Orders of the Day — Ex-Prisoner of War Japan (Pension)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 1957.

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Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington 12:00 am, 6th December 1957

I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has raised this case, because it is one to which I have given a great deal of thought. I was glad of the firm yet moderate way in which he discussed it.

All cases of ex-Japanese prisoners of war are cases we are bound to look at—all of us—with a great deal of sympathy. It is as, my hon. Friend said, very difficult in these cases where a man has been a prisoner of war for any length of time, to decide what connection there is between his experiences in the prisoner of war camp and his subsequent illness. I do not think my hon. Friend needs reminding that like him I am a layman. I shall, therefore, take his advice to try to look at this problem with, in his own words, strict moderation.

My hon. Friend has talked about the history of this case and has rightly said that when Mr. Harmar was X-rayed in 1945, after his return from the prisoner of war camp, his chest was found to be normal. He had several medical boards at the end of that year which pronounced that his general condition was good and his nutrition was good. I have some difficulty in understanding the figures which my hon. Friend gave about Mr. Harmar's weight. I looked carefully at the report of the medical board and found that his weight was very considerably more than the 4 stone 9 lb. my hon. Friend quoted.

Mr. Harmar served until the beginning of 1951, and I think it significant that in those five years the only illness from which he suffered was a cold, which lasted only four days. At the end of his military service, in December, 1950, he had another medical board which found his physique fair and, again, found nothing abnormal at all in his lungs. From his discharge from the Army until fairly recently he was working in various employments, until in 1954 he had his first attack of pneumonia. That was the first of three attacks. He also had an attack of influenza one December.

Apart from the words which my hon. Friend has already quoted from Mr. Harmar's medical adviser. I think it would be fair if I underlined this opinion by another quotation, from, I think, the same source, which reads: This man has in my opinion not yet fully recovered from the hardships he suffered during his time as a prisoner-of-war. He has had three attacks of pneumonia in three years, more than most people get in a lifetime. Hic resistance to disease, especially respiratory infection, is below that of an average man of his age. That is from Mr. Harmar's doctor.

After the third attack of pneumonia in 1957 his doctor referred him to a chest clinic and at that time, which I think was in February of this year, it was diagnosed that he had quiescent tuberculosis. In May, 1957, he claimed a pension for pneumonia. In the following month, in June, he was admitted, as indeed are the great majority of ex-prisoners of war, into Roehampton Hospital for a thorough investigation to see what was the position in relation to any tropical disease. It was discovered that he suffered from some effect of malnutrition.

The medical board this summer advised him to go to a chest clinic, and it was there that X-rays of his chest were not found satisfactory and the tuberculosis to which my hon. Friend has referred was suspected.

The question which my hon. Friend has raised is whether Mr. Harmar's experiences as a prisoner-of-war had the effect of lowering his resistance to infection, thus pre-disposing him first of all to pneumonia, which in its turn made more likely the onset of a tuberculous infection. I hope that I put that correctly. I am bound to admit, having looked very carefully at this case, that I think that this chain of causation is extremely unlikely.

First of all, there is the evidence of his last five years of service in which he suffered only this small cold of short duration. Secondly, there is the evidence of the medical board, first when he left the prisoner-of-war camp and secondly, when he left the Army, that his lungs were clear. Thirdly, there is the fact that he did not have pneumonia until eight or nine years after he left the prisoner-of-war camp. I think that it is reasonable to expect that if his experiences as a prisoner-of-war had had the effect of lowering his resistance to infection, he would have suffered before the eight or nine years had elapsed.

I would, however, make this reservation. Although I am still of the opinion that the connection between malnutrition on the one side and pneumonia and tuberculosis on the other is extremely improbable, there is the fact that he has had these three attacks of pneumonia, which, as his doctor says, are as much as most people get in a lifetime—and I hope more than a great many people get. The second fact is that in this case there is a sincere difference of medical opinion. Where a difference of medical opinion exists, my right hon. Friend is able to refer the matter for a decision to an independent medical expert.

I suggest that such a course would be appropriate in this case. I will give my hon. Friend an undertaking now to issue directions to this end, so that Mr. Harmar's case can be re-examined and the conflict of opinion—the very genuine and sincere conflict of opinion—between Mr. Harmar's doctor and the medical advisers in the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance can be resolved.