HC Deb 09 April 1919 vol 114 cc2182-5
Colonel BURN

I beg to move, That, in the opinion of this House, the compassionate grounds on which demobilisation can be granted should be more clearly denned, and that special machinery should be set up for dealing expeditiously with such cases. I make no apology for bringing this Motion before the House, because I think there is no subject of greater interest to the people generally than this question of demobilisation on compassionate grounds, and I feel certain that every Member of this House has been inundated with correspondence on this subject. I consider myself fortunate in having drawn first place in the ballot to bring forward this Motion, and I say it is of great importance, because there are doubtless many cases of demobilisa- tion that ought to be considered on compassionate grounds. I would instance the case of a man who has answered his country's call and who leaves his home, and probably his wife and three or four young children, and we must always remember the possibility of those young children not being able to fend for themselves and also the possibility of one or more suffering from the illnesses to which children are subject. Then, again, we have the case of the man serving, who was formerly really the one who provided the wherewithal for his aged parents. Take a father and mother, old and unable to work, who are entirely dependent on their son's earnings. Then, again, we have the man who before the War was just beginning to feel himself on his legs as far as his business was concerned. His clientèle was daily increasing, and he readily answered the call to the Colours, whether it was of his own volition, whether it was under the Derby scheme, or whether it was under the Military Service Acts. At any rate, he had to leave his business, and his wife, to the best of her ability, kept the business going so far as she was able. But we must remember that, well as the women of this country have answered the call, well as they have done the work that has been allotted to them during the War, we know still that their task, their metier, in life is to take care of their families and of the upbringing of their children.

I claim that never was there a time when it was more necessary that those children should have a mother's care and be brought up as they should be, because I think we all recognise, and the Government realises, that the future of our country lies with the coming generation. The wife who tries to keep the home-fires burning so far as the business is concerned, undoubtedly does her best, but everyone knows there are certain lines of business in which a man's initiative is absolutely necessary—for instance, the purchasing of goods and material. As I say, the wife who has to manage the business has to leave the care of her children to other people, and in my belief that care cannot be given by anyone but the mother in the home. Evidence of that is to be found in the Housing Bill which is to provide accommodation for the people in order that the children may be brought up fit to take their place as strong and efficient citizens of the State. I take this the earliest opportunity of bringing up this important matter for discussion in the House, and I do this in no spirit of carping criticism at the action or inaction of the Government in this matter, for I thoroughly realise the difficulties with which they have to contend, and it is not my purpose to put obstacles in their way, or to make it more difficult for them to find the men necessary to fill up the gaps that occur in order to keep up our forces according to the necessities of our military requirements. But the question of release on compassionate grounds is one that should receive sympathetic attention, and should be considered absolutely apart from and irrespective of the date of enlistment of a soldier. Cases of a heart-rending nature are with difficulty separated from those cases. Grave discontent has been and is being caused over this Instruction of the Army Council. Any serving soldier, with no record of the date of his enlistment, should have his case considered on compassionate grounds. The official instruction as to what constitutes compassionate grounds is totally inadequate. Greater elasticity should be given to the authorities concerned, for them to decide, apart from Army Council Instructions, as to what constitutes compassionate grounds. There are many cases that are not covered by that instruction. Those can be cited. In view of the Armistice take one example, the case of the widow who is dependent upon her only son. This should certainly be considered on compassionate grounds. There is the case of the unfaithful wife, and unfortunately during this War more than one of these cases has occurred, where the children can be proved to have been neglected, that certainly is a case for the man to be treated as a compassionate case and allowed release from the Army. Further, apart from infidelity, if neglect of the children can be proved, that must be treated as a compassionate case.

In order to allay the feeling of unrest in all these hard cases commanding officers should be allowed to have posters drawn up, which may be seen by the men, so that they will know exactly where they start, and so that they can learn the procedure to be adopted by them in case they come within these grounds. They can see if they are eligible for demobilisation. Serving soldiers do not as a rule read the newspapers very carefully for they have many other things to do. Those posters should certainly be put up in every town or village where troops are quartered so that the men may read and see for themselves if they come within the provisions. At any rate, every serving soldier should realise, or should be made to realise, that the old order of things, the wide gulf that separated the noncommissioned officer and the man from the his commanding officer can no longer exist with the citizen and largely Conscript Army. Any and every man should be allowed or have permission to go before his commanding officer and state his case. I believe considerable delay has existed at the headquarters of regiments abroad. Instructions should be given to the commanding officers that they must look into every case, and act on it exclusively from the proper point of view. They must weigh the pros and cons, and not consider themselves in their wish to retain certain men; they must make up their minds speedily if the man is eligible for demobilisation, and that Instruction should at once be telegraphed home and proceedings carried through there.

It being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.