardship inflicted upon that household, for if a married man who is called to the Colours, which he will be, all the money the wife will receive will be 12s. 6d. a week, in consequence of her having no children. Everyone knows that at least six or seven shillings will have to be paid in the shape of rent, and the wife will be left with 5s. 6d., or 6s. at the outside, for the purpose of maintaining herself. There is also a genuine grievance there that requires rectifying.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury may say, perhaps, in reply, that that is a hardship which will be dealt with by means of the special allowance for school fees and so forth. In that case all the married men with no children will have to make special application. I think something ought to be done to meet the differentiation between the married men with no children and the married men with children. My third point is with regard to the extra 3s. 6d. allowed for rent in certain parts of the London area. People who are living in certain parts of London are allowed 3s. 6d. over and above the ordinary separation allowance, in consequence of the high rent they have to pay. If you take the Borough of West Ham, one-half of which comes within the extra allowance, you find that one man will get the 3s. 6d., while another man who lives on the other side of the road will not have the 3s. 6d. I would ask the Financial Secretary whether it is not possible to extend the 3s. 6d. allowance to what is known as the London Metropolitan area. That would meet a genuine grievance, and would to a great extent relieve some of the hardships which are bound to be incurred by men coming within the Military Service Act.

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