§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. HOGGE
There are some subjects which can be raised on the Second Reading of this Bill which I hope the House will take an opportunity of debating, now that we cannot discuss the question of Ireland. The House probably, after the statement of the Prime Minister, is not in the kind of humour which will enable all Members to discuss questions which, after all, are vital to a great many people in the country. But there is one question which might be discussed now—I refer to the treatment of our soldiers and sailors by the Charity Commissioners acting under the Statutory Committee of the Naval and Military Army Act. We have tried, a number of us, in this House from time to time to secure the discussion of this important topic at a time when public attention could be called to it. I see on the Front Bench the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who is acquainted with all these problems, and I hope he may be able to reply to the few questions which I propose to address to him. The House will remember that some very considerable time ago the question arose as to what pension ought to be payable to a soldier or sailor who was discharged from the Service on account of disease contracted in the Service, or aggravated by the Service, and it was felt that the full pension could not be paid to that soldier or that sailor. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary then stated that the Government had agreed, in those cases, that a pension equivalent to four-fifths of the full pension should be paid to these men. Several of us asked questions as to whether, in the event of the death of the soldier or sailor, the pension would be payable to the widow or other dependants of the man. The reply of the Financial Secretary to the War 2314 Office at that time was that we would not know the details until the issue of the new Royal Warrant.
For the last month or six weeks questions have been put on the Paper to my hon. Friend asking him when the Royal Warrant would be published, and up to to-day, within four days of the Whitsuntide Recess, the Royal Warrant has not seen the light of day. In a conversation my hon. Friend gave some reasons why up to the present moment it had been impossible to issue the Royal Warrant, and at the same time he informed me that he could not give me any hope that the Royal Warrant would be issued before Thursday to enable us to discuss this matter before the Whitsuntide Recess. I would not labour this so continuously and so persistently if it were not for the fact that there is a large number of people suffering from lack of information with regard to this important question. In last night's Debate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board complained, and I think complained unjustly, that we did not give the Government credit for the amount of pension payable to our discharged soldiers and sailors. Let me assure my hon. Friend at once that we agree that the pensions are not only substantial and generous, but are higher than the pensions given in any part of the civilised world. What we do complain about is not the amount of the pensions, but the niggardly administration of those pensions by the Chelsea Commissioners. For instance, I want to know how the Chelsea Commissioners settle these points. We in the House have determined that a soldier discharged from the Army totally disabled is entitled, on certain grounds, to 25s. per week, with 2s. 6d. for each child, and in the case of a partially disabled soldier to the difference between 25s. per week, and what he can make, and there is as well a discretionary allowance of 2s. 6d. for each child. On that assumption the feeling that is left in the mind of the House and the country is that those men are going to get the substantial part of £1 or 25s. What do we find in practice? When those men's cases are laid before the Chelsea Commissioners, they get pensions amounting to as low a sum as 8d. per day, or 4s. 8d. per week.
Last night I produced a case in which a man discharged from the Army, after months of service, with chronic bronchitis, and who is now a consumptive 2315 patient, and who is a widower with one child, and who is in receipt of a pension of 4s. 8d. per week That man has since been discharged incurable from the sanatorium to which he found access. He is living in lodgings, and is responsible for the upkeep and upbringing of his girl of eight years of age. This House, by its Pension Committee, stated that the scale for a man of that kind was to be 25s. per week if totally disabled, and 2s. 6d. for each child, but instead of 27s. 6d. per week he is in receipt of 4s. 8d. There may be good reasons why he is only getting that amount, but all I am ever told when I address myself to the Chelsea Commissioners is that they have considered all the circumstances, and that they find that this man did not contract this disease in the Army, or that it was not aggravated in the Army, and that, therefore, that it is all the pension they can give him. I imagine that the average Member of this House is able to ascertain whether the man did or did not acquire his disease in the Service. The datum line in all these cases is this. Take the case I have just mentioned. The man was accepted by the military as medically fit. They used his services for months in the Army, and he was then discharged suffering from chronic bronchitis. The medical officer must have been deficient in his ability to discover what this particular man was suffering from. If they said he was suffering from bronchitis, I could understand, but they discharge him as suffering from chronic bronchitis, which means that the disease must have existed for some time. Therefore, the medical officer was no use when he passed that man into the Army fit, but when he did pass him as fit, and after using him for all these months, I say it is a shame that the man should be scrapped, and should be left in a condition where he possibly cannot recover his health, and given a pension of 4s. 8d. per week. The House never meant that and the nation never meant that. If that is the generosity of administration typical of the Chelsea Commissioners, the sooner they are abolished root and branch, and the administration of these pensions put in the hands of some Department at which we can get more easily in this House, the better. It is absurd after this House has come to generous conclusions that the administration of these pensions should be so far 2316 removed from the House as the Chelsea Commissioners, and that the only way we can get at the administration of the Chelsea Commissioners is through the Under-Secretary, who has himself to get his information from the very people whose administration we are seeking to criticise.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
I am one of them.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I would scarcely have credited that, knowing the generosity of the hon. Gentleman and his sympathetic treatment of all cases that are brought to his notice. Take this point a step further. In the case of the soldier who is discharged on account of disease contracted in the Army, I asked, supposing that man dies as a result of that disease, what will his wife and children get? At the present moment they are not entitled to a single penny. The man himself may get four-fifths of the maximum pension, although we know that in practice he gets very much less. I asked my hon. Friend, and he received the suggestion quite sympathetically, would it not be possible in a case of that kind to secure that the widow and the children should get the four-fifths pension rate that was being given to the man who was discharged because he had contracted the disease? They seemed to me to be fair. The widow and the children of a man who is killed in battle get the scale which we have laid down in this House. My hon. Friend and the Government suggested that they could not be so generous where a man was discharged on account of disease. I gave them that point, but I asked that the dependants should get the benefit of the four-fifths rate. I feel so keenly about this question that I seized the opportunity just now when the House was disturbed over the Irish question, seeing we could not discuss it, because I feel perfectly certain that this is a problem which touches everybody so intimately that it is worth while for the House of Commons to devote an hour or two to its discussion in the early part of the sitting. I am very glad to see in the House some Members who have before contributed to Debates of this kind, and who have knowledge of their own of these problems, and who will welcome, I hope, the opportunity of raising this question at this time.
There are a great many other points which one could address to the Financial 2317 Secretary, and about which one is continually talking to him in conversation. I think the most urgent case at the moment is this: How far has he got this Royal Warrant? Has he succeeded in the Royal Warrant in translating into scale payments the promise of the four-fifths pension? Can he tell us how the Chelsea Commissioners do arrive at those conclusions in face of the facts which are supplied to them, and will he, despite the fact that he may think it is done quite properly, extend even yet further the sympathetic treatment which he has previously extended to many cases? There are the dire cases of many of these soldiers, which arises from the fact that they are discharged with a very small pension, with no hope of getting any kind of work, with small families to bring up, and with no outlook at all. I am perfectly certain that the Financial Secretary and the House want those men to have some outlook, and I think, either for the service which they have offered or rendered, or which they would have rendered if their health had held out, that the House will in the end, as a result of these discussions, arrive at a point when we shall get some satisfactory settlement of this big question.
§ Sir CHARLES HENRY
I fully agree with the greater part of the appeal which the hon. Member for East Edinburgh has made, and I am sure the general desire is that these disabled men should be treated with generosity. I desire to raise another point, and that is the position of soldiers who are discharged from the Army either on account of illness or from the strain of active service, and who return to civil life without any evidence that they have served in the Army in this War.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
They have got uniforms.
§ Sir C. HENRY
When a man is discharged the uniform is taken away. The matter is of some importance, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give it his consideration. I have come across men who were to all appearance quite fit, and I put the question to them why they were not in uniform. In a case of that kind quite recently the man told me he had been in the Army, although he had not seen service in the War, and that he had been invalided out of the Army on account of rheumatism. There was no sign or indication by which anyone could know that that 2318 man had served his country during the present crisis. If something is not done by the giving of some distinctive badge or ribbon to these men you are, I submit, doing them a great injustice. I have no doubt the Financial Secretary will reply on the subject of pensions, and I would urge this matter on the attention of the Under-Secretary. I think that when these men who have given service are discharged on account of illness that they should receive a medal which would be accompanied by a ribbon. If that were done it would be open to all to see that they had served their country. I think this recognition has been too long delayed, and I hope the omission will soon be remedied.
§ Mr. WING
I desire to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) and of the hon Member who has just spoken. I think we should do all we can to let the men who have served us see that we recognise not only in a national sense what they have done, but also that we give them some evidence to show that they have served their country. I desire to call attention also to the Chelsea Commissioners. I was rather surprised to find that the Financial Secretary is one of them, and, judging from his personal generosity—
§ Mr. WING
Judging from the personal generosity of the Financial Secretary and the Under-Secretary, and the general meanness of the Chelsea Commissioners, I hope that the Financial Secretary and the Under-Secretary are often in a minority, becuse there are very few indications of generosity in the amounts granted by the Commissioners. I find that in my Constituency the sum of 9d. per day is a popular figure, and, being less than an old age pension, it does not seem satisfactory to the people who receive it. Another subject to which I wish to refer is that of men who are sent from the Army and supposed to be discharged, but are forced to walk about the streets for weeks before they get their discharge papers. They are unable to commence work until they have their discharge, but their discharge is delayed. Is it not possible to devise some means whereby that can be remedied? The pay of these men is stopped when they leave the Army, but until they receive their discharge they are unable to go to work, or to receive their usual allowances. 2319 If the War Office are unable to discharge these men more readily, can they not pay them until they are discharged? Surely, if you hold these men to their agreement with the Army, they should receive their money until they are discharged. I have been informed by men who came out of the Army only last week that their allowances have been stopped and they have not received their discharge. I have also received a number of complaints with regard to the giving of no definite news of a soldier who may be a prisoner of war, or missing, or dead. A notice is sent to the wife stating that her money is reduced to the amount that it would be if she were a widow. This is rather unpleasant, because the woman does not know whether she is a widow. She is loath to believe that she is, and it seems rather mean on the part of the War Office to reduce the allowance until they are in a position to certify that the soldier has actually been killed. There is a feeling of resentment on the part of the women that you should reduce their pay before you are able to give them definite news. I press these matters with confidence on the representatives of the War Office, because in my personal relations with them I have always received great courtesy, which I have pleasure in acknowledging, and I have every reason to believe that when these cases are brought before them they will give them their usual generous attention.
§ Major NEWMAN
I agree that something ought to be done with regard to men who have served in the Army and been discharged as unfit for further service. I think that something in the nature of a badge should be given them to show that they have been so discharged. Only today, on the Underground Railway, I heard a conversation between two men. One asked his friend, "What happens to man who has served and been discharged as medically unfit? What has he to show for it?" His friend said, "He can put on an armlet." That is quite wrong, but it shows that the public are thinking about the matter. Something in the nature of a badge or armlet should be given to these men for their protection. I wish also to put the case of a young fellow who joins the Army while his father and mother are alive, and perhaps in good circumstances. When he enlists he states that he has not been in the habit of making them any allowance, so that he makes no allotment and gets his full pay. In process of time 2320 the father dies and the mother is left very badly off. The son then wants to make an allotment of 3s. 6d. per week in order that his mother may get the Government grant, but at present he is precluded from doing so. That ought not to be the case. If circumstances change, it ought to be possible for a man to go to his quartermaster and say, "I wish to make an allotment in favour of my dependants." I should like the Under-Secretary of State to consider that point.
§ Mr. MORTON
I hope the Financial Secretary will be able to tell us to-day that the matter of the Royal Warrant is going to be settled at once. When we discussed the matter about a month ago, we were distinctly told that nothing could be done without a new Royal Warrant, or some such document. On that occasion, amongst other cases, attention was called to the case of a widow in Brora, Sutherlandshire. We understood then—and, as far as I know, it is the same now—that the auhorities could not grant any pension or allowance to the widow and children if a man was discharged before he died. That seems to me an extraordinary state of affairs. If a man dies while in the Service, his widow gets an allowance, but if the authorities choose to discharge him, then when he dies his widow is entitled to no allowance whatever. I understood that the new Royal Warrant was to cover such cases as that, and I hope we shall get an assurance to-day that that promise is to be carried out. No doubt in some cases pensions have been awarded very favourably, but undoubtedly the policy of the country practically up to the present has not been to award pensions and allowances sufficient to keep these people out of the workhouse. I hope that in future we shall do something to relieve the strain upon these people who are suffering from the War. It has been laid down by some countries that if a man serves his country, if he is not killed, something ought to be done to ensure a decent living for him, while if he is killed, his widow and children, if any, shall receive from the State an allowance to keep them out of the workhouse. This matter has been discussed several times, and at last we thought we had a definite promise from the War Office that the matter would be settled. As far as I know it may be settled, but not yet issued. I 2321 hope the Financial Secretary will be able to give us an assurance on that point. I trust, too, that he will be able to tell us that the four-fifths pension will be allowed to the widow and children of a man who dies after his discharge, as is done in other cases. One is as much entitled to it as another. In the case of which I have spoken the matter was made worse because two medical officers had actually certified that there was nothing the matter with the man when he entered the service. In many cases, whereas a man's life and health might be endangered by war service, in his ordinary occupation he might, by taking care of himself, live for many years without any difficulty whatever. War service undoubtedly makes a great difference, and that ought to be taken into consideration. Although disease may not be brought about by war service, it is often accelerated thereby. These are matters in which the House will be bound to take more interest in the future than it has done in the past. We have no right to drive these people to the workhouse. I believe that the nation will be quite willing to provide the necessary funds and to see that they are administered in a proper manner, and not by the granting of 4s. 8d. a week, as in the case referred to by my hon. Friend. It seems ridiculous that there should be so absurd an allowance. I have great faith in the representatives of the War Office on the Treasury Bench, and I hope that they will assure the House and the country that something is going to be done in this matter in the near future.
§ Sir JOHN SPEAR
I desire to support the appeal with reference to men whose health has broken down under training. I believe the Government have done their best to make arrangements for fair treatment in the matter of separation allowances and pensions in the case of men who are injured in actual warfare, or of their dependants if the men are killed. In the case of men whose health breaks down, perhaps owing to the rigour of training, and who are thereby rendered unfit to earn their living, not only should a fair pension be given, but in the case of their death their dependants ought to receive at the hands of the State some compensation for the loss of the breadwinner, because, although he has not been killed on the battlefield, he has nevertheless sacrificed his life in the service of the country. Surely in such cases a responsibility rests on the Government. 2322 If their agents, the medical men, pass into the Army a man who may have some incipient disease, or in regard to whom they make a mistake, as doctors, like other people, occasionally do, surely the State is responsible and should pay. I know that the Government have promised consideration with regard to the man himself, but I would ask the Under-Secretary to consider whether something could not be done for the dependants of such a man if he dies, so that a means of livelihood may be assured to them after the loss of the breadwinner. I venture to urge that in view of the Military Service Bill, which is now in process of becoming law, that the claim is all the more important and real. Under that measure, of course, a large number of men will join the Army, not always of their own choice, but, in my opinion, rightly from the call of the country and the necessities of the situation. Surely, therefore, if in the training of the fellows who are compulsorily put into the Army their health breaks down they are entitled not only to consideration from the personal point of view, but also from the claim of those who are dependent upon them? I press this matter on the hon. Gentleman, I have had to go before him with cases of hardship of disabled soldiers, and I am bound to say that he has always shown a desire to meet such cases fairly. But this is a new kind of case, which is becoming more prominent and more general through the new Bill.
There is a very strong feeling, I believe, among all sections of the people that we must deal very differently with the brave fellows, both soldiers and sailors, who are fighting our battle on this occasion to that which has unhappily been the case at the end of previous wars. I believe that the desire of the people is that each and all who are making this self-sacrifice shall be cared for in the proper manner. Just one point more, and that is in reference to separation allowances. There are many cases in which a son has joined the Army who, before he was a soldier, handed over his wages to a common family fund, though it could scarcely be said that he made any direct allowance of a specified amount. Surely the fact that a portion of his earnings was not specifically handed over to his parents towards their assistance should not debar those parents from receiving separation allowance? A common-sense calculation would easily make manifest how much of the total of the wages devoted to the maintenance of the 2323 common household was really his contribution, and it ought to represent a sum that should be granted as separation allowance. I mention these matters to the hon. Gentleman, knowing how anxious he is to deal justly with our soldiers and sailors, and I speak with confidence, because a case has been made out for the dependants of the men who lose their lives through disease contracted in the Army. Care should be taken that these men have not to resort to the workhouse for maintenance. I believe the hon. Gentleman will be interpreting the wishes of the people generally if he does something substantial to meet the cases put before him.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I desire to join in this appeal for more generous treatment—no, not for more generous treatment, but for more just and equitable treatment—for these men. The proverb has it that we ought "to be just before we are generous." This is a case in which I am convinced that we are neither just nor generous in the treatment that is being meted out. The appeal is directed, not to the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Office, but through him to the Government. The general tone of the discussion, so far, has not involved any criticism at all of the attitude of the hon. Gentleman. I have brought many cases of various kinds before him, and I have always found that they have received prompt and detailed investigation. I have no complaint whatever to make in regard to the manner in which these cases have been handled. The appeal is made on behalf, not of those men who have been wounded, or those men who have been injured as the result of some accident in the course of their military employment. It is made on behalf of men whose health has been broken in the course of their military service. It is often difficult to trace the exact cause of this breakdown in health. It may be vague and general. These are men who were fulfilling their daily occupations before the War, and found no difficulty in doing so. They were earning good wages. In the Army they have been living under completely different conditions. They have been subject to training—which is a severe test for a man if there are any latent weaknesses in his constitution. They have also been subject to an exposure to which they are not subjected in their daily life, and in 2324 their daily occupation in civil life. No one can deny that even in the summer, even in good weather, living in a tent pitched in the fields is very different from living in the house to which one has been accustomed.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
It depends on whether the conditions of the tent were comfortable or otherwise. If the hon. Gentleman had had his tent pitched on ground where it was damp, even if it was not very rainy weather, he might suffer severe consequences from living under these damp conditions.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
Then my hon. Friend has a sound constitution. Supposing that he had been liable to rheumatism he would very probably have developed severe rheumatism, which he would never have developed if he had been living in a house and pursuing his own work. That is just our case. The appeal is on behalf of men whose health has broken down in the course of their military service. For long I have had cases of this kind before me. I have often been very much tempted to raise them in the House, but I have refrained from the thought that a public discussion of these matters was not for some reasons to be desired; and because of the effect it might have upon recruiting at the time when our utmost need was for more men. That reason does not exist now. Men are enlisted compulsorily; therefore one can now speak more freely on this subject.
I want to take one particular case to which my attention has been specially directed, and in connection with which I have had a long correspondence with the hon. Gentleman. The case, I think, is typical, and it illustrates a class of cases. The case is that of Driver John Dickson, R.F.A., of Glasgow, who enlisted at the beginning of August and was discharged in April, after eight months' service. The discharge was on account of rheumatic heart. He alleged that he had slept for some weeks in a damp tent. He was seriously ill prior to his discharge. After his discharge he returned to his civil work as a holder-on at the shipyard, but he was only able to work for two days, when he collapsed. He has since for a considerable time been in hospital, and he is still unable to work. 2325 I have thoroughly investigated this case. I have consulted the man's insurance doctor, who says that he had no previous evidence of any disease of this kind, and that the disease in its present phase is thoroughly compatible with the man's statement of having been incurred during his military service and through the cause stated. The doctor further certifies—and is very emphatic about it—that this man is not shamming, that he is in a very serious condition now, and that he is incapable of carrying on the work which he previously carried on—or, indeed, any work. What are the grounds upon which this man has been refused a pension. It was refused, in the first place, on the ground that there was no evidence that his injury was due to military service. When I called attention to the report of the local medical man, I received a reply. Here is a sentence from the reply of the hon. Gentleman. Mark, I am not complaining in the very slightest about the attitude of the hon. Gentleman! He said:I have consulted the commanding officer as to whether Dickson hart been subjected to any exceptional exposure.5.0 P.M.
Now that seems to be the wrong attitude. It is not whether or not the man was subjected to exceptional exposure. Quite ordinary exposure, living under conditions different from his usual conditions, living in a tent, living subject to continued and severe military training—these were probably the ostensible causes of his collapse so far as anyone can see. That was the objection I raised to that representation. After some months—for it took some time naturally to consult his commanding officer, who is at the front now—it was reported that the brigade were in tents for some time at the end of September and the beginning of October, 1914. The weather, it appears, was fine during this period, and there were no special hardships. On these grounds the man was refused any pension. He is now completely destitute. His family is destitute. He has come from hospital, is not able to work, and he has applied for poor relief. The Poor Law authorities have delayed week after week in the hope that some pension might be given by the Government. I am convinced from the previous history of this case, and also from the man's previous records, from the fact that he conducted his work without any difficulty — and the work of a holder-on in a shipyard is arduous work—that there was no evidence of this disease before, and that he has broken 2326 down in the Service, that he is now absolutely incapable of carrying on any work, that he is destitute, and that his family are destitute. I am convinced that this is a case in which the man ought to be compensated. That man has been broken in our wars. He has given his body for us. Although it is possible that under the stress of the War, and while it is going on, we may not be able to secure adequate compensation for this man, yet there are such a number of these cases that, as soon as the immediate preoccupation of the War is disposed of, the Government will be forced, by the pressure of public opinion, to make some concession in this matter. I would point out that there are many cases just now occurring in which men who are notoriously medically unfit are being taken into the Army for service of some kind. I have two cases of men passed by the medical board or medical officer. In both of those cases I have medical officers' certificates that those men were incapable of military service, and, if forced to undergo it, within a few weeks or a few months they would break down. I took what steps seemed to me justified in the circumstances. In both cases immediately I lodged a claim for pension before they had suffered, on the ground that it was certified by the medical officers that those men would break down under the strain even of service in the third class I am happy to say that that claim being made, further attention was directed to it, and both men have been released from the Army as medically unfit. I think in the past there were many cases which ought to have been released if there had been fuller inspection. These men were quite fit for ordinary avocations and employment where they can take care, and they might still be able to carry on the work, if they had not been subjected to the strain of military service.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I notice that the hon. Member who has just spoken put forward a claim on behalf of his friend for a pension before there was any damage done at all, and I must congratulate him on the foresight, which is notoriously characteristic of those who live North of the Tweed. Now, may I join in thanking the Financial Secretary to the War Office for the very courteous treatment he has always given us when we have come to him for consideration of cases, and also for, if I may say so, even straining the Regulations in order to 2327 give as much as possible to these men? We all know that, if it were left to him, the scale of pensions would be considerably higher, and that it is only because the Treasury bars the way that a larger amount of money does not flow out to these men. In one sentence, may I support the plea put forward by the hon. Gentleman in reference to the allowances to these men and their families? I do so for one simple reason. I think that now you have general compulsion the State is bound, when you oblige men to come in in large numbers to the Army, and not of their own free will, to be still more generous in its allowances. Of course, if you compel a man to do a thing, you are bound to see that if he does suffer he will be rewarded and his relatives shall be properly looked after.
Very briefly may I ask the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for War to a matter which I have brought to his notice during Question Time lately—namely, the cessation of medical examination of recruits who have joined second-line units? If I understand the position correctly, certainly in the Southern Command, and I believe all over England, the custom was, up to about a fortnight or three weeks ago, that on joining the second-line units all recruits were medically examined by the medical officer in charge of the unit, and that seems to me a very sensible and businesslike procedure. They were no doubt passed by the medical officer when they attested, or the medical board, as the case may be, but medical boards and medical officers are human, like other people, and undoubtedly many men were passed into the Army who were not medically fit, and certainly not fit for general service. That is a matter of common knowledge. We are paying for a great number of men in the Army who will never be any use to the Army, and the only use they could possibly be to the nation would be to send them back to civil life as soon as possible, where they could make some money. We had this second line of defence for the taxpayer, if I may put it in that way, in the second medical inspection of the medical officer of the unit, and undoubtedly this did increase the meshes of the sieve, and prevented many unfit men being taken for the second-line units, or rather, I should say, when taken in they were turned out again as soon as allowed, because it is notorious that many 2328 medical men of units are applying to the War Office to get their unfit discharged; but they cannot, because, for some inscrutable reason, some people at the War Office, whoever they are, have a great love for inflated numbers on paper, and they think the defence of England is easier if they have this number of unfit men, and they will not allow these men, who are costing thousands of pounds daily, to be discharged.
With reference to the particular form of medical examination for Second Line units, I am informed by an hon. Friend in this House, who is also a soldier, that about three weeks ago an officer very high in the medical hierarchy at the War Office came down to the Southern Command at Winchester, assembled all the doctors belonging to the Second Line units, asked them why they were examining these recruits when they had been examined by a medical board, considered the medical board was quite sufficient, and that they were interfering with business which was not theirs, and he ordered them as their superior officer in the medical profession to cease those examinations at once. Within a week an order was issued by the War Office which came down to the Southern Command that on no account was any medical examination of recruits to take place by the medical officers in charge of units, because the War Office considered it unnecessary. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman as a business man, as a man of the world, to put it to himself what possible advantage to the nation can there be by this order? The medical officer is attached to a unit; he is paid, he is fed, and he is not in these times greatly overworked in these Second Line units. As he is there and is being paid, and must be paid, whether examining recruits or not, why, in the name of common sense, do you not allow him to go on in the old practice of examining those men when they come up, and to make a report on his own ipse dixit, and, if you like, report at once to the War Office that in his opinion certain men who have been passed by a board, by mistake, no doubt, are unfit, and get rid of them as soon as possible? Is a man to be dragged through three or four months of military training, then sent to hospital, and then medically examined, when the medical officer may make a report with a view, not of having the man discharged, but to wait until one of those travelling medical boards chooses to come round in a leisurely way and release the man?
2329 I am not arguing this from the man's point of view, though I think there is a great deal to be said from that point of view, but I am arguing it from the national point of view, and I do strongly object, and I believe many hon. Members also object, to this waste of public money, which is entirely unnecessary. The man can be no good to the nation, and it is simply because the War Office chooses to procrastinate, and certain high medical officers there consider their dignity is lowered by anyone thinking to question for a moment the verdict of their own medical board. I will not bother the House with examples. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman has a letter I sent him, giving several examples, but two examples came under my notice only yesterday. One was the case of a man, who is a cripple, in Sussex. He has to join next week. He has one leg shorter than the other, and he cannot walk more than a hundred yards without a stick. He has been passed for general service—that is to say, in France. An hon. Member says there are lots of cases like that. The board may have made a mistake—I dare say they did—but I say if you allow the medical officer of the unit to re-examine, mistakes will be rectified, and the man will not have to spend four or five months in training and be a great cost to the nation for no purpose. Therefore, I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not bring this matter forward in criticism. The right hon. Gentleman cannot know everything, but do let him see if the old and much better practice cannot be revived.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
I should like to support the observations of the hon. Member. I have had very many cases of the same kind which I have brought before the Under-Secretary, and I am bound to say he has always treated them with the greatest consideration and me with the greatest courtesy. But, from the national point of view, it is of the greatest disservice to the country. These men are kept in the Army medically unfit in many cases, when they could be of great use to the productive power of the country. As it is, we are spending our money upon them when they know themselves that it is wasting the country's money—many a man has written to that effect—and he is not a productive unit at a time when there is such a scarcity of labour. The Army cannot be bettered by having such men within it, and I do hope the observations 2330 made by the hon. Gentleman opposite will have the very careful consideration of the Under-Secretary.
Another question I wish to bring before the right hon. Gentleman is of rather a special character, where young men joined the Army who were sons of parents in quite good circumstances, but since the son has joined the Army the father may have died, and indeed in some cases, of which one knows, he has died, and the whole circumstances of the family may have changed. Under the present system—of course, the boy did not make an allotment prior to joining the Army—he is now not able to make an allotment, although the family circumstances may be changed,, and therefore the family is suffering very severely for want of funds. I think this is a case which the War Office might very well meet, but if, owing to their regulations, it is impossible for them to meet it, the Chelsea Commissioners or the Statutory Committee ought to deal with it in a generous and liberal manner. At any rate, provision should be made by the Government, because if there is one thing on which the country is determined more than another it is that our soldiers and their dependants shall have support during this War.
The last matter I wish to make an observation upon is that some medal or ribbon or other kind of reward should be given to soldiers who have passed out of the Army. This War is different from all other wars of which we have had any cognisance personally. In the South African War all medals were distributed after the war was over, but the numbers engaged were not so great as in the present War, and, now that we have compulsion, I think it is more than ever necessary that some consideration should be given to those men who have passed through the War and are now back in civil life. I beg the Under-Secretary of State for War to consider this matter and to consider it favourably.