Unexpectedly I find myself in the fortunate position of gaining possession of the House. I apologise to the Secretary of State for War for having been forced into the position of giving him such little notice, and I wish to exonerate him entirely from not being present, at least at the opening of the Debate, but the matter is of such great importance, and in my view involves such a principle, and is so devoid of party politics, that any Member of the Government could answer and the fact that the right hon. Gentleman cannot be here docs not seem to me to be as important as it might have been on other occasions.
The question to which I wish to draw attention relates to some matters that I raised on 8th May with regard to young soldiers, wounded, and whilst in hospital contributing to the upkeep of their mothers, being discharged before they had even left hospital for the first time, because it had been decided that they were no longer of any use for the Armed Forces. That is treatment which should not be meted out to any man or woman who has engaged in the dangers of war in the defence of the country. It is a meanness which ought to be shown up and put right at the earliest possible moment. I perfectly understand that you cannot go on keeping people in the Army when they arc quite incapable of serving, but these are cases where the men have not been in hospital for long. They have been discharged and put on less attractive terms while in hospital for the first time. I have cases where men in one Service, with similar wounds, are kept on, although it is known that they will no longer be of any use, whereas men m the Army are discharged. If a man goes to the front and risks life and limb and is fortunate enough to get out alive, though with something very much more severe than what we used to call a "blighty wound," surely it is our responsibility to see that he is maintained in hospital free of all charge until such time as he can be put on his feet and enabled to return home, though even then he may not be of much use as a contributor to the family budget.
In the Debate on the Army Estimates I listened to a very eloquent speech by one of my hon. Friends appealing for fair treatment for wounded ex-soldiers and pleading that never again should we be allowed to see them trailing themselves along the gutters and appealing for money. I am sure the House intended that that should never be allowed to happen again. I am equally sure that that was the intention at the end of the last war. But unless we are constantly on the watch and paying attention to the matter, when the war has passed and people forget about it, unfortunately the men get forgotten too. I had arranged to raise the matter two nights ago but it was late and, by arrangement of the Secretary of State, it was put off until next week. But it happens that the day next week that I landed on is even worse than the night before last.
The hon. Member will get publicity for his side of the case without my right hon. Friend having an opportunity to reply.
He has his case prepared and any of his Under-Secretaries can make it for him. There is no difficulty on that score. At any rate, I will undertake to speak until 8 o'clock.
In case there is any misunderstanding, my present advice is that the Secretary of State cannot be here to-night. He has an engagement which he cannot get out of, and the Government cannot promise that any representative of the War Office will be available. But I will certainly stay.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will do most noble work, but it seems to me very strange that the Government should have such little control over its Ministers as not to be able to get a representative of the Department to reply to a Debate. I do not take the view of some Ministers about the unimportance of Parliament. Presence in Parliament is more important than anything else, and comes first.
I agree with the hon. Member, but it seems a little hard. A firm appointment was made for next week, and I do not think any condemnation can be placed on my right hon. Friend or on the Parliamentary Secretary because he is not here.
It is the Noble Lord who is in trouble about this. I am not. I was assured at a quarter past seven that the Secretary of State would come but might not be here for an hour; I said I would go on and speak for quite a long time. I have done it before and shall probably do it again. My fear was that we should be left with no time in which to ventilate the matter, because of the Dissolution, and thus a very grave issue would never be dealt with at all. The only thing for a back bencher to do is to seize opportunities as they come and, if he does not do that, he is neglecting his job.
The matter concerns a young man, Private Connor, 10th Battalion Royal Berkshire. Regiment. He was in the Army for two years, spent 10 months in Italy, was wounded in the left leg near Cassino on 24th January, 1944. The wound is still open. He has been eight months in hospital. He was discharged on 21st September, 1944, with a 100 per cent, disability pension of £2 a week. Except for two months he has been in hospital ever since. He had to pay 19s. a week to the hospital and, on top of that, he was making an allowance of 14s. to his mother, so that he was left with 7s. That does not seem to me to be good enough. The second case is that of Private Fuller, 2nd Battalion West Sussex Regiment. He has been in hospital since October 12th, 1943, paralysed in both legs. He was discharged on 12th May, 1944, with a pension of £2. He is still in hospital, paying a contribution of 19s., reducing him to 21s.
He, again, is making a contribution of 14s. a week to his mother, leaving him with 7s. That does not seem to be the way in which we should treat these men. Another case is that of Sergeant R. Headington, of the King's Royal Regiment, with 2½ years' service. He was wounded 14th September, 1944, and is suffering from a compound fracture, resulting in the left leg being two inches shorter than the other. He has been in hospital since 1944 and is told that he will be discharged at any moment. As a sergeant he gets £3 3s. a week, out of which he keeps his widowed mother. If he is discharged he gets £2, and if he is still in hospital he will be required to pay 195. a week.
Now that the Financial Secretary has arrived, may I say with all friendliness that I am glad to find myself in opposition to him on the first occasion on which he appears at the Treasury Box? I have examples, with which I shall be glad to furnish him, of people with similar wounds lying in beds alongside one another, the one belonging to the Navy and the other to the Army, the Navy man being kept on and not discharged, but the Army man being discharged and made to contribute to his upkeep while in hospital. It is particularly hard for men suffering from face wounds, which the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) describes as plastic cases. Anybody who knows about the healing of wounds knows that plastic treatment takes a very long time. The mere fact that a man is to have a false nose or cheek has an appalling nervous reaction on him, and if, on top of that, it is decided that he is no more use to the Service and he is cleared out before he is properly fitted up and able to go home it must have a deplorable reaction on his feelings. I do not believe it is a state of things this House would tolerate if it realised what was happening.
Not only is there this loss of pay, which in a way is the least important aspect of the matter, although very fundamental, but the fact that the man loses his uniform is important, and he loses all the amenities that go with it. I know that there are all sorts of organisations to come in and help him, but that means charity, which the man does not like. He ought to be kept, on full pay until he is in a position to be returned home and discharged from the Army. We ought not to be mean to these men who have suffered in the war, as so many hundreds of thousands of young men have. I suspect that there is a miserable Treasury minute and that the old dead hand of finance is trying to enforce economy, thus creating bitterness and unhappiness among a minority of people who have done so much for us. In view of the fearful odds which these fellows have had to meet on so many occasions, it ought to be the expressed view of this House that they should be kept in hospital on full pay without any charge until such time as they are fit enough to be released. Our sentiment should be that for any contribution which can be made to them individually, the sky is the limit, and that even that is not high enough.
The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is doing a great public service in having this matter ventilated. The War Office do some things very slowly, and my experience in dealing with them indicates that, although they are slow in doing some things, when it comes to meting out unfair treatment and injustice to the soldier who has had the misfortune to receive wounds on the battlefield, they are in a tremendous hurry. I come into contact with men who have suffered from the attitude of the War Office, and I can only sum it up by saying that they are very parsimonious in their treatment of the unfortunate wounded soldier. I ask the Financial Secretary why there should be this differentiation between members of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. I get many letters on this question from serving soldiers, but I have never yet had one from an airman or a member of the Navy; all my letters complain of the treatment meted out to soldiers. The War Office get the men on the cheap in the first instance, and they try to cheapen the process further as the men emerge again into civil life. When men have had the misfortune to sustain wounds on the battlefield, some of them so serious that they will never fully recover from them, it is essential that the War Office should be more humane in their treatment. The men remain in hospital for 56 days, and then they are discharged. Their pay is reduced and they are denied the ordinary amenities which go to other people.
I ask again why this treatment is meted out. Everybody in these days wants to be fair and square with people who have served in the Forces, and everybody I meet has a keen desire to see that fair play and justice are meted out to these men. We fail to find that attitude manifested by the War Office, however. I could quote case after case showing the heartbreaking circumstances of these unfortunate men, and I beg the Financial Secretary to have this matter re-examined in view of the different treatment which is meted out to the men in the Air Force and the Navy, so that the treatment in all three Services is brought into line.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has raised this important matter. I gather that he had to do so at rather short notice, but, even so, it seems rather regrettable that only one back-bench Member of the Conservative Party could bother to be present to listen to the discussion of this serious human problem, which affects so many thousands of our wounded men. I want to make two points, both of which are, I think, relevant and have not been mentioned before. Incidentally, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member who will reply for the War Office on his elevation, although I doubt whether he feels very comfortable at having to answer at such short notice on this rather tricky matter.
I should like to invite his attention to Hansard of 29th May, where, in a written answer in Cols. 64–66, the Undersecretary for Dominion Affairs was good enough to summarise for me, at some length, the treatment that is given by the various Dominions to wounded and sick Service-men. I think he will agree that broadly speaking, it shows that the practice of the Dominions is considerably more generous than our own. For instance, in Australia naval personnel suffering from disabilities which necessitate hospital treatment may, if not previously invalided from the Service, be borne on full pay for a period up to 18 months. That is rather more than we rise to. It is, of course, a naval matter, but I quote it by way of illustration. In New Zealand, which perhaps provides a clearer case,
where a medical board decides that a Service man requires further treatment at a public hospital or convalescent hospital or home, he is not finally disposed of but remains on full pay and allowances so long as he is under treatment.
That is in New Zealand, where there happens to be a Labour Government, but that is by the way.
It is the core of the whole problem.
Yes, but I do not see why even this predominantly Conservative caretaker Government, since it includes a few "men of good will," cannot show its
good will, in its dying days, by a gesture of generosity in this matter. It is added in respect of New Zealand that
a Service man undergoing treatment may elect to be discharged and take the war pension granted to him before the completion of treatment.
I mention that, as one of my two points, in the hope that the Government will consider the practice of the Dominions and see if they cannot raise our practice at least to the same level of generosity.
The other point I want to mention is with regard to men suffering from tuberculosis, because they also find themselves discharged from the Service while they are in the early stages of their treatment. I can see that this is a purely administrative matter, about which a purely administrative point of view has been taken, but I wonder if I can persuade the War Office to consider also the psychological aspect of it. Men suffering from tuberculosis get very depressed during the long stages of their disease; it is terribly lowering and depressing. It comes as a real shock and blow to them—I know because I have been to the tuberculosis sanatoria in my own county and I have talked to these men—suddenly to receive notice that, because they have been in sanatoria for a few months and may not recover their full health, the Army no longer want them and they are, so to speak, almost thrown on the scrap-heap. It has a bad psychological effect which may well contribute to the retarding of their recovery—because, I believe, tuberculosis is one of the diseases in which the mental state of the patient is of considerable importance.
Those are the only points I wish to make. I would suggest that to the slogan, "Fit for service, fit for pension," which I believe was originally used in this House by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), we should add the slogan, "Unfit for service, fit for full pay and allowances until fit to go home."
It is not often that I find myself fn agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), but on this occasion I would like to support his plea specially with regard to the question of plastic cases, and I speak with some little knowledge of this subject. It is a fact that during this war plastic surgery has come very much more into its own, probably because of the amount of tank warfare which has resulted in a much higher percentage of wounds caused by burning. It is a fact that bad plastic cases may involve from six to 12 separate, perhaps major, operations lasting over a. period of three years. I think it is wrong that somebody suffering from very severe burns, and having to put up with these multiple plastic operations, should be discharged from the Army. I therefore plead with the Financial Secretary to see whether these men cannot be retained in the Service; and if it is possible to send them home for periods of two or three months before they return to hospital for a further operation, they should be granted their full pay and allowances and the retention of their uniform.
I join with my colleagues and with the hon. Member opposite in making a plea to the Financial Secretary to the War Office to give full consideration to this question. I know it has been before the House before by way of Question and answer, but hon. Members have never obtained satisfaction, and this is one occasion on which we can say that we are not satisfied with the answer and when we can give the subject more advertisement. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has done a great service in watching for an opportunity to bring the matter up.
As I understand it, the plea is this. First of all the Army do not treat their patients in the same way as patients in the Air Force and the Navy are treated. Ordinary treatment is given to the men in those two Services, but the men in the Army do not get the same kind of treatment. In the Army, a severely wounded man is sent to hospital, and before he has fully recovered or sent from hospital he is put on a pension and his Army pay ceases. There may be a reply to that charge, but for the life of me I cannot understand why a man, no matter to which Service he belongs, if he is severely wounded in carrying out his duties and has to be taken to hospital, should undergo that change of status. To all intents and purposes that man is doing a greater service to the country in hospital because it is due to what he has done that he is in hospital. Surely a grateful country, which at all times is praising our men, as on V-Day and on other occasions, lauding them and saying what gallant men they are—and they certainly deserve it—should do everything possible to remedy this injustice. This is one of the occasions on which we feel that a grave injustice is being done to the serving men. Any man suffering from wounds, no matter on what part of his body, should be on full pay until such time as he is sent from hospital and they can do no more for him.
Then comes the question of the rate of pension which should be given to him. There can be nothing more disagreeable for the man than to think that while he is being treated for his wounds in hospital he is to lose his uniform and is to become an ordinary civilian. While he is in receipt of treatment in hospital and until such time as he is allowed to leave hospital he should be kept on full rate of pay all the time. Is that too much to ask? If this went to the country on the plain issue I do not think the Government dare stand up to it. There may be a reply. We want to know what it is, but if it is on the same lines as previous replies the country will not be satisfied. I have heard the Financial Secretary to the War Office 'before, and I believe that if he had not been in his present job to-night he would have been here ready to help us in our attack on the Government. Of coarse, it is a difficult position, and I cannot blame him to-night, but I hope that when he gets into conclave with the Secretary of State for War, and he is asked for his opinion, he will tell the Secretary of State for War that this is the kind of thing which must be altered. After all, when you take up a Government post you have to consider the feelings of the House.
If I may say so, the Financial Secretary's chief is rather a hard man. He may be an efficient man—I am not saying one word against his efficiency—but he is rather hard on the men who are under him. That is the case, at any rate, so far as financial benefits are concerned. Unfortunately, he cannot be here to-night. I wish he could be, because it is easier to talk to the head man than to the Financial Secretary, and I am sure that if he had been here, the hon. Member for Ipswich would not have pulled any of his punches. However, he is not here, and the Financial Secretary is in hi place. If the hon. Gentleman cannot give us the answer that we want I hope he will tell his chief what we think about the position. An Election is impending, and if unfair treatment is to be meted out to tin Servicemen they will have something to say about it. Let us not forget that these men have given their all for the State, and should be treated fairly and justly.
I do not quite agree with the last speaker about the absence of the chief. I was thinking that it might be a good opportunity for the new Financial Secretary to the War Office. Having won his spun on the back benches and been promoted to the Front Bench, he might wish to win his spurs in his new office, and I do not know of a more favourable opportunity for him to do so than this particular occasion. I only hope that he will prove to be capable of converting his chief to our point of view.
I think we have an overwhelming case. I had a personal contact with this question the other day, lending it some human interest. I live in a Glasgow tenement, and next door to me is a boy of 19 or 20 years of age. While serving in France he lost a limb. He has been discharged from hospital. It is a mistake, however, to think that because the War Office have discharged him from hospital, he is finished with hospital treatment. What has happened is this. The lad is now discharged, and at the end of a period of eight weeks he comes on to the allocated pension. The Minister of Pensions may hold that the loss of a leg is equal to a 60 per cent., 70 per cent, or 80 per cent. allocated pension. It means that this lad is to be maintained on that sum, although he has not reached anything like the condition when he can, even partly, enter into a competitive industry, not even in the lightest of light work. Pending his discharge he is handed over to the Minister of Pensions with one leg. He goes about until that leg hardens. It is like having false teeth. You have your teeth drawn but you do not go the following week to have the false set fitted. You have to wait. After a period of weeks or months the man goes back into another hospital, this time controlled by the Minister of Pensions, and there a leg is fitted on to him. While he is there he is given training in the use of the leg, and then when he comes out of that hospital he has to accustom himself to the leg and to train himself for future industry. With the best will in the world he cannot be ready to enter into training for a future job until months have elapsed after his discharge from the second hospital.
I can understand the War Office saying, "After all, when we have discharged the man that is as far as we can go, and if you have a quarrel it must be with somebody else." I do not think the Government can ride off with that. The fact is that the man has been injured in their service, and if the War Office are not going to accept the responsibility of making a full maintenance grant they should see that another Department takes over that duty. It is pathetic to see these cases of young men; in fact it is pathetic in the case of anybody. As one hon. Member said, you can go over the whole gamut of cases which are in a shocking state. No one can say that eight weeks is anything like a normal period for a serious case. One hon. Member referred to the cases requiring plastic treatment. Then there are cases of tuberculosis, of wounds to the legs and often of wounds to the sight which possibly cry for more human sympathy than any other case.
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to look at this matter again. It might be unfair in the circumstances to expect him to give us a Government decision on the matter now, but he is a comparatively young man and no one can say how long he may be in his present position. If he is defeated, or if he leaves that office, he will no doubt want to do what any other Member of Parliament likes to do, which is to say, when he looks back at his period of office, that he was able to do some good. I know of nothing more noble or better than that he should do what he can for the people who are serving in His Majesty's Army, and see that the limit of 56 days is cancelled and that no limit is placed upon the time required to make men fit to re-enter industry and earn their livelihood in ordinary competitive business.
I feel sure that the House will sympathies with me in my task to-night. I do not in any way take exception to the fact that this very important matter has been raised. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) said in his opening remarks that he approached the matter, so far as I was concerned, in all friendliness; I reply in nearly all friendliness, for a reason that I will mention. The hon. Member for Ipswich gave notice of his intention to raise this matter on the Adjournment a week from to-day, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War had prepared himself to answer on that day, on behalf of the Government. I was sent for actually at 7·15 this evening and told that it was to be raised to-day, and that I was to make my maiden speech from the Government Front Bench in exposing the point of view of the War Office on this matter, as I will now try to do. There is nothing I dislike more than a speech which is read, but I hope the House will forgive me if in this instance I stick rather closely to what is admittedly a brief which has been given to me.
I hope that there will be no misunderstanding on the matter. As I say, it was not till 7·15 that I knew the date had been changed and that I had to come to the House. I arrived here at 7·30, and my hon. and gallant Friend who sits beside me was good enough to take a few notes. First, I should like to apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend that he could not be here to take the Adjournment as he had intended. He had to go off almost at a moment's notice to a meeting and he deputed this rather difficult task to me.
It has been said during the course of this short Debate that the War Office is unfeeling and hard, and that it sometimes treats wounded soldiers unfairly when they are in hospital and discharges them too soon. I hope to be able to show within a very few minutes that that is not the case. I wonder whether, to start with, I might say something personal on the subject of the War Office. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) said that he wished I had been on a back bench to-night, so that I might have joined in an attack on the War Office. I do not remember in the course of my career as a back bencher ever having had to make any sort of attack on the War Office. Obviously, in the early stages of the war, they had, as we all know, an immensely difficult task. If I did join in any attack, I hope I should be very careful in ascertaining the facts.
Honestly, I think the hon. Member for Ipswich has indulged in a little exaggeration, a fault which I have observed in him from time to time. I have only been in the War Office since Tuesday, but in the course of my duties there I have had to deal with and answer many hundreds of letters from hon. Members of this House. Far from all the replies being hard and negative, as some of the speeches to-night would lead one to expect, the situation was quite to the contrary. I was not only pleased but even a trifle surprised by the very great trouble which always appeared to be taken in difficult cases presented by hon. Members. Among the letters which I have read in these last three days the number in which satisfaction has been given has been really astounding. First, I would like to deal with one or two of the things mentioned by the hon. Member for Ipswich and of which my hon. and gallant Friend beside me took notes. He spoke of young soldiers in hospital, wounded, being discharged prematurely before their wounds were fully healed. It is very difficult to give a positive answer to a general allegation of that kind. I would suggest to the hon. Member that when cases are put to him he should first write to the War Office about them and give a full statement of each case when very careful consideration would 'be given to the matter.
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I understood that they were discharged prematurely, and I took it to mean discharged from hospital. He mentioned the case of a young man who was discharged when suffering from a suppurating wound and had £2 a week disability pension. I cannot give an answer to-night on that specific case, but if he would send me the particulars I will do my best to look into them. I must say that be did cause a certain amount of confusion in our minds, because he raised a number of questions to my right hon. Friend which appeared to be matters for the Minister of Pensions and on which my right hon. Friend could not really be expected to reply. He confused us still more by putting a lot of supplementaries, from which it appeared that the hon. Member was directing his mind to something rather different.
I do not think that the Secretary of State would wish to evade his responsibilities. After all, there are two Departments of State responsible for different branches of this administration and it is a little difficult to deal with what should be a War Office matter if it is confused with Ministry of Pensions matters.
I think, with great respect to the hon. Member, that he does not quite understand the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). It is true that no one can reasonably ask the War Office to deal with grievances if they arise in the administration of the Ministry of Pensions. What is being said is that when the War Office makes up its mind that a man will not be fit for service again, instead of waiting until his treatment is complete, and maintaining him on Army pay and allowances until that date, and then transferring him to the Ministry of Pensions, it transfers him to the Ministry of Pensions too early. On that point it is surely perfectly relevant to say to the War Office: "Look at the result of what you do if you take that course. You take the man from a position in which he has his pay and dependants' allowances, and put him in a position in which at a stroke his emoluments are reduced, and he has to make a large contribution to his treatment." I do not think the hon. Gentleman can complain of that. It is a relevant part of the whole grievance.
I quite appreciate the hon. Member's point. I am hoping to reassure him and other hon. Members who are somewhat disturbed about this matter that the position is not as they fear. We are not, in general, discussing the medical treatment of Services personnel, but the question of whether, during that treatment, they should remain on Services rate of pay. I should explain that the position, as I understand it, is that while in receipt of Service pay a member of the Services would ordinarily receive hospital treatment in a Service hospital or else in a hospital which has made particular arrangements for the treatment of such cases under the Emergency Medical Scheme. Some Ministry of Pensions hospitals—to which I refer in passing—also provide for the treatment of Service patients under the E.M.S. scheme, and also make special provision for particular disabilities. If, after invaliding, a Service man still requires treatment, the Ministry of Pensions is notified under the continuity of treatment scheme. As a result of that, arrangements are made for the man's further treatment elsewhere. When the treatment has been given in a Service hospital, the member of the Services, provided he is fit enough to be removed, is transferred either to a Ministry of Pensions hospital or to a Emergency Medical Scheme hospital. If the treatment has been given in an E.M.S. hospital, he can still be retained there if it is in his medical interest that he should be retained, while he may be transferred to a Ministry of Pensions hospital or an E.M.S. hospital nearer to his home. That is very important. The nearer a man gets to his own home, the more happy he is likely to be, the more cheerful and the more inclined to recover quickly. When treatment has been given in a Ministry of Pensions hospital, he is retained in that hospital.
I now come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). He mentioned the question of the tuberculosis patients. The arrangements I have mentioned do not apply to cases of tuberculosis, nor do they apply to certifiable mental cases who, when they are invalided, are transferred to the care of the responsible local authority. I have had one or two cases of that kind as a Private Member, and I think the hon. Member should, on the whole, be satisfied that that is probably the best method of treating these extremely sad cases, to which he pointed in the course of his speech.
I said that I realised the administrative point of view, but asked if it would not be possible for the psychological effect on the men concerned to be taken more into account—whether some means could not be devised by which they could receive this good sanatorium treatment while still remaining on full Army pay.
Being only a new-comer to the War Office, I am afraid I cannot give a positive reply on that point. Anything raised on the course of this Debate will be carefully considered. I am not saying that in the ordinary official sense. I mean that it will be carefully considered. In the course of my short experience, when things have been put up, they have been carefully considered, very often with extremely satisfactory results to the man in question.
In the light of what I have now stated about the treatment of tuberculosis and these other complaints, could I state again, rather more fully, the question which all three Service Departments—not only the War Office—have to consider? They have to make up their mind on a very difficult matter. Very often the question is whether Service personnel who are so severely wounded or incapacitated by illness that they cannot recover and be fit for active service for a period of some months, should nevertheless continue to receive full Service pay and allowances for periods longer than at present provided by the Regulations, so long as they remain in the Service hospital or Ministry of Pensions hospital. That is the main point we are discussing to-night. In the great majority of cases, I am informed that finality is reached in the matter of a comparatively few weeks or months, that is, they know whether the man is going to be fit enough to go back to active service or not. He then has a medical board. If he is found to be no longer fit to return to the Service he is discharged after a period of 56 days, and in place of his Service emoluments he passes to the appropriate rate of disablement pension, that is to say, he is handed over to the Ministry of Pensions. As hon. Members are aware pensions are laid down in the Royal Warrant and are administered by my right hon. Friend.
Perhaps the Financial Secretary will explain what takes place when the man has not fully recovered. Is he not aware that the man suffers a loss in economic status by that process? Will he answer that?
I think that is an extremely difficult point. I am hoping to come to it a little later, though I am afraid the hon. Member cannot expect a really authoritative reply to-night. I am doing my best in this rather difficult position.
We shall be quite sympathetic.
I am aware of that. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is invariably sympathetic to anyone who is in my unfortunate position. After all, he fears he might be in the same position himself some day.
I think it is not any part of the case which hon. Members have made to-night, that men in this category should continue to receive 'Service emoluments for a very-long period if they obviously cannot be sent back to active service. To argue that case would be to argue that the rates of pension laid down in the Royal Warrant are inadequate, and that obviously is not a matter for the War Office but for the Minister of Pensions, and it can obviously be discussed on the Pensions Vote. The case with which I am now dealing is a much more difficult one, in which finality is not reached for a considerable period, and in which it cannot be established whether the man ought, in fact, to go back to active service or not.
During that time the man would be undergoing treatment in an Army or Ministry of Pensions hospital. It is in respect of those difficult cases that the complaint lies. The Regulations provide that, generally speaking, a man should continue on Service rates of pay for eight months, which, I understand, may be extended under different conditions to nine months in the case of psychotic illness, where further detention in a Government hospital may avoid the necessity of certification. I had to ask what "psychotic" meant. I understand that it covers a general group of mental cases. The period may also extend, in cases where artificial limbs have to be fitted, until they are fitted. It has been decided, after full consideration, that tuberculosis cases may also continue on Service emoluments for eight months, where men are receiving treatment in civilian or military hospitals.
I hope that that may be some reassurance to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). The period of eight months, during which Service personnel may in these circumstances be kept on full pay, represents a considerable advance on the previous practice. I am informed that until October of last year a soldier undergoing treatment in a Government hospital could be discharged from the Army 28 days after he was found to be permanently unfit. That was found to be much too short a period. The period was extended to 56 days, and on 1st March, 1945, to eight calendar months after his first absence from duty. I think hon. Members will realise that this matter has been very carefully examined, and these concessions have been made as a result of that examination.
In all these cases, there is a dilemma, to which I have already referred. It may become clear at a very early stage that a man may never be fit for active service again. But to revert him over-hastily to pension rates would be to treat rather shabbily those who have sacrificed their health to their country. That is very well understood in the War Office, and it is a consideration which is always borne in mind. It seemed, therefore, that the only thing to do in these cases is to fix a period, more or less arbitrary, after which the Service pay gives way to pension rates. The War Office has drawn the line at eight months, with a possible extension in the case of the psychotic patients, or in cases where artificial limbs have to be fitted, which was referred to by one hon. Member in the Debate. I think hon. Members will understand that the whole matter has been very carefuly reviewed, and that these further concessions are realty substantial concessions, which the House should welcome.
Does that apply to all the Services, because the charge has been made that the other two Services are treated differently?
I am coming to that point in a moment.
Will this new Regulation apply to men now in E.M.S. hospitals who have been discharged? Will they be taken back?
I shall have to look into that matter. I am glad the hon. Member raised it, and I will write and let him know the answer. I come to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Rusholme (Major Cundiff). That is the case of those men who have been disfigured facially. I suppose everybody is aware that they represent some of the difficult cases. Some treat their facial disfigurement as a "rub of the green," and do not mind, others are affected in their nerves. That can be well understood. All those cases have to be dealt with sympathetically, and it is the intention of the War Department to do so. With regard to these cases, the Government are considering whether they can make any special arrangement. I cannot make any promise nor can I give specific details, because the matter has not yet been fully considered; nor has any final conclusion been come to. But the matter is being examined, and if a fair, and, I hope, generous, solution can be arrived at, the House will be informed.
I now come to another point, raised by the hon. Member for Ince, about the different practices in the three Service Departments. Obviously I do not answer for any other Service Department, but I am informed that the general practice of the Service Departments is approximately the same. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is what I am informed. Obviously, there must be minor differences of detail, but I know that an attempt is made to treat soldiers, sailors, and airmen, as far as possible, on approximately equal terms. I think I have dealt in general with the matter of the stage at which the change from Service rates of pay and allowances to pension rates should take place. I have not dealt with, and it is certainly not my business to-night to deal with, the question of the general adequacy or not of the pension rate. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions.: But he has informed us that he is making an improvement in the financial provision for the men who, after discharge, continue treatment in hospital for a disability due to service. The position of these men has been under consideration for a very considerable time, and it has been decided that, during the remainder of the course of treatment which they are receiving at the time of discharge, they will be paid full treatment allowances by the Ministry of Pensions, without the deduction in respect of home savings which has hitherto been made. This change will operate from the first pay day in June.
If I have not convinced the House that the War Office is doing its best to mete out substantial justice to all these men it will be my fault, not the fault of the Department which for the moment I have the honour to serve. I hope that hon. Members will consider these matters carefully, and see if they do not think that the concessions show an earnestness of endeavour to do the very best possible for those soldiers who, unfortunately, have to be invalided or to go to hospital, through no fault of their own, for service given to their country.
I am sure that the House will agree that if we remain not altogether satisfied it is not the hon. Member's fault. We would all like to congratulate him on the way he has dealt, at very short notice, so fully and so carefully, with a difficult question, which he knew aroused a good deal of feeling in all quarters of the House. I think I would like to add, not only congratulations on that, but on the general sympathetic attitude that he himself has shown in the way of dealing with the difficulties which we all recognise. If we are not satisfied altogether, it is because we are not altogether satisfied with the decision that has been taken, and I think the principal point is the one that he himself dealt with at some length.
There are two kinds of finality. Obviously, there is the stage at which the doctors can reach a final prognosis in the case—the stage at which they can say that, some day or other, the man will be fit again for active service or that he will never again be fit. That is finality of prognosis, and it is one kind of finality. Then, there is the finality of treatment. The claim that is being made on behalf of the men is surely a reasonable one. It is that, so long as the treatment is not completed, so long as active treatment is still necessary and may well improve the man's condition, so long as that stage continues, he should be treated exactly as he would have been treated if the prognosis were more favourable. In other words, if the doctors say "This man, with careful treatment, will go back to the Army," then the Army pays him his full pay and full allowances, and full dependency treatment. What we say is that, when doctors have come to the conclusion that he will never be fit again for Army service, but may, with treatment, be a good deal better or a little better, then, they should treat him in exactly the same way and not hand him over to the Ministry of Pensions or to industry or civil life, until he is as fit to make a good job of it as he ever will be.
There is no reason why any arbitrary period should be fixed or why the arbitrary period should be eight months, 56 days or any other period. The period during which most of us feel he is entitled to get his pay and allowances, is the period that elapses between the date of his wound and the date on which it can be said "We can do no more for him; we have done our best, and there is nothing more we can do for him." As he is no longer fit for Army service, we say he should now be the responsibility of the Ministry of Pensions—out of hospital and until treatment finishes. That is a reasonable claim to make, and some of us find it difficult to understand why anybody wants to resist it.
I know it is not the hon. Gentleman's fault. I think that most people who have considered this, have found it a little difficult to understand why the War Office makes any difficulty about this at all. Supposing they conceded this claim, who in the world would object? Who would feel aggrieved by it? The Treasury? Surely not. The taxpayer? Would he grudge the extra few thousands or tens of thousands of pounds that would 'be involved? I find it very difficult to believe. I cannot see what harm could be done by doing it, and I cannot see why anyone thinks that it is not just in itself. I cannot see who would be offended or aggrieved by it, and I hope that the War Office may, with all respect to the concessions made already, think about this matter again and see if they cannot make a clean sweep of the thing, so that, while a man is still under treatment for wounds, injuries or illness contracted in the service of the country, he should be paid his pay and allowances and should not be handed over to the Ministry of Pensions until you have done all that you can for him and not before.
If it is in Order, I should like to congratulate the Financial Secretary to the War Office on his very good temper and his very able reply. Hon. Members have spoken about finality, and I should like to point out, from experience, that there is no finality in this. May I take an actual case? In 1900, an officer was discharged from the Army as permanently disabled. In 1914, he rejoined and passed a medical examination. In 1915, he was again discharged from the Army as disabled, but, at the beginning of 1918, he passed a medical examination and finished the war in France. A case of that sort shows that it is no good to talk glibly about finality. Here is a case in which the Army Medical Corps decided that a serving officer was permanently disabled in 1900, and was discharged from the Army, but he was back again in France in 1914, was again discharged as permanently disabled in 1915, and was back again in France with the Army in 1918. I give that example to show how impossible it is to make hard and fast rules.
The Financial Secretary did indicate, undoubtedly, that although he could not commit the War Office, a certain degree of flexibility is allowed in these cases. I think that, if some hon. Members were able to look at the correspondence of the War Office—and the other Departments of State are not far behind—they must agree that this Department takes an immense amount of trouble in order to avoid hurting certain people's feelings. Before I came into the House I read through the whole correspondence with the parents of a soldier who had been killed and who thought that an injustice had been done. It was, obviously, a prejudiced view, and the letters I saw from the War Office were a perfect eye-opener to me, as compared to what I knew of the War Office in the reign of Queen Victoria. The Department clearly made every effort to meet every point put forward by this man's parents, although it was obvious that there were no grounds for their suggestion, and, to me, it is clear that the allegation that the War Office is unsympathetic is quite untrue. It is becoming a habit, because we have a Secretary of State who has the full confidence of the Army, to make attacks upon him in this House as an unsympathetic person. I know, from actual contact, that his devotion to the cause of the soldier has not been exceeded by any Secretary of State for War this country has ever had.
This is a difficult subject, I know, and I intervene only because it has a medical aspect. Certain hon. Members have talked about finality and prognosis. The whole issue is one of procedure, and on what basis the decision is to be made with regard to the Serviceman in hospital—whether, it is on his fitness to return to service, or whether his treatment is reaching a terminal stage. The whole machinery is wrong. It should not be a question at all while he is under treatment of whether he is finally fit for service in the Army or whether his treatment should be continued. When a man is undergoing treatment a mistake may easily be made in declaring him fit for rehabilitation.
It is the rehabilitation point I want to impress upon the hon. Member. Then and only then should a medical man come to a decision whether the Service grants should cease, or whether a man should be passed from the Service Department to the Pensions Department. To adopt any other procedure or line of demarcation would be unfair and wrong to the patient. You cannot do it, for example, in cases of skin disease. You have cases of tuberculosis. Medical boards should only come to a definite decision when a man has reached the stage when it is no longer a question of actual treatment, but of whether he is fit for rehabilitation or to be sent to some other place for retraining in order to follow his ordinary occupation. The point I want to make specially is that the whole procedure is wrong. These men should not be "boarded" by men employed by a Service Department or even by any Government Department, The whole medical arrangement with regard to Government Departments is entirely wrong. The moment it has to be decided whether a wounded soldier, or a soldier who is ill, is to remain in the Service or should be passed on to the Ministry of Pensions, the whole arrangement should be taken outside Government Departments and put under independent medical boards. He should be examined by men entirely independent of Service remuneration and promotion and away from Government Departments altogether.
Are we to understand that in the hon. Gentleman's profession a certified medical man will give a wrong decision because he thinks it is going to be to his advantage in that Government Department? I have never come across anything like that myself.
I think the hon. Gentleman is so affected by psychosis because of his peculiar attitude to things in general, and that question makes it more obvious to me, as a medical man, that he really ought to study the subject more carefully. Medical men are human and sometimes make mistakes. It is the most difficult thing in the world, sometimes, to make a proper diagnosis, and even more difficult to make a proper prognosis.
That is not my point. My point is that the hon. Member made a very grave accusation against the medical profession, and having benefited so much at their hands, after numerous wounds in various wars, I resent it, and would ask him to withdraw the aspersion.
Really, the hon. Member must not accuse me of bias.
No, Sir; but you allowed the hon. Gentleman to make an accusation against me of having made a grave allegation against the medical profession. He is constantly doing that sort of thing. I resented the implication. When he says that I am making charges against the medical profession he does not know what he is talking about. The Financial Secretary to the War Office was very considerate in his reply, and made a welcome concession, and he ought to be congratulated upon it. I would ask him to see whether medical boards dealing with all classes of cases could not be taken out of the purview of the Departments, and made independent bodies. It is not that men do not want to come to a correct decision. They do, but a stage is reached when the patient wants to know exactly where he is and some decision of some kind should be made. When discharged from hospital a man will want to know how he is to manage in civil life. The whole question, from the point of view of the medical profession, should be reviewed. These boards should not be composed of men employed by the Department, but of men who are absolutely apart from it. I have followed this subject for a long time, and I have seen pathetic cases. The decisions have been quite legitimately wrong, due perhaps to the difficulties of the case, the recurrence of symptoms, and the difficulty of knowing whether the disease is really constitutional or not.
It is because of the extreme difficulties in these cases, on which the future of the men so much depends, that I hope that the War Office, having made a concession to-day, will go a little further and deal with the question of rehabilitation. I wish the War Office would give some consideration to the way in which such cases are handled by the Air Ministry. However, I want to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the very fine concession he has made, and hope that it will be a stepping stone to something better later on.
Before my hon. Friend sits down, may I ask him whether his suggestion—
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has already spoken, I think.