§ Mr. NIELD
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words, "in the opinion of this House, the classification of recruits for the Army by military medical boards, particularly of of men who have been previously examined upon attestation under the Derby scheme and rejected as unfit, has been productive of great and unnecessary hardship as well as expense by reason of the large number of such men, while undergoing training, being found unable to perform the military work required of them in the class to which they have been assigned, whereby they have had to be sent for hospital treatment and have occupied accommodation and medical attendance urgently required for returned wounded men; and this House is of opinion that an inquiry is urgently needed to alter and standardise these medical examinations and 2238 to ascertain the extent to which hospital accommodation and expense has been expended which with proper care might have been avoided."
I am very sorry to be obliged to switch off the general discussion of the Estimates, because I should have liked to have an opportunity of bringing forward several points in relation to the broad questions with which we have dealt tonight. But I should like to say this, in connection with the Volunteer Force, which is now on a county basis, that it would be well if the hon. Gentleman can see his way to utilise the services of the deputy-lieutenants of the country, who, I am sure, are quite ready to justify their appointment to a military or semi-military position by having some duties put upon them which they may discharge. At present apparently they are created with no objects, so far as duties are concerned. That is an anomaly, because unless a deputy-lieutenant pushes for work nobody seeks to get him to do any, and there is no reason why he should be permitted to wear the somewhat gaudy khaki uniform without having some definite work to do.
The object with which I rise is to avail myself of what for the first time has come to my lot, the chance of the ballot upon going into Supply. Nothing but the sense of duty which I feel on this question of medical board examination would have caused me to avail myself of the chance-on this occasion to bring before the notice of this House the great waste which has occurred. The Financial Secretary this afternoon dealt with the savings which had been effected, and many speakers who followed him emphasised how gratified they were to learn of those savings. Here is a point on which great waste is taking places—great waste in hospitals, because men who have never seen a day's actual service and many of whom have only seen a very few weeks' training in this country, have been relegated to hospitals, and have filled beds which are wanted urgently for wounded men out at the front. But apart from that, there is the waste of man-power by withdrawing men from civil occupations when they ought to be left in them, and, furthermore, there is the waste by taking them from their business, very often completely ruining them in their business, only to find out some weeks after it is broken up that they are no good for any mliitary service whatever. I am bound to point this out, because I listened just now with some trepidation to the 2239 statement that a pledge given by one Under-Secretary of State was no longer I to be performed because of pressure, j although in this House when pledges are I given as a rule it is expected, unless where they are released by consent, that they shall be binding for all time.
I think when the Bill was introduced and the Act was passed which contained the provision in Sub-section (1) of Section 2 of the Military Service Act, that exemption shall be granted on the ground of ill-health or infirmity. When we have the pledge of the late Prime Minister, in introducing the Bill, that that was obviously a ground of exemption, then it does seem remarkable that men, notwithstanding their claim to be exempt on the ground of ill-health and infirmity, are sent into the Army again and again, and told that the medical board must be the judge. I cannot accept that proposition. If men like to go before a tribunal and claim to put forward a medical ground within the four corners of the Act, claiming to have the benefit of that exemption, it is obviously not the duty of a military tribunal to shift the burden upon the medical boards sitting throughout the country. Now the question arises again as a question of honour with regard to pledges given in this House. It is urged over and over again that men who have attested under Lord Derby's scheme should have the same rights as and be in no worse position than men who have been brought into the net under the Military Service Act. What is the fact? Directly an attested man appears before a tribunal and claims to be exempted on the ground of ill-health or infirmity he is told that he has no right to that, that the attestation prevents him from raising the question of health.
I believe that I am right in saying that at the present moment there is pending before the High Court of Justice a case stated by the magistrate at the request of an applicant, an attested man. The stipendiary after mature consideration decided that rejection on the ground of ill-health by a duly constituted medical board or medical officers does not release the man from the effect of an attestation. However that may be, I do venture to think, having regard to the specific pledges given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick (Mr. Tennant) on the 12th of January last year, and the present Leader of the House, who spoke on the 2240 18th of January, 1916, that an attested man coming in under the scheme should be in no worse position than if he had been conscripted. All over the country we find that medical boards refuse to re-examine attested men, and in some oases, not a few from my own experience, have refused to re-examine conscripts under the Military Service Act, who have been sent to these tribunals for that purpose. The hon. Gentleman has no idea of the difficulty of dealing with these cases, in the face of classification by medical boards, of recruits as they come up before the tribunal. It is a far bigger question than anybody not actually engaged in this work can possibly conceive, and does cast upon men who are endeavouring to perform their duty a very great burden in determining whether or not the medical classification can be relied on.
What are the requirements of the War Office in regard to the work expected from the various types of classified men? They must be free from organic disease, they must be able to stand service abroad, on lines of communication in France, or in garrison or in the tropics, and, in addition to that, if they are classed as B 1, they must be able to march at least five miles, to shoot without glasses and to hear well. That is required of men who are classified in B 1. This is the next degree to general service men. The same requirments apply to men who are passed for C 1, except that garrison duty at home is substituted for foreign service. Then in B 2 and again in C 2 a man must be able to walk to and from his work, a distance not exceeding five miles, and to see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes. And then in B3 and C 3 men shall be required only suitable for sedentary work. Those are classifications which one knows in practice and not adhered to. Once a man is in the Army one knows that, over and over again, men passed for B1 and C 1 are, under the powers possessed by the War Office, transferred into classifications of a superior character, and it does happen, over and over again, that a B 1 man goes into general service, and no distinction is made between him and the man who is passed fit for all service. I have, of course, in preparation for this Motion, collected evidence in support of it. That evidence must necessarily be of a detailed character, and I had hoped to see the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that he was quite willing to meet me, on the subject; 2241 but unfortunately owing to our engagements we were not able to make it convenient to meet together.
I take tuberculous men as an illustration. Nothing is more alarming than the answer given the other day by the Controller of the Household, the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Sir E. Cornwall) to a question, I think by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). He said that under special arrangements made by the various Insurance Commissions and with the Admiralty and the War Office, beds have been provided for nearly 5,000 discharged soldiers and sailors suffering from tuberculosis. Why should they be suffering from tuberculosis? Why were not they properly examined in the first instance to ascertain whether or not they were subject to tuberculosis? A further part of that answer was this, that, in addition, insurance committees have provided beds under ordinary arrangements for a considerable number of discharged men, but that he had no information as to the exact number. Then the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) made this statement, by way of supplemental question, that the waiting list of civilians had been very largely increased by the admission of these military and naval men. Why are they there? I turn to the military Regulations and find that if the Army instructions were properly observed we would not have had these men admitted because Army Council Instruction 471 directs a medical board to reject any man who has at any time been under treatment for tuberculosis, and Regulation 908 provides that a man who has been discharged on account of lung trouble is not again to be taken. And then there was this statement, that the Local Government Board, at the request of the War Office, asked the various counties to permit their tuberculosis officer to be called in to examine the cases. It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the very moment a suggestion is made of private practitioner certificates being produced by an applicant for exemption to show that he has been suffering from tuberculosis at any time in his life they make it a rule that that man, notwithstanding his classification and notwithstanding any evidence to the contrary, shall forthwith be sent to the county tuberculosis officer for a further examination. The hon. Gentleman will be surprised when I give the figures to find in how many cases the officer has reported the 2242 presence of tuberculosis in the case of men, some of whom have been classified for general service. I submit that that shows a lax administration.
Before I go into the figures further I should like to call attention to the great hardships that have been inflicted upon the men themselves. It is astonishing the number of cases in which men have been rejected twice and three times—I have got a case of even five times—under the tribunal scheme, as being wholly unfit for any service at all in the Army, and who, in some instances, have entered into business or bought businesses, or have entered into partnership, and have married and have incurred obligations. In one case the individual bought and furnished a house at a cost of something like a couple of thousand pounds. He was one of the better class of recruits, so far as money goes, yet that man was afterwards turned down for examination, and was declared by the medical board to be fit for B 1. There can be nothing more unfair than to compel a man in such circumstances to be dealt with in that way, and I think the instances which I have given show the great laxity of the medical authorities under the tribunals scheme. These men to whom I refer have had their lives wrecked and their savings dissipated, and yet they have been finally sent out of the Service because they were wholly unable to stand the strain. But they have no pension. I should like to give the House some information which I have gathered in the course of my experience in connection with tribunals. I agree that it is limited, but it is derived from many notes that I took, with as full details as possible, and it indicates the extraordinary nature of the medical examination. I have before me a list of men who have been passed in certain categories, and that in a way which no possible system can justify. There are cases in which a man has been passed for general service, and he has been examined six months afterwards and rejected. Then the military insisted on another examination, and the medical board put him back into C1. What could possibly justify action of that sort in so short an interval?
It is quite an ordinary thing for a man on re-examination to be passed from general service to B 1. That is a very serious curtailment, so far as his value as a soldier is concerned. Only last week, on one day, three re-examinations were reported, and in each case they fell from the top of the list—the general service—
2243 to the bottom of the list. These cases show the necessity of some radical re-organisation. I would like the hon. Gentleman to consider whether it is not desirable, even now, to appoint a Committee at once to inquire into the allegations made against the medical board. I have also evidence from hospitals in London and outside districts, and from large towns in the provinces, and I venture to say that if all the evidence were examined it would be found that there are many cases of men who have been reported as fit for active service outside this country, but who have really occupied beds for weeks. Here is one case: that of a man examined originally and rejected. He was sent up again for examination to a different medical board and was rejected. He was once again examined after these two rejections, and, in the third examination, he was passed for B 1. After a four months' interval the man came up from B 1 to B 3, a fact which in itself was enough to get him clear at once. In another two or three months afterwards another medical board sent him to C 1, the conditions of which involve a great strain on a man; there is nominal garrison duty, but the duties put a strain on the man. I do not want to detain the House, with these statistics, which I am ready to place at the disposal of the hon. Gentleman.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted; and forty Members being found present—
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. NIELD
I was endeavouring to give particulars of the various cases contained in the list which I have in my hand. The Count has enabled me to recollect that I passed away too quickly from the statistics. I have here a number of cases of which I think the hon. Gentleman would like to hear. They are cases of a number of men who have been passed either for A or B 1 upon re-examination by the officers specially qualified to deal with these questions. They were found to be tubercular, and they are discharged from the Army. It is not necessary for me to point out that tuberculosis is a very contagious disease, and it would be very mischievous to allow such men to be received into the Army or to be retained in its ranks. Of the limited number of cases that I am able to give to the House, there are two in which the men were sent to general service and were then reduced to another 2244 class. There have been 5 cases of rejection or reduction from A to B 1; there has been 1 case in which an A man sent to general service has been reduced to B 2; 3 cases of general service reduced to B 3; 8 cases where A men were reduced to B 1; and an A case reduced to C 2; 2 cases of general service reduced to C3; 1 from B 1 to B 2; 4 from B X to B 3; 6 from B 1 to C 1; 8 from B 1 to C 3; and 3 passed to B 1 rejected in toto. Then if you come to the C Class, there are 1 reduced from 0 1 to C 2; 2 from C 1 to C 3; 2 from C 1 to rejection; 2 from C 1 to B 3; 2 from 2 rejected; 1 from C3 to B1— this is an extraordinary reversal; 1 from C 3 to rejected absolutely; 1 from C 3 to C 1; 2 from rejection to general service; and 1 from rejection to B 1. Those are the summarised cases in which I have been able to make investigations, and the particulars of which I give to the House. Let us see the type of men who have been so dealt with. In one instance, a man was said to be suffering from locomotor ataxy, who had been passed for B 1. He assured the tribunal that his head went involuntarily right round. I could not understand how his head could go right round, but he assured the tribunals that he had to put up his two hands to put it in a right position. Yet that man was passed into B 1 for strenuous work. After a further examination by the tribunal he was finally rejected. The cases of weak heart are legion. There are weak hearts and weak hearts and the difficulty is whether the heart is so-affected as to justify exemption from anything like hard physical work. Here again I should like to mention how unsatisfactory the conditions are. In the county of London, if a man's heart is called in issue, he has the opportunity of going to the Westmoreland Road Heart Hospital, the highest and best qualified place to obtain a judgment; but that man happened to live on the other side of the Edgware Road, which is in the county of Middlesex, the Westmoreland Road Hospital would have nothing to do with him. There are many cases of civilians with weak hearts who have been passed by the medical authorities for military service from time to time, and these cases have been sent for medical re-examination. Here is the case of a man who had undergone many examinations. He was rejected under the Derby scheme, but was passed by the medical 2245 board for general service. He was sent to a special medical board, and finally was passed by the Court of Appeal for general service. Not being satisfied, he was examined again at the instance of the tribunal, and was eventually rejected. There is the case of a man who who been discharged as unfit from the Royal Navy. He produced his naval discharge, but the War Office authorities insisted that he should be examined again. He had organic heart disease. He was passed for B 1, and expected to undertake the strenuous work which attaches to that class. How could he be fit to do that when he was not fit for the Navy? I have many other cases. A case of double rupture, a very sad case. Yet invariably these cases are passed.
There is one complaint which inflicts agony on the poor creatures who suffer from it, yet that agony might very easily be relieved by proper diet. These are cases of ulceration of the stomach, and if a man partakes of improperly prepared food it causes him untold agony. The House will be familiar with one case, of which I have the particulars here. It is the case of R. F. Dyer, a man thirty-eight years of age. I am obliged to give the details in order that the House may understand the enormity of the hardship put upon these men. Dyer was a butcher by trade—an assistant in the Central Meat Market. His work there was very onerous, but his master put him on light employment. He suffered from gastric ulcer. He attested under Lord Derby's scheme, and was placed in Group 32. He was called up in July, 1916, but his master appealed on business grounds, and got him three months' exemption, which expired in October. He was again examined, and, in spite of the fact that he produced a certificate showing that he had been suffering from this disease for years, the medical board at Mill Hill passed him for general service, although he told them he had been confined to bed for as long as three months at a time because of the gastric ulcers, from which he suffered for years, and as a result of which he had been invalided out of the police force. He joined up on the 9th October, 1916. He performed but one day's service and then went into Mansfield Hospital, suffering from vomiting and pains in the stomach. After two weeks in that hospital he was sent to Staffordshire, and thence to Broughty Ferry, in Scotland. There he was taken ill again 2246 On Friday, November 3rd, the doctor told him it was not correct he was suffering from gastric ulcer. His complaint, he said, was dyspepsia, and the private practitioner's certificate was all wrong. Nevertheless the man had to be removed to hospital on a stretcher on that day, and he died four days later. The death certificate stated that the cause was hæmorrhage due to gastric ulcer. That case is but an illustration of many others which I could give, although I am withholding them at the request of the men.
I have, however, a number of other cases of the gravest character. Listen to this: A man attested in February, 1916, and was passed for general service. He had been suffering from gastric ulcer. He was a man of moderate means, and had been in a nursing home. He was engaged in the wholesale fruit and vegetable markets in London. He appealed to the local tribunal on the ground of health, and was given three months' exemption. He was then sent by the Advisory Committee to a medical board, and was passed A 1. He next went into Charing Cross Hospital for examination, and obtained a certificate from a perfectly independent doctor to the effect that he was of little military value. On the strength of that he was given one month's exemption. He appealed again, meantime going before a medical board, which, however, refused to examine him. Again he became an inmate of Charing Cross Hospital, again he appealed, and the appeal was dismissed, the chairman stating that it was a case for the military authorities to decide. I submit that that was a wrong attitude to take up, because the man had a vested right under the statute to have his case determined by the tribunal set up by the statute. Just before the end of last year the man again became an inmate of Charing Cross Hospital. I want the hon. Gentleman to give special attention to this case. This man's appeals on the ground of ill-health were fortified by the evidence of independent doctors—semi-military doctors—at Charing Cross Hospital, and yet they were refused. On 21st December the man had notice to attend at the town hall of his district. He was then suffering from rheumatism, and his mother attended for him in consequence, and explained why he could not do so. The following day, and this shows ho was not a shirker, he went to the town hall in a taxi, and he got an extension of time until the 10th January. A 2247 doctor's certificate secured him a further week's extension, and that was enlarged by the military doctor's certificate till later in the month. On the 22nd he was taken to the regimental depôt for the district in a taxi-cab, and was passed for general service. The next day he was sent from "Waterloo to Winchester, and he was so bad when he arrived at the latter town that it took him seventeen minutes to crawl from the station to the barracks —a very short distance. The following day he reported sick. He was given medicine and let off his drill. On the 25th he was sick again and remained in bed all day. On the 26th he left Winchester, and, being physically unable to march, a corporal was told off to carry his kit for him to the station. He arrived at Vauxhall, and rode in an escort wagon to Victoria, and then left for his present destination. He was obliged to ride from the station to the camp in a baggage wagon. By instruction from his lieutenant he reported sick on the following Monday. He was given twenty-four hours off duty. Again, on the following day, he was suffering from violent vomiting at intervals, and had to be let off his military duty. On the 30th he reported sick again. He was examined in hospital, and was recommended for C 2, after examination by a travelling medical board. On the 31st he reported sick again. He was later on admitted to hospital but was detained only one and a half hours. On 4th February he reported sick again, and, as there were no vacant beds in the hospital, he was given some medicine and sent away. For three days he was put on light duty, but part of that light duty was the scrubbing of floors, and work in the cookhouse which he was utterly unable to do. On the 9th January he reported sick again, but, although he was given medicine, he was told to do full duty. He replied that that was impossible, and had three more days of light duty. Again he was sent to the cookhouse, but could not do the work there. He was ordered to carry something up a hill, but broke down after travelling only a hundred yards. He had to report sick again, and since then he has been in hospital.
I feel it my duty to call attention to these cases, although I have some doubt whether I ought to detain the House for the length of time necessary for the purpose. But here is the case of a man thirty-eight and a half years of age, also 2248 suffering from gastric ulcer. He was treated by three doctors, each of whom prescribed a special diet as absolutely necessary to relieve him. He attested in December, 1915, and was rejected. He was re-examined in September, 1916, and passed for C 1. He was called up in November, 1916. On the first night he was compelled to sleep on the bare floor of the drill hall, with only two blankets. The second night he was required to sleep in an empty house without any fire and with the windows open according to Regulations although the weather was most inclement. He continued so for nine nights, and was then provided with a bag of straw to sleep on. A deputation to the captain procured greatcoats. He was ill and weak, and had to go before the medical officer, was put on light duty, and told to await a travelling medical board. He was unable to eat the food supplied, and so had to supply himself out of his own purse. I will take another case, of a man from Norwich, taken into the Army on 8th September, after rejection by three doctors, and passed B 2. He had been an invalid for several years, and the authorities were informed of that, but insisted on taking him. He went into hospital on the third day after arriving in camp, was twice before a travelling medical board, was rejected by both, and placed in Class W Reserve. He tried to get a transfer, but failed, and he was kept from October until the end of January. In the interval a letter was written by the military doctor attached to the battalion to the father, saying that the son was developing an abscess on the brain, and that unless he could consult a specialist and undergo an operation at once he would certainly die. Notwithstanding that, the authorities kept him in that camp from October to January, passing him from hospital to hospital, till he was finally sent home so weak that he had to be treated as a dying man, and he now lies at his father's home in Norwich a hopeless wreck, which could have been prevented altogether by not calling a B 2 man up.
Here is another case. A man of thirty-six, married, with one child, district agent of an accident insurance company in the Midlands, and therefore a man with a reasonably comfortable position. Attested under the Derby scheme, went before the Oxford Medical Board in August; 1916, told the doctor he suffered from chronic sickness and lived oh a slop 2249 diet, and was subject to sudden fits of sickness. He had had this diet for seventeen years, had had double pneumonia and meningitis in 1904, and pneumonia in the left lung in 1911. Notwithstanding this, he was passed for general service. His illness followed almost immediately. At the tribunal a certificate was produced from three doctors saying he was totally unfit for military service, but his application of unfitness for military service was refused. The appeal tribunal sent him to a special medical board, the result of which has apparently not been made known. I have looked at his own statement and find that he could not travel without being liable to violent fits of vomiting. His own account of it is: "I have suffered more or less for seventeen years, and I could cite dozens of instances where I have had to leave off in the middle of a conversation in order to vomit. People I have travelled with said it was scandalous to have passed me. The day I went to the medical board at Oxford for examination I had just got into the train, and before I was seated I had to jump up and was sick. I told the doctor of it, but he smiled and said I should probably have these troubles again, but my business was not of national importance, and they should pass me." That is not the test. The test is whether or not he was suffering from an infirmity. He was passed for general service and has been ill substantially ever since. I will give the names and particulars to my hon. Friend opposite if he desires to have them, but it is obviously most undesirable that I should mention them in the House to be made public property.
Here is another case: R. C. T., married, with two children, rejection card torn up by the military board in January, 1916. He was made to attest. He was rejected on examination by the military doctor at that time, but was sent subsequently to a medical board and was totally rejected for any form of military service. Notwithstanding that, the military required him to be re-examined, when he was passed for general service and told to report in three months. He had been an in-patient of a hospital seven times in the last four years, suffering from gastric ulcers and abdominal disease, and he had had two operations in fifteen months. He was discharged from his employment because of his illness after eleven years' service, and he recently obtained employment in the Small Arms Factory at Enfield. Notwith- 2250 standing that, they insisted upon taking him. He had lived almost exclusively on a milk diet and had been subject right up to recent days to violent attacks of vomiting, and yet that man was certified for general service and taken by the military authorities and expected to do work which he could not possibly do. He therefore became a burden to the State and occupied hospital accommodation. Here is the case of a Sheffield man who suffered from gastric ulcers for twelve years and had to live on special diet, not even being able to drink tea. He was examined by a medical board in April, 1916, and passed for general service, re-examined seven months afterwards, in November, and again passed for general service, and his appeal was dismissed. He says that no doctor stripped him on the second occasion, nor examined him for the gastric ulcers, and the doctors refused to look at the certificates, though they were extremely important evidence of the man's condition.
I have here a case from Bournemouth of a man who joined up in August, 1916, forty-one years old. He had suffered for years from vomiting blood, and was operated on in November, 1915, but got no better, had to be fed on soups, milk, and other slop food, was very susceptible to cold, when he got extensive hemorrhage. The medical examination was very brief, and all they told him to do was to hop on one leg. That is very much like another case which I have met. I assure the hon. Gentleman it is my experience that men have complained to the medical board that they suffered from varicocele, and the doctors have declined to look at the legs, but at once put the stethoscope to the heart. I suppose there may be some connection between varicocele and the heart. I do not know; but it was done in more than one case. The medical men, seeing that he had a scar on the abdomen, asked him the cause, and he told them he had had an operation for this very gastric trouble, and they refused to listen to him and passed him C 1. He was called up. While he was in the neighbourhood he was able to get proper food. That is one of the things which I suggest to the Under-Secretary ought to have attention. These men who are suffering from gastric troubles, which inflicts such agony upon them, if they are obliged to have the ordinary food of a soldier, should only be put into districts where they are billeted; or, alternatively, let them be kept by them- 2251 selves where they can be properly and suitably fed. A man who is so suffering, if he is fed suitably, may still be able to do his work, and will be able to get through an amount of real physical hard work. Once you take away the special milk diet and try to make him take the ordinary food provided by the Army for the men in the Army, then his life is no longer tolerable; he cannot possibly do his work, and hemorrhage sets in, as in the case of this man Dyer.
I should like quickly to pass over the rest of these cases. There is another case here of a man who has been put into C 3. The medical board put him in C 1. When his commanding officer saw him he at once rejected him from that class, and put him into C 3. The medical board came along, re-examined him, and put him back into C 1. The commanding officer again put him back into C 3, so that there was a kind of see-saw going on in relation to the man. I could show the lion. Gentleman opposite details relating to this ease which show-how absolutely wrong it was to retain a man like this. One night he was suffering from a high temperature and fever. He had not been able to get proper medicine. Finally, after lying the night in agony, he applied to the doctor for relief, and, with several other men, was given three pills to take. I have other cases here of men where, even their employers, taking pity upon their position, have supplied them with necessary funds, or the necessary food, rather than they should take the ordinary Army food. There are a great many of these. I pass them by lest I should take more time than I should. I should like, however, to read one or two passages from a West of England case. It shows the way in which the Act has been used. I will give the case that is designated B. This man has lost one eye, and has been certified as of a debilitated constitution. He is a groom, and his ordinary avocation was looking after his mistress's carriage, and riding his master's second horse at hunting, or looking after his horse when was out in the Yeomanry. When the Yeomanry was mobilised he volunteered to join up so that he might go with his master. He was rejected by the regimental doctor. When volunteers for foreign service was asked for and his master volunteered, the man again volunteered in order to go with him. He was again rejected by the regimental doctor. When Lord Derby's scheme came in, he 2252 attested, and was again rejected by the local doctor, who was doing Government work. He was thus rejected three times. When the single men were called up he was again examined and rejected for the fourth time by another local doctor who was doing regimental work. On the strength of these four medical rejections, his master, who had returned from Gallipoli, applied for his exemption to be made absolute, and arranged his establishment accordingly. The man married, and was engaged by his master, his duty now being to drive his mistress and children. The local military representative seeing him, and thinking that he was a good driver, set himself to get hold of him. He first offered a substitute, who on inquiry turned out to be an unclean man, and a waster. He was, therefore, declined. The military representative ordered B to go to county headquarters for medical re-examination. The doctors returned him as Class A. Finally the military representative applied to the local tribunal for a rehearing of the case, and the tribunal ordered the man to join up, stating that as, inasmuch as he had been returned in Class A, they had no power to act otherwise. The man has since joined up.
One more case. This man—a gardener who attested under Lord Derby's scheme and was returned as Class B. He is stone deaf in one ear, and has a weak heart, due to a severe attack if neuritis which he had a few years since, the effects of which appear in the muscles or nerves of his arms. The medical examiners thought that he had had rheumatic fever. A letter enclosed from him shows that although he had been taken into the Army he had never done any substantial work, and that he was constantly a victim to attacks of rheumatism, and was absolutely unfitted to do any work of any description.
I have also a special report from a physician in the West of England detailing his experience of the men who were passed under his care, and he makes a very strong point of this, that men were sent into the Army who were suffering from cardiac disease, pulmonary tuberculosis, and complaints of a similar character, and also that when discharged to be treated for rheumatism, instead of being at once sent to Bath or some other spa for treatment, in various instances they are allowed to drift from hospital to hospital before arriving at Bath. In this way 2253 not only is their recovery delayed, but great and unnecessary expense is entailed by their transit to and fro. I have given these cases at great length, and I feel that I have no business to detain the House any longer. I should, however, not like to conclude without drawing attention to a subject which I think seems to me to require immediate action on the part of the Government. I refer to the careless way in which some of these medical examinations are conducted. I have here a statutory declaration made by a man who went up for re-examination by direction of the tribunal with which I am associated. He says that there was a man immediately in front of him in a bad condition of disease brought about by causes with which the House is now endeavouring to deal, and that he himself declined to be examined by the doctor. Fortunately it was not necessary for him to refuse, because the doctor refused to examine him, recognising him as having been examined before. But the doctor straight away proceeded to examine other men without any attempt to cleanse his hands or in any way to take proper steps to prevent infection. I mention that to show the carelessness of some medical men. I felt it my bounden duty to bring this matter before the House. I had an Amendment down on the subject previously, but T was unable to get to the House. I therefore decided to take my chance of moving this Amendment in Supply. I trust the result will be an inquiry by competent persons into the whole of these cases.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I beg to second the Amendment. Many of us who have taken an interest in this question are very grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ealing for using the fortune of the ballot to call attention to this matter. On the adjournment for the Recess last August I raised this question. The present Prime Minister, who was then Secretary for War, denied that there was such carelessenss as has been made evident by the cases which have been submitted to the House. On that occasion, like the hon. Member who has just spoken, I gave a number of specific cases. The present Prime Minister promised, if I would submit any case, that immediate attention should be given to it. I took up the challenge of the Secretary of State for War, and I submitted to him a fairly considerable number of cases. 2254 They were formally acknowledged by his private secretary, but only in one of those cases, after a lapse of time exceeding six months, have I had any further word of them. In associating myself with what the hon. and learned Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield) said, I do not want this to be regarded as in any way a personal attack on either of the two hon. Gentlemen who are sitting on the Front Bench opposite, for I am extremely grateful to both of them for the courtesy with which they have attended to any complaint which I have addressed to them. From no other Government Department have I received such prompt attention as from the two hon. Gentlemen. It is altogether unnecessary for me to cite additional cases to those which have been brought by the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down. If it were necessary I could keep the House here till eleven o'clock. I have in my possession scores of similar cases.
There is one matter to which the hon. Member referred more than once, and that is the position of the tribunals in regard to this question. The hon. and learned Member speaks with considerable experience of the working of the tribunals, being the chairman of one of the most important of the Appeal Tribunals. I think the tribunals are not altogether free from blame in regard to this matter, for, as I understand the Military Service Act, the tribunals have the power to give complete exemption to claimants on the grounds of physical incapacity, and I do not know that under the Bill they are compelled to accept the decision of any medical board. Their power seems to override the decision of any Army Medical Board, and I should have been glad if the tribunal had exercised their authority to a greater extent than, I am afraid, has actually been the case. The hon. and learned Member, as the chairman of a tribunal, is not alone in expressing his regret and indignation at the action of the medical boards. I read in a Newcastle paper only two or three days ago that the chairman of an appeal tribunal in county Durham had been expressing himself very strongly indeed about the action of these medical boards in sending unfit men into the Army. I promise not to inflict on the House a considerable number of these cases, but I do want to mention two or three. I was down in my Constituency last week-end, and I came across a number of serious cases of this character. One man came to 2255 see me. On his right hand he has no fingers. In the place of a thumb he has a small stump. The man was born like that, and yet the Army medical authorities passed that man for B 1, garrison duty abroad. In addition to this, the man suffers from rupture. He has been quite unable to handle a rifle or to take part in the, ordinary work of the Army. He joined the Army in October. In December he was examined by a travelling medical board. They, I understand, recommended his discharge. His discharge papers have not yet been supplied to him. He does not know where he is or what he is. He has never had a single penny of pay since January. His regiment will not recognise him. They feed him, that is all. They tell him he is not on the strength of the regiment. Could any scandal be greater than to pass into what is practically active service—B 1, garrison duty abroad—a man who is so totally incapacitated for work of that character as this man is?
Shall I give another case that was brought to my attention on Monday—the case of one of my Constituents? This was a young man who had been delicate from birth. He did not walk until he was two years and eight months old. Almost every year during his infancy and youth he had serious illnesses—pneumonia, pleurisy, and congestion of the lungs. He never kept at school. At the beginning of every winter he has broken down. He was called up for military service. At the beginning of October, as usual, his health broke down. In December his condition became serious indeed. After a few days in hospital he was sent on guard duty. He became seriously ill once more. He was sent to see the doctor. He had two miles to walk to the doctor. He had to wait two and a half hours for his examination. He was ordered at once to return to hospital. That was on Saturday, the 16th December. The following Tuesday the man was dead, and the military authorities offered the family a military funeral, which they indignantly refused. I have seen a letter from the matron of the hospital, and she states that his death was due to neglect. If he had come under her charge a month before, the probability is that he would have been alive to-day.
Just one further case, which was brought to my attention in my Constituency. This was a man who had been suffering from consumption. He had been discharged from the Army with a pension of 5s. a 2256 week, and 3s. for two children. The man was in a state of mental anguish. The week before his wife had died and he had to bury her in a pauper's grave. The man was heartbroken at this indignity and degradation. The next day the man was in hospital. I will give another case also from my Constituency. Amongst the cases I submitted to the present Prime Minister when Secretary of State for War at the beginning of October last was the case of a young man who had joined the Army last May. He was in the Army for forty days only; then he was discharged. He went home straight to bed, and for months he never left. The mother never received one penny of separation allowance. The young man never received one penny of pension. I waited some time for a reply after submitting this case, and received none. I wrote again, and then I received a reply to say the papers had been lost. I supplied particulars of the case once more. The case is still being investigated. The last communication I received was dated the 17th of January. I have repeatedly threatened the War Office to raise this question in this House, and I have hoped against hope that some decision might be arrived at. In reply to my letter of the 17th of January I was definitely promised that the case would be settled immediately. I could go on citing case after case of this sort, but there is no need. That this sort of thing is going on is well within the knowledge of every him. Member of this House, and in fact it is a scandal that is outraging the whole country. Two or three of the cases I have put before the House have caused the greatest indignation amongst the neighbours of the men who are directly concerned. When I spoke in August last upon this matter I said that I believed there was only one way in which this matter could be effectively dealt with, and that was to deal severely with the medical examiners who are found to be careless in the discharge of their duties. I may add with regard to the case which I have mentioned that the man has died; that I was told that the medical officer who examined that man was drunk at the time the examination took place. It is incredible and difficult to imagine how any man with medical experience and qualifications could act in this way.
I wish to call attention to the practice of calling up men who have previously 2257 during the period of this War been rejected on medical grounds. The War Office has a practice of this sort. They fill up the discharge certificate and reject men who are not likely to become efficient soldiers. That may mean anything. It may mean that a man is mentally deficient or that his character is bad. Now the War Office are refusing to recognise that those men were discharged, I brought one very serious case to the attention of Lord Derby when he was Under-Secretary for War. It was the case of a man who had been discharged, and his discharge was worded in the manner I have mentioned. The War Office, however, refused to recognise that as a case of discharge on medical grounds and as being exempt under the provisions of the Military Service Act. I really do not know why the War Office are doing that or why they appear to be so anxious to take men into the Army who can be no more than an expense to the country and certainly of no military value. The only explanation is that the War Office is obsessed by the idea of getting a paper Army, and they think if they put these men on the strength that some useful purpose will be served. I am convinced, from the number of cases that have been brought to my own personal knowledge, that there must be at least a couple of hundred thousand, probably more, of men in the Army who are physically quite unfit for any military duty and who would be rendering far more useful and necessary service in this time of national crisis if they were permitted to go back to their occupation. I hope that this Debate will be productive of greater fruit than a similar Debate which took place six months ago. I hope the Under-Secretary for War will regard this question seriously and be able to give some satisfaction to my hon. Friend who raised this matter.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The hon. and learned Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield) said he was fortunate in having been successful in the ballot. I think the House will agree that hon. Members have been fortunate, because the hon. Member has stated his case very fairly and concisely in regard to the instances which he has brought forward. I listened with a good deal of interest to the statement which the hon. and learned Member placed before the House, and it is not unlikely that it may be true that those instances may have occurred, as well as such cases as those which the hon. Member for Black- 2258 burn (Mr. Snowden) has given to-night. One has got to remember that the Army we have at the present moment is a very large one indeed, recruited from all classes of the community. I think I am right in stating that up to the present we have examined 1,500,000 of these men in a comparatively short time. Of course, as I have said, it would be exceedingly surprising if out of such a very large number of cases some mistakes had not been made. I am perfectly certain that a first-class consultant after his life's work could not look back and say that his diagnoses and prognoses had been absolutely accurate in 100 per cent, of his cases. He might say that he had partial or complete failures to the extent of only 1 per cent. If you work that out, as I have done, you will find that 1 per cent, would come to 15,000 cases out of 1,500,000. I think it may be safely said that they have not made mistakes greater than that number; in fact, I might go so far as to say that they have probably made a less number of mistakes. Of course, to get out accurate statistics would cost an enormous amount of time and expense, but I am sure it would be found not only that the mistakes have been small in number, but that the Recruiting Medical Boards on the whole have done extraordinarily well. The suggestion which pervaded the speeches of my two hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield) and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), was that the military doctors were responsible, but they should not credit the mistakes to the Royal Army medical doctors at all. As a matter of fact, the boards in the main, as they must know, are composed of civilian practitioners belonging to the Territorial Force and the Special Reserve. If you take, as I have taken, sixty-three medical boards, you will find that the proportion of civilian to military doctors is as two to one, and the proportion would work out at a very much higher rate if it were not necessary to have a medical man of military experience as president of the board. I must, therefore, deny that the Royal Army Medical Corps doctors are responsible.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
No, but there was that suggestion underlying the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle).
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-West Lanark stated that these doctors were receiving secret instructions from the War Office. If he will forgive me for saying so, that is a rather monstrous charge to make. They are professional men, and in a great many cases they are men of very high professional and social reputation. I cannot imagine doctors of that character and of that status accepting secret instructions of any sort. I have a greater faith in the British medical practitioner than my hon. and learned Friend has. We have at the head of these boards a very distinguished practitioner, Colonel James Galloway. He is a very distinguished civilian physician, an M.D., an F.R.C.P., an F.R.C.S., senior physician at Charing Cross Hospital, consulting physician to the Metropolitan Asylums Board, and an examiner of the Medical University of London. He is the man who is responsible for the conduct of the boards, and his qualifications, as the House will appreciate, are very high. He occupies a very high position, and to suggest that he is in any way responsible for secret instructions to any of these boards is stretching common sense.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My point is that the percentage is exceedingly small. I have already told my hon. and learned Friend that a first-class consultant, after his life's work, would find probably that he had made 1 per cent, of mistakes, and I calculate that these boards have not made more than that percentage of errors.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Would a Harley Street physician be able to diagnose the case of a man without fingers.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should think so. I am only trying to assert general principles, but of course it is easy for an hon. Member to bring forward specific cases and to try and tie me down to them. It is a well-known debating point, but I am dealing with general principles, and I am entitled to assert that those general principles are well known to exist. The point was also made that the re-examination of attested men was very unsatisfactory. There, again, when you are dealing with a specific case it is almost impossible to 2260 answer. In recent statistics I find in the time covered by the opening period of this year that in a total of 2,000 men only thirteen broke down in training. The fact that only thirteen out of 2,000 men in a certain category break down in training is certainly not a high percentage when you consider the different classes from which the men are drawn and the training that is undergone. I do not know that I can usefully add anything more, but I will engage to make all inquiries in the cases that have been submitted to me by my hon. Friends and to give them, any answer which it is at all possible to give. I cannot now put the matter further than that.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
To-morrow morning, or as soon as possible, I will bring the cases mentioned before the proper authority. I cannot engage to do anymore.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has drawn attention very truly to the fact that an enormous Army has been built up in a very short time, and under those conditions there is bound to be, and will be, a good deal of individual hardship, and sometimes wrong things done to individuals. I think all Members of the House—and I am quite sure the hon. Gentlemen who represent the War Office will be included—will at any rate wish that the number of hard cases should be reduced to the lowest possible dimensions, and that the War Office should not be a sort of vast machine, a sort of inhuman steam roller that goes rolling blindly over everybody, paying no attention to individual hardships or grievances. Therefore I think it is an excellent thing that the hon. Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield) and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) should bring cases before the House such as have been discussed to-night, because, apart from that, there would be no question at all of the voice of the individual who was wronged or injured being heard in the House, or of his case being brought to the attention of members of the department. I wish to say also, as one who has brought many cases to the knowledge both of the Under-Secretary and of the Financial Secretary, that in each case the utmost 2261 prompt attention is given when it is specifically brought before them. But there is no doubt at all that in many cases, although those hon. Members act in that way, it would seem that some of their underlings in the localities do not seem to mind at all however much hardship or grievance they inflict.
There is one small matter I wish to mention, although the War Office are not really the guilty party, but indirectly involved. I think it is a very mean thing, and I think it is a matter about which the War Office should make some inquiries, because it affects arrangements between the War Office and another Government Department. Here is a letter I have received from two wives of soldiers now serving with the Colours, who are post office officials, and this is what they say:Being wives of post office officials who are serving with the Colours, we wish to draw your attention to the stingy action of the responsible post office officials, who have deckled to deduct from the small allowance allotted to us by the Post Office, an amount equivalent to the recent increase granted by the War Office to us for our children, thus taking away all the benefits granted by the War Office to meet the ever increasing cost of living.I think that is a very mean thing, and that the Government Department that does that is showing a very bad example to private employers, who when they know that a Government Department acts in that way will be ready enough to follow, and where any increase is granted by the War Office will see that it is deducted, so that the people are really no better off than before. Although some recent concessions were made in regard to separation allowances in respect of children there is still a good deal more that could be done by the War Office in that matter, because it is an undoubted fact, according to official figures, that the cost of living of the working classes has gone up from 60 per cent, to 65 per cent, higher than it was before the War. It always seems to me that we are far more generous to those who invest their money in the War than to those who invest their lives in the War. The rate of remuneration for money has risen very considerably indeed, while in a great many cases there are broken lives that are treated shabbily from the standpoint of the nation. I think it is the business of the House to see that that sort of thing is reduced to the lowest possible dimensions.
I desire also to draw attention to the treatment of some soldiers who because of their service abroad have become mentally deranged either temporarily or per- 2262 manently. Some of those mentally deranged soldiers are being treated as pauper lunatics, and they are not only being put into asylums, but they are becoming chargeable to the guardians and to the parish, with the result that in not a few eases the money that ought to go to them is being taken for their keep, while their families are being left in very poor and miserable circumstances. I was very glad to see a protest made the other day by the Lancashire Asylums Board against that sort of thing I would impress upon the hon. Gentlemen who represent the War Office in this House that there is a feeling in the country that the soldiers whose minds have been unsettled by the experiences through which they have passed should not be treated or regarded as pauper lunatics. Unless this matter is put right there will be a growing feeling of indignation in regard to it which the War Office will find very hard to face.
Another question I wish to raise is with regard to the relationship between the military and some of the tribunals. In a great many cases recently the tribunals have been complaining of the military representatives, acting under instructions I have no doubt, who have paid very scant regard to the decisions of the tribunals. Some of the tribunals have actually gone on strike, and refused to go on with their work until they come to some better understanding, so far as the War Office is concerned. In a great many cases the military representatives or the local recruiting officers in their treatment of an individual who is brought before them seem to assume that the man does not know his legal rights, and they act very often on that assumption. It is only if someone is able to give advice, or to have the case ventilated, that something is done to put the matter right. We have discussed to-night the question of the unfit. I will not revert to that, except to say that there is the utmost uncertainty among men who have been rejected as totally unfit for any form of military service as to their position. The War Office never seems to be able to give them a definite statement one way or the other. It is cruel to keep men from month to month entirely uncertain as to what is going to happen to them. The mind of the War Office ought to be made up. I am going to read a letter which is typical of a good many letters, and certainly is typical of the circumstances in which many men are 2263 placed. This letter is from the manager of a shop, and was written on 20th February. He says:If you could give me advice I should foe very grateful. On 31st May, 1916, I was examined at Worcester and classified as totally unfit for any category of military service. I was given a certificate to that effect. I also showed them a certificate from my own doctor, and that settled the matter. I thought I was done with. Later on I saw by the papers that the Army authorities were sending out pink forms to men who had been rejected, and it was stated that every rejected man would receive one by September or otherwise be considered as finished with. I did not receive one of those pink forms by September or any other date. A week or so ago I received a notice from the Army to present myself for re-examination according to instructions from the War Office. I wrote and said that as I had not received the pink form I considered they could not compel me to be re-examined, being classed as totally unfit. In the meantime I saw two solicitors on the matter. One said they could compel me to go, the other said they could not. In a few days I received a letter from the officer in charge of the recruiting office, Stourbridge, informing me that I was compelled to go as I was an attested man, otherwise if I had not attested they could not compel me and I should he out of their hands. On receipt of this, and bearing in mind how the two lawyers gave two entirely different opinions, I decided there was nothing else to do but go and be re-examined. I went. I am suffering from exactly the same complaint as I was rejected for in May. I told the doctor what was the matter and offered to show him my own doctor's certificate. His only reply was, 'No, there does not seem anything wrong with you now.' He just examined my heart, looked at my hands, said that will do, and it was all over. I was told I would get my papers in a week or so, and I had to come away at that.That is happening to a good many people at the present time. It is not much good asking for pledges, because pledges are made by the War Office only to be broken. We have had any number of broken pledges—pledges in regard to this class and that, pledges in regard to lads of eighteen, pledges in regard to men of forty-one, pledges in regard to the unfit and to all sorts of people, and almost without exception those pledges have been broken. Cannot the hon. Gentleman at least tell us where the people stand in regard to this matter? Does the War Office know? Has it made up its mind? A very definite understanding has been given to the House, but that understanding is being overriden rough-shod every day so far as the local recruiting offices are concerned. I know that it is so, and it is time that something very definite were done m regard to it.
Early in the Debate a question was raised as to the waste in connection with some of the camps. I cannot speak with any authority in regard to that, but it is true that allegations are constantly being made and repeated, and those allegations ought to have been inquired into by the War Office. I sometimes see Salisbury 2264 Plain mentioned in this connection. Complaints were recently brought before the Wiltshire War Agricultural Committee. One farmer on the Committee said that the waste of bread was deplorable. He said that it could be bought in any quantity if one saw the right sergeant, that half-legs of mutton and half-sirloins of beef had been found amongst the camp refuse, and that some farmers were buying it for their pigs. These charges ought to be investigated. If they are not true, men ought to be prevented from making these statements in public places. As to the scheme of substitution which is being carried out by the War Office, it is being pushed to great length, and is not adding to the economic strength of the country. It is largely a question of fitting round pegs into square holes. There is a great loss of efficiency. An Army cannot in itself be strong unless there is economic power behind the Army. That economic strength is being weakened as you take men in increasing volume away from the land and from essential industries. The President of the Board of Agriculture has stated clearly, frankly, and truly that it is no good taking a skilled agricultural labourer away, and putting in his place some man who has never been used to the land before, and who knows nothing about it. A great many individual hardships, needless hardships, are being inflicted in connection with this scheme. I should like to read a letter which I received the other day from Bargoed, in Wales. This is the case of a married man who has five children, a wife, and a mother to maintain. He was forced to leave his employment early in February owing to the local tribunal sending a substitute, a single man to replace him. He is, therefore, out of employment entirely until such time as his appeal will be heard. An appeal has already been sent in. At the previous appeal, which his employer made on his behalf, no definite decision was given, except that a substitute was to be found in six months. In the meantime, the man is pushed out of employment altogether. He is not eligible to join the Army, he is no longer getting any payment from the employment, and he is left stranded. I think that is an exceedingly unsatisfactory state of affairs. How far the War Office is prepared to go in the matter of substitutes I do not know, but I read this in a newspaper last night:At Highgate an ex-convict was charged with being a suspected person. Detective-Sergeant Grose said that on his release, from prison in November the 2265 prisoner was examined for the Army and classified C2. He was recommended for substitution. The witness asked him if he intended to do any work, and he replied that on that question he had to await the discretion of the substitution officer. The officer added that many men in the same category as the prisoner were associated together and were a menace to the neighbourhood. There had been many robberies of late.If the War Office is going to act in regard to these men as it has in regard to a certain other class of men, I think the people they axe most likely to substitute them for would probably be night watchmen inside some of the larger banks. But in many cases the men who are taken are not being put to any very useful employment. Some of them are acting as servants of officers, and so on.
I wish to raise the question of the recent military raid on a meeting of shop assistants at Glasgow and to state what happened. There has been a movement going on among some shop workers in Glasgow for an increase in the wages of employés in the wholesale drapery houses. It has been very strongly resisted by the employers, some of whom refused to see representatives of the trade unions and act on the old idea that if there is any grievance each individual employé must go and speak to the employer direct, and they will not recognise the union in any way. Various meetings have been arranged. One was arranged for the employés of these wholesale houses. The meeting was only decided upon, and bills were only issued the night before, and yet in a very strange fashion the military got to know of it and came in and disturbed it by demanding to see all the exemption cards of those who were present. The Under-Secretary for War told me yesterday that the police did not interfere until the meeting was over, but that is not accurate. They interfered at the very point when the names of new members were about to be taken, and the result is that the whole purpose and value of the meeting was destroyed. All these men are employed in shops in Glasgow. If any of them were absentees under the Military Service Act their names would have to be given by the employers, and I want to ask the War Office what was the purpose of this raid upon a trade union meeting? How did the military authorities come to know about it? Who inspired the idea of the military visiting it in this way? I should like to ask whether the War Office has made or inspired similar raids upon other trade union meetings, and, if not, why this one was specially selected, because there is a suspicion in the minds of some of the assistants that 2266 the matter was inspired by the employers themselves for the purpose, not of getting military absentees, but of destroying, if possible, the value of the meeting. At any rate, not a single military absentee was found. The representative of the War Office will very readily admit that.
The last point to which I wish to refer is that unless we are careful we are going to get increasingly the Prussianising of some of our ideas here at home. I have here a form which is issued by the military representatives from one of the London areas to men who had secured temporary exemption and whose certificates of exemption come up for review. They are asked a large number of questions, which are to decide whether their certificates will be renewed or will be put an end to. Some of the questions are really absurd. They have no right to be asked, and they form an inquisition of an entirely objectionable character. The men who are applying on personal grounds are asked a number of questions, some of which I have no doubt might very properly be asked: "What is the average total sum you earn per week, the name of your employer, your exact duties," and so on. But they go on to questions of this sort: "What meals do you have at home? What is the rent of your house? In whose name is the lease or agreement for the house? What is the name and address of your landlord? What standing charges other than rent have you? In some cases I believe business men have to place all this information before the military advisory committee, some of whom are their own trade rivals: "State fully the class of business you do, your business address, rent of business; state weekly, quarterly, yearly, as the case may be. If your rent does not include rates, state the rates separately. What is your weekly turnover? What is your weekly profit? What sum do you give your wife or housekeeper for household expenses, and state if the rent is paid out of such sum. Give particulars of your family. What is the value of (a) your stock, and (b) your plant and machinery?"
§ Mr. ANDERSON
This is issued by the military representative in order to go before him and before the advisory committee to decide them in their attitude when the man's appeal for a renewal of his exemption comes up, and it is said 2267 that they are reviewing certificates of exemption which have been granted by a certain military service tribunal, and in order that they may consider the desirability ofallowing your certificate to continue in force or to be renewed on any subsequent application you may make, these questions are asked.I am quite willing to hand the document to the representative of the War Office, and I think something a great deal less than that might be asked, especially if you remember that in the first instance the applicant had to run the gauntlet of a whole series of questions, and that he was very closely examined by the tribunal itself. I bring these matters up because I think it is very well that they should be discussed in this House, although when matters of individual grievance or hardship have been brought forward, I have found the utmost promptitude and consideration on the part of the representatives of the War Office, when we can reach their ear.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I have put down on the Paper a Motion which the Rules of the House do not allow me to move. I had hoped to be able to call attention to the whole question of pensions and separation allowances, but I find on inquiry that I should not be in order in dealing with the question of pensions generally on this Vote, although I shall be in order in dealing with such limited number of pensions as are still within the control of the War Office; and with regard to separation allowances, I take it that this is the chief, almost the only, opportunity we have of discussing them in this House. I should like first of all to congratulate the authorities on the very considerable improvements which have taken place with regard to separation allowances and those pensions which are within the control of the War Office during the continuance of this War. If you look back there have been three stages. At the beginning of the War these pensions and separation allowances were, I think we shall all agree, wretchedly small. They were fixed on a scale of a long-ago time, when money was scarce and had a much greater purchasing power, and when the ideas of national responsibility to its servants were much less humane and much less enlightened than at present. When the War was about a year old there was a very great improvement. That improvement brought our Army to 2268 the position of being much better treated in the matter of pensions and separation allowances than any other army in the world. Now I am glad to say we lave still further improved matters. This further improvement has been necessary in order to remedy certain defects which have been found as time went on and to meet the great fall in the purchasing value of money. Yesterday a new Warrant appeared. I cannot discuss that, but I might say in passing that it represents very great improvements in many respects. About a month ago we had a greatly improved scale of separation allowances. That was another great step forward. Speaking generally, I think these changes, subject of course to some exceptions, put the families of soldiers when they belong to the unskilled labouring classes, in most cases, in as good a position as the wife and children would have been in if the soldier had remained at home. There are, of course, exceptions, especially the exception of a wife who is unable to work and is without children, or the wife with only one child, but where there is a larger family the position is, I think, generally speaking, very satisfactory as to the families of soldiers belonging to the unskilled labouring classes. When you come to the families of artisans and of miners and people earning wages of about the same value as they do, the position is not so satisfactory. They are often obliged to make very considerable sacrifices, but I suppose we may say, with rare exceptions, the allowances do put them, at any rate, beyond the reach of want. There are hard, exceptional cases, but some of them, happily, can be met by the local committees.
I have said so much on this subject because I hope it is tactful to admit the good things that the authorities have done, and I am sure that if the hon. Member (Mr. Forster) recognises that I approach the matter in this spirit he will take in good part and approach in the same spirit any criticisms which I may now make. In spite of the improvements I have mentioned we have to regret that there are still very considerable defects and very considerable hardships in connection with these pensions and separation allowances which cause a great deal of suffering to the people concerned. There are many cases. I should like, first of all, to take a very important case, which has created very much feeling in the county of which which I have the honour to be a representative—I mean the case of men who 2269 have been passed into the W Reserve and the WT Territorial Force Reserve. These men, we have been told recently, on several occasions, are men who were supposed to be lit for civil employment and who had been asked for to come back into civil life, and we were told that unless it had been done by some individual error, no unfit man had been passed into the W Reserve. I am sorry to say that that is entirely a mistake. As my authority for that statement I have no less a person than the Secretary of State for War himself, who very frankly admitted in the House of Lords yesterday that he had been entirely in error with regard to that matter, and that up to a recent time there was an order of the War Cabinet that men who were wanted back for civil life should be passed into the W Reserve, irrespective of whether they were fit to do work or not. That state of things has applied especially to miners. There is a system by which colliery proprietors or managers can apply for individual miners who have worked for them and ask to have them sent back. They have asked for men by their names, and these men were sent back and passed into the W Reserve; and in many cases were so passed, although the authorities who sent them must have known that they were quite unfit to take up that laborious occupation. I have had a great heap of complaints about this matter, but I will only touch very briefly on a few points. From the war pensions district committee in Auckland there comes the following statement:—In very many of these cases men are evidently quite unfit for any work. It continually happens that men are transferred and endeavour to start work but break down in the course of a day or two, and for these men no provision is made.Another district committee under the Statutory Committee says of one of these cases:A case in point which came under our notice may usefully illustrate the position. A man had been badly wounded in the face, his jaw being shattered. He underwent many operations, and no doubt everything that medical science and surgical skill could do was done for him. He claims to have passed before fifty doctors as a sort of exhibit of the triumph of surgery. But when all the resources of skill had been called upon the man was left lock-jawed, unable to part his teeth for more than one-eighth of an inch, and as a consequence cannot partake of solid food but subsists on soft, sloppy messes and liquids. In this condition the man was discharged to work (Class W Reserve). As the only work he had had any training for was mining, he found himself unable to keep physically fit for his laborious employment. We took up his case, explained it fully, and recommended him to the consideration of the Chelsea Commissioners for a partial pension, and we were informed that the case of a man in that Class could not he entertained so long as he was in that, Class, but that inquiry would be made as to whether he should be so retained.2270 In the same way the Statutory Committee sent word that they were quite unable to deal with the case. I have many other cases of the same kind, of men who have been sent back to work in the mines, although it was perfectly evident that they were quite unfit for it. There is another class of men who are fit and who were sent home, and when they get home they are penniless, for often the separation allowance of the wife has already been stopped. There was no money in the house, and although they went to work at once it was a fortnight before any money was coming in, and they had to appeal either to charity or to the local committee and the Statutory Committee for help. The local committee had not the power to help. The Statutory Committee sent word to us that they had no power to grant this help. Those are cases of very great hardship, and the committees all over the country are crying out about them. Many committees in other parts of the country are also crying out about them. I have another case of a man who was wounded with shrapnel in the head and also gassed. He was one of those sent home for Class W, and when he got home he found that his wife's separation allowance had been stopped. He was obliged to get work, but he could only do very little work. By and by, after I had written about the case, and three months had elapsed, he was discharged from the Army and given a very small pension. I say that men in that position, who have been improperly passed into W Reserve, ought to have some compensation for the time they have been lying ill and unable to work, and have not been discharged from the Army, so as to get any pension or allowance. The Lord Lieutenant of the county of Durham (the Earl of Durham) has spoken very strongly in another place on this matter, and written very strongly about it in the public Press. There is a very strong feeling in the country, especially in the county Durham, on this matter, and I believe that they will insist upon justice being done. Lord Durham writes to me to say that the whole county is determined on this matter.
These men may be divided into two classes. One, mea who have been wrongly transferred into Class W, either as an individual blunder, or because of the general rule of sending unfit men into that class, and some arrangement ought to be made by which those men should receive some compensation, or whatever you like to call 2271 it, for the time they have been in that class unable to earn their living. Lord Derby, in the House of Lords on the 17th of last month, promised to bring this matter before the notice of the Minister for Pensions, whom I am pleased to see before me now. I hope that he may be able to see his way to meet such cases. Then there are the cases of men who have been rightly transferred, but who had nothing given to them by which they could bridge over the time between coming back to work and their first pay coming in, which in coalmining, at any rate, is only after a man has been working a fortnight. Some allowance ought to be given to these men for the first week or two. In many of these cases, although the man may be apparently fit for work when sent back, he very soon breaks down again. I hope some provision will be made for meeting their cases. I know Lord Derby said yesterday that he was sending out cards to know whether these men considered they were suffering from disability when they were discharged, and whether it was due to their service, and what was their reason for thinking so. But that would be a very slow process for getting all that information in, and a very poor comfort to a man in an out of the way village on the top of a mountain in Durham, who has broken down and cannot go even to the military hospital, where he is now told that he has the right to go. I hope that some power will be given to the district committees to give these men any necessary help.
I pass to another point on which I think the War Office should make some change for the better in practice. That is the case of men who have been killed when off duty. There have been very hard cases which have come under my notice. For instance, there was the case of a man stationed at Darlington. He had been in the town, not on military duty. He was going back to his work in khaki at the time, and was killed. It was held that he was off duty. There are a good many such cases. I think that the War Office should make itself responsible for all men in the Army who meet with fatal accidents during the time of their military service, because this would be only putting the War Office in the position of insuring these men, and if not you have the greatest difficulty in deciding the question of on duty or off duty, and a great deal of hardship results, whereas if the men were insured in the 2272 ordinary way the hardship would be removed. Another question which the War Office ought to consider is that of the men who only get a compassionate allowance, the 4s. 8d. cases as they are called, men who become invalids, but are supposed to have been unsound before enlistment. J think that 4s. 8d. is a very small allowance in such cases, and I hope that the War Office will see their way to reconsider it.
With regard to separation allowances, I was very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say to-day that the system of separation allowances was going to be extended to officers below a certain grade. The only question that occurred to me was that it was to be necessary for the officer in that case to prove necessity, You do not ask the private soldier or the non-commissioned officer to prove necessity, but the pay is based on so much if he is married and so much more if he has children. I think it would be very much to the interest of the Service and the country if the junior officers, at any rate, in the Army had a similar right, without proving necessity, to claim separation allowances for wife and children. The most serious complaint which I have to make to-night with regard to these separation allowances is the delays that take place. They are many and grievous. They affect many poor folk who always live from hand to mouth because their earnings have never been sufficient for anything else, and to them it is an extreme hardship. It is perhaps very difficult to realise this, but nevertheless it is the duty of all concerned to try to avoid it. It takes in some cases as much as six months to settle a small claim. I am thinking of one of which I have particulars. A woman claimed a small sum of money which she said was due as balance of separation allowance when her husband came home. It took six months to settle that small claim.
There is another case of a man who was drowned in October, 1915. The separation allowance was stopped within a month. I wrote to the War Office in the following June. I reminded them in July. Four months after I first wrote I got an answer to say that there had been careful inquiry and that nothing had been allowed, but that the matter was going to be referred to the Statutory Committee. The woman got nothing from the Statutory Committee. I have not been able to ascertain whether the decision has been absolutely settled against her, or whether it is still under consideration—sixteen months after 2273 the man died. Why need these delays occur? Why need there be any gap between the cessation of a soldier's pay and separation allowance, when the man dies, and the commencement of pension? Or again, when a soldier is sent home, should not he be retained on the strength, and his pay and separation allowance continued until the time his pension begins? I believe that I have heard the hon. Gentleman himself express the desire that that should be so, but I am afraid that it is very far from being the case at present. Another point is the assessment of dependence. That is still in a very unsatisfactory condition. It takes, as a general rule, about two months to assess the dependence. When a young man goes into the Army, it is about two months before his mother knows at what rate her dependence upon him is assessed. Meanwhile, in many cases, she has applied to the district committee, and they have had to inquire into the matter and make her some temporary allowance, so that the process of inquiry is gone through twice over. I ask why not leave it to the local or district committee to assess dependence in all these cases? At present the pension officers have to do ft, and they are also officers of the Inland Revenue, and Inland Revenue officers are at present very much overworked, and the staff is depleted. I suggest, therefore, that it would be very desirable to leave it to the district committee to make these inquiries, and talk over the verdict on the matter.
There is another point very closely connected with the same thing, and that is the application for dependant's allowance. In many cases it happens that the forms are lost, and mistakes arise. That is not unnatural, when one remembers that these applications are made upon loose papers, and I believe unnumbered papers. If the application is lost, a new application has to be made, and if the new application goes through all right, the allowance dates from the second application and not from the first. There may be an interval of two or three months, and during that time the mother loses any allotment or dependant's allowance to which she would have been entitled. The ordinary business experience in similar cases is to have such forms in a book in triplicate, and numbered, so that the form, as made out, is retained in the book for reference—one is given to the soldier himself, and one sent to the dependant for use in asking for the allowance. In that way many mistakes would 2274 be avoided, and much hardship. I am quite certain, however, that, whatever you do, mistakes and delays will occur. I have here a resolution which has been passed by a very important board of guardians in my district, and it is very much to the point. It is a resolution asking that the Government should place a sum of money at the disposal of some local committee to assist immediately the many hard cases of disabled and discharged soldiers who are left to their own resources, and without any means of support. I commend that suggestion to the hon. Gentlemen. I think that if a sum of money were at the disposal of a local committee, it must be absolutely at their discretion, so that the Committee can act at once, and not have to refer to London as to whether such a payment is within or without their power.
As to the W Reserve men of whom I have spoken, the Committee would be quite willing to help them in many cases, but we are told in London that there are not powers to do so. If the local committee were allowed a sum of money they should have power to act absolutely on their own discretion in cases where there must be inevitable hardship in working under the ordinary system. I wish also to raise the question that the amount of the dependence allowance is in some cases unsatisfactory. I think that in the case of mothers that very often is so, and, with the present high prices of food and cost of living, it is quite certain that the sons would now have been allowing them more money than they were at the time they were taken into the Army. I submit that the mother of a soldier who has been to any extent dependent upon him ought to be allowed a reasonable sum to live upon, without too minute an examination of the exact amount she was deriving from her son before he went into the Army. I do not think it is to the honour of this country that young men should be fighting in the Army, while the mother is receiving an allowance quite inadequate for her support. There is a very kindred point, namely, the dependence allowance to grandmothers, or widowed mothers, or other people in that position. It is limited under all circumstances to 12s. 6d.; it cannot be more than 12s. 6d. There are a great many cases where young men have gone into the Army, leaving a widowed mother, grandmother or aunt, or whoever she may be, with considerably 2275 more than 12s. 6d.—perhaps £1 or more than £1 a week. The limit of allowance in such cases of 12s. 6d. is an amount on which these women cannot live. It is hard enough for a woman living by herself, with every exercise of economy, to live upon £1 at the present time, but it is almost impossible to live upon 12s. 6d. a week, especially where the man has been allowing before he went away £1 a week. I think that £1 ought to be what I may call the lowest maximum to be chosen, and 12s. 6d. is much too low a maximum. A gentleman from the North of England, deputy-chairman of an Appeal Tribunal, writes to me on this very point, and says that in these cases rather than send a woman into the workhouse the tribunal sends a man, who would otherwise fight in the Army, to munition works to earn money. That is the position in regard to a good many cases. It is not, however, to the interest of the country. It may be that the tribunals ought not to do that, but it is at any rate a very natural thing, and shows a great deal of human nature, that they decline to send these women to the workhouse, and therefore they find some means to send a young man to munitions work instead of to the Army. I know I may be told that there is power to apply to the Civil Liabilities Commission. I know something about that, as I am chairman of one of the panels, and I know that we have power to meet these cases in a great many instances, but we have not power to grant money for the whole cost of living.
I will touch very briefly on one or two more points. One has regard to the wife going into the infirmary, the workhouse infirmary, or any other institution supported out of the rates. When she does so her separation allowance is stopped. I believe that is not so in the case of I children, but in the case of the wife it is so, I understand. If the wife goes to a lunatic asylum someone must be paid to look after the children and keep the home going, and it is very hard that in such a case the wife's allowance should be stopped. Moreover, the cost of the maintenance of the woman in this case falls upon the board of guardians. Those bodies strongly object to this. I have a resolution from a board of guardians strongly objecting. I do not suppose they would object if they knew that the separation money was still going to keep the 2276 home together and to pay for someone to look after the children. But when it is put into the pocket of the Chancellor of the Exchequer they consider it unfair that they should be called upon to bear the cost of maintaining the woman out of the rates.
I wish to touch upon the position of one very unhappy and helpless class of people, and that is the class of wives who are separated from their husbands—who have been deserted or have been obliged to get a magistrate's maintenance order against a bad husband. When that man goes into the Army the wife is treated, as I consider, in a very mean way, on the ground that she has not been actually maintained by her husband. If she has been deserted I believe she gets no separation allowance, and if the man has not paid the sum he has been ordered to pay under the magistrate's order the wife also gets no separation allowance from the Army. At any rate that was the case until recently, and if it has been altered I should be glad to know what the practice now is. Even where the man has paid under a separation order the woman does not get the full separation allowance which a happy wife, no more meritorious than herself, is entitled to. She only gets up to the amount of the magistrate's order, which may be about six shillings per week. Of course, there is added to that any sum which the man may allot out of his pay, and I am glad to know that many of these men do make some such allotment.
I will only ask, in conclusion, is there not some better way of dealing with these points of detail and of securing a settlement of them than we have at the present time? I do not think that discussion across the floor of the House constitutes a satisfactory or conclusive method. In spite of the courtesy of the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply and of other Ministers, I certainly do not find that correspondence is a very satisfactory way of dealing with these questions. May I, for myself alone, make the suggestion that there might occasionally be a small conference between the War Office authorities and Members of this House especially interested in these matters, at which points can be taken up one by one and thrashed out, and a considerable improvement of working thereby effected? At any rate that might help us to perfect our system, and to do what I am sure we all desire to do. We cannot hope to build up 2277 a perfect system, but we all wish to have the best possible system of looking after the dependants of the men who are so heroically fighting for the safety of the country and for the future freedom of humanity.
I wish to ask the Financial Secretary if he cannot see his way to reduce the period which it now takes fox settling allowances to dependants and unmarried wives. At the present moment the minimum time is about two and a half months. Many a soldier has to leave the country before his parents or his unmarried wife are put in a satisfactory position as regards finances. The procedure is a little cumbrous. The man when he first enlists makes a claim which goes to the paymaster. There is little delay there, as the paymaster passes the claim on in a day or two to the old age pensions officer, and that is where the delay takes place. The old age pensions officer has to make the investigation. Then the matter comes before the local pensions committee, and all this procedure takes time. If the old age pensions officer and the pensions committee agree, the matter goes back at once to the paymaster; but if they disagree, then there is further delay, because the War Office has to send down a representative to investigate and to decide as between the two authorities. The instructions to the paymaster are that if he does not get the report back within five weeks he shall send a reminder to the old age pensions officer. He is to send a second reminder two weeks later, and if at the end of two calendar months he is still without a reply, then he is to report to the War Office, and he is to make such report on the 15th of each month. These instructions to the paymaster amount to an acknowledgment that the claim may not be decided in less than two and a half months. This is largely owing to the fact that there is divided control. The War Office authorities have no real control over the old age pensions officer, and still less has the paymaster any such control. I see the difficulty of handing the matter over entirely to the pensions committee for decision, but I do think the War Office should insist on an explanation being called for from the pensions officer after a delay of one month, rather than two months. They might also press on the Customs and Excise authorities to urge the pensions officers to take a little more 2278 rapid action. I know there are difficulties in the London area, where the delays are especially glaring. There is more work to be done. But still the investigators are very dilatory, and a little pressure might be used to get these cases dealt with a little more quickly.
I am very glad to hear that something is to be done on behalf of the married junior officers who joined for the period of the War. I only trust that it will be taken as a general principle that most of these young officers, on small rates of pay, who have joined for the War, do find that their pay is not sufficient to maintain a wife and much less children. It should be a general rule that they should get something under this new scheme, and I trust that the procedure will not be made very complicated. Some few officers have, I am aware, benefited under the Civil Liabilities Committee, but owing to the great rush of claims made by officers shortly after a certain statement in this House there has been great congestion of work, and I know of cases where officers who put in their claim four months ago are still without any answer. I do hope that under the new scheme the decisions will be fairly rapid. Many officers who joined from patriotic motives thought the War would last but a short time, and that they would consequently be able to carry on somehow. But the War has lasted a very long time. The cost of living meantime has nearly doubled, and the consequence is that nearly everyone of these young married officers is hard put to it to carry on. I hope their case will be sympathetically considered.
§ Sir C. NICHOLSON
I am sure we thank the hon. Members who have spoken for bringing these cases to the notice of the House. I have had a considerable amount of experience in dealing with these cases, almost from the commencement of the War up to the present time, and especially from the 1st July, when the London County Committee took over the whole of this question. The hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Williams) alluded to cases dealt with under Class W, and he spoke of two particular classes, one of them being the man who breaks down very shortly after ho has begun work, and the other being the interval that elapses before a man begins to draw his first amount of wages. Those are both very serious things. With regard to the first class of cases, I am quite sure that there is too early a discharge from hospital in a 2279 great many of these cases. They are not allowed sufficient time to recover from their wounds, and a certain number of cases have been brought to my notice which have shown that when a man gets back to hard work his wounds tend to suffer and his chance of recovery is enormously delayed, and I most earnestly urge on the War Office that extreme care should be taken not to discharge these men from the hospitals until it is fairly certain that they are able to go back to the work in which they had been formerly employed. It is true that the interval that elapses between a man being discharged and the time that he begins to earn wages is not usually a long one, but sometimes it necessitates that the man has to move from the hospital where he is, possibly with the whole of his family, to the place where he is going to work. That is an enormous drain on the resources of the man, and the period of a week or a fortnight has to elapse before he receives anything at all. It sometimes happens that the first thing is that some member of the family will make application to one of the district committees or sub-committees of the local committee under the Statute. The hon. Member has mentioned that in some cases they have said they are unable to assist, but the reason is that the Statutory Committee has no power to assist anybody unless he is a discharged man. The people who are in Class W Reserve are not discharged men, and they are still on the books of the Army, and I think some arrangement ought to be made by which these difficulties could be got over. At any rate, if the War Office cannot meet the points which have been mentioned, powers might be given to the Statutory Committee to deal with these cases in the interval.
Another point referred to was the definition of what is on duty or off duty. I should be very sorry to bore the House with the innumerable cases of this nature which have passed under my notice, but I would like to allude to one. This was the case of a man who met his death by an accidental gunshot wound in France. That was the verdict of the first court of inquiry which examined into the matter. For some reason or other a second court of inquiry was held over this man, and the verdict of it was that he met his death by accidental gunshot wound incurred while on duty. The fact of his death was, of course, reported to his widow, and she 2280 when she applied for it it was refused. Under these circumstances she applied to one of the local committees for assistance for what is called a special temporary allowance from the Statutory Committee. The case came before the London County Committee, and we naturally wanted to know why it was the woman had been refused a pension. It turned out that the man had been picked for mounted picket duty. While on his horse, or in mounting, the animal became restive, and the man's knees somehow became entangled with the trigger of his gun, which went off, and he was shot. Whether he died immediately or in hospital I do not know. Anyhow, he was killed. One would have thought that that would have been quite sufficient to entitle his widow to a pension. On inquiry, however, it appeared that there is an Army Order that says when a man goes on mounted picket duty he has to carry his rifle, but to carry it unloaded. One would have thought it sufficient punishment for the man to be killed, and that it was not necessary to punish the widow and children. There the matter stands. Till now the widow and her children have received no recognition from the State. I could give many similar instances. If only for the guidance of the local committees, it is essential that the War Office should give some sort of definition of what is "on" and "off" duty. Then we shall, at any rate, know the class of cases with which we have to deal.
Another matter alluded to by the hon. Member was the delay in setting up separation allowances. I quite admit that the War Office has had extreme difficulties to contend against. At the same time the general situation would be chaotic had it not been first for the existence of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, and finally now the committees acting under the Statutory Committee. They have advanced money when it has not been forthcoming from the War Office, and it is rather a serious matter that so many of these committees are kept out of the money for so long which they have advanced on behalf of these cases. The other day I went down to me of the committees in North London, and I put the question there as to how many cases the War Office had not settled up the advances of separation allowances. I was told that there were pages of these cases. From 1st July to the 31st December there were 269 cases in which the committee advanced 2281 money, and had not yet been able to recover those advances from the War Office. On the other hand, I am bound to say that whenever I have been at the War Office, and seen either the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary, or those who are associated with him, they have met me in a most courteous manner, and so far as they could help to produce any impression matters have been slightly improved. But there is an enormous range of possibility for improvement in this matter. We have 46 committees for the whole of London. If what I have stated applies to one committee in North London, the House will realise the enormous delay in getting these amounts settled over the whole of these various committees. If in London the total is so large, what about the rest of the country?
There is the question, too, of the delay in dependants' separation allowances I am quite aware that an enormous amount of work has been placed upon the Customs and Excise officers at the present time, and unfortunately the matter was complicated by, as I understand, the Government sending down a message to say that the question of the increased old age pensions was to have precedence. I have had many cases put into my hands of this nature. One of the worst, I think, is the one to which the hon. Member has just alluded, the fact that it takes about a couple of months to look into a case. I had a case through my hands where the allotment was made by the soldier, and the official whose duty it was to see the dependant in question had not been inside the house for six months after the allotment was made. Surely delay of that sort ought to be got over by some method or another. What takes places in these cases? The dependant does not get her dependant's separation allowance advanced to her. She goes to one of the committees under the Statutory Committee and applies for assistance. The local committee has to make some sort of assessment of what the dependence on the soldier was, and arrives at a conclusion which, I venture to think, is very much the same sort of conclusion as the Customs and Excise officer would come to if he made the investigation himself. There are, therefore, as the hon. Member for North-West Durham said, two sets of people doing exactly the same class of work, and I cannot for the life of me see why, when all this pressure is being put on the Customs and Excise officers at the present 2282 time, and the staff is enormously depleted, the responsibility for assessing the dependant's allowance should not be left with the local committee. It would be very much more quickly done, and I venture to say that the difference between the two would not be worth the salary which is being paid to the people who are doing this work on behalf of the Customs and Excise.
The hon. Member for North-West Durham alluded to one other point I should like to emphasise most strongly. I do think it is a cruel thing to stop separation allowance to a woman who is, through no fault of her own, bound to go into some rate-supported institution. It is true that separation allowance goes on to the children, but if the mother is taken away to a rate-supported institution the home has got to be kept up until she comes out, and, unless the separation allowance is continued, it is evident that the rent cannot be paid, and the children cannot live in the home to which they have been accustomed. I do think that that is a point which well merits the consideration of the authorities at the War Office. I could mention many other cases of difficulty and delay which have passed under my notice. I quite admit the enormous difficulties the War Office has to face, but I do think it is time that some steps were taken to relieve the anxiety of all of us who are doing our best to make the lives of these people, who are certainly suffering a considerable amount of trouble, as easy as it is possible to do.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES SEELY
I only rise first to thank, on behalf of the volunteers, the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for War for the words which he used in regard to them, and to say to him that there is nothing he could have said which could have given them greater pleasure, or which could more conduce to the increase and efficiency of that force than the statement he made this afternoon, that within six weeks or a month every one of those who are in Section A are to have arms given to them, because the one difficulty which has occurred to all the volunteers, and the one fact which has made a difficulty in raising them and of inducing men to come forward, has been the difficulty of providing arms for them to use in case they are required. The other object I have in rising is to make a suggestion with regard to questions which have been raised as to the pay of officers who have 2283 been raised from the ranks, or for any reason are officers who are unable to live on their pay. It must be obvious to everyone that men who are raised from privates or non-commissioned officers may be in some difficulty when they are given commissioned rank with regard to the support of their wives and families. It has been arranged, as I understand, that the Civil Liabilities Committee should deal with those cases, but we were informed this afternoon by the Secretary to the Treasury, in reply to a question, that there would be considerable delay in dealing with this question. What I should like to suggest would be that in those cases of men whose wives and families were already in receipt of a separation allowance, that separation allowance should be continued to them for one, two, or possibly three or four months, until the Civil Liabilities Committee were able to deal with the question. I only suggest that to my right hon. Friend opposite because it seems to me that it is the kind of solution usually adopted in private businesses when men are moved from one position to another, namely, that any arrangements made in their present position are continued until their new position is established and they are able to make arrangements which enable them to support their families. I make this suggestion after all due consideration of the difficulties, and I think it would be a very great boon to those who are given commissions in consequence of their bravery in the field or general good service to the country, to whom the country owes very great consideration and who it seems to me, if their commissions are stopped on the day their commissions are gazetted may be put into considerable difficulty, and I hope this may be got over by the suggestion I have made.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I can only speak by leave of the House, but if hon. Members will allow me I will say a few words in reply to the points raised by hon. Members. The hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. A. Williams) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Doncaster (Sir C. Nicholson) both raised the question of Class W and the hardship they suffer from the effect of wounds or disability while in that Reserve. I wish at once to associate myself with what my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for War said in the House of Lords with regard to answers both he and I have given on previous 2284 occasions in regard to the magnitude of the difficulties to which my hon. Friend opposite has alluded. Both my Noble Friend and I thought that the object for which Class W was created had been continued, and that the original practice was the present practice. We spoke in all good faith, but, having discovered that we spoke in error, we both naturally agreed to take the earliest opportunity of saying so quite frankly, and of also saying what we propose to do to meet the situation.
When Class W was brought into being it was the intention that the only men passed into it should be those whose services for the time were considered of more value in civil occupation and who are fit to start work on leaving the Colours. Class P, which was formed later, differed from Class W in that it was intended for men who, owing to wounds or sickness caused by the Service, had become of a low medical category. Class W men are not given any Army pay or allowance and are treated as civilians, except that, if they fall ill in consequence of previous military disability, they are restored to their military status; they are taken into military hospitals, restored to Army pay, and their separation allowance is restored to their families. Difficulties have arisen in connection with transfers to Army Reserve W, due, first of all, to the fact that employers pay wages in arrear, so that for one or two weeks a Class W man may be without pay altogether. Secondly, the erroneous transfer of men to Class W who, owing to military disability, should have been transferred to Class P. In the ordinary course the men would not have been transferred to Class W unless work was awaiting them, but in some cases men who were in categories B 2 and C 2, and who refused to enrol as Army Reserve munition workers, or register for employment, were transferred to Class W. To avoid future hardship, and to put right cases of erroneous transference to Class W instead of Class P, it is proposed to send a card to all the men in Class W, finding out really what is their condition. While that is being done, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions is being good enough to undertake that the Statutory Committee shall be authorised to make temporary advances to men who may need them, so as to relieve pressing necessity. With regard to the question of compensation which ought to be paid to men who are found really properly qualified for Class P, and who have been wrongly 2285 transferred to Class W, I think that we ought to treat those men as if they had been transferred to Class P from the date on which they were transferred to Class W. In other words, it would be treating them as they ought to have been treated. Both Lord Derby and I greatly regret that we should have spoken under a misapprehension of what has actually occurred, but I hope that the steps we propose to take will set the matter right, and that no mistakes will occur in the future.
§ Sir C. NICHOLSON
Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether arrears due to men who have been wrongly transferred from Class W and put into Class P and advanced by the Statutory Committee, the money will be recoverable from the paymaster?
§ Mr. FORSTER
Yes, advances made by the local committee will form part of the pension and therefore will be recoverable by the local committees from the areas of pension. My hon. Friend complained of several cases where it has taken an inordinate time to settle some small amount due to a wife or a dependant. I greatly regret that these cases of great delay should occur, but I would ask the House to remember that in view of the many millions of cases with which the paymasters have to deal, the widely scattered territory in which our forces have to operate, and the often changing theatres of war in which a man may find himself engaged, it is not always easy to get cases in which there are complications settled as promptly as one would wish. I do not deny that delay occurs. I admit it, and I only wish, with my hon. Friend, that I could find a remedy for all these cases. I cannot do that, but I can assure him that the paymasters and all in the War Office are doing their best to see that no undue delay occurs. My hon. Friend for North-West Durham urged the desirability of entrusting local committees with a sum of money which they could administer more or less at their discretion to meet delays and hard cases. I think that is done already by the local committees and the Statutory Committee. That really is one of the prime duties for which the Statutory Committee was created.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
My point was that the Statutory Committee was very much tied down as to what it could and could 2286 not do, and that the local body ought to have the power to do what is necessary within limits.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I quite agree, and I hope my right hon. Friend will take note of it. I come to the point as to the desirability of letting the local committees rather than the pensions officer assess the amount of pre-enlistment dependence. I am bound to say from our experience that we cannot do without a more or less judicial officer, the pensions officer. It is a very difficult thing, the assessment of dependence. I am only thankful I have not got to do it myself, and I do not in the least envy those who do it. But I really am satisfied that we want some element in the Court that is to assess these cases of possibly hard-heartedness. The pensions committee possibly provide something in the other direction. I think, on the whole, that the work has been well done, and I am afraid that I cannot join with my hon. Friends in advocating the transfer of this duty from the pensions officer to the local committees. I know and I regret the delay that has occurred, especially recently, in the assessment of these allowances. The pensions officers have been, as my hon. Friend said, charged with a very heavy duty in reassessing old age pension claims. I hope that work is now pretty well finished and that these cases will be dealt with more expeditiously in the future. I may say that when I noticed this delay was occurring I have been in consultation with my hon. Friend the Junior Lord of the Treasury (Mr. Baldwin), who represents the Secretary to the Treasury, upon the question.
My hon. Friends have also raised the question of when a wife goes into a rate-aided institution, and they urged that the separation allowance should not be stopped. This question has been urged upon me on many occasions, and if I were not occupying my present position, it is quite likely that I should have been one of the first to stand up and support my hon. Friends. But I am the guardian of the taxpayers' money, and I cannot see any case whatever made out for assisting rates out of the taxes in these particular cases. I would remind my hon. Friends that when the wife goes into a rate-aided institution, and leaves her children at home, the children's separation allowances are put up to the motherless rate.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I think it is 7s. under the new Warrant. The motherless rate, of course, makes allowance for the securing of a guardian during the mother's temporary absence. I know that there is a great deal of feeling in it. I know that there is—I have had it myself—a great deal of sympathy for the woman whose home is in danger when she has to go into one of these institutions. Here, again, I would remind my hon. Friends that the Statutory Committee was created to come, and docs come, to her assistance. They are authorised to make a grant in respect of the rent, and I think they make some allowance even beyond that. At any rate, there is the body that takes care of the home while the woman is in the institution. My hon. Friend referred to the question of separated wives, and invited us to urge upon the War Office that they should be more generous in their treatment of women in that unhappy position. My hon. Friend knows quite well that our practice has been that the separation allowance is issuable where there has been pre-war dependence. Where the soldier was not carrying out the obligation put upon him by the Court, the separated wife lost nothing by his enlistment.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I do not agree with that at all. Enlistment in the Army is a great instrument of reconciliation. My hon. Friend would be astonished to know how many reconciliations have occurred since these errant husbands have become soldiers.
§ Mr. FORSTER
There was no money. She was getting no money from the man previous to enlistment. I do not see why the State should do more for the wife than the husband did before. That is a point I have before had to urge upon my hon. Friends. I am afraid from that point of view I cannot object to my hon. Friend's suggestion—and there was a great deal in his suggestion—that in regard to points of interpretation of what is "on" and "off" duty, and in regard to other comparatively small but undoubtedly important points of that kind, to save correspondence, and possibly to save the time of the House, friendly conferences might be held 2288 between those who represent the Departments and hon. Members interested in these matters. There is a great deal to be said in favour of that. If I can further it, I think it would be an excellent thing to do. I would remind him that some of these cases, such as that of on and off duty, will be dealt with under the terms of the new Warrant that has just been published, and my right hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes) will find himself with a freer hand in dealing with these matters than I, who have had to deal with them up to the early part of this month.
The hon. Member (Mr. Anderson) raised a number of points, some of which I can answer and some of which I will bring to the notice of the Under-Secretary. He raised in particular the question of waste at Salisbury Plain. I think, generally speaking, a great deal has been done to-prevent waste, but I have become aware recently that it is alleged that there is waste on a very largely preventable scale at Salisbury Plain. I think it may be due to the fact that the troops at Salisbury Plain are Dominion troops, drawing a higher scale of pay than our own men, and, as far as I can understand, well provided with change of food, which enables them to dispense with a part of their rations. If that is so, I think it is a pity that they do not make arrangements to draw less rations than the full scale which is laid down. However, we are in communication with, the Commander on the subject, and I hope that some steps maybe taken to prevent it.
§ Mr. KING
I wish to call the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the Motion which I have on the Paper. It is to the following effect: "That the composition and achievements of the higher Military Command are unsatisfactory; that more openings should be afforded to the genius and energy of Colonial and Territorial officers and to younger men who have shown military gifts in the present War." I have repeatedly called attention during the last eighteen months to this question in various forms, and at least twice I have been listened to by Members of the War Office, and several other Members have called attention to the same matter. I hope that if it is raised by myself or other Members on Votes A and 1, we may have some attention given to it and some answer. I say that not only because it is my private opinion that this is an important matter, but because the question has during the last two or three weeks 2289 excited a great deal of public attention. One leading newspaper is recurring to it almost daily, and it has had the opinions of various Members of the House and eminent persons expressed in its columns. Then, also, there is the fact that a well-known weekly paper has been suppressed for several weeks—I believe it is arranging to appear again—for an attack upon Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Staff. I saw that attack, and I am quite sure nothing worse was said than has been said in other papers, and publicly by other people. I think the reluctance of the War Office to face the question whether there might not be an improvement in the higher military command is very unfortunate. It does their courage no credit at all. I beg to give notice that I shall refer to this matter on a subsequent occasion.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.