HC Deb 15 March 1932 vol 263 cc244-50

"to provide, during Twelve Months, for the Discipline and Regulation of the Army and the Air Force," presented accordingly, and read the First Time; to be read a Second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 45.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Brigadier-General BROWN

I should like to raise a point about the Cavalry Records Office. I know that there are hon. Members opposite who would like to abolish the Cavalry, but they must agree with me that while we have an Army and a Cavalry section, it should be fairly and justly treated. It was brought to my mind at our Cavalry Association meeting that a gunner officer had been appointed to command the Cavalry Re- cords Office. We have to verify many records and we find they are very helpful, and we like to feel that our Cavalry Records Office is run by cavalry soldiers who understand the feelings and esprit de corps of their old regiments. In this case, however, a commanding officer from another branch of the Service has been put in charge of the Records Office. Is it the intention to change the non-commissioned officers in the office and to staff it from other branches of the Service?

We should like to know if it is intended in the event of another vacancy arising, say, in the Infantry Records Office, that it should be commanded by a cavalry officer? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. So far as I know this is the first time that such an appointment has been made. I asked a question on the subject. I asked why an artillery officer was appointed in charge of the Cavalry Records Office, and the reply I received was that this office is normally filled by a cavalry officer, but that in. February, 1931, when the present holder of the appointment was selected, there were no colonels, late of the Cavalry, available. That answer is not very convincing, because, when I made further inquiry, I found that although it was true that in February, 1931, there were no Cavalry colonels available, yet in June, 1931, when the appointment was vacant, there were two Cavalry colonels available. For one of these officers a position was found, and there might have been an appointment for the other officer in the Records Office. One would have expected that even if a Cavalry colonel was not available, the second in command might have carried on until a Cavalry colonel was available.

So far as I know it has never happened before that an officer from another branch of the Service has been put in charge of a Record office. It was not a fair answer to say that when the present holder was selected and appointed there were no cavalry colonels available, because they must have known perfectly well that there would be cavalry colonels available later. I shall be glad if the Financial Sercretary will look into this matter. It may be that some of the remarks I have heard are not true, but one does not like to hear distinguished officers referring to this matter as a contemptible job. I should like to know whether it is a precedent which is to be followed. I understand that at the time an undertaking was given that it was only a temporary appointment. By this time there are several cavalry colonels available. Therefore, if the appointment was only temporary it ought to be altered. This is not the first time that the War Office has been suspected and called in this House an Augean stable. A friend of mine, the commander of an artillery regiment, who distinguished himself during the War, and who afterwards had a post at the War Office, told me, and I believe it to be true, that regimental soldiering is the finest and most unselfish life, but that when you go to the War Office you find that they can wangle jobs better than any politician. That is the kind of feeling that was expressed by officers at that time. I would ask the Financial Secretary to look into this matter and let me know if this appointment is to be permanent or temporary.


May I ask the representative of the War Office to reconsider the question of the pay of reservists. The reservists were the only set of men who were subjected to a reduction of pay of more than 10 per cent. They suffered a reduction of 25 per cent. in their rate of pay. Their rates were reduced from 1s. to 9d. a day. It was bad enough to be the only class singled out for the 25 per cent. reduction, and there was certainly a breach of contract. I would, therefore, ask the Financial Secretary, in view of the fact that this section of men were the only Ones—


I understand that this particular subject comes under Vote 2, the Pay of Reservists. Therefore, it would not be in order on this Vote.


Shall I be in order in raising the general question of the pay of ordinary soldiers and reservists?


On the Vote which relates to pay the hon. Member will be entitled to raise the question of the pay of soldiers now serving.


On the former occasion the Financial Secretary made a statement which had the implication that the pay of soldiers in the past had been, relatively speaking, too high. In view of the reconsiderations that are to take place in some quarters, may I ask the Financial Secretary if it is not time to consider putting back the soldiers' rates of pay to what they were before? Those reductions were unduly harsh on the men. I have never believed in their calling, but as long as we are keeping soldiers we should pay them decently and treat them well. I think the members of the average troop regiment are shockingly badly paid. There are rumours that people are to get back their emoluments, or portions of them, and I would therefore ask the Financial Secretary if he will use his influence with the War Office or with his Chief to see that the ordinary serving soldier is returned to his full standard wage. The present Army is not anything like well enough paid. I would ask the Financial Secretary to use his influence to get the cut restored to these men.


When I listened to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown), speaking on behalf of the cavalry, I could not help feeling what a trade union leader he would have made. So far as the question that he raised this afternoon is concerned, my reply is to quote the reply which I gave to the questions which he put to me some time ago. I am sorry that he suggested that there has been any unpleasant job in connection with this appointment. I informed him that when this appointment was made no cavalry officer was available for it. He asks whether, when the vacancy fell due some months earlier, one cavalry officer was available who had not got a job. I am not prepared to answer that question either in the affirmative or the negative, the worst that has occurred is that for once in its history the cavalry record office is to be commanded by an artillery officer. I can assure him, and I have already assured him, when he asked a supplementary question a short time ago, that there was no intention of making this a permanent appointment for artillery officers.

In regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I thought that in my speech in introducing the Estimates last week I had made the position plain that the cuts in the pay of the Army this year were only reducing the whole Army to the same rate of pay that everybody who entered the Army from October, 1925, has been receiving. That rate of pay was decided upon by a Committee that was set up in 1924 and 1925, and it was considered then a perfectly fair rate of pay. There have been no complaints from people who have come into the Army since that date, and recruiting has improved instead of becoming worse. From that I think we can assume, as we have assumed, that the troops are not paid too low. I cannot hold out any hope to the hon. Member that this rate of pay is likely to be reconsidered in the near future.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House cloth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I do not know whether I am in order in raising a question in which I am interested on this Vote, which concerns what are called the Chelsea Commissioners, who administer pensions, etc. May I ask the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote if the time has not come to make some modification of the procedure in connection with the pensions given to men who have served in the Army? All of us know that men who served during the War had certain rights of appeal granted to them in connection with tribunals. I do not know whether other hon. Members find, as I find, that a number of men who have served in the Army have been discharged either now or during the past few years suffering from some form of alleged unfitness, and cannot continue in the Army, owing to some disease or disability, or some other organic trouble. These men very often claim that the Army service is the cause of their breakdown in health, when making an appeal to the Chelsea Commissioners for a pension to be considered. They get sometimes a grant of a pension, but far more often, they get a refusal, on the grounds that the man had the trouble, or at least part of the trouble, when he originally joined the Army. That may be true. It may be that the Chelsea Commissioners are sound in their view, but I believe that the man ought to have a right of appeal to some other body more neutral in character than are the Chelsea Commissioners.

The man has no right to raise evidence before the Board, and is not given a hearing similar to that given before the Pensions Tribunals, which are bodies consisting of representatives of ex-service men, medical men and neutral folk. All that happens before the Chelsea Commissioners is that they review the case, and the man is not allowed to plead evidence. No representatives are allowed to appear for the man, and he has no right of appeal to any neutral body. I would ask the Financial Secretary if the War Office cannot give these men some right of appeal from the decision of the Chelsea Commissioners.

I have a case in mind of a man who served in the Army for some time. He was dismissed, as his health was ruined, but the Chelsea Commissioners say that it was not the fault of the Army and that the man had the trouble before he joined, although he was accepted for the Army. While that may be true, the man feels a deep sense of injustice that he has no right of appeal to another and neutral body. In view of the fact that such cases arise, is it not possible for the Financial Secretary to set up some body to give the serving soldier, dismissed in the way I have described, a right of appeal, in order that the War Office people should not in the main be the judges of whether a pension should be granted. In common fairness to the man, a neutral body ought to be the judges of whether a pension should be granted.


I do not think, so far as I am aware, that very many cases of the kind to which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) refers, actually occur. The Commissioners of the Royal Chelsea Hospital are a very representative body. There are not only soldiers and doctors, but there are representatives of many different interests. They look into each case very carefully. It is always possible for any hon. Member who is aware of a case in which he thinks a man was wrongly turned down, to bring it up and communicate it to the War Office, to me or to anybody in charge there. I am a member of the Commission of the Chelsea Hospital, and I know that cases are always gone into very thoroughly. I am sorry to hear that the hon. Member has one case in mind in which he thinks there was a failure to do justice. If he brings it to my notice I shall be only too glad to look into it again. On the whole, the system works very well. There is not much to be gained by a multiplication of tribunals and boards of appeal. I am sure that in the past the Commission have done their very best for the soldiers, and I am sure that they will do so in the future. If the hon. Member will bring me any case of the kind, I promise that it shall receive my full consideration.