The House this week has been listening to many glowing tributes to our Army, and, indeed, the Secretary of State for War went out of his way to chide some hon. Members because he thought they had not done enough in that direction. To-day, I want to present a slightly different picture of how the Army itself, the War Office, deals with some of the men it has discharged from the Forces, about which it has spoken in such fine words. I ought to explain that all soldiers, when they are discharged from the Forces, are discharged under a procedure laid down in King's Regulations. King's Regulations have a large number of headings, under which soldiers can be discharged either in peacetime or in war-time, and the principal paragraph which deals with the manner in which they shall be discharged is Paragraph 390. There are many sub-headings to Paragraph 390 on the matter of discharge from the Army. The two principal sub-headings under which soldiers are discharged are sub-heading 16 and sub-heading 18 of Paragraph 390.
Sub-heading 16 is headed "Invaliding," and most soldiers who are found to be medically unfit for further service in the Army are discharged under subheading 16, when certain principles operate. One is, at any rate, now, that the soldier who is discharged medically unfit receives 56 days' pay and allowances and receives his post-war credit of 6d. a day, dating back to 1st January, 1942, immediately on discharge, or, rather, as soon as he receives a final account from the regimental paymaster.
The other sub-heading under which a certain number of soldiers are discharged is headed "For the benefit of the public service," and we have this interesting factor in war-time that there are, to-day, a considerable number of soldiers being discharged from the Army for the benefit of the public service, and not necessarily for their own benefit. The reason that many of these men are discharged in this way is because the Army has no further use for their services, and I believe that they used to be discharged under sub- heading 18 (a), under the heading "Soldier's services being no longer required." A certain number of men in medical category C, who were not only of no use to the Army, but were in a bad state of health, were previously 'discharged under this sub-heading 18, but that system has now been rectified by the Army Council in conformity with an undertaking given to this House last October by the Secretary of State that, from a certain date—I think it was 12th October last year—men of medical category C would be discharged under sub-paragraph (16) which would entitle them to 56 days' pay and allowances and their post-war credit.
A little while ago a case was brought to my notice by my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Glanville), and I have his permission to refer to it. I do not know whether he will wish to speak to-day, but he has authorised me to quote this case which is connected with one of his constituents. It concerns a battery sergeant-major, aged 48, of the medical category B.X., the X referring to his age, and the medical category being B.1. This man has been discharged under a new sub-sub-paragraph of sub-paragraph (18) which the War Office have recently added. The Secretary of State for War told us recently that these were headed "F" and "G," and referred to men discharged because the Army had no employment suitable to their age and medical category. This man whose case I am quoting had 32 years' service in the Territorial Army. I ask those few hon. Members who are here to note that, in spite of all the words uttered in this House during this week about the wonderful service that the Territorial Army gave both in peace time and during the war, we have here one of them being discharged in this manner. The Army have no further use for his services, and he is being deprived of 56 days' pay and allowances for notice leave, and more than that, being deprived of the opportunity of receiving the deferred pay to which he is entitled, the post-war credit of 6d. a day from 1st January, 1942.
That action on the part of the Army Council is nothing less than mean. Whether the Army Council give those 56 days' pay and allowances to such men is a matter which, I believe, is now being discussed and perhaps my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office may have some information to give on that point to-day. The Secretary of State for War told the House on a previous occasion that the point was being considered. There is no reason why money which is due to the discharged soldier of the class I have quoted, should be withheld from him, merely because the Army authorities choose to throw him out under the paragraph which deprives him of the opportunity of receiving that postwar credit until some day after the war. In giving the illustration of this particular case, which, undoubtedly, is a hard case, and on which I am not basing my entire argument, the House will understand and perhaps sympathise with me when I say it is not the slightest use the Secretary of State for War coming down to this House and saying all the fine words he did about the Army on Tuesday last when he, or his officials, take steps like this, to let their old and trusted servants go with such bare recompense in regard to finance as I have just indicated.
I do not want to speak long on this issue, but what I urge on my hon. and learned Friend is this. It may not seem a matter of great importance, but it is a matter of all too frequent occurrence, because a considerable number of men are being discharged from the Army now, and have been discharged for some time past, because they are not quite "making the grade," either because they have got a bit too old, or because they have too long a service—and this man had 32 years' service with the Territorial Force—or because the physical standards of the Army require a higher measure of endurance. The Army are displacing men and will, as the war comes to an end, and as we come nearer to demobilisation, have less use for a very large number running, I believe, into tens of thousands of men who are being utilised in some capacity either as batmen, or on non-combatant duties.
I ask my hon. and learned Friend, Is the Army Council going to take advantage of these two new "F" and "G" sub-headings of this sub-paragraph to send men out of the Forces with, perhaps, 14 days' notice leave—that is all they get at the present moment —and to defer payment of their post-war credits until some date hence of which we know nothing? It may come after the German war, or it may come after the end of the Japanese war. The hon. Member for Central Newcastle-upon- Tyne (Mr. Denville) says that they may even be dead when the time comes for them to draw their post-war credit. There is the qualification that beneficiaries, under their wills, will be entitled to their post-war credits. These men want that money as soon as they can possibly get it, to help them to settle down in civil life as quickly as possible. Should not Parliament do all they possibly can to encourage them to settle down as peaceful and, we hope, prosperous citizens, after they have given some period of their life in the service of their country? That is the case on behalf of an ever-increasing number discharged from the Army, and I ask my hon. and learned Friend not to dismiss this case with smooth words though, I am sure, we shall get these from him in larger measure than we are accustomed to from his political chief. Nevertheless, we want something more than smooth words this afternoon. Can we hope that these men will be able to draw their post-war credits and get their 56 days' leave pay and allowances and that the decision may not be deferred too long? We know that even if the War Office eventually decide in favour of what we are asking they will not be inclined to make this matter retrospective, and men are being discharged on the grounds I have indicated, every day.
I have a very great deal of sympathy with much that has been said by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenģer). We have heard a great deal about the Army this week, and we have had almost as great a surfeit of it as the Boche is getting on the Western Front, but I cannot help feeling that the hon. Member loses, in a way, some sense of proportion in this matter. I have received very many hard cases, as must other hon. Members. I have in mind one, that is before the War Office, of a man who came home on leave. He was wounded and his wound turned septic on the way home and he was sent straight to bed at home. He sent his notice to Official Records, but only last week two "redcaps" came down and arrested him as a deserter, and now this morning we hear that the poor distracted mother, who can get no news of her son though she knows how ill he is, has received a demand from the authorities that she returns her allowance book owing to her son being an absentee.
We all have very hard cases, but the War Office are dealing with millions where we are dealing with individuals, and if we calculate the number of cases that go wrong and reduce them down to some decimal point, the fact is there are very few indeed. Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend said, these few may be multiplied before long by thousands, even tens of thousands, and when these fellows come home with no money in their pockets—heaven knows, soldiers do not accumulate a great amount of cash; I was in the Army over 40 years ago and I came out a poorer man than when I went in—I cannot help feeling that something should be done to hasten the payment of war credits. These fellows see others who have continued in work all the time, prosperous, and with decent homes, while they themselves find perhaps that they have nothing but a few sticks or a burnt-out site and no money. If the War Office would get a little more "move on," it would do a great deal of good.
On that I would ask that there should be a little more humanity displayed in some other War Office matters. The other day we received a notice to the effect that a man was missing. When I opened the envelope and pulled out a yellow slip, I thought it was an Income Tax demand. It is very unfortunate that this sort of thing is done. On the other hand, the relatives of a friend of mine in the New Zealand Forces who is missing were notified in a beautifully-written letter, written, one might almost say, as from one personal friend to another. If they can do that in the New Zealand Forces, we can do it in ours. There are hundreds of thousands of women in this country who would be only too glad to write these letters for the War Office, and the result would be a feeling that there was a certain amount of sympathy over the missing boys. I do ask that something should be done in that regard. I appealed to the Financial Secretary once before and he told me that he was very sorry but, with the hundreds of thousands of things they had to deal with, nothing more could be done. However, I am sure we have sufficient people in this country, who are gradually going out of other work, who would be only too glad to do this work voluntarily and they would do it very well.
In the meantime, I would not like to say anything which would detract from the wonderful work which the War Office has done. Neither would I like to say anything that would detract from the wonderful work our own fellows have done. Yesterday afternoon the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) claimed the right to speak because he was on Army manoeuvres in 1906. I claim the right to speak because I was on active service in 1900.
I think the House will feel considerable sympathy with the point dealt with, by the previous speaker on the writing of letters in the case of bereavement. However, I do not wish to follow him on that point, but to come back to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenģer). I was not aware that he was raising it to-day; I wish I had been, because I should have armed myself with some material in the shape of a number of cases supporting his argument. It is very unfortunate, the way this matter is being dealt with at the moment, and I urge on the Financial Secretary the seriousness of it. It is really very unjust. Officers and men are now being put out of the Army and are not getting what they would receive if they were kept in the Army for a little longer., That is what it comes to. If they were demobilised—once the demobilisation scheme comes into operation—they would get their 56 days and their post-war credit and would receive it immediately. What is happening now is that officers and men are being sent out and because they are, as it were, a little ahead of the demobilisation scheme, they are being deprived of the full benefits which they would otherwise get.
Only yesterday a case of this very nature was brought to my notice. A constituent of mine attended here to ask me whether it was right that he, an officer of many years' distinguished service, should now be relegated to unemployment and told that he would receive only 42 days' pay. He said he thought he was entitled to 56 days' pay. I spoke unofficially with those in the War Office who know about these matters and I confirmed that, indeed, the regulations only entitle him to 42 days. I asked what was the justification for that, and apparently the only basis upon which there was an attempt to justify this policy was that these people were "beating the pistol"; that is to say, they were getting into civilian life a little ahead of those who would be demobilised. That struck me as a farcical attempt to justify this procedure. That officer did not want to leave the Army, but his services were no longer of any use as his particular appointment had come to an end. What, in fact, is happening is that the Army is now getting rid of its surplus officers at a, cheaper price than if it kept them for another month or so.
I think we have seen a little too much of this rather cheese-paring attitude towards the pay of officers and men in the Army. One meets many instances of it in different forms. I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton) that when in total these cases involve perhaps a large sum of money, but, by comparison with our total expenditure, it would cost very little to abandon that cheese-paring attitude and to treat these men with a little more generosity. We find cases of a wounded officer or soldier who is invalided out and is removed from a military hospital to a civilian hospital when he becomes a civilian, although he is still suffering from the effects of his wounds. We find cases of officers and men invalided out who claim allowances and pay to which they say they were entitled but are told that there is some pettifogging regulation standing in the way. Although quite negligible sums are involved, they are important to the individual, but they are negligible in relation to the total expenditure. I do ask that these cases should be approached with a little more humanity and with a little less strict regard to the written regulations.
It is for that reason that I want particularly to support the case raised by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw. It seems to me there would be no difficulty now in fixing a day, in saying that every officer and man who leaves the Forces, say, after 1st February of this year, or something of that kind, shall come within the demobilisation scheme. That would abolish the anomaly referred to and, I think, would not prove beyond the financial capacity of this country.
This has been something of an Army week for the War Office. We have had several Debates, some of them big and others small, and I intervene to support the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenģer) in order to show to the War Office and to the Financial Secretary that there are, I am sure, large numbers of hon. Members who are receiving evidence of anomalies of this kind. Something ought to be done in the matter referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) in order to alleviate a good deal of the distress of those who really have made a considerable contribution to the success of the Armed Forces of this country. Many of us have perhaps played some part in stimulating recruiting for the Territorial Army, particularly at the beginning of the war. I know I did so in my county, and we feel that we have a certain responsibility with regard to the method by which these men are being demobilised. One tries to envisage the enormous responsibility which the War Office have at the present time, and to picture the kind of machinery which they will have to create in order to deal with this extensive problem of demobilisation. I suggest to the House that what is required is a committee, in the War Office, to investigate the whole question of demobilisation, and certainly to look into the organisation which exists at the present time to deal with this matter. The Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary who sits in another place, and the Financial Secretary, have a tremendous responsibility at the moment for the enormous force of men in the British Army and one can see their difficulties in running that Army during the war and, at the same time, trying to prepare adequate machinery which will prevent anomalies on demobilisation.
Members are receiving an increasing number of complaints from their constituents, and from serving men who are being subject to all kinds of unfortunate treatment by the War Office. Recently, I drew the attention of the Secretary of State for War to the case of a soldier whose wife's allowance had been stopped simply because he had been posted as being illegally absent. There is a large number of these cases, and I cannot think how they occur. I want the Financial Secretary to realise the feeling of wives and parents on being told that a husband or son is a deserter when they know all the time that he has just come back from the front, wounded, or when they have received a letter saying that he is taking part in operations. I could understand cases of mistaken identity arising now and again, but they ought not to arise on such a scale. I know that the Financial Secretary has a good heart, a good legal mind and a mind for organisation, and I want him to spare some of his time to look through this vast organisation in order to try to find the blind spots and what is causing them.
I had another case recently of a young man who was sent from hospital, having been severely injured in battle training by one of our own "fireworks," as they are called. He was found at 4.30 one winter's morning, nearly frozen to death, in a ditch, four or five miles from his home. He had been sent on leave with no proper escort or anybody to take care of him, his parents had not been told that he had been moved from one hospital to another or, finally, that he was being sent on leave. I ask the Financial Secretary to remember that if it is hoped to make the Territorial Army attractive after the war, if it is hoped to encourage young men to take an interest in, and join, that Army after the war, these anomalies and hardships, which have such a great influence in villages and towns, must be removed. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will not merely tell us that the matter will be looked at, and that it will be left there. This question of the demobilisation of the old Territorials is of growing seriousness and importance, and I hope we shall be told that the War Office will put it on all fours with the demobilisation scheme which the Financial Secretary announced in the House only this week.
I want to make a suggestion to the Financial Secretary. At the present moment there is a difference between dealing with a casualty in the Army and a civilian. The civilian gets his post-war credit and the soldier gets what is termed "entitlement." If that could be notified to him in writing that it would take the place of post-war credit it would give him much satisfaction. In regard to errors in the War Office, I think we must recognise that some of them are inevitable when a Department is dealing with the affairs of millions of men. I was a victim of an error in the last war. I was at home when a telegram was received saying that it was regretted that I had been killed in action. I stuck that telegram in my pocket. It concerned an officer of the same name as myself, with the same initials, and of the same rank, and one could quite understand how the mistake had arisen. I would like to mention in passing that in a certain club in London I was referred to, for a time, as "the ghost." My name was carved on a memorial to the fallen, but it referred to another man, and not to me.
I also would like to plead for the humanising element to be brought in when dealing with a man who becomes a casualty. I appreciate the difficulty, and recognise that much of the trouble is due to the man who is a "scrounger," or a "scrimshanker," who is trying to get something for nothing. Cases are sometimes viewed in that light. The War Office say: "We have to be very particular to see that a man does not get away with something to which he is not entitled." I believe that the majority of people would say that if there was an error it should be made on the right side, in other words, to the advantage of the casualty. I believe that sympathetic treatment can be meted out. King's Regulations cannot be altered, but an Army Council Instruction could be issued to meet the difficulties. There need be no hesitation, because so many A.C.Is. are issued that in a short time they form a pile a yard high. However, I hope the Financial Secretary will tell us that something will be done to alleviate any unnecessary distress and suffering which is being caused to-day.
I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenģer) in his plea that we should get a definite statement from the War Office about those whom the Army are now discarding for various reasons. Without casting any imputations on the morale of the British Army I must say that I have found, in discussions with serving men, that there is a growing discontent among officers, even of senior rank, at the indefiniteness of the War Office as to what is to happen to them in the future. I have in mind the case of a friend of mine who is a major, and who has 'served for 14 years. He was a regular soldier, and was recalled two days before war broke out. This man has resigned, and he is being discharged within the next few days suffering from high blood pressure. He has a very grave dent in his forehead, and I do not know whether that has been caused by being wounded in fighting, but he undoubtedly has served very well and is expecting his discharge. This man has no money of his own. He has been a soldier, has lived as a soldier and spent as a soldier. He has a gratuity to come, and I want to know what is going to happen when he is discharged. He has an opportunity of being set up in business, as his mother can cover his note for the amount required. His gratuity is, I think, some-think like £1,200. I would suggest that in view of his position, and in all the circumstances, there should be some method whereby this man and officers and men in a similar position, should, on their discharge with an exemplary character, be permitted to draw if not all, at least a considerable amount of the gratuity as soon as they are discharged, instead of having to wait until some hypothetical, period at the end of the war. I should be obliged if the right hon. Gentleman could give me some information on that point.
I may say at once, with regard to the specific question that has just been addressed to me, that I certainly cannot give the information desired this afternoon. It does seem to me, however, that in special circumstances like that, there is a good deal to be said for giving sympathetic consideration to the possibility of doing something on the lines the hon. Member suggests. On the other hand, we have a large number of officers, apart from other ranks, who, I have no doubt, will feel that we should see that too many people are not given a start, while they are continuing to render service. If my hon. Friend will be content for the present with what is perhaps a rather unsatisfactory reply from his point of view, I would certainly like to discuss the matter with the responsible officers in the Department.
I take it that if I bring the case to the notice of my hon. and learned Friend, it will receive consideration. There is one other point I would like answered and that is whether there is, anything in the King's Regulations which would debar the War Office from giving such a case sympathetic consideration.
I would not like to say there was anything in King's Regulations, but on the other hand it is obvious that when the War Office are dealing with several millions of men, they must work according to some rules and regulations, whether you call it "red tape" or not. Otherwise there would be, most likely, chaos and disorder.
As regards the reference of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenģer) to various anomalies that have arisen, and that are being brought to his notice by letters and so on, I quite agree, particularly after my three years' experience in the War Office, that anomalies obviously have arisen. Yet I think that my hon. Friend knows only too well and will admit it from his own knowledge, that even though the War Office have done their best to remove anomalies during the past three or four years, we find that as often as we remove one anomaly, another follows. Perhaps before I deal with the main argument I might refer to the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton). He rather chided the War Office and made comparisons with the position in regard to a New Zealand soldier, citing the case of a British soldier whose relatives, when the man was reported missing, received a slip of paper. May I point out to him—though I am sure he knows it as well as I do—that men are very often reported missing but later on turn out to be prisoners of war? It is only when they are definitely known to have been killed in action, that a letter is sent to the relatives. A letter is not sent when a man is merely declared missing.
There is no fixed principle on the matter. There is no reason why another form of document should not be sent in the case of a man who is missing. What I want to make quite clear, should there be any misapprehension, is that where a man is reported as having been killed in action, then his relatives do not merely receive a slip of paper but a letter of sympathy from and on behalf of the Army Council, to which I do not think any exception can be taken.
My hon. Friend in raising this question of the release of men other than those in C or E category made a statement which I think is not correct. He stated that a considerable number of men were being discharged on other than medical grounds, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe) associated himself with that statement—he is unfortunately not now in the House —and the suggestion appeared to be that the War Office was getting rid of many old soldiers in order to save money. That is a fantastic statement and quite untrue, and I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton should have thought fit to make it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law perhaps would allow me to put before the House the background of the problem to which he has drawn attention. As he knows, before 12th October, 1944, when the revised procedure to which he has referred came into operation, the only non-Regular soldiers discharged under King's Regulation, paragraph 390 (xvi), on the ground of ceasing to fulfil Army physical requirements, were those who had been placed in medical category E by a medical board. All non-Regular soldiers, of whatever medical category, for whom no suitable employment in any capacity could be found in the Army were discharged under paragraph 390 (xviii) (a) on the ground that their services were no longer required for the purpose for which they enlisted. I am advised, without being too specific in the figures which apply to these categories, for obvious reasons, that of the several hundreds of thousands of men who have been discharged from the Army since the beginning of the war, far and away the great majority are men who were in category E.
So that the problem to which my hon. Friend has addressed himself concerns only a relatively small number of men. It is not a question of the War Office seeking to get rid of the old soldier in order to save money, and of vast numbers of them being put out. In consequence of objections to the use of subparagraph (xviii) (a) the whole question was reviewed and the present procedure was introduced from 12th October, 1944. Under the revised procedure all soldiers, Regular and non-Regular, in medical category C, for whom no suitable employment can be found, are discharged under sub-paragraph (xviii) on the ground of ceasing to fulfil Army physical requirements. It is quite true that these men receive all the benefits attached to a discharge on medical grounds, that is, they receive their 56 days' paid leave and the immediate payment of post-war gratuities. To this extent, I think my hon. Friend will agree, this alteration in procedure implements the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 24th October in reply to a Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Finchley (Captain Crowder). Retrospective action does not apply in these cases except as regards post-war credits.
It has been decided, in addition, that Regular soldiers who could not be found suitable employment and whose medical category was lower than that prescribed for re-engagement in their arm of the Service, would be similarly discharged. That covers the case of, for example, a Regular soldier of the Royal Armoured Corps, which branch of the Service requires him to be A.1. If he is subsequently to be found A.3 or B.1, he is discharged and is given this advantage of being placed in the same category as if he were discharged as medical category E. That is an advantage which is restricted to Regular soldiers. There remains the category to which my hon. Friend referred, those non-Regular soldiers for whom no suitable employment could be found, but whose medical category was higher than C. That would cover the case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Glanville). These men felt they were under a stigma in being sent out of the Service under the wording, "his service being no longer required," and my right hon. Friend and I have received, in the last three years, a large number of letters from Members of Parliament drawing attention to their grievance. They regard it as a stigma and strong pressure has been brought to bear upon the War Office to alter it.
In consequence, we decided that there should be two new headings added to King's Regulations. The first one, (xviii) (f), to which my right hon. Friend referred in replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw a few days ago,
applies to warrant officers and non-commissioned officers who are now discharged on this basis—
there being no Army employment in his rank suitable to his age and medical category.
Other ranks come under sub-paragraph (xviii) (g), and they are certified as
discharged on the grounds of there being no Army employment suitable to his age and medical category.
I am just coming to the financial aspect. No undertaking was ever given, as regard soldiers in medical categories higher than C, that is those in A and B, who come out under these two sub-paragraphs. It is true to say that these men are being treated in exactly the same way as they would have been before the new procedure came into operation, except for the case of discharge, which was amended, in my submission, solely in the interests of the men affected.
I think that has been provided for. These men do not receive immediate payment of post-war credits, not the 56 days' leave on discharge. They receive 14 days' paid leave as before. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members pressed me to b agree to the payment of the post-war credits to these ca
I may not have satisfied the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, but I will certainly undertake to look into this suggestion again and examine whether it is possible to bring these categories of men into line with category C men, as regards post-war credits. I cannot put it any higher than that, but I can undertake to look into the question myself and consult the military and other authorities at the War Office in order to ascertain whether or not it would be possible to do so. As regards the difference in the amount of paid leave, I am afraid my hon. Friend has already told the House the exact position. The possibilities of increasing paid leave to a greater number of days than the 14 now payable to these categories is at present under active consideration. I hope that it wi11 not be very long before it will be possible for some statement to be made as to the extent to which, if any, we are going to be able to make an improvement.
I would like to thank the Minister for what he has said. I am glad he has given that sympathetic reply that both points that I have put to him are under consideration. I hope that he will not delay his decision too long. I know it has to be taken in conjunction with the other two Service Departments, but time is the essence of the contract for these men who are discharged, and unless the Minister makes the payment retrospective he will be penalising them by delaying his decision.