HC Deb 07 March 1928 vol 214 cc1155-92

I beg to move, That it is imperative in the interest of the Royal Navy and the nation that the rules by which the question whether disability is attributable to or aggravated by service in the Royal Navy, and the manner in which these rules are interpreted, should be re-examined by the Board of Admiralty. In view of the exodus of hon. Members, I fear that the Royal Navy is not as popular in this House as it should be. The task before me, for all that, is a pleasant one. I have balloted now for nearly 19 years, and this is the third time I have had the good fortune to win the ballot. The second time was a piece of luck. I see opposite an hon. Friend who won the ballot, but fortunately for me he was so unused at that time to the usages of the House, that he forgot to go to the Table and hand in his Motion. The consequence was that he was ruled out and I had his place. I am glad to say there was no ill-feeling about it, and that he thoroughly understood that I could not give way to him. My task is a pleasant one, but it is none the less arduous, although I am personally limiting it to the case of those unfortunate men who are put out of the Navy for tuberculosis. Hon. Friends of mine behind me will touch on the subject as regards rank as well as ratings. The Navy is with us and has been with us so long that we cannot imagine a time when it was otherwise. We are like little children out with their nurse. The nurse is part and parcel of the universe and of their daily life.

Is an appreciation of His Majesty's Navy and its work necessary nowadays? Have we any doubt as to what we owed in 1914 and what we owe now, and what we shall continue to owe, to the Navy? It is upon the Navy, under the good providence of God, that the safety, honour and welfare of the Realm does chiefly depend. Those were the words of King Charles, and they are as true to-day as they were then. And they will be true for all time. We have had many books by many writers on the Great War. The first, among them, and one with perhaps the greatest foresight and genius wrote these words: The unarmed and untrained island nation which with no defence but its Navy had faced unquestioningly the strongest manifestation of military power in human record, had completed task. Our country had emerged from the ordeal alive and safe, its vast Possessions intact, its people and Empire united as never before.


On a point of Order. The hon. Member is reading his speech, and what he has read so far has nothing whatever to do with the Motion that is on the Paper.


I am reading a quotation. If the hon. Gentleman does not know the quotation that is not my fault.


If the hon. Member assumes that people know it why should he read it?


The hon. Member is quite in order. For greater accuracy he has brought a copy of the quotation to read it.


The quotation goes on: All the Kings and Emperors with whom we had warred were in flight or in exile. All their armies and fleets were destroyed or subdued. That is the record. It is one of which the Navy and this country may be proud. All our might and right are based on His Majesty's Navy. I do not seek in any way to lessen the great and manifold services of the Army—far from it; the more so as I had the honour of serving in a small capacity in that great Army, and I saw some of the work that was done, some of the sufferings and some of the gallantry which was shown. But there would have been no army abroad and no army at home if there had been no triumphant Navy to keep the seas, to feed the people of these islands, to feed the soldiers, to transport them abroad, to feed them when they were there, to arm them and to carry their munitions and all the thousands and one things that an army requires. The Navy had to do that, every day and all day for four and a half years, not only in the narrow seas—


And all night!


I do not know whether the hon. Member goes to church. If so he will know that the world was created in seven days.


Does not, that include the nights?


The hon. Member had better ask his own parson to interpret the words for him. I am not here to inform the hon. Gentleman.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 90 Members being present—


It had to be done, as I was saying, not only in the narrow seas, not only in the Seven Seas, but in the great waters of the world and right well did the Navy fulfil its task. But for the Navy we might have been starved and beaten to the ground. Our men might now be fighting German battles for the German mastery of the world and we might be doing German work for whatever pay the Germans chose to give us, and our women and children might be in the condition of slaves—our glory gone with that of Greece, our history only a warning, like that of Rome. But that was avoided by the magnificent courage of the Royal Navy. We have done more than we promised—though that is not very much—for the men of the Royal Navy, and the men of the Services generally who fought at that time. It is little enough for those men who fought, those who died, those who were wounded and invalided and those who dropped by the wayside—the young men with all life before them, the young men with broken lives, aye, Sir, and the old men who gave the rest of their span, who gave up their ease and comfort and in many cases their lives for their country. Those lives were not less valuable because they had only a short span in front of them. All those are for the most part gone.

  • "All that they gave, they gave
  • In sure and single faith.
  • There can no whisper reach the grave,
  • To make them grudge their death,
  • Save only this. …
  • We, they redeemed, denied their blood and mocked the gains they won."
We think of our honour and safety—our honour which is wrapped up in our safety and our safety which is wrapped up in our honour—and we think of those who, day after day, year after year have stood and still stand between us and what the Foreign Secretary of the day in 1914 called "death, destruction and damnation"—nothing less. It is noble to think and believe well of human nature. It would be comforting to think that no man wished us ill and no man coveted that which we had; but we must remember that over the greater part of the habitable globe, the Flag of this country flies, that we won those possessions by the sword for the most part and that we hold them by the sword. We believe unquestioningly that we hold these countries and these peoples for their own advancement and their own good, physical, mental and political. Yes, Sir, and for their religious and future good. What lamp has Destiny to guide her little children stumbling in the dark? Only the lamp we offer—the "Lamp of Life." We hold these places by our armed strength, by the armed strength of His Majesty's Navy. Let us look at the Navy itself. It is manned by the pick of the nation—the pick, physically and mentally. Let us see how it is recruited. First, there are the boys, the sons of naval ratings, who at the age of 11½ years have the good fortune to go to Greenwich School. There is a very strict medical and mental examination passed by them when they enter, and similar examinations continue through their service until at the age of 15½ they are drafted into training ships and later into the Navy. Then there are the boys from outside who enter training ships at the age of 15½. Their curriculum is exactly the same, and the examinations, mental and physical, are just as severe in their case. Then comes the man who at 18 enters the Navy direct from outside. He is treated in exactly the same way. He has to be practically perfect in every physical respect. He has to satisfy medical, dental and mental conditions, and every boy and man in the Navy, practically speaking, must have a "First-class life." Once in the Navy, the youth is well fed and well clothed. But let us look at some of the other conditions of the life of a rating when he enters the Navy. His sleeping accommodation for the most part consists of a metal tank. There are no port-holes and no light save artificial light. Very often there is no direct ventilation, and the only air is that which is forced through by means of a ventilating fan. We know the ventilating fan in the Harcourt Room, where it is a pleasant accompaniment on a summer evening—


I do not like it.

4.0 p.m.


If my hon. Friend does not like it, he need not have it, but it is different with the naval rating. In a tank the fan causes a draught, and draughts are disliked—many people do not like even an open window in a railway carriage—and it is always possible I am told even where these ventilating fans function perfectly for them to be blocked or covered, and I know some instances in which they do not function properly. I ask the House, however, to imagine our men boxed up in these tanks, with their hammocks slung not more than two feet and a half apart in the best circumstances. Sometimes, when the ship is carrying a draft to or from a foreign station, the accommodation cannot be increased and the men must be packed more closely still. I ask the House to remember that these are the conditions in a world-wide service, which is not confined to any one type of climate and where the men may be serving not in cold latitudes only in the tropics. What are the chances of even a healthy man avoiding tuberculosis in these conditions? If a man is suffering from incipient tuberculosis, he does not dare to tell himself the truth. He may believe that he has the beginnings of tuberculosis, but he dare not complain because he knows that if he has tuberculosis he will be discharged, and if he has not served sufficiently long he may be discharged without a pension. A figure was given us a few days ago of the number of men who entered the Royal Navy last year, and out of every 10 who went up for examination, nine were not accepted.

That is a terrible indictment. It surely means that the test must be severe, and it leads one to suppose that in the ordinary way, unless exposed to hidden dangers and hidden illnesses, such men as do pass could not be "physically unfit for further service" and discharged without a disability or other pension within a very few years of entry. But it is so. There is no service pension until a man has served 10 years, that is, if he entered before 1921. If he entered since 1921, he must have 14 years' service, in the event of invaliding, before he gets a pension, unless the disease for which he is invalided is acknowledge by the Survey Board to be "attributable to or aggravated by" his service, and then, I admit, he gets a small pension. There are nearly 60,000 men under 12 years' service in His Majesty's Navy.


I beg to call attention to the fact that 40 Members are not present.


A Count has already been called, and 40 Members were found present.


May I call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that under Rule 112 any Count taken prior to four o'clock is not provided for, and Counts are only effective if after four o'clock; so that the Count for which my hon. Friend now calls appears to me to be in Order.


Does the hon. Member opposite think it is a sufficient reason for calling a Count that very few Members of the Opposition are present?


The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) has not quite appreciated the meaning of the Standing Order. The House cannot be counted out before four o'clock, but a Count can be taken earlier than that. We cannot have a Count so soon after the last one.


I would appeal to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that this subject is a very great one.


Where is your party?

Viscountess ASTOR

Where is yours?


No more vital matter could possibly be brought forward in this House. I need not repeat that, without the Navy, we should be a little plot of land in the North Sea, and we should be starved out of existence. In 1920, there were 124,000 men in the Navy, and in that year 265 were discharged suffering from tuberculosis. In the case of only 3 per cent. was it allowed that their illness was attributable to or aggravated by the Service. Therefore if they had under 10 years service they were put out without a service pension. As I have said, those men who enter before 1921 are in a different position, but after 1921 they have to serve 14 years before getting 1s. a day pension. Between January and September, 1926, 154 men were "cast' from the Navy for tuberculosis alone, and less than 4 per cent. were admitted as being "aggravated or attributable." The last return showed 180 cases of tuberculosis. Of those 180 cases, 18 were certified to be aggravated and attributable to service, and pensioned. That is a very much better figure, 10 per cent., than in previous years. I hope the figure will rise with great rapidity. Even at 10 per cent. it is absolutely insufficient, inadequate, and indefensible. The rating who shortly before was among the physical pick of the world, develops tuberculosis and his case is settled by the "Medical Survey of the Royal Navy." This is what the King's Regulation says: The Board of Survey and General Survey consists of the M.O. in charge of the hospital (President) and three M.O.'s, two of whom are to be S.M.O. of hospital and one S.M.O. of the Fleet or Depot. When two M.O.'s of hospital are not available one suffices. This system was introduced in 1914. Previous to 1914, the President of the Board of Survey had to be a captain, Royal Navy (Executive). The advantage of that was that the rating brought before him recognised a man in whom he could place absolute confidence, because he was his own man, and the captain, of course, looked upon his rating as one of his own children. It gave the rating an advantage which he certainly has not got at the present moment when he is brought before the Board of Medical Officers, however able and however learned. I wish to emphasise most strongly, far from me be it to question or to undervalue the medical ability, attainments and the self-sacrifice of a great and noble profession. Incidentally, I would say that I myself am a medical student, and I have therefore seen some of the sacrifices which the profession has to make. The sacrifice is made daily, and not less by those medical officers who are in the Services.

I know that the Admiralty is not unfriendly to the idea of a Board, and I say that a Board of Appeal must be granted to the rank and ratings before men are discharged from the Service for tuberculosis. If the Survey Board decide that there is no attributability or aggravation, as I have said, the men are discharged, if under 10 or 14 years' service, as the case may be, pensionless. Picture to yourself what happens to a rating discharged without pension or disability pension from the Navy. Picture to yourself his return to shore to his wife and his family, to a small room or rooms, broken in health, broken in heart, broken in body, broken in mind and in purse. He returns there, as I say, to see his wife and children starve, and that when he is suffering from a most hideous disease—a disease for which there is said to be only one cure, and that cure fresh air, fresh air, and again fresh air, and, perhaps above all and beyond anything else, nourishing food. Nourishing food—on the dole! That is what that man, if married, has to live upon, and to keep his wife and children and to keep himself in nourishing food. We work up in this House—in a much larger House than this—to white heat on the subject of domestic slavery in Sierra Leone. We have spent a great deal of money and a good many lives in trying to put down slavery in what they call the Triangle, north of Assam. We spend every year lacs and lacs of rupees in trying to put down Ethiopian slavery and the Red Sea traffic.

When we come to our own country and our own countrymen, we cannot afford it. Why?? For the reason that if it is a good scheme the Army and the Royal Air Force say that they want to be in it. Immediately, of course, as we all know, the Treasury say, "We cannot." and when the Treasury speaks, most of us have to listen. But why? As they said in the days of my youth, "Why should London wait?" The answer is very clear. Why should the Navy wait? Because the other Services want to chip in. I say, why should not a beginning be made with the Navy, and why should not a beginning be made with one particular kind of disease, and that a desolating disease which affects the Navy? I am sure there is not a naval surgeon in the world who would not admit that any doctor might be wrong, particularly if that doctor were a civilian doctor, but the number of those who in any profession will admit that they may have been wrong is exceedingly small. There is no man who lives even to middle age who will not admit that fact. It takes a big man, a very large-minded man, to admit that he may have been wrong, and a bigger one still to say, "I have been in error; I have made a mistake." It is true that to admit error in the Navy is not, perhaps, a particularly wise thing to do. John Stuart Mill said: How can great minds be produced in a country when the test of a great mind is agreeing in the opinion of small minds? That is a profound counsel. The rating does not blame the surgeon who discharges him. At the same time, I think it would be kinder if the surgeon gave him a large dose of poison on the spot, and so save him much suffering, and his wife and family also.

I say at once that I absolutely repudiate the suggestion and I fight against it whenever I can, for I do believe in the justice of great Departments, although perhaps not always in the case of individuals, but the sailor man has the honest conviction that if a surgeon is too kind-hearted or too generous to him, he very soon loses his cushy job, and is sent to another part of the world where it is not so pleasant. I say I do not for a moment believe it, but the men believe it, and it is not fair, right or politic to lay any man under such a suspicion, however mistaken and however ridiculous it may seem to us. I am persuaded that there must be some kind of appeal for rank and rating. This is not really a party question. It is a huge question, which should be settled by the better feelings of every Member of this House. A man may make a mistake which is very easy to make, and that is to overstate his case. I do not wish to do anything of the kind. I think my case is strong enough by itself. I will at once admit that there is an appeal to the Board of Admiralty, and never in my experience—and I may so frankly—has a Board been more generous, more just, more appreciative, more kindly or more fair to men than the Board under my right hon. Friend the First Lord and my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. But the Board is far away, as far away from the sailor as the sun is from the earth. The rating knows there is a sun; he has seen its light and felt its benign and beneficent influence, and he knows what sunstroke means, but he never dreams of appealing to the sun. It takes a brave man, a morally brave man, or else a desperate one, to appeal even to his Captain—and I know that, because I get very many instances of it—but to appeal to the Board of Admiralty, to My Lords! Well, if you put that before him, he will in most cases laugh at you. I specially ask my hon. and gallant Friend to note this, that if it could be definitely laid down in King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, and published in Admiralty Orders, that every rank and rating has the right, the right which cannot be taken from him, the right which is indefeasibly his, of appealing from the Survey Board to the Board of Admiralty, then the grievance which I am bringing forward, which is a sound and just grievance, a grievance which I have noted now for more than 20 years at the headquarters of the Fleet, would to a very great extent disappear.

Let me give a concrete example of what I mean by telling of what was a successful appeal to the Board of Admiralty. A petty officer with 19 years' service—and so, of course, entitled to a service pension of £56 a year—in the year 1925 was unfortunate enough to develop pleurisy. He lingered on slowly, and he then took pneumonia, and in the month of December they sent him out in a torpedo-boat-destroyer to the Baltic, and in that torpedo-boat-destroyer they also sent a large draft of other men for the Baltic. Some of us have seen a torpedo-boat-destroyer, and we know the accommodation and what happens if 30 or 40 additional men are shoved into that ship. As soon as that man got to the Baltic—of course, it was by an error that he had been drafted there—they said to him, "Go home," and they sent him back in another torpedo-boat-destroyer, and when he got back, would you believe that that poor fellow developed tuberculosis?

He went before a board which discharged him as suffering from a disease non-aggravated by and non-attributable to the Service. That is a pretty tall order, and the man went away and is no longer in the Service. The man had some pluck and appealed to his Member of Parliament, and the case was brought to the notice of the Board of Admiralty. They acted with generosity and kindness, and nine months after his appeal he was allowed a disability pension. He did wisely in appealing. That seemed to me to be a very hard case, and it was taken up, as I say, by the Board in a sympathetic spirit, but it is only a limited number of men who dare go to the Board. I will say at once that only yesterday morning my hon. and gallant Friend sent me a further case of a man who was discharged in October last and who yesterday had been given a disability pension. He was a chief petty officer, retired on a pension of £50 a year, and for the next year and until he is re-boarded he is to receive £118 a year, so that his chance of getting a little fresh air and good food, and possibly of saving his life, is a great deal better than it was.

We must have a free appeal to the Board of Admiralty, or, if the Admiralty will not allow that, we must have a board which does not consist exclusively of naval medical men. It is not fair to ask a board of naval medical officers to sit in judgment on their seniors or on their juniors. There is fortunately an esprit de corps right through the Service, and you have to consider the esprit de corps naturally in all and every connection of the Service. I should like to see a board, if we cannot have the Admiralty, with a Captain R.N. (Executive) as President, with at least one naval medical officer sitting on that board, and—this is a new idea, perhaps—I should like to see a civilian of common sense, experience, and world-knowledge, which is more wanted than medical knowledge on that board.

I feel sure that the Town Clerks of the great dockyard towns would be willing to give their services without fee. I know the City Clerk of the headquarters of the Fleet would give all the time that his duties would allow him to do—all honour to him—and that shows how universal is the feeling on the subject of disease in the Navy. He would give his time, and give it without fee, and I know that the Town Clerks of what I may call the lesser ports would give their services in the same way freely. Therefore, the cost to the Admiralty would be nil. That difficulty does not stand in the way. There would be no need to do away with the appeal to the Board of Admiralty. That would stand as it stands now, as a kind of North Star in the heavens for the bold matelot, but if my suggestion is not accepted, I think the Board should appoint a civilian doctor of eminence as a referee. That, however, means money, and there is none. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, and I hope it will be done by my right hon. Friend the First Lord. One bad case such as I have enumerated does more harm in every way than 20 instances of generosity do good. It causes more discontent, more feeling of hopelessness than can be calculated. It makes men desperate, poisons the lives of widows and children, and it is as bad for human nature as it is for this great Service. Man's inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn.


We are always saying that.


And it is very true. It came from a great man, and it is what the people on the other side call "frozen truth."

Rear-Admiral BEAMISH

I beg to second the Motion.

I am very sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) should have had to waste his "sweetness on the desert air," but it is quality that counts in addressing this House. The terms of the Motion cover the whole field of the question of the invaliding of men from His Majesty's Navy, but I propose to confine myself within fairly close limits to the more serious aspect of it presented by tuberculosis, and by pulmonary tuberculosis in particular, because this dreadful scourge is one that is comparable for other sections of the population and the other Services under the Crown. There is no getting away from it that at the present time there is a considerable amount of dissatisfaction in His Majesty's Navy among both the ranks and the ratings in consequence of the way in which invalidings are carried out and at the findings that are come to in regard to attribrutality to and aggravation by service in the Navy.

It is a fact, as the Mover remarked, that we used to have an executive officer, a captain—sometimes, I think, a flag officer—who used to sit as president of a board called together to adjudicate on men who were to be invalided, and it worked very well. I am not aware of the reasons that brought about the change, but it may be that medical officers in the Navy are professionally adverse to anything of the kind. At the same time, I should be the last person to suggest that they have any feeling in their mind other than sympathy for the men who come before them to be invalided out of the Service, but I think it would be a very good plan to revert in one way or another to the old custom of having an executive officer of considerable rank to sit as president of an invaliding board. If that cannot be achieved, at any rate we must have something in the nature of a further and higher appeal board, to which men and officers can appeal after they have been sentenced to be invalided from the Service.

I realise, as no doubt the House realises, and I think perhaps the men and officers in the Navy realise, that whatever the attitude of the Admiralty may be, it is not entirely the Admiralty who are bringing the pressure to bear and preventing anything in the nature of generosity in regard to pensions or gratuities that may be granted. I think they realise that it must of necessity be the all-powerful Treasury which lies at the back of this trouble, and I shall have a further word or two to say on that point in my concluding remarks. At the present time an extremely small percentage of the men who are invalided from the Service for pulmonary tuberculosis get either a pension for it or anything approaching a gratuity at all. It is a very tiny percentage, as the Mover of the Motion pointed out, and that very naturally creates a considerable amount of dissatisfaction and unrest. As I said, I have chosen pulmonary tuberculosis because of its prevalence right through the population of this country and the other Services under the Crown, and I will quote just a few simple figures to show how serious is the prevalence of tuberculosis in the Navy and how much it exceeds the incidence of that fell disease in the other Services and also in the civil population.

In the Navy, in 1925, there were 102,600 men, and of that number there were invalided 197 for pulmonary tuberculosis, and 31 died in addition to the 197. The rate per thousand is the point that I want to put before the House to enable a comparison to be made. The rate per thousand of the men in the Navy was 2.19, and the death rate 34. With regard to the Army, in 1926, the nearest year for which I could get figures, there were 226,700 men serving and 173 were invalided with tuberculosis, and a further 23 died. The case-rate per thousand was 91 and the death rate 12. In 1926, there were 59,520 new cases of tuberculosis in the civil population reported to medical officers of health in the country. The other cases that I mentioned in the Army and Navy were, of course, new cases. I think that the death-rate among the new cases in the country is reasonably comparable to the death-rate among new cases in the Army and Navy. That will be allowed. Out of the number of new civil cases, 6,840 died. The case-rate is 1.52 per thousand, and the death-rate 17. In the Army the death-rate from pulmonary tuberculosis in the year was only one-third of that in the Navy, and in the civil population it is exactly a half of the rate in the Navy.

I have said enough on that point—and I think my figures will bear close investigation—to make my case clear that pulmonary tuberculosis in the Navy is a very serious scourge, and has a more serious effect than it has on the other sections of the population. Two-thirds of the number of men who are invalided from the Navy for this disease are of over five years' service; that means that they served for five years before anything in the nature of the disease appeared, and they are constantly medically examined, so that opportunities are never lost of finding out whether they are suffering from it. That shows that, while they might have picked it up on shore, the probability is that they picked it up in the Service. More than one-half of those invalided were over 25 years of age. Men of the Navy join at a young age, most of them from 14 to 19 and 20, and this again shows that they have arrived at a very useful stage in their career, when this dreadful disease comes upon them. One other point, which is not an uninteresting one, is that the men in the Navy get tuberculosis at a higher rate than do the officers. That is not an easy comparison to make, but so far as my researches go, they prove that.

The Mover of the Motion mentioned the conditions of life in the Navy; without wishing to speak too strongly, I have no hesitation in saying that the conditons of life in a man-of-war, so far as tuberculosis is concerned, are very bad indeed. It does not matter how much the medical officers may try, and how much the technical officers of the ships may try, to do all that is possible to provide good ventilation, it becomes to all intents and purposes impossible when the climate, and the technical details and difficulties of a ship are borne in mind. It is a fact that the men sleep to some extent nowadays head to toe, but, at the same time, their hammocks literally touch one another, and they are crowded together in ill-ventilated spaces. Whether we like it or not, there is no help for it in the small ships; they are battened down when the ship is at sea in anything like bad weather, and even in good weather ventilation is poor, and, altogether, the circumstances in which the men sleep would be condemned by any shore-going medical officer of health.

That shows clearly that the risks that the men run are very serious in this respect. One has only to realise that one man may be courageous enough to carry on with a bad cold, which may be the incipient stages of tuberculosis, and thereby infect a large number of other men. I much doubt if anywhere there is such a serious wastage of first-class life from such a disease as there is in the Navy. I would like to quote my own personal experience. I have nothing in the nature of a grievance, but it is a fact that at the age of 20 I acquired the micrococcus melitensis, the germ of Malta fever, and for four months I was in bed. I was invalided home much more dead than alive, and had to leave the Service temporarily. On my papers, it was written that the cause of my discharge, and the loss of time that was the consequence of it, were not attributable to His Majesty's service. The micro-coccus melitensis is not to be found in Palace Yard or in Trafalgar Square or anywhere in London except in laboratories, and the House will agree with me that it was attributable to His Majesty's service and not as stated on the papers that were given to me. To show that service in the Navy does give you an opportunity of picking up other things, I would mention that a few years afterwards I managed to acquire a serious attack of malarial fever on the East and West Coasts of Africa, and that, I suggest, was attributable to service. Not so very long afterwards I acquired in the Persian Gulf another nice tropical disease, a form of gastro enteritis. I shook that off and then I had a very excellent attack of the worst form of dysentery in Cyprus and Syria. I mention these things, not because I want to cite my troubles, for they are all done with and past, but because I want to show that these diseases can only too easily be acquired in normal circumstances by service under the Crown.

With regard to the question of the hard cases, I must mention one that came to my notice recently. That was of a petty officer pensioner who served 20 years in the Navy. At the age of 38 or 40 he was not feeling well in the last few weeks of his time, and he did his best, knowing that there might be some risk to his pension. He left the Service and within a very few weeks of his drawing the pension, he was a dead man from galloping consumption. His wife got absolutely nothing from the Navy because the disease was not attributable to His Majesty's service. That is only one of many similar cases which exist in large numbers, and something ought to be done at an early date to put this thing on a better footing. I realise, of course, that the question before the House is only part of a very much larger question—a national question. I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty may accept this Motion, and that the Admiralty will do their best to make investigations. But the Motion goes further than that, and I would go so far as to say that, until the State gets a clear idea of its responsibility in regard to the health of the people whom it employs, and sets up in some way or another some fund—if necessary on a contributory basis—or some form of insurance, we shall continue to inflict hardship on men and officers who have no right to be so treated. Everybody realises the difficulty which a man has in bringing an action for compensation against a great Department of State such as the Admiralty. At the same time he has and would have in civil life in the ordinary way, a very good case in a large number of instances under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and other Acts that are on the Statute Book. But it is denied to the men of His Majesty's Forces, and, quite probably, similarly denied to officers and men who serve in civil capacities overseas in unhealthy climates. It is time we made a change. At any rate, in regard to the Navy, the position is profoundly unfair, and not creditable to the State nor to the Government. It cries aloud for investigation and a very early solution.


I associate with pleasure this side of the House with the Motion, and I congratulate the Mover on raising a matter which will undoubtedly excite the sympathy of all parties, and which cuts across all party divisions. May I take the opportunity of congratulating the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken that he has escaped any permanent injuries from the curious hobby that he seems to have had in his early days of collecting rare diseases. Although the Mover and Seconder have laid special emphasis on tuberculosis, they do not, of course, mean to confine their Motion to that entirely, but to extend it to other diseases that might arise in connection with a man's occupation in the Royal Navy. There may be differences of opinion as to the need of a Navy, but there can be no question that, while it is in existence, the State accepts the responsibility for the officers and men who are engaged therein, and it is their duty to see that the best possible terms and conditions are given to them while they are engaged in that Service. The figures read by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) who has just spoken as to the prevalence of tuberculosis in the Navy make a curious commentary. One would have thought that, having regard to the calling, the disease would be less prevalent than it is in shore callings. It is not many years ago since, that in one Department of the Civil Service, namely, the Post Office, this disease was almost epidemic, and had the highest rate both for death and sickness in any calling in the country. Now it has almost been stamped out, and it is the rarest possible thing there. That has been due to the great care and attention given to the working conditions of the men. Probably something could be done along that line, and some investigation is necessary to see if it could be done in the Navy.

However sympathetic we must be with men who fall victims of this disease, it is beginning at the wrong end to treat them when they have already fallen victims. What is called for here as much as anything is a searching investigation into whether reforms and a remedy cannot be found to prevent disease, rather than to deal with the effects of it. I was interested in two remarks—which I mention only in passing, so as not to throw any discordant note into the Debate—made by the hon. Member who moved the Motion. In one he said the House had been moved to a white heat in connection with slavery in Sierra Leone. I had not observed it. I have raised that matter here once or twice, and I have not received much support, rather have I been shouted down when trying to press the Minister on the subject. He also pointed out how difficult it is for men to nourish themselves fully on what he was pleased to call "the dole," but which is unemployment insurance benefit. That observation applies to others than those in the Royal Navy, and I hope the hon. Member will remember that. While his heart is soft, as it always is for the men of the Royal Navy, I hope he will have the same regard for men in other calling who find themselves in a similar position.


One thing at a time.


I want to suggest to the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Motion that something more is needed than is already asked for by the Motion, which asks that there shall be possibilities for consideration before men are finally discharged from the Service. It happens very often that the worst incidence of the trouble or disease reveals itself after they have been discharged, and there ought to be some opportunity for appeal on the grounds of accident or trouble which can be directly traced to the Service. Let me give this example. Only yesterday I had a letter from a man who had served some years in the Royal Navy, and who, in the course of his duty, lost the middle finger of the right hand. He was given a pension. Subsequently he obtained employment in the Post Office. After a time that was reported to the Board of Admiralty, and the man's pension was then stopped, on the ground that he was capable of full earnings. That I regard as quite indefensible and wrong. Here is a man maimed for life during his work in the Royal Navy, and surely the Admiralty have no right to take into consideration any work he may get later in order to reduce his income in that way. The man now finds himself in an extremely difficult position. He has fallen on rather bad days, owing to ill-health, in the Post Office itself, where he has been employed for a number of years, and is likely before long to be discharged, perhaps without a pension, or with a very small pension, and he will now receive no pension at all for the actual injury received in the Navy, to which he is rightly entitled, just because at some period he was able to earn full remuneration for certain services in the Post Office. There ought to be some possibility of appeal in a case like that. A man ought to be able to have his case reconsidered, especially when there can be no doubt whatever as to the accident having arisen out of his service in the Navy.

I agree with the hon. Member that we do not want to ask for co-ordination of the Services in this matter, because we shall have to wait till the crack of doom if we wait for that; and I may say in passing that if the hon. Member who last night raised the question of the political disabilities of men in the Royal Navy had only taken the trouble to look up the position with regard to the other Services he would have had a very much stronger case than he thought he had. In this matter it ought to be the line of the Navy to give a lead. One other point—is it quite the best line to take to ask for a right of appeal to the Board of Admiralty? Would it not be better if we had an independent tribunal or board composed of flag officers serving, or perhaps those who are on half-pay, with medical officers independent of the Service and, perhaps, a civilian by way of assessor? It is very much like appealing to the judge who has already pronounced sentence if appeal has to be made to the Board of Admiralty upon a decision which their officials have already given. However, for what it is, for the intentions behind it, and in the hope that consideration will be given to the matter by the hon. Member the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty and his right hon. Friend, we are prepared to support the Motion. I think it will be accepted in the right spirit by the Admiralty itself, and I hope things will not rest there but that they will give us a real inquiry to see if something cannot be done on behalf of these men and officers who suffer from health or accident.


The question which has been raised in this Motion is one of vital importance and one—


On a point of Order. If the time is up, I should like, Mr. Speaker, to draw your attention to the fact that there are not 40 Members present.


The House was counted recently, and 40 Members were present.


I understand that it is more than an hour since it was counted.

5.0 p.m.


This question is arousing great interest, and a certain amount of anxiety, among Members of this House and the public generally, and I think I may say also in the service itself. We are constantly having cases brought to our notice which, on the surface, appear to be cases which ought to receive consideration from the Admiralty but which are turned down and held to be non-attributable. I will read to the House a statement showing what the Admiralty regard as the conditions necessary for attributability. This is a letter which I received from my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1926. I have been dealing with the subject ever since, but not with very much success up to the present: Before a disease can be accepted as attributable to the Service it must be shown to have developed out of unusual conditions. Medical officers are required to give very careful consideration to cases where such conditions are suggested and cases of doubt would be represented specially. You may rest assured that when there is evidence that a man invalided for a particular disease has been exposed to exceptional conditions of the Service involving the risk of contracting that disease, this evidence would be accepted as proof of attributability. It is an exceedingly hard condition to fulfil, to prove that a man has been exposed to exceptional conditions. Sometimes there is no difficulty at all. In certain groups it can be settled straight away. In the group of accidents you can decide quite easily whether an accident was due to the service, and it is the same in the case of certain tropical diseases which have been already mentioned, including malaria and undulant or Mediterranean fever. Here I would enter a slight protect against my hon. and gallant Friend referring to undulant fever as Malta fever. That name is now quite dead, it gives great offence to the people of Malta and the proper medical and scientific name of the disease is undulant or Mediterranean fever. In cases like that there is no difficulty; the Admiralty will probably decide both to the satisfaction of the men and of the service. But there are certain difficult groups, comprising diseases found in civil life, which people in the services are also liable to have. Take the case of a man who has developed chronic bronchitis, and ultimately heart disease, whilst serving in the service and is invalided out. That man naturally thinks he is entitled to a pension, because the disease was contracted in the service, but there is nothing exceptional there, nothing in the life he has led to make us think that the disease was attributable to his service, and the man justly has no claim. But that does not make the man think so. The same thing might happen with acute rheumatism followed by heart disease. These cases are difficult because they are met with in civil life as well as in the service, and the Admiralty have a very good case when they refuse to accept some of these.

But tuberculosis is in rather a different category. This case is causing the greatest dissatisfaction both in the services and in the country. There are only-two circumstances in which the Admiralty would acknowledge without any hesitation that consumption, or tuberculosis of the lungs, was to be held attributable to service. If a man had been nursing consumptive or tuberculous patients and had developed consumption the Admiralty would probably regard that as attributable and give the man a pension. They would also, I think, give a man a pension if he had been serving in a submarine and had developed consumption, and it turned out that there had been a consumptive man amongst the crew. In those cases I do not think there is any difficulty. In every other case there is a difficulty, and the Admiralty Board, who, are the deciding authority—have proved to be extremely difficult to convince. It is not a difficulty of diagnosis. The diagnosis causes no trouble at all. Everyone will agree on whether the man has or has not consumption. The difficulty is to determine whether it has arisen as the result of exceptional circumstances during his service, and that is purely a matter of opinion. No one can lay down a fundamental rule or law and say the man's case must fulfil that law. It is purely a matter of opinion, and therefore it is possible that one group of officers may decide in a certain case that it was attributable, whereas the next group may say, "No, you cannot point to anything which would lead us to come to that conclusion."

Last year I obtained figures as to pulmonary tuberculosis in the Navy in the previous years, and the number of cases which were held to be attributable. I obtained the figures also for other services, and although I do not quite go so far as my hon. and gallant Friend in making out that the Navy is the worst service from the health point of view, and I think his figures would bear a little criticism, still, I find that out of the cases of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1923, 1924 and 1925 the cases held to be attributable were not quite 3 per cent. The figures were 4 cases out of 132 in 1923; 5 out of 150 in 1924; and 5 out of 197 in 1925. It, is an exceedingly small percentage to say that under 3 per cent. of cases of consumption invalided out of the Navy are attributable to conditions of service. As a result of questions in this House and a certain amount of sympathy from the Admiralty and other services I believe the Committee has been set up to inquire into tuberculosis. That Committee has been sitting for some time and I am inclined to think that they are likely to alter their opinion and take, if not a more humane view, at any rate not quite such a strict view as they took before. By questions and answers in this House, I find that in 1927 there were 180 cases invalided for tuberculosis, and 18 cases or 10 per cent. were held to be attributable to service conditions. In previous years it was under 3 per cent., and it has now jumped up to 10 per cent. No one can say that the conditions of service have altered so considerably as to increase phthisis rates by over three times. I have concluded that as a result of much talking on this subject and consideration the board have begun to think that they may have been a little too harsh in the past and that they have been taking up a position which is logically untenable. That is my argument.

I contend that only in the few instances I have given is it possible for the Admiralty to definitely decide the attributable cases, and outside these the Admiralty would be logical in saying that no case is attributable. Nobody knows how a patient gets consumption. All we know is that at some time or other the germ of consumption is inhaled and gets into the lungs. You might say that if a man in the tropics gets malaria, and later develops consumption, it can be held to be attributable because that happens to be a debilitating disease, and this might be applied to almost any disease in the tropics. That is an absolutely silly argument because practically every man and woman inhales the tuberculosis germ, but it is not every man and woman who gets malaria that also gets tuberculosis, even in the tropics. The Admiralty may say: "We do not know how you got this disease, but it is not due to the conditions of service, and you might have got it in civil life." My hon. Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) suggests in his Motion that the manner in which these rules are interpreted should be examined by the Board of Admiralty. That is purely a matter of opinion, when all is said and done. It does not matter how you revise the rules, you cannot alter the Board from having their definite opinion when you can offer no proof. One is tempted to ask: "Are the Commissioners at Chelsea so sure of their open-mindedness that they are always competent to decide"—


This point is not decided by the Commissioners at Chelsea, but by the medical officers at the Board of Admiralty.


I have seen a letter which states that, "The Commissioners hold the disease to be non-attributable," and for that reason a pension has been refused. [An HON. MEMBER: "The award!"] Perhaps I am wrong and it should be the award of the Admiralty, and I am mixing up the two things. The decisions in these cases may vary with different boards and at different times of the year. I have a case in mind where an hon. Member of this House came to me last year and submitted certain papers for my observations. He said, "This is the case of a man who was in the Navy. He developed consumption and he has been turned out without pension." I went through the papers and I said: "In my opinion this case is attributable and if you cannot get this case through you will never get any case through." My friend then said: "I will take it up to the Admiralty and see what can be done." A few months afterwards he said to me: "You will be glad to hear that the Board of Admiralty reversed their decision. Although in the first instance they refused the case on the ground that it was held to be non-attributable, they afterwards changed their minds and said it was attributable." I think there are some slight indications that the Board of Admiralty admit that in the past they had made mistakes or that they may have taken too strict a view. The Admiralty are too apt to compare men in the Navy with men in civil life. They say that in the case of a man in civil life no one would give an applicant a pension because he had developed consumption. They say that a man in the Navy is under much better conditions and enjoys better health and if he develops consumption it must have been contracted in civil life and consequently the Navy deny responsibility. That may be perfectly logical, but it does not prevent very hard cases arising. One occasionally receives letters on this subject and with the permission of the House I would just like to read a few lines to show how the action of the Admiralty in these cases is viewed by the people concerned. Here is an extract from a letter: As a father who lost a splendid son in November last, I know what the poor fellows suffer without help from the Service. My splendid boy was thrown out of the Royal Navy to die like a dog without a penny help. It broke his heart to think that a grateful country which gave him two service medals, won at 16 years of age, should leave him to die and starve for all they cared; simply stating non-attributable to service. That is the letter written by the father of a boy who gave his life to the country. That man naturally thinks the Admiralty is rather hard and he believes that his boy certainly contracted the disease in the Navy, and nothing in the world will convince that father otherwise. The case I have mentioned is only one of hundreds. I have a ease that came within my own knowledge of a boy who got into the Navy, passed A1, served for 10 years and was discharged with consumption which was held to be non-attributable. He had no parents—just a stepfather—he was sent to a sanatorium and we got a certificate from the principal medical officer there showing that in his opinion the disease was attributable to the conditions of service, but nothing was done, and that poor lad was allowed to die. That is the way some of the people of this country think that our gallant Navy is treating its equally gallant men. The cases are very hard, but I recognise that the Admiralty is in a difficult position that they can logically maintain the attitude that in the majority of cases they are not responsible. I felt so strongly about this matter that two years ago when I first brought up the subject I suggested a scheme of compulsory insurance for the Services and I think I showed at that time that by a scheme of compulsory insurance against tuberculosis the Admiralty might get out of their difficulty quite easily and honourably. My scheme was sympathetically considered by the First Lord of the Admiralty who referred it to the Board of Admiralty and they turned it down. That is just what we expect. The Admiralty believe that nothing good can come to them unless it originates from their own officials, and they are not going to take the advice of Members of Parliament. I know they have their own rules, and I admit that they always treat me very kindly and courteously. Later on I put my scheme before another Department and they thought there might be something in it and promised to inquire into the matter. I said to them, "Will you have my figures examined actuarily by the Government Actuary to see that the facts are right?" Later on I inquired and I found that this Department had the matter before them for nearly two years. They never placed the matter before the Government Actuary. They are still considering whether these cases are attributable or non-attributable, and when the Greek Kalends arrive we shall hear something about my suggested scheme. The Admiralty could have had that scheme examined in a very short time, but because it happened to come from a Member of this honourable House and did not originate in the Admiralty or one of the other Services, they have not gone to the trouble of finding out whether my scheme was sound or not. In the meantime, the men are dying and nothing is being done for them and everybody is dissatisfied. I hope this Debate will arouse more interest in the subject and that the Services will really tackle this question more seriously.

We want to know are we responsible for tubercle or not? Can we prove this disease to be attributable or not? I agree that if the Admiralty care to do it, they can get out of their liability in the majority of cases but having done so they must recognise that for these poor men when invalided out all that remains for them is the National Health Insurance amounting to about 15s. a week for a short time and then they are sent to the Sanatorium. When they come out of those Institutions they have not enough money to keep them going and frequently they have not a friend to help them. Consumption is a debilitating disease and those suffering from it require very nourishing food and skilful treatment. These men are left to starve and die and the country is doing practically nothing to help them.

If the Government brought in a compulsory insurance scheme, all this could be avoided by deducting 1d. a week and then we should know definitely that every man who contracted consumption in any of the Services and was invalided out would have a pension of £2 a week as long as he lived if my scheme is actuarially sound. Then I think the country could say with satisfaction that something had been done for these men. I think it would be much better that these men should be able to live in a certain amount of decency and comfort instead of being thrown on the scrap heap and having to trust to the kindness or charity of friends or else go into a Sanatorium and die derelict without any help from the State or the people of this country. I commend very heartily this Resolution to the House, and also to the attention of the Admiralty. I hope they will really recognise that it is a very serious matter, which is causing a very great deal of dissatisfaction in the country, and that they have the opportunity, if they will, of satisfying the men in the Services.


It might be thought, from what has preceded, that those who are interested in this case are claiming that every man invalided out of the Service should be granted a pension. The claim is far more modest than that. The claim is only that those who are invalided out of the Service should have a fair trial, should have a fair chance of getting a pension. It is a claim that an appeal tribunal should be established. There is no valid argument, so far as I am able to see, for resisting such a case as that. The facts have been stated sufficiently clearly this afternoon, and they need very little emphasis. What are they? In order to get into His Majesty's Navy you have to prove yourself to be a man of very exceptional physical characteristics. There is no chance of your getting through that net if there is the slightest defect in your constitution. Every month, 5,000 men try to get into the Navy. Of these, 4,500 are rejected, and only 500 succeed in getting in. The chances against your getting into His Majesty's Navy are, when fractions and so on are allowed for, about seven to one, and you do not try to get into the Navy unless you are a person of sound physique.

After you have passed through what I have described as this net, what are the conditions under which you serve? They have been explained to the House this afternoon—bad ventilation, bad light, unnatural conditions, noise, din, confinement. Ninety per cent. of the men serving afloat in ships of war work—and rest—in artificial light and in artificial air. One would naturally expect that, arising from that, certain diseases would be contracted, and, curiously enough, it is those very diseases that are contracted. One would expect men to become deaf; one would expect their eyesight to become weaker; one would expect them to get chest trouble. That is exactly what happens, and these are the principal diseases for which men are invalided out of the Navy. When a man has contracted one of these diseases, what is the procedure? He naturally claims a pension. He goes before a doctor, who is an Admiralty servant, and the chances against his getting a pension are 16 to one. The figures are perfectly astounding, and they do require some adequate explanation from the Admiralty. Out of about 1,500 people invalided every year, only about 80 get pensions, and they are invalided for these very diseases which you would expect them to get. How, in those circumstances, can the Admiralty resist this case, and why do they make it necessary for us to advocate it in this House?

My hon. Friend who has just sat down, and who speaks with great authority in these matters, has spoken about tuberculosis, and it is, indeed, amazing that, in the year 1925, of 189 people who were invalided out of the Service for pulmonary tuberculosis—to say nothing of those who died—only two got pensions. In every other case the Admiralty said, "This has nothing to do with us." If it has nothing to do with the Admiralty, with whom has it anything to do? These men, naturally, imagine that it is due to their service, and they want to know the reason why the Admiralty says that it is not due to service. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what the reason is. The Admiralty say that they do not consider a disease to be attributable to service when it is due to the ordinary conditions of the Service. To what else can it be due? If you put a man in a bad atmosphere, deprive him of light, make him lead an entirely unnatural life, and give him, as a result of that, a disease, you are not entitled to say that, if this disease is due to those very conditions, you will not give him a pension. There can be no other ground on which he can claim a pension.

If you compare the life in the Navy with the life outside, it is a very different life. If these men were miners or glassblowers, and if these statistics were published with regard to them, the public conscience would be aroused, and it is precisely because of that that we have the Workmen's Compensation Act on the Statute Book to-day. A civilian who claims to have contracted tuberculosis or any other disease, arising out of his duty, can before a county Court. He does not go before a doctor; he goes before a county Court, and produces his evidence. Why should the Admiralty deny the servants of the State that which is the right of every civilian in this country? Why should not they even place this matter in the hands of the county Court? That, at any rate, would give the man the satisfaction of being allowed to state his case. A doctor who is an Admiralty servant, honest though he naturally is, is not the proper tribunal The place of the doctor is in the witness-box. His is the evidence of an expert; his is not the verdict of a Judge. The question whether or not a man is ill is the province of the doctor; to decide whether or not, taking all the circumstances into consideration, that man is entitled to some compensation, is the function of a man in the street, of a civilian, and it would be better to let it be judged by an ordinary serving naval officer than by a doctor.

That is the claim. I shall be interested to know on what grounds it can be resisted. Of course, this Motion will not be contested by the Government, because the Motion does not mean anything, so far as I can understand. The Motion simply calls upon the Admiralty to make further inquiries. We do not want further inquiries; this matter has been inquired into for years past. We want to know why the Admiralty will not grant an appeal tribunal. Has it any justification for refusing such a tribunal, or is it afraid that, if such a tribunal is granted, these men will get what they cannot get under the present system?

Viscountess ASTOR

We have spoken very often on this subject, and we have heard speeches that would have moved the heart of anybody, but it seems to me that we have never had a chance to stir the heart of the House of Commons, for, although it is almost incomprehensible, the House of Commons seems particularly vacant whenever this question comes up. If we had a crowded House for this Motion, and could put our case before it, the Admiralty would be bound to listen, but unfortunately, there are very few people here. The figures have been given this afternoon. There are 55,000 men who want to enter the Navy, but only 5,000 can do so. The Admiralty can say that application to enter the Navy is not compulsory, and that the reason why so few can be taken is not because of ill-health, but because they only want a certain number. As hon. Members have shown, there is a tremendous process of elimination, and we only get the best. The Admiralty might say, perfectly rightly, that they do not ask them to come, and they can get plenty of men. But, if the Admiralty told those young fellows when they came up that they had to, live under certain conditions, if they put before them the conditions of a modern man-of-war and showed them the high rate of tuberculosis in a modern man-of-war—which I do not believe it is possible to prevent under the conditions—if they showed them that, and said, "These are the things you will get, but, if you get them, you will get no pension," it would be quite a different matter.

It has been suggested that the Admiralty ought to look into this question of the living conditions in a modern battleship. I have had a great deal to do with it, and I have asked, not only British experts, but experts who have devoted themselves to this question in the American Navy, where the rate of tuberculosis is also very high. It seems to be impossible to prevent it under the conditions of modern warships, and I do not see how it can be otherwise—that is one reason why I want to get rid of war—or how it could be made possible for men to live in modern warships except under the most appalling conditions. The Admiralty, therefore, have that responsibility, and the least they could do is to see to it that these people know that the conditions do not correspond with the lovely posters that you see, with pictures of ships afloat and the heading: "Join the Navy," but are something quite different.

The results of tuberculosis are truly alarming, and I do beg the Admiralty at least to give these men the chance of appealing. It is no good telling us that it is not attributable to naval service. We who represent naval ports have to see, as was said by the hon. Member for North Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle), these men go out of the Navy and go back to their homes, with no pensions, and, worst of all, with a grievance. There is nothing worse for the health of a man who has been so weakened than a grievance, and, if the grievance were taken away, it would be possible to get rid of the disease. If they had that right of appeal, it would do away with the grievance, which I think at present is perfectly justified. I have seen many fine men, particularly among the writers, who come back with this disease—men devoted to the Navy, and just as proud of it as any Admiral in the Navy. They come home without, as I say, any right of appeal. They go back to their homes—good homes now, because the men in the Navy have good homes; but soon their home goes, and then everything goes, and, at the end, they are taken away, generaly to die, with a grievance due to lack of pension and, really, to lack of sympathy.

I do not want to be hard, or to make a party case of the Navy. I think that that is a dreadful thing to do, because the Navy is a, national Service; it belongs to no party, it belongs to the nation. Of this I am perfectly certain, that, if we had a full House of Commons, that could listen to our arguments and bring pressure to bear on the Admiralty, or what-even Department is concerned, then, if they could not grant a pension, at least an appeal tribunal would be granted. The men ask that their cases should be judged by someone—for instance, their Captain—to whom they can explain the circumstances. They go before the medical officer, and the medical officer examines them as an expert, but the Captain sees the conditions under which they have to serve, and the things that they have to do. There is a wonderful spirit among the officers in the Navy, and there is a general feeling that it is not fair that there Should not be an appeal tribunal for these cases.

As I have said, we have said nearly everything that we could say. We have pleaded, we have spoken with the tongues of angels, but, evidently, the Admiralty is not moved. We cannot do anything. We cannot threaten them. A Motion like this means nothing. It is like a little gunboat threatening a battleship for anyone to get up individually and threaten the Admiralty, and the Admiralty is always the, same, no matter what Government is in power. [Interruption] The feeling that one is up against them terrifies one. At least, I must say it has never terrified me, but it does make a great difference. I beg of them to take the point of view of the man who goes before the medical officer, and is put out of the Navy. There is no one else to whom he can go. But you say he goes before the Admiralty Board. What do the Board do? They confirm the decision and send it back, unless the man appears himself. They could put their case if they had the chance to put it. I beg of the Admiralty to listen, because I am certain there is no more tenderhearted Member in the whole House than the Parliamentary Secretary. I should not like to tell him some of the stories of these men, because I am afraid he would weep. I know he is particularly tender-hearted. But, if this has to come up before the House again, I shall bring such cases that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will almost rather resign his position than have these appeals go on year after year. We do not ask for the impossible. We are asking for what is possible, a right of appeal, and the Admiralty should have responsibility for the enormous number of men invalided out owing entirely to the conditions in modern battleships.


I was very keenly interested when I saw this Motion on the Paper, not that I profess in any way to be either a military or a naval man but I have had considerable experience with constituents who have come to me. I have placed their case before the Admiralty and we get the usual stereotyped reply. I am amazed that we refuse to give the same degree of medical fair play, so to speak, to the naval man as to the soldier. When a soldier has some dispute with regard to an award, he can go to the appeal tribunal and in many cases the award given in the first instance is reversed or considerably amended. I have sent two or three cases recently to the Admiralty. The last case I sent was that of a man who had served some years in the East. He was invalided from the Navy and the doctor said he had tuberculosis, and certified that he was suffering from the effects of black fly, which could only have been contracted during his service in the East. I wrote to the Admiralty and got the usual courteous reply that their medical advisers had carefully re-considered the case and could see no grounds for altering their previous decision. The man died in the. London Hospital and on the death certificate the doctors mentioned black fly. When the case was sent to the Admiralty by the widow, and a claim made, they saw the weight of the medical opinion from the London Hospital and paid out. The point is one that applies to every Member of Parliament. A constituent goes to his Member, the Member goes to the Admiralty, the Admiralty go to the medical men and you get really a repetition of the original statement. My original overture to the Admiralty got the usual stereotyped response. When the man died, the Admiralty—I do not know whether it was the medical side or whether it was the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite; I hope it was he, but certainly someone took into consideration the medical opinion as to the cause of death and paid out to the widow. We talk about theories in the House but when you have two or three isolated instances where your rules and regulations are proved inefficacious, the persons concerned with the maintenance of the rules and regulations ought to have another look at them.

One of my constituents, who has been in the submarine service, suffered from tuberculosis and went to the sanatorium at Dagenham. The doctor there said that, in his opinion, the disease was due to his long service in the submarine, and a local doctor will take a perfectly honest view of a case, neither for or against the Admiralty. I appealed to the Admiralty but nothing doing. I got six separate letters saying the case had been reconsidered but there was no just ground for departing from the original decision. The man died. It will not have any effect to continue to repeat hard cases. Probably individual cases prove next to nothing. There appears to be a fair application of British justice for British ex-soldiers. If they have a medical grievance, they can go before an independent doctor and the original award is often amended or reversed. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman replies, I think he ought to do more than read rules and regulations, drawn up in the time of Queen Anne, or Queen Elizabeth, or Noah. It is a modern question. If there is a Statute precluding the Admiralty from giving the same facilities to men in the Navy as are given to men in the military service, there would be no question of support being given to any Bill brought in to remove any anomaly. I am sure an anomaly exists. I may sit in opposition to the hon. and gallant Gentleman on party grounds but I would not accuse him of being pleased at the existence of regulations that keep these naval men outside a further appeal, and I believe he would be glad to do anything that could be done. Here are the grievances, this is the place to air them, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman is the person responsible for the Government. I trust he will consider the position and make what changes he can this year in order that next year people turned out of the Navy because of their disabilities are really going to get British justice.


I support the Motion. I really doubt whether the Secretary to the Admiralty is in his heart opposed to it. I cannot help thinking, from long experience of this class of case, that the Admiralty act upon a kind of fixed rule. They say the man has been invalided out by the doctors, it is difficult to hold an inquiry and we must adhere to our decision, and the result is that there are men who have been invalided out of the service and bitterly resent what has been done. Nothing will satisfy them, and indeed I am often of opinion that they are right in their reasons why they are not satisfied, that justice has been done them. I had a recent case which has been before the hon. and gallant Gentleman of a man who had served his 12 years and been allowed to re-engage for pension. Within a few months he was sent to Eastern waters, where he contracted malaria. The ship's surgeon ordered him to hospital and then he was sent back to Malta, with a view to going to England for a complete change, but it was inconvenient or impossible to send him home and he was sent back to the Persian Gulf. He got worse, was sent home to England and was invalided out of the service. Those facts really prima facie satisfy me that the cause of his invaliding was attributable to the service, but the surgeons of the hospital had reported against him and nothing could be done.

I think I have written twice to my hon. and gallant Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, about it and I mean to persist in the case because I believe in it. Nothing will satisfy me, having regard to the facts which the man has stated and which have not been controverted, but that this man's invaliding was primarily attributable to his service. What does the man say? He says, "I had sacrificed 12 years of my life before I re-engaged for pension, and I looked forward to a pension at the end of my service." There is no reason to doubt that the man would have obtained his pension if he had remained in the Service. He is now thrown out of the Service to which he had given his life—it was the career of his life—without any prospect of pension, and he is thrown on to the labour market to do the best he can. He complains, and complains bitterly, of the manner in which he has been treated I am supporting this Motion, because I believe there should be some final board of appeal to whom the man may appeal to see whether the doctors in invaliding him out of the Service were right. If he is invalided, the question at once arises: Was his disease attributable to the Service? If this be the case, I venture to submit that he ought to get some pension. It might not be the full pension to which he would have been entitled had he served his 22 years, but some pension that would enable him to make some provision for the future.

We are asking only for that which really exists in industry. We are only asking to extend to the Admiralty and its administration the rights given to the worker under the Compensation Acts. There are hurt certificates in the Navy and something is given in respect of them, but you may get illnesses wholly due to climate and the exigencies of the Service which sent you to that climate. Why should not a man have the same adequate protection in His Majesty's Navy as that which is afforded to the man who takes part in industry? I have had in my experience, not a great number of cases, but a sufficient number of cases to justify the adoption of this Motion. I think the Board of Admiralty themselves would be relieved if they could say, "Well, this man complains that he has not been justly treated and that the doctors who invalided him were mistaken." Doctors often follow one another like sheep when they give an opinion. What we really want is an Independent Board so that cases may come before them and be decided in an atmosphere outside the Service and on the best skilled opinion that can be obtained.

I trust that my hon. and gallant Friend will accept this Motion and will do something to remove a real grievance on the part of the men. It is not a question of malingering. These men are thrust out of the Service. It is not that they do not want to work. They do want to work, but they want to do so in the profession they chose for themselves. When you have men admitted to the Navy after a most careful examination in regard to health and other physical conditions it does seem hard, more particularly the longer they have served, that they should be thrown on to the world to find work. I have already appealed for this unfortunate fellow to whom I refer, and I am going to appeal again, because I find that sometimes two or three letters are better than one letter. I mean to fight on. Meawhile, this is an opportunity, in my judgment, to point out that it is the unanimous feeling of the House—and this is by no means a party question—and of the country that these men, when invalided from the Service and their disability is attributed to the Service, should receive just compensation in regard to the service they have undertaken and rendered to the State.


I shall not keep the House more than a few minutes in view of what appears to be the unanimous support for this Motion. The only fault I have to find with the Motion is in regard to its weakness. I wish it had demanded that these people should be adequately and properly treated for the services they have rendered to the State. I notice that one or two of the speakers paid some regard to petitions to the Board of Admiralty. I hope that whatever consideration is given by the Board of Admiralty to the re-examination of this question there will be no petitioning. The days of petitioning to my Lords of the Admiralty ought to have passed long since, because those of us who saw something of it in the earlier days never had any regard for it, and I think the Board of Admiralty had less. I trust that the Admiralty will allow someone outside the Department to examine these cases, although, for the time being I can see nothing better than the County Court. I do not mention the County Court because I love this method. There is too much of the lawyer about the place, and lawyers in compensation matter are a very expensive medium of which to make use. I hope that someone may have a chance of doing justice to these people. I hope the Admiralty will agree that these men should not be turned aside as they have been, but that they should have an opportunity of presenting their case so that compensation of an adequate kind may be paid to them.

I want also to stress, if I may, the point put by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) that the Admiralty themselves should, instead of having to deal with the effects, find out what are the causes of so many of these diseases. I think that in ordering their ships they pay more regard to having huge machines of war than they do to the living accommodation for the men. It is small wonder that so many of the men are troubled with tuberculosis when you realise the inadequate living accommodation provided in many of the ships. I trust that, in examining this question, they will look into some of these causes and see if something cannot be done in order to deal with tuberculosis, which is such a serious menace to the men who serve in the Navy. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary who is about to reply, will not consider that we are at all satisfied with the machinery that operates in respect of the Army. We do not look upon the tribunals that exist for the men in the land forces for dealing with their compensation and pensions and so forth as adequate at this time. These tribunals are too fond of stating that a man is not suffering at the present time by reason of anything that came to him consequent upon his service. I think that it will be essential to go outside that particular type of body in order to secure reasonable compensation.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not tell us that we are asking for more for men in the fighting Services than is given to the civilian in the employ of the Admiralty. A civilian in the employ of the Admiralty is not allowed to proceed to the County Court, and he is not allowed, even for workmen's compensation, to take his case before Courts of the country unless the Admiralty agree beforehand that he may go outside the particular scheme in operation. Even with regard to the treatment meted out to the civilians employed in the dockyards and Admiralty establishments, I trust that they will re-examine the whole position and that they will not give us a report 12 months hence. They should examine the position for immediate action, so that these men may have something which is denied them at the present time, and that, when they have suffered by reason of their service to the country, the country may reward them for that service.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present—

The House was adjourned at Two Minutes before Six o'clock until To-morrow.