Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the expenses of the War Office, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1918.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100 in respect of the salary of the Secretary of State.
The object of this Motion is to call attention to what I think may be described as the scandals in connection with the medical re-examination of discharged and rejected men. In the few days before the Easter Adjournment Parliament was asked to pass a Bill which provided for the compulsory re-examination of both of these classes of men. It is not my purpose this afternoon, nor would I be in order if I desired, to discuss the policy of that Act. In passing that Act Parliament acted upon the assumption that there were men available who in the past had been improperly rejected, either on account of the complacency of medical officers, or on account of malingering, which is a necessary concomitant of conscription in every country. Further, there was a third class of men, namely, those whose health had materially improved since their former examination, and who might 1997 be made available for military service. I do not dispute these propositions, but it will be within the recollection of the Committee that when the Bill was before the House it was received with an amount of repugnance such as has seldom occurred in relation to any Bill which has been introduced during the course of the War. Even the sponsors of the Bill did not conceal their dislike for it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his usual directness, described it as a hateful measure, and the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary of the War Office was equally frank, and declared that it was a measure which he abhorred. These feelings were shared in every quarter of the House, and, owing to the state of opinion in the House, assurances were given that if the re-examination were carried out it would be carried out with exceptional care and exceptional kindness. Apart from these assurances, it was obviously in the interests of the Government to see that the examinations were conducted in a careful, searching and thorough manner.
This Bill was one which aroused feeling not only in this House, but throughout the country. Repugnance in the country in many places amounted to indignation, and it was obviously in the interests of the Government to see that a measure which was so generally regarded as unfair and unjust should be administered in such a way as to cause the minimum of dissatisfaction, irritation and complaint. I can show, and there are other Members who will be able to support the case which I am going to make, that not only have the precautions which were promised and which were so obviously imperative, not been observed, but that these re-examinations have been carried out in a harsh, in a cruel, in an unfair, and in a wasteful way. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Macpherson) has issued a statement regarding this administration. He has said that he is aware that dissatisfaction is being stirred up against the working of the Act, but that he can say from inquiries which he has made, that as a matter of fact, the Act is being administered with special care. I can say a word from personal knowledge with regard to that dissatisfaction. There is no need to stir up dissatisfaction. There has never been in the case of any Act during the course of the War an example in which 1998 there has grown up in nearly every quarter of the country so much spontaneous discontent and indignation. I would ask my hon. Friend: Who is guilty of stirring up this dissatisfaction? These discharged men are not the kind of men who can manufacture and finance an agitation in the country. It is true that they have appeared in a certain Honours List, but it is not the kind of Honours List which indicates that they are greatly endowed with this world's goods. These honours are only D.C. and D.C.M. They are not the men to stir up an agitation.
What are the real facts? In the first place, we say that the recruiting authorities have shown absolutely no discretion and no discrimination in the way in which they have called the men up. The obvious course, if indeed it is possible to expect any proper administration in the War Office, would have been to select the men who were likely to become efficient soldiers in the first place, and to call upon these men, and only these men in the first instance, to submit themselves to re-examination. Precisely the opposite course has been pursued. In nearly every area in the country they have sent out notices for re-examination not only to men who have obtained fraudulent rejection, not only to men who in the past have been carelessly examined, not only to men whom they may have reason to believe have improved in health; they have called upon the halt, the lame, the blind, the mute, the mad, aye, and even the dead, to appear before these examining boards. A friend of mine who has the misfortune to be in one of these classes was called upon to present himself at Richmond Recruiting Office on 16th May at twelve o'clock. He found that on that day 200 other men had been asked to present themselves at the same hour, and they were the most miscellaneous assortment of wrecks of humanity that could possibly have been got together.
There were cripples and hunchbacks, men with curvature of the spine, men who were blind, and men who were suffering from every manner of ailment that can afflict frail humanity. They were marshalled up as if they were a company of convicts; they were sworn at and bullied by the recruiting officer, a man who had never been out of the country. Then they were marched up to Kingston Barracks, and many of them were kept 1999 there for eight hours, without either food or drink to refresh them. Such were the conditions under which the preliminaries were carried out. That is not a solitary instance. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood) has put questions about similar cases in his own constituency. I find from newspaper reports that the same thing has happened in the North of Scotland, in places like Perth and For-far, where there have been similar scenes—lame men and blind men and the village idiot, all called upon to submit themselves to re-examination, if haply His Majesty s Forces might be thereby increased and the "Win the War Government" might carry the War to a successful conclusion. Such are the preliminaries. Then when these men are actually admitted to re-examination they are, as a rule, treated with the utmost harshness. If they present any evidence at all regarding their medical condition—and they are surely entitled to do that for the guidance of the medical board; indeed, in this House they were invited to do it—the certificates are systematically ignored and often torn up in their faces. One friend of mine who has given me information tells me that being aware of their habit of tearing up certificates he thought he would only take a copy. He presented a copy of a certificate given by Sir Thomas Barber, but the examining doctor had the effrontery to suggest that it might be a forgery. That is the way these unfortunate men are treated.
The examination itself is of a most perfunctory character. It is true that there are usually three medical officers present, but in the great majority of cases the decision rests with the military officer who is chairman of the board. I will give one example of how this works. A discharged soldier, a man who had been discharged from the Army on account of tuberculosis, was called up at Sunderland. He presented his discharge papers, which indicated the reason for which he had been set free. The two civilian doctors took the view that he ought to be rejected, but he went before the chairman, who passed him Class A. He was called up. Within a fortnight he was in hospital at New-castle-on-Tyne, being treated once more for tuberculosis. That is only one case. 2000 As an hon. Friend reminds me, there is an express Army Order of 1916 against accepting men for the Army who are suffering from tuberculosis. It is not only tuberculosis. I have two cases in which men suffering from the most virulent venereal diseases have been accepted for Class A. I do not know under what Instruction that is being done. I wonder whether the idea is that the Army is to be a kind of hospital or sanatorium, and whether the unfortunate men who are called up are to get the sanatorium treatment in the Army which they were promised under the Insurance Act, and that they are there to receive the final instalment of 9s. for 4d.! [An HON. MEMBER: "You supported it!"] The hon. Gentleman in front of me should really examine the records regarding that Act and he will find that, in common with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, I desired to make the scheme a voluntary one. We did not get any support from his Department. I come back to my argument. There are cases of men who have been long suffering from, serious heart disease. These men, mark you, have been passed long before this Act came into operation. The question of medical re-examination is not a new question; it is more than a year old, but with the passing months the conditions have been constantly aggravated The case I have particularly in mind is one that occurred at the beginning of the year. A man whom I know personally, who had been treated for ten years by a medical man whom I know for valvular disease of the heart, was passed B 1, which, of course, is only garrison duty at home or abroad.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
These categories have become really indistinguishable now. It is ostensibly so. This man was passed for general service. He was sent out to Egypt, and the next news his wife received—he was a married man, forty years of age, with six children under fourteen—was at the beginning of May to the effect that he had died on service at Palestine. These are 'some of the results of this stupid and wasteful method of re-examination. I have some more recent cases and would like to refer only to a very few of them. There is the case of a man who is an epileptic. I understand that now there is a general Instruction on the 2001 matter. Of course, I cannot verify it, because while you get printed Instructions which are quite satisfactory and indicate that everything is being carried through with the utmost decency and with every regard to order, you find action being taken which is utterly inconsistent with those Instructions and which can only be explained by Instructions which are not so printed. Epileptics are constantly being passed now. This one was passed for category C 3, after having been before five travelling medical boards. He says:I am subject to epilepsy. … The present medical officer of the camp has certified that he has ttended me dining these fits and has also stated that should go before a board.He is put in C3, in an Army Service camp on Salisbury Plain. I wish to read a letter which I have, which gives a general account of the conditions in one of these camps. We will be told by the Under-Secretary that it is perfectly safe to pass these men C2 and C3 for labour purposes, that the men who have these diseases are only passed into such categories and that they have only light labour to do. Are these men in these labour units doing anything of substantial value? Are they doing any good, either to themselves or to the country? This letter says—I cannot give the name nor can I give the camp:I am asked by my comrades here to write to you on behalf of the unfit: they think you ought to know something of the state they are in here.Then he gives the battalion and the name of the place, which is in the Western Command.We are C 2 and C 3, men unfit to pass C 3, and fifty of them entitled to their Discharge Pass E "—which means discharged as unfit for any sort of service—We do nothing whatever, only eating and drawing our pay. Most of us have been out and done our bit, some wearing three or four gold stripes‥What we complain of is that we are of no more use and yet are passed by boards. They ought to get rid of us and allow us to try and do some work of national importance and save the State about £400 weekly, which our families are drawing as allowances.Then comes an important item, because it is not only the initial re-examination that we have to bear in mind. These men who were passed C 2 and C 3 into the labour units are subject to re-examination by travelling boards in their units subsequently, and they are on these occasions constantly, without any examination at all, passed into higher categories. He says:Only on Sunday last they flooded the camp with doctors. Every man was before the doctor with an 2002 order to get as many B 1 men as they could out of the men who are C 2 and C 3. Mind you, most of these men only came in this week and they passed about fifty B1 on Sunday. They had leave on Tuesday, and they will be out before next week-end. In fact, things are in such a state here that they passed a man"—he gives the name of the unit—from C 2 last week. He went sick. He carried on in his hut till Saturday with double rupture which he had when ha arrived, and he now lies dead in the hospital here; so he died within three weeks of his recruitment.That is one example of the death of a man. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Sir M. Levy), who unfortunately cannot be here, is able to give the cases of two other men. I know that it is repugnant to the Committee to go through harrowing details as to all manner of diseases from which these men have suffered. I have a bundle of letters here—nearly every one of those letters was received yesterday morning, and it is only a small selection. If I read them through I should establish an overwhelming case, but I do not desire to read them. There are other hon. Members of the Committee who have more direct, personal, first-hand acquaintance with this administration than I have, and it would be to the advantage of the Committee if the examples were furnished by them. It is a most significant thing that every Member of this House who has any connection with appeal or local tribunals feels the same indignation regarding the cruelties of this system of re-examination. There is my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield). Indeed, the hon. Member for Ealing produced a most weighty indictment against the whole system in the House when we went into Committee on the Army Estimates, but, unfortunately, there was a very thin House and very little attention was paid to it then. But these are only a few of the number. Perhaps the most weighty evidence would come from the Deputy Chairman of Committees himself, whose views are so well known from statements which he has already made and which have been reported in the public Press. What inference can be drawn by any impartial man from such a unanimity and such a weight of evidence but that there is a system of maladministration, which cannot be explained simply by mistakes? These are not isolated instances occurring here and there throughout the country. You have them in Scotland, in the North 2003 of England, in Cumberland, for example, where there was a large meeting at the end of last week protesting against what was being done by the Medical Board there, in Lancashire, where the Hulme town hall holds a position of unenviable notoriety in respect of its medical re-examinations, in Durham, in Northamptonshire, in Leicester, in Devon, in Cornwall, in London. Practically in every area of the country you have universal and unequivocal testimony that the authorities are acting with wanton cruelty and inflicting hardships which are not only a matter of serious consequence to the men, but which are also having very important and mischievous results in relation to the actual conduct of the War.
In many cases attempts are being made by the recruiting authorities even to evade the express provisions of the Statute. With much difficulty, while the Bill was passing through Committee, certain exceptions were obtained. For example, it was provided that men who had been wounded in action, men who had been gassed, men who were suffering from neurasthenia as the result of Naval and Military service, should be excepted from the Act. But all these men are being called up, although they know from their medical records the actual conditions which have brought about the discharge of these men. My hon. Friend will tell me that the Sub-sections from the Act are printed on the face of the note. That is quite satisfactory for men who are able to understand and interpret Sub-sections of Acts of Parliament or who can obtain legal advice. But the great majority of our fellow countrymen cannot interpret Sub-sections in Acts of Parliament, and it is practically useless to say that because you put down a Subsection of an Act of Parliament, the ordinary man is aware of the right to which he is entitled under the Act of Parliament. Many of these men are being called up. I know one case which happened in the area where I reside, where a, wounded man has gone, not knowing his rights. He had been wounded in the leg, with the result that he could not bend his knee, but in the presence of a witness, who reported the incident to me, the doctors put that man on the bed and deliberately bent his knee. That is a man who would not be entitled to be examined at all. They treated him as a malingerer although he was outside the Act.
2004 I will give another example. This is the case of a fellow-countryman of mine in a Territorial battalion. He had been in it for thirty years before the War and was discharged, but he volunteered in August, 1914, and went out to France in October of that year and was wounded. He underwent great hardships in consequence, because after a fairly serious wound it was many hours before he could be treated, and on account of the hardships which he suffered he also fell a victim to neurasthenia. He was discharged. He first received a permanent disability pension for six months, to report himself last Christmas. He reported himself last Christmas and received a total disability pension. But he was called up again last month. He thought he came within the Sub-section. He wrote to the recruiting officer and got this reply:As you are not in receipt of a permanent disability pension you are bound to submit yourself for re-examination.I do not believe the recruiting officer was acting in ignorance. I think he was acting on a deliberate policy to get as many men examined and passed as he could The man wrote to me and asked what he should do. I told him he was entitled to refuse re-examination, but I said "possibly in view of your condition the consequences upon you might be such that it would be better to submit yourself to re-examination rather than run the risk of arrest, and the consequent effect it might have upon you." That is one of the examples of what has been going on. I think the War Office must admit, in view of the official statement issued no longer ago than last Thursday, that there have been serious abuses, and cannot dissociate itself from responsibility for them. These are not mistakes. They are not the malpractices of individual recruiting officers. They may to some extent be due to over-zeal, but the uniformity with which they occur in every area of the country indicates that there must be some instructions which are responsible for all this cruelty and hardship. We shall be told that while the country is at war there must be individual hardship and suffering, that war involves suffering and sorrow and anguish, and that these men are only receiving their share of the misfortune. I do not believe it is a fair share. We were told, when the original Conscription Act was passed, that this was to secure equality of sacrifice. We heard a great 2005 deal then about every man once before any man twice, but there are cases under this Act of some men thrice before a great many able-bodied men once. Some of them are Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I know the point of view of my hon. Friend. I know he accepted the Act with which we are dealing with a great amount of regret and reluctance. We are not having equality of sacrifice. Indeed, there is no attempt to secure that equality of sacrifice. When this Government came into power we were told that we were to see an end of all the half-hearted and inadequate measures which had marked the unfortunate career of its late wait-and-see predecessor, and on one thing more than another we were assured that we were to see a different order, and that was in respect of the use of our man-power in this country. I remember with what enthusiasm the statement of the Prime Minister on 19th December was received when he informed us that not only were we going to mobilise our material resources, but that we would also mobilise to the full our man-power, and that the Government had decided upon a system of universal National Service. A Director of National Service had been appointed. A new era was to commence in which every man in the country was going to be put to the work for which he was best fitted in the national interest. There was nothing thon about calling up the unfit. But what has been the result of all these high-sounding professions? We have had the screaming farce of the National Service scheme. We have had this contemptible and cowardly measure for calling up the rejected and discharged.
But it is not only on the ground of individual hardship and individual cruelty that we protest against it. We protest against it as a wanton waste of the national resources. There is complete evidence that many thousands of men are being taken into the Army to-day, and have been taken in during recent months, who are unfit for any form of service. We have mobilised them. We have not mobilised our man-power: we have mobilised our invalids. What is the result of that upon the efficiency of the Army? It is not increasing the efficiency of the Army. It is not increasing its strength as a fighting force. For every two or three invalids whom you bring into the Army you are not only not increasing its force, but you are taking away from the Army those who are fit to look after them. So that by this 2006 method, instead of increasing the numbers and also increasing the strength, you are actually taking away from the strength of the Army, and in the case of many of these men you are also seriously endangering the health of other men with whom they are called upon to serve.
There are other indirect effects from the national point of view which are equally serious. It is causing a want of confidence. You cannot with impunity make such mistakes, in administration, which come within the knowledge of every class throughout the country, without destroying confidence. To use a phrase which the Prime Minister used in regard to recruiting in Ireland, if the War Office acts with a stupidity amounting to malignity it must destroy the confidence of the people, and they argue that if you make such blunders in matters of which we know, what can be the blunders of which we have no knowledge and which you are to conceal by the censorship? Then consider the effect upon the national spirit. The Government cannot with impunity stir up discontent and dissatisfaction, and when it passes an unpopular measure, as it may have to pass unpopular measures, it should see that it is not administered in such a way as to create the maximum of irritation and dissatisfaction, because if you pass these measures and, knowing their probable effect, deliberately and wantonly administer them in such a way as to create discontent and indignation throughout the country, you are doing much to depress the national spirit and so to prejudice our cause in the successful prosecution of the War.
§ Sir GODFREY BARING
I am sure the Committee will be grateful for and interested in the powerful speech which my hon. and learned Friend has made. I should like to remind the Committee that the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech is based on the clearest documentary evidence. He has absolute facts and proofs for every instance he has brought before the Committee to-day. I do not propose in what I wish to say this afternoon to make any sort of attack on the Government from a party point of view. I do not think this is a party question or even a question for or against the Government. It seems to me to be much more an elementary question of justice and fair play, and I want to deal this afternoon not so much with the question of the re-examination of men who have been already discharged from the Army, 2007 but with the ordinary work of the medical boards during the last fifteen months as I have experienced it as a member of an Appeal Tribunal. I have the honour to be chairman of the Appeal Tribunal in Hampshire, and we have had before us between 4,000 and 5,000 cases. During that time we have had some very remarkable experiences in regard to the working of the medical boards. Directly we began our work it became evident to us, if we were to discharge our duties to the satisfaction of the public, and ourselves, that we must depend on the medical classification of the appellants who came before us—that seemed to us to be essential—and we hoped that when we commenced our work we should find the work of these medical boards efficiently and properly conducted. Our confidence in the medical boards was very soon rudely shaken. A very few months after we started our work there came into our county hall, where we were sitting at Portsmouth, a man who had to be helped in by four assistants, who only with great difficulty was able to get to his chair, and who had to be conducted by the same friends out of the room, and to our astonishment we found that this man, so incapacitated and so crippled with chronic rheumatism that he was only just able to walk, had been passed by the medical board at Winchester for general service, Class A.
I hold in my hand a few cases, only taken at random, of some of the decisions of the medical board at Winchester during the last few weeks. I know it may be wearisome to the Committee to give details, and I will not go into particulars. I will summarise what they are. Here is a man in Portsmouth who suffers from serious disease of the heart, passed by the medical board at Winchester, Class A, sent up to the Central Medical Board and totally rejected for military service. Another man who suffers from chronic bronchial catarrh passed for general service at Winchester and, after a few weeks, entirely rejected as unfit for any form of general service by the Central Medical Board. A man suffering from chronic rheumatism and heart disease passed Class A, totally rejected in London, and so I could go on, giving innumerable cases where men have been passed A 1 and B 1, garrison duty abroad, who, in a few weeks, when their health cannot possibly have deterio 2008 rated, been entirely rejected or reduced to a very low category by the Central Medical Board. What does this meant? It means that in the opinion of the medical board sitting at Winchester a man is regarded as being fit to go through all the hardships of active service in the field, yet when he comes before the Central Medical Board is looked upon as so weak that he is not regarded as being able to perform any kind of military service. Is it astonishing that our Appeal Tribunal has long since lost any faith, not only in the competence, but in the good faith, of some of these medical boards. The military representative on one occasion asked us if we realise what serious delay was being caused by sending these cases to be examined by the Central Medical Board. We replied that we did not think we ought to consider the question of delay when a man's whole future and whole health, his ruin or salvation, was at stake, and that we should continue, whenever there was a serious doubt as to the man's health, to send him up to London for examination by the Central Medical Board.
This is no new question and as recently as the 1st March last a long Debate took place in this House on the work of the medical board. The hon. and learned Member for Ealing (Mr. Nield) made a most powerful speech on that occasion. He has been acting as chairman of the Medical Appeal Tribunal, and he speaks with unrivalled authority on all questions of this kind, and he brought before the Committee case after case of cruel hardship which has resulted from the work of these medical boards. He asked that there should be some amelioration in this respect, and that the matter should have the immediate attention of the War Office. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War made a very courteous and sympathetic speech, but I cannot trace that there has been any improvement in the work of the medical boards since that time. I should like to point out the cruelty which can be caused by mistakes made by these district medical boards. Close to my own home there is a tradesman aged forty, who was just beginning to get on in business with a wife and five children, passed category A by the medical board, and who, anxious to do what he could, left his wife and children and his business, and without appealing to the Appeal Tribunal, went 2009 into the Army. In four months that man was discharged from the Army perfectly unfit for any form of military service. He goes home, finds his business is gone and has to commence life again with a wife and five children dependent on him. In the same street in that town there are young men working in the shipbuilding yards at Cowes, single young men of twenty-four and twenty-five years of age, earning good money, safe from the hardships and dangers of war, who are remaining in safety at home. Yet we are assured by enthusiastic supporters of compulsory service that if we only could get compulsory service we should get absolute equality of sacrifice.
I noticed in the papers the other day an announcement, which I thought was a somewhat sinister announcement, and I hope the Under-Secretary for War will be able to contradict it to-day. The announcement was that it was proposed to call up men who had been classified B 3 and C 3 in order to see if some form of military training would improve their physique and improve their health. I hope the War Office if they have any scheme of that kind in mind will immediately abandon it. The calling up of men passed C 3, a man who is evidently in delicate health, might lead under some form of military service to a breakdown in health altogether, and then the War Office might say, "We have made this experiment and we find that he is of no further military use," discharge him, in broken health, into civilian life. I am sorry to say that during the last year we have had to complain, not only of the decisions of these medical boards, but of their methods as well. A tradesman in Southampton, a man in a good position in that town, and as patriotic and as loyal as any member of a medical board, suffering from serious valvular heart disease, went up to Winchester to be examined, and, before the medical board examined him at all, the chairman said, "What is the matter with you? "The man replied," I have serious heart disease, and have two or three certificates from independent doctors to show that it is so." "Oh," said the chairman, "that is what every shirker says." A man from Bournemouth, a thoroughly respectable and loyal citizen, went up again to be examined by the medical board. He had suffered from epileptic fits from his earliest youth, and 2010 he had them frequently. He brought a certificate showing that he had been an epileptic all his life, and while in the room he had an epileptic fit, so severe, that he had to be kept in the military hospital at Winchester for three hours until he regained consciousness. A friend who went with him heard one of the doctors of the medical board say, just after he fell down in the fit, "Don't let us have any of your shamming here." It is owing to the necessity of war that we have had to conscript men to fight, but it is not a necessity of war, and I hope it never will be, that we shall insult these men.
I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that a large majority of the chairmen of these district medical boards are members of the Royal Army Medical Corps. I do not wish to say anything against their honour and integrity, but it must be evident to the Committee that men who are dependent on the War Office for their professional advancement must wish to do what they think the War Office requires. I believe these men think that what the War Office require is quantity and not quality. They think the efficacy of these district medical boards is judged by the War Office, by the number of men, A and B, they pass. Are these men, if passed for A and B, and then break down hopelessly, are they of the slightest military value to the nation? Are they not an embarrasment to the military authorities and great expense to the nation? I am anxious to press upon the Under-Secretary for War that it should be clearly laid down, if it is not already laid down, that what the Army Council require is quality, not quantity, in the men passed for A and B. I should like it further laid down that in cases of doubt, and there are many cases of doubt—borderland cases, where it is doubtful if a man is really fit for A or B—that the question should be decided in the favour of the appellant. I think that would be a fairer method, a more satisfactory method, in which to act. I am not sure if that can be obtained, because I know there is a great shortage of doctors at the present time, but I should like to see a larger number of civilian doctors made chairmen of medical boards, men who are wholly independent of the War Office, and who do not depend upon the War Office for their advancement and subsequent career. There is rising a feeling in the 2011 country on this question at the present time. I have received many letters on this question, and I know there are thousands, almost hundreds of thousands, who are deeply grateful to the hon. and learned Member for the stand he has taken. He addressed a large meeting at Manchester last Saturday, other meetings are to be held in various parts of the country, associations are going to be formed, and none too soon, to do their utmost to protect the interests of these men.
I am glad to think that a candidate is going to be, or has been, adopted for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool to fight that constituency on this question and bring it before the public mind. Unless we have concessions from the War Office I hope that the candidate will receive very good and substantial support from the electors of Liverpool, because I am quite certain that will be one of the best ways of placing pressure on the War Office at the present time. We had seen in the London papers to-day that we were to have the great honour of the presence of the Prime Minister this afternoon to speak on this question. The Prime Minister's visits to this House are like angels' visits, few and far between, but we had hoped that one of those blessed moments when he can give us a little time was to be to-day. I do appeal to the hon. Gentleman in charge of this question to give us a substantial and early assurance on this most important question. My hon. and learned Friend opposite and his Friends—and, if I may say so, I am a humble Member of that body—mean to persist in this question until we receive some satisfaction. Unless we can receive some satisfaction we mean to press this reduction Motion to a Division in this House this evening. If we are not successful this evening we shall persist, both inside and outside this House, until we obtain, as I am sure we shall, in the future some substantial measure of justice and fair play.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)
Before I deal with the points which have been fairly raised by my hon. Friend who has just sat down and by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle), perhaps the House will allow me to consider what the reasons were, first of all, for this Act. I think that that is material, 2012 because there has been a great deal of misrepresentation in the country in connection with this Act. It was proposed by this Act to summon for re-examination—not primarily to the Colours, but for re-examination—men who had been rejected, and it was found that these rejections could be accounted for on four grounds. A man might have been rejected at his primary military examination—that is to say, without seeing a doctor at all—where a recruiting sergeant might have looked at him and rejected him. We have found, and the Press will tell this to the people of the country, by its Police Court news, that there have been many cases like that where men have been rejected by a recruiting sergeant, without seeing any medical officer, on medical grounds. Then there is the second ground, which I will describe as the ground of fraud. Again one has only to look at the Press at the present time to see in the Courts of the country men of position and influence who are being charged, while others have been charged, and have been convicted, of procuring the rejection of men who were fit for military service—bribery, impersonation, doping, chemical and bacterial maiming were some of the artifices employed, and recently we have found that in one great city no fewer than 25 per cent, of the men who were re-examined under this Act proved to be "A" men.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
There is the third point of rejection. Men were rejected, as is well known, by certain select corps. Men attempted to enlist in certain specified select corps where, I am told, the social standard was high They were rejected on personal grounds, but these were described as medical, and before this Review of Exceptions Act was put into force there was no possibility of getting at those men. There is the fourth ground of rejection, namely, being invalided out of the Service on the ground of ill-health. I think I will show that the War Office did in the main depend upon the first three grounds of rejection for the supply of those men to be re-examined for the purpose of future military service. My hon. Friend who has just sat down said he wished to impress upon me, as representing the War Office here to-day, that we should go in more for quality than quantity. It will be within the recollection of the House that when this Act was 2013 being discussed my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and certainly I myself, explained that we should have to re-examine a million or a million and a quarter of men. We stated then that we did not expect to get more than 100,000 men. Then, at the instigation of some friends, and I think also at the suggestion of some of my colleagues, I introduced a few Amendments which were very important Amendments. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) will agree in any case so far as the Amendment in connection with disablement is concerned. At any rate, after these Amendments were introduced, the War Office reduced their estimate of the number likely to be secured under this Review of Exceptions Act to 60,000. I think that is a priâd facie case for the good faith of the War Office. We knew that at least 920,000 or 950,000 men might be called up for examination. These men who have been rejected are very often very critical, sometimes truculent, and in some cases they have been abusive; but we quite realised when we passed this Bill that we might not expect to get more than the number I indicated. Again I insist upon the point that that shows our good faith, and that even if we did ask these men, described in such a harrowing fashion by my hon. Friends, to come up, we did not expect that they would all pass into the fighting forces of the country. It may be said that it was not worth while going to all this trouble for the sake of 60,000 men. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] It may be so, but I understand that by the time we have examined all these men we hope to get 60,000 "A" men and 60,000 for other categories. In other words, we hope to get 120,000 men, or six divisions, equivalent to the original Expeditionary Force.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I hoped that I made it clear to the Members of the House that we expected to get 60,000 "A" men who in the course of time might go into the fighting ranks, and another 60,000 who might not—and, indeed, probably would not—go into those ranks, but into lower categories.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I did not interrupt my hon. and learned Friend during his speech. I am coming now to the representations made in the country, and I think in the course of that I shall reach the point upon which my hon. and learned Friend interrupted me. It has been quite openly said, on the platform and elsewhere, that these men were being called up for service. That statement has been made frequently, while in reality they are not called up for re-examination and may never see service. They are merely called up for re-examination. The next representation is that all these men are being called up for military duties. "Military duties" means nothing else than that these men, crippled, lame, or whatever they may be, are being sent into the trenches. The hon. Member for East Manchester (Mr. Sutton) recently pointed out that one man who was deaf was called up, and he went on to ask, "How can you have a deaf man in command of men in the trenches?"—the implication being that this deaf man, in category C, and who was therefore never likely to be in danger, would be put in the trenches. That is the sort of representation that is made.
§ Mr. SUTTON
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, may I ask him whether he really thinks that a man who is practically stone deaf ought to be in the Army at all?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am coming to that; it is my next point. We require men now for the Army whose work could be very well performed by women. The Army to-day is quite a different organisation from the Army of, let us say, three years ago. Labour in the Army, for example, has become quite a different problem and a gigantic problem. We require men at the front just now to look after and drive trains and lorries, to look after horses, to make roads, to check and issue stores, to sterilise clothes, to look after washhouses and baths, to repair harness, boots and clothes, to mend rifles—in fact any man sufficiently well to earn a livelihood in his civil capacity can be of use in the Army. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee knows that it requires one-and-a-half men to keep one man in the trenches. That is a point which is forgotten in the speeches delivered all over the country.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Yes. The third representation with which I should like to deal more specifically is the worst of all. The representation that is made is that all men who are suffering from wounds or poisonous gas and neurasthenia are called up for service.
§ Colonel Sir NORTON GRIFFITHS
You have spoken for three-quarters of an hour. Cannot you wait while someone else speaks?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I think I am entitled to pursue my own argument. It will be in the recollection of the House that the Government accepted the Amendment excepting all these men in all these categories, and if they are now called up—I believe there must have been cases, because organisation cannot possibly be perfect—they are called up in mistake. It is quite illegal to pass them for service, and they will be discharged when any case is brought to our notice. We are told that these men do not know their rights, but I have placed in the Library of the House Army Council Instruction No. 640. It has been there for quite a long time. I have gone through it "very carefully with my colleagues. It has been suggested that in this Army Council Instruction we refer to these exceptions only in language not easily understood. That is not the fact. I have the Army Council Instruction here, and appended to that Instruction is a copy of the Statutory Order which is sent to every man whose name may come before us and who may be liable to be called up for re-examination. At the top of that Statutory Order is a space for the man's name, and the hour and date of his appointment at the recruiting office. Then it goes on to say:NOTE.—This notice does not apply to:—5.0 P.M.
- (a) Any man who is for the time being engaged in agriculture and whose work is certified by the
2016 Board of Agriculture and Fisheries (or, as respects Scotland, the Board of Agriculture for Scotland) to be work of national importance and who was engaged on such work on the 31st March, 1917.
- (b) Any officer or man who has left or been discharged from the naval or military service of the Crown in consequence of disablement if the disablement has been certified under the authority of the Admiralty or the Army Council to be the result of wounds (including injury from poisonous gas) received in battle or in any engagement with the enemy or otherwise from the enemy, or in consequence of neurasthenia or allied functional nerve disease if so certified by a special medical board to be the result of naval or military service in the present War.
- (c) Any officer or man who within one year before the date of this notice has left or been discharged from the naval or military service of the Crown in consequence of disablement or ill-health if he has had at least one month's service with the Colours or if his disablement has been caused or aggravated by naval or military service. In such cases he may be given a notice after the expiration of a year from the time when he left or was discharged from the Service.
- (d) Any man who less than six months before the date of this notice was rejected or discharged, except where it appears to the Army Council that the rejection or discharge was obtained by fraud.
That is simple language. It is a simple, plain statement affecting any man who comes under the exceptions. All that he has to do is to fill in the form at the back and send it to the recruiting officer. But there is an association which I believe has plainly told men not to take the trouble to do that, and so our organisation has been wasted. The hon. Member produced a man on the platform who had lost a limb in battle, who obviously did not come under the Act.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
As I was saying, all that such a man has to do is to fill in the form, send it to the recruiting officer, and probably then he will hear no more about it. The only further thing I wish to mention—and in this I can speak for my colleagues—is that I agree that this re-examination experience may have inflicted hardship. The Government have recognised that, and it is now prepared to say that all men who have served abroad and have been discharged from the Army and are now coming compulsorily under this Act, if they make a claim, at once will be finally discharged. That is to say, every soldier who was disabled by wounds or discharged from sickness or ill-health abroad will be excepted under this Act.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not know when it will apply, but it will apply to all those mentioned by me. Now about another matter. It has been frequently stated that the War Office issued secret Instructions to the medical officers, and on the strength of these Instructions we were forcing men into the Army. I have denied in the House that any such Instructions were issued. I deny it again, and I ask my hon. Friend if he can produce them?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
If those Instructions were issued—and they were not—they were issued to professional gentlemen. That is the allegation. I do not know what the views of the Mover as to the medical profession as a whole are, but my own is strong. I do not think any member of a high profession, such as the medical profession, would receive instructions from anybody without something in writing. Do you think Sir Frederick Treves, of the Central Medical Board, or other men of high professional standing, would receive instructions? They would tear up in anger, and with righteous indignation, any secret instructions that might be given by the War Office asking them to do an unjust thing. As a matter of fact, we issued one Instruction only, and that is contained in the Army Council Orders. I gave a pledge that every consideration should be given to every single man called up for re-examination. The Instruction says:(b) With regard to men under 2 (b) above, the statutory limitations explained in Part III. must be carefully observed.In connection with these disabled men, the Army Council direct that the greatest care and consideration in medical re-examination be shown. Many of them have served overseas: and of those who have so served, only men who on re-examination are found fit for category A or for category B (i), B (ii) or C (i) are to be called for service. The remainder, even though categorized C (ii), B (iii) or C (iii), are to be allowed to return home, to be re-examined at the close of a period of six months.Disabled men who have not served overseas are in a slightly different position. They also deserve, 2018 in the majority of cases, consideration. There are, however, amongst them certain persistent malingerers, and also a certain number who, in the earlier days of the War, were improperly discharged on inadequate grounds. Even so, it is essential that these men be not only carefully, but also considerately, examined. Those who en re-examination are found to be fit for category A or for category B (i), B (ii), or C (i), should be called up for service. The cases of those in the lower categories should be carefully considered and, if it seem desirable to the Area Commander, ha may allow them to return home, to be re-examined at the close of a period of six months.With regard to the posting of such discharged men as are taken for service, it is desirable that those in categories lower than A should be posted, so far as possible, to such corps as the Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Army Medical Corps, or, in certain cases, to the Royal Flying Corps, in accordance with the posting instructions in force from time to time. The policy approved by the Army Council in this connection is that these men should be exposed to the least possible risk of further wounding or disease. In all cases it must be remembered that these men have already served; that many of them have faced trying experiences; and it is not to be expected that on the average their nerve will be as sound as it was.Men who on re-examination are found to be in category A will be posted in accordance with the posting instructions in force from time to time, so far as possible to their old corps. If this be not practicable under the instructions in force they should, if possible, be posted to any corps open for recruitment of category A men for which they express a preference.
§ Sir G. BARING
Was every care given as to what the numbers should be of the men called before the Board?
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
Can this Army Council Order be made public? I asked for and obtained a copy, but was told it should not be made public. I know a copy has been placed in the Library of the House. I should like the document to be made public.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Personally, I have no objection that the document should be made public, but my Friends must remember that the Army Council Instructions are usually for official use only. They are, after all, a privileged document.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have said that it should be done if the House required it. Now there is a further quotation:The man is deemed to have been duly enlisted in His Majesty's Forces and forthwith transferred to the Reserve as from the appointed date, which; 2019 in the case of men to whom the Statutory Order is sent, is the thirtieth day after the date of the Statutory Order (A.F. W. 3579). At any time before the appointed date applicable to him, a man to whom the Statutory Order is sent has the right of application to a tribunal for exemption. It will be remembered that the men in question are those who have been previously excepted from the Military Service Acts, and there may be cases where such men have made previous applications to a Tribunal for exemption. In such eases all previous Tribunal applications and exemptions are wiped out by the despatch of the Statutory Order (A.F. W. 3579) and the man starts with fresh Tribunal rights. The reason is that being excepted the man did not previously require exemption from a liability to which he was not subject.20. The new Act makes a special provision with regard to voluntarily attested men who, after having attested, have been rejected for military service but who have not been treated as discharged. Such a man, although remaining a Reservist, should be sent the Statutory Order so that whether be claims to have been excepted or not he is brought within the provisions of the Military Service Acts. The despatch of the Statutory Order may be objected to as turning a voluntarily attested man into a conscript, and if in any such case the man returns the Statutory Order (A.F. W. 3579) to the recruiting officer stating that he prefers to be medically examined as a volunteer, arid that he admits that he is already in the Reserve by virtue of his attestation, he is to be told that the Statutory Order will be cancelled on his presenting himself for examination and the man is to be at once given an opportunity of appearing before a medical board.21. Note that the voluntarily attested man, who has been previously rejected and is called up for further medical examination, whether the examination takes place in pursuance of a Statutory Order (A.F. W. 3579) or, being at the request of the man is a voluntary examination, which leaves the man still voluntarily attested and therefore outside the Military Service Acts, has all the grounds of application to a Tribunal for exemption conferred by the Military Service Acts, and that (although he is not being dealt with under the Statutory Order) he may apply to a Tribunal within thirty days from the date of the Statutory Order. Such a man can make an application for exemption on the ground of ill-health or infirmity, or on the ground of conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service.This Army Council Instruction was sent to all medical officers. We are dealing with a tremendous organisation. We have been examining at the rate of about 15,000 men a day. As my hon. Friend who has just sat down has pointed out, we have had to cope with these enormous numbers with a very much depleted staff of capable medical doctors. I think I ought to tell the Committee what procedure we adopt before appointing a medical board. If the medical board is in a rural district the president of the board asks the local doctors to assist him, and the board is invariably composed of no fewer than the president and two men but the average board consists of the president and four men, and at least three doctors pass each individual case through their hands. If it happens to be 2020 an important centre and not a rural area, the local medical executive committee find the personnel of the board and form a panel, and I understand that in that case, too, the medical board invariably consists of the president and two men, and sometimes the president and four men.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I cannot answer that because I do not know, but I hope that whoever speaks from this Bench afterwards will give a definite answer. I cannot say definitely. Not only has the recruit the privilege of being seen by three men on what is a question of fact, but there is a further examination possible. I have no doubt that doctors, like men of other professions, are not always accurate, and that you do find cases, where you are dealing with so many men, of very great hardship. But under this Act, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the person under review has got the additional power, after he has been examined by a medical board, of appearing before the tribunal, and as in the cases given by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple, they may give permission to go before a special medical board. For the men who have got leave to go before a special medical board we have established three of those boards. One is in Edinburgh, under the chairmanship of one of the most distinguished surgeons in the country—and the Edinburgh surgeons are most distinguished. There is one in London presided over by Sir Frederick Treves, and there is one in Leeds presided over by a very distinguished local physician. Very often one finds in law that cases are decided badly until they come to the House of Lords, but the House of Lords in its official capacity is part of our legal system, and even if the lowest Courts decide incorrectly and you appeal and you do get justice, the ultimate success is due to the law of England notwithstanding the delay that has taken place. It is the same with the supreme Medical Court of Appeal here. If it gives justice, the ultimate success is due to our medical board system. That is what a man under review is entitled to by Statute. But in addition to his statutory rights, we have appointed, recently, inspecting officers. We have the advantage of having at headquarters the distinguished services 2021 of Colonel James Galloway, who is senior physician to Charing Cross Hospital, and we have the travelling inspectors under General Burney, six of whom have visited every medical board in the country. In the cases from Manchester which were brought to my notice in the House, the Director of Recruiting went up himself personally and inspected the board there.
§ Sir G. BARING
On two separate occasions before the Appeal Tribunal of which I am chairman the military representative said he was instructed by the War Office to point out the serious delay which was caused by sending these men to a medical board in London, and that he was instructed to express the hope that we should not send cases to the Central Medical Board unless they were very grave.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I cannot answer in this House for what each man does, but I think I am right in saying that that officer must have acted ultra vires, and I hope my hon. Friend the chairman of the tribunal took the opportunity of telling him so. I was dealing with the care we are taking recently to find out exactly how these boards are working, and in some cases which have been brought to our notice I personally have asked that an investigation should be made, and our inspectors are visiting the main recruiting areas and the areas from which complaints have come. But I do feel, as far as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark is concerned, that he has not taken quite the correct line. I think that I am right in saying that I have asked him to let me have the facts of any cases of which he has heard, and that I will make an investigation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I was asked yesterday to come and put my case to the Prime Minister, and I thought that it was going to be inquired into.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I was not referring to that; but before the matter was raised for discussion in this House six weeks ago I asked my hon. Friend to give these cases. These cases, as stated by my hon. Friend—and, no doubt, he has stated them in accordance with the information received by him—are very terrible cases, but I do not think that the condition of the men is in any way improved by the fact that the cases are kept in my hon. Friend's pocket and not sent in for investigation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
May I point out that the cases are so numerous that I should have to keep a certain number of secretaries in. order to send them in? That is the fact.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I have got the collection of cases which have been sent in. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has sent in cases which have been investigated.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I think that in many instances those cases described as harrowing may be harrowing for all I know. I regret that they should be harrowing, but, if they were harrowing, if these cases are multifarious and multitudinous, the hon. Member might have selected, say, the six most harrowing eases and sent them in for investigation. My hon. and learned Friend has done no such thing. He has only been too willing to come to the floor of the House and to risk the lives of all those men to make a good case against the War Office. It is quite easy to come to the floor of the House to make a case by citing individual cases. It is the easiest thing in the world when you have got a lot of uninvestigated cases, but upon the general policy of the War Office I make bold to say that we have shown that wherever an instance of injustice is brought to our notice individually it has been investigated; and in reference to what I have said as to the system of inspection by those medical boards which have been instituted, the inspectors are doing their level best to make the work of those boards as satisfactory and as fair as possible to the unfortunate men who in this great national crisis have to be called upon again to be examined in case they may be of some further service. But if it be that the Committee is not satisfied with the statement which I have made, or which may be made from this bench in the course of this Debate, there is nothing, so far as I am concerned, to conceal in the matter. The Government have themselves looked most carefully into all the cases, and I am authorised to say that we are quite willing and quite ready to appoint a small Parliamentary Committee to do what the Government have already done—to examine into the working of this Act. If the Committee is 2023 agreeable to that, as I have said before, I do not think that the Director-General of Recruiting or my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for War will fear that unpleasant facts, so far as they are concerned, will see the light of day. We are not here to conceal anything. We are prepared to meet any criticism or any attack that may be made. All that we do ask, in common courtesy, is that when cases are to be made against us we should have the opportunity before coming to this House of investigating the cases which are brought to our notice for the first time within the walls of this House.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
May I ask whether this proposed Committee will have powers to dismiss from their posts those who they consider have behaved improperly?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
No; such a Committee would not have executive power of that kind, but I think I may state that in the case in a certain Cathedral City which was mentioned in debate the other day, we did dismiss the officer, and I feel bound to say that if this Court of Inquiry does produce evidence to prove that there has been any action ultra vires, as suggested by the hon. Member for Barnstaple, which involves unfairness, or cruelty to those men who have served their country, in the vast majority of cases the executive power will do this.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am sure that every Member of the House will join with me in, so far as I am concerned, a most sincere recognition of the consideration and courtesy with which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War discharges his duties, multifarious, complicated and responsible, in his very difficult office. Nothing could have been better than the tone and temper of the speech which he has just addressed to the Committee. I feel perfectly sure that those of us who have received—and I am afraid that there is hardly any Member in this House who has not—representations from his constituents, or from persons outside of hardship in the administration of this Act, cases which it is impossible for an individual Member to bring to the personal notice of the Under-Secretary, must agree that wherever these cases have been brought to his notice, he has given them his fullest attention. I am dispensed from saying some things which otherwise I should have felt it my duty to say by 2024 the announcement with which my hon. Friend has concluded his speech. I understand that the Government are prepared to appoint a Parliamentary Committee, and I presume that means a Committee of this House, to go into this matter, a matter not of policy but of administration; and if the investigations of that Committee are to be really efficient and fruitful, I venture to think that it must be within the scope of their reference not only to inquire into alleged abuses in the past, and the existing administration of the Act, but to make recommendations as to how far by a better organisation and a more improved machinery such abuses may be avoided in the future. I assume that is the intention of the Government. That relieves one of a very considerable burden; but, nevertheless, I feel bound to take the opportunity, not, as my hon. Friend will understand, in any spirit of hostility to the War Office, of making one or two observations of a general kind in regard to the position in which we find ourselves. I must acknowledge to the House that I feel a special responsibility in this matter, because I was largely answerable for the assent which the House of Commons gave to the adoption of compulsory military service. I was at the head of the Government at the time, and a great many of my old friends, political friends and others, in various quarters of the House viewed the principle of that measure with intense repugnance, and they only consented to its adoption—I think they were wise in doing so—I myself was strongly of opinion it was necessary for the successful prosecution of the War—they only consented to its adoption upon the assumption that the principle of compulsion was going to be equitably and universally applied, and in particular—that is where I hold special responsibility in this matter—my colleagues, with my consent, made express pledges and assurances at the time when, I think it was the second of the two Military Service Acts were being passed. I will quote the words of my right hon. Friend who was then President of the Local Government Board and is now Colonial Secretary. He said:We all want that there shall be a time, and as early a time as possible, when all these men who have been medically rejected shall know that their cases have been revised and settled for all time. That is to say those who have been re-examined and called up for service shall know what their service is, and on the other hand, those rejected men will never again be harried and called upon for a second examination.2025 My right hon. Friend, with my assent, expanded this with these words:There is an impression that it is the intention of the War Office to get a re-examination of all medically-rejected men, and that a man who was medically rejected a year ago may not necessarily be medically rejected to-day, and a man medically rejected to-day may not necessarily be medically rejected in six months' time. That is an entire misapprehension. There is no intention whatever to renew these reviews of medical examination.That was the policy which was then the policy of the Government, and that was the assurance which was given to the House of Commons at the time that Bill was under consideration. What followed? When, in the early part of the present Session the Bill, which is now an Act, the administration of which we are considering to-day, was brought forward, it provided for what had up to then been refused, namely, the renewal of the medical examination of rejected men. But those of us who thought, as I confess I thought, that a case had been made out, sought to make it perfectly clear that, at any rate, it should be administered in the spirit in which those original pledges were given, and with the utmost consideration for all the persons who might be brought under review, and my right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) and, I think, my hon. Friend who has just sat down, assured us that that would be the case. The House—I think reluctantly—acquiesced in that because there were many of us who thought—no doubt the Government themselves thought—there were people in the country, young men, single men, men of military age, men who had taken no part, voluntarily or otherwise, in the War, who might very fairly be called upon to serve in priority to those who By medical rejection and, still more, those who, "having served at the front and having been wounded had come back home and had recovered—that those should be first called upon to serve their country and to undertake duty as active combatants. But whatever scruples or doubts many of us, or most of us—and I do not think I am speaking for any section of the House in particular—might have had upon that point, we agreed to give the Government powers which are now embodied in this Act. What has been the result? My hon. Friend—I am sorry if he thought I interrupted him in any acrimonious or even critical way—my hon. Friend told us that he hoped as a result of this Act there would be an accession to the Army of I think 60,000 men capable of active service, and 60,000 others. That 2026 was the cause of my interruption. When he compared that body to the expeditionary force of six divisions which left this country in August, 1914—that was his comparison—I confess that I was momentarily surprised, and even shocked by the comparison. The Expeditionary Force which left this country in 1914 was probably the finest military force that has ever been gathered together at one time in any country in the history of war. If they are to be compared in that way with men who are going to be brought to the Colours either for general service or otherwise under this Act, then it did seem to me to cast something of a slur—not intentionally, of course—upon the Expeditionary Force.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I hope my right hon. Friend will allow mo to interrupt him. I am certain the House did not think that there was any slur cast upon the original Expeditionary Force. I was referring merely to the numbers.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
If all my hon. Friend meant was that 120,000 men would be got together, be it so. You say that you have got these men, but no one can have listened to the two speeches with which this discussion was introduced, and no Member of this House can recall the contents of his letter bag during the course of the last six weeks, without feeling, whether or not you have 120,000, that they have been got by means which have excited widespread displeasure and indication. I am not making any charge against the authorities or the War Office, and I am glad that the circular which the Army Council issued is going to be made public. It seems to me to have been well conceived and well expressed, but all our experience shows that in matters of this kind the best intended and best expressed Instructions, and, indeed, the best paper safeguards that you can invent, will not in circumstances such as these prevent the recurrence of gross local and personal cases of hardship. It is impossible to do it. Look at the case which my hon. Friend has put forward—and properly put forward—on behalf of the War Office. He said that they have a medical board, and that if it goes wrong there is an appeal to what I may call a tribunal of first instance. But we know that my hon. Friend behind me (Sir Godfrey Baring) has said that he knows of one Appeal Tribunal which has lost confidence in the tribunal of first instance. But there is 2027 the possibility of further appeal to three superior boards in London, Edinburgh, and Leeds, composed, no doubt, of men of the highest possible capacity.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
My hon. Friend is right—only by permission. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley has given his experience as chairman of an Appeal Tribunal. I have had figures given to me to-day, and I use them not with any controversial object, but as showing the difficulties in dealing with these men. Figures which show the experience of the Appeal Tribunal for the County of London have been furnished me by my right hon. Friend the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means in order that the House may have them before them, because they are most material for forming a judgment of this sort. This is the return of the results of medical re-examination for the five months ending the 9th May of the present year. Of course, this is the most important tribunal in the country—it sits in five or six different committees, and it is a significant fact that the total number of cases brought before them during this five months for appeal did not exceed 490, or, roughly, 500 appeals. That shows how sparsely this right of appeal is in fact availed of. But these 500 cases must be the residuum of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of decisions by the tribunals of first instance. It is an inevitable drawback to a system of this kind that the men who come before the tribunal of first instance through ignorance, through want of means, through want of time, through want of advice, for a hundred other reasons, are never able even in some of the cases of the greatest hardship to prosecute their case beyond the tribunal of first instance, and never reach the tribunal of appeal at all. I am not complaining. It is inevitable in a system of this kind, but I have letters—they come to me every day—from all parts of the country—I have letters here which convince me, looking at this thing quite impartially, that everywhere there are men whom no reasonable body of medical or other experts ought ever to have dreamt of passing, I will not say for Class A (general service), but for any form of military service whatsoever. They frequently complain—I am afraid because these medical boards are very congested 2028 with business—that they, after what has been a very brief and perfunctory examination and in defiance of the opinion of the medical practitioners who are personally connected with the case and who know the medical history of the individual concerned, have been passed in an almost reckless fashion into one or other of these categories. I am sorry to say the evidence on that point is absolutely overwhelming. There is no hon. Member in any quarter of the House hardly who has not received evidence of that fact and the right of appeal available, as it is available, as it ought to be available—the right of appeal is, unfortunately, very insufficient protection against individual cases of hardship.
Such as it is, I think the fact that there have only been 500 appeals to the County of London Tribunal in the course of nine months confirms and corroborates what I have just said. (An HON MEMBER: "490.") I will call it 500 for the sake of round numbers. Of these 500 appeals in 28½ per cent, of the cases there was no alteration. In little more than 10 per cent, the category in which the man had been placed was raised; in 60 per cent, of the cases the category was lowered and in nearly 20 per cent, of that 60 per cent, not only was the category lowered, but the man was either referred back or rejected altogether. That shows that in this tribunal in considerably more than half the cases the opinion of the medical board was reversed, and of that one-half in about 60 per cent, nearly 20 per cent, of the eases the man was declared to be a person who ought not to have been sent into any category of any sort or kind. If that has been the case in the County of London, we may be sure it has been the case in other parts of the country also. My hon. Friend did not give figures, but gave results of his experience as chairman of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Tribunals, which showed that they had formed almost a more pessimistic opinion of the qualification and competence of the medical boards with which they had to deal.
In view of these facts, I think it would have been quite impossible and indeed wrong of this House not to have raised the question, not to have obtained discussion on it, and not to have elicited the explanation and justifications so far as they have been given on the part of the Government. I do not want to forestall 2029 in any way the conclusions of the Committee which I am glad to see is going to be appointed, but I venture to offer, if I may, one or two suggestions, because in this matter whilst it is our duty to criticise it is more difficult, but it is equally our duty if we can, to contribute something of a constructive kind. I would venture to say in the first place that I think the constitution of what I have called the tribunals of first instance ought to be modified and improved. If it is a fact as has been stated to-day that the president has the power—I do not know whether it is so or not—
§ Mr. ASQUITH
My right hon. Friend says it is not so, and I am sure it is not intended to be within the competence of the president to overrule the opinions of his colleagues. But has it been the practice that the president of these tribunals has overriden the opinion of his colleagues? If it has, that seems to indicate a line of reform, and the line of reform which I would suggest is, first and foremost, that it should be clearly understood that there is complete parity of authority between the different members of the medical board, and next that, as far as possible, the president of the board should be a person who is not himself in the employment of the War Office. I should be, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows, the last person to cast any reflection on members of the Royal Army Medical Corps. I have been at the head of the War Office myself and I know from experience what an admirable and well-qualified body they are. But in these matters it is of importance not only to have competence but to give confidence. I think in the interests of everyone—the Royal Army Medical Corps and the public—it is desirable as far as possible that the presidents of these bodies should be independent and private medical men. Another suggestion which I should like to make is in regard to men who have been at the front—men who have been wounded or invalided, that when they have been recalled and it has been decided that they are not fit to return, the decision should be taken as final.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
No, it is not. It is not from the information which reaches me. I have cases here which, if my right hon. Friend likes, I will show him, and I am sure it is the experience of other Members also, that there have been cases in which men who have been wounded or invalided from the front have gone before one of these tribunals and have been told "You must come up again after six months' interval or after some specified or prescribed interval of time. It is a very great hardship in many ways, and particularly where many of these men have come back to their occupations. They are resuming their business, they have rejoined their families, and they are starting again in civil life, and with this thing hanging over their heads and when there is a possibility that in a few months' time they may be subjected to further examination and be sent back to the Colours, all their plans are disconcerted, and the possibility of re-establishing themselves in civil life on a firm basis completely disappears. As my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Simon) says, in many of these cases, cases of shell shock, as we all know unfortunately from our own personal experience, recovery is very uncertain and very deceptive, because apparent recovery is followed by recurrence of the old trouble, and the man is not really fit for military service. I am perfectly certain the gain, the very small contingent hypothetical gain of the additional number for the Army which could be achieved by re-examining these men is far more than counterbalanced by the hardship, injustice and uncertainty in which you throw the whole of them by keeping this spectre, if I may so call it, this possibility, over them.
Those are practical suggestions. There are others I might make of a more detailed kind, but which I forbear from making for the moment because I understand this Committee will have the power and duty of examining the whole subject for themselves. I can assure my right hon. Friend that what I have said has not been animated, as he will believe, by any unduly critical spirit, but simply by the desire, which must be universal in this House now that we have got compulsory military service and are determined to prosecute this War with all the resources at our disposal, and, as a necessary incident of that purpose, to appropriate as far as we can the man-power 2031 of the country to its proper and legitimate application, that anything so wasteful as either the return to military service of men who have been wounded and invalided and who are not permanently fit to rejoin the Colours, or the sending to the Colours for the first time of men whose physical condition is not such as to make them really trustworthy soldiers, is not merely a cause of hardship to individuals, but a gross and uneconomical waste of the human resources of the whole country.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The last thing which the Government would wish to do would be to object to criticism which is intended to improve the working of an Act which inevitably must inflict great hardship—hardships which were realised just as fully by the Government as by Members of the House at the time when the Act was passed. I should be the last to claim that we have not the right to the severest criticism if the criterion laid down by my right hon. Friend was not carried out, that is to say if, admitting the necessity of this Act, we had not done everything in our power to carry it out, not only with the least loss from the national point of view, but with the greatest possible amount of consideration for the men who are affected by it. That is clearly our duty. It is my belief, and it is a belief at which I have arrived by making the closest inquiry in my power, that the more the way in which this Act has been carried out is examined, the more it will be found that the War Office not only in theory, but so far as is possible in practice, has tried to carry out the definite pledges which were given by myself in this House. They have tried; to do so, and, I think, with considerable success. I am not going to go over the ground which I think was so well covered; by my hon. Friend beside me (Mr. Macpherson), but I should like to point out one or two of the directions in which the War Office have tried to see the disadvantages arising out of this Act.
One of the complaints made by the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle) to-day was that there was overcrowding; that men were kept waiting an unnecessary length of time and were put to unnecessary inconvenience. That is perfectly true. I asked for an explanation of this matter so far as it could be given. I think the House will see there 2032 is something to be said on the other side when I point out the facts which were pointed out to me. In the first place, experience had shown the War Office that not all of those to whom notices were sent came at the time when they were asked to come, and they therefore sent a larger number than they could deal with at a given time. They have found in practice in regard to this Bill after the first two or three days, not only did those who were invited come, but those who were liable, without invitation, came and crowded the place. It was found, I was told by some of the recruiting officers, that more than half of those who were waiting had not received notices at all. The moment this was discovered—and this was not the result of any criticism in this House or elsewhere—the War Office tried to deal with it. They tried to deal with it in London. They sent this telegram to all the centres throughout the country, dated May 12th:Very urgent. Serious congestion of work in certain recruiting medical boards in reported. Where necessary and possible divide find temporarily reinforce the boards, providing acting presidents from experienced members. Presidents must have sufficient time to exercise every care and consideration in every case examined under the Act.6.0 P.M.
We tried at once to meet this difficulty, and in a short time it was overcome and did not recur. The other charge which was made is really entirely unfounded—a serious one, in my judgment. It would have been a monstrous thing that the War Office should have knowingly called up men who were specially excluded under this Act to come up for examination. They did not do it. They sent the notice read by my hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend who introduced this Motion to-day implied to us that it was contained in some abstruse document which required a lawyer or a Member of Parliament to understand it. That is not true. All that is required of a man is that he should be able to read—nothing more! In large print this notice said:This notice must be answered either by your attendance at the time and place ordered or by the prompt return of the notice to the above recruiting office with the certificate on the back duly filled up.What more can anybody do?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
And my hon. Friend actually admitted in the House 2033 that he himself was responsible for advising men who received that circular not to fill it up.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I never said that. It is within the recollection of the Committee that I never said anything of the kind. I said it in fact in one particular case where the law had been broken.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I was not referring to the hon. Member. I was referring to the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh, who, in an interruption, said he had given that advice.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Member says he will do it again. Let the House realise the spirit of the hon. Member's observations! I wish to say further, that one of the complaints made was that the War Office ought to have been able to find out, by their own records, in the case of men who had been removed and who had not sent in their notice. The explanation given to me on that—and I have every reason to believe it is accurate—is that men who had been wounded and had left were registered in the same name, of course, but with an entirely different address from that which was in the Army books. It was to these men that these notices were sent. Nothing else could be done. All I ask the House to believe is—and I am convinced that the Committee, when it examines into it will bear out what I have said—that there has been an honest attempt on the part of the War Office to carry out what was the deliberate intention of the Government and of the House of Commons, when the Act was passed. My right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister made a suggestion about the composition of the medical boards. It is quite obvious that the appeals can only, in any case, be a very limited number of cases. I want the House of Commons to understand what the Government did in this matter. Before the Bill was passed they know that there would be the need for a far larger force of medical examiners than before. They took all the steps in their power to get competent men. In December of last year Dr. Galloway, who is the leading physician in the Charing Cross Hospital, and an examiner in London University, was appointed by the Government as inspector of these medical boards. I have seen him, and he has told me that he himself has examined and 2034 visited almost every one of them. I daresay the House will not think it out of place if I read his account of these boards. He is not a servant of the War Office whose position depends on pleasing some tyrant wishful to get these men; he is a man who is highly respected in the medical profession. This is what he says:There must be errors made from time to time among the large number of decisions arrived at by these medical boards. There must be cases in. which differences of temperament of the men under examination and of the medical examiners give rise to friction and cause for complaint. But on occasions too numerous to mention I have been a witness to the patience and courtesy shown by members of the medical boards in cases where these qualities have been subjected to severe trial.The doctor goes on to say that, in his opinion, these medical boards, the members of which are almost entirely civilian, though holding temporary Army commissions, and who have their private practices to fall back upon, are rendering great service to the country, and that one of the results of this kind of criticism is that they have the feeling that neither the Government nor the House of Commons are supporting them in their work, and that they are not getting credit for the great services which they are rendering to the country. I am not disposed in the smallest degree to come here on behalf of the Government in a spirit of apology. I say, after examining this as closely as I can, and I have done it partly because it was I who introduced this Bill and gave pledges with regard to it, I am satisfied that at no time has any of the work of the War Office been done so conscientiously, and I doubt if it has been done more efficiently. My right hon. Friend spoke of the use of the term "six divisions," and that his comparing them with the Expeditionary Force was a slight on that famous force. It would have been if he had compared them in quality. I think we all recognise both by the quality of these men and by the way they distinguished themselves in the retreat from Mons, that a better force than that old Regular Army never existed in the world. But, Sir, this was the point of his comparison. We expected to get out of this particular Act something like 100,000 men fit for general service. Concessions were made which reduced the number. Now, we do hope to get 60,000 men of that class, and 60,000 of those fit to do other work. It is that "other work" which, in my opinion, has 2035 caused the largest amount of misapprehension in regard to this matter. It seems to be assumed that unless a man is fit to be a soldier in the ordinary sense that we should not take him—that it does not pay to take him. But these men are wanted just as much as soldiers. If they are not there you cannot have the soldiers in the trenches.
In introducing the particular Bill to which reference has been made, I pointed out that by recombing out behind the lines we had done a good deal to make up for the shortage of recruits at that time. I have asked for some indication of the number of men who have been got into the front fighting line from those behind, and, including those who have been taken from the Home Forces, because their places have been filled by men not fit to go into the trenches, we have actually got into the trenches now between 70,000 and 80,000 men. I say, therefore, that in reality these men, if they enable the others to go, are just as important as the others themselves. But we must get them! Then we come to the argument the right hon. Gentleman used about equality of sacrifice. It is an ideal we all aim at, but it is never attained, either by compulsion or anything else.
The feeling that is very widespread in the country is that as long as young men, whatever their occupation, are left, you should not take this class of men. That is the feeling.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My right hon. Friend cheers that, but my right hon. Friend himself could not carry that out! We have discovered more and more, as the War has gone on, that other things are really as vital to us as the men in the fighting trenches. We cannot of necessity take men suitable to go to the trenches if they are doing work at home and cannot be spared. It comes, therefore, to this: that every man who can be put there fit to replace a fighting man in the trenches is absolutely essential to us at this time, and we are bound to make use of his services. That is the position. None of us like having to fall back on these men. But this War has lasted a long time. It has altered the standard in all the armies. It has revolutionised the use of these forces in all the armies. It is the fact that in the case of all the combatants, I think without exception, though, of course, they 2036 were much more strict in taking every man who could fight than we are, but in nearly every one of those armies there has been the same need for re-examination, and it has been carried out. What we have to face is the fact that we need every man, and we must fearlessly take every man. It is the case, as stated by my hon. Friend, that in practice every man who is able to do a fair day's work for a fair day's wage will be useful in the Army, and if the tribunals think he can be spared for the Army, then it is our duty to send him there.
That is all I wish to say. I do not make any complaint whatever about the criticisms which have been directed to us by my right hon. Friend. We wish criticism that is going to help us. There is, however, one point of view which I wish to bring strongly before the House. The hon. Member who moved this reduction said that this was unpopular, and that it was our duty to administer it well for that very reason. That is true. But there is another consideration stronger than that. If on every occasion when the Government of the day finds it necessary to do things which are bound to touch the people in every direction, and which are bound to be unpopular—if on every occasion of that kind men in this House stimulate that unpopularity, then I say it will be impossible for any Government to carry the War to a satisfactory conclusion. There is something more I wish to say, and wish to say to my right hon. Friend opposite. From what quarter is this criticism chiefly coming? I am told that outside it is coming mainly from those who, whenever they got the chance, directed the same kind of agitation against every previous effort made by the Government.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If we take the hon. Member himself who moved this Amendment—my right hon. Friend was not in the House sometimes when I was there—but I would remind him of this: that precisely the same kind of criticism was constantly made by the Member for Lanarkshire against the Government of which my right hon. Friend was a member in the same way as he is making it now—precisely the same kind! I say to those who are really anxious—and I know my right hon. Friend is—to have the best efforts of this country thrown into this work—I say to them we ought to be a little on our guard in joining with those 2037 who on every occasion have fought against the very object which this Government and the last equally tried to attain.
§ Mr. NIELD
I am quite sure my right hon. Friend will not consider me as falling within the category of those whom he has just denounced. For the last fifteen months I have presided over an Appeal Tribunal, and during the whole of that time my efforts have been directed to preventing the military getting men who were obviously unfit and whose destination was the hospital after a very short time. I am glad the House is much more interested in this matter than it was on 1st March, when I addressed hon. Members for an hour and ten minutes. Those who choose to read the Debate will find there chapter and verse, and statistics of cases. The tribunal over which I presided determined to get at the root of the matter, and sent men back for re-examination with a proper medical certificate, signed by myself as President of the Board, calling attention to the civil doctor's certificate. This examination invariably resulted in a very large reduction in the class into which they were passed. I gave statistics which showed that in numbers of cases, within a month or six weeks, men were passed from general service down to C2 and C3. I have got a number of harrowing cases here, but I am glad to think that a Committee of Inquiry is about to be set up, and I think in those circumstances I should withhold those cases in order to put them before the Committee. But I should like to make this observation. When I spoke on the Bill I referred to men who were suffering from gastric ulcer, to whom life was an agony unless they had the proper food, and I gave one deplorable case from Buckinghamshire. I have a letter beside me from the unfortunate wife. I say "unfortunate," because the man was forced into the Army after examination by the medical board, and the moment he got into the Army he was sent back; but his life is a misery for all that, his home has been destroyed, and his business ruined. I called attention to a number of cases of that sort on March 1st. I can only hope that this Committee which will be set up will be effective.
I have just this to observe with regard to the conditions of recruiting stations. I will only say that at the recruiting stations in Middlesex there has been a scandalous want of management for some 2038 weeks past, and before we had this very hot weather, when we had one or two miserable days' rain, with a cold wind blowing, recruits at Mill Hill stood in very large numbers all but nude, and were kept there for hours without having the opportunity of being examined. I have the further complaint to make that at medical boards the men were treated, not as if they were citizens coming forward to give their services, but if they advanced any reason why they were unfit to serve, they were treated—well, I have some knowledge of prison management as a visitor to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, and I can say we would never permit warders to speak to prisoners as these men were spoken to on those occasions. The whole subject wants inquiring into and drastically overhauled. I think a matter of very great gravity is the ban which seems to have been put on Harley Street specialists. I do not say that is done by authority, but what has happened is this: Since the establishment of the Special Board a Harley Street specialist will hardly ever examine a man without putting the question, "Have you been before the special board?" and if the man says, "I have,'' the Harley-street specialist says, "Then I cannot attend to you, because I cannot take upon myself to differ from that authority." I have a letter here from a very distinguished doctor, who writes to say that, having regard to a man having been examined by the special board, he must decline. I have another letter from a totally different part of the country. Two elderly ladies sought most earnestly to get exemption for their gardener, who has an extremely bad heart. He has been before the special board, and the certificate of the private doctor was most conclusive in regard to this man. Yet he was sent into the Army, and has been promptly relegated to work of comparatively no importance. Every effort was made to secure this man's exemption. Representation was even made to the hon. Gentleman by myself with regard to this man, but he naturally had to adhere to the advice given, and was compelled to let the man go into the Army. The man has already been in hospital, and is now relegated to quite easy work, whereas he was engaged in raising vegetables on a pretty large scale in the garden where he was employed.
The whole matter is grave. It is a matter I have met with day after day when I have thought it absolutely my 2039 duty, sitting as chairman of a tribunal, to take care that these cases were investigated. Then there is the case of tuberculous men who have been sent into the Army. In my own county it is not an infrequent thing to make an order for special examination by one of the county tuberculosis officers, in order to satisfy ourselves whether the allegation of the civilian doctor is right. The fact is that the Army Council Instruction is not being followed, and the men are being taken. I do not think this is a matter for either side to make any capital out of. What we want to do is to see that the country has the services of the fit men, and that the hospitals should not be filled with men who ought not to be there, and whose businesses have been utterly ruined by their being sent into the Army, in spite of the fact that civilian doctors have been able to certify them as totally unfit for military service. Over and over again great hardships might have been avoided if the military had been a little more reasonable in these cases. I welcome the promise of the Government, and I hope it may be the means of allaying what I know to be a very great source of unrest, which is being exploited for all it is worth by certain people. I hope this inquiry will clear the air, and enable the country to see that it is not the intention of any responsible Minister of this House that those men should be persecuted. Therefore I hope the Committee will sit as speedily as possible, so as to make their report.
§ Sir WILLIAM COLLINS
I promise that my few remarks shall be of a helpful character, and are not intended to embarrass; but I think that if some of the criticisms which were made when this Bill was passing through Committee had been listened to more carefully, and given effect to a little more thoroughly, we should not be listening to some of the criticisms we have heard this afternoon. A good many of the things that have been said are things about medical examinations and medical men. It has been said that "the ancients tried to make medicine a science, and failed; the moderns tried to make it a trade, and succeeded." That is a hard saying, and may or may not be true, but, at any rate, medicine is not an exact science, and I am not sure that attempts are not being made to obtain more out of medical examinations than is possible. It is not necessary this afternoon, or at 2040 any time, to justify the services, the heroism and the valour of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The figures that were given in answer to a question this afternoon by my hon. Friend opposite of the deaths in the battlefield or afterwards from wounds, and of the illnesses contracted, sufficiently bear testimony to the services rendered by the Royal Army Medical Corps and the civilian doctors assisting them. Medicine and surgery are at their best when doing what I may regard as their legitimate work, rather than when pressed into the service of Acts such as this Review of Exceptions Act, which, I think, shows medicine in its least desirable aspect. Medicine, after all, is a liberal profession, and flourishes best in the atmosphere of free inquiry, and it appears at its worst when it has to be forced into strict official methods, and is dominated by military orders and instructions.
I, therefore, venture to think we are really almost asking in vain for results from medical examinations which they are not capable of affording. Indeed, I submit it is absolutely impossible to expect, in something like a five minutes' examination, whether by one, two or three medical men, to secure in any degree of certainty a satisfactory assurance that an individual is or is not suffering from any latent or patent disease, or that you can guarantee in the future that he will be fit for general service—fit, that is to say, in many cases for a kind of activity totally different from that which he was doing in the past. The mere physical strain undertaken by a recruit when he joins up very often is itself the means of bringing out a physical weakness which was not previously ascertained, and the guarantee in the official military formula, "Fit for general military service," is one which, I think, no medical authority would have suggested, and is framed in language which, I think, scientific authority would not justify. Take, for instance, the case of certain diseases of a functional character, or whose manifestations are of an intermittent character. How is it possible, without knowledge of the previous history of a case—even disregarding the evidence of previous history—to certify the absence of such diseases? Epilepsy is a case in point, though the Instructions speak of it as "another favourite counterfeit disease." I brought before the Committee on a former occasion a case which came under 2041 my own notice of night blindness. The man had been repeatedly certified by medical boards as fit for general service. He had been the subject of obloquy, and was accused of insobriety and malingering. I wrote to the Director of Medical Services, and in a couple of days received a letter thanking me, and saying that the man had been discharged from the Army. Other cases often come to my knowledge. There was a case in my Constituency of asthma, another disease which is intermittent in its manifestations. By totally disregarding a certificate produced by his family medical attendant, no possible evidence was available to satisfy the board, and they passed that man for general service.
I ventured to say at the beginning of my remarks that if the Government had paid attention to some of the criticisms when this Bill was passing through Committee we might have been spared some of the remarks we have heard to-day, and I think we have some reason to be sore, especially with regard to this question of medical certificates. In the Debate on 3rd April the Financial Secretary to the War Office, replying on an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle), said:I clearly recognise the strong view which has been expressed, not only this afternoon, but on the former occasion, and I will undertake to consult with my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for War and our advisers, before this Bill goes to another place to-morrow, and I will undertake to see how far we can go in the direction of meeting the views of the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 3rd April, 1917, col. 1202, Vol. XCII]I carefully watched the proceedings in another place, and I noticed no change was made in the Bill, but certain remarks were made by the Noble Lord, whose salary is under consideration by the Committee at the present time, in which he said there was a sort of understanding given that something would be done in regard to medical certificates, but that it was impossible to accept such medical certificates, and, indeed, he spoke with such disrespect of medical certificates generally that he was rebuked by the Noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, and finally, I think, he explained that what he meant was that in the early days of the War the medical examiner sometimes received a medical certificate from the family doctor, who said the man was "unfit, whereupon the case was turned down and the man was rejected. That is a totally different thing from what was asked in this House, and from what I 2042 understood we were likely to get—that is, a greater regard for the certificates furnished by medical practitioners. I notice in the Instructions referred to this afternoon by the Secretary of State for War that there is a passage in regard to certificates which the hon. Member did not refer to. No. 640 states:Certificates granted by practitioners and consultants are to be carefully scrutinised, and lists are to be prepared showing the names of the doctors who, in any districts, grant large numbers of certifications. These lists will be forwarded to the Secretary, War Office, from time to time, so that appropriate investigation may be undertaken as to the methods by which such certificates are obtained.That casts a different light on the view taken by the War Office of these medical certificates, which appear to be regarded as wholly suspicious. That is not the kind of thing we expected; and it is somewhat surprising that when a medical man, who is a civilian doctor, is taken and clothed with the authority of the War Office that his opinion is almost regarded as sacrosanct, yet when as the family doctor of a patient he gives a certificate based upon his own particular knowledge of a case that is treated almost with contumely and disrespect.
I wish to make another remark in regard to a possible explanation of the passing at the present time of those who have been previously rejected, and that is the change of standard of fitness which has been laid down. In September, 1915, certain Instructions were issued which purported and were stated to be for the duration of the War, and the test of vision was laid down as 6–24 in each eye without glasses. In May, 1916, another Instruction was issued—and I am not surprised there has been a great deal of misunderstanding as to the previous Instruction, which was not couched in clear language—and that Order was repeated in the same form and emphasised. In February, 1917, the standard laid down in September, 1915, was cancelled, and a different standard of vision was set up, providing that if a man's vision is 6–24 in one eye without glasses, and his right eye can be brought up to 6–12 with glasses, he will be considered fit for category A. If you measure by a changing rule of this kind, it is not surprising that you get varying results.
The object I had in rising was to suggest that in regard to the other assurance we had given us, both by the Leader of the House and the Under- 2043 Secretary for War, that in the composition of the medical boards there should be greater security in the future than in the past. That assurance, I think, has hardly been carried out in the way we expected. The medical boards have often got upon them in the provinces good medical men, but they are persons who cannot be expected to be universal specialists, and they are not to be expected to give opinions of a determining character as to particular diseases, some of which are only ascertainable by the most careful investigation and research. There ought to have been greater opportunities of access to special medical boards, not only on the authority of the tribunals, but if this medical re-examination is to go on, there ought to be greater opportunities for the medical boards, whether in the country or elsewhere, to have resort to the best obtainable medical experts, recognising that you cannot expect these boards to be universal specialists. I conclude as I began, by saying that I think you are attempting to set too high a store upon your medical re-examination conducted as it is, and as it must be, under such an Act. Although I welcome the Committee which is to be appointed, and trust it may have a satisfactory and reassuring result, yet I am afraid you are pressing the service of medical science for the assistance of the military authorities in a way to which medical science does not readily lend itself, and which I know many medical practitioners rather resent.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I hope the Committee will allow me to say a word or two on this matter from the point of view analogous to those who have spoken of their experience on tribunals. Like the hon. Member opposite, I have been sitting on an Appeal Tribunal, and I have frequently been in the chair, and I suppose I have to take my share of responsibility in deciding some 3,000 cases. I say there can be no doubt whatever that the carrying out of this medical re-examination is in most, if not all, its particulars, most unsatisfactory. I say this not as one who is in the habit of criticising the Military Service Acts, or as one who opposed either of them at any stage in this House. I say this exclusively from the point of one who has from the beginning of the War put recruiting and the work of tribunals before everything 2044 else as being one's duty in this time of War. I do say that neither the public acceptance of our decision nor the ability to make those decisions satisfactory to ourselves and to the public is assisted, as it should be, by the way in which this work of re-examination is carried out. It cannot be that the number of persons who are now passed as fit for some kind of service who have been previously rejected really corresponds to the number affected. I happened last night to go from this House to a part of the country in which I live, and I saw in the local newspaper a report of certain tribunals for the last three days. I saw case after case which quite astonished me with regard to their medical history. I read of a man who had been ten times rejected, but had now been passed for military service. I have cases like those my hon. Friend by my side mentioned, which are most difficult and cruel. One was a severe case of duodenal ulcer where, even if the man moved, he suffered great pain, which returned every few weeks. It was a case in which any form of military service would cause that suffering to return, possibly with fatal results. This man, who was rejected by three doctors in the middle of last year, has now been passed as C3, and the military are taking him. This man knows perfectly well that any error of diet, or any little accident that may easily happen when acting as a military clerk, may cost him his life. He writes to me to ask whether this kind of thing cannot be made the subject of an appeal to the Government in the House of Commons, in order that others may not suffer in the same way.
Another grievance which is felt very deeply in many parts of the country is where a man is passed into the Army into B 3 or C 3 there is no guarantee that he will be left in those categories, and there is a very widespread fear, which is doing the Government and the country much harm, that when a man is once put inside the Army he will not have the same chance and the same safeguards in regard to being kept at the kind of work for which he is fit that he does when he is being dealt with by a tribunal. I hope this Committee, for the appointment of which I thank the Government, may be allowed to consider whether there is not some way of saying that where a man's state of health is not such as to prevent him being put into the Army in B 3 and C 3, there 2045 may be some rehearing by a tribunal, or some independent authority, before he is moved up into other categories which might involve him even going abroad and being put to vigorous service for which his constitution is totally unfit. There is a custom growing up now where men are suffering from swellings in certain parts of the body to pass them as B 1, and say they ought to go into the Army and afterwards be operated on. It cannot be too widely known that there is no power to operate upon a man without his consent. When a man is passed as B 1 the doctors must know an operation is necessary before he can be efficient, and in this way the door is open for most disastrous consequences. Only the other day a case came to my knowledge where a man passed B 1 was told he would have to be operated on, and he would have been taken into the Army within forty-eight hours but for meeting a certain person who suggested that he should get a tribunal to review his case. The tribunal reviewed this particular case and postponed sending him into the Army for a limited period, and advised him to have an operation when he was found to be afflicted with one of the most deadliest of diseases. In this case, but for the mere accident of meeting a person who made the suggestion to him I have described, he would have gone into the Army; he would probably have been operated upon abroad, and the chances of that man living would have been far less than they are in his present pitiable condition.
With regard to the appeal to the Central Medical Board, I agree with what was said in reference to the Appeal Tribunal at Northamptonshire, where we have been told by the military representatives and others that if you send men to the medical board it must mean a delay of three months. This is putting a very grave responsibility on those who serve on those tribunals as to whether they are justified in encouraging cases of appeal, and the sooner there is another Instruction on that point the better for the proper administration of the Act. I am quite sure that the conditions under which medical examination are conducted are very far indeed from being favourable, and are often quite unintentional and very far indeed from being fair. I hope the Government will not only allow the Committee to consider the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith), but that 2046 they will not even wait for that Committee to carry out some of these improvements. Why should not there be a War Office Order sent out at once to say that all three members of the medical tribunal are to have equal power, and that the decision of the tribunal is to be of all three and not merely the decision of the chairman, who is often an overworked-official, and overwork and fatigue very often lead to wrong decisions. I make no attack upon the bona fides of these men. We are grateful for the work they are trying to do under great difficulties, and I hope the War Office will see that what I have suggested is carried out at once. The suggestion to allow one of the civilian doctors to be the chairman is one which I trust will not wait long to be carried out. There is an impression in the War Office that this medical work can only be done by persons who wear khaki, and that it can only be done by gentlemen passed into the Army for a considerable period. There is no reason in the world why this decision should not be made by members of medical boards, one or two members of which should be local practitioners of the greatest local eminence who are merely called in for so many hours in the week. By a careful arrangement of times and places, it could easily be secured that no man should pass judgment on the case of any patient of his own, and you would have the valuable help of men of great local experience and not merely of persons who either have been in the Army for many years and have now, some of them, more work than they can do," or are quite young men who have gone into the Royal Army Medical Corps and have been detailed for this work at home. The more mistakes you make in taking unfit men into the Army, the more you interfere with that frame of mind in the public which it is so desirable to keep if we are going to get the maximum of man power and keep it at its highest force, and the more closely you comb out people, particularly when you comb out persons who turn out to be unfit, the stronger is the feeling amongst those who art fit and who are not sent for, to come in and against anything which has even the appearance of evil in the tribunals, or in the Government machinery.
I do not think I am not going beyond the proper range of this discussion when I say that surely the time has come for the War Office not to have any military 2047 representatives at all who are of the age to serve abroad unless they are obviously wounded officers who are at home because they have already done their work at the Front, and I hope that the Local Government Board will exercise the powers they have—and if they have not got adequate powers I hope that they will come here to get them—to see that no men of military age serve on any of the tribunals at all. It is getting a very grave matter when people of thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty and forty-one, who have great responsibilities are brought before tribunals and see among those urging them to go men younger than themselves, and in many cases men with less responsibilities, when they find the Army represented by some admirable officer who has the greatest of all gifts, the gift of youth, and when they find, as they do find in some cases, that the recruiting officer, who is zealously doing his work, is also a young officer who on the face of it might be in France or at Salonika or somewhere else. I am not suggesting that there are not good reasons in most if not in all these cases, but I do say that the appearance is very unfortunate, and that the War Office and the Local Government Board cannot be too careful in seeing that all the machinery of recruiting and of the tribunals is, as far as possible, administered by men who are no longer of military age. If you have to take people as to whom there is a doubt with regard to their health and their suitability, at any rate let it be said that there are no people left who ought to have gone, and that there are no persons conspicuously in the public eye in situations of comfort at home. Let there be no ground for thinking and no real ground for its appearing that they should be elsewhere, doing the work to which these other men are called by means of these medical examinations and by means of the tribunals to which they have to apply.
I hope I have said nothing indicating any critical attitude to anything except the administration as I find it week after week in the discharge of the duties which come my way. I assure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and I assure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War, that it is not from the point of view of any polemics about Military Service Acts, or general promises that I have spoken this afternoon. I want to see these Acts carried out as efficiently as possible, and they cannot be efficiently carried 2048 out unless they are carried out fairly. In all parts of the country, wherever one goes, or from wherever one receives information, the same complaints are being made, and the same opinion is widespread and almost universal, namely, that men are now certified as fit to serve who, in the opinion of everyone except the overworked people who certify them, are not fit to serve. That makes it the more difficult to have public confidence in the decisions of the tribunals and in the administration of the War Office. Everyone in this House knows that we have now got to that period in the War in which we cannot rely, nor ought we to rely, either on enthusiasm or on fantastic visions of an early peace. We have to rely on the power, on the determination, on the courage, and on the perseverance of our own people, and those qualities can best be aroused and can best be kept in full vigour if the errors of administration which have been pointed out to-day are promptly and completely remedied.
§ Mr. SUTTON
I want to say a few words on this matter, because since raising the question before the holidays I have received scores of letters from people in my Constituency and in and about the city of Manchester. I do not intend to trouble the House by reading all these letters, but I do intend to read two of them, because after the statement made by the Under-Secretary I think they are cases which might be put before the Committee which is to be appointed by this House. I want to enter my protest against the remark of the Leader of the House that this opposition only comes from certain quarters and from people who have been constantly offering opposition. Like my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down (Sir R. Adkins), I have supported this War from the beginning. I have voted for the Military Service Acts against the washes of my own friends, believing that I ought to give the Government all the support possible for the winning of this War. I am not, therefore, raising this matter in any carping spirit. I am raising it, as the hon. and learned Member said, for the purpose of trying to preserve unanimity amongst the people of this country in support of this War. I know, so far as Manchester and the district are concerned, that there is growing disaffection at the way in which these tribunals are carrying out their work. I am pleased to say that the War Office is 2049 realising that there is some truth in these statements. During the past fortnight I have had at my house people who have been passed for some category or other. They have written to me pointing out their infirmities, and I have asked them to come and see me. I can assure the Committee that to my mind, although the category is low, it is a disgrace that it should have been decided to take some of these men into the Army. There are men who are practically paralysed all down one side and cannot close one hand. They have been passed as C3. Another man had two bullets in his head. He was in a shooting accident some years ago. It seems to me ridiculous we have to depend on men of this class entering the Army.
What is the position? When these men have been classified in a low category they are called up shortly afterwards for re-examination, and I have a number of letters which state that men who have been put in B 1 and C 1 have six or seven weeks afterwards been re-examined and put in Class A. That is the kind of thing that ought to be stopped, and I hope that the Committee which is coming into existence will stop it. A neighbour of mine has in the Army a son who enlisted about two years ago. That lad has been in hospital on and off for the past fourteen or sixteen months. I say that men of that class ought to be discharged from the Army. They would be of greater service in civil employment. I have here a letter sent to me from a man who has only passed C 1. He is forty years and seven months old, married, and has two children. This man has been attending the Manchester Consumptive Hospital on and off for the past twenty years. He has lived in Norway for six months, and he has lived in other parts of the world for twelve months and two years at a time. He has to live practically all his life in the open air, and he has to be very careful in his mode of living. I do not propose reading all the letter, but I purpose reading a copy of the doctor's certificate. This letter, from the Hardman Street Consumptive Hospital, was sent to the medical board at the Hulme Town Hall, Manchester, where this man was examined on 8th June, 1917:No tuberculosis in sputum; slight dullness at the right apex; distinct posteriorly weak; slightly harsh breathing at apex posterior. This man has been a patient on and off for about twenty years at our hospital, suffering from pulmonary phthisis of very slight activity. He is able to keep up only by very careful mode of life. Unfit for any strain.2050 One would think that the military boards would not attempt in any way to take such a man, because once he gets into the Army he has to keep up with the other men, and he cannot be so careful in his mode of living. I have watched them training at Blackpool and other places, and men suffering from some kind of infimities are unable to keep up with the others. I admit that we have good men in the Army, but we also have bad men, and I have seen some of those in command, and some of the non-commissioned officers, treat these men who are unable to keep up with the others in a way that they ought not to be treated. Once they get into the Army, these men are expected to keep up with the fit and the able-bodied. This is another case:Dear Sir,—As a member of your Constituency, I wish to draw your attention to the criminal farce which is being perpetrated at the Hulme Town Hall, Manchester. My son went up under the Derby scheme and was rejected, Physically unfit for any service; flat foot.' On 19th August, 1916, he was called up again under the medical board and was classified C 3. He was called up for re-examination yesterday and was classified A. I have had my son examined by two medical men, and I enclose you a copy of the certificates, and I will show you the originals if you wish.Now listen to the two doctors' certificates:I certify that Mr. So-and-so is suffering from flat feet. He suffers pain alter walking a short distance, and in my opinion would be unable to march.This is to certify that Mr. So-and-so suffers from flat feet. The left foot is very bad, the arch completely gone, and no muscular compensation. The foot is somewhat inverted. Whilst there are many duties he is capable of doing, marching is not one of them.7.0 P.M.
These certificates are from two Manchester medical men. Yet this man was classed A for active service. I am very pleased to hear that the War Office have recognised that they have been doing things which they ought not to have done and have left undone the things they ought to have done. It is to be hoped that, when this Committee is in operation, cases like those, which have been brought forward and I cases such as other Members of the Committee have received from all over the I country will not arise, and that something will be done to put a stop to this system, which ought not to be allowed to go on, because I believe there are thousands of fit young men yet in this country who are capable of bearing arms who ought to be; put in the Army, instead of trying to get unfit men into the Army. We have been condemning the Prussian military system, and I have been supporting this Government in order to prosecute the War on account of that system. I do not want us 2051 in this country to adopt the same system they are following in Prussia. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have done it!"] I am afraid we have done so in sonic cases. There are many things I would like to see altered. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, so far as I am personally concerned, I am not going to sit by quietly when I know personally of cases of this kind occurring, and I shall speak out on every occasion unless justice is done to these men.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I was rather surprised that the Under-Secretary of State for War should have made a speech of some thirty or forty minutes' duration pointing out that there is nothing wrong with the administration of this Act and producing as proof that there was nothing wrong, that the War Office had printed circulars to show other people how it should be administered, and then should wind up his speech with the anti-climax that everything was so wrong that a Committee of this House was required to be appointed. That seems to be about the weakest defence I have heard from the Treasury Bench to an attack that has been made upon the Government within the past few months. I believe I am one of those to whom the Leader of the House referred as exploiting the men who are affected by this Act, and, presumably, one of those who, in his opinion, have done everything to prevent the laws of this country being carried into effect. I am sorry the Leader of the House is not here now, because I should like to say to him that it does not lie in his mouth to reprove me for telling men outside to refuse to obey this law when he, in this House, advised his followers, both in and out of it, to oppose the law of the King, and, as I am reminded, not by the simple method by which I have advised these men to resist this law, by simply returning their papers to the recruiting officer, but by advising violence in this House against the forces of the law as they exist in this country. I am sorry he is not here. It is very easy and cheap to make these criticisms. We are going to have a by-election in Liverpool next week. There is plenty of time for him to go down between now and next Thursday to repeat these cheap observations in the vicinity of his own Constituency to the men to whom this Act refers. Then we shall see upon which side our bread is buttered. There are two points in this agitation. There is 2052 the point of view which deals with what is known as the silver-badged men and the point of view of the medically rejected men. I want to remind the Committee why it is that a soldier who is discharged gets a silver badge. Here is the reason. This also is a quotation from an Army Order, so that the Under-Secretary will not quarrel with the fact that it is provided for properly. It is one of his own, and here are the words:The silver badge is only given on account of old age, wounds, or sickness, such as would render them permanently unfit for further military service provided their claims are approved by the Army Council.So that my hon. Friend, who represents the War Office now in the Committee, has this, at any rate, to his credit, that he has given silver badges to men whom, he says, are permanently unfit. Otherwise he has made a mistake in the distribution of his silver badge, and I cannot conceive that my hon. Friend would make a mistake. We will accept that as being the case. Now my hon. Friend says that these men, to whom he has given this certificate of permanent unfitness, are to be recalled and to be re-examined in order that they may be used again in the Army. My hon. Friend need not be under any misapprehension as to what we understand to be the purposes of the re-examination. Everybody understands that a man may be put in any one of the categories. It is the practice, it will interest my hon. Friend to know, to put most men brought up under the Review of Exceptions Act into C 3. I will tell my hon. Friend why the authorities of the War Office do that. It is because they are tired of the Review of Exceptions Act, and they want to have the power, once a man is a C 3 man, to examine that man when, how and as often as they please. That man ought to be allowed a decent rejection for a period, at any rate, of six months, which is the period under the Review of Exceptions Act, but the majority of these men are being taken into the Army and put into the lowest category so that the Review of Exceptions Act will not apply.
It is no use to give examples. Everybody can do that. I will give the Committee one of the most delightful examples they have probably heard of. It is an example that ought to be borne in mind for a particular reason, because it draws a distinction between the medical examination when a man is going up as a private for service in the Army and when a man is going to be used as an officer. This 2053 is a private communication, so I cannot give the man's name and address, although I will give them to my hon. Friend if he likes. This man served at the front for nine months. He joined the Army voluntarily. He was gassed at the front and invalided out; therefore, on the basis of the Review of Exceptions Act, he ought never to have been recalled for re-examination. It means that the War Office did not know where that man had got to, and did not know that he was gassed, in spite of the fact that my hon. Friend has deprived Liberals like myself of the National Liberal Club in order that he might have an index kept there to keep a record of these men. Not only has he deprived us of a comfortable club, but he has not even a decent card index now to tell the War Office particulars about these men. The War Office ought to have the records of a man of this kind. They ought to know that he was discharged from the Army because he was gassed. He was recalled and re-examined under the new Act. The re-examination consisted in a casual glance by the military board at the man, who was told, "Now you are fit; you are B2." That was on the Wednesday of a particular week. Here is the interesting point: The man got the chance of a commission. He went back on the Thursday of the same week to the same medical board, before the same president, who did not recognise him, to be medically examined on account of his commission, and ha got a certificate on the Thursday, signed by the same man who had put him in B2 on the Wednesday, saying that he was unfit for any form of military service.
§ Mr. HOGGE
We are going to have a Committee and we do not want to give all our facts away in the meantime. That is an instance of the kind of thing hon. Members are complaining of this afternoon. Let me take the case of one of the most distinguished tuberculosis officers in this country. He is a physician of a national institution in Wales, the King Edward VII. Sanatorium. That distinguished tuberculosis officer actually reviewed 4,000 tuberculosis patients. The Army are not entitled to take such cases into the Army under Army Order 908 of 1916, winch I hope my hon. Friend knows and which I hope he will lay on the Table or put in the Library. This distinguished 2054 officer went to the length of examining these men and sending the names and results of the examinations to the recruiting officer in that area. In spite of that, every one of the 4,000 men has been called up by a registered letter to be re-examined under the Review of Exceptions Act. That is the kind of thing of which we complain when we talk about this Act. Let me take another point which interests me specially and which has not yet been raised to-day. They are taking men just now under the age of twenty-six in categories B 3 and C 3. The man is under the War Office. He is being called up. Mark what they are doing with that man. He is called up to undergo physical training to see if he is fit. That is an extraordinary position. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman this: Supposing a man in B 3 or C 3 is called up to undergo physical training to see if he is fit, and he breaks down under that training, who is responsible for that breakdown? Does that man come within any of the Pension Warrants? Does he come within any of the provisions that are made? Yet, forsooth, 'he is called up by the Army authorities to see whether or not he can be made physically fit. I think it is iniquitous. We ought to have either the one thing or the other. The Committee ought to bear in mind that when this Bill was made an Act of Parliament, the first fight we had upon it was on the point that if you recalled any of these men you ought to take the responsibility at once of saying that if they broke down they should have the full pension. We did not get that. We simply got a compromise which worked out in a Court of appeal to which a man might appeal if he was disposed of on the basis of a gratuity. That was all that was given to these men. I thought it was very wrong. Therefore the more responsibility lies upon the Government to see that this examination is carried out rightfully.
We are going to have this Committee. There are a great many other things one might have said, but I do not think it in necessary to say them now that the Committee has been granted. Now that we are going to have the Committee, let us be sure what we are going to have. On that point let me put a few questions to my hon. Friend. In the meantime, is he going to permit the practice that operates to-day to go on or is he going to suspend the examinations which are taking place or postpone the date on which a man is 2055 called up under any one of these examinations until this Committee reports? That is a very important thing, because there are many men being taken to-day under the kind of examination which has been described who would not benefit by the operations and the conclusions of this Committee. Then is my hon. Friend prepared to impose more satisfactory medical tests in the case of men who are rejected? If anyone is having his life insured to-day by any insurance company in the country there is one test without which you could not get an insurance policy, and that is the one test that is never applied in the case of men who have been medically rejected. Every man who has been medically rejected now ought to have the benefit of a urinary test, the same as is applied by the first-class life insurance companies of this country, and he ought to have the benefit of any doubt in regard to his medical examination before he is taken in.
While we are satisfied to a certain extent with the appointment of a Committee, we want to know what the reference to that Committee will be, and I think my hon. Friend ought to tell us, because this is the Secretary of State's salary and we are not able to get this put down again if we give him his Vote, and we are entitled to know before the Vote is disposed of or to have it held over until we have an opportunity of discussing the reference. We ought to know the size of this Committee and its composition, and we ought to know how soon it is to meet, and to know that it is to report within sufficient time from now to be of any use, because the bulk of these men are being called up now, and a great many of them have been called up. If my hon. Friend has the number of men that he says he has got now, there must be very few left to examine. Therefore we ought to know when this is going to be done. It is pure folly to use men of this kind in this expensive way, and unless something is done all that has been predicted this afternoon by those who have not been exploiting this movement and who are respectable, staid, and sober Members of the House and cannot be accused as those of us who sit in this corner have been, will come true with regard to the feeling of unrest which is growing up all over the country.
§ General CROFT
I am delighted to think that the Under-Secretary for War has so far met the feelings of the Com- 2056 mittee that a Special Committee is going to be formed to inquire into all these questions which have arisen. I disliked this Bill from the very start, because I thought it was a most unjust measure, and it showed lack of courage on the part of the House of Commons that we were not determined to deal with this question of man-power in a much more thorough manner, and when we realise the grave injustices and hardships which have been incurred we have to remember that we are responsible because we would not face the question of really extracting from all the loopholes and funk-holes those very numerous young men still in this country who found their means of escape by the energies of certain Members in this House in providing all these various-loopholes in the various universal service Bills. We must remember, when we feel that the hardships of this Bill are very great, what is the real reason why it had to come before the House. Undoubtedly it is a very unpopular measure in the country, but I think some of those who have been agitating on this subject are more inclined to find a weapon to flog the Government with and to stir up sedition and agitation, when the people ought to be united, rather than that they are overcome with great feelings of sorrow for those who are affected.
I should like to say one word in regard to this question of man-power, as it comes into this whole subject of the Debate this afternoon. We are in this position: The British Army ever since July, 1916, has been on the offensive. The burden on the British Army is very much greater now than it was some months ago, owing to the fact that our great Ally in the East is for the moment unable to participate in that culminating and decisive military operation which everyone hoped and believed was quite certain if the Russian Army could have developed the whole of its strength this year. Ever since 1st July, 1916, the British Army has been attacking. The late Government knew perfectly well in August, 1916, that we should not have the men to fill up the gaps in the Army this year if we are going to undertake a great offensive. They took no real steps to meet that situation. I am inclined to think the present Government also has not taken sufficient steps to meet that situation. I do not think the House of Commons has encouraged it very much in this respect when it passed this wretched measure in 2057 order to save its face and prevent its taking a bold course and raising the military age and really finding the men to fill the gaps in the Army. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member will give me credit for doing what I can to help the British soldier. I have reasons for admiring him. I voted for that measure for the simple reason that I knew the British Army at that time was being starved and I think I am not far wrong if I say that but for that Bill we should have had to stop our offensive in the very near future. These calculations are very close. Everyone knows there have been certain reasons why a large number of men have not been found coming forward. What has the British Army been doing and why is this question of man power so serious? Ever since the 1st July we have been engaged in a great offensive. It is sometimes forgotten that it has almost consistently been a successful offensive. It went on all through the winter, when various people in different armies thought that all operations were impossible. The British Army achieved the impossible apparently and made that great advance on the Ancre, and the consequence was that our enemies never had an opportunity of recovering themselves and found the British Army always on the offensive. The result of that was a forced retirement over a very largo tract of territory early in the Spring, and the fact that our great attack was possible on the Vimy Ridge and latterly at Messines. This ought to make us think of the question of man-power. If the position had been reversed and Germany had done what the British Army has done, every bell in Germany would have been pealing until it cracked. But we are getting away from the realities. We are so very busy about other questions that we are not really studying this question which every one of us, if we really know what our soldiers have done, ought to be studying—this question of how we are to fill the gaps in the British Army which, almost alone at the moment, is sustaining this tremendous effort. I hope this is not going to be made a kind of party cry. For Heaven's sake let us give our criticisms honestly, and for the most part I think the tone of the Debate has been in that direction, but do not let us, when we realise the imperative necessity for man-power in the Army, try to use it as a weapon for creating further discontent in the country where there must be discontent existing already.
2058 I should like to ask the Under-Secretary this, as it seems to me that this most important Debate has resolved itself into one question only. Can he satisfy the House that he is really getting the men to fill the gaps in the Army, or would it not be wise perhaps to tell the House that there is some doubt as to whether there will be sufficient men in the near future? I may be quite wrong. There may be no such doubt in his mind, but if he has any doubt whatever it is his duty to tell the House I think we can perform no greater task than to examine this question from every point of view now, and make ourselves, one and all, absolutely certain whether we have or have not got the men to supply the gaps existing in the Army when we hear reports that the enemy's moral is nearly reaching breaking-point. Are we perfectly certain that if the breaking-point is being reached we have the men to put into the Army and the drafts to send out in order to make that breaking-point certain and in order to prevent the prolongation of hostilities? I believe we have neglected this question in order to consider others which are really trivial in comparison. Those of us who have been very anxious about this Bill and have felt it necessary to support the Bill, deplorable though it was in its inception, believe that the time has now come when we have to look at the whole question of man-power and not to allow measures of this description to be passed again, and to try and ascertain really whether it is not our duty to widen the scope of universal service and see whether we are not going to save a very large number of casualties in the end by bringing in a large increase to the Army to-day. The waiting policy in war never has paid and never will pay, and if we are going to take the sort of course which was advocated by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill) of silting down and waiting for a year, or perhaps more, until the forces of the United States come to this country, that is going to be a very costly question for us. If we can possibly raise sufficient men to fill the gaps which have been caused this year we shall still have the great threat of the. United States Army behind and surely we shall be nearer to the position of being able to force the Germans to accept peace.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I agree that the announcement by the Government of the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry has made it unnecessary to say much 2059 which we might otherwise have considered it necessary and desirable to say in the course of this Debate, but there are a few things I should like to say in reply to certain observations which have been made.
The Leader of the House stated that he made no apology for the War Office. The purport of his observations was that this Review of Exceptions Act was being administered in a perfectly fair and just manner, and that all the pledges given by the Government were being carried out in a perfectly fair and honourable manner. I do not think the remarks made by the Leader of the House justified his claim that he was quite confident that there was no real ground for criticism of the administration of the Act. As one of those who opposed the two Military Service Acts and this Review of Exceptions Act, I take the strongest possible objection to the concluding observations of the Leader of the House, in which he insisted that the opposition which exists in the country to this measure was created by those who are opposed to compulsory military service. I have never stimulated opposition to this measure in the slightest degree. I have indeed, three times a day, when my post comes in, regretted that such a measure was in existence, because of the enormous amount of work it brought to me; but in reply to that observation of the Leader of the House I venture to claim that it is those who are opposed to Conscription, and those who oppose this Review of Exceptions Act, that have the best right to criticise the administration. Surely the Leader of the House is not going to say that because some false construction may be placed upon our actions that we have to remain silent while grave injustices are being inflicted upon a large number of people. Even though I may continue to make myself liable to such criticism as the Leader of the House made this afternoon, I shall not refrain from exposing what I believe to be wrong, and from trying to secure amendment in the administration of laws, when I consider such amendment to be necessary. The very few Members of Parliament who for the last eighteen months have taken a continuous interest in this question, have welcomed the quite unusual interest in the matter which has been manifested by the attendance at the Debate this afternoon.
2060 Reference has been made more than once in the discussion to a speech which was delivered by the hon. and learned Member for Ealing a few months ago. As an hon. Member told the House this afternoon, he spoke in that Debate, and during the whole of that time he never had an audience of more than eleven Members, and I remember other Debates in this House when the House might, at any moment, have been counted out, and I want to remind Members this afternoon, who are criticising this measure, that they must bear responsibility for what is being done now because of their support of the Review of Exceptions Act when it was before this House. The late Prime Minister quite frankly and candidly this afternoon shouldered a certain amount of responsibility for what is being done now in regard to getting unfit men into the Army. Surely this is the inevitable result of Conscription. It might have been seen that this would be the result when the first Military Service Act was passed. An hon. Member who spoke in the early part of the Debate, representing, I believe, some Division in Devonshire, and who described himself as the Chairman of the Hampshire Tribunal, said it was not necessary that an objectionable Act of Parliament should be administered in an unnecessarily objectionable manner. I do not expect that in regard to military service, because when we established Conscription in this country we handed over the control of the lives and destinies of the people in this matter to the military machine. The military machine is supreme, and that I think is the real explanation of all this injustice about which we have heard so much this afternoon.
The reply made this afternoon by the Under-Secretary for War, and made by him on former occasions, was this, that these examining doctors are civilians, and that they are not under military control. Many of them are, at any rate, in khaki, and I have noticed this for a great many years, that when a man is put into uniform, I do not care whether it be a military uniform or even the humble uniform of a railway porter, it seems to transform that man altogether. It seems to separate him from all other civil life, and I am sure that is the case in regard to some of these civilian doctors who have been brought into the employment of the War Office for the purpose of examining recruits. I am not going to give the House 2061 a number of horrible instances this afternoon. I have done that upon many other occasions, and I think I have cited quite a number of instances far more serious than any which have been put before the House of Commons this afternoon. But I will mention this in reply to what the Under-Secretary of State said in regard to the men who are being taken into the Army not for active service. He said that these men, although not fit for the trenches and the fighting line, may be of real service to the Army organisation. I have a case here of a man living at Bramley, Leeds, who has had one leg amputated from the very top. He cannot wear an artificial leg because his other leg is injured. That man has been passed into the Army under this Review of Exceptions Act, and when he was passed he was told by the president of the medical board that he thought they would be able to find some work which he would be able to do. This, amongst other things, is what we complain of. The War Office had no right to take a man away from civil employment, where he is doing useful work, unless they are able to employ him in the Army to greater national advantage than when he was previously employed, and I am perfectly certain that in this particular case they would not be able to do that. Another point has been the functions of the president of the medical board. I never like to trouble the House with quotations, but I have here a letter from one of the best known medical men in Liverpool, a man who is a member of the medical board and who writes to me to explain the methods of the board of which he is a member. Although the extract is rather long, I think when hon. Members have heard it they will agree it was worth reading because of the first-hand evidence it gives of the constitution and the working of these medical boards. He tells me he has consented to join the Liverpool Medical Board, and that he begins work on 11th June. He tells me that apparently a more honest board it would be impossible to imagine. Justice was done to the Army in every single case; no man condemned to a task for which he was unfit; and no man lost to the Army for the service it was in his power to perform. I want to mention this case to the Under-Secretary for War as he mentioned one medical board had passed 35 per cent, of those who had been re-examined, and I venture to say that the case he had in mind was Liverpool. Now that is what this medical man tells me, that of the men re-examined it has been 2062 found by this model board that 35 per cent, are fit for general service. The Under-Secretary for War regards 25 per cent, as something exceptional. Incredible as it might appear, this medical man informs me that another medical board, working on identically the same material, is passing 75 per cent, into Class A1.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether these statements are in agreement with the information that has come to his knowledge. He says that this model board which is working in the most admirable manner, passing no man who is not fit, has passed for general service 35 per cent, of those coming before it; and he describes the work of another medical board in Liverpool, by no means a model board, which is passing 75 per cent, for general service. If that is at all the average case the War Office must be getting an enormously larger number of men than the 60,000 Class A men and the 60,000 men of the other class which were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, and from the experience that one gets in conversation, by letters, and by other means I cannot understand the statement made by the Under-Secretary that only 60,000 out of the million are being passed for Class A 1. When the final results are known he will discover they have sent into the Army in one category or another, a very much larger number than that. Now, the Under-Secretary for War spent a considerable time in explaining to the House this rather clumsy Instruction No. 640, and I want to say I make no complaint whatever about the way in which the instructions are given in these circulars to the medical boards as to the way in which they should carry out their duties, but if their duties had been carried out according to the letter and spirit of these Instructions, then I think there would have been very little ground for complaint. The Under-Secretary for War had a conversation with some hon. Members who sit on the Back Bench behind him and they seemed to insinuate or imply that proper attention was not being given by the War Office to complaints which were addressed to them by Members of this House. I would like to come to the defence of the Under-Secretary in respect of this matter. He appealed to me knowing I had submitted to him a large number of cases, indeed, I sometimes receive by the same post four or five replies from him. I have never had any communication with any Government Department where I have 2063 received such prompt and courteous attention as I have at his hands, and I am very glad to be able publicly to bear that testimony to the admirable, courteous, and attentive way in which he meets me. I am afraid, however, that there my satisfaction must stop.
I get these reports, but I am by no means satisfied with them. My hon. Friend makes inquiries. He sends down, I assume, to the medical authorities of the district where the soldier happens to be residing. He gets from them a report, and then he sends me that report. But in a great many cases I know—I do not want to be un-parliamentary in my language—that the statements in the report are utterly without foundation. If I were outside this House I should say that the report was a mass of lies. I get reports which say that an examination has just been made of a man, and that it has been found that he is entirely free from disease, or that he was in the hospital some time ago but has now completely recovered. Then, within a day or two, I get a letter either from the man himself or from his relatives saying that the man is still in hospital. I had a case, a most serious case, which I brought to the attention of the Undersecretary. The man was discharged from the Bristol Hospital with chronic diabetes and Bright's disease. I submitted the case to the hon. Gentleman, and he very promptly had enquiry made. The report came. It was a long time ago since he suffered from Bright's disease—as though that were a disease that would pass away after a long time—and it was expected that with careful treatment be would be fit for duty. I had two days ago a letter from the lad's father who told me that on being called up for the Army he was sent straight to hospital in Newcastle, where he is, that he is undergoing treatment for this disease, and that drugs are being administered. That is only one case. The point of all this is that something ought to be done to ensure that the reports which are sent to the War Office by the incriminating parties are supervised by somebody of a more impartial character.
The Under-Secretary said that instructions were given to those called up under the Review of Exceptions Act as to their rights under that measure, but I want to call his attention to two very serious omissions from that form of notice. It does not tell, for instance, the man who 2064 receives this notice that if he has passed the age of forty-one, or if he does pass the age of forty-one within thirty days of receiving that notice, he is outside the Act. I think that ought to be stated upon the notice; and this Liverpool doctor, whose letter I have already quoted, tells me that in one morning he had before him seven men of over forty-one years of age, not one of whom were under the Military Service Act, and not one of whom was aware of the rights that he possessed under the Act. If it had been printed in fairly bold characters on that notice, then the medical board would have been saved the trouble, time, and expense involved in examining those men. But the military themselves do not appear to be aware of the provisions of this Act. I had a letter yesterday from Mansfield about a man who had turned forty-one years of age. He happened to mention the fact in the course of conversation with a friend, and it chanced, fortunately, that this friend was aware of that provision of the Act. He mentioned that matter to the man, and they went together to the recruiting office. They could not see the chief recruiting officer, but they saw others, one of whom was the Noble Lord. They all denied that there was such a provision in the Act, when a mere clerk, overhearing the conversation, ventured to intervene, and pointed out the statement in this Army Instruction where, not upon the form which is sent to the man but in the Instructions given to the recruiting officers, that provision is printed in fairly clear type. That is one omission that ought to be rectified in this calling-up notice for medical examination, and there is another. A great deal of my correspondence on this question is caused by the ignorance of these men of their right to claim an appeal after the decision of the medical board. They are not aware of that provision in the Act which makes them come newly under the provisions of the Military Service Act. I hope the Under-Secretary will make a point of these two things, and when new forms are printed, or if the present forms are destroyed and new ones are printed, there should be inserted in addition to the rights already printed on the forms these two also, namely, that men who have turned forty-one years of age are exempt, and that they have a right to appeal to the tribunal on any of the grounds of exception mentioned in the Military Service Act within thirty days of the calling-up notice.
2065 As I said at the beginning, the fact that the Government have announced the appointment of this Committee has removed the necessity for much criticism which we might otherwise have offered, but I would just like to say that I hope the reference of the Committee will not confine its inquiry simply to the administration of the Review of Exceptions Act. There have been observations made in the course of the Debate this afternoon which led one to imagine that the speakers were labouring under the impression that there had been no injustice before this Act came into operation. Why, it is twelve months, six or nine months before the passing of this measure, since we had a Debate in this House about the scandal of taking the medically unfit into the Army. I hope, therefore, that the inquiry will be a general one, and I hope, too, that the deliberations of this Committee will be thorough, but that at the same time they will not be unduly delayed. The Undersecretary stated that they were examining at the rate of something like 15,000 a day. If that had been the average rate since the re-examination began, then they must by this time have nearly exhausted the number of men who are liable to be called up. It is more than two months since the date of this Army Order of the 19th April, so that it would seem that the appointment of this Committee is something like locking the stable door after the horse has been stolen. If when we raised this question some six weeks ago the War Office had then met us by an offer of a Committee, that Committee might have been of much more value than the present one is likely to be now. I suppose, however, that we shall have to make the best of it. I hope it may be appointed without delay, that its reference will be wide, and that the War Office will place no obstacle in the way of this Committee getting at the real facts. I hope, as I said just now, that the inquiry will not be unduly delayed, so that any reforms that it may suggest may be carried into effect as soon as possible, in order that this; grave injustice which is being inflicted upon so many men at present may be lessened to that extent.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
The Hulme Town Hall, which has been referred to as being so notorious, happens to be in my Constituency, and I am bound to say that the word "notorious" is, unfortunately, in the present circumstances not too strong a word. I regret it very much. After all, 2066 Hulme in this War has played a very notable part. It is a small district of less than 500 acres, in which live between 60,000 and 70,000 people, and an enormous number of men have gone into the Army. I think it is far too bad that a district of that sort should become widely known on account of unfortunate practices from a medical point of view and not become as widely known on account of the number of men who have gone into the Army. I hope, indeed, that the War Office may see fit to find another home for medical boards if they continue to pursue the kind of activities which have been the subject of complaint this afternoon. Like the hon. Member who has just spoken, I have had a large number of complaints in regard to this Act. I have here a certain number of letters, though only a part, indeed, of those which I have received. I do not intend to trouble the House long with any details, because, in view of the promise of a Committee of inquiry, there seems no reason to go into the detail of individual cases. The complaints, however, have been amply justified this afternoon. I have here case after case, with the relevant documents certifying the details, where men have been rejected time after time and then have been suddenly put into Class A. The very first case I sent to the Undersecretary for investigation was that of a man who had been rejected previously no less than thirteen times, and then he finds his resting-place suddenly in a high category. A case of that kind is not isolated, unfortunately. The fact is that one is deluged by cases such as that, and, although it is not necessary at this moment to go into those details, the fact that those cases exist shows how necessary has been the Debate this afternoon. I take the view that this Act is a very un-popular Act. It has been passed by the House of Commons, and just because it is unpopular in my view it becomes the duty of the House of Commons to see that it shall be fairly and properly administered. The duty is the greater on the House of Commons because it has passed an unpopular Act, and the House of Commons, therefore, if it is honest, is bound to do its duty by seeing that such an Act is administered fairly.
This Act, further, in my opinion, has given, rise to a very distinct amount of unrest, which is, from the point of view of the Government, unsatisfactory. You are dealing with a million men. You have, therefore, made a million men uneasy, and 2067 a very large proportion of that million men are angry. They are each of them centres of unrest, they each tell their tale, and, having in mind the unrest that we have been passing through in the engineering world quite recently, I look with dread to any additional source of unrest in this country at this present time. It is really from the point of view of constructive criticism, if I may say so, that I am venturing to address the Committee this afternoon. I welcome very cordially the appointment of this Committee, of course. My feeling is that while Englishmen may feel they have a cause for grumbling, they put up with their troubles if they think they have opportunities of having their cases fairly investigated, and such opportunities will go a long way towards removing any sense of injustice under which so many are labouring. During the Under-Secretary's speech I ventured to interrupt him by referring to the Army Council Instruction 640, which I wanted published. Through the courtesy of the War Office I was able, a short time ago, to get a copy of the Instructions, and I asked whether I might be allowed to make use of them publicly. My reason for asking it was this: I thought it was such an admirably-conceived document, drawn up in such terms that other people who cared to follow it could realise the administration of this Act. I was a good deal anxious to have the privilege confirmed, and I very much regretted that this Army Instruction 640 was in that unofficial way not to be made use of. I think my hon. Friend, in order to be on the safe side, did not utilise this Instruction in the best manner, viz., by ordering it to be published. I did not make use of it, as I did not care to get into any wrong controversy. I did not adopt it in any way, but the Under-Secretary now having promised it to the House the value of that document will be seen by large numbers of people interested, and I think he has done very wisely in allowing the document to be published. There is a very great deal of complaint that medical rejection certificates are being taken away from men and torn up. I put a question to the Undersecretary on the subject. I was told that this was done in accordance with Army Council Instructions. I think this particular one was No. 647, which I could see in the Library. I have not been in 2068 the Library to see it, and I do not intend to go.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
Then there was a mistake. But why does the Under-Secretary persist in taking away from men their rejection certificates? Does he not realise that men who offered their services early in the War and had their offers rejected and then were called up, attach a high value to their certificates? He must realise that they are willing to do their share. The War Office clearly have sent these Instructions to the Boards to take away these rejection certificates, and this. Instruction is another of those pinpricks which the War Office cannot afford to inflict, and I hope the hon. Gentleman, will see this system is altered speedily. The last point to which I wanted to draw attention was to see whether medical history sheets were in fact available for use and reference by the Medical Board. The answer given by the Under-Secretary was that they were available, but all I know is that in practice that is not borne out. Here is a letter I have received since I came into the House:As soon as I went into Manchester Town Hall the clerk referred to medical forms—to which the man had drawn his attention—and said they were no use as they were beginning all over again.That I find in practice to be the custom. As I have said, the Army Council Instruction 640, excellent as it may be in spirit, is not in practice carried out. That is the kind of thing that is causing discontent. I hope the Committee will investigate that point. There is one other matter. At this stage of the War we are dealing with men under the Review of Exceptions Act who are not fit from physical force considerations. They are men who have in most cases been rejected, and examined again, and it is a matter which cannot be too carefully carried out. If the Medical Boards are over-worked it is a great pity, but the inquiry which will be set up will be the judges on that point. I look forward to a great many of my correspondents undergoing this ordeal.
I want to draw attention to what happens in the case of parents who have lost their sons. I have in mind the case of a man to whom I wrote on the death of his only son. He said that he had decided to reply to my 2069 letter. He sat down three times to write, but he could not write a calm reply, so he came to see me. I asked him, "What notification did you receive?" His reply was, "I only heard from the War Office nearly a month after my son was killed, and all I got was a sheet from the War Office expressing regret of the Army Council, and also a small slip expressing the regret of the King and Queen." I cannot help recalling a question I put to the Premier asking whether something could not be done on behalf of the nation, something better than these flimsy sheets; whether something of a more permanent character could not be handed to the fathers and mothers whose sons had made the sacrifice. I suggest a kind of document which I think the French nation send to their compatriots when a son has been killed. I remember seeing in the case of a distinguished son of a very distinguished Member of the House a reproduction of a scroll showing the French nation's homage in memory of that dead son. The same day it was published, I met at my club a man whose only son had been killed, a university and a public school man who had gone into the Army as a ranker, who said very wistfully to me, "Did you see in the 'Manchester Guardian' this morning some details about such-and-such a distinguished son?" He added, "I wish I had something of that kind to hang on my wall. It would give a permanent character, and it would be an heirloom of family pride." I hope that the War Office will take that into consideration.
Mr. MONTAGUE BARLOW
I do not intend to detain the House at great length. The hon. Member for Hulme has put the case so well that I do not see I can add anything. I do not desire to associate myself with those who wish to impede or hamper the Government or those who are in difficulties over the War and who use the difficulties as a nettle to use and stir up strife. It is an unfortunate thing that the action, or inaction, of the War Office should stir up a spirit of criticism in this matter. It may be a bad Act, and it causes an enormous amount of dissatisfaction on insurance matters, and discontent in other ways, if the administration of this Act affects adversely areas with which I am familiar. We must get two things. One is the rare example of men who have been rejected on account of wounds or who have only the other weapon provided in the Army, men who have been discharged from the Army 2070 under the exceptions and criticisms directed to them. I urge on the Undersecretary that the Instructions to the Committee are drafted wide enough where, as we consider, there is maladministration. The appointment of this Committee has had the appearance at the front and to those concerned—I do not say it is the Government's intention—of being in the nature of dodging or quaking too much out of their responsibility. Unless they are prepared to see that the inquiries under the Act are not only maladministration but maladministration under the Military Exceptions Act from the time it was put into operation, what will be the position? You have examined nine out of ten cases, and you have drafted some, as we think, improperly and illegally into the Army, and you are setting up an age to deal with the remaining tenth, because if that is a factor let them tell them the facts in the same way. It will be disastrous if the country say this is a dodge. Therefore, I say that in protection there should be given to the one-tenth who are already exempted an equal advantage to the nine-tenths who are to be examined.
Another undertaking that I would like to get at is this, that, so far as this examination is held, it should extend to all cases not only under the Military Exceptions Act but to all cases of a similar character where acts of unreasonable administration are taking place. We have all got an enormous number of these cases. I have got a great number here. But they are only a small part of what my bag unfortunately contains. I do not propose to go into all those cases, but some of them seem to be of a character which really makes one's blood boil. Men who have been rejected over and over again, who came forward as volunteers, who honestly tried to get into the Army and were refused because they were hopelessly physically unfit—men with bad hearts, bad eyesight, incompetent and incapable, from the physical point of view, of any military service—suddenly come up to these various places, especially to the Town Hall of Hulme, and are at once passed into Class A. I have a casa here of a man whose case was never even considered. He was called up in the Hulme Town Hall, such papers as he had were torn up, and he was at once passed into Class A, and, according to his account, he never had an examination at all. I desire quite seriously to 2071 caution the Government that if that sort of thing does not stop they will raise such a storm that they have no conception of. I do not propose to trouble the House with those instances, but I will just read, without giving the name, the letter of an employer of labour, a man in a very large position. I can give the name to my hon. Friend. He says:Dear Sir,—Can nothing be done to arouse some sense of conscience re the medical examination of men at the Hulme Town Hall, Manchester? It is so much at variance with other examinations at other recruiting stations that the whole thing is a crying shame and the talk of Manchester. Men are being told to strip and they only have a glance put over them, and they are passed into Class A. no matter what is the matter with them.In fact, I am told that at the recruiting station it was a regular grim joke for men to say "We shall get Class A, of course. It is hardly worth while troubling about the examination."For instance, we have a man who went for examination on 29th May—this is written on 7th June—He is very frail, heart very weak, he has had repeated attacks from the heart here, heavy work would kill him directly, but he is reliable in clerical work. Previously he was absolutely rejected and he holds his rejected paper marked 'unfit for any branch of military service.' He went to the Hulme Town Hall and arranged for a special examination and was passed for Class A. His complaints were dismissed with the remark, 'if he was not right now they would see to it when he got into the Army.'Now comes the grimmest part of the tale.We have already sent one man into the Army on similar lines. He was in it five weeks and was then buried. We think that something should be done.I can honestly say that I think so, too. I put again these cases to the Under-Secretary. I raised the issue before the Recess. I wrote to him privately—I do not think this is a breach of confidence—and I said that the matter was serious, and I said I hoped that he would have it put right before it became necessary to ask questions in the House of Commons. I put the question down again after the Recess, after giving plenty of time for inquiries, and this is the answer which I got and which I thought, and I told him so, was profoundly unsatisfactory. This is the 14th June. The letter from the leading employer was dated the 7th June, a week before. This is the official answer given after full notice that the matter ought to be inquired into:The work of the recruiting medical board at the Hulme Town Hall has been inspected on several occasions recently and has been found quite satisfactory.2072 This is when the men may have been passed wholesale into the Army thoroughly unfit and without proper medical examination.If my hon. Friend—then comes a sort of a jesting suggestion—should go down and sit on the boned—
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I hope that my hon. Friend will not take it in that way. It was not meant to be a jesting suggestion. As I told the Committee, the Director of Recruiting himself went to the Town Hall and inspected the work and he gave that suggestion to me in all seriousness. I know that my hon. Friend would not for a moment think that I would jest in a matter of this kind. I did nothing of the sort, but I thought that my hon. Friend as a Member for the borough and having the interest of his constituents at heart, might have his wishes met if he were paid the courtesy of being asked to go and see for himself.
I accept the suggestion in that spirit, but I put it to my hon. Friend that I am not a medical man and I cannot undertake to know whether a man is getting a proper medical opinion or not. Hulme is not in my Constituency. It is not possible for a man who is not a medical man to be a member of a board which for its proper conduct must be nine-tenths a medical board. The gravamen of the difficulty in regard to this particular recruiting station at Hulme, and the real gravamen of our charge, is as has been already mentioned by the last speaker, who is Member for Hulme. I asked the Under-Secretary six weeks ago in this House whether he would give an undertaking that when these men were called up under the Exceptions Act their military history would be available, and should be made use of, and he gave me that undertaking. I have received letter after letter and piece of evidence after piece of evidence that that has not been done in this particular case, and I have received a great deal of evidence from recruiting stations in other parts of the country that the same procedure is being followed, that is to say, that the medical histories are not consulted at all. That is the first and most elementary act of justice for which these men can ask, that when they have been either rejected again and again and not been allowed to go into the Army, or when they have been in the Army and passed out of it, as being no longer physically fit, in all these cases the medical 2073 history and the official documents certifying those facts should be in front of the president of the board and should be made use of, because there is no use in their being there if he is to pass the man as Class A and never troubles to look at his papers at all.
The second thing is, that there are a great many men who are legally exempt under the Act who are in fact being called up by the military authorities and made to go through an examination just as if they were under the Act, and they have to undergo all inconvenience and very often the discourtesies, if nothing more, of this examination—men who have bled for their country, who have nearly all volunteered in the early days of the War. But we have actual cases of men who are exempt under the Military Exceptions Act who have been called up, who did not know their rights, and who have been forced back into the Army and are now, as I maintain, illegally there. Surely that is not right. Nobody liked this Act when it was being put through this House. Those of us who voted for it only did so on the strong case made out by the Government of military necessity, which is the dominating, overriding inducement in all these matters. But surely if we accept the argument of the Government of overriding military necessity it does behove us all, and above all it behoves the Government, to see that they do not use that Act beyond its absolute four corners, and do not press its powers so that men shall be forced into the Army in a way which the Act never contemplated. I have got a case here which I would like to give my hon. Friend, because it is sent up by the Discharged Soldiers' and Sailors' Federation in Salford. This is a Federation in which I have a good deal of interest, because they have done me the honour of making me their president. It is the case of a man prominently connected with that institution who has been examined under the Act, but who, quite clearly, if the statements made to me are right, has been called up and examined improperly, because if the military people knew their business he would never have been called up at all. If his case had been properly filed and indexed, clearly they would have known that he was a man exempted under the Act. He has been called up, and has undergone the inconvenience and indignity of an examination. He has been claimed by the military and forced back into the Army, when, under 2074 the Act, if I am correctly informed, they had no right whatever to force him to do any such thing.
I think it is very unfortunate that those of us who have taken—and are proud to have taken—the most active measures on patriotic lines all through the War, and who have done all we could to support the Government in many rather difficult situations in which they have put us, and who have done all we could to give them every possible kind of assistance in good times and in bad, should have been placed in the position we have been put. Something has got to be done, and I welcome heartily the attitude of the Government in appointing this Committee. But unless they are prepared to make that Committee an effective Committee, and to see to it that the men who in the past have had to put up with these things have the same right now as they would have done if the Committee had been appointed, say, two months ago, then I think the appointment of the Committee, so far from easing the situation, will rather aggravate it, and the Government will have made a great mistake. I do urge them, before the Debate is concluded to-night, to say that, so far as future examinations are concerned, no more shall take place until the Committee have reported. That, I think, ought to be clear. And that, so far as the past examinations are concerned, no man shall be prejudiced because the Committee is only appointed to-day and was not appointed two months ago.
§ Mr. TOOTILL
I do not think it would have been my duty to have taken part in this Debate, except that, like others who have spoken, I feel the seriousness and gravity of the question now under consideration. Coming as I do from a large industrial constituency, I think it will be assumed that one has read, like the rest of those who have spoken, a large quantity of letters and correspondence relating to the particular matter to which we are now addressing ourselves. May I say, Sir that I only desire to put the case purely and absolutely from a labour point of view. I endorse the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Blackburn in regard to the attitude which the Under-Secretary and the Parliamentary Secretary have taken up. When any question has been addressed to them on serious matters, they have promptly and courteously given the necessary reply; and, so far as I have had dealings with them, I 2075 have found that they have been the personification of personal courtesy. We are concerned—we ought to be in this House—with anything that is likely to be detrimental and prejudicial to the stability and confidence of the people of this country in the ruling authority. Anything that tends to undermine the power and the authority of the governing authority of the House of Commons ought certainly to be seriously thought of, and to engage the attention of the Government itself. Now, some of us have been trying to help the Government in every possible way we can to prosecute this War to a victorious termination with the greatest possible vigour. We have endeavoured to place the facts with regard to the Government and to the War and all that they involve, in an intelligent and an encouraging light before the people. But when these things so frequently recur, when blunders and mistakes are made which, in the general case of the people, are avoidable, they have a tendency to retard the interest in and the support given by the people to the Government of the day. We ought to feel that anything which can be done to avoid such mistakes should be done by the Government now in power. As a matter of fact we welcome, as has been said by previous speakers, the proposal that a Committee should be set up for the purpose of making inquiry into these matters of the mistakes which have been made on the part of medical boards and of the military. It is suggested to me, as a result of the Debate this afternoon, that the military mind and the professional mind are entirely out of touch with the civilian and even the soldier mind. They do not seem to realise that all the while they are dealing with human nature, and that until this War we in this country have not tolerated anything in the nature of compulsion or in the nature of conscription. It has been quite the reverse of our operations and activities in this country, and, realising as we do that we are in a great War, and that all the material and human resources of the country are necessary to bring about a satisfactory ending of the War, surely the Government should be the first to say: "Well, now, we must not allow this to take place any longer. It is creating disaffection; it is disturbing the public mind; it is having a very bad effect upon our authority. Therefore, something should be done."
2076 As a matter of fact, it will be within your recollection, Sir, and the recollection of the Government that we had a serious disturbance, a dislocation of the trade of Lancashire and other parts of the country, a short while ago. Some of us had the greatest possible difficulty in satisfying and prevailing on our constituents to go back to their work. They expressed definitely, in an organised and premeditated manner, that they had no confidence in the pledges and promises of the Government. We felt, at any rate, that there was some justification for their allegations against the Government, especially when they had to consider the introduction of the Amending Munitions Bill, about; which some of us endeavoured to show to them they were under a misapprehension as to its terms, and as to its direct application and employment. Therefore we endeavoured to do our best to get the men back to work as speedily as possible. It was not until the Government agreed to the recommittal of that amending Bill that we could really get them back to their work. What has been the result? The very thing that ought to have been done before had to be resorted to after the trouble had occurred. These things should not be introduced in the way in which they are, without taking proper precautions and proper measures to consult those who know the trade-union mind and the working-class mind generally. It is only from that standpoint I feel so deeply interested in this subject. I am glad that the Under-Secretary has taken the course he indicated in endeavouring to satisfy and appease the critical elements in this House. I would like to appeal to the Financial Secretary that the Government should not forget that there are sections of the population of this country who are always ready to seize upon opportunities such as this to exploit the minds of the people in regard to this matter. I therefore would suggest in any future arrangement that may take place, whether in the introduction of a further system of tribunals or other kind of improvement, that the Government should take care in a time of great stress like this, when the working classes have been working excessive hours and have had irritating problems to deal with, that the greatest care should be exercised not to introduce anything of a provocative nature likely to disturb the contentment and the peace which ought to reign at a time like this, at any rate among the working classes of the country.
§ Sir H. ELVERSTON
Before referring to the subject of medical re-examination, I should like to congratulate the Undersecretary upon the successful change which has recently been made in the conditions under which German prisoners are allowed to help farmers at the present time. Until quite recently it was the rule that when any of these prisoners went to work upon the land they should be accompanied all the time by a guard. That, of course, in itself made it practically impossible for any of those men to be so utilised. Now, however, it has been arranged that three men should be allowed out of the camp without any guard, on the understanding that the farmer is in immediate touch with the local police. The point I wish to raise is this: In view of the great necessity there is at the present time for further labour on the land, and in view of the harvest which is now in progress, it would be a very good thing indeed if that experiment, which has proved perfectly satisfactory during the last two or three months, could be extended a little, and if five or six men were allowed out in gangs unattended to do harvesting work. I mention the matter because in my own little village in Cheshire, in the early part of this year, no less than five farms had to be sold out in a few weeks because of a shortage of hands for labour, while within a mile and a half of my village there were 2,000 German prisoners standing idle—men who would have been very glad to have gone out and done this work. If those men are allowed to go out unattended on the selection of the commandant of the camp, there is little doubt in the district that the experiment would be absolutely successful, and we should get in a much larger harvest than will be the case if the present restriction on agricultural labour continues. Let me refer to one other matter. Has not the time arrived when the soldiers who took part in the Gallipoli Expedition should have some ribbon or something to indicate that they have been fighting abroad? We may not be very satisfied with the Gallipoli Expedition, but that does not alter the fact that the men who went on that expedition faced some of the sternest work that has been done in. the whole of the War up to the present. Those men now are obliged to walk up and down our streets without anything to show that they have been fighting abroad. When you have already issued a ribbon to the men who 2078 took part in the expedition to the Cameroons, I do not see why something should not be done in the case of the men who fought at Gallipoli. If you do that, you will give a great deal of satisfaction and rectify what many of these men regard as an injustice.
Coming to the subject of medical examinations, I do not think it is at all right that it should have been inferred today that the people who are responsible for the bringing up of this discussion before the House, are in any way anxious to hamper the War Office in the tremendous task which they have got to perform at the present time. When the Medical Re-examination Bill was before the House the Chancellor of the Exchequer assured us that everyone would have an absolute opportunity of fair medical examination, and that the boards would be instructed to take note of private doctors' statements. I must say I was very much surprised this afternoon when I heard him say that in theory and practice this has been done. He alluded to the very admirable circulars which have been sent out from the War Office, but I would submit to him that there is not much good in sending out admirable circulars, giving instructions, if you fail to see that those instructions are carried out. That has been the case so far. The Under-Secretary of State told us that he has every reason to think that most careful examinations have been made. I was; profoundly surprised to hear him say that he had sent the Chief Director of Recruiting down to the Hulme Town Hall, and that the report that came back to the War Office was that everything was quite satisfactory there. I say that I was profoundly surprised at that because, some eight weeks ago, I wrote a private letter to the hon. Gentleman giving particulars of a case which had come under my immediate notice. In that letter I gave him full particulars, which would have enabled him to prosecute any inquiries he wished to make.
Further, a week ago I put down once more in a question the details of this case, and I feel I am entitled to trouble the House because the hon. Gentleman gave no answer to the queries I asked. The case is not the case of a shirker. The man in this case was anxious to serve in the Army. He tried to enlist early in September, 1914. He was then rejected because he was suffering from bad eyesight and another similar matter. Almost 2079 immediately after this he had, unfortunately, to undergo an operation for appendicitis, and subsequently another for hernia. After he came out of hospital he once more tried to enlist under Lord Derby's scheme. He was again rejected—naturally so. Then the unfortunate man had to go into the hospital again for another operation to have his gall bladder removed. There was later another operation in which something like one and a half yards of his bowels were removed. He was in hospital over nine months of last year. He came out at the beginning of February this year. He got' a notice to go to Hulme Town Hall and report himself for medical examination. When the doctor looked at him he asked: "Have you ever had a serious illness?" The reply was: "You may well ask that, because I have fifty-two stitches in my side." The doctor seemed so much annoyed at the reply that he at once passed the man into the Army. How anyone when conditions like that obtain, can say that such a medical examination is a satisfactory one passes my comprehension. With certain examples like that before us I say that the machinery of the War Office has completely broken down.
We were told this afternoon by the Under-Secretary for War that, of course, men who were suffering from serious medical defects would be given work which would entail upon them hardly more exertion than they would have if they were in some civil occupation. I can only say that the man to whom I have referred was passed for garrison duty, and, as I understand it, garrison duty means drilling and training. If that man is put to drill for half a day you will wreck what little health he has left, and for the rest of his life he is likely to be an incubus upon the community. We have been making all sorts of protests in the form of questions. The matter was raised on the Adjournment of the House. Yet this miserable business is still going on. We have cases arising almost daily They are so very general, and they come from all parts of the country, that really it is nonsense to come down to the House and to urge that the War Office has done everything that it could do, and for the Under-Secretary to say that he considers the arrangements satisfactory. I do not want to trouble the House with many instances. Only last week, however, I was in correspondence with the Post- 2080 master-General in reference to one of his own officials who was temporarily employed in the Post Office and who was discharged because of his medical unfitness. This man appealed to the Treasury medical referee. The Treasury medical referee upheld the decision of the Post Office. Yet since then the man has been passed for service in the Army—this after two Departmental doctors have declared that he is medically unfit! Quite recently, again, a young fellow whom I know quite well, and who is by no means a shirker—because I have discarded all cases which might come from such men—who is between twenty or twenty-four, was called before the authorities at Hulme Town Hall. This young man's right arm is paralysed. He cannot even raise a cup of tea to his lips. He went before the doctors. They certainly did not pass him, but they said he ought to be doing something in the Army. He said to them, "I am doing what I consider quite good work of national importance, for, although I cannot work with my right arm, I am at present manager of two works where some 400 or 500 people are employed." He was immediately turned upon and told that if he was running errands in a recruiting office he would be doing far better work for his country than managing any works in the Kingdom. If that is the spirit and attitude of these military medical men, it is very, very unfortunate for the future of this country. We know perfectly well that the War Office has a difficult task. So have these medical men. They have to try to separate the malingerers from the men who ought to be in the Service. The cases, however, that have come before us, as I have already said, are so numerous and they come from so many different parts of the country that really we are bound to believe that the machinery which the War Office set up has broken down, and broken down badly.
Some of us would like to know whether, in any case where it is amply proved that the medical man has been grossly negligent, he receives any punishment, or any admonition at all, or is allowed to go on of his own sweet will making all sorts of wrecks of human beings? There is another case to which I wish to refer. I pointed out in this House that a dumb man who could not stand upright without a strait-jacket had been passed for the Army by the medical board in one of our northern towns. When this man came before the local tribunal they at once gave him ex- 2081 emption when they saw what he was like. The military representative at once appealed against that decision, and his ground of appeal was that the military tribunal had no right to grant a man exemption when he had once been passed by the medical board. In view of that I jut a question to the Under-Secretary for War, asking him if it were the fact that the medical board can override the tribunal. His answer to me was given, together with answers to eight or nine other questions, to the effect that he was making inquiries. I should like to have a definite ruling on this matter. I think it is only right that these tribunals should know where they stand. I cannot see any difficulty in giving me at once a clear, straightforward answer to the question. Another point. When the Military Service Act was passed we were told that the tribunals would be there with independent powers to see that a man was treated fairly. We were further told recently that if a man is not satisfied with the result of the medical examination he can appeal to the tribunal for another medical examination. Whilst, however, we are told that these unfortunate people have the power of appeal, the recruiting officers appear to have sent out a circular letter to tribunals asking them not to send to the Central Medical Board any man who has been called up for re-examination under the new Act who was found to be fit for service in another category. I was very much, surprised to hear this afternoon from the Undersecretary that any military representative who did that was acting ultra vires. I made the statement that this certificate was sent out on the strength of a report which appeared in the "Woking Observer" of 23rd May last. This is a report of something that went on at the Walton Tribunal:The clerk read a circular letter from the recruiting authorities asking the tribunal not to send to the Central Medical Board any man who had been called up for re-examination under the new Act, and who was found fit for service in any category.That, if the report is a correct report, is a direct negative to the statement made by the Under-Secretary for War this afternoon, and I should certainly like a further explanation on the point. However, the real position is this: When the Military Service Act was passed, and when this re-examination Act was passed, the House was assured time after time by the Government that there was a tribunal as 2082 a jury to see that justice was done to these men, and that there was the further safeguard of a medical examination. I do not want to say anything unkind about the War Office, but it certainly looks as though the War Office was undermining the authority of the tribunals, and it certainly looks as though the War Office had practically reduced this medical examination to little else than a farce in some parts of the country. There are towns where, as I have got letters to show, the medical examination has been well and carefully conducted, but we have evidence that in very many parts of the country the medical examination is a mere absurdity, that it only lasts one or two minutes, and that if a man is seen to have two arms and two legs he is passed for some sort of military service.
I think it is quite right this matter should have been brought up to-day, and I think it is also highly important that we should have further information as to the way in which a man's class is changed after he has been brought into the Army. I have here the case of a man who was called up for re-examination in July last, and was then passed A1. He was put into the Guards, where he was rejected because of defective eyesight. He was then transferred to Preston and again put into Class A1 and attached to the Royal Field Artillery. He was sent to Black-pool, where he was kept six weeks. He proceeds:Then the War Office sent word that the whole 600 of us, together with 600 from Preston, had to be transferred into the Infantry. We were sent to Rugeley, where I was put in a Training Reserve. I received three weeks' training and wag put on draft for France, but when I was examined I was rejected again.This man fired very badly, because he could, not see the target at all. After the draft went to France he was re-examined and again passed as an A1 man. Then he was sent out to India. He says:At the present moment I am a D 3 man, which means temporarily unfit. I have to be examined by an eye specialist within three months, and then reclassified. My classification very rarely remains the same for more than a few weeks, and I should be glad to know what I really am.This is a letter from a man who has shown a remarkably good spirit. He is not a shirker, I am quite certain. It is high time the House had some assurance that when a man is put into a class he remains in that class, and that he is not likely to be put in Classes A, B and C, and heaven knows what other classes!
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. GEORGE THORNE
Before referring to the subject which has been the chief matter of discussion this afternoon and evening, I would like to make, in a sentence, a reference to the concluding words of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Manchester. He mentioned a matter which touches the hearts of fathers and mothers in every home who have lost a son, and who earnestly desire that there should be provided in each of such homes some lasting memorial of the sacrifice which has been made. I am very glad to be in a position personally to give him absolute assurance on that point. The Government some time since decided that that should be done, and I can give him the best evidence of it by the fact that I was this morning at the War Office attending a meeting of the Committee which has that very matter in hand, so that I think he may be assured the Government has not forgotten that subject. It is one very near to their hearts, and I can assure my hon. Friend that it is one which is very near to the hearts of the members of the Committee, because probably every one on that Committee has lost a son, so that my hon. Friend may be sure every attempt will be made to carry out the desire that every such home should have a memorial.
I should like, in a very few words, to join in the general subject of discussion to-night. I very much regret that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War is away, although I perfectly understand it. He has been a long time here to-day. He is always in the House or at his post, and is one of the most courteous and conscientious of men, and in everything that has been said to-day I desire to associate myself with my colleagues. None of us could desire anyone more honourable and conscientious in the discharge of his duties than the Under-Secretary, and, therefore, he must be satisfied—and I am sure his colleague who represents him here tonight is equally satisfied—that there is nothing personal whatever to him or to the Government. But the subject is one of the most vital concern, and if there should be the slightest idea on the part of the Government that what has been said here this afternoon is to any extent due to an agitation on the part of men who either are opposed to the Government or are opposed to the War, it is 2084 an absolute and a total mistake. I have; never known any subject which has had more general application than this subject has. It results from an Act which even the members of the Government who proposed it regarded as hateful. Tome it is abhorrent that we are bringing back into the Army men who in the early days of the War volunteered their services and afterwards for medical reasons were discharged. If it is an absolute duty, we have got to submit to it, but in carrying it out there ought to be not only reasonable, but excessive care, so as not to inflict any hardship which cant possibly be avoided. It is not only that one desires to do justice to every individual, but the more a man desires to win this War and to win it completely the more he desires to remove this cause of discontent.
I do not think there is any subject affecting the military issues of the country to-day which is causing more unrest than this particular subject, and, in the interests of the War and of the Government, it is vital that it should be faced and carried out to the satisfaction of the people. I am, therefore, very glad indeed that the Government have taken the course indicated by the appointment of a Committee, but I should like to join with my colleagues who have already spoken in urgng strongly on the Government that, in the appointment of this Committee, in its constitution, the number it composes, and the task committed to it, very great care should be taken. If there should result the slightest idea on the part of the public when they hear of the appointment of this Committee to-morrow that it is something in the nature of a whitewashing Committee, it will be disastrous in the extreme. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is what it will be!"] My hon. Friend is not quite so hopeful as I am, and I do not imagine that that is the intention of the Government in proposing it. I accept their absolute good faith in the suggestion of this Committee, and I believe they recognise that there are grievances which need to be remedied. I believe they desire to have those grievances remedied, not only in the interests of the men, but also in the interests of the Army and the nation. I trust the Financial Secretary will be able to indicate the scope and nature of this inquiry. When the people of this country hear to-morrow morning that this Committee is to be appointed, they will 2085 ask what it means and how is it going to work. They will want to know when it will sit, how often, and under what conditions. I assume that it is a Committee that will take evidence from all parts of the country, from men representing all aspects of the difficulties which have been brought before this House. They will want to know how the expenses of witnesses will be met, and all these difficulties are matters which ought to be cleared up at once, so that when people read the papers to-morrow morning they will understand something of the nature of the inquiry that is going to be made. If all this is made clear, instead of readers tomorrow morning getting the view which has been taken by my hon. Friend that it is going to be a whitewashing Committee, I hope they will believe that it is intended to be an earnest and sincere Committee to face a difficult situation, and, if possibl, to remedy the defects and injuries to which reference has been made to-day.
There are many misapprehensions on this subject, and I think they may all be removed by the operations of this Committee. There is one point which possibly the Financial Secretary may be able to answer when he replies. Is it a fact that men who are passed on re-examination and placed in C 3 are bound, if they desire to come before a tribunal on any legitimate grounds of appeal, to enter their appeal within thirty days of the notice requiring them to be re-examined? The Under-Secretary made a reference to a Regulation in the course of his speech which I could not completely follow, but he seemed to indicate that the calling up for re-examination had a preliminary character to be followed by some other notice if the man was examined and passed into one of those classes. I ask the Financial Secretary to be good enough to make this point clear. Is it not possible that men passed C 3 can be left in their civil employment without any necessity of bringing an application for an appeal until the notice is actually given to them calling them up? If that were done I am sure it would cause a great amount of satisfaction. Men who have been discharged and failed on medical grounds now to be passed as C 3 have all the uncertainties before them, and it is very hard indeed. Until it was really desired to call up any particular man who has passed for C 3 he might be left in civil employment, and only required to put in his appeal when notice is abso- 2086 lutely given to him. I hope the Government will not press the suggestion of putting men of this stamp into some test to see whether after all they are equal to the strain of military service. They have done a little bit before, and if now they are passed C 3 they ought never to be asked to undertake the hardships of military routine, and I trust that point will be carefully considered. My great anxiety is that this Committee should be an absolutely bonâ fide Committee, with the fullest opportunities and powers and full scope to be able to deal with all the cases submitted to it, so that the people of this country who are greatly troubled on this question will know that this is a genuine attempt to meet these grievances, and as far as possible put them right. If they do that, the Government, I am sure, will not only be doing justice, but they will very largely be helping forward the War which they desire to conclude successfully
Mr. C. EDWARDS
I desire to approach this subject from a broad and different standpoint to those who have spoken this afternoon and evening. I wish to say, first of all, that since we engaged in this great and appalling War there has not been inside the House of Commons so universal and so unanimous an expression of complaint and grievance as that to which expression has been given to-day. It is, I think, a profound political, if not a constitutional, misfortune that at a time when this country is engaged in a war of life and death, at a time when expenditure has been beyond all possible dreams of the most imaginative Chancellor of the Exchequer in the past, and at a time when the War Office is the great spending Department, this House should only be represented by an Under-Secretary and a Financial Secretary instead of a Secretary of State for that Department. I think it would be a very great misfortune for the country, and in the end a very great misfortune for the Government, if the position as it has been presented to-day and as it stands at this moment were permitted to be left there. We are governed for all practical purposes by a War Cabinet, and the whole artillery of criticism to-day has been aimed at the administration of a certain branch of the War Office That artillery has concentrated itself on a poor Under-Secretary. That there has been this series of scandals and iniquities I have not the slightest 2087 doubt, but I think we should be committing a very great mistake if we were simply to assume, that the blame is either to be entirely attributed to overworked military medical boards, or if we were to assume that the blame is to be divided between the medical boards under the War Office and the War Office itself.
We have dealt this afternoon and evening with a manifestation of symptoms, but we have to go very much deeper, and I ask whether the War Cabinet are not responsible for these foundational causes, which have placed upon the War Office and the recruiting department of the War Office the opportunity of pleading dire necessity for the acts which have been committed, and which have formed the subject matter of our criticism to-day. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House suggested that a great deal of the trouble was to be attributed, on the one hand, to two or three hon. Members of this House who have the gift of agitation, and, on the other hand, to the fact that there was a great deal of discontent in the country in regard to medical re-examinations because there were still left in employment a very large number of young men who could not be spared and who were doing work that was almost as important as if they were in the trenches. I join issue with the right hon. Gentleman on that point, and, if that represents the view of the Government, then I warn them that they are in a perilous state indeed. There is great discontent in the country not because there are thousands of young single men left in occupations from which they cannot be spared, but the anger and indignation of the country, as manifested through tribunal after tribunal going on strike, arises from the fact that there are thousands and hundreds of thousands of young unmarried men of military age who, by common consent, can be spared and who yet for some reason or other—whether it be because of some sinister political compacts or not I do not know—the Cabinet take the view that they cannot be allowed to go.
I am going to speak to-night upon two aspects of that question. I want, first of all, to speak in quite general terms and give an instance or two with regard to the young munition workers. There is not the slightest doubt that there are a very large number of young unmarried men in the munitions works of this country who by common con- 2088 sent can be spared. I regret that there is not a member of the War Cabinet here, but I hope that what I am going to say will be conveyed to them. I am going to ask a very definite and a very unpleasant question. A few weeks ago it was definitely understood that 20,000 young unmarried munition workers from a certain trade were to be recruited. The recruiting officers in different parts had instructions to recruit them. There then took place a conference between the Ministry of Munitions and certain trade unions in regard to the Dilution Bill, and following upon that conference there were peremptory instructions given that these 20,000 young unmarried munition workers who it was understood could be spared were not to be recruited.
I will give a particular instance of how things work out. We all know about the hopeless farce of the so-called National Service. Anyhow, as a sort of fractional redemption of the farcical character of that effort there were several men from my Constituency, not men of military age, but skilled mechanics, who enlisted under the scheme of National Service and who were sent from Pontypridd to some engineering works in Yorkshire. There were seven of them. They were sent on the basis of 11d. per hour, and they were to receive overtime and to have a guarantee of work for six months. They were to replace certain class A men who were to be taken under this scheme of the 20,000 skilled munition workers. They had not been there many days when they were discharged. Seven of the munition workers in Class A were re-engaged, and these men were sent back to South Wales. I have brought the case before my hon. Friend who represents the National Service Department in this House, and he is causing inquiries to be made. He said, very rightly I think, "It is no good your blaming the National Service Department for it; it is rather up to the military authorities to explain the matter." I entirely agree with him. I ask the War Cabinet specifically, through the representative of the Government here, why it is that the 20,000 young unmarried munition workers from a certain trade whom it was officially decided a few weeks ago could be taken have not been taken. If you take them it will be part of an answer to the horrors of the re-examinations of which we have heard to-day.
I represent in this House the largest mining constituency in the United King- 2089 dom, a constituency which in proportion to population has contributed more volunteers to the Army than any other constituency in England and Wales. Their ardent desire to joining the fighting forces in the early days of the War was so overwhelming that by February, 1915, we were peremptorily stopped at the request of the Admiralty from further recruiting. There has never been any question as to the courage or as to the patriotism of the men in that constituency. They work in the most dangerous mines in this country, and they walk daily hand in hand with death. By common consent they have been amongst the most glorious soldiers out in France, and to them, as to other miners, was that great tribute paid the other day by Sir Douglas Haig after the wonderful victory in the hills of Messines. There is, therefore, no question either as to their courage or as to their capacity as soldiers. We were stopped from recruiting at the request of the Admiralty. That was more than two years ago. Since that time there have been vast changes. At that time the German cruiser squadrons were in existence in the distant seas, and it was vital that our naval units sailing those seas should have smokeless coal; all the various old depots and the newly created depots in the distant seas had not been provided with coal supplies; the Government had not imposed any general prohibition of imports of different goods into this country; there was little or no submarine menace, and America had not come into the struggle with he great financial help. To-day all that is changed. The German cruiser squadrons in the distant seas have been destroyed, and the naval units have now no need to look merely to consuming smokeless coal, but can use the coal at foreign places wherever they may be. The fact that imports have been generally prohibited has had two effects—first, of diminishing the number of ships coming to this country; and, secondly, of removing the imperative necessity, which then existed, of exporting something so as to help in the balance of the exchange financially. The factor of the prohibition of imports has been enormously helped by the fact that America, from whom we were generally buying, has come in with great financial help, so that there is not the same purely financial reason for the export of coal for the purpose of helping the balance of the exchange. Then there is the question of the submarine menace.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
I do not quite see how the references now being made by the hon. Member are related to the subject before the Committee. I hope he will shortly show me how it is in Order.
The point I was seeking to make was that there is among the miners of this country a great untapped reservoir of young, single men who are available for the Army, and that at the time they were prohibited from recruiting these men; and the conditions were so absolutely different from the conditions that prevail to-day that the time has come when the position should be reviewed. What I say with intimate knowledge is that whereas I entirely agreed with the Government at that time in their general prohibition of the taking of more men from the mines, to-day that is not only my opinion, as representing a great colliery district, but it is the opinion of the experts on available figures, with which I think the Committee will be staggered when I give them—they are official figures. I was only pointing out the factors that have operated to bring about the change from the conditions as they existed in February, 1915, to what they are as they exist to-day. After the hint you, Sir, have given, I will complete in two sentences the point I desire to make. At that time there was no general submarine menace. The effect of the submarine menace has been dual. It has not only had the effect of sinking a large number of our ships, but it has had, as far as the coal trade is concerned, the much wider effect of intimidating into remaining in their own ports very large neutral tonnage which was coming to this country and carrying coal up to the recent development of the menace. The result is that whereas, in February, 1915, there was a crying out for men and the collieries were working full time, to-day the position is that the collieries are generally working short time. In the great anthracite field they are working an average of two and a half days a week, and in the steam-coal field there is a general shortage.
There has been added to this one new factor. I desire to make this plain, because people who live in large towns are under the impression that the coal supply is a question of house coal; they do not understand the root difficulty of getting coal carried. As a matter of fact, it is common knowledge that a great many 2091 thousand railway wagons and some thousands of our railway locomotives have been sent to the Front. The result has been an extraordinary shortage of rolling-stock. Many of the collieries have not been able to get that rolling stock, and there is a great shortage. I am going to say this, I am authorised to say it, and I ask the Committee to take particular notice of the tremendous significance of the fact that what I am going to say I am saying with the sanction and at the request of a large number of public meetings of miners held in the open air, for the most part at the very pit-head itself. They have called upon the Government under their new recruiting scheme to at once take the young unmarried miners from the coal districts. I know it will be suggested by some of my hon. Friends in this Committee that the older miners have turned out and have obviously voted for this. I have anticipated that, and I should like to hand to the representatives of the Government a photograph of one of the typical meetings where they will find scarcely an elderly man. At this great meeting a resolution in favour of taking the younger men was carried almost unanimously. I suggest to the Under-Secretary that he should show this photograph to the War Cabinet as being a photograph of a typical meeting where the demand has been made by the very men who are affected that they shall be taken.
§ Sir R. BARRAN
Has the hon. Gentleman seen a report of the Chief Constable for Glamorganshire on this subject?
It is a report which it rather a striking sidelight on things. The Chief Constable of Glamorgan reports that owing to the shortage of work and the general idleness of the young men great difficulty had been placed on the police force in that county in dealing with them. It is not a point I should have made but, incidentally it throws a light on the subject. Here have been these meetings. They are the meetings of the men themselves.
Sir N. GRIFFITHS
Have these meetings been fairly general or have they been in particular localities?
Of course, I am not my political brother's keeper. The meetings I speak of have been held in the centre of the steam coal area of South Wales. They have been almost entirely confined to my 2092 own constituency. They have been attended by numbers ranging from 700 up to as many as 5,000 or 6,000. There has been the usual kind of heckling. There have been opportunities for Amendments and for voting, and, with the exception of quite fractional votes of opposition—not more than seventeen, in any case—the resolutions in favour of this policy have been carried unanimously. Perhaps I may read the terms of the resolution which has been passed at the different meetings.That this public meeting of the people of—living in the centre of the great coal fields of South Wales, fully recognising the need of more men to wage the present War for freedom to a victorious conclusion and earnestly desirous of assisting the national government, desire formally to call upon them, as an act of social justice and in the public interest, to recruit the young unmarried men before taking older and married men from this area, and if necessary for producing coal for the Navy, to recall the older married men from the Front.That is the resolution which has been carried by meetings which have predominantly consisted of young men.
Theoretically that is so, but practically—I know my hon. Friend is much more familiar with the theoretical than the practical—they can. What has happened over and over again is that young men have offered their services, and the manager has said they cannot be taken. Here is this demand direct from the pit-head to the Government, stating that these men are prepared to be taken, and I challenge the Government to go to their experts—I say nothing about joint committees or anything of that sort—and they will be told that a very large number of these men can be taken. They will be told that all the unmarried miners up to the age of thirty-one can be taken. What does that figure mean? The House will be astounded when I tell them. At this moment there are 573,000 men of military age who are badged in the mines of this country. Of that number 157,835 are unmarried under twenty-five, 34,727 are unmarried between twenty-five and thirty, just over 8,000 are unmarried up to the thirty-second year, and there are 5,200 unmarried under forty-one. I challenge the Government to consult their own experts in the mining industry, and they will be told that, with the exception of particular classes like the putters in the North, electricians, mechanics, winders, 2093 and pump men, these men can be taken. As the coal trade exists to-day, without any reference to either one of two policies, without any reference to a proposition which was made some time ago that the eight hours' day might be suspended, or without reference to what is by common consent a possible policy, especially with the large combines, concentration in production—that is to say, where you have these combines of ten, fifteen, or twenty collieries, you should simply close down, except for pumping and timbering, certain collieries and concentrate production in the others—the whole of these unmarried men up to the age of thirty-one can be taken, and, what is more, the men are overwhelmingly desirous that they should be taken. Out of this 205,000 there are 117,000 who attested and did not come into the class system.
If you ask me I should say superior to most of them, but I am a prejudiced man. A lot of them come from Devon-shire. My hon. Friend (Mr. King) asked if these men should not volunteer. I entirely sympathise with the position they take up. They say, "We are already soldiers. We are already in the Army. If the Government wants us it will ask for us, and why should one or two of us go and have the same thing happen as happened in the booming days of our early recruiting, namely, that so many strangers come in from the outside to take the places of the lads who were there?" Let me give an illustration from my own. Constituency. In East Glamorgan, the centre of the steam coal trade, with seventy-three collieries, we did registration as it was understood under the Derby scheme. We did registration within six weeks of the War striking. We knew by the end of 1914 all the particulars about the men of military age in East Glamorgan. When we were prohibited from further recruiting there were 12,000 men of military age who had not offered themselves at that time, and then, of course, there were the medically rejected, amounting to some 6,000 or 7,000. When the following September we got the pink forms under the Derby scheme, we found that there were not nearly those 12,000 men who had not offered themselves, with the addition of the medically rejected, but that there 2094 was a total of 29,000 men of military age in East Glamorgan, showing conclusively that in the meantime there had been a great flocking of men from other industries and from other coalfields to East Glamorgan; and at this moment I say, without the slightest shadow of doubt, that there are something between 6,000 and 8,000 men working in the coal mines of East Glamorgan who were working in other industries at the time the war struck in August, 1914. It has been arranged with the miners federation that these men should be taken. It has also been arranged with the miners' federation that they are going to find 40,000 men, 20,000 by debadging and 20,000 by volunteering. Up to three or four days ago they had got 10,000 men and I tell the Government definitely, that, if they are going for individual volunteering after their previous experience, they are not going to get the men. If they can make up their minds, definitely, to call for the young unmarried men, in batches, say first from eighteen years to twenty-three years, and twenty-three years to twenty-six years, they are not only going to get the men, but they are going to get them with alacrity, and with all the joy of battle which belongs to the youth of the South Wales, colliers at all events. I do not know the colliers of other districts so well and I cannot speak of them, but I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for War must be quite keen upon it, and I suggest to him, here he is, occupying the observation or listening post for the Government, that he should convey to them this message, which is straight from the pit head meetings in South Wales, and they are held quite definitely and deliberately, and I ask him to convey something else to the Government and it is this.
I can speak, I suppose, without the slightest risk of suspicion as to my motives considering the part I have played in this House and the country on behalf of trade unions. The great mistake the Government have made with regard to this problem, as it is the great mistake they have made over many of the industrial troubles, is that they have failed to recognise that the machinery of many of the trade unions has been deliberately captured by the caucus of the Independent Labour party and the Syndicalists, who do not represent the men in the industry. I have 50,000 members of the miners' federation, the South Wales Miners' Federation, in my Constituency and if what I am saying is 2095 not true then I am here committing electoral suicide, and I say that the majority of the committee of the miners' federation in South Wales no more represent the miners of South Wales than the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) represents them.
It has been demonstrated in the great strike they had eighteen months ago; it was demonstrated when the delegate meeting declared for the extended Bank Holiday and had to reverse the decision at the request of the men. As a matter of fact the Syndicalists and Independent Labour party representatives of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and of South Wales have spoken on the recruiting problems with two voices. I ask the Government to go straight behind the backs of these spokesmen to the pit head, meet the miners, and they will find they are more enthusiastic for the War than the majority of the Members of this House. I commend that policy to them with regard to the miners and with regard to the munition workers. Let them not listen to the voice of people who have spoken with two voices, but let them be assured that the heart and will of the working people of this country—and I speak particularly for the miners—is as earnestly and as zealously in this War as the heart of any member of the Government. The workmen of this country are persuaded of the righteousness of this War; they are imbued with an appreciation of the lofty ideals for which the Allies are fighting; they are inspired by the flame of the sacred cause of civil and national liberty; they have sacrificed their sons and they are ready, the miners are ready, to spring, as in great catastrophies, into the gaps that have been made by their fallen comrades. I ask the Government to stop their petty negotiations and deal with this question as the miners have asked them to do from the pit heads of South Wales.
Sir N. GRIFFITHS
The remarks just made by the last speaker go straight to my heart, for indeed in the early stages of this War my work lay with the class to whom he has just referred. It is indeed these men, and many of the hon. Member's own friends, who dug the recent ground we have heard so much about at Messines and Wytschaate. I found, when I came on periodical visits to this country, 2096 that on one occasion we wanted 1,500 miners urgently. I had a free hand to go down to the mining districts and I am not exaggerating when I say that within ten days I raised in this country the 1,500 men without going to half the districts I thought I should have to go to. They were in the trenches mining within tea days. I have always been convinced that if you could talk to them, if you could get at them and speak to them as man to man you could cart off as many of them as were wanted to fight for their country and do their bit side by side with men from other industries. I think the previous speaker has touched the crux of the whole matter, and that is that if we could get at the people of this country direct, instead of having to go through their various organisations, we should find quite a different response to that which we do get. I remember one case. I do not know how true it is, but I was told I could not touch a single miner, my hands were tied, because if I did Mr. Smillie, the leader of the Miners' Federation, deliberately said. "Touch one of my men, and I will down tools throughout the country." I do not know whether it is right or not; I heard it entirely from outside sources; but I do know that I was stopped from taking more men, and I had to go back to France, and there I was allowed a free hand to take miners front battalions which had been trained and drilled for other purposes. The whole of the discussion this afternoon leads one to form the opinion that there is something wrong, radically wrong, in the organisation which exists to enable us to get the necessary men for the Army. We have heard criticisms; we have heard the Mover and Seconder of the Motion; we have had interjections from the hon. Member for North Somerset. I do not mind personally, and none of us do, healthy criticism, going for the Government when there is a necessity and in order to try and improve matters; but I do object to criticisms from quarters where not on one single occasion have they said a word to help any Government to get the men which are necessary in order to continue the War.
As we have already heard from time to time right throughout this War, somewhere or other the machinery is defective. Nevertheless, if we take the roundabouts and skittle-alleys, to use a slang phrase, I think it is wonderful what we have done, considering that we had the machinery for running 200,000, 250,000, or 300,000 men, 2097 and that that machinery has been gradually expanded and expanded, and added to and added to, until to-day it is as perfect as it can be, taking conditions all round. It has only wanted the healthy criticism of this House, and, whatever Government has been in power, they have made efforts to try and improve the position. Who is to blame for the state of things to which I have referred? We are debating to-day a Bill to which, I personally think, every Member of this Committee was strongly opposed—a Bill for the review of exemptions. Why was that Bill brought in? I am perfectly sure I am right in saying that it was brought into this House because at that time the Government had not a free hand to bring in a Bill which would compel every man up to a certain age to come forward and do his bit. The Government, I submit, are not to blame more than the present House of Commons. We know here what is wrong. We know that there are existing in this country to-day organisations which have time after time threatened the Government and dared them to do this, that and the other. I submit that the remarks of the previous speaker really touched the point when he said they did not represent the working people of this country. I have before, many times, whenever I have had the opportunity of getting hold of this House, by question or by all sorts of divers means tried to impress on the Government what I thought, in my humble capacity, was the true feeling in the country.
If the people to-day were appealed to by plebescite or otherwise they would vote to a man for compulsion up to whatever age you like to give, and I do think if the Government were wise they would consider in what way they could sound public opinion other than through the leaders of some of the organisations. By that remark I do not wish to cast the slightest aspersion on the labour unions as we used to know them. I think they have been wonderful. I think the leaders have set in example to this House. I take off my hat to them, and wish them God-speed in their good work. The Member for South-West Manchester (Mr. Needham), in the latter part of his speech, referred to medical exemptions. Again I would suggest that we have no right to blame the War Office for that Exceptions Bill. The War Office had to find men, and if this House allowed that Bill to go through the responsibility rests with the House. If we 2098 could introduce in its place a better one, that would be all to the good; but I do submit that there are and must be, when you are dealing with millions of men passing through your hands, as you are doing, some over-zealous persons here and there who try to do more than they are justified in doing. If we were to sum the; whole position up, I am sure we should all agree that it is one of credit to those who are responsible for the duties which they have had to perform. One of the things that did justify in my humble judgment, that Bill was what we have learned lately from certain cases that have come out in the Press, in connection with clothing and so forth. That alone would justify re-examination, in order to bring to justice those responsible for malpractices. I do submit that if it were not for the political agitator, and if wounded men in this country were to comply with the printed instructions, fill them in correctly, and let the authorities have them—they are not difficult or complex things—half the trouble that has arisen would never have occurred.
I should like, if I may, to put definitely a question to my hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench with regard to a point he mentioned in his speech, but which I think the House rather missed. Is it now understood that all men who have served overseas, and who have been wounded in action or otherwise, and sick men who have come from overseas invalided back for sickness and are discharged, are exempted from further examination? I would ask whoever speaks from the Treasury Bench to, make that clear, because I have learned from one or two directions that the House did not quite realise that, and I think it ought to be sent broadcast throughout the country. One other point to which I should like to draw the attention of the Treasury Bench is that which is, to my mind, another direction to which we cam attribute trouble. It is that the Government have to-day no method or clearinghouse for coordinating the efforts of various Departments. For example, the Director of Recruiting has the duty of getting a certain number of men, no matter from where. Then we have the-Ministry of Munitions; they must have men. Then we have the coal mines; they must have men. But so far as I can see, and I have studied it very closely, there is no clearing-house by which half-a-dozen men, not more, could sit and co-ordinate 2099 the efforts of the various Departments. That probably does not come under this Vote, but in passing I should like to mention it, because I submit it does affect the action of the War Office. If we had a clearing-house to deal with cases where men are demanded from one industry or another, we should have someone to see where they could be spared. It might be a mistake to take men from munition works in one area and send them to another area, or if they were wanted on a farm—I know they are yelling for men, because they want 100,000 on the farms—you might be able to get a better method of distribution. I will touch on one other point before I sit down, because it is one which I think vitally affects public opinion. I think one of the most dangerous courses adopted by this Govern-during during the War was the stopping of bill-posters. They have been the pulse of public opinion. It may have been a necessary economy from the point of view of using paper, and so forth, but I do suggest that whoever did it had no idea or conception of what psychology means. They have only to walk through the streets of London to find that out.
Sir N. GRIFFITHS
Yes. I know men who have worked so hard that they have not the time to buy a paper, and it is as much to them as bread is to others. It helps to mould public opinion. Everything has gone wrong since the Government stopped these posters, in this country. You have got out of touch with public opinion, you are getting still more out of touch with it, and it is a matter worthy of the consideration of the powers that be as to whether I am not right in the few remarks that I have made under that heading. May I welcome the decision of the Government to agree to the appointment of a Committee to go into this whole question of recruiting? I hope their powers will be wide, but I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind—having been responsible for raising altogether over 50,000 men since the War started—that the blame is not attributable to the War Office. If it is attributable to any-one at all it is attributable very often to the Treasury, not the War Office, and after the Treasury, perhaps, to this House for not having seen that proper Bills were 2100 produced. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, proper Bills for providing the manpower of this country. I am afraid that is sometimes going back to the early stages of the War. Coming from a representative miners' district, like the previous speaker who has just sat down, I can testify that it is most gratifying the feelings the miners have shown. We can get them, and I wish I had a free hand to go round the country and see what we could do. If we had the trade unions and the labour unions to assist I am sure we should have good results.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
Like many other hon. Members of this House, I have had during the last few months a very large amount of correspondence from my Constituents who had complaints to make in regard to the manner in which the Act was operating. I do not intend to inflict them upon the Under-Secretary, probably because a large selection from my post bag I have passed on to the Under-Secretary. I feel bound to say he has treated them with promptitude and sympathy. I am very glad on behalf of my Constituents, and of others who write to me, that the Government have decided to go in for this new edition of "Review of Reviews"—that is to say, set up a Committee to review what has been done under the Review of Exceptions Act. I do not wish to go into details, but I have had a letter put into my hands by a colleague in the representation of Liverpool who cannot be here. I have looked through it, and I find that one of the principal marine insurance companies in Liverpool have cited the cases of four of their employés affected under the Review of Exceptions Act. I quote one of a certain man previously classed C 3, which, as the House knows, is the lowest classification, who was called up under the Review of Exceptions Act and was suddenly raised to Class A and passed for general service. That is one of the examples out of the four. The letter goes on to say that the employé had been examined previously on five occasions. On the first four he was rejected for all military service; surely there can be no mistake on four occasions. On the fifth occasion he was placed in the low category—C 3. He had now been classed for general service. Two of the doctors on the Board stated that he should not be classed higher than C 1, but that they were powerless. I should like the attention of the Committee when it is appointed to be called to the question how it could happen 2101 that when two doctors on a Board said that a man ought not to be classed higher than C 1 after being so many times rejected, he was passed for general service. I should like before I leave the case to point out how very unfortunate was the effect of misleading classifications like these upon the tribunals. They may have put before them a medical classification, saying that "A" is fit for general service. What are the tribunals to do? I submit these errors made by medical men have caused the tribunals in many cases to be unduly harsh in their decisions. It is not only a question of a man being passed for military service. Many men were passed for the Labour battalions. I have the case here of a man who was improperly passed for a Labour battalion and in this case I make a complaint similar to that made by another hon. Member. That man had paid £2 2s. to a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons that he might get an independent opinion, and when he placed that before the medical officer the latter tore it up, so that the man is now without any proof to put before the Committee. I should like to urge upon the House that a Committee should be appointed and the Instructions could be made retrospective—that is to say, the Committee should be empowered to deal with all classes where complaint was made which have arisen since the Review of Exceptions Act was passed. I make an appeal to the hon. Member that if men have been put in a class which the Committee considers an improper class, the cases should be reconsidered, whether that improper thing was done on the first day after the Act or today. I have another suggestion to make, and it is this, What about a man like the one whose case I quoted first, who had been classed A where the decision was going to be appealed against?
Would it not be possible in such cases that judgment should be suspended until the Committee had reviewed the case? Is it necessary that these men should now, in spite of their physical disabilities, be forced into the Army without the opportunity of having their cases tried by this tribunal? I quite agree with the Leader of the House to-day when he said that very man who was fit to do a fair day's work was wanted in the Army. But what is a fair day's work for a man who has been five times rejected and is Class C 3? Is a fair day's work for that man general service? I do not think that it is. I certainly think that he might be called on to 2102 do some service, but my point is that the service to which many of these men have been allotted is not a service which their physical condition admits of. I have never in this House hesitated to support any proposal to increase the man-power of this country, and I am prepared to continue that support. But I heartily agree with those who have laid their finger to-day on what I believe to be the main root of all this trouble in. regard to the pressing in of unfit men. That is, that the Government have not had the courage yet—I hope that soon they will have the courage—to say that every fit man up to a certain age, particularly if he is a single man, is required to join up. If that was done they would then have a sufficient reservoir of men to enable them to be extremely lenient with these men who are not fit and to the men in one-man businesses and the men in responsible positions who really are of more value in civil life than in military life. Until Members of this House support the Government in that view—that every fit man should join—then, I say, that a Member of this House who goes to the country and orates, trying to stir up discontent based on these hard cases which I have quoted, is doing a disservice to the nation because he is trying to stir up discontent based on a set of circumstances for which he knows the remedy though he will not apply it.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
A Committee has been appointed to judge as to the fitness of men. The Government have all kinds of rules and regulations. I do not propose to say who are fit men. I am sure that the hon. Member who has interrupted me does not mean to propose to settle these matters for the Government. By fit men I mean men who are undoubtedly reasonably classed as A or B, and not men who are unreasonably in the opinion of the Committee suddenly jumped up from Class C to Classes A and B. We all know that that is a frivolous interruption. Some men are fit and some are unfit. It is not for me to draw the distinction. I think that the hon. Member might have saved the interruption. I believe that what I have suggested is the solution of the whole question, and I agree with what the Leader of the House said. It is not patriotic for Members of this House to shirk the question of bringing in the necessary men and to avoid support- 2103 ing measures for bringing the whole man-power of the country up to a certain age into the fighting lines, and then to go into the country and stir up discontent based upon anomalies which are largely produced by the policy which they themselves have forced upon the Government.
§ Mr. KILEY
I rise to express my pleasure at the decision of the Government to agree to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the medical examination of certain men who are called up under the Review of Exceptions Act. I desire to make an appeal to the Government to extend the scope of that Committee to inquire into the recruiting problem generally. If, in my capacity as chairman of a local tribunal, one fraction of the stories that reach me from day to day about the working of the recruiting staff generally has any basis of truth, then I think the sooner that inquiry is made the better for the country at large. No one realises more than I do the necessity of having a united country at the back of the Government in the colossal task they have before them; but if the Government, through lack of knowledge or by an indiscreet staff, irritate the people, as they do to-day, I know of no better way of bringing about the failure of the methods adopted. Let me give an illustration. It is the case of a man in my own constituency, who was classified B1. He was invited to call at the recruiting office. He called there, as requested, and was asked how he got his classification. He said: "By the medical board." They said, "Oh, we are not satisfied, and we want you to be re-examined." He did not want to be re-examined. They insisted, called a corporal, and demanded that he should be taken off there and then to the medical board. He, not knowing his rights, was marched off by the corporal, and was then examined by the medical board and passed for general service. The military representative at the tribunal then demanded that his case should be reviewed. He stated that here was a man whose medical qualification they suspected, that they had had him re-examined; that he had been passed for general service, and that they claimed him for the Army. The tribunal, naturally, was astounded. But there were the facts, and we therefore accepted the view of the medical board and ordered the man to join the Army 2104 forthwith. The man lodged an appeal with the Appeal Court. He brought up two doctors who had attended him for years, and, on their statement, they had the man re-examined, and he was passed in C 2. It is matters of that kind which have created the intense dissatisfaction to which one or two of the speakers have already referred. I give that as one illustration of over-zeal on the part of the recruiting staff.
Let me give one other case. There was a man before our tribunal—a married man with a family—classified B 1. Being a B 1 man, and knowing the demands of the military for B1 men, we were inclined to send that man, too; but he begged for seven days to be re-examined, and, after hearing some medical evidence, we decided to allow him seven days. The military representative strongly opposed the suggestion, and said he would lodge an appeal to the Appeal Court if we adjourned the case for seven days. We decided that the man should have his seven days, and then he could be re-examined. In the meantime, the case came on before the Appeal Court, and as the man had not been re-examined, they also adjourned it for a few days. When the man came before them again he was C 2. The result was that that unfortunate individual was put to all that anxiety and trouble, and to the expense of briefing counsel to argue his case. That only shows the over-zeal which occurred. I do not know whether the military representative or the recruiting staff are promoted according to the number of men they get, regardless of their tact or ability, or whether it depends solely on the number of recruits they obtain. But whatever it is, their action in such cases as these two to which I have referred created an immense amount of dissatisfaction in the country. I therefore ask the War Office to consider whether the time has not arrived when they could reconsider the working of recruiting staffs throughout the country. As I have already said, if only a fragment of the cases which I have heard have any basis there is ample ground for such an inquiry. I am afraid that is asking for a great deal, but, in any case, I will ask the War Office to consider most seriously whether it is not advisable that this inquiry should be extended, and not limited to those cases under the Review of Exceptions Act.
It should, in my judgment, be extended to the medical boards generally. I have 2105 mentioned a case of one unfortunate individual who was classified C 1, and in A few weeks after for general service, and in two or three weeks after C 2. These are cases which constantly arise, and men come before us producing a number of civilian doctors against medical boards, and I can assure the Committee it is a very difficult matter to decide as between civilian doctors and military doctors which is right. Let me also, mention a case of an individual who faced three different medical boards and got different results from each of the three. That gives some justification for a demand that the inquiry should not be restricted to those unfortunate men who are called up for review of exemption, but that it should be extended to the medical boards generally. If so, I am sure the result would not be without some interest to the public at large. In further justification of that, I would like to refer to the case of one of my own staff. He suffered from an internal complaint, and to my astonishment was passed for general service. I was aware from personal knowledge that he had been confined to a sick bed for long periods. I wrote to the recruiting officer for London and said I knew that to pass the man for general service was wrong, and asked to have the man re-examined. He was re-examined, and the classification maintained. He went into the Army, and after a fortnight was for four months in hospital at Salisbury Plain, and had to be artificially fed. At the end of six months he was discharged militarily unfit, with an allowance for twelve months. Nothing more could be done in that case as far as the civilian element of the country was concerned. If there is any truth in the statement that something like a quarter of a million men have been improperly passed into the Army and have been passed out, or are waiting to be passed out, think of the expense of those cases to the country. I am sure the Financial Secretary to the War Office will realise the expense in many ways with, in some cases, pensions. On those grounds, I urge those in charge at the War Office to consider very seriously the advisability of extending the scope of this inquiry, and not to limit it in the way already suggested.
§ Mr. KING
I should like to express my sympathy with the Government on this occasion. I always like to say a kind 2106 word to those who are in trouble, and certainly I never saw the Government in more trouble than I think they have been in this afternoon. It is only about twelve weeks ago since they introduced this Bill, and they told us they were going to get something like half a million men, over a hundred thousand men. Figures do not much matter. To this extent—they wanted half a million, and they expected that they would get a hundred thousand out of this Bill. I do not believe they will get anything like that number of really fit men. Nobody who has spoken in this Debate has ventured to suggest any considerable number but the Government themselves, and the two speeches that have been delivered from the opposite benches have not suggested that they have had any appreciable number of good fighting men out of this Bill.
At last we have had from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife an attempt to show that he is the Leader of the Opposition. So far as I have observed, ever since the right hon. Gentleman became the Leader of the Opposition, his chief object has been to say "Ditto" to the Government. When this Bill was before the House twelve weeks ago, he took no part in any sort of criticism, or suggestion of any kind, in respect to it. Four weeks ago, when several hon. Members wished to raise a debate on the way the Act was being administered, we found the Closure moved upon us. Of course, it was quite rightly accepted by the Chairman. He perfectly well interpreted the feeling of the House, for Members at that time, four weeks ago, considered that this was one of the most unpleasant subjects which could possibly be raised here. When you consider that, how different is the state of things to-night, when we have the Leader of the Opposition making the most spirited fighting criticism I have heard since he has been in his present position? We have had, too, a great succession of speeches from various parts of the House. So far as I can see, the only one, in any sort of way a moderate justification of the Government, was from the hon. Member near to me (Colonel Sir Norton Griffiths). That all comes from the way in which the War Office has usurped the powers which ought to belong to the Cabinet. Put it another way: The War Office makes its demands upon the Cabinet, and the Cabinet give those demands without consulting this House, 2107 and without regard to the traditional principles and the rights of this House, and this has again and again launched us and the country into a policy which is really not calculated to win the War, but which is only wasting our resources, and, I believe, driving the country sooner or later to peace by negotiation and not by victory. May I try to make my point clear? We are to-day in this position, because the War Office has usurped the powers that ought to belong to a thinking Cabinet. I will say nothing of the War Office usurping the powers that ought to belong to this House. This House does not assert its rights! A leading article in one of the papers which recently has been very much supporting the Government, says:The War Office has been allowed to run amok with diastrous consequences. It has not only been allowed to call up men wastefully but to withdraw them from work of importance in the field, in the engine-shops' and in the shipyards. Still worse, it has been allowed to use them wastefully, and there is an overwhelming accumulation of evidence of the falling away of real power in the Army.That is a point of view upon which I have insisted again and again, that the War Office, having had great powers given to it far too freely and generously, has simply wasted the manpower of the country. I have been one of those who all along opposed Conscription, not so much because it was the taking away of our liberties by force, but because it was a wasteful policy which would not succeed, and I see that in the way this Bill has been administered. The War Office seems to have the idea that the first thing it must accomplish, if possible, is to get as many men as ever it can into the Army. It does not matter whether a man really is good for the fighting line, but if he can only be got into khaki and put into some unit where he can just carry on, then the War Office thinks itself happy and ssuccessful. I am convinced that there is a great change coming over the feeling of the country, not only in the industrial circles, not only amongst all thoughtful men, but in the Army itself, and there is, I am confident, a growing lack of confidence by men in the Army in the administration under which they live. I have had the opportunity lately of talking to quite a number of men home from the front, and men engaged in our various camps. I will not repeat all they have said to me—perhaps it would not be wise or fair but I must say it has surprised 2108 and alarmed me to see the rapid change of feeling that is growing in this country, and growing not less in the Army than in the industrial world. There is a feeling that our management of this War has been bad. There is a growing feeling that there are vast numbers of men in the Army who are waste-fully employed, and who are really not doing good work for the country, and the more men begin to talk in this way the more that idea is suggested to them—and it is suggested to them by the whole administration of this Review of Exceptions Act—the more confidence in their leadership, confidence in the Government, and confidence in the general scheme under which they work will decline.
I am going to turn to another aspect which to some Members, possibly, is unpopular, but which I think ought to be referred to, because it bears out what is one of the most striking features of the time—I mean the waste of man-power at the present time—and I am going to refer, as an illustration of this, to the way in which the War Office lately has been dealing with the conscientious objectors. The conscientious objectors are very troublesome people, and we have heard about them so often that I know many people are tired of hearing any more. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many are you dealing with?"] I am going to deal with one at a time, but I am told that there are about 5,000, and, including the men whom the authorities never venture to call up, about 15,000. There are from 5,000 to 6,000 conscientious objectors whom the recruiting officers have never called up who are going about as absentees and are in danger of being arrested, and there are so many of them that the Government leave them alone. Although you have only 3,000 in prison, in non-combatant forces there are from. 3,000 to 4,000, making 7,000, and I have no doubt there are in the country altogether something like 20,000. Nobody has any exact statistics, and I have been led away on this point by my hon. Friend's interruption. The way in which the Government is treating the conscientious objectors is wasteful and ridiculous. I have before me a case in which I have taken considerable personal interest, and I can assure hon. Members that what I am going to state is correct. It is the case of a young man whose father was farming 1,200 acres in the Eastern counties. At a very early stage of the War, before Con- 2109 scription, he offered to go and do Red Cross work while his father continued on the farm. His father had to give up half the farm, and the son was eventually left to manage about 400 acres. When that man came under Conscription he again offered to do work under the Red Cross and he offered in other ways to do work of national importance. He was actually recommended for certain work by the Pelham Committee, and, therefore, he was not a shirker, but the tribunals forced him into the Army and did not give him relief from combatant service. That man, who had volunteered for service in the Red Cross, is now in prison. He was able, in the year before the War, to raise on the land which he until recently occupied a large amount of oats, wheat, and beans, and he sold twenty or thirty head of stock in the market. That is an instance of the way in which the War Office will persecute a man to the absolute detriment of the interests of the country. That is not an isolated case. I put on the Order Paper questions which again and again have called the attention of the Government to hundreds of acres of land which, owing to their policy with regard to conscientious objectors have gone out of cultivation or are reduced in the amount farmed. I would call the attention of the House to another case of a conscientious objector. It is a case which has been brought before the House once or twice within the last few days by means of questions. I mean the case of the well-known Dr. MacCallum, a Scotsman, the son of a well-known Minister, and a great football player. This gentleman is not only a great athlete, but he is a most distinguished scholar who has had a brilliant career at Edinburgh University. He was medallist in the medical class and received the scholarship for the most distinguished graduate in surgery of his year. This man became tuberculosis and public health officer to the County of Argyll. Unfortunately, he is now in prison. When questioned the other day as to whether he was not a capable medical man, the Minister who answered said that he was not capable in medicine at all and that there was no work of national importance that he could do. I do not refer to the Under-Secretary of State for War. I do not think that he would give so foolish an answer, though there are some Ministers who would give very foolish answers.
§ Mr. KING
The real root of the evil of this case lies with the War Office in ever handing it over to people who manage it so incapably as the Home Office. I have quite a number of similar cases illustrating, an absolute waste of genius. It is wasted, in a good many quarters of the country, and in the House too. I will just refer to-one set of cases which we have at the present time. I have gone into them fairly fully, and I am convinced that the War Office at the present time is preventing conscientious objectors from exercising, their right to be court-martialed. If a man, is a conscientious objector and refuses to carry out the orders that are given to him, he has a right to be court-martialed. These courts-martial of conscientious objectors have reflected so little credit upon the War Office, and are so exposing the folly and waste and perfect futility of their policy, that there is nothing the War Office fears so much now as a court-martial upon a man who is obviously guilty, and who practically always confesses himself guilty. For one reason or another, these men are deprived of their rights of being condemned as guilty. Yes, hon. Members may well laugh. It is a comic opera War Office with which we have to deal. I could go on with this theme for a long time and could make it appear ridiculous but it is too serious. They are men who are ready to serve their country, but not in the way that they know they cannot serve it well. They are ready to lay down their lives, as many men for conscience-sake have laid down their lives. It is no good keeping these men in prison, forcibly feeding them, submitting them to-sentences of hard labour again and again. You will not cow the spirit of those men. They are as brave as you are, in a different way. They are as stubborn as any John Bull ever was, in a different way, from the way in which you wish. If ever there was a foolish, futile, and wasteful policy, it is the policy which the War Office is now pursuing towards the conscientious, objector.
§ Mr. J. HENDERSON
The Committee has been from four o'clock till nearly eleven o'clock discussing, I believe, the Army Estimates.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I have listened with a great deal of sympathy to the case made out for the re-examined men. For the last two or three hours that subject has been exhausted, and when a committee was promised the subject ought to have been dropped. I should like to bring the Committee back, if only for five minutes, to the object of this meeting. I have been in the House for twelve years, and on the Foreign Office Vote, the Army Vote, or the Navy Votes, I have never known the Committee to devote itself to those questions. It has always been a question of policy, and it is a very nice way for the Minister who is responsible to ride off. The Financial Secretary to the War Office has not been asked a question. He has been here the whole of the time, and nobody has said a word to him. [HON. MEMBERS: 'Yes, they have!"] He is the man about whom we ought to be talking. He is the man who ought to deal with the question of Estimates. I do not know if hon. Members have taken the trouble to look at these Votes. There is Vote after Vote of £1,000. They are what are called "Token Votes." They are all dummies. It is a blank cheque we are going to give to the Army Let the Committee understand what the position is. It would be an unpleasant subject about which to talk, but when you have had a great feast you have to pay the reckoning. What is the position at the present moment? By a great effort a little while ago you raised a Loan of £1,000,000,000 to meet Army, Navy, and munitions expenditure. You had to resort to every expedient known to the clever advertiser to raise that money. It has all gone—every penny of it! What is more, your Treasury Bills are nearly up to £700,000,000. It cannot be very long before you will be asked for another Loan, and Heaven knows how you are going to raise it! You have exhausted an enormous reservoir. The banks cannot help you. They have helped you as much as they can. The banks have as much of their depositors' money to the 3½ per Cent, and 4½ per Cent. Loans as they could give with any respect to the laws of banking. For the last Loan they lent money to their own customers to lend. They could not lend any more themselves. So that is exhausted. Is it not a very anxious matter? This is a Token Vote which really represents something like several hundred 2112 millions, and interesting as these other subjects are, is it not your first duty to consider how you are going to spend this money, and I appeal to the Army and to the Financial Secretary to see if we cannot keep the expenses of the War Office so that these Token Votes may not swell to an inordinate size when they come to be spent. I do not know exactly in what direction economy can be made in the War Office, but I see a very large number of men in very great panoply of war, old men, hanging about the War Office and all over London, drawing big salaries. Whether we get value for these salaries I do not know. They wear beautifully burnished leggings and spurs. What they do with their spurs I do not know. I do not believe the lives of half of them would be worth half an hour's purchase if they mounted their horses, but there they are, and I am told they are drawing very fine salaries. Cannot my hon. Friend cut away something there? It is all very amusing, but you get these men drawing £600, £700 and £800, and doing work which a clerk could do at £100—and probably do better. Are there not many sources of waste going on in the War Office which it is our duty to investigate, if we are to see that these Estimates may not be swollen from thousands to hundreds of thousands t We all laugh when we vote the money. It does not seem to matter that debt is being piled up, but when we come to the reckoning after the War it will be a very anxious House which will meet to find out how we are going to pay the annual expenditure upon that enormous debt. I therefore, at the last moment, appeal to my hon. Friends representing the War Office to see if they cannot seriously make all efforts to see that these Estimates are kept within bounds, and devote their attention to cutting down War Office expenses, which, I am sure, will offer a very great opportunity for the exercise of frugality.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The grant of the appointment of a Committee amounts to a plea of confession and avoidance. In these circumstances I can only express the hope that the terms of reference and the names of the Committee will be announced at the earliest possible moment. As the Government has taken the attitude it has, I desire to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.2114
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at One minute after Eleven o'clock till To-morrow, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.