HL Deb 07 January 1915 vol 18 cc341-6

LORD TENTERDEN rose to call attention to the inoculation of His Majesty's Forces against typhoid, and to ask His Majesty's Government for information as to whether inoculation is compulsory, and whether soldiers are involved in any penalties or disabilities if they refuse to submit to inoculation.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not bring this matter forward in order to engage upon a controversial argument at this moment, but because it has come under my notice that very harsh and arbitrary treatment has been dealt out towards soldiers—a treatment which is incomprehensible to those who, like myself, have been assured by Lord Kitchener and Parliament that inoculation in His Majesty's Forces is not compulsory. I feel that I should not be doing my duty as a member of this House if I did not point out to your Lordships the very disastrous effect that this question is having upon recruiting in the Army.

I have in my hand many letters from soldiers complaining of the hard treatment which has been dealt out to them because, as conscientious objectors, they have refused to submit to inoculation. In the cases which I shall instance in order to prove my contention, I do not propose to give the names, as I do not consider that that would be quite fair to most of the men, but if any noble Lord desires to have the names I shall be pleased to hand them to him. Here is an extract from a regimental order stating that inoculation would be classed as an important consideration in the case of (1) non-commissioned officers' promotion; (2) men for company and regimental employment; and (3) men for week-end passes. I understand that the officers are to report to the orderly room twice a month with regard to the men—thereby, of course, making these marked men. Another letter is to the effect that soldiers not willing to be inoculated were threatened that their leave would be stopped. They were told that they were not entitled to their pay as they were not doing their duty properly as soldiers, and were accused of being afraid. The writer of that letter has been twelve years in the Army and through patriotism and loyalty re-enlisted on the outbreak of war, leaving a wife and child.

According to another letter Christmas leave was threatened to be stopped, and men not inoculated could not get a pass on Sunday. This writer was requested by the sergeant to take a Christmas pass to one of the men but to ask if he was inoculated, and if not to bring the pass back. Another soldier writes as follows:— "Twenty of us have bad our Christmas leave stopped for refusing to be frightened into allowing ourselves to be inoculated." I have instances which I could equally well verify showing how men have declined to enlist upon being told that inoculation had to be undergone. One father said that he had a son in Canada, a soldier, and two more wishing to enlist in England, but he would not consent to their joining under the present regulations. Another soldier states that he was told that he must be inoculated in order to see service abroad, and that if he and his companions refused now it would be of no avail as they would be inoculated on the boat when making the passage. Is such a procedure to be carried out? Another case is of a corporal who says that the doctors informed him that inoculation was made compulsory by a new Army Order issued on January 2. I have not heard of this. Another one writes from France that on refusing to be inoculated he was at once placed in close arrest for a few days, afterwards in open arrest, and is now awaiting a Court-Martial, charged with not complying with an order given by a superior officer. The General himself has told him and others that there is no case of conscientious objection at all. Others have been told that if they were not inoculated they would not get their leave.

The writer of another letter says that nearly all his company resisted inoculation, but most of them eventually yielded solely because passes were otherwise refused. Another says that those who went out at the beginning of the war are being granted a few days' leave, but he, having refused inoculation as he had had previous experience of it, has been held back. He points out that it may well be that he may never get another chance of seeing his friends ! This kind of treatment does not coincide with what we are told by the War Office. They say that inoculation is not compulsory, but if these methods are continued it is perfectly evident that inoculation is made as compulsory as it could possibly be. Men are refused promotion it is said, which is a very serious thing for them; and they have been badly treated in many ways by having their passes stopped and by being made to do disagreeable work. And this simply because they refuse to be inoculated. There is a further case to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. On December 22, in West Hartlepool, a civilian was arrested and imprisoned for nearly the whole of a working day simply because he distributed leaflets pointing out that anti-typhoid inoculation is not, according to Lord Kitchener and Parliament, compulsory in the Army. I ask, therefore, Is inoculation compulsory or is it not? If it is not, I submit that the Government should issue orders to stop this kind of thing going on. They should make it impossible that these men should be so unfairly treated, and should give some compensation to the men for the very harsh treatment which they have received.


My Lords, by the practice of the War Office inoculation against enteric or typhoid is not compulsory for any soldier, and it is possible for a man to go to the Front without having been inoculated. At the same time the medical authorities are convinced of the benefit of inoculation, and the position of the Department is to use all efforts to persuade men to be inoculated, while preserving the rights of the conscientious objector. In the circular letter dated October 7, 1914, which contains the only instructions that have been issued to the military authorities, it is pointed out that disease is a great danger on active service; that it is the duty of soldiers to guard themselves against it; and that if they do not do so they risk their chance of seeing service, as men who have adopted this precaution may be selected in their place. A particular case which was mentioned in the House of Commons occurred at Bedford in November last where inoculated men were taken for the 4th Camerons in preference, as there were sufficient men available to make selection possible. Anti-typhoid inoculation has been made compulsory in the American and French Armies.

A case which has figured prominently is that of Corporal Nichols, 3rd Battalion, Reserve City of London Regiment, who died at East Finchley on November 6, 1914. The case was raised in the House of Commons, and the cause of death was given, after telegraphic inquiries, as "pneumonia," but when the death certificate came into the possession of the Department it was seen that the cause was given as (i) Anti-typhoid vaccination (ii) pneumonia. The case has been investigated and submitted to Sir William Oster, who considers that death was due to an eight-mile march which the man took after inoculation, and not to the inoculation directly.

My Lords, it comes to this, that the highest medical men are convinced that inoculation is a very simple safeguard against enteric fever, and while the authorities do not make it obligatory in the sense of using compulsion, they lay stress on it that a man who wishes to see active service is at an advantage if he submits to inoculation over a man who will not, and who thereby, in the view of the medical authorities, risks the health of the Army


I thank the noble and learned Viscount for his reply, but I do not think that it quite answers my Question. The noble and learned Viscount says that inoculation is not compulsory, but that does not satisfy me, because if it is not compulsory men should not have their leave stopped and undergo the hardships to which I have referred for refusing to be inoculated. If inoculation is not compulsory then the law admits of conscientious objectors, and men cannot be forced to submit to inoculation. If you stop a man's leave or promotion, what is it but making this compulsory? It is perfectly evident that—


I would remind the noble Lord that by the Standing Orders he is entitled to make a brief explanation, but he cannot make a detailed reply.