§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon—
- (1) The instructions issued by the War Office with regard to the administration of the Military Service (Review of Exceptions) Act, 1917;
- (2) The method, conduct, and general administration of medical examinations under the Military Service (Review of Exceptions) Act, 1917;
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
No doubt the reference to the Committee, as it appears on the Paper, is in accordance with, the pledge given by the Government last Thursday, but I think the Government might possibly be willing to extend the scope of the inquiry, because a great number of cases that were brought before the House last Thursday will not be covered by the reference as it stands. This reference is solely to people examined under the Military Service (Review of Exceptions) Act, 1917. A great many cases we heard the other day were cases of people who have been, possibly rightly, sent into C 3 under this re-examination, but who have been subsequently re-examined and moved up to B 1 or into some other category. It is notorious that that subsequent examination is often more of a farce than the examination which put them into C 3 to begin with. The C 3 people are sent to camp and a perambulating body of doctors go round, and, without any sort of examination, they take a certain percent age of these men and move them.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
Perhaps I went too far in discussing individual cases, but every member knows as a fact that a large number of complaints have been complaints of re-examination which do-not come under the Review of Exceptions Act, 1917, but which are every bit as bad and are causing every bit as much dissatisfaction in the country as the original examinations under this Act. Therefore, I think the Government might be willing to enlarge the terms of reference. From what we have heard, the scandal is certainly greater in connection with these examinations in bulk than it is with the individual examinations in the first place. I hope that the Government will see their way to alter the terms of reference, so-as to make them embrace all the cases concerned in what has been no less than a national scandal.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Military Service Act does not apply to Ireland, and therefore this does not apply to Ireland, Under these circumstances, why is it necessary that Ireland should have two representatives on a committee to discuss a matter which does not apply to-Ireland?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
It may be as the hon. Member (Commander Wedgwood) says, that the limited terms of reference are in fulfilment of the promise given by the Government last week, but I should like to point out that in the course of that Debate I protested against the restricted character of the Debate, because this-scandal of passing into the Army medically unfit men did not begin with the Review of Exceptions Act. It is nearly twelve months since I first raised this question, when the present Prime-Minister was Secretary of State for War, and he promised to make inquiries into-cases submitted to him. A considerable number of cases were submitted, but an-inquiry was not made into a single one 219 of them, upon many occasions previous to the passing of the Review of Exceptions Act debates took place in this House in regard to this matter, and if this Committee be set up with these limited terms of reference its labours will be altogether futile. We were told by the Under-Secretary for War in the Debate last Thursday that men are being examined under the Review of Exceptions Act at the rate of 15,000 a day. It is ten weeks since the examinations began, so that practically the whole number of men who can be called up under the operations of that Act have already been examined. But every day thousands of men are being called up, not under that Act, but under other powers which the Army authorities possess, and the scandal in regard to the maladministration of this medical examination is quite as great as in the ease of men who are called up under the Military Service (Review of Exceptions) Act. There are cases, too, of young men who are brought under the operations of the Military Service Act for the first time, and every Member of Parliament must be aware that there is a great deal of complaint in the country about the character of these examinations. Therefore, if the Government really want to allay public unrest upon this question, they must not appoint a Committee with such limited terms of reference, because it will leave a vast number of cases outside the purview of this Committee. It will leave grievances unredressed and it will not put an end to agitation in this House and outside. In the kindest spirit possible I would appeal to the Government in their own interests not to confine the inquiry within the narrow limits of this reference. I should be very glad if the Leader of the House would agree to extend the terms of reference so as to include the whole system of medical examination.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
As regards the point raised by my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury), the case is not quite so simple as he puts it. So long as the Irish Members are in this House, and a Committee is appointed representing the House, it seems to me that they must have that share of representation to which their numbers entitle them. In addition to that—though, of course, I recognise the force of a good deal of what my right hon. 220 Friend said—there are a great many Irishmen in the regiments which are enlisted in Great Britain, and I think for that reason also I would not make such a change as that suggested by the right hon. Baronet. As regards the larger question, it is my desire to do what my hon. Friend (Mr. Snowden) has mentioned, to allay the agitation in this House, but I am sorry to say that I cannot fall in with his suggestion. It is quite possible that the agitation may not be allayed even if the examination by the Committee has the result, which I personally think it will have, of showing that this Act has been honestly carried out by the War Office with a desire to fulfil the conditions laid down by the House of Commons. There is no Member who does not recognise that a Committee at all during war-time which takes up the time of officials in answering questions is in itself a bad thing. There is no one who does not recognise that that in itself is a bad thing. For that reason committees of many kinds have been asked for, but have been refused. In this particular case there wore several reasons which made the Government willing to appoint a Committee. I say quite frankly that neither the Government nor the House of Commons like the necessity of this particular method of getting men into the Army, and we felt most strongly that it was clearly the duty of the Government to see that at all events it was carried out fairly and in accordance with the wishes of the House of Commons. We recognised also that there was a widespread feeling that that was not the case. I do not believe that feeling to be justified, but we certainly were determined that there should be an opportunity of probing this in the fairest way in our power and of finding our whether or not the intentions of the House of Commons were being carried out. There was not a word said about anything except the last Act in the whole of the Debate, so far as I know.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I must protest against that. It must be within the recollection of hon. Members that I strongly protested against restricting the inquiry simply to cases under this Act.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I must accept my hon. Friend's statement, but I was present during the larger part of the Debate, and my hon. Friend told me that, so far as be knew, there was no request made that the inquiry should be extended. In any case, if we were to follow the suggestion of the 221 hon. Member (Mr. Snowden), it would mean raking up the whole of the facts, which would mean an amount of work which I am perfectly certain, the House would not be justified in putting upon the War Office at the present time. I should like to say this, further, that it is a pity that every time the Government make a concession of this kind with a desire to meet the wishes of the House we should be urged to go further and further, and, in this case, to an extent to which I think it would not be in the interests of the country or of the prosecution of the War that we should go. I am sorry, therefore, that I cannot agree to extend the scope of this inquiry beyond the promise which was given on behalf of the Government.
§ 4.0. P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I beg to move in paragraph 2, after "1917," to insert the words:(3) The Instructions issued by the War Office with regard to the reexamination of men in the lower categories and the method and conduct of these re-examinations.I regret deeply the decision which has just been announced by the Leader of the House. Nobody can complain that the Government has not carried out literally the promise given by the Home Secretary in Thursday s Debate, but the ease of those who advocate an extension of the terms of reference is based on the public interest. It is true that the Review of Exceptions Act was the matter which brought the agitation to a head. But long before the passing of that Act, indeed, before the House went into Committee on the Army Estimates, this matter of re-examination had been raised, and particularly the methods pursued in respect to the re-examination of men in the lower categories and the passing of them into classes A and B. This was a matter of the utmost consequence and was causing a great deal of discontent in many cases. In these circumstances the inquiry, if it is held under the terms of reference which appear on the Paper, will be a truncated inquiry which will only affect those men who are in this particular Act, and will not relate to the operation of medical boards, regarding men who have been classed as C 3. Many of the greatest scandals have been in relation to these men. The hon. and learned Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield) has already pointed 222 that out in the House, and my hon. Friend opposite the Member for Barnstaple (Sir G. Baring) has been equally emphatic in the matter. In these circumstances, as the Government is adamant in the matter, the only course to be pursued is to take the sense of the House in the matter, and I therefore move this Amendment.
This extension of the terms of reference will bring within the purview of the inquiry the examinations to which I have referred. It will be within the power of the Committee to ascertain whether, if a man has been classed as C 3, it is true as has been alleged frequently that these men are subsequently passed into B1 and into B2, without any examination at all. That is a matter within the knowledge I think of a large number of Members of this House. It is cognate to the inquiry. It figured largely in the Debate last Thursday. The Leader of the House is in error when he says that these things were not mentioned. I certainly quoted at least one of these cases, and a particularly distressing case. In these circumstances I sincerely hope that the Government will not adhere to the letter of their promise, but will rather seek to carry out the spirit of their undertaking; I may remind the House that the inquiry was not asked for by us. No claim was put forward for an inquiry. The inquiry was volunteered by the Government. There are many ways of dealing with an awkward question raised in this House, and I think on the whole that the Government saw that this was a very useful way to deal with this particular subject in Debate. In these circumstances, as we did not ask for an inquiry; we are entitled to examine the terms of reference which the Government put forward, and if, as we believe, the inquiry which the Government suggest will not be a satisfactory one and will not cover the whole ground, it is our duty to ask the House to make the inquiry one which will cover the whole of the matters which have raised this agitation.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
I will second the Amendment, though it does not cover the special point that I would like to press. The wider this inquiry is the better I shall be pleased. But there was one thing which went through the whole of the Debate last week which is 223 absolutely left out of the terms of reference of this inquiry. That is the constitution, not the method, of these medical boards. It was pointed out that these medical boards are made up of officers in the Army. The President, who is always an officer in the Army, is practically under the jurisdiction of the War Office, and almost every speaker in the Debate asked that these boards should be made independent, and that the civilian representation should be independent upon these boards. That is absolutely left out, because the reference here is only as to the method, and not as to the constitution of the board. Therefore, I do not think that even the terms of reference come up to the promise which was made yesterday. There was a distinct promise to have a Committee of Inquiry into the whole subject of these boards, under this particular Act, I agree. But the idea certainly was that the Committee should have powers to inquire into the constitution as well as the methods of procedure of these boards. I do not think that the Government will be carrying out their promise if they do not add "constitution of the boards" as well as "methods" to the scope of the inquiry. Personally, at the time I asked for drastic measures to be taken instead of a Committee of Inquiry, which, I think, is utterly inadequate. There is a pressing matter to be dealt with at once, and it is not a question to be referred to a Committee to be dealt with three months hence, after half the men have been sent in unfit and many of them have died. What I think was required was drastic measures by the War Office. But that was refused. I hope that the Committee of Inquiry will be empowered to deal with the constitution of these boards as Well as with their method and procedure.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
My hon. Friend who has just sat down has raised a point which I confess did not occur to me, and which I hope and believe is not well founded. The words, "method, conduct, and general administration of medical examinations," necessarily include, as a fundamental point, the constitution of the boards themselves which make the examinations, and I am quite sure—I hope that I am right in saying—that the Government had the same intention.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Certainly I think that any Chairman of a Committee, as far as I can express an opinion, with these terms of reference before him would be going beyond his duty if he excluded from consideration such a vital matter which went to the root of such an inquiry. With regard to the wider point raised by the Amendment of my hon. Friend, I should be glad—and I agree in this with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, because I believe that it would promote the smooth working of these Acts—if the inquiry could be of as wide a character as possible. I am glad to say that the Government have carried out the pledge which they gave. No one can say that there is any obligation upon them as regards any inquiry further than that which is included in the words upon the Paper, Therefore, I should not myself, in view of all that has happened, feel justified in voting for an Amendment of that character. At the same time, I would submit to my right hon. Friend opposite that if either through this Committee or in some other way the Government would take some step to allay the very widespread apprehensions which exist in regard to administration, independently of this particular Act, they would be doing something which would be entirely in the public interests, and which would facilitate the active prosecution of the War. Beyond that I do not go at the present moment.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I agree entirely with the spirit of what has just been said by my right lion. Friend. It was the object of the Government not, as one of my hon. Friends has said, to get rid of criticism in this House, but to get rid of something which they regard as more serious—a feeling of discontent in the country. It was for that reason they volunteered to have this inquiry They would be willing to go a step further and extend the scope of the inquiry but for the reason, which I have already given, that the War Office is overcrowded with work in every direction, and we cannot go beyond the terms of reference to which we have agreed without, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree, going into the working of previous Acts. That means—and I have taken the trouble to make inquiry—more or less a fishing inquiry, and an amount of work which nobody can foresee. I should certainly be glad to do what my right lion. Friend 225 has suggested if I had not been specifically aware that it was against the interests of the conduct of the War that we should do it. But I did consult the War Office in regard to this matter, and with the desire of doing what my right hon. Friend has said, and I pointed out to them that the medical examinations are the same both in regard to those under the last Act and those under the previous Acts, and while it would be very undesirable to rake up the past, I thought it was possible that the general system of medical examinations should be brought under review; and I am glad to say that the War Office authorities themselves thought that that would not involve much additional labour. If, therefore, my right hon. Friend and the House think that there is a distinct advantage in extending the scope of the inquiry in this manner, then I am prepared to alter the terms of reference to this extent so as to make paragraph 2 read, "The method, conduct, and general administration of medical examinations under the Military Service Acts"—that is to say, bringing the system of medical examinations under review in all respects. I hope that the House will consider that that is sufficient.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I think that that is a very reasonable suggestion, and I would press my hon. Friends to accept it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
In view of what the Leader of the House has said, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: In paragraph 2 leave out the words "(Review of Exceptions) Act, 1917," and insert instead thereof the word "Acts."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Sir Godfrey Baring, Mr. Montague Barlow, Mr. Cochrane, Colonel Faber, Colonel Gretton, Mr. Hugh Law, Mr. Nield, Mr. Pringle, be members of the Select Committee."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I will take the first name, and the hon. Member must confine his objection to that—Sir Godfrey Baring.
§ Mr. KING
My point is easily stated, and I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir Godfrey Baring) that I have no personal objection to his serving on this Committee, but my objection against the list—and it is one in which, I believe, a large number of Members will agree—is that no Member has been nominated to this Committee who has medical experience.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member cannot take exception in that way; he must deal with each Member separately.
§ Mr. Montague Barlow, Mr. Cochrane, Colonel Faber, Colonel Gretton, Mr. Hugh Law, Mr. Nield, and Mr. Pringle, also nominated members of the Select Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Caradoc Rees be a member of the Select Committee."
§ Mr. WATT
I have an Amendment on the Paper to substitute the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Merionethshire (Mr. Haydn Jones), but, unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Merionethshire refuses to act, and therefore, as my hon. Friend has indicated that he is prepared to do his duty manfully in that way, I do not move.
§ Mr. Shortt and Mr. Sutton also nominated members of the Select Committee.
§ Ordered, "That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records."
§ Ordered "That four be the quorum."