§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.)
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
In order to nourish the Armed Forces—to use the words of the Secretary of State for War—the Service Departments have requested volunteers from certain voluntary organisations to act as welfare officers in Europe, and to go out to India and Burma to carry out certain undertakings with regard to the Services in those parts of the world. As always, voluntary organisations do their utmost to serve the interests of the nation, and organisations like the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, the Women's Voluntary Service, the British Red Cross Society, St. John Ambulance Organisation, and F.A.N.Y.S. have been recruiting women to meet the express wishes of the Government. When I heard that these women were being asked to volunteer, I made some inquiry as to what their position would be if they were injured by enemy action, or contracted tropical diseases or tuberculosis.
I have found that the position is most unsatisfactory. I lay emphasis on the fact that the Government made the approach to these organisations because they felt that it is in the interests of the Services that these women should be asked to undertake certain duties. I therefore claim that it is a Government responsibility to see that they are satisfactorily protected in the same way as the men and women who take part in ordinary Service life. I find that the Government have decided that so far as injury from enemy action is concerned these volunteers will be covered by the provisions 495 of the civil war injuries measure and if they are, in fact, damaged either by an enemy bomb or by enemy gunfire, they will receive the benefit of that Bill. But if they contract tuberculosis through exposure, or living under unsatisfactory conditions, they are not so protected by the Government. If, in the Far East, they contract a tropical disease, which I think everyone will agree in certain circumstances can have far worse effects on the health of women and girls than being actually wounded by the enemy, I find that the Government accept no responsibility.
I asked one or two Questions in the House and I subsequently wrote to my right hon. Friend. I would just like to read the answer that he gave:I have considered the contents of your letter of 23rd January regarding British Red Cross Society workers doing welfare work with the troops of the B.L.A. While you are right in believing that these workers, if normally resident in this country, are covered for 'war injuries' by the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme, I am afraid they are not entitled to pension or treatment from my Department if they contract typhoid or tuberculosis.I appreciate and share your interest in these voluntary workers and I recognise that whilst they are abroad on work approved by the appropriate Department, they should have the cover afforded for war injuries to civilians in this country. I feel, however, that anything beyond this is a matter for the voluntary organisation concerned.I may say that it never occurred to me that from the sums of money which are collected by such organisations as St. John's and the British Red Cross for carrying out valuable humanitarian work, they would be expected to provide protection for workers who are recruited by the Government for services to the troops, and I do not think that, when appeals have been made to the public for contributions to these organisations, they expected that that was the use to which their money was going to be put.
I want to say one special word about the F.A.N.Y.S. They have been asked to raise a unit to go to Burma. Everyone is aware of the difficulties of service in Burma and the conditions under which our troops have to operate in Burma. So far as the F.A.N.Y. organisation is concerned, they do not make appeals for public funds for humanitarian purposes at all and I do think that it is imposing an obligation on this voluntary organisation 496 which they should not be called upon to accept. I think if the Government are going to recruit these women, and make use of their services, and if great pressure is being brought to bear on these voluntary organisations, because the welfare services are very badly needed, the Government ought to take care to provide for them, in the same way as they do for the men and women who have been recruited for the Services in the ordinary way.
§ Major Markham (Nottingham, South)
Is it not a fact that in the contracts of the majority of these voluntary organisations there is cover, by payment, for services rendered, and in some of these contracts there are clauses covering disabilities caused through war injuries received during that service?
§ Miss Ward
I was going to develop that point. I also wrote to the Secretary of State for India, who has of course a watching brief over the interests of those who go out to the Far East. He went a little further than my right hon. Friend because he said:I am discussing with the War Office the exact method of providing against the risks of sickness and injury in the case of voluntary welfare workers sent to India, e.g., whether by insurance, as in the case of members of the S.S. and A.F.A. who have already left for India, or, as in the case of V.A.D. members serving in India, by treatment on the analogy of the War Warrants concerning pensions and similar provisions, but I can assure my hon. Friend that by one method or another provision will be made against these risks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1945; Vol. 407, c. 989.]As will be seen, the Secretary of State for India does not look on the problem in quite the same way as his right hon. Friend. However, I have made further inquiries and I find that the final decision with regard to these workers who volunteer to go to India is this. The Government will pay the premium for taking out an insurance cover, to the extent, I think, of £500. Just take the case of a girl who contracts some tropical disease in Burma, and who, as a result, is incapacitated perhaps for many years. What value to her is an income from £500 going to be? I want to make this perfectly plain because my hon. and gallant Friend was quite right when he said some of these organisations did in fact protect the interest of their workers. These voluntary organisations do provide treatment for them out 497 of what they call their compassionate fund but of course it depends on the circumstances of the girl, how much the organisation will do for her. I understand that in cases where girls have contracted tuberculosis through service in Europe or India or in the Far East, the British Red Cross, to take an example, has behaved with the greatest generosity and has taken every possible care to look after the girls and to see that, so far as possible, they receive adequate and proper treatment.
But that is not the point. Why, for instance, should the money collected by the S.S. and A.F.A. to look after the interests of the wives and dependants of serving men and women be taken away from the use for which it is subscribed to undertake an obligation which should be borne by the Government? I do not think that it is a tolerable position at all, and though my hon. and gallant. Friend points out that some voluntary organisations are looking after the interest of their workers, I submit that it is not a duty which should be imposed on them at all and I think the Government are quite wrong to expect the voluntary organisations to accept obligations which, from every point of view, should be the obligations of the Government. Although for those who are serving in the Far East the premium provides a cover up to £500, it is not at all a satisfactory position if the girls contract diseases which may have long-standing results on their health.
I wish to illustrate another very anomalous position. If a girl has her leg shot off in Burma by the Japanese she, presumably, is protected under the civilian war injuries scheme. But if she is involved in an accident on a jungle road as a result of which she has her leg amputated, she gets, so far as the Government are concerned, no treatment allowance, no artificial limb and no pension. I do not think, and I hope that the House will agree with me, that the position is tolerable and I submit the Government are being most ungenerous in this matter.
There is one other point. I made some inquiries, and I find that some of these voluntary organisations have asked, for the benefit of the girls, that before they are posted their chests should be examined to see whether any latent tuberculosis or weakness can be discovered. It has been suggested that they should have 498 an examination by radiology. This has been refused on the ground that the Army authorities are far too busy. I do submit to the right hon. Gentleman that it is a most monstrous suggestion that these girls should be expected to live quite often under very difficult conditions and work in most undesirable climates for the benefit of our troops, when our medical boards in this country cannot take sufficient trouble to see whether the girls have or have not got patches on their lungs which have remained undiscovered in the ordinary course of civilian life. I cannot understand why the Government can ask for volunteers for this service and not take sufficient care to protect their health.
I do not for one moment suggest that shall get a satisfactory reply from my right hon. Friend. I am not altogether blaming him because I know there may be great difficulties in persuading either the War Cabinet or the Treasury to do anything. I know that the Government are never very friendly towards voluntary organisations. In matters of this kind they take everything they can get but they will never give anything. I was determined however that the position should be put on Parliamentary record. In the years to come, when the war is over and some of these gallant women come back from service in Burma or from trying to help in the welfare work of the British Army of Liberation, having contracted tuberculosis or some tropical disease, and ask the Ministry of Pensions for redress, and are told that it is no responsibility of the Minister, I hope that somebody will remember that on this day in the House of Commons, I made a public protest against the treatment which is being meted out to these girls and women. Nothing, of course, will prevent volunteers coming forward and it is right that it should be so. Nothing will prevent the grand work which is done by these voluntary organisations for our serving men and women, but I do submit that there is no justification whatever for the attitude taken up by the Government, and in the future if many cases come back to this country in which nothing is done by the Government to help these volunteers I hope subsequent Parliaments will see to it that the present position is altered.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Major Markham (Nottingham, South)
It is one of the misfortunes of this House 499 that when a matter is raised on the Adjournment one never knows quite what it is going to be in detail until one has heard the speech. Consequently, one is not able to come armed with the facts and particulars which are often necessary to make what one might personally regard as a good speech. I therefore hope that the House will be patient with me if I can talk only in generalisations on a subject which has been near to my thoughts for some time. The hon. Lady rather overstressed her case when she said that the Government were not friendly towards these organisations.
§ Major Markham
It would have helped the House greatly if the hon. Lady had made herself clear on that matter. The Government have helped these voluntary organisations a great deal, and they have lost no opportunity of showing their gratitude for what has been done done by organisations like the British Red Cross, the Society of the Order of St. John, and dozens of others that are known to hon. Members of this House. The first question I should like to put to the hon. Lady is whether the complaint or charge which she has made to-night against the Government has been made with the approval of at any rate some of the major of these voluntary organisations. I have been connected with the British Red Cross for some years and I have never heard a single complaint from a high-standing officer of it that the Government, at any rate during this war, have been mean or "mingy" in any way.
§ Miss Ward
Does the hon. and gallant Member really want me to reply to that observation? I shall be delighted to do so. Fairly recently I have been on a long trip out to China, and back all through the Middle East, and I have seen a great deal of the work of these voluntary organisations which everybody agrees is absolutely magnificent. On very many occasions, points about the financial undertakings that the organisations have to enter into to protect their personnel were brought to my notice. I am very well aware that I had not asked any of the voluntary organisations whether I should raise this matter to-day or not, but I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend 500 that I have checked up my facts. The point is that no voluntary organisation will ever bring pressure to bear upon the Government, and that is why I think it is all the more important that those of us who know the work of the voluntary organisations should try to get the Government to give a straight deal.
§ Major Markham
I find myself completely mystified now by the hon. Lady. She claims to speak on behalf of the voluntary organisations.
§ Miss Ward
No, my hon. and gallant Friend has got me absolutely wrong. I never said I was speaking on behalf of the voluntary organisations, but I have a perfect right to speak for myself, and when I know that friends of mine are being pressed to go into those voluntary organisations and do service abroad, I think I have a perfect right to make inquiries and to see whether they are protected against injury and disease. I do not see why I should not speak for the voluntary organisations to the House as an individual Member, if I like.
§ Major Markham
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady in her point, but it is a very remarkable thing that there has been no approach by the voluntary, associations themselves.
§ Major Markham
I do not know all the details, naturally. There may have been under-cover approaches, but there have been no public approaches. If everything were as bad as the hon. Lady thinks, surely one of the duties of those institutions would be to come to the Government in the first place. I can give an example of how one of those bodies did come to the Government when it got into difficulties. The House will remember that very early in the last war the British Red Cross and the Society of the Order of St. John took over the entire responsibility for the graves of the British and Dominion dead in France and Belgium. They came to a point when, owing to the greater number of casualties in that war than in any previous war, they had to come to the Government and say that they could no longer carry on with that great work.
I think I am right in saying that within a few weeks the Government pledged 501 their word to take over the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel, on terms that were most satisfactory to the British Red Cross. They took over the whole of their personnel, and Major-General Sir Fabian Ware is still doing great service in that matter. He was taken over as a plain "Mr." in the British Red Cross, but he subsequently became a major-general and other individuals were treated accordingly.
I do not think one could find a case in which any of these great reputable societies had come to the Government and asked for aid in which aid had not been given. I therefore say that when the hon. Lady comes to this House and raises what she calls a purely personal point of view affecting those great organisations, she is reflecting in no unmeasured terms upon those organisations themselves. They have extremely capable men and women at their head, and the hon. Lady would have been better advised perhaps to have left it to them to do something in the matter that she has spoken about to-day. Perhaps I have gone a little over the line of courtesy, but the hon. Lady knows me well enough to understand that there has been nothing personal in what I have said.
Getting down to the crux of the matter, let us ask whether those voluntary workers have been treated unfairly in any way. The present arrangement is that they have volunteered for a definite job. They have their contracts drawn up with the societies and with Government approval, and in those contracts there is usually a specific reference to what shall happen in the case of war damage or illness. Everything is down in black and white. I have yet to learn of a British Red Cross worker or a worker in the Society of the Order of St. John who has met with any unfortunate accident or illness and has not had very proper and correct treatment from the organisation. If that arrangement is in existence to-day it is a satisfactory method, both to the societies and to the Government, and I fail to see why it should be interrupted on an individual complaint by one Member of this House, in spite of the wishes of the societies themselves. This is the first time in my Parliamentary experience that I have intervened in the Adjournment Debate of another Member, but I think this one has so much in it that it 502 deserves interruption. I hope the Minister can give the matter a death blow; I have only been able to paralyse it temporarily.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I am grateful both to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Major Markham) for their speeches. It is just as well that the outside public should know exactly what is being done for these voluntary organisations. Let me emphasise first the point about the representation. I accept the hon. Lady's statement that she is making it entirely on her own account, but that statement came rather belatedly. Really, anyone listening to her in the early stages of her speech would have thought, until my hon. and gallant Friend interrupted her, that she was speaking on behalf of those organisations. I was a little puzzled but that was the impression we got.
§ Miss Ward
I think I ought to make it perfectly plain that I did not come down to this House and make statements without having found out the facts. I find out the facts by discussing them with members of the organisations. I want to make it perfectly plain that no organisation has asked me to come down here and make public representation, but as I happen to be extremely interested in one or two of these organisations and as I know that the question is always raised by the people who are volunteering of what their position is' and what protection they will have, surely my right hon. Friend would think it fair, when I have a great number of friends in the organisations who have raised the matter with me personally, that I should represent the position, if I so desire, on their behalf. At any rate, my right hon. Friend is quite correct—
§ Sir W. Womersley
It is her usual custom, Sir, and we do not object to it. The hon. Lady is misunderstanding me. I do not complain of her raising any point she likes, or of raising any point she has heard about from any other person. I want to make clear to the House and the country at large that I personally have had no representations from any organisa- 503 tion, and our relations as regards these matters are on the friendliest possible terms. If I thought that justice was not being done to these voluntary workers, I should recommend the Government to take action.
Here we have a system of working which has been entirely satisfactory up to now. I have had no personal complaints, and if those members of those organisations who have asked this question of the hon. Lady had studied the terms of the contract they signed they would have found the position set out quite clearly. This is the position, as the hon. Lady herself says: The Government undertake to provide compensation and pension benefits for injury sustained as a result of enemy action. That is entirely on the same lines as the civilian injuries scheme. So these voluntary workers, who are not members of the Armed Forces but are classified along with other civilian workers, workers for the society in this country as well as in the countries abroad, come under that scheme. They are compensated for what is termed a "war injury," which, broadly speaking, is a physical injury caused by enemy action or by war operations against the enemy. I should like to look into the case she quoted of the accident. If the worker was travelling on her duties it may be she was entitled to benefit under this scheme. That is a matter I must consider. To continue, a "war injury" can also be a physical injury caused by crashes of aircraft, whether hostile or belonging to His Majesty's Government, or any Allied Power. That is covered, in the case of these voluntary workers, in exactly the same way as in the case of the civilian population.
The question at issue is whether we have to segregate these workers from the civilian population and add them to the Armed Forces of the Crown. I ask the House to consider what a difficult position would arise if we took just one section of those workers, and said they were to be classified as belonging to the Armed Forces of the Crown. It could not be done. A special scheme would have to be drawn up to deal with them. There is no request, no desire for that. What we do arrange is that as far as injuries which can be termed under the British law as being the responsibility of the employer are concerned they make the necessary 504 arrangements for compensation and treatment. The larger organisations, such as the British Red Cross Society, already have members overseas, and other societies who have not members overseas will be sending them later on. I would recommend them to copy the example of the British Red Cross Society. They recognise their responsibility to make suitable provision for their members against risks arising from their employment which do not fall within the civilian injuries scheme. They do this by means of insurance. The hon. Lady mentioned a case in which there was to be insurance, and she stated the amount. I cannot debate whether the amount is sufficient or not, but if it can be brought to my notice that these societies are not providing reasonable and adequate compensation, then I am prepared to take up the matter with the societies, and we can discuss it. So far we have been able to arrange these matters without any difficulty, and I hope we shall be able to continue in that way.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I said, representations of complaint. I make the offer that if it can be brought to my notice that they are not making adequate provision for their employees, I am prepared to discuss the matter with them. I do not mean that they have to bring it to my notice. If the hon. Lady has any case I should welcome information on it, and I will go into it thoroughly—although it is not my business—because I have just as much regard for these volunteers as has the hon. Lady.
The position the House has to face is whether we have to regard these people as part and parcel of the Armed Forces of the Crown, or as what they are, civilian workers who happen to have to go abroad in the occupation in which they are engaged. That is the point at issue, a very important point. I submit that we are handling this matter in the right and proper way, by giving to those civilians who go overseas the protection which we 505 give to our own citizens in this country. As regard the question of disease, etc., that does not come under the civilian injuries scheme, but provision is made through the employing societies so that adequate compensation is received.
The hon. Lady mentioned the case of India. I want to pay a tribute to the Secretary of State for India for the interest he has shown in this matter. As soon as his attention was called to it he took it up. He has discussed it with the War Office and with all the people concerned. I do not know what the amount is, but I understand that it has now been agreed that risks not covered by the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme should be covered by insurance policies, to be taken out by the societies concerned. It cannot be said that there has been any neglect in this matter. I submit the Government have done all they could be expected to do. Again I assure the hon. Lady if any case is brought to my notice in which there appears to be hardship I will investigate the matter and bring it to the notice of those concerned. In conclusion, until it can be proved to me that the system we are operating is wrong or unjust, I must tell the House that we shall continue as we are doing.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
We ought to thank the hon. Lady for raising this very important issue. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Nottingham (Major Markham) does not mind my saying so I hope he will not adopt the attitude that persons must speak here for some organisation when they address the House. The accusation has been made very often against Members of Parliament that we speak here for certain sections of the community only. I hope we shall never reach that position. Anyhow, I think the hon. Lady is entitled to speak as she has done this evening.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The point at issue so far as I was concerned is that I do not want it to go abroad that the hon. Lady was speaking on behalf of these organisations.
§ Mr. Davies
The right hon. Gentleman has been here for many years and knows all the tricks of debate. Consequently he is trying to fasten a doubtful point on the hon. Lady so that he may ride off on something else. There are two or three points in connection with this matter 506 which ought to be mentioned and we need not descend to partisanship about it. The first point in relation to these people serving abroad is that the right hon. Gentleman says that they will be treated exactly as if they were civilians doing similar work at home. But the hon. Lady was right in saying that conditions abroad must make our people more prone to certain diseases than if they remained in this country. I hope that point will carry weight with the right hon. Gentleman when put that way.
As hon. Members may know, I have been connected with the approved society system for about 35 years. It may interest hon. Members to learn that since the war began there has been an increase in the percentage of sickness and disablement benefit paid by the approved societies, which cover about 20,000,000 people, of from 25 to 30 per cent. Part of that increase obviously comes about—I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman at all for that, because he must be guided by the Royal Warrant—because every time the Minister of Pensions refuses a claim for pension, and the ex-Serviceman concerned is disabled, then he automatically falls, if he is an insured person, upon the funds of the approved societies.
§ Mr. Davies
I am not disputing that. The strange thing, however, is, that when the right hon. Gentleman's Department turn down a case like that, and the unfortunate sick person comes on the funds of the society, a proportion of the approved society benefits he receives comes in the end from State funds. Nearly all these people who make a claim on the right hon. Gentleman and are refused a pension and are disabled from following any employment, automatically fall on the funds of the approved societies. I am not saying that the right hon. Gentleman escapes his personal responsibility, because the Royal Warrant is the responsibility of Parliament, which has given him the power to deal with these cases.
I think, therefore, the hon. Lady has done good service this evening. Although she may not speak on behalf of the voluntary organisations, I think they will be thanking her for doing so. People are slow to complain against the Government, 507 especially if they are supporters of the Government politically. I do not speak on behalf of the approved societies, but I am certain that I could carry every official and committee man of every approved society with me when I say that whenever a soldier, sailor, airman, or anybody connected with the war effort suffers injury or disease as a consequence of his service to the State, he should be able to claim and receive a pension from the Ministry of Pensions.
§ Sir W. Womersley
With the permission of the House, I would like to reply to the hon. Member, because this is an important issue. I do not want a false impression to go out. He is talking about the approved societies belonging to the friendly societies and the trade unions. He alleges that when my Department turns down a case it falls on the approved societies. The hon. Member does not understand the position. A man or woman enters into insurance and pays a certain number of contributions, and thereby secures benefit, not because he or she has been refused a pension by my Department, but because they are entitled to it under the terms and conditions 508 under which they have paid their insurance. Whether I give a pension or not they are entitled to benefit.
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, but entitled to benefit. This Government has made it possible for every member of the Armed Forces to be insured by paying a contribution—unless it be true that it all comes out of the same purse in the long run. I hope the hon. Member is not suggesting that we should divorce the national insurance scheme and the pensions policy that I have to carry out. If he goes on that tack he will do the greatest disservice to the ex-Serviceman and woman ever done in the history of the country.
§ Mr. Davies
When the right hon. Gentleman pays a pension, that comes entirely out of taxation, but when the insured persons falls on the funds of the approved societies he gets his benefits because he has contributed in part towards them. That is the difference.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes after Eight o' Clock.