HC Deb 17 April 1918 vol 105 cc469-71

Immediately after Section ninety (relating to soldiers discharged or transferred to the Reserve), the following Section shall be inserted, namely:

90A. (1) Notwithstanding anything in the last foregoing Section (relating to soldiers who are discharged or transferred to the Reserve), no soldier of the Regular Forces shall be entitled to be discharged if, at the completion of the term of his original enlistment, or of the period of his re-engagement, he is suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form; and the period of his Army service may be compulsorily prolonged until he ceases to be so suffering as aforesaid.

(2) In this Section the expression "venereal disease" means syphilis, gonorrhœa, or soft chancre.—[Mr. King.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

There is at present a very great effort being made in various Government Departments to combat venereal disease, and a recent Regulation under the Defence of the Realm Act has been issued in order to protect from it men in the Army and Navy. That Regulation has caused a great deal of opposition in some quarters. My proposal is that the discharge of the soldier when the time arrives at which he can claim his discharge may at the discretion of the authorities be refused if he is suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form. I do not desire that every case of this kind shall be refused discharge from the Army. I desire to keep as few men as possible un-discharged, but I believe that the power to refuse a man's discharge on this ground is desirable on public grounds, and also in the interests of discipline in the Army. I am informed on very good authority that among certain classes of men there is a recklessness of running the risk of taking this horrible disease, and a light-hearted-ness in regarding the fact that a man has it, which is very deplorable. I could give facts in my own knowledge which would bear this out. If that is so, it will be in the interests of discipline and the health of the Army to have this power, so that men may be warned. I do not ask for any assurance that any man would be kept from discharge; I only ask what objection have you to take these powers, which are purely permissive, and what can you say to our contention that they are in the interests both of public health and of the moral and physical well-being of the Army?


My hon. Friend raised this question last year in practically the same form as that in which he has raised it this year. Then I had to resist it, and I must resist it on this occasion again. I cannot help thinking that my hon. Friend must now realise that it would be highly improper to make the Army practically a segregation camp for patients who are afflicted with this disease. That would be one of the effects of this new Clause. There is another point. The soldier's contract is a definite contract. He is bound to get his discharge on a certain day. It has yet to be decided what the end of the War will be. The end of the War will be fixed in a definite manner, and it may be necessary to ask soldiers to remain after the definite day for two or three months during the period of demobilisation. The hon. Gentleman's proposal makes the period of discharge indefinite which is contrary to every legal principle. Then there is another point. Our hospitals by that time will be full. We are very limited for accommodation in the War Office from the hospital point of view. Our hospitals at the present time include many houses generously lent by citizens for the use of soldiers during the period of convalescence, but there will be no obligation on those patriotic citizens to continue to put those hospitals at the disposal of the War Office when the War is over, and we cannot guarantee that at that time we shall have accommodation to provide for the continued treatment of men who are soldiers and who are suffering from disease. I hope that my hon. Friend will not press this.


I shall not press it, but the hon. Member has spoken of my Amendment as making segregation camps of the Army. There are segregation camps for venereal disease now, and men are in special hospitals with barbed wire around them.


My hon. Friend has missed my point. I meant that it would make a segregation camp in the Army where there is no such invidious practice in any other profession.


I shall not pursue the matter further except to say that men suffering from this disease are now marked men in the Army. They have their leave stopped from distant fields of war on this ground alone, and they are penalised. I shall certainly raise the matter again next year, but at present I beg to ask leave to withdraw the proposed Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.