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Commons Chamber

Volume 345: debated on Thursday 6 April 1939

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House Of Commons

Thursday, 6th April, 1939.

The House met at Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.

Private Business

All Hallows Lombard Street Bill, Read the Third time, and passed.

London and North Eastern Railway (Superannuation Fund) Bill,

As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.

Oral Answers To Questions

Unemployment

Training, Derbyshire

1.

asked the Minister of Labour how many persons registered for employment in the county of Derbyshire are undergoing training; and at what centres they are being trained?

I regret that this information is not available.

Distressed Areas

2.

asked the Minister of Labour when the legislation dealing with distressed areas, other than the Special Areas, will be introduced?

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) on 28th March by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, a copy of which I am sending him.

In view of the anxiety felt on this matter, could we not have some definite information?

Men Over 55

3.

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is in a position to state what is the proportion of men over 55 years of age who have been taken on by the contractors who have got contracts to do Government work for the Air Ministry; and will he give separate figures for the works in progress at Chorley, Lancashire?

I regret that the information desired by the hon. Member is not available.

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to get these statistics because the information is that men over 55 years of age are not being employed by the contractors?

The hon. Member will understand that this work is not done through the Employment Exchange, and I shall have to ask for a return from each contractor.

The Prime Minister said that inquiries were being made into this matter, and that the Government are trying to deal with it. How can we deal with this matter unless we get the information?

The hon. Member knows that I have always done my best to oblige hon. Members who ask for any information.

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman obtain information as to the number of persons over 55 years of age who have been placed in work?

We have not the information in that form, and it will mean an analysis of every case in which a man has been placed, but I will see whether the information can be obtained. As hon. Members know, I attach importance to this aspect of the problem.

Determinations

4.

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that applicants to the Unemployment Assistance Board are now receiving determinations showing reduced allowances, and that in many cases these determinations are back-dated so that the time-limit for appeal against determination is already passed when the notice of reduction is received; and will he cause provision to be made to allow of appeals being lodged where the applicant can provide evidence that his notice was received after the statutory time-limit for appealing?

The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. The time limit of 14 days within which appeals from determinations must be lodged commences from the date on which the notification is issued to the applicant and not from the date on which the form was prepared in the Board's office. This position is clearly stated on the prescribed form notifying applicants of the determination and of their rights of appeal.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of the applicants are also under a misapprehension, and that it is necessary the matter should be made clear?

Transference

7.

asked the Minister of Labour the number of persons under the ages of 18 years who have been transferred from distressed areas to the Borough of Southwark for the 12 months ended the last convenient date; and whether employment has been found for these persons?

As I explained in reply to a question put by the hon. Member on 8th December, 1938, particulars with regard to the number of persons transferred to the Borough of Southwark are not available. During the calendar year 1938, 2,443 persons under the age of 18 years were transferred to the Metropolitan area with assistance under the Industrial Transference Scheme, all of whom were placed in employment.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any record to show the number of persons transferred and whether warrants are given those who become unemployed?

Application For Allowance, Dundee

9.

asked the Minister of Labour whether his attention has been called to the action of the Unemployment Assistance Board in the case of Mrs. Rose Ann Brown, who was granted a decree of separation and aliment against her husband, on 16th November, 1938; that thereafter the Unemployment Assistance Board took the view that she was not a person whose needs could be taken into account in determining the allowance payable to her husband; that Mrs. Brown has in consequence been compelled to have recourse to public assistance; whether his attention has been called to the opinion recently expressed by the sheriff-substitute of Dundee on the construction of Section 38, Sub-section2, of the Unemployment Act, 1934; and what action he proposes to take to deal with grievances of this sort?

I am aware of the circumstances of the case to which the hon. Member refers. I understand that by arrangement between the local authority concerned and the solicitor acting for Mrs. Brown, the case was adjourned sine die without judgment being pronounced. I understand that the sheriff-substitute did make certain comments on the functions and powers of the Board, but that in so doing he expressly stated that he had no jurisdiction in that matter. The Unemployment Assistance Act leaves to the appeal tribunals set up under that Act the final decision on any question as to the proper allowance to be paid to an applicant. In the circumstances, I do not propose to take any action in the matter.

In view of the importance of the questions raised, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter at the earliest convenient date after the Easter Recess?

County Durham

10.

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that the acting president of the Miners Federation stated in evidence before a recent meeting of the Royal Commission on Compensation, that the County of Durham was paying large sums to maintain unemployed men who were proper subjects for the Unemployment Assistance Board; and whether he will investigate this matter with a view to relieving this authority of such financial burden?

I have heard that such a statement was made, but am not prepared to accept it. The Durham public assistance authority is well aware of its right to appeal against decisions of the Board's officers that the Unemployment Assistance Act does not apply to applicants for allowances.

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to confer with public authorities on this matter in view of the large sums which are being paid to unemployed men in this way?

I received a large deputation on which, I think, the Durham authorities were represented, but it was a long time ago.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is asserted that there are people who are unemployed and who are not seeking assistance. That is the general charge, but this is a particular case in which they are prepared to give the names of the people concerned. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to investigate the matter?

International Labour Organisation

8.

asked the Minister of Labour who will represent His Majesty's Government at the forthcoming meeting of the governing body of the International Labour Organisation?

His Majesty's Government's representative on the governing body is Mr. F. W. Leggett, and he will attend the next meeting.

Local Authorities (Finance)

11.

asked the Minister of Health the total outstanding debt of all local authorities in the United Kingdom for 1938; the annual charges for interest and capital redemption; and what percentage do these two items, respectively, represent to the total average rate burden of the local authorities in the United Kingdom for the year 1938?

As the answer contains a number of figures, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

In view of the importance of this matter, may I ask if the right hon. Gentleman will carefully consider appointing a Royal Commission to consider the whole basis of local taxation?

Following is the answer:

The gross outstanding loan debt of all local authorities in England and Wales at the end of 1936–37, the latest year for which figures are available, was approximately £1,481,000,000; of this sum about £1,062,000,000 related to trading undertakings and housing, which to a large extent are productive services. The total amount of the loan charges included in the revenue accounts for 1936 –37 of local authorities in England and Wales was about £100,710,000 of which £57,740,000 represented payments of interest (including income tax thereon) and £42,970,000 the aggregate of repayments of principal and payments into sinking funds. These loan charges were met out of the general revenue income of the authorities for 1936 –37 which amounted in the aggregate to £503,090,000 and was made up of £172,837,000 from rates, £135,575,000 from Government grants and £194,678,000 from receipts of the authorities' trading undertakings, rents of houses, fees and miscellaneous items of income. The sums of £57,740,000 and £42,970,000 were equivalent to 11.4 per cent. and 8.5 per cent. respectively of the general revenue income. As regards Scotland and Northern Ireland, I would refer by hon. Friend to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Home Affairs.

Public Health (Wales)

14.

asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the need for closer supervision of the work of local authorities in Wales, as recommended in the report of the Committee on Anti-Tuberculosis Services in Wales, he proposes to examine the constitution and powers of the Welsh Board of Health so as to invest it with the authority necessary adequately to fulfil its duties?

The report of the Committee on Anti-Tuberculosis Services in Wales is now receiving consideration.

The Welsh Board of Health has, in relation to transferred functions, the same powers in Wales as the Ministry of Health has in relation to similar functions in England. I do not think, therefore, that the Welsh Board lacks authority to fulfil its duties.

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider it desirable to review the position of the Welsh Board of Health?

15.

asked the Minister of Health whether he proposes to consider the revision of the existing local authorities in Wales, including the desirability of creating authorities whose financial resources will be equal to the duties imposed upon them; and whether consideration will be given to this aspect of the problem at the conference he proposes to hold in Wales to consider the report of the anti-tuberculosis services?

This aspect of the matter is one on which the local authorities, whose views on the report are being sought, will doubtless have comments to make, and their views thereon will certainly be considered when a conference is arranged.

Air-Raid Precautions

13.

asked the Minister of Health what steps are being taken to organise the provision of a medical service for the civilian population in time of emergency?

The emergency hospital service is described in a published memorandum, a copy of which I will send to the hon. Member, and the medical arrangements under the Government evacuation scheme will be dealt with in memoranda to be issued by the Board of Education and my Department. Arrangements for securing the most suitable distribution of the doctors available are being made by the Central Emergency Committee of the British Medical Association.

Is it a fact that the emergency committee on evacuation are considering schemes for voluntary hospitals; and when may we expect action to be taken?

A scheme exists already on paper and it is being improved as consideration is given to it. It can be brought into existence forthwith.

16.

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that in the Manchester district parents are being asked to decide before 28th April whether they wish their children to be evacuated in the event of war; whether this is being done everywhere; and whether parents who delay reply or reply in the negative will be allowed to reconsider their decision later?

29.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is aware that the rate of delivery of steel shelters by the London and North Eastern Railway Company in areas within the danger zone is only about 50 per cent. of the rate at which it was estimated that they would be delivered; and can he do anything to speed up the rate of delivery?

I am not aware that any official estimate has been given of the appropriate rate of delivery of steel shelters to any particular area. The rate of distribution is governed by a number of factors and has been increased from 15,125 shelters distributed during the week ending the 25th February, to 42,310 last week. Arrangements have been made for a still further acceleration of the weekly rate of distribution.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Walthamstow, when inquiries were made by the local authority, they were told that they might expect 300 a day, and that in fact they have got 150 a day?

Various factors have to be taken into consideration, but we hope in future to arrange for delivery in Walthamstow at the rate of 300 a day.

In view of complaints concerning the delay in the delivery of the shelters, will the right hon. Gentleman look into the question of the steel-sheet works in West Wales, capable of producing shelters, which are not working at all?

All the arrangements are being organised on a mass-production basis, and the rates of delivery that have been secured are, I think, very impressive, and they have certainly been in excess of the estimates originally given. Certainly, I shall take pleasure in going into the possibility of increasing the rate of supply.

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that in Walthamstow — and no doubt in other places — men were taken on for the fixing of these shelters, and the men's time is being largely wasted because the shelters are not there?

30.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether any test of capacity is applied to recruits for service in the various units of Air-Raid Precautions; and what qualifications are required from chief air-wardens to justify their supervision over trained persons?

No specific standards of capacity for recruits to the Air-Raid Precautions Services have been prescribed; but it has been impressed on local authorities in Air-Raid Precautions Memorandum No. 4 that Air-Raid Wardens should be fitted both by temperament and character for the duties which they would be called on to perform, and in particular that the selection of a suitable person for the responsible post of chief warden is a matter of great importance.

Is it not the case that the chief factor, generally speaking, is education, and ought not experience to come first? As an illustration, people who are dealing with fire services are in some cases school masters who have no technical knowledge, and men who are trained engineers are put in a secondary position. Ought not people who have experience to have the chief jobs?

I am afraid that the hon. Member has given information rather than asked a question. I am most anxious that the right people should be selected.

Is it not a fact that the qualifications necessary for air-raid wardens are rather organisational than otherwise, and is it not better that those who have been in the service from the first should be given the first opportunity of higher posts?

31.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what standard of quality is required from the suppliers of clothing and equipment for the Auxiliary Fire Service units?

32.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has held experiments to test the safety of deep bomb-proof shelters, and, if so, with what result?

The factors involved in the design of such structures have been for some time past the subject of exhaustive investigation, both experimental and theoretical. I would ask the hon. Member to await the statement which I expect to be in a position to make shortly after the Easter Recess on the whole subject of heavily protected shelter.

May I ask whether those investigations also include investigations into the engineering difficulties of constructing such shelters, particularly in water-bearing strata as exist in many parts of the Metropolis?

34.

asked the Lord Privy Seal how many Lancashire local authorities still remain to be issued fully with Air-Raid Precautions trainee equipment, including service respirators and protective clothing?

All applications for training equipment received from Lancashire have been met, with the exception of minor instructional items which are being issued as supplies become available. Instalments of mobilisation stocks of personal protective equipment, such as respirators and protective clothing, which are also available for training, are issued from time to time as supplies are received from contractors.

35.

asked the Lord Privy Seal the number of Air-Raid Precautions volunteers needed in each category in Widness, Prescot, Huyton, and the rest of the Widnes area, respectively; and how many volunteers have already been enrolled?

As the answer involves a tabular statement, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I regret that it is not possible to furnish information with

Air Raid Precautions Personnel as on 18th March, 1939.
Widnes.
Establishment.Volunteers Enrolled.
Men.Women.Total.Men.Women.Total.
Wardens419105524704129833
First Aid Parties140140153153306
First Aid Posts*25128153152151303
Ambulances and Cars168168154154308
Rescue and Demolition8888196196
Decontamination35358989
Report and Control Centre †3243758513
Messengers6464
Auxiliary Fire Service285285156156

Prescot.
Wardens1112813920952261
First Aid Parties4040281745
First Aid Posts*7344111516
Ambulance and Cars4848151530
Rescue and Demolition28283939
Decontamination771212
Report and Control Centre †8111992130
Messengers1616
Auxiliary Fire Service54544545

Huyton.
Wardens22054274495202697
First Aid Parties70702774101
First Aid Posts*126678237699
Ambulances and Cars8181207090
Rescue and Demolition46465757
Decontamination21215858
Report and Control Centre †1722398856144
Messengers3434
Auxiliary Fire Service287287108108

*Under Ministry of Health control.

† Establishment under consideration.

Nazi Organisations, Great Britain

19.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he, in the interests of national security, will consider the advisability of cancelling permits to reside in this country of members of the German secret police, the Gestapo, and other Nazi organisations?

As has regard to the district described by my hon. Friend as "the rest of the Widnes area."

Following is the statement:

been previously stated, careful attention is given to the activities in this country of these organisations, with a view to appropriate action when such action is called for, and within recent weeks steps have been taken with a view to terminating the residence in this country of three persons connected with these organisations.

May I take it that the Home Secretary will continue to watch closely the activities of these persons and take such action as may be necessary from time to time?

Is there any reason to believe that there are still members of the Gestapo residing in this country?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is the question on the Paper?

The hon. Member asks whether there are members of this organisation still residing in this country, and the question on the Paper is whether the Home Secretary will consider the advisability of cancelling permits?

It is impossible, I submit, to consider the question of cancelling permits unless these people do reside here. Can we have any information on that matter?

I have answered the question on the Paper with, I gathered, the general assent and approval of the House.

23.

asked the Home Secretary whether he can give any information in connection with the case that was referred to him on Tuesday by the Thames Police Court stipendiary about the Gestapo agents and the Nazi factory owners; and what action he intends taking about the matter?

Will the right hon. hon. Gentleman be willing to close down the headquarters of the Gestapo in Belgrave Square?

Metropolitan Police

21.

asked the Home Secretary whether he will give particulars of the number of members of the Metropolitan Police force who were suspended, dismissed, or required to resign as an alternative to dismissal during the 12 months ended to the last convenient date?

During the period 1st April, 1938, to 31st March, 1939, 68 officers were suspended; 16 officers were dismissed and 18 officers were required to resign as an alternative to dismissal.

Has the Minister any record of the number of appeals made to him under the Police Appeals Act, 1927?

Shops Acts (Prosecutions, Ealing)

22.

asked the Home Secretary how many prosecutions were undertaken in the borough of Ealing under those provisions of the Shops Acts which relate to hours of employment and meal intervals for assistants during the years 1935, 1936, 1937, and 1938?

I am informed that no prosecutions were undertaken in the borough of Ealing under the provisions referred to in 1935 or 1936; the number in 1937 was three, and in 1938, one.

Does that information justify the House in assuming that these powers are not being used sufficiently by local authorities, including the local authority referred to in the question?

No, Sir. I would not draw that conclusion from the figures. I have had no complaints from the neighhourhood on the subject.

Austrian Subjects (Visa)

24.

asked the Home Secretary whether he will reconsider the case of Mr. and Mrs. Jacques Hofer, of Vienna, applied for by Captain Battle Hancock as domestic servants, which application was granted by the Home Office and the visa authorised, but the consular authorities at Vienna refused the visa on the ground that the couple were over 50 years of age, a fact already known to the Home Office when they granted the application?

As the result of representations made to me by Mr. Hofer's son-in-law, I have caused further inquiries to be made, and I am informed that a visa has now been granted.

Stolen Milk Bottles

25.

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the police court proceedings at Bridgend, where a milk vendor was fined for being in possession of milk bottles bearing a false trade description, in which the Co-operative Wholesale Society's foreman at Llanharan testified to the loss of 180,000 bottles last year; and whether he will take steps to prevent this traffic in stolen bottles?

My attention had not previously been drawn to this case, but I have no doubt that the police are on the look-out for offences of this nature and will take appropriate action in cases which come to their notice.

National Service

26.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is aware that the staffs of banks in Scotland have received no indication from their employers as to whether their enrolment in Territorial or Air-Raid Precautions service is encouraged; that, as a result, considerable misunderstanding exists among such staffs and recruiting is handicapped; and whether he will consult with the head quarters of the various banks with a view to securing a clear ruling on the matter?

I have made inquiries into this matter, and I cannot find any grounds for thinking that such misunderstanding exists. None of the Scottish banks has placed any obstacle in the way of any of their staff volunteering for National Service, and I am advised that in the case of one bank, for example, there are to-day seven times as many members of their staff in the Territorials as there were 12 months ago. Appeals for recruits have in some instances been received from the Commanding Officers of Territorial Units, and these have been circulated to the appropriate branches of the banks, and where meetings of the staff have been suggested, every facility has been given.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that within the last few days the facts set out in my letter have been confirmed to me by bank clerks and local branch managers of banks in Scotland, and that it is at their direct request that I have asked this question?

The information I have just given was supplied by the Treasurer of the Bank of Scotland, who acts as chairman of the monthly meeting of managers of Scottish banks. I will see that what my hon. Friend has just said is brought to his notice.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what are the comparative numbers where the numbers are seven times what they were a year ago?

38.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether civil engineers, being members of a reserved occupation, will be allowed, in the event of war, to apply for admission to the non-commissioned or commissioned ranks of the Royal Engineers?

The provisional schedule of reserved occupations which has been published relates solely to peacetime recruitment. I am unable to make any statement about the application of such a schedule to recruitment in time of war.

National Finance (Interest Rates)

40.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer at what rate the Government were able to borrow on both long and short terms in the years 1932, 1935, 1937, and 1938; and further, is it the policy of the Government in the future to maintain cheap money rates?

As the answer to the first part of the question contains a number of figures I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. In reply to the second part of the question, no change in policy is in contemplation.

Following is the answer to the first part of the question:

The yields (including redemption) on Government borrowings, other than Treasury Bills, during the years in question were as follow:

1932.£s.d.
3 per cent. Treasury Bonds 1933–42

*3

911
2 per cent. Treasury Bonds 1935–38200
3 per cent. Conversion Loan 1948–53335
1935.
1 per cent. Treasury Bonds 1939–41171
2½ per cent. Funding Loan 1956–612132
1937.
2½ per cent. National Defence Bonds 1944–48

*2

106
1938.
3 per cent. National Defence Loan 1954 –58324

* In these cases annual drawings were provided for and an average life has been assumed. In all other cases the yields are calculated to the latest redemption date.

The average rates of interest of Treasury Bills issued by tender in the years in question were as follow

s.d.
1932178
1935116
1937112
1938125

War Risks (Compensation And Insurance)

41.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he now has any further statement to make on behalf of the Government relative to the insurance on a national basis of property against the risks of air bombardment; and when it is the intention of the Government to introduce legislation to deal with this subject?

In reply to the first part of the question, I have nothing to add to the statements which I have already made on this subject. As regards legislation, I would refer the hon. Member to the answer which my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury gave on my behalf to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Sir G. Mitcheson) on 13th March, 1939.

Is the Minister aware that the Government's inaction is causing very detrimental effects upon transactions in property?

If the statement which I made is carefully looked into, it will be found to state the position clearly.

Trade And Commerce

Great Britain And United States (Trade Agreement)

42.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will arrange for the publication of the hitherto unpublished annex to Article 18 of the Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States of America, specifying more precisely what variation in the rate of exchange either contracting party would consider substantial?

My hon. Friend is mistaken in thinking that any unpublished annex of the kind referred to exists.

May I ask whether the Government are satisfied that the present high level of the pound sterling in the foreign exchange market is advantageous to export trade?

I think my hon. Friend must have intended to put that supplementary on an earlier question

Milling Industry

51.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can give an assurance that the Government are not taking part in the absorption and control of many of the large bakery combines, negotiations for which are at present taking place by certain large milling interests in this country?

I know nothing of any such negotiations between milling interests and bakeries.

Is it not the case that negotiations are now going on with the Food Council; and is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the Royal Commission on Food Prices determined that there should be an inquiry, in view of the known existence of these price-fixing associations, and are not the Board of Trade fully aware of the fact that these price-fixing associations constitute a real menace to the public?

The question which I was asked was whether the Government were taking part in any particular negotiations, and I have answered that I do not know of any negotiations.

Is it not the case that the Food Council have a direct connection with this matter; and will the right hon. Gentleman urge upon the Food Council the necessity to inquire) and to intervene, if it is in the interests of the public that there should be inquiry and intervention?

Shipbuilding

53.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in connection with the shipping subsidy, it is proposed that, so far as may be reasonably possible, all materials, fittings, and machinery supplied in connection with new ships shall be of United Kingdom or Empire origin?

I regard it as important that shipbuilders who secure orders by reason of the proposals which I announced last week should use British materials so far as they possibly can; and I am asking the Shipbuilding Conference to impress this on the shipbuilders who may receive such orders.

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend that a prohibition of this kind should become operative, irrespective of the class of material required; and does he not regard a prohibition of this kind as likely to add to the difficulties of shipowners and shipbuilders in this country?

It is not a question of prohibition. Both the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) in his question and I, in my answer, limited the reference to the use of British materials "as far as possible" and that is a question on which, I think, the whole House is agreed.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that both shipbuilders and shipowners have made representations to his Department that the price of materials is high and adds to the difficulties of shipowners in giving orders for new tonnage, and that any kind of prohibition or restriction on the importation of raw materials will add further to the cost?

There is no kind of prohibition or restriction. The hon. Gentleman had better read my answer. It is to the effect that, wherever possible, they should use British materials, and I am sure that the whole House and shipbuilders and shipowners all agree with that.

Have the Government taken into consideration imposing a tariff on foreign-built ships, built with cheap labour for British owners?

Refugees

43.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether arrangements have been or will be made for securing the use of the unexpended portion of the £8,000,000 grant in aid of refugees from Czecho-Slovakia for the temporary maintenance as well as the ultimate migration of those refugees for whom the voluntary funds are unable to take full responsibility?

A statement on this subject will be made during the course of to-day's Debate, and I would ask the hon. Member to await this statement.

Food Reserves (Minister)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is arranging for the primary responsibility for policy as to food reserves to be assigned to a Minister in charge of a department dealing with the subject in the same way that a primary responsibility for the number of battleships, aeroplanes, or units of the Army is assigned to Departmental Ministers?

While I do not altogether accept the analogy suggested in the latter half of the hon. Member's question, I have reached the conclusion that primary responsibility for policy as to food reserves should rest with the Minister in charge of the Department which carries out that policy. I propose to take the opportunity to relieve in some measure the very heavy burden which now rests on my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and to make arrangements whereby responsibility for the Food (Defence Plans) Department will be taken over by another Minister. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has agreed to take over this duty.

Does that statement mean that the plans for the distribution of food, now under the control of the Board of Trade, will be taken over by the new Minister?

Spinsters' Pensions

46.

asked the Financed Secretary to the Treasury whether the committee appointed to consider the question of spinsters pensions have yet presented their report; and, if not, whether he will ask the committee to expedite their labours with a view to the publication of the report without further delay?

Yes, Sir. The committee have now presented their report and I hope to arrange for its publication at an early date.

Gas Undertaking, Morley (Proposed Transfer)

52.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can give any information in connection with the application to the Board of Trade of the West Yorkshire Gas-Grid Company to purchase the Morley municipal gas works for £80,000; what is the area of the gas-grid system and the population coming within its scope before and after the agreement; and whether any compensation is proposed to be paid to the workpeople who will be put out of work?

The Drighlington and Gildersome Gaslight Company which, it is understood, is controlled by the West Yorkshire Gas Distribution Company, have applied to the Board of Trade for a Special Order under the Gas Under-takings Acts, 1920 to 1934, to authorise ,inter alia, the transfer to the first-mentioned company of the gas undertaking of the Morley Corporation. This application has not yet been fully considered by the board, but it is noted that the proposed consideration for the transfer is £87,000, together with an undertaking that subordinate employees of the Morley Corporation employed in the undertaking on the transfer day shall be taken over by the company on their existing terms and conditions of service and remuneration and that the company will continue to pay the gratuities now paid by the corporation to former employeés of the undertaking. It is also noted that provision is made for compensation in the event of pecuniary losses by employés taken over. The districts in which the West Yorkshire Gas Distribution Company are authorised to supply gas are set out in the Schedule to the West Yorkshire Gas Distribution Act, 1938, and these will not be affected by the proposed Order. I am not aware of the area or population of these districts.

Germany (Postage Stamps)

57.

asked the Postmaster-General whether his Department has yet received, through the International Union or otherwise, a listing catalogue showing the new stamps of Greater Germany and, including as such, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Memel, and Danzig; and what was the date of issue of such catalogue?

Information was contained in a circular letter dated 20th April, 1938, from the International Bureau of the Postal Union at Berne, regarding a stamp stated to have been issued by Germany on the occasion of the plebiscite of 10th April on the union of Austria and Germany; and in a further circular letter dated 22nd December, 1938, regarding two stamps stated to have been issued by Germany in commemoration of the in-corporation of Sudeten German territory. The notifications in each case were issued some time after the events to which the-stamps relate. No further information has been received.

Is there any foundation for the statement that Germany has issued stamps showing Danzig incorporated in the Reich?

I have had no information whatever to that effect, but clearly that does not arise from the question.

Will matters of this kind be taken into account as an indication of Germany's intentions in the future and be given recognition by the Government?

British North America Act

58.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether his attention has been drawn to the report on the workings of the British North America Act recently tabled in the Canadian Senate, which recommends that the British Parliament should pass an interpretative statute declaring the true intent of the Act, and what action His Majesty's Government propose to take.

I have seen a statement in the Press that the report in question was tabled in the Canadian Senate on 28th March. So far as I am aware, the report has not yet been considered by the Canadian Government or Parliament and pending such consideration no question arises of action on the part of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

Scotland

Water Supplies (Rural Areas)

59.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the unsatisfactory and unhealthy conditions in regard to water supplies existing in the Frew area of Perthshire, where water is drawn from the River Forth; that certain farmers in this area have either been refused or are liable to have with-drawn certificates of registration under the Milk and Dairies (Scotland) Act, 1914, solely because of the unsatisfactory water supplies; and whether he is prepared to make any special grant or concession to enable the local authority or other appropriate body to institute and maintain a water supply in accordance with modern health and hygiene standards and suitable for the conduct of dairy fanning?

I am aware that on account of the unsatisfactory water supply, two proposals to begin dairy farming in the Frew area may have to be abandoned. While there is no statutory duty on the county council to provide a supply of water for agricultural purposes, they have had the general needs of this area under consideration but have not yet been able to find a satisfactory source of supply. A grant offered in 1934 is still available if suitable arrangements can be made by the council.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in this area the question of the water supply has been under consideration for five or six years but that nothing has been done about it; and will he make special inquiries into the matter?

The county council did submit a water supply scheme in 1934 providing for the purchase of water from Stirling Burgh and the laying of the necessary pipes. The Department offered a grant of £3,600 towards the cost of laying the pipes and the purchase of the water.

62.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has any statement to make upon his reply to the appeal addressed to him on 7th March by a sub-committee of the County Councils Association with regard to the urgent need of improved water and drainage supplies in rural areas of Scotland, and the necessity for Exchequer assistance to make such improvements possible?

Scottish county councils are at present making a survey of their water supply and drainage requirements. As my right hon. Friend indicated to the representatives of their association whom he met on 7th March, he hopes that they will carry on with the surveys, of which only nine had then been completed, so that there may be available a complete picture of the requirements in each area.

Are the county councils being given any assistance to carry through these surveys, as there is bound to be a certain amount of expense involved?

Is it not the case that questions have already been directed to the Department and have displayed an adequate picture of the need in this matter?

There are a great many things that we want to find out — the needs and the practicability of getting them supplied, the cost and the rateable value of each area.

In view of the answer given to me, is it not possible for the Department to consider the making of grants in order to aid something which is so desirable?

I do not think we have any funds which would be available for that purpose.

Colonies (Defence)

63.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware of the large number of unemployed in some of the Colonies, including Kenya; and whether an effort is being made to induce these men to volunteer to form permanent defence units on lines similar to the Territorial Army in Great Britain?

As regards the first part of the question, I am aware that certain Colonial Dependencies are faced with difficulties owing to unemployment, but I understand that there is no appreciable unemployment at present in Kenya. As regards the second part of the question, there are volunteer forces in most Colonial Dependencies, and every effort is made to keep their establishments at full strength.

Palestine

65.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will inquire how many Jews are at present held in detention in Palestine under the prevention of crime ordinance, or in connection with political offences for which they have not yet been tried; how many of the total are Communists; how many Revisionists; and how many of no political denomination?

The number of Jews detained in Palestine under the Defence Regulations on 4th April was 54. I have no knowledge of any detentions under the Crime (Prevention) Ordinance. I am asking the High Com-missioner to report on this point and on the political affiliation of those detained.

66.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make inquiries as to the sentences passed on 17 illegal refugee immigrants into Palestine, about a month ago; whether he is aware that the judge expressed his regret at having to sentence them to three months imprisonment and deportation; whether the law allows any lighter sentence; will they actually be deported, and, if so, to what country; also, how many were men, and how many women?

The High Commissioner for Palestine has informed me that 17 illegal Jewish immigrants who were arrested on 5th February were sentenced on 22nd March to three months' imprisonment and were recommended for deportation. No minimum penalty is prescribed for illegal entry. On completion of their sentence, these persons will be deported, if possible, to their countries of origin, but I understand that it is the practice to defer execution of the deportation order for a reasonable period when a deportee is making efforts to find another country of asylum. I have no official information regarding the other parts of the question, but I am asking the High Commissioner for a further report.

What is the use of postponing sentence to allow these people to find another country of asylum?

A great many people in many parts of the world are trying to find asylum for these refugees, and we are all trying to help.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me any country in the world which will take them?

British Army

Explosion, Woolwich

69.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can give any information in the case of War Department Constable Keeble, who was shut in his police hut at the side of the cylinder shed at the time of Woolwich Common explosion; whether he is aware that Constable Keeble is very ill in the Royal Herbert Hospital owing to the explosion; and why only one man was on night duty at the Signals, Woolwich Common, the Repository, Woolwich, and the Garland Road optical works station?

I think the hon. Member has been misinformed. Police Constable Keeble was on patrol and was about midway between his police lodge and the army medical store, which are 150 yards apart, when the explosion occurred. He has suffered slightly from shock, but has not been a patient at the Royal Herbert Hospital. The protection provided by night at the three establishments mentioned was not con-fined to one police constable.

Is it a fact that Constable Keeble is in hospital, and, if so, what in-jury did he receive to cause him to go there?

No, Sir, I said that he suffered slightly from shock, but that he is not a patient in the Royal Herbert Hospital.

Munition Factory, Rotherwas (Housing, Employés)

70.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider the provision of houses for employés in His Majesty's munition factory at Rother was, near Hereford; and whether he is aware that owing to the complete lack of housing accommodation within reasonable distance of this factory, one employé, with his wife and four children, was compelled for some weeks to live in two fowl-houses?

The provision of housing to meet the general needs of the district is a matter for the local authorities. I am making inquiries, however, with regard to the particular case mentioned in the question, and I will communicate with my hon. Friend as soon as possible.

China And Japan

71.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the Shanghai-Nanking Railway, at present controlled by the Japanese, is now in complete working order and carrying a full load of passengers daily; and what steps he has taken to secure the payment of interest to British bondholders?

The Japanese authorities have refused to allow the inspection of the line by British representatives. It is understood, however, that it is in full working order so far as the track is concerned, but that there is only limited accommodation for passengers on the trains. Repeated representations have been made to the Japanese Government in regard to the British interest in this line, and these representations were renewed by His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo on 24th March.

Spratley Island

72.

asked the Prime Minister the position with regard to the Japanese occupation of Spratley Island?

74.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will instruct His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo to protest against the recent Japanese occupation of Spratley Island and to point out the inconsistency of such action with the more friendly attitude towards the British Empire exemplified by the recent reopening of the commercial harbour and wharves at Tsingtao?

Spratley Island is on the western fringe of a large archipelago claimed in full sovereignty by the French Government in virtue of its annexation by decree in 1933. The Japanese Government on 30th March announced that they had placed Spratley Island and the other islands claimed by the French under the administrative jurisdiction of the Government of Formosa. The question of a protest is a matter which primarily concerns the French Government.

In view of the fact that we have definite obligations to assist France in the protection of her overseas territory, is it not of the utmost importance that we should associate ourselves with France in any protest at this occupation of French territory by Japan?

The House will appreciate that this is a matter primarily for the French Government. His Majesty's Government intend to keep in touch with the French Government in this and in all other matters of common concern.

League Of Nations (Covenant)

73.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider the advisability of incorporating in due course, into the machinery of the League of Nations, any arrangements arrived at between this and other countries in resistance to aggression?

I would refer the hon. Member to the Prime Minister's reply to the hon. Member for Leyton, West (Mr. Sorensen) yesterday, to which I have nothing to add.

Do I understand that the Government are determined to keep away from the League of Nations and to have nothing whatever to do with it?

Under the constitution of the League must not all treaties be registered with the League?

I must refer the hon. Baronet to the answer which the Prime Minister gave yesterday, which stated that our obligations under the Covenant will be borne fully in mind.

Does not that really point to my question, whether any arrangements that we are now making will later on be incorporated in the machinery of the League of Nations?

Can the hon. Member say what "incorporating, in due course, into the machinery of the League of Nations" really means?

Will the Government follow the principles laid down by him and other British spokesmen at the Assembly of the League last September?

Libya (Italian Forces)

75.

asked the Prime Minister what is the strength of the Italian armed forces now in Libya?

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 8th March to the hon. Member for Southwark, Central (Mr. Day), to which I have nothing to add.

Have the Government considered whether the Italian text of the agreement does not make it plain that the reduction to 30,000 was to be a fixed reduction and not liable to increase at the will of the Italian Government?

I have already given my view and the view of the Government upon this matter several times, and I do not think I have anything to add to it.

Do the Government hold that an increase beyond 30,000 is or is not in accordance with the text?

I do not think we can regard the original document in this respect as perpetual.

Spain

76.

asked the Prime Minister whether he has received any communication from the Italian Government concerning their intention to withdraw their armed forces from Spanish territory, including the Balearic Islands?

Is it the intention of the Government to ask for such a communication at an early date?

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave yesterday to similar questions on this subject.

Do the Government regard the Italian pledge in respect to the territorial integrity of Spain as being perpetual?

Do the Government consider the position altered by the fact that General Franco has now joined the Berlin-Rome axis?

General Franco has given assurances in the past which I hope will be observed.

Austrian Families, Great Britain

78.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that Austrian families resident in this country since the German annexation of Austria are receiving telephone calls from the Gestapo in Germany and Austria threatening them that, unless they return part of their money to those countries, their relatives now resident there will be punished; and whether he will make urgent representations to prevent this form of pressure?

No, Sir, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be glad to look into the matter, if the hon. Member can supply him with detailed information on the subject.

Having regard to the agonizing experiences of these people even in the most favourable circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to find out how widespread the practice is and then make representations?

I will certainly do my best, but I hope the hon. Member will give me any information that he has.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that private Members of Parliament are under very grave disadvantages in this matter, and cannot the Foreign Office make investigations and get actual facts on which they can take action?

I am sure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is keeping in close touch with the situation and watching it carefully.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that in many cases the questions that we put down are based on information received from various newspapers, and can he say whether the Foreign Office receives cuttings from the various papers about these international matters?

How is it then that sometimes you give the information that you have no information?

Royal Navy (Children's Allowances)

(by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will make a statement on the circumstances under which every naval rating with children to support will have his allowances reduced as from 6th April, and if these reductions will apply to officers with children?

I am glad to have this opportunity of making clear to the public the system of children's allowances enjoyed by married naval ratings. This system is understood, and I believe appreciated, by the personnel of the Navy, but is not so generally understood by the general public.

Children's allowances for ratings since 1920 have been on a sliding scale varying for each year with the cost of living as ascertained on 1st January of each year. Every 10 points variation is given its appropriate scale. The minimum rates are related to cost of living figures between 46 and 55. Rates of children's allowances fell from 1920 to 1931, when they remained on the minimum scale until 1937. In 1938, however, children's allowances were subject to the appropriate scale increase, because of the increase in the cost of living. On 1st January of this year the cost of living figures showed a decrease of four points, and allowances now go back to the minimum rates where they had stood from 1931 to 1937. The conditions are identical in all three fighting Services.

Some years ago suggestions were made to stabilise the children's allowances. The Board of Admiralty did not favour this course. In present circumstances a sliding scale system has certain advantages. Children's allowances being on the mini-mum cannot fall in the future below the present level whatever the fall in the cost of living. A rise in the cost of living, however, would carry with it the appropriate scale increases. It will be recalled that last year it was found possible to increase the rate of marriage allowance by 7s. or 10s. to a flat rate of 17s. for married ratings.

The position of children's allowances for naval officers is somewhat different. Their scheme was introduced last year in a period not subject to such violent fluctuations in the cost of living as the immediate post-war period. It was therefore decided to introduce a less complicated scheme on a stabilised basis. Officers will not therefore enjoy like married ratings increases in their scales inherent in a sliding scale system.

On a point of Order. I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend is entitled to put his Private Notice Question as I have a question down on the same subject for written answer. I withdraw my question, however.

May I ask whether, if the naval regulations allow this to be done, the hon. Gentleman will cause his explanation to be posted on the notice board on mess decks and in barracks, as it is of the first importance that naval ratings should be under no misapprehension about the reductions in pay or allowances.

Will my hon. Friend also make it clear that the lower deck ratings will get their children's allowances when they are 25, while officers can get no allowances for children until they are 30?

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that there have been no complaints from the lower deck with regard to the working of this scheme?

How many points movement are required before any modification of rates takes place?

As regards the first question, I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is of first-class importance that the operation of this scheme should be clearly understood by the lower deck. A Fleet order was issued at the beginning of February, and I hope that that order, posted on every notice board in every naval establishment and warship throughout the world, combined with the publicity which I hope this question and my answer will get, will make the position abundantly clear. As regards the question of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chertsey (Commander Marsden), it is clearly appreciated that the benefit in this respect goes to the naval rating who gets his children's allowances five years earlier than an officer. As regards the question of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby), I think the personnel of the Fleet do appreciate that one year they stand to lose and in another year they are liable to have reductions according to the well-known principle. As regards the last question, the scales are rather complicated, but a variation of 10 points will make a change in the scales.

Do I understand rightly that the movement on 1st January this year was only actually four points?

What amount per week is represented by the variation in the rise and fall of the cost of living?

Did the Fleet order to which the hon. Gentleman has referred contain any explanation of the matter, or is it merely an announcement of the reduction, as it is the explanation which is so important?

That is so. It is like all Fleet orders; it is not quite as intelligible as it might be.

Will the hon. Gentleman consider publishing the scales in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Italy And Albania

(by Private Notice), asked the Prime Minister whether he can make a statement concerning the concentration of Italian troops and transport at Bari and Brindisi and the present Italian negotiations with Albania.

The Prime Minister
(Mr. Chamberlain)