House Of Commons
Thursday, 22nd February, 1940.
The House met at a Quarter before Three of the Clock, MR. SPEAKER in the Chair.
Oral Answers To Questions
Transference (Durham County)
asked the Minister of Labour the number of persons transferred from the county of Durham from 1932 up to the most recent date?
In the answer to a Question by the hon. Member on the 16th May, 1939, I gave the figures of persons transferred from the county of Durham for each year from 1932 to 1938 inclusive. The corresponding figures for the six months January to June, 1939, are 2,719 men, 1,236 women, 453 boys and 836 girls: total 5,244. Later figures are not available.
Trading Estate Factories
asked the Minister of Labour the number of factories opened on the Team Valley Trading Estate and the Pallions and St. Helen's Trading Sites, respectively; and the number of persons that have been placed in employment?
I am informed that on 31st January the number of factories opened and in production on the Team Valley, Pallion and St. Helen's Auckland Estates was 117, 4 and 5 respectively; the number of persons employed in those factories was 4,443, 369 and 841 respectively.
Is it the Government's intention to build factories to turn out Government work and other kinds of work on the Team Valley Estate and the Pallions and St. Helen's sites?
I have always made every effort to get every kind of work, Government and otherwise, for these admirable estates.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the labour resources and other resources of the county of Durham are not fully utilised by the Government; and is he going to embark on a policy which will fully utilise these resources?
The House knows that I have persistently pressed that policy, but there are technical and strategic considerations about certain kinds of war effort which have to be weighed by Government Departments before giving contracts.
Is it the Government's intention to build factories on these sites?
I have said so, subject, of course, to strategic and other considerations.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what proportion of the persons employed are men over 18?
Not without notice, but I will get the figures if the hon. Member would like to have them.
Shipbuilding, Greenock Area
asked the Minister of Labour what number of men belonging to the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry were recorded as unemployed at 15th February, or last convenient date, in the Greenock area; and what percentage this represents of the total in the industry there?
The latest figures at present available are those relating to 15th January, which have already been supplied to the hon. and learned Member.
Will the right hon. Gentleman pass these figures on to the newly appointed Controller of Shipbuilding?
The Controller of Shipbuilding is well aware of the figures, not only about this particular town, but of the whole area.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the answer to my Supplementary Question on the previous occasion he stated that he would pass these figures on to the Controller of Shipbuilding. And has he done so?
As I have said the Controller of Shipbuilding is well aware of the figures, and, as a matter of fact, we have been discussing figures which will not be ready until 5th March, and not only that, but the possibilities in the months ahead.
Statistics (Durham County)
asked the Minister of Labour the number of unemployed registered at Ashington, Blyth, Bedlington and Morpeth for the past month; and the comparative figures in August 1939?
As the reply includes a table of figures, I will, if I may, circulate a statement in the Official Report.
Will the right hon. Gentleman draw the attention of the Admiralty to these figures and point out that shipping is the most effective means of reducing unemployment in that area?
Following is the statement:
The Table below shows the total numbers of unemployed persons on the registers of the Employment Exchanges in question at 15th January, 1940, and 14th August, 1939.
|Employment Exchanges.||15th January, 1940.||14th August, 1939.|
asked the Minister of Labour the number of recipients of unemployment allowance who have not received any increase in their allowances to meet the increased cost of living owing to the operation of the wage-stop; and whether the Unemployment Assistance Board proposes to review the existing wage-stops in those cases?
I regret that the information asked for in the first part of the Question is not available. As regards the second part I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Members for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) and Rhondda East (Mr. Mainwaring) on 25th January.
May I ask whether the Unemployment Assistance Board reports at any stage? Otherwise the cost of living can increase and these men get no increase in wages.
As far as I know there is no decision dealing with a general review, but in the answer to which I have referred, I pointed out that officers have been reminded by the board that under the new Regulations regard must be had to any special circumstances or needs of an exceptional character.
May I ask whether a general instruction has been issued to officers of the board to grant increases in these cases of wage-stops?
They have been reminded and I would also point out that in a number of cases where need has existed allowances in excess of the wage-stop have been granted.
Prevention Of Evasion Regulations
asked the Minister of Labour whether in view of the fact that there are hundreds of young men who have been dismissed from their work after the Government had called them up for attestation for military service, and the difficulty they encounter in finding fresh employment between that date and the date of their call for service in the forces, and the unenviable position they will be in when they return, without employment, to civil life, and as the employers concerned will have escaped their obligations under the Defence of the Realm Act, he will state why no employers have been prosecuted for this form of victimisation, and take steps to publish a list of all such employers, and to exhibit same in some prominent place or places in all districts concerned?
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave him on 8th February on this subject. Since the National Service (Armed Forces) (Prevention of Evasion) Regulations were made, none of the cases of dismissal from employment, into which my inquiries have been completed, has revealed sufficient evidence of the contravention of the Regulations to justify my taking proceedings against the employer.
In view of the fact that many of these young men who have been dismissed from employment are rejected on medical grounds when they go up for medical examination, will the Government not do something to protect them against unscrupulous and unpatriotic employers who undoubtedly are victimising them because they have been called up by the Government for service?
I am obliged to the hon. Member for calling attention to this matter, but I would point out that the issues which may arise from prosecutions, whether successful or unsuccessful, are widespread, and the House would not wish me to proceed with a prosecution unless I have evidence which would give a reasonable prospect of a conviction.
In those cases where young men who have been called up for service have been dismissed by their employers, and then rejected for service on a medical examination, have not the Government some responsibility to prosecute such an employer or do something for the young man?
Certainly, if the evidence is as the hon. Member states, but we have made the most persistent and careful inquiries into this matter. The question is to get the evidence in a form in which we can prosecute successfully.
Is not the best evidence the fact that young men who have been rejected on medical examination are still unemployed?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a large number of cases the young men who have been called up for service, and are willing to go, are much embittered by this kind of treatment, and will he give serious attention to it with a view of introducing legislation?
In the answer to which I have referred I pointed out that there have been 252 complaints made to me and that of these 63 are down for further investigation. As I have said in my answer, none of the cases of dismissal in which my inquiries have been completed, has revealed sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give special attention to the matter if I give him the particulars of two cases of youths who have been rejected on medical grounds?
Yes, I shall be keen to have such evidence.
asked the Minister of Labour how many appeals have been made to the Umpire against the decisions of the hardship tribunals under the Military Service Acts; how many of the appeals were made by the persons affected and how many by the Minister; whether he will state the results of the appeals and give particulars; and will he publish those decisions of the Umpire which have laid down general principles for the guidance of hardship tribunals?
401 appeals have been made to the Umpire under the Military Training Act and the National Service (Armed Forces) Act. Of these appeals 115 have been made by the applicants and 286 on behalf of the Minister. Up to 15th February, 1940, the Umpire had granted postponement in 127 cases and refused it in 41. Selected decisions of the Umpire laying down general principles will be published in a monthly pamphlet which will be on sale. I should like to make it clear that a large proportion of the appeals by the Minister were made on behalf of the applicant.
Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate at what date this publication will be issued in view of its importance?
I will do it as quickly as I can.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many applications are still outstanding, and how many appeals have been granted on compassionate grounds due to the applicant being the only son of a widow?
I cannot answer that on a Supplementary Question, but a comparison between the total applications and the figures I have given will give the hon. Member the answer.
Conscientious Objectors (Peace Pledge Union)
asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to a recent statement by a judge who is chairman of the East and West Riding Conscientious Objectors' Tribunal as to the subversive activities of a body known as the Peace Pledge Union, who are picketing Employment Exchanges and endeavouring to induce men to join their organisation and avoid military service by claiming to be conscientious objectors, for which purpose special instructional classes have been arranged to supply objectors with particulars of the conscientious objections they should submit to the tribunals and as to the replies they should give when questioned; and what action is being taken by the Government in the matter?
Yes, Sir. While there was general agreement that provision should be made in the Military Service Acts for the special treatment of conscientious objectors, and that the Defence Regulations should be so drawn as not to interfere with the ordinary propagation of opinions I believe there is a widespread view that such activities as are referred to in the Question amount to an abuse. The activities of this organisation are being carefully watched, and the question whether special measures are called for will be kept in view.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for what he has said, may I ask him whether he is aware that the tolerance by the Government for so long of the activities of this society is the amazement of our friends, and is holding us up to the ridicule of our enemies?
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to some of the statements made by Judge Stewart when dealing with these cases; and, if so, has he deemed it wise or otherwise, in view of the Prime Minister's definite statement, to take any steps in the matter?
My attention has been called to a statement made by Judge Stewart. As I have said, the whole matter is being very carefully considered.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the recent statement reflects very seriously upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury); and does he intend therefore to take action against the right hon. Gentleman and also the Christian churches, as being subversive?
I think a fair distinction should be drawn between a view which is genuinely held and certain methods of endeavouring to induce people to take advantage of the opinions of others.
Agricultural Labour (Exemption)
asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps he is taking to ensure an adequate supply of labour for agriculture; whether he was consulted before the decision was taken to give exemption from military service for six months in the cases of essential agricultural workers aged 20 years; and whether it is proposed to call up these men when their period of exemption expires?
:The steps taken to ensure an adequate supply of labour for agriculture include the fixing of the age of reservation for farmers and most classes of farm workers at the low level of 21 years; the arrangements for postponing the calling up of men liable for military service where their immediate calling up would disorganise farm operations; and various steps to augment the existing labour force such as the recruitment and training of the Women's Land Army, the diversion to agriculture, wherever possible, of unemployed men with previous agricultural experience, and the loan of soldiers for harvest and similar operations. The arrangements for the postponement of military service were adopted on the recommendation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself to meet the position that seemed likely to arise on many farms where the calling up of men liable for military service would seriously interfere with farming operations. If the position remains unchanged at the end of the period of postponement, and if a farmer can show that he has attempted to make other arrangements but without success, an application for the extension of the period will be considered.
Do we understand from the Minister of Agriculture that he will do everything possible to secure, in view of the importance of production on the land, that no difficulty will be placed in the way of obtaining an adequate volume of farm labour?
We have to fit in with the general scheme of things in time of war, but we are doing all we can to mitigate hardships.
On the face of it, is it not obvious that it will certainly disorganise agriculture if the men working on the land are called up, unless some other adequate provision is made first?
That question we are dealing with at the present moment.
asked the Minister of Agriculture the approximate number of applications made up to date by farmers for the postponement of calling up of agricultural workers who became 20 years of age between the 2nd December and 31st December last; and whether, in view of the fact that only key-men for whom substitutes cannot be found are to be granted postponement, he can give an indication as to what category of agricultural workers it is officially considered substitutes can be found for?
Applications for postponement of calling up have to be sent in the first instance to county war agricultural executive committees who undertake the necessary investigations before sending them on to my Department. Many of these applications, which relate to men only required to register on Saturday last, will not be forwarded to the Ministry until the end of this week and I am unable at present to give the information asked for in the first part of the Question.As regards the second part, there must be many cases in which, by re-arrangement of duties, valuable use can be made of men registered as unemployed agricultural workers, unemployed men from other occupations with former agricultural experience who are available to fill agricultural vacancies of various kinds, and members of the Women's Land Army. It is recognised that substitute labour is not suitable for all forms of farm work, and it was because, for various reasons, substitution was not always practicable, that the arrangements for the postponement of service were made.
Would it not be a good idea if the Minister of Labour made a survey of those agricultural workers who strayed into other jobs, so as to bring them back on to the land?
Cost Of Living And Wages
asked the Minister of Labour whether he will state, in view of the fact that the internal wages level in several industries has recently been raised, what action it is proposed to take to safeguard the standard of living of workers in other industries who respond to the Government's appeal, and avoid making demands for wage increases at this time?
I would refer to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 31st January announcing the policy which the Government have adopted, and propose for the present to continue, of controlling the prices of certain staple foods by the use of public funds.
Is it not perfectly clear that workers who have received wage increases as well as those who on patriotic grounds have refrained from making these claims have the benefit of reduced food prices, and does he not think it is up to the Government to see what may be their obligations to the workers who do not press their claims for increases?
I do not think that a comparison of that kind can be drawn, because there are too many circumstances which lie behind industrial conditions which make for an increase or not in the wage rate.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there is no finality either in wages or hours?
Naval And Military Pensions And Grants
asked the Minister of Pensions whether, owing to the increased cost of living and their inability to augment the amount received by their own efforts, he will consider the urgency of increasing the pensions of disabled ex-service men, thus freeing these men from care as to their means of livelihood?
Sufficient experience has not, in my judgment, as yet been gained of the course of prices to justify the Government in considering a general increase of the rates of pension.
India (Political Situation)
asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he has any further statement to make respecting the political situation in India?
No, Sir, I have nothing fresh to report to the House since the statement which I made in reply to a Question by the hon. Member on 8th February.
Has the right hon. Gentleman any information regarding reported incidents on the North-West Frontier?
I have heard of no fresh incident.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make inquiries, because rather serious reports are coming through?
Refugees (Advisory Committees)
asked the Secretary of Estate for the Home Department whether he is now able to state that the machinery for a further systematic review of the cases of refugees placed in Category "B" by an aliens tribunal is ready to function?
It has been decided to set up an Advisory Committee for each of the Civil Defence Regions to consider, inter alia, the cases of all Germans and Austrians placed in Category "B" by the tribunals and I am now completing the selection of personnel for these committees. This machinery will begin to function at an early date.
In view of the fact that the announcement of these new committees was made considerably before Christmas, will the right hon. Gentleman speed up their functioning, as many refugees are prevented from doing work that would be valuable to the country owing to their not being de-restricted?
I have been doing everything possible to expedite the setting up of the committees.
Will there be any appeal from these new committees?
There can always be a reference to the Central Advisory Committee. That is at my discretion.
asked the Home Secretary the amount of employment and trade which has accrued to this country up to date from the admission of refugees who have already been allowed to start work here?
It is known that a number of refugees who have been allowed to start factories and businesses here have brought increased trade and employment to the country. Inquiries are being made as to the number and extent of these new undertakings and the amount of trade and employment created thereby, and at a later date I hope to publish a comprehensive statement.
Respiratory Tuberculosis (Metal-Grinding)
asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware of the high rate of mortality among workers in the metal-grinding industry arising from silicosis and other respiratory diseases, and of the difficulty of establishing claims for compensation under the silicosis scheme; and in view of this, will he now consider amending the scheme in order to provide for the inclusion of other respiratory diseases which are certified by medical men to arise from the metal-grinding industry?
I understand that in 1938 the mortality rate of Sheffield grinders from respiratory tuberculosis, though it had greatly declined in recent years, was still higher than that of the general population of the city; but under the existing law there is no power to extend the silicosis compensation scheme, which covers silicosis accompanied by tuberculosis, to men not employed in the silica processes since 1927, or to other respiratory diseases. The question of legislation to make additional provision for workmen suffering from illness which is due to their employment but is not a specific industrial disease is a very diffi- cult one, to which the attention of the Royal Commission on Workmen's Compensation has been drawn.
Is the Minister aware that the mortality among Sheffield grinders is estimated to be four times the general average of the country, and in view of that appalling mortality, is not the right hon. Gentleman prepared to do something to bring about some improvement?
The hon. Member will understand that I am concerned with diseases due to employment. As I have said, the problem of determining whether an illness which is not specific to a particular employment has, in fact, been caused by that employment or has arisen otherwise, is a very difficult practical question.
Does not everything point to the fact that respiratory diseases do arise from that employment, and that this is testified by medical authorities, and in view of that, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is absolutely essential that the scheme should be extended to include respiratory diseases?
The matter has been referred by the Home Office to the Workmen's Compensation Commission but I repeat that the problem is not an easy one.
Auxiliary Fire Service
asked the Home Secretary what steps he proposes taking to secure recruits for and retain the existing personnel of the Auxiliary Fire Service?
The recruitment of personnel for the Auxiliary Fire Service is in the hands of the local fire authorities, who are responsible for taking any necessary measures to secure suitable recruits. As regards the retention of existing personnel, I am sending my hon. Friend a copy of a circular which I have recently addressed to local authorities, dealing with the reservation of whole-time personnel over the age of 30 and kindred matters.
While appreciating the step which the right hon. Gentleman has taken, is he aware that large numbers of trained members of this service are leaving it for other employment, and could he not take some step to make recruiting a contractual obligation rather on the lines of the Territorial Army, in order to retain the personnel?
That is a very large question.
Is there any shortage in this service?
The position varies from district to district. In some areas, particularly where ordinary employment is good, there is a shortage of recruits for the service.
Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the incidence of the scheme of personal injuries as it applies to firemen and other voluntary workers, and see whether or not that scheme is preventing recruitment and losing recruits?
I have no reason to believe that that has acted as a deterrent.
asked the Home Secretary whether local authorities, instead of supplying one Anderson steel shelter for each household, may supply a larger type of steel shelter where two or more households are willing to share accommodation, thus effecting a saving in finance and material for shelters and for their erection?
Yes, Sir. With a view to make the best use of our resources, advice in this sense was given to local authorities last autumn, and many local authorities are known to have acted on that advice.
asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that there are a variety of luminous belts of considerable advantage to wearers during the black-out; and whether he will conduct experiments during the black-out with a view to testing the effectiveness and the degrees of luminosity of various types of these belts?
My Department has examined a large number of luminous articles suggested for wear by pedestrians in the black-out. In general they have been found to possess no great advantage, as an aid to visibility, over a similar article made from ordinary white material. As the hon. Member will recollect, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has recommended pedestrians to wear, or carry, something white at night, or to use a torch pointed downwards to indicate their presence on the road. These precautions are likely to be more effective than luminous belts or other luminous articles.
Will the Minister consider the possibility of having experiments made in Palace Yard so that hon. Members may see for themselves?
Is it not the case that most people have a white handkerchief which they could very easily tie round their arm?
asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that the deaths at Greenock Harbour through drowning since the commencement of the black-out now amount to 20; whether he has yet reached a decision regarding modification of the regulations to meet this situation; and whether he has any statement to make on the subject?
As I promised in reply to the hon. Member's previous Question I have had inquiry made into the conditions at Greenock Harbour and I have been assured that there is an adequate number of lifebuoys and that these are being maintained in good condition. The lighting of the harbour appeared, however, to need attention and measures have been taken to provide modified lighting, to fence off the quays and to fix guard rails in dangerous places.
Is this being made a general matter? The right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate on the previous occasion that he had in mind a modification of the regulations with regard to all harbours.
I do not think it is so much a matter of regulation as of intelligent action on the spot.
Red Cross Emblem
asked the Home Secretary whether he will state the reasons why, in connection with the instructions recently issued by his Department to local authorities prohibiting the use of the red cross on air-raid precautions ambulances and on signs at entrances to first-aid posts, a distinction is drawn between the ambulances and first-aid posts of civil defence authorities and those of the military authorities, as both equally deal with casualties, the results of enemy action; and whether he will consult with the Army Council to obtain their consent to the use of the Geneva emblem by Civil Defence authorities in their casualty services in order to meet the convenience of air-raid precautions workers and the public in an emergency?
My hon. Friend is mistaken in thinking that this matter depends on the consent of the Army Council. It is governed by the Geneva Red Cross Convention, to which this country is a party. By the terms of that Convention the Red Cross emblem may only be used to protect or to indicate the medical services of the Armed Forces and the personnel and material of the voluntary aid societies which are authorised to assist them.
Is there no other way of getting temporary consent, during the war, to its use for A.R.P. or home service?
asked the Home Secretary the total number of persons now serving in all categories of home defence, giving, if possible, the number occupied in full-time, part-time voluntary service, the number in training, and the number of men and women, respectively?
I assume that the hon. Member has in mind the Air-Raid General Precautions Services and the Auxiliary Fire Service. The number of paid volunteers in these Services in December was some 264,000, exclusive of the regular employés of local authorities who were engaged whole-time on civil defence duties. I am at present taking steps to obtain up-to-date information as to the effective number of unpaid volunteers in the Air-Raid Precautions Services.
Contract, Bristol (Bricks)
asked the Home Secretary with regard to the contract for 60,000 tons of bricks for the construction of air-raid precautions shelters, recently placed with the London Brick Company by the Bristol Corporation, what was the maximum price per 1,000 bricks which his Department permitted the corporation to pay; what was the contract price per 1,000 bricks; and whether such bricks are available locally?
This contract was put out to public tender and there was no question of prescribing a maximum price. The tender of the London Brick Company was much more advantageous than any of the local tenders, both in price and also in rate of delivery.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a coal shortage in Bristol; and that quite apart from this contract depriving local manufacturers of employment, it has caused an unnecessary burden to be placed on the railways at this time of acute difficulty; will he, in future, take into consideration the availability of local materials as well as the question of cost and, in addition, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the fact that if the London Brick Company is allowed to undercut provincial brick factories, it will, in time, bankrupt them?
Steel Helmets Issue (Birmingham)
asked the Home Secretary whether there has been any delay in the issue of steel helmets to air-raid precautions wardens in the city of Birmingham; and whether such helmets will be issued to reserve wardens?
Birmingham has received all the steel helmets required to equip its authorised establishment of air-raid wardens. I regret that no equipment can be issued to volunteers enrolled in excess of the authorised establishment.
Football Prohibition (Birmingham)
asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware of the strong public feeling in Birmingham at the refusal of the chief constable to permit the opening of the St. Andrew's football ground; and whether, in view of the changed circumstances, he will make a new regulation to allow all sports grounds to be re-opened?
asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been drawn to the recent meeting of the Birmingham City Council, at which the question of allowing first-class football matches to be played at the Birmingham football ground was discussed; and whether he is now prepared to issue a new order restoring the usual Saturday afternoon entertainment to the workers in all large cities?
I have been in communication with the chief constable and I am satisfied that he gave full weight to all the relevant considerations before he exercised his discretion under the Public Entertainments (Restriction) Order to prohibit the holding of football matches on this particular ground. I do not think it would be expedient to amend the Order, as my hon. Friends suggest, so as to deprive chief officers of police of their existing discretion to prohibit the opening of football grounds or other places of entertainment in individual cases where they consider that special risks are likely to arise.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Birmingham is the only town in England in which first-class football is disallowed; that all sections of the public in Birmingham are desirous that it should be permitted; further, that the chief constable who is the only dissentient, has agreed to accept the ruling of the city council but that this cannot be given owing to a technicality; and will he do something to end this deadlock?
Will the right hon. Gentleman review this matter later if I bring him more evidence?
I am willing to consider any further relevant facts, but, as to the discretion of the local authorities, I cannot properly intervene in the matter.
Evacuated Children (Parents' Visits)
asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the new provisional evacuation scheme, he will consider increasing the facilities for parents to visit their children; and whether, as an inducement, he will arrange that two free monthly travelling passes be granted to parents or guardians of children evacuated now or in the future?
I have no evidence to suggest that the special facilities already provided are not generally adequate. Parents in receipt of unemployment assistance who cannot afford the specially reduced fares available under these arrangements may apply for special assistance to enable them to visit their children, and I do not think that any further payment from Exchequer funds would be justified at a time calling for every possible economy in the national expenditure. For visits to sick children parents in need can, of course, obtain help at any time from the evacuating authority at the expense of the Exchequer.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that one of the biggest factors in marring the success of evacuation schemes may be the parents' desire to see their children more frequently than they do, and, in the circumstances will he reconsider the decision in regard to this matter?
The hon. Member is speaking of the future scheme which has not yet come into operation. It will be necessary to review the considerations of that scheme when we come a little nearer to the actual event.
Is it not very upsetting to the children to be frequently visited as suggested?
German Agents (Activities)
asked the Home Secretary whether he will consider the publication of a White Paper giving particulars of the manifold activities of German agents in this country prior to the outbreak of the war, including the number of such agents deported and the nature of their offences?
No, Sir. I do not think any information could properly be published beyond the particulars that were made public at the time.
Is it not a fact that the reasons for keeping certain particulars secret before the war no longer exist, and that it would be of very great interest to the public if information regarding the activities of some of these agents were published now?
I think the reasons for withholding information of this kind became stronger with the outbreak of war.
Is it not the case that the friends of these agents occupied very high places in this country?
In the Russian Embassy.
asked the Home Secretary whether he will take steps to prohibit flyposting and wall-disfiguring by certain subversive organisations during the war and to provide that all printers and publishers shall supply, on request to the authorities, any information required to put down this practice?
Unauthorised bill-posting is or can be prohibited under local Act or by-law and, if seditious, can be dealt with under the ordinary law. The practical difficulty of detecting offenders who post bills on private property without permission would not, I think, be met by my hon. Friend's suggestion.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the name of the printer is not put on the posters and bills, and will be also make inquiries of the local police as to the number of churches, chapels and convents which have had their walls daubed with whitewash during the night, with an object to putting an end to this practice, as was done during the last war?
As my hon. Friend has indicated, the difficulty is precisely that of detecting the offenders, and with regard to the last part of the Supplementary Question, we are doing our best by enforcing the provisions concerning the names and addresses of the printers.
What right has the individual against the person who has done the damage?
Are not these people agents of the enemy?
asked the Home Secretary on what matters he intends to consult the Advisory Committee on the House-to-House Collections Act?
The Advisory Committee is being consulted at present on applications for orders under Section 3 of the Act exempting charities operating over substantial parts of the country from the obligation to apply to police authorities for licences. I have not yet had occasion to refer any other point to them, but I shall not hesitate to consult them on any matter connected with the administration of the Act on which they could usefully advise me.
Is the Advisory Committee willing to hear evidence both for and against applications for exemption?
I should like to have notice of that Question.
Women And Young Persons (Hours Of Work)
asked the Home Secretary the number of hours worked by women and young persons at the Merriott Mouldings, Limited, on Sunday, 3rd December, 1939;on what date was the application received to enable the firm to extend the hours; on what date was an order made to enable hours to be extended; was there a breach of Section 77 of the Factories Act, 1937; and, if so, what action has been taken?
No application was received by my Department for authority to employ women and young persons in this factory on Sundays, and no order permitting such employment has been made. I am making inquiries into the matter.
asked the Home Secretary the maximum number of hours worked in a week during last December by women and young persons employed at the Merriott Mouldings, Limited, and the aircraft factory in the south-western district which has been notified to him; the number of hours at present worked; and what are the hours worked on a Sunday?
The maximum hours of employment, of women and young persons, permitted in the first mentioned factory during last December, and at present, are those normally allowed by the Factories Act. The maximum weekly hours permitted during the same period in the aircraft factory to which I gather the hon. Member refers have been 57 for women and young persons over 16 years, and 44 for those under 16. Sunday employment of such persons has not been authorised in either case.
Will the right hon. Gentleman look over the correspondence which has passed?
I am looking into the matter.
asked the Home Secretary what is the procedure followed when the factory inspector makes a report to the Home Office to enable them to decide whether a formal order is necessary in any particular case; who authorises any temporary measure; are the provisions of the Factories Act and the Emergency Powers Regulations applied in these cases; whether it is with his knowledge or approval that before orders have been made in some cases factory inspectors have intimated verbally to employers that no prosecutions will follow certain breaches of the Factories Act; by what authority are young persons and women being employed at night in any factories; and when it is expected that the report will be issued showing the changes allowed since September, 1939?
The report and other relevant information are considered and a decision is taken on my authority and responsibility; and it is with my knowledge and approval that, as explained in my statement of 7th December, the inspector often intimates to the firm that, pending a decision and as a provisional and temporary measure, objection will not be raised to certain changes of hours. The Factories Act allows the employment of boys over 16 at night in some classes of work; apart from this, women or young persons may not be employed in factories at night without my authority. The promised report will, I hope, be completed by the end of this week.
City Of London Fire Inquest
asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that the inquest on the fire and explosion which took place in Knightrider Street, E.G., on 4th August, has been spread over six months, and occupied 26 days; that the legal costs, which will ultimately be borne by the ratepayers, are already enormous; and will he represent to the City coroner that, in the interests of economy, the proceedings should be brought to a conclusion at a reasonably early date?
The question what inquiries are necessary to enable the coroner to discharge his statutory responsibility is one entirely for him. I have no jurisdiction in the matter, but I am informed by the coroner that he does not expect that the concluding stages of this inquest will occupy more than a few days.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman can make representations to the coroner about a matter which is rapidly becoming a public scandal? Thousands and thousands of pounds are being unnecessarily spent in deciding an issue which afterwards will have to be fought in the law courts, and, in any case, whatever the result, the ratepayers will have to pay.
The House will realise that the coroner is in no way under my jurisdiction. I have been in communication with him, the result of which I have given in my reply.
Finland (British Volunteers)
asked the Home Secretary whether every visa facility will be given to British subjects who desire to serve in Finland?
I assume that my hon. and gallant Friend refers to exit permits. No difficulties will be placed in the way of British subjects who desire to serve in Finland if they are volunteers approved by the Finnish Aid Bureau.
asked the Prime Minister whether British citizens who volunteer for service in Finland will be given a military pension if they are unable to work through wounds and disabilities due to service in Finland; and whether dependants will be provided with pensions should the breadwinner be killed in action?
I understand that the terms of service of British subjects who volunteer for service in an International Force to operate in Finland have been arranged between the Finnish Aid Bureau and the Finnish Government.
Is it not rather unjust, and a grave contradiction, that the League of Nations have agreed to give assistance, and the Government are giving arms and permits to these men to go, and then, when it comes to giving the men pensions if they are wounded, or pensions for their dependants if they are killed, you refuse to give them pensions when they have done the work you believed they ought to do?
I think the matter of the terms on which volunteers serve in these international forces is appropriately arranged by those conducting the arrangements here, for enlistment of the forces, and the Finnish Government.
Cannot the Prime Minister give the House some assurance that these terms, as arranged, do make reasonable provision for these men in the way of pensions?
They are volunteers and it is not a matter with which we are concerned.
National Day Of Prayer
asked the Prime Minister whether he will approach the leaders of the churches for the purpose of fixing a suitable day when the entire people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland shall be called to prayer to Almighty God, humbly beseeching Him to exercise His unlimited power to bring the war to a speedy end by the overthrow of the enemy, and to promote such a spirit of brotherhood and good will among the nations of the earth that they shall seek war no more?
As I informed my hon. Friend last week, consideration will be given to his suggestion at an appropriate time. I do not think, however, that that time has yet arrived.
Does the Prime Minister not think that this is a matter for the churches themselves rather than for the State exercising its authority in these affairs? In the second place, if there is to be such a date, should it not also be, or rather be, a day of confession of national and international failure rather than a prayer merely for the overthrow of the enemy?
I have already said that nothing will be done in this matter without previous consultation with the leaders of the churches.
May I ask whether, before the Prime Minister takes action on this matter, he will ascertain from the heads of the fighting Services their views as to the efficacy of the proposed action?
May I ask the Prime Minister whether he will avoid taking any action which will lead to the complacent and barbaric identification of the Deity with military victory?
War Production Schemes
asked the Prime Minister whether he has appointed a special Department to prepare national schemes that must be put into operation within the next 18 months, so that plans may not have to be organised in a hurry and at the last moment, as was the case with certain essential services for which no Department took the initiative of perfecting the appropriate plans to meet the possibility of war?
I do not know to what my hon. Friend is referring in the last part of his Question, but I do not think such a Department as he suggests is necessary. It would not be as effective as are the present arrangements, a full and detailed description of which I gave in reply to a Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) on 1st February.
Food Production (Allotments)
50 and 51.
asked the Minister of Agriculture (1) whether special instructions have been issued to local authorities for the encouragement of active interest in the extension of allotments wherever land can be made available; and whether he will call public attention to the success of allotments in the promotion of schemes of food production in the last war;(2) whether he has taken, or is about to take, measures for co-operative action with the Ministry of Agriculture for the promotion of schemes for the cultivation of allotments in boroughs and urban districts wherever land can be made available; whether expert instruction will be provided for allotment-holders; whether seeds and manures will be made available on favourable terms; and whether organised effort is being undertaken at the instance of the Government to increase, through allotment- and small-holders, the food supply of the nation?
The Government are anxious to see the utmost possible extension of allotments in war-time, and early in the war I made a public appeal for a further 500,000 allotments. All statutory allotment authorities were circularised by my Department and urged to acquire land to meet the increased demand which I believed would arise. Simultaneously, the Ministry initiated a campaign for supplying the necessary expert guidance, this campaign being based administratively on the establishment of horticultural committees in all the larger urban areas. These efforts, backed up by the work of voluntary organisations, particularly the National Allotments Society and the Society of Friends, have made considerable progress and I feel that the time has arrived when the various aspects of the movement should be fully co-ordinated and organised. I have, therefore, decided, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, to set up a Co-ordinating Council with the following terms of reference:
I propose to invite organisations concerned with this important aspect of increased food production to nominate representatives to sit on this council, and I am glad to be able to announce that my friend the right hon. Lord Bingley has accepted my invitation to act as chairman of the council. Meantime the urgent need is for the turning over of as much allotment land as possible during the next two months, to secure vegetable crops during the coming season."To advise and assist the Minister of Agriculture on the development in war-time of the production of vegetables and fruit in allotments and private gardens, and of such other forms of food production as may be appropriate to the home; to organise, where necessary, supplies of seed, fertilisers, stock or equipment; and to advise as to such measures as may be practicable for the effective use of produce found to be surplus to the producers' home requirements.''
While thanking my right hon. and gallant Friend for the very interesting statement he has made to the House, may I ask him whether it is now the definite policy of the Government, by every means possible and through this special organising committee, to encourage allotment work in all our urban and rural areas throughout the country?
To what extent has Birmingham so far responded to this appeal?
I cannot say without notice.
Has the general demand for allotments up to the present been such as to be deemed satisfactory?
It has been slow but there are reasons for that, and we hope that now it will really go ahead.
May I ask whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) helped my right hon. Friend to draft that answer?
Post-War Land Settlement
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will institute an inquiry into the whole problem of land settlement, including small holdings established by county councils, with a view to the preparation of a comprehensive scheme which can be put into operation immediately after the war for the benefit of men who have served in His Majesty's Forces and others?
I do not consider that such an inquiry as is suggested is necessary at the present time. The question of land settlement is one that will need to be re-examined in connection with any general programme of reconstruction alter the war, and in the light of the agricultural and other conditions then prevailing. Ample information as to existing schemes of land settlement is already available in the form of published reports on the subject.
Will my right hon. and gallant Friend reply to the latter part of my question?
That will have to be a matter for consideration later.
If I put down a Question in a short time will my right hon. and gallant Friend be able to give me some more satisfactory answer?
I could not say that, but I still think it is a matter which should await later consideration.
In view of our experience in food production since the last war, should we not be rendering better service if we organised large holdings rather than small holdings?
That is one of the points, and we have a lot of information on the subject.
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman remember that you cannot bluff a generation twice?
Land Utilisation Survey
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether the survey made by the Land Utilisation Survey is being made use of in connection with his war-time agricultural campaign; and whether or not the work of the survey is being continued?
Yes, Sir, most of the 6-inch sheets on which the primary results of the Land Utilisation Survey were originally recorded have been lent to the county war agricultural executive committees, and I am glad to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks for the generous way in which the Director of the Survey put this material at my disposal. As regards the second part of the Question, I am informed that the field work of the survey was completed and recorded on the 6-inch maps before the outbreak of war. The remaining work consists of the publication of these maps, reduced to 1-inch scale, and the writing and publication of reports for the various counties. Some of this work has already been done and I am informed that the remainder is proceeding.
Is not the extension of this work of vital importance and cannot the Minister make fuller use of the services of this body?
I am making every possible use of it.
asked the Minister of Agriculture how many acres of the 1939 sugar-beet crop are estimated to be still in the fields, either unpulled or in heaps, and whether this acreage is now a total loss as far as sugar yields are concerned?
There are about 3,000 acres where the crop has either not been lifted or removed from the farm. The possibility of keeping one of the factories open to deal with this beet is under examination.
Is it not a fact that this acreage has been left in this condition because of the shortage of labour, which is causing farmers not to contract up for the next season to a considerable extent; and what has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in mind to face this situation?
That is another question. I am informed that there were other factors besides labour in some of these cases. Actually it is less than 1 per cent. of the total crop.
In view of the fact that there are a large number of active aliens in this country who desire work, could not my right hon. and gallant Friend organise a plan where-by they could be used on this vital kind of work?
asked the Minister of Agriculture the estimated average yield of sugar per acre of sugar-beet for the autumn 1939 crop?
The yield, in terms of white sugar, per acre of sugar-beet harvested in the autumn of 1939 was approximately 1.41 tons per acre.
Has the Minister taken that fact into account with the fact he has just mentioned, and does it not mean that something like 5,000 tons of sugar have been allowed to waste in our fields at a time like this?
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the numerous cases throughout the country of delay in paying the £2 per acre ploughing-up grant, as a result of which and owing to shortage of cash, thousands of acres of land will not be seeded this year; and what action he proposes to take to remedy this?
I am aware that there has been some delay in the payment of these grants, but arrears have now been overtaken and payment is being made within a few days of the receipt of the necessary certificates from the county war agricultural executive committees.
Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that in many cases the grant for ploughing-up done last October has not been paid; and is he also aware that it costs £8 an acre or more to get this land into crops and that no seeding will be done unless these payments are made? It is only two miserable pounds, and they cannot get even that.
We are overtaking the arrears now.
Since grave anxiety has been caused to a large number of small farmers because of this matter, will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say how many days on the average elapse between the completion of ploughing-up and the payment of the grant?
When we get the reports of the county executive committees payment goes out in a few days.
Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that they have not yet caught up the arrears?
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, with a view to assisting the pig and poultry keepers to maintain their stocks, he will confer with the Minister of Food with the object of ensuring an equitable distribution of the wheat offals from the port mills which are constantly being manufactured as a result of the processing of the wheat for flour; and, since the controlled price of these wheat offals is from £2 to £3 per ton below the controlled price of barley meal and maize, whether he will take immediate steps to ensure that some percentage of these supplies is available to the corn merchants and dealers throughout the country?
I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food to my hon. Friend on the same subject yesterday.
Has not my right hon. and gallant Friend told me that he conferred with the Minister of Food, and did not the Minister of Food tell us that 60 per cent. would be available to farmers; and, as there is nowhere near this quantity available for the corn merchants to supply farmers, would it not have been better if the Minister of Food had never made that announcement? It is absolutely misleading.
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the serious losses suffered by farmers and poultry keepers owing to the damage caused by foxes, he will encourage farmers and poultry keepers to take active steps to destroy these vermin?
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the widespread feeling amongst poultry keepers over the increasing destruction of poultry by foxes; and will he take steps to remedy the situation caused by the refusal of county war agricultural committees to take any action to preserve an important food industry?
I have no evidence that the destruction of poultry by foxes has increased. County war agricultural executive committees have no powers enabling them to proceed with the destruction of foxes; but, as indicated in the reply given to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) on 15th February, special measures have been taken to bring about a reduction in the number of foxes. I shall continue to watch the position closely and, if the necessity arises, shall be prepared to take appropriate action.
In view of the widespread evidence in the Press and otherwise of the serious depredations of these vermin, which are bred largely for the pursuit of a contemptible sport, will not the Minister take some action now that we are in a war period?
May I ask a Supplementary Question?
There has already been one of considerable length.
Teaching Of First-Aid
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education whether, in view of its importance under normal conditions and its particular importance in war-time, he will suggest to local education authorities that elementary first-aid should be taught to all children of an appropriate age?
The Board have already made this suggestion to local education authorities and others concerned in the recently issued "Suggestions on Health Education," of which I am sending the hon. Member a copy.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education whether his attention has been directed to the position of Luton arising out of evacuation; whether he is aware that with the number ofevacuees still there the education of Luton schoolchildren has to be limited to 4,830 full-time, 742 half-time, and the remaining 56 per cent. to a little over half-time; and whether, in view of the fresh evacuation scheme, steps will be taken to ease the situation in Luton so that more effective education can be provided?
I am fully alive to the position in Luton. The difficulty arises only partly from evacuation and is due in the main to an insufficiency of accommodation. This can be remedied only by completing the school buildings which are in hand and securing temporary additional accommodation. I propose to see the local education authority and the regional commissioner myself in order to remedy this position.
Will the Minister keep in mind the necessity for some reshuffling of the evacuees, in the event of buildings not being available?
That is a very relevant point.
How long will it be before you decide that there must be compulsion?
A decision was announced two weeks ago and now we are doing our best to carry it out.
Government Departments (Board Of Education)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education the number of officials who have been removed from his Department since the beginning of the war; and to what extent it is proposed to return these to their duties now, in view of the decision to enforce the Education Acts?
Eighty-one officials have joined the Forces;708, of whom 85 have subsequently returned, have been lent to other Departments, mainly the Admiralty. The large majority of these belong to clerical and subordinate grades. One hundred new appointments have been made. The Board's administrative arrangements have been recast to meet the new situation created by the war and the reductions to which I have referred are attributable in the main to the temporary cessation or curtailment of such activities as reorganisation, approval of school buildings, full inspections, courses for teachers, the National Fitness Council and certain statistical work. The Board's staffing requirements are under weekly review and if it is found that further staff is needed it will be secured.
Is it not inevitable, in view of the Government's policy of enforcing the Education Act, that leading officials of the Education Department should go back there, and will the Minister see whether that can be done?
The main problem is not as simple as that. Education is carried on by 315 local authorities. That is the main problem.
Are the statistical clerks to whom my hon. Friend referred keeping a record of those who are not being educated?
How have the 100 new staff been recruited if there are no Civil Service examinations?
Some have come in through the Ministry of Labour and some passed the Civil Service examinations which were held before the war started.
Medical Treatment (Armed Forces' Dependants)
asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the fact that, during the war, the National Health In- surance Fund is being relieved of the liability for providing medical benefit to those engaged in active service, he will consider the desirability of extending the right to medical benefit to their dependants?
The relief to National Health Insurance funds of the liability for providing medical benefit to men serving in His Majesty's Forces is off-set by a corresponding reduction in the rate of contribution payable in respect of such men, and consequently there is no margin which could be applied in the manner suggested by the hon. Member.
asked the Minister of Health whether his Department have inspected all the camps built by the National Camps Corporation, Limited; and is he satisfied that the accommodation provided for school children and for teachers and resident staff is satisfactory from a health point of view, and that the amenities are reasonably adequate?
Yes, Sir. Numerous inspections of these camps have been made by officers of my Department and of the Board of Education. In addition, before a camp is occupied by a school, ample opportunity is afforded to the responsible education authority to carry out its own inspection, and to arrange for minor alterations and adaptations to meet the requirements of the school from the point of view of education, health and amenity. The camps are of a standard design which I have approved, and I am satisfied that the accommodation provided is satisfactory as regards health and amenity for the children, their teachers, and the resident staff.
Is it not a fact that the standard of amenity and public health in these camps is very far below that in any other residential school?
No, Sir, I could not possibly agree to that.
asked the Minister of Health how many camps have been built by the National Camps Corporation, Limited; how many of them are now occupied by school children and from what local authority's area do these children come; what further local authorities have entered into agreements for their school children to occupy these camps; and is it proposed to continue building similar camps?
Thirty-one camps are being built by the National Camps Corporation, Limited, of which 20 are completed and the remainder in an advanced stage of construction. Two camps are occupied by school children from the areas of the London County Council and the borough of Ilford. Agreements for the occupation of further camps have been entered into by these two authorities, and the Cheshire County Council, the county borough councils of East Ham, West Ham, Kingston-upon-Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Southampton, and Newcastle-on-Tyne, and the borough councils of Leyton and Rochester have either entered into agreements or have them under active consideration. The question of further building and, if so, on what lines, will be reviewed as soon as some experience has been gained of the working of the present scheme.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of the authorities who have taken camps are compelled to spend much money on amenities?