HC Deb 26 April 1949 vol 464 cc157-64

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

10.11 p.m.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)

This evening I wish to draw the attention of the House to the dissatisfaction which is felt not only, I believe, in the constituency which I have the honour to represent but generally throughout the country, at the manner in which the naval authorities, the Admiralty, are treating applications for compassionate leave in circumstances where there is some distress. In the case which I have in mind a parent was thought to be dying and certainly was in a critical condition. I shall refer in the course of my remarks to a case which I have in hand with the Admiralty concerning number PO/X/127259 Marine Robert Mosedale and about whom Questions have been asked in the House following correspondence between myself and the Admiralty and following applications from the family for consideration of compassionate leave to be given to this' lad who was on H.M.S. "Ocean" which, I believe, was stationed at Malta. Not only was an application made by the family of the lad, but it was also supported by reliable people like S.S.A.F.A. and also by the medical superintendent of the hospital where this unfortunate man, the father of Marine Mosedale, was being treated.

The circumstances were under review for no less than three weeks. It was in the latter end of January that the family first made an approach to the authorities, addressing their communications, in this case, "C/o G.P.O., London," and asking for leave for their son because the father was dangerously ill. They did not meet with much success and later, towards the end of the month, on 28th January to be precise. they made their application through S.S.A.F.A.. The S.S.A.F.A. organisation was approached by the Admiralty authorities, in this case Chatham, to ascertain what was the domestic position, whether there was any son or daughter at the house or with the wife of the man who was ill, I assume, and available to give some assistance. This information was quite quickly posted to the naval authorities and it was said that the expectation of life at the time was almost nil.

This unhappy story went on for three weeks, and the lad was not allowed to come home. As time went on, the father showed slight sign of improvement, and then the pressure, for a week between 8th February and 15th February, was not maintained at the high point. Then, however, the man had a sudden relapse, and the medical superintendent of the hospital was approached to support the application for the son's leave. S.S.A.F.A. again got busy, and I was approached, as the Parliamentary representative, on 17th February. I made representations, as my hon. Friend knows, directly to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. We were not successful, and this lad's father died on 20th February, no opportunity having been given to the lad to see his father beforehand.

I know that this matter is hedged about with difficulties, and I have had a pretty full reply, dated 18th March, from my hon. Friend setting out the circumstances in which cases like this one are considered. It is stated there that the considerations which have to be borne in mind are, the serious illness of the wife or child, or the care of young children; if the return to the United Kingdom is the only means of preventing the break-up of a man's family; and the imminent death or serious illness of a parent, provided, in such a case, that the presence of the sailor at home would be of use, and that there is no other son or daughter at home, or readily available, to give the necessary assistance; or if some other exceptional circumstances exist.

I submit that exceptional circumstances obtain, and always do obtain, where there is an only son, as in this case, and where the parent is dangerously ill and the expectation of his life is very small indeed. The smallness of the expectation of life in this case was proved by the fact that the man died very shortly afterwards. I submit that the circumstances are exceptional when an application for a sailor's leave is supported by reliable organisations such as the S.S.A.F.A., which have had long experience in these matters, and do not treat applications in a frivolous way. I submit that exceptional circumstances exist where it can be shown that the patient is likely to profit by the presence of the son. In this case, the doctor thought it would be a good thing for this son to be present in the hospital, that it would cheer his father and give him some incentive to live longer—for a reasonable span of years.

The Admiralty will say that the circumstances showed that there was a daughter at home and that there was a son-in-law. I must point out that the daughter had a job of work to do: she had a child less than 12 months old. The son-in-law had a job which required him to go out at 6 o'clock in the morning and kept him at work until 6 o'clock at night. In addition, it was necessary for some member of the family to go during the man's severe illness to the hospital at night, and it was quite impossible for this small household to carry on in those difficult circumstances.

The point I am making is this. Where there is an only son, and the lad is 26 years of age, he can rightly be regarded as having a responsible position in the family, and some serious and sympathetic consideration ought to be given to his case. My point is that that consideration ought to have been given in this case, and I say that in all similar circumstances, in which there is an only son, it is not good enough to say that because there is a daughter or a son-in-law, and despite the difficult circumstances of the home, the sailor boy cannot be allowed to go home.

Moreover, the position is worsened when the family can read, as this family were able to read in this instance, a report in the "Daily Telegraph" of 18th February that a lad from a nearby ship, upon representations, as I understand the position, by his sister, and whose home was in Cornwall, was able to go home, and was flown home to see his father, and, in fact, arrived at home the next day. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) will be able to tell us of another boy, in similar circumstances, who was asked for to see his mother, who was said to be dying. This boy was on the same ship and leave was refused. It may be said with some cogency that the final decision should be left with the captain of the ship, and that the lad may be engaged on duties or situated somewhere which makes it difficult for him to be liberated, but I can quote from a letter in my possession to show that this lad was on shore duty and was not likely to set sail until the second week in March. Let it be noted that his father died on 20th February.

Similarly, in the case raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, this boy was not at sea. He was at Malta. The case might be enlarged upon, but I desire to leave time for my hon. Friend to say a word or two and for the Minister to reply. As I have said, the matter has been raised in this House and my hon. Friend said under pressure that his noble Friend was taking an interest in the case which I have raised, and that he would investigate the circumstances and let me have a reply. I asked him—I think it was on 6th April—whether he was in a position to let me have a reply—or it may have been a few days later—and he promised to speed up the investigation. Up-to-date, no reply has come to hand. If we expect a lad to take an interest in the Service, he has a right in these days of modern transportation to feel that, in distressing circumstances such as these, every consideration will be given to bringing him home. He himself should be satisfied that he will have the opportunity, perhaps for the last time, of seeing his parent. This should be done for the consolation of the family, apart from the material circumstances by which he may assist in the home affairs.

The Financial Secretary, in reply to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme concerning a recent case, said that he would look at the regulations and see whether anything further could be done. Tonight I ask whether anything further has been done, and whether a little humanity cannot be brought into these matters, and whether it is appreciated that the present position is leading to unequal treatment and giving rise to great dissatisfaction.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. Edward Davies) for curtailing his remarks in order to allow me a few moments to make to the Parliamentary Secretary my case concerning Leading Patrolman T. Ikin of 54, Silverdale Road, Newcastle-under-Lyme, about whom a Question was asked in the House on 13th April. I am advised that arrangements have been made to have Ikin's application for compassionate leave reconsidered as a matter of urgency. That was the statement made in a letter to me from the Admiralty on 25th March, and up to the present nothing further has been heard concerning the investigation, which, I understand, the Parliamentary Secretary was making to see if it was possible for the regulations to be modified in some way. As I understand the situation, there is an Admiralty Fleet Order which leaves the final decision in cases of this kind to the commander-in-chief on the spot. I understand also that the needs of the Service must be taken into consideration. I am sure everybody will appreciate the delicate task which any commander in-chief must have in such a matter of great human anguish.

I am not here to criticise the action in any way at all, but I say that if we are to stimulate recruiting in the Services—most of us, I believe, are anxious that they should be well manned—we must give encouragement to, and allay discontent in, the Services. In cases where it is established beyond doubt that a parent is on the threshold of death and where that parent is crying out for the son, surely something should be done to exercise the widest limit of understanding and to use the greatest degree of imagination possible in order to bring back the boy to see the parent, particularly in peacetime. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, like all of us, is a human being with human feelings, and I am not in any way suggesting that he lacks compassion, but since he has already promised to look into the matter, we shall be very grateful if he can tell us more and say what is the result of his investigation.

This young man joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 and has served ever since. He had exciting and dangerous experiences in the Battle of Crete. He was awarded the African Star. He took part in Russian convoy work and was slightly wounded in the head. His record in the Navy is an excellent one. The case of the mother is known. She is unfortunately dying—for all I know to the contrary she may have passed away at the moment—of cancer in the bowels. She is crying out for her son. As everybody knows, it is a type of disease which causes great physical torment as well as mental torment. While it is true my hon. Friend said that if he were to make any discrimination in favour of this case, it might cause discontent in comparable cases in the Services, a start has to be made some time and if the only result of this Adjournment Debate is to help others in the future who may be placed in similar circumstances, it will have been effective.

I would say this finally to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary not unkindly for I do not want any acerbity or acrimony to come into this. Obviously my hon. Friend and I have spoken with a certain amount of feeling. These are constituents of ours. Like other hon. Members, we are anxious to see encouragement given to every boy joining the Services of this country. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary must look into these cases of great misfortune of a domestic character, which may cause heartburn and which certainly worry men and make them incapable of doing their duty with such horrible, harrowing feelings hanging over them; and he must urge the Government to do something. I trust that he will have regard to these matters and will try to give us some encouragement or some indication that he will speedily and forthwith take the necessary steps so urgently needed in cases of this kind.

10.29 p.m.

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. John Dugdale)

I appreciate very much the way in which this question has been raised by my hon. Friends. They might have made much more violent speeches. They might have let their emotions run to a much greater extent than they have done. I realise that this is a subject which excites very great emotion, and rightly so.

I will take first the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bursiem (Mr. Edward Davies), that of Marine Mosedale. The position was that this man was on duty. It is true that his ship was in port, but he was on duty doing Commando work which he had had the opportunity of doing for the first time for some considerable period, and his commanding officer thought it was necessary for him to have practice in doing this work. Now, under the regulations as they are at present, the commanding officer was entitled to give the answer 'he did give. He was acting completely within his rights and he was entitled to give such an answer. It was up to him to say if it was possible for this man to be spared.

With regard to the question put by my hon. Friend, the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack), Ikin was also on duty and I said I would make investigations into his case; I said I would do that as a general question rather than as a particular case. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend appreciates fully the difficulties the commander-in-chief is in. After all, the commander-in-chief is just as concerned about the men's welfare as any hon. Member here. It is not a pleasant decision that a commander-in-chief has to make. I know this myself because I have had numerous compassionate cases, not only of this character but of others, sent to me by hon. Members. I can assure my hon. Friend, and the Civil Lord will agree with me, that these are by far the most difficult part of our work. They involve the giving of a decision. It may be that the easier decision to make is to give what is wanted, but one may have to take a harder line than one would like to take. So much for this individual case.

But we have been investigating the general question and have gone into it very fully, and my noble Friend has, as I have said, taken a personal interest in it. As a result he is satisfied that some change has got to be made in the Naval Regulations with the idea of ensuring that an officer or man in the Royal Navy may be assured of treatment reasonably equivalent to that of a man in the other Services. My noble Friend is now taking the opportunity of the presence in this country, on Exercise Trident, of most of the commanders-in-chief from stations abroad of discussing this matter with them this week, and he anticipates it may be possible for me to be able to make a statement quite shortly.

How we shall change the regulations I cannot explain in detail now. Our aim is to see that they are framed in such a way as to give treatment equivalent to what men in the other Services get. Undoubtedly, our regulations are rather harder than in the other two Services. This may not be of any help personally to Marine Mosedale, because the time for help there has passed. But I think he and Ikin will feel that it is, at any rate, some consolation to them to know that this alteration is to be made and that in future other men may not be placed in the position in which they have been placed. I cannot say the exact form these changes will take but they will undoubtedly make things easier for men serving who find themselves in this appalling position. We have got to safeguard the interests of the Service and to see that men are not brought back indiscriminately; but at the same time we want to see that men get more lenient treatment and my noble Friend is determined to see that they do get it.

Mr. Mack

While thanking my hon. Friend for that encouraging statement, which I am sure has gratified everyone in the House, may I ask would it not be possible at this last minute, as a gesture at least in this case, to allow Ikin to come home?

Mr. Dugdale

I shall certainly consider the matter as a point of urgency. I cannot promise anything at the moment, but I will bear that point in mind.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.