HC Deb 23 June 1953 vol 516 cc1669-72
27 and 28. Mr. Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) if he will give an assurance that the dependants and next-of-kin of the late Private Donald Harrison will be properly and adequately compensated financially;

(2) why, in his letter to Mrs. Dorothy Harrison, mother of the late Private Donald Harrison, he made no mention of the War Office accepting full financial responsibility for their neglect; and whether he will take the necessary action to rectify this.

29. Wing Commander Hulbert

asked the Secretary of State for War if consideration has been given to the making of an ex gratia payment to Mrs. Harrison, the widowed mother of the late Private Harrison, who died in a military hospital last April.

Mr. Snow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As an officer is facing a court martial in the case to which these Questions refer, should there not be some caution in the acceptance of these Questions by the Table?

Mr. Speaker

The first Question is in rather general terms and does not impinge upon the subject matter of the court martial. I was about to warn the House that, if there were any straying into the merits of the case, that would be out of order.

Mr. Bellenger

Further to the point of order. Is it not a fact that a court of inquiry has investigated certain matters connected with this case and has reported publicly and that these Questions do not deal with any matter which is sub judice?

Mr. Speaker

We had better wait and see how the answers to subsequent Questions go. The point made by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) has substance in it.

Mr. Head

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions has awarded Mrs. Harrison a pension.

Mr. Lewis

The Minister has not attempted to answer Question 28. I ask in Question 28 whether or not he could give a reason why in his letter, which I agree was very sympathetic, he made no mention of the War Office, the Government or any Department accepting financial responsibility. Can he now explain why he did not in some way give some alleviation to the suffering of this mother by mentioning it in the letter which he sent her?

Mr. Head

That matter did not escape my notice, but I deliberately refrained from saying anything because the final decision did not lie within my province and had not been made. I think it would have been very wrong to give any assurance to her which could not be fulfilled, and I deliberately delayed it until a decision had been made.

Wing Commander Hulbert

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the late Private Harrison was a constituent of mine and I am quite capable of looking after his interests without the assistance of the Opposition? May I further ask my right hon. Friend if Mrs. Harrison has been informed of this award, and if he can now tell the House what the award is?

Mr. Head

My hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate that it is not for me to inform Mrs. Harrison, but for the Minister of Pensions, and I am not aware whether he has done so. So far as the award is concerned it has been worked out as being the maximum which she can have which will not proportionately reduce the other assistance given to her. That is the basis on which it has been made.

30. Mr. Hastings

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of recent disclosures, he will institute an inquiry as to the organisation and administration of military hospitals and the desirability of the treatment of Service patients in civil hospitals as in the late war.

Mr. Head

No, Sir. I have been into the whole of this serious occurrence most carefully and I am convinced that it was caused not by any fault in the method of procedure laid down for Army hospitals, but by the failure of certain individuals to carry out their duties.

Mr. Hastings

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the best medical advice should be available to all Service personnel, and that that advice is much more likely to be obtainable in a large general civilian hospital than anywhere else?

Mr. Head

We have a very close liaison with civilian medical staff and a great many surgeons work for us. Twenty per cent. of our medical cases are treated in civilian hospitals. I can assure the hon. Member that there is a very close liaison indeed.

Mr. Bevan

Is there any reason why Service hospitals in Great Britain should not be part of the general hospital service? Is there any reason why, when a person is wounded or ill, he should be treated in any other way than as a civilian?

Mr. Head

That is a very much wider question which raises the whole policy of integration of the Service and civilian hospital systems, and I do not think I could give an answer to that now.

31. Mr. Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will take action to recommend Army Nurse Irene Rosser and Private John Edward Nicholson for some public pecuniary award in appreciation of their action in drawing public attention to the case of the late Private Donald Harrison.

Mr. Head

No, Sir.

Mr. Lewis

Is the Minister aware that these two individuals did go to some pains and did in fact cause themselves great difficulty in drawing public attention to this matter? Surely they should receive some recompense? If it is not given on this basis, can the Minister do something with regard to the court martial and have it expunged from the record?

Mr. Head

The court martial raises an issue different from that in the Question. I think it would be quite improper if one were to give a financial reward to a man who was absent twice when to achieve his object once would have been ample.