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Miscellaneous Effective Services

Volume 237: debated on Monday 24 March 1930

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £910,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Miscellaneous Effective Services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £5.

I had not intended to move this reduction after the very sympathetic reference to this matter by the Secretary of State for War, but I do so to put myself in order, so that I may refer to the matter, although it has been previously referred to. There are three points which were not dealt with which I want to put before the Committee and the Secretary of State for War or the Financial Secretary. The first to points refer in particular to the service of the 1/6th Devons, a battalion which had a special and, I think, a unique claim to receive the 1914–1915 star over and above any claim that might be put for that decoration by any other branch of the Army that served in the late War. They volunteered as a battalion of the Territorial Force for active service in August, 1914. They were actually warned for service in France, and on the night of 15th September, 1914, they stood to arms all night waiting orders to proceed to France. Those orders were cancelled on the following morning, 16th September, and they were ordered to proceed to India. Reference has been made to Lord Kitchener's special message to that division that by going to India they were serving the country in the way most needed and that they would have all the honours of war. After they had served in India from October, 1914, until nearly the end of 1915 they embarked in the transport "Eliphanta" at Karachi for Mesopotamia, and it was only owing to unforeseen delays that that embarkation did not take place a few days earlier and that they did not land at Basra in 1915. As a matter of fact, they landed on 3rd January. On this same troopship there were units of the Royal Army Medical Corps who received this decoration, although they sailed from India in the same ship and landed in Mesopotamia on the same day, 'and the 1/6th Devons did not and have not received that distinction. Those two facts constitute a very special claim for this battalion.

I want to put a third consideration before the Secretary of State for War. It is that this battalion served in India, Mesopotamia, Salonika, in France in 1918, and then went back to India again and actually in 1919 served on the North-West Frontier in India, and altogether were absent from this country for five years, which was longer than the whole duration of the War. The men fortunate enough to get through the whole of this service are not a large proportion of those who were with the battalion in 1915. They received exactly the same two medals as were awarded to men who served perhaps only a few months in 1918 and were a part of the Army that was at that time compulsorily enlisted. There is no recognition of the fact that these Territorial battalions were enlisted for home service and volunteered for foreign service and that they served for four or five years in various theatres of war abroad for the whole of that time. I think it is a thing that the Secretary of State for War, even at this late period, might go into and consider whether it is right or reasonable that only the same distinction or decoration or honour—call it what you will—should be awarded to battalions of that kind as was awarded to people who had served only a few months.

I quite realise that on this claim there would be included a much greater number than those who served in the 1/6th Devons. I am told that the number would be 30,000 additional men. Surely, it would be reasonable to spend the small amount of money required to meet that case rather than leave these men with exactly the same medal that was given to everyone who served for only a few months at the very fag end of the War and the very last who were compulsorily enlisted. The Secretary of State for War referred earlier on the other Votes to the Territorial Force and to the fact that it would be trained this year in conjunction with the Regular Army. I suggest that he could no nothing that would be more immensely appreciated throughout the Territorial Force than see his way to recognise the service given by these Territorial units who served throughout the War and see that they get, as I propose, the 1914–1915 star to which I think they are absolutely entitled and to which the compulsorily enlisted soldiers who served only at the very end of the War are not entitled.

During the War, I brought a question of a somewhat analogous nature to the attention of the House. It referred to men at home who were recruiting their health before going back to the front and to the fact that they had nothing to show any distinction between them and others. That distinction was later recognised and given in an appropriate form. This is an analogous case. I do not think the position at present is really reasonable, and it would cost very little and give such satisfaction to the whole Territorial Force that I think it would also do a great deal for recruiting. Although I quite recognise that the Secretary of State for War has gone very carefully into this matter, I would ask him to take some slightly more active steps to see that something is done. It would be greatly appreciated and it would help him to get over the official opposition to making any change in what has once been decided.

If I said to the hon. Gentleman that the case could be considered it would be equivalent to raising hopes in the breasts of those men that what they desired would be granted. I cannot say that. On the very definite advice I have and of a knowledge of the difficulties, I cannot give any hope. If the hon. Baronet will see me again and submit further facts, I will always be glad to talk the matter over, but I do not want him to take away the idea that I see any chance of taking the action which he suggests.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

HALF-PAY, RETIRED PAY, WIDOWS' PENSIONS, AND OTHER NON-EFFECTIVE CHARGES FOR OFFICERS.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £3,794,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Rewards, Half-Pay, Retired Pay, Widows' Pensions, and other Non-effective Charges for Officers, which will mine in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931."

I am sorry at this hour to call attention to a sum of £25,000 with regard to employment or unemployment, I am not sure which. We find that there are six Field-Marshals, and five are unemployed. There are seven Generals, of whom three are unemployed. Then we find that there are eight Lieut.-Generals and 12 unemployed, and so it goes on. I am wondering whether it is right to say that these gentlemen are employed or unemployed when they are on half-pay. I see that Field-Marshals receive £1,674 a year, and Generals £3 5s. per day. I am wondering whether that is employment pay or not, and I would like the Minister to explain to me whether these gentlemen are drawing unemployment benefit or half-pay.

The figures referred to are governed by the conditions of the Pay Warrant, 1926, and we have, therefore, no alternative but to pay. As to the question as to whether this is unemployment pay or not, I think the proper reply is that, although these officers are not actively engaged, they are at the disposal of the War Department whenever occasion requires.

Would the Minister receive a deputation from the ranker officers? I think that, while members on all sides realise that these men have no legal claim, yet they were penalised for their patriotism. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will receive a deputation?

I am sorry that I cannot give an undertaking of that kind. It would be criminal to these men to keep awakening in their minds a sense of grievance and a hope of remedy. It is far kinder to these men, after all the investigations by all the Ministers who have dealt with this affair, to relieve them once and for all of the idea that there is something for them. If I said that I would receive a deputation, everyone of the men would have a hope that he was going to get better treatment. I cannot do it. I feel that it would be cruelty to the men, and with the best will in the world, I cannot accept the suggestion.

Question put, and agreed to