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Commons Chamber

Volume 362: debated on Tuesday 18 June 1940

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 18th June, 1940.

The House met at a Quarter before Three of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.

New Writ

For the Borough of Bournemouth, in the room of Brigadier-General Sir Henry Page Croft, Baronet, C.M.G., now Lord Croft, called up to the House of Peers.— [Mr. James Stuart.]

Private Business

Private Bills [Lords] (Standing Orders not previously inquired into complied with),

Mr. SPEAKER laid upon the Table Report from one of the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills, That in the case of the following Bill, originating in the Lords, and referred on the First Reading thereof, the Standing Orders not previously inquired into, which are applicable thereto, have been complied with, namely:

South-Eastern Gas Corporation Limited (Associated Companies) Bill [Lords].

Bill to be read a Second time.

Gosport Water Bill Lords

The Monmouthshire And South Wales Employers' Mutual Indemnity Society Limited Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Coal Industry (Wage Rates, Forest Of Dean)

1.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is aware that there is great dissatisfaction in the Forest of Dean coalfield because the miners are being asked to work on the Saturday afternoon shift at the ordinary rate of pay; and whether, in view of the importance of increasing coal production, he will take steps to have the men satisfied in this respect?

Yes, Sir. I am aware that the owners' and workmen's representatives in the Forest of Dean have attempted to reach agreement on the working of a full six-day week, and that certain difficulties have arisen. I am in communication with the parties concerned, with a view to a settlement being reached.

Will my hon. Friend send someone from the Ministry to inquire into the matter on the spot?

There is a conciliation officer of the Ministry, whose services are always available. I will see that he goes there.

Is there any reason why there should be extra pay for working on Sunday, any more than for working on any other day?

This additional day's work is being done on Saturday afternoons. It is the custom to pay additional rates. This dispute has been dealt with correctly, in accordance with the customs of the coalfield.

Is it a good thing that some sections should be paid more than others for such work?

It is a good thing for this country that there are people prepared to work underground in these days.

Home Produced Fuels (Inter- Nal Combustion Engines)

2.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he has any statement to make on the progress of the Ridley Committee on alternative fuels for internal combustion engines, and when their report may be expected?

Yes, Sir. The Committee on the Use of Home Produced Fuels in Internal Combustion Engines, of which Lord Ridley is chairman, has made good progress and has considered a large body of evidence. The committee has already forwarded to my Department certain interim recommendations, on which action has been taken, and I hope very shortly to receive a further report. In present circumstances, however, we shall necessarily have to consider the extent to which our industrial resources can properly be devoted to this kind of development.

Is the hon. Member giving consideration, at the same time, to the use of coal as such, for propelling vehicles?

Yes, Sir. Steam wagons are being used, the steam being raised by the consumption of crude coal. But this is an entirely different matter, which requires examination. The whole problem is being examined.

Is the Minister aware of the great reduction in the number of those wagons because they are not economical in regard to taxation?

Petrol Rationing

3.

asked the Secretary for Petroleum whether it is proposed to reduce the petrol ration; and whether rationing of lubricating oil is contemplated?

4.

asked the Secretary for Petroleum whether his attention has been drawn to the large number of private motor cars at seaside and pleasure resorts, in the principal shopping centres of towns and cities, and on the routes from residential suburbs to business quarters; and, in the national interest, will he take steps to reduce the petrol available for domestic and pleasure purposes?

With the permission of the hon. Members concerned, I will answer Questions 3 and 4 together.

The Minister had better put it the other way round, the second Question first.

The House will be glad to know that, as a result of action taken by the Government before and since the war, our supplies of petrol are at present very satisfactory. Substantial economies in the civil consumption of petrol have already been made by rationing, and this automatically secures a corresponding economy in lubricating oil. I have recently issued a new Rationing Order, designed to check abuses in the use of petrol, and I am proceeding with the appointment of inspectors to aid in this purpose. In view of these facts, I do not propose at this moment to make a further general reduction in petrol allowances, but I would emphasise that it is vital that all petrol users should cooperate to the full in the strict observance of the Rationing Order.

What does the Minister mean by the abuse of petrol? Is joyriding an abuse; is going to a racecourse, in the circumstances of the day, an abuse; is taking your best girl out an abuse? Is the Minister satisfied that he has adequate power at this moment to deal with wasteful expenditure of petrol by private users?

It is not an abuse to use the limited amount of petrol allowed in the basic ration for purposes of reasonable recreation, but it is an abuse to use petrol given on a supplementary allowance for purposes for which it is not given. In regard to that, I have powers, and I intend to use them. Prosecutions will be taken in proper cases, and I am appointing inspectors for that work.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a number of manufacturers engaged on national work who are using motor transport find that they have absolutely insufficient to do this work of national importance, and that they still see this colossal amount of joy-riding and the wastage of petrol, which ought to be controlled in some manner? If there is ample petrol, give this transport which is used for national service sufficient quantities.

Is my hon. Friend aware that certain A.R.P. ambulances are being driven simply to charge the accumulators? I will give him the details.

I will certainly look into that. With regard to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), no issue of petrol for domestic purposes in the basic ration in any way prejudices the issue for national purposes.

Evacuation To Dominions

5.

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether, in view of the proposals from Canada and Australia to offer hospitality to children from this country, he will reconsider the question of the immediate large-scale evacuation of children, mothers and other non-combatants from this country to other parts of the Empire?

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I made to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) on 12th June, regarding the setting up of an inter-Departmental Committee to consider the possible evacuation of children. I hope that it will be possible for a fuller statement on this subject to be made to-morrow.

Will the hon. Member bear in mind that the soldiers will fight more happily if they know that their wives and children are safe? This is not a matter of the evacuation of a few thousand people; it should be done on the largest possible scale. It is an urgent matter, not a question of weeks.

The views expressed by the hon. Gentleman are entirely my own views, and the views of His Majesty's Government.

Does the question of emigration to America come under the scope of the Committee?

Will the report cover the question of how parents who wish to send their children at their own expense can pay for the maintenance of the children? That is a question which is holding up many people.

I should be glad if the hon. Lady would await the fuller statement which is to be made.

6.

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether arrangements will be made by the committee considering evacuation of children to the Dominions to transfer orphanages overseas wherever feasible, so as to free their buildings in suitable areas for the accommodation of children whose parents do not wish them to leave the country?

Any offers received from overseas for the transfer of orphanages as such will, of course, receive consideration.

Eire

German Engineers

7.

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he has any information as to how many of the engineers of German origin who built the Shannon Power Scheme now remain in Eire?

I understand that none of the engineers of German origin who assisted in building the Shannon power scheme now remain in Eire.

Can my hon. Friend tell us how many other Germans are there?

German Legation

8.

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he has any information as to the numbers of the personnel of the German Embassy in Dublin?

I understand that the official staff of the German Legation in Dublin is composed of six persons, together with three typists.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is said that the staff numbers some hundreds? What does he propose to do about that?

It is very difficult to get information. Perhaps my hon. Friend will put the question down.

Trade And Commerce

Exports

10.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will invite the Export Council to send members of individual groups to South America to examine British selling organisations in loco; and to suggest improvements as alternatives to the passive policy of relying upon our goods selling themselves to foreign buyers who do not visit producers here?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to Questions on this subject on 16th April and 16th June.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the result of the efforts that the Council have made?

War Risks Insurance

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the 17s. 6d. expenses allowance received by the insurance companies in respect of each issue of each policy under the War Risks Insurance Act, 1939, is now allowing the insurance companies a profit of about £500,000 per annum, and whether he will consider reducing this by approximately 50 per cent.; and is he willing to receive representations on this matter?

I have no reason to believe that the allowances to which my hon. Friend refers are on such a scale as to result in profit to the Board's Agents under the Commodity Insurance Scheme. They were fixed solely with a view to reimbursing to those Agents the expenses actually incurred during the first six months of the operation of the scheme, during which the work was exceptionally heavy. The allowances for the period following the first six months remain to be determined when the volume of work can be more precisely estimated, but, in view of the less onerous nature of the work now required, a substantial reduction in the scale may be expected. I am, of course, ready to receive representations on the subject.

Steamship "Gascony" (Sabotage)

12.

asked the Minister of Shipping whether he can give any information in connection with the British Royal Mail Line steamship "Gascony" which, while loading meat at Buenos Aires, for this country, was sabotaged on 12th June; and what amount of damage was done to the ship?

The information I have so far received on this matter does not include any details which have not already appeared in the Press. An investigation is now taking place at Buenos Aires, and the report will be considered as soon as it is received.

Economic Warfare (Co-Ordination)

13.

asked the Minister of Economic Warfare whether he is now satisfied that the activities of this country in the sphere of economic warfare are properly co-ordinated?

So far as my Department is concerned, there is satisfactory machinery for co-ordination with other Departments. The hon. Member's Question seems, however, to raise wider issues, which are beyond my scope.

Am I to take it from that reply that the right hon. Gentleman no longer considers it desirable that there should be some other Minister sitting over the activities of his Department, of the Department of the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Shipping and other Departments dealing with economic matters?

I have only answered the question so far as my Department is concerned. It is not my business to speak for other Departments.

Are we to understand that other Departments are not co-operating with that of my right hon. Friend, especially as his own Department is willing to co-operate with them?

No, Sir. The other Departments are co-operating very helpfully with my Department in all matters of common concern.

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that it is only necessary to control water-tight Departments without any co-operation with other Departments?

British Army

Ex-Service Men

14.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider the possibility of enrolling as volunteers, men who served in the last war and drafting them into the Militia units now in training for the purpose of stiffening the less-experienced younger troops?

When the younger men are posted to Field Army units, they find themselves in company with older men of the prewar Regular and Territorial Armies. Ex-service men up to the age of 57 can be enlisted for administrative and instructional duties.

Is the Minister aware that the experience in the Spanish war showed that very great service was done in this way in bringing war levies up to standard?

It is a question of the actual training of the men and not of their service in the field.

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving an opportunity to use the services of many former officers and noncommissioned officers, who are aching to be employed in training men but whose efforts are refused?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that that is quite a different question from that on the Paper. If he will be good enough to await some of my later answers, and the statement of the Prime Minister later to-day, I think he will then be better able to examine the position.

Is it not a fact that units of Militia have been sent over without either experienced N.C.O.'s or old soldiers, and without any training in shooting at all?

Will my right hon. Friend really look into this matter, because I saw hundreds of men yesterday and they all voiced the same thing?

I suppose that the hon. and gallant Member referred to certain units that were sent overseas for labour duties and became involved in hostilities when they took place. If that is what he means, then I would like to see the question on the Paper, but I would not take exception to what he says.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that many officers and men who served overseas during the last war have volunteered again, but those who are over the age limit fixed are not accepted if they give their correct age; and will he consider removing the age limit for volunteers and making the test one of physical fitness, such as every recruit must pass before he is accepted?

Ex-officers are eligible for enrolment in the Army Officers Emergency Reserve up to the age of 50. While I do not think it would be wise to waive all age limits, they are accepted in special cases over that age. Men up to 50 years of age are accepted for the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps and Home Defence Battalions, and ex-service men up to 57 years may be enlisted for instructional and administrative posts.

Should not this really be a question of physical fitness and the question of age ought not to stand in the way of any man who is willing to serve his country?

I have great sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I do not wish to waive the condition altogether which might in certain circumstances be useful, but it is a general principle now laid down that age shall not be a bar, though I would like to keep the clause.

Railway Trains (Protection)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will take steps to protect railway locomotives with light bullet-resisting armour; and whether he will issue instructions to the effect that certain main-line trains should be accompanied by an armed guard and provided with a machine-gun mounted, if necessary, on an armoured truck?

It would not be in the public interest to disclose information on this subject.

Man-Power

18.

asked the Secretary of State for War why, though equipment cannot be immediately provided, numbers of the younger men who have been registered but not called up, are not summoned to the Colours and trained even in civilian costume, so that when full equipment is obtainable they will be ready for all emergencies?

28.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in the present emergency, he has considered accelerating the calling up of the remaining classes of men for military service?

My hon. Friends can be assured that it is the determination of His Majesty's Government to make the maximum use of the man-power of the nation. With this end in view, the intake has been greatly accelerated, and in the last five weeks more men have been taken than during the first four months of the year. As regards the Government's general policy on this question, I would ask my hon. Friends to await the statement which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to make at the end of Questions.

Can my right hon. Friend give an immediate assurance to the House that the thousands of men of 23 and upwards who have registered, but who have been waiting for months to be called up, will quickly be called up, otherwise the frustration and exasperation of the people will be unbearable?

My hon. Friend cannot be more anxious to see the defences of this country strengthened than I am, and to bring about that result a number of steps are being taken, and the increasing of man-power has its place among them.

Dependants' Allowances

19.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has further investigated the system under which members of His Majesty's Forces who receive promotion or proficiency pay and thereupon increase their allotment to their de-dependants have the Army allowance paid to those dependants reduced as a consequence; and whether he now proposes to modify this system?

As was explained in the answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cambridge (Lieut.-Commander Tufnell) on 28th May last, it is inherent in the scheme that, as the man's pay increases on promotion or for other reasons and he can afford to pay more, his contribution towards the allowance also increases. I think the principle must be maintained, but I propose to introduce certain modifications in its application, and I shall be in a position to make a statement as to these shortly.

23.

asked the Secretary of State for War what percentage of the claims for dependants' allowances by serving soldiers have been rejected in the past six months; and whether he will undertake to review the present provisions, so as to remove the grievances now felt in large numbers of cases?

Forty-two per cent. of the claims have been accepted and 58 per cent. rejected. In only about 35 per cent. of the latter did the soldier make an allotment from his pay. All the provisions of the scheme were very thoroughly reviewed earlier in the year, and a number of important changes were made which are set out in the White Paper (Cmd. 6186) published in March last. I do not think a general review is necessary at the present time, but I am always ready to consider modifications within the scheme when these are found to be necessary. I may add that, as the result of the new concessions introduced in March, nearly 30,000 cases were reviewed by the paymasters without fresh claims being submitted, and in some 58 per cent. of those cases additions have been made to the allowance. In addition, in the case of some 5,000 claims that were renewed and have been reviewed, nearly 45 per cent. have derived benefit either by way of an increased allowance, or of the grant of an allowance where the claim had previously been rejected.

Is the Minister aware that one of the most serious problems confronting dependants is the question of rent? Will he not take into consideration the granting of a rent allowance?

Evacuated Troops

22.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that men of the British Expeditionary Force who arrived in England from Dunkirk were not supplied with railway vouchers to visit their homes; that many of them had to walk and to borrow money and beg food on the way; that parents had to sacrifice by sending some of their fares, while thousands of them have been unable to visit their homes; and whether he intends to prevent a similar scandal in future?

27.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction caused by the refusal of commanding officers to grant free railway passes to men returned from Dunkirk who have been given leave to visit their homes; and what steps he is taking to deal with the matter?

30.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether arrangements were made to enable the members of the British Expeditionary Force who had returned from Dunkirk and were given 48-hours leave, but had not the money to pay their fares home, to visit their families?

31.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that men of the Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, back from the British Expeditionary Force, had to produce the money for their fares home before they were granted their 48-hours leave; that they had had no pay-day for some time owing to conditions in Belgium and in Dunkirk; that the majority were only able to proceed by borrowing from comrades who had not been overseas, and they had no money for food en route; and whether he will see that men can have a free railway warrant issued in future in similar circumstances?

32.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether all evacuated men of the British Expeditionary Force have been able to secure a brief period of leave; whether they will receive compensation for personal losses sustained during recent service; whether these Service men will be reimbursed for any unexpected fares they had to pay; and whether all delays in pay have now been overcome?

The normal rule is to allow two free travelling warrants a year for leave. In view of the exceptional circumstances of the present case and of the fact that some men might have already exhausted their entitlement, I thought it necessary to make an exception, and on 7th June, instructions were issued that a free travelling warrant should be granted for leave given to men who were evacuated from ports north of the Somme on or after 11th May, and that travelling expenses incurred by such men before receipt of the instructions should be refunded. This applies also to the troops recently evacuated from Narvik. It will perhaps be appreciated that, in the circumstances attending the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force, normal facilities were not immediately available for those who wished and were permitted to visit their homes, but I hope that, except where the exigencies of the Service have made it impossible, all the men concerned either have been or will be granted a period of leave. As regards payments to the troops, arrangements were made immediately for paymasters to be sent to the areas in which the troops were collected, and it is reported that these arrangements proved to be satisfactory. Compensation will be given in respect of loss of kit, equipment and personal necessaries under normal regulations.

Is it not a fact, in reference to Question 32, that personal losses in kit and equipment in the case of men are made up free, but in the case of officers detailed claims have to he put in; and will the right hon. Gentleman consider removing all that red-tape and giving a flat-rate payment to officers in respect of kit which they have lost?

I think my hon. and gallant Friend is right in his analysis of the difference between officers and men, but I would like to consider further the suggestion he has made.

Yes, Sir. This was not a question of delay in payment. It was to supply men with no money with an immediate sum of cash to enable them to go on leave.

May I ask whether any discrimination was made between soldiers whose homes are in Scotland and those whose homes were much nearer their military centres, and whether the Minister was aware that considerable indignation was felt in Ayrshire about what was felt to be scandalous treatment of members of the R.S.F.?

I can assure my hon. Friend that there was no possible question of discrimination against Scotland. On the contrary, it was largely because I had in mind the position in which Scottish troops were placed that I issued those instructions.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of these soldiers had to receive relief from public assistance committees?

Local Defence Volunteers

24 and 25.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) who is responsible for the appointment of the area commandant and company commanders of the Local Defence Volunteers in the Barnsley and Staincross area; and whether he is aware that all these officers appointed are of one political party;

(2) who is responsible for the appointment of the area commandant and company commanders of the Local Defence Volunteers in the Doncaster area; whether he is aware that the commandant for the area and three out of four of the company commanders for the West Riding section of the area are all colliery officials and the last three all officials of one colliery company; will he take steps to alter this kind of selection, as being likely to impair public confidence; and what military experience these three company commanders have had?

The military area commander, in consultation with the Lord Lieutenant, appoints are area, zone and group commanders of the Local Defence Volunteer Force, who in turn appoint the company commanders. The intention is to appoint the most suitable persons without regard to political party or other considerations of that kind. Previous military experience is not essential, and I am informed that the three company commanders referred to in the Doncaster area have not had such experience.

Is the Minister aware that although he has answered in a very nice spirit, this is not taken in the same spirit so far as appointments are concerned? It is not ability in this case; they have been pitchforked into the job.

I cannot answer for individual cases. I thought that the only way to launch this scheme was to decentralise it. We could not possibly make all the appointments from the War Office, but power has been given to make changes. I believe that, generally speaking, local authorities have done their utmost.

If suitability is the essence of the choice, will the Minister make an inquiry into this particular case?

Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate just how we might make representations in this matter?

On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling), who is a Member of His Majesty's Government, asked a question of a Minister of the Crown. May I ask whether that is correct?

Deaf Persons (Warnings)

26.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will issue instructions to the public advising those who are afflicted with deafness of the danger of approaching military positions by day, and more especially towards dusk, and further instruct them to wear an armlet indicating that they are hard of hearing, or to be accompanied by someone whose hearing is not defective?

Warnings on this subject have been published both in the Press and by broadcast. An armlet would be capable of misuse.

Would my right hon. Friend ask the B.B.C. once again to remind some of these people?

German Prisoner Of War Camps

16.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether adequate provision has been made for the guarding, under all circumstances, of camps containing German prisoners of war?

Inland Communications (Safeguarding)

34.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has considered the resolution from the National Council of the Scottish National Party, drawing attention to the possibility of communications between the various parts of Britain being dislocated, and proposing certain steps to be taken in this connection; and whether it is proposed to take any action in the matter?

I have seen the resolution referred to. The hon. Member may be assured that adequate arrangements have been made to enable the machinery of Government to function in Scotland in the event of a breakdown of communications with London.

Would the Minister not agree that in the situation that exists to-day there should be a very much greater measure of independence of organisation in Scotland?

Civil Defence

"The New Pioneer"

35.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he proposes to take with regard to the journal known as "The New Pioneer," of which John Beckett, now interned, was one time assistant managing editor, and with which other members of the British Union of Fascists are associated as writers?

I understand that this journal has ceased publication.

Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the persons associated with it are being carefully watched?

Aliens

36.

asked the Home Secretary the number of British-born women whose husbands are aliens and internees and the number of alien women, married to British citizens, who are at liberty on the strength of British nationality by marriage; and whether, in the latter case, the loyalty of these women has been subject to investigation by the police?

As regards British-born women married to Germans or Austrians, the figures asked for could only be extracted by a laborious examination of each individual file, but the Tribunals and Regional Advisory Committees were instructed that if the husband were placed in Category B, the wife ought, generally speaking, to be placed in the same category. Consequently when all the Germans and Austrians in Category B were interned, a number of British-born wives were included. As regards women who before marriage to British subjects were aliens, the possession of British nationality does not prevent appropriate action being taken whenever this is necessary for security purposes. The police have drastic power to make searches and to detain temporarily pending further inquiries any suspected persons—regardless of nationality—and if necessary to recommend that orders be made under the Defence Regulations for the detention of such persons.

In dealing with aliens married to British citizens, would that apply to men in the Diplomatic Service who have been married to women born in enemy countries? How would it affect them?

I do not think I understand the hon. Lady's Question, but I presume that it relates to British-born women married to aliens possessing foreign diplomatic status.

Evacuated Schoolchildren

63.

asked the President of the Board of Education whether, in view of the policy of continuing private billeting, and of the fact that the feeding of children in private billets was one of the factors responsible for the breakdown of private billeting in the recent evacuation, he will arrange that all evacuated schoolchildren shall be communally fed by the reception authorities, thus securing to these children an adequate and well-balanced diet?

In Circular 1484, of which I am sending a copy to the hon. Member, the Board of Education have already urged local education authorities for reception areas to consider the need for arranging for the communal feeding of evacuated children, and I propose to call their attention again to this matter in connection with the further evacuation of children from the East coast towns and the Metropolitan area. The hon. Member will, however, be aware that the billeting allowances paid to householders cover the provision of food, and many householders who are able and willing themselves to provide suitable meals for the evacuated children prefer to do so rather than to surrender part of the billeting allowance in return for the provision of communal meals.

Is the Minister aware that there is overwhelming evidence on the part of directors of education and the teaching professions generally that communal feeding is necessary?

Seaman's Conviction

38.

asked the Home Secretary whether he can give any information in connection with a seaman wearing women's clothing, who was arrested and charged at Bow Street Police Court on 10th June?

I am informed by the Commissioner of Police that the person in question was convicted on 10th instant of importuning for an immoral purpose and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. My right hon. Friend will consider the best method of dealing with this case before the expiry of the man's sentence.

Accident, Rochester

39.

asked the Home Secretary whether he can give any information in connection with the accident on a building at Rochester on 12th June, when four men were killed and three injured; and what was the cause of the accident?

I understand from a preliminary report that last Tuesday an extension to a building which was in course of erection collapsed, killing four men and injuring three others. The cause of the accident is being further investigated by the factory inspectorate, which has now been transferred to the Ministry of Labour and National Service.

Civilian Casualties, Dunkirk

41.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty the number of civilians killed and wounded, respectively, in aiding the Royal Navy to remove men of the British Expeditionary Force and French Army from Dunkirk?

I regret that 125 civilians were killed and 81 wounded in this operation. Of these, four killed and two wounded were civilian volunteers, and the remainder regular merchant seamen. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing once more the profound admiration of the Royal Navy and the Admiralty for the spirit and courage of these men. I am sure that the House will wish me to express the deepest sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives or were wounded.

May I ask whether everything is being done for the dependants of these civilians? Those who come under the various Royal Warrants are looked after, but what about the dependants of the civilians?

That is a question which should be addressed to the Ministry of Pensions.

Agriculture

War Damage To Property (Compensation)

42.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether in view of the fact that the Government have no scheme to compensate persons whose property is damaged by air raids, what steps it is proposed to take to assist farmers whose property is damaged by bombs to reinstate their premises; and whether he will arrange for a special national labour force to be recruited which will be able to carry out such repair work free of charge in the national interest?

I would remind my hon. Friend that it was announced in the House on 31st January, 1939, that the Government had decided to initiate a scheme for the payment of compensation after the war in accordance with a scale which would depend on the total amount of the damage and the financial circumstances of the country. The necessary arrangements have been made for the recording and assessment of the damage for the purpose of the scheme. Provision has also been made in the Housing (Emergency Powers) Act, 1939, and the Essential Buildings and Plant (Repair of War Damage) Act, 1939, for essential repairs, the cost being met out of Government loans. As regards the third part of the Question, my right hon. Friend does not think it is necessary or desirable to organise a special national labour force to repair agricultural damage.

Fruit Crop

43.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he has yet been able to form any estimate of the probable size of the plum and current crops this year in Kent and other fruit-growing counties; and whether he is satisfied that adequate arrangements have been made to ensure their distribution and preservation without waste?

The Ministry has received from its inspectors estimates of the prospects of the fruit crops in Kent and in other fruit-growing counties. Ways and means of making full use of the anticipated plum crop are tinder consideration with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food.

Will the Minister give his active consideration to the Evesham area in this matter?

Will consideration also be given to those who grow small quantities of fruit, which, in the aggregate, may mean a considerable amount?

I think my right hon. Friend has taken into consideration the small as well as the large grower of fruit.

Timber (Advertisement Hoardings)

44.

asked the Minister of Supply whether advertising hoardings which are rendered unnecessary owing to the paper shortage will be removed and their timber put to more useful purposes?

A scheme is being prepared for salvaging any serviceable material available from the source mentioned by my hon. Friend. Requisitioning may be necessary to secure supplies at the right price. The amount of serviceable timber which can be so secured should not, however, be exaggerated.

Legislation

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will arrange that no legislation shall in future be brought before the House except that which is necessary and directly connected with winning the war?

The main Business of the House has been and will be the consideration of those Measures which are urgently necessary for the effective prosecution of the war, but it may be found necessary from time to time to bring forward Measures which may not be directly connected with the war.

House Of Commons Sittings

46.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consult the will of the House with a view to reducing the number of its meetings except for vitally essential business, to enable Members to take on war work in their constituencies or where they reside?

In view of the amount of essential business which has to be disposed of, I see no possibility at present of reducing the number of sittings of the House. As the House sits only three days a week, I hope that hon. Members will find that they have time to undertake work of national importance in their constituencies or elsewhere.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that academic Debates in this House on three days a week necessitate the attendance of Ministers of the Crown who would be much better employed in their Departments in the winning of the war?

Minister Of Labour

47.

asked the Prime Minister what steps he proposes to take in view of the fact that the present Minister of Labour has not yet secured election to this House?

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service will soon take his seat in this House.

At the end of Questions

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, with regard to a Private Notice Question that I have submitted whether I can raise it now?

I have sent a reply to the hon. Member which, I thought, would satisfy him.

I have not received that reply. I wish to raise a question of procedure appertaining to the secret meeting of the House on 10th inst., and to ask whether it is possible for Mr. Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, to be summoned to the House on that date to give a report? I wish to ask for your guidance, Sir, in regard to the procedure so that we may have the Minister's presence and such a report on that day.

The contents of my letter were to the effect that it would be quite contrary to the practice of this House for anyone, other than a Member of Parliament, to speak in this House. If the hon. Member gives it his further reflection, he will agree that it would be very unwise to depart from that Rule.

Owing to the importance of the situation, I thought it necessary to raise this question, as Mr. Ernest Bevin is the one person who can give such information to the House.

National Service (Armed Forces) Act

48.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the growing conviction in the country that the time has now come for the further extension of the National Service Act to all males from 18 to 55 years of age, in order that their services may be immediately available for home defence; and whether he will take steps at an early date to satisfy public opinion in this matter?

The age limits under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act are 18 to 40 inclusive. In addition, men may volunteer for service in the Home Defence Battalions and the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps up to the age of 50 and in the Local Defence Volunteers, which is a very important part of the home defence arrangements, up to the age of 65. In view of the opportunities offered of home defence service in these Corps, it is not at present considered necessary to extend the application of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act as suggested in the Question.

Questions To Ministers

49.

asked the Prime Minister to which Minister Questions should be addressed affecting the Department of Overseas Trade; and will he consider appointing a duly elected Member of the House of Commons to this office?

Questions normally addressed to the Department of Overseas Trade should be put to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade pending arrangements being made for the Parliamentary Secretary to secure election to this House.

Government Departments

Devolution Of Authority

50.

asked the Prime Minister whether it is his intention to review conditions in the public offices, and to make such changes in methods as may seem necessary, to secure the devolution of authority in the lower levels so that decisions may be hastened, bottle-necks removed, and the transaction of business generally expedited?

In recent years the policy of devolution of authority has been steadily pursued throughout the public service, and Departments are alive to the necessity for taking all possible steps in the direction suggested by my hon. Friend.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the ordinary way one cannot get an answer on any subject whatever under about a fortnight or three weeks?

In view of the great congestion which exists and which seriously interferes with the business relating to the war, will the right hon. Gentleman make inquiries?

I can assure the hon. Member that every endeavour is being made to prevent bottle-necks and the stopping of business, and that every effort is being made to expedite business by giving such devolution of authority as is possible. subject, of course, to a proper co-ordination of effort.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the country will be particularly happy to receive the information that the Departments are alive?

Do not these delays show that there is a lack of organisation in the Departments, and that if the right hon. Gentleman says he is not aware of these delays, it does not necessarily follow that they are not continuous and persistent?

Ministry Of Supply

62.

asked the Minister of Supply what is the local machinery through which his Department now works; and whether it has been altered following the reorganisation of the machinery of governmental control of industry?

The Ministry of Supply is represented locally by 12 area officers, who serve as members of the Area Boards. The responsibility for the central organisation of the Area Boards has now been transferred to the Ministry of Labour and National Service, but there has been no change in the general duties entrusted to them in connection with production. It has now been decided to increase the staff at the disposal of the Ministry's area officers and to expand their duties in certain respects, but my right hon. Friend is not yet in a position to make any detailed statement on this matter.

Is the Minister aware that in Scotland certain aspects of his Department have officers responsible for processing and inspection and that they have to inspect goods when they have had nothing to do with the selection of them, with the result that production is not satisfactorily carried out?

Production Council

51.

asked the Minister without Portfolio what is the machinery through which the Production Council works; and what measure of control it exercises in the allocation of national resources between war, export and civilian needs?

The function of the Production Council is to give general directions as to the organisation and the priority of production for war purposes, in accordance with the policy laid down by the War Cabinet. The Council gives its directions through the machinery of the competent Government Departments. For that part of its work which consists in the allocation of manufacturing capacity between Departments, the Council has at its disposal the machinery of the Central Priority Department. As regards the last part of the Question, all other needs are subordinate to war purposes, and the composition of the Production Council enables it to exercise a very full measure of control in the allocation of our national resources.

National Finance

Banks (Control)

52.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, now that he has power to control the banks, he will take back to the State the right to create money thereby in addition to other advantages enabling him to finance the war free of interest charges?

Does the Chancellor realise the amount of saving that could be effected by the nation if he took back to the people what is its right, instead of allowing the present scandal to continue?

I must ask the hon. Member to put his Supplementary Question in reasonable language.

Premium Bonds

56.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will consider the desirability of suppressing for the duration of the war all forms of betting, whether through bookmakers on credit or for cash or through totalisators, and of substituting therefor the issue of premium bonds bearing no interest but subject to periodical drawings at a high premium, those bonds which remain undrawn after a period of years to be repaid at par, in order that the large sums which would otherwise be used for betting may be lent to the State instead?

No, Sir. It is not proposed to make an issue of the kind referred to, which I consider would raise controversy and weaken the force of the National Savings Campaign.

Interest-Free Loans

57.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will consider the raising of a public loan, free of interest, for war purposes?

Many public-spirited citizens and institutions have already made interest-free loans to the Exchequer for the prosecution of the war. The Government has gratefully accepted such loans, but has hitherto felt that such generosity should be left to the initiative of the individual citizen. It is clear, however, that there are many people who are anxious to show their patriotism in this form, and I feel that the time has now come when I should make a general appeal to all who are in a position to do so to follow the example of those who have already come forward in this way. It would be a great convenience if, so far as practicable, a uniform period could be adopted for the loan. I therefore put the appeal in this way: I ask any person or company willing to advance money to the country without interest for the term of the war to send it direct to me at the Treasury; a certificate will then be issued entitling the donor to receive repayment three months after the conclusion of a treaty of peace. An alternative procedure for persons who would find it more convenient, particularly those who wish to lend sums under £100, would be to make a deposit in a Post Office Savings Bank with instructions that the interest earned on the deposit is to be surrendered to the Exchequer. I hope that wherever possible those who respond to this appeal will adopt the uniform period which I have named, but persons and companies who are only able to make loans for a shorter period should write to the Treasury giving full particulars.

Will the Chancellor assure the House that he will raise no further loans of an interest-bearing kind? Otherwise, does he not realise that in fact the free-interest loans will be used for the purpose of paying interest on the interest-bearing loans?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a union, the name of which I will not mention, was willing to lend £250,000 to the Government, but was advised that legally it could not do so?

Will the right hon. Gentleman put this point to the Government to see whether they are willing to raise loans in this way?

Bank And Treasury Bill Rates

58.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what are the relevant considerations which prevent him giving direction, under Clause 2 of the recent Emergency Regulations, for taking immediate action for the reduction of the Bank Rate from 2 per cent. to 1 per cent., and the comparative reduction of rates of interest on Treasury bills and other forms of Government borrowing, bearing in mind that the Treasury bill rate is 100 per cent. higher to-day than it was in 1936–37, although the Bank Rate was at the same level as it is to-day?

The level of Bank Rate affects a wide range of matters, including short term interest and deposit rates quite apart from the Treasury bill rate. Generally speaking, however, while it is the policy of the Government to secure that interest rates shall always be the lowest which circumstances at any given time permit, I have to hold a fair balance between the different factors involved.

Was there not a fair balance between the Bank Rate and other rates of interest in 1936–37, and why should there be a variance now? Why should not the Chancellor exercise the powers which he has in this matter?

I do not think it is possible to make a comparison between years so far apart.

Armed Forces (Postage Facilities)

60.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will state briefly the grounds on which he is unable to grant a free postage to members of His Majesty's Forces at present stationed in Great Britain?

It would, I feel, be difficult to justify concessions of this nature which would not be available to other sections of the community who are in a not dissimilar financial position and a number of whom have to bear onerous duties and tasks to-day in connection with our defences. Apart from a considerable and growing loss of revenue there would also be many practical difficulties in defining and controlling such a grant.

Would it not be quite an easy thing to issue some form of free postage to soldiers, and is there anybody in the country doing as much work and risking as much as the soldiers for a very low wage indeed?

There is considerable difficulty in this matter because of the air-raid precautions services, the firefighting services, the Local Defence Volunteers, and so on. It is very difficult indeed to draw a line.

Will the Chancellor consider the advisability of allowing wounded soldiers to send their letters postage free?

On what grounds does the Chancellor allow free postage to members of the Expeditionary Force and not to members of the Forces in this country, who are now considered to be in the battle line?

I was asked whether I would make a special provision in their case. I have replied that I find it very difficult to justify a concession of that nature and not to make it available to other sections of the community who are in similar circumstances.

Can the Chancellor say why this concession cannot be granted to members of the Forces when it is a concession granted to every prisoner?

I do not think that the hon. Member can have heard the replies which I have given to the earlier Questions.

Has consideration been given to the fact that many Defence Volunteers are in receipt of weekly wages far in excess of those paid to soldiers?

Bank Advances (Interest Rate)

61.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will now consider introducing legislation to make it illegal for the banks to charge more than 3 per cent. or 1 per cent. above the existing Bank Rate, on all overdrafts and advances made to agriculturalists and other industries engaged on work of national importance?

I consider that the charges at present made by the banks in respect of the credit facilities referred to in the Question are not higher than is necessary to maintain the banking structure of this country on a sound basis. I do not think, therefore, that there is any case for proposing legislation on the lines suggested.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in regard to advances made by the banks for agricultural purposes, the rate is usually 5 per cent. whereas the Bank Rate is only at 2 per cent? What possible justification is there for this? Is he further aware that the main excuse of the banks is that some of these advances might be in respect of bad or doubtful debts, but, surely, on the other hand, the banks must realise the importance of attaining the maximum amount of food during war-time?

I would not accept that statement as the attitude of all banking concerns.

Repair Depot (Land Acquisition)

53.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been called to the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure, wherein it is stated that 160 acres of bogland were purchased at a price of £26,637 for a repair depot; that that site has since been abandoned; and whether he will demand a repayment of the purchase money to the Government, or alternatively, assess that sale for 100 per cent. Excess Profits Tax?

I am aware of the report to which the hon. Member refers. I read the committee's criticisms as directed not against the price paid for the land but against the selection of this site for a repair depot in view of the expense of preparing it for heavy buildings.

Does not the Chancellor realise that the criticism of the people is against the price paid for the land and that it is a scandal that land of this kind—[Interruption.]

In view of the fact that that Supplementary Question was reasonably framed, may I ask for a reply?

The hon. Member has been a Member of the House long enough to know that Supplementary Questions must be framed in equally reasonable language to that of the Question on the Order Paper. The kind of adjective he has used would not be allowed in a Question on the Paper, and cannot be used in a Supplementary Question.

May I ask the Chancellor whether he regards the price paid as reasonable for this kind of land?

That is not a matter to which my attention has been directed. I was asked whether, in fact, the Committee adversely reported on the question of the price, and I said in my answer that I read the criticism as being directed against the selection of the site for a repair depot.

In view of the public concern in this matter, will the Chancellor have a proper investigation made into the price paid?

Has anybody been brought to book for this transaction? Has the responsibility been brought home?

Surely the Chancellor will not acquiesce in this laisser faire method, of which we have had too much already?

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance in view of the remarks you have just made? Are we to assume that no matter how preposterous a transaction may be or how preposterously extravagant a price may be paid for a piece of land, it is unparliamentary to describe it as a scandal?

That might be reasonable in Debate in some cases, but not in a Supplementary Question or in a Question on the Paper.

Lord Chancellor (Pension)

59.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in the interest of national economy, the Government will consider the advisability of repealing 2 and 3 William IV, chap. III?

Is not the Chancellor aware that there is a war on, and that this pension which, under the Statute, is payable to the Lord Chancellor is payable free of all taxation and other drawbacks? Does he think that is fair and right at this time?

I was asked whether I was prepared to consider the advisability of repealing these Sections. As the hon. Member no doubt knows, it is the usual custom for an ex-Lord Chancellor in receipt of a pension to give services and to sit as a judge in Appeals to the Supreme Tribunal; and if the suggestion of the hon. Member were carried out, it would mean, as far as money is concerned, that somebody else would have to be paid for doing these things.

Surely, the Lord Chancellor is entitled to the same sort of pension as an ex-Cabinet Minister gets. Ought not that to be sufficient? [Interruption.] I beg to give notice that I intend to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Education (Nursery Schools)

64.

asked the President of the Board of Education whether, in view of the heavy increase of the infant mortality rates in industrial areas during the last war, he will take immediate steps to secure the setting-up of nursery schools throughout the country?

I assume that the hon. Member has in mind primarily the areas in which large numbers of women are employed on industrial work of national importance. As stated in the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health on 6th June, he is actively engaged, in consultation with the Minister of Labour, in considering the establishment of day nurseries in these areas. In view of the long hours for which the nurseries would have to be open and the need for providing for children under two years of age as well as those between two and five, the provision of day nurseries would appear to be more appropriate than that of nursery schools. It is hoped, however, that it will be practicable to provide some form of occupational training for the older children.

Does the Minister not agree that, in view of the fact that the Government have decided to make evacuation voluntary, there must be a large number of children in the evacuation areas who ought to have nursery schools provided for them?

The hon. Member refers to taking immediate steps, but I think it is far more practicable, in present circumstances, to deal with day nurseries than starting nursery schools.

Is it not the case that the Government's scheme deals with children under two, and day nursery schools deal with children between two and five? Is it not true that the Government already have the matter well in hand?

New Member Sworn

Charles William Key, esquire, for the Borough of Poplar (Bow and Bromley Division).

Business Of The House (Supply)

Ordered,

"That this day, nothwithstanding anything in Standing Order No. 14, Business other than the Business of Supply may be taken before Eleven of the Clock.—[The Prime Minister.]

Message From The Lords

That they have agreed to—

Christchurch Corporation Bill, with Amendments.

That they have passed a Bill, intituled, "An Act to explain and amend the Indian and Colonial Divorce Jurisdiction Act, 1926." [Indian and Colonial Divorce Jurisdiction Bill [Lords.]

And also a Bill, intituled, "An Act to amend the Act 30 & 31 Vict. c. vii; to confer upon the Lord Mayor Aldermen and Citizens of the city and county of

Newcastle-upon-Tyne further powers and to make further provisions with respect to the Hospital of Saint Mary Magdalene in the said city and county; and for other purposes." [Saint Mary Magdalene Hospital (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Bill [Lords.]

Saint Mary Magdalene Hospital (New-Castle-Upon-Tyne) Bill Lords

Read the First time; and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

Courts (Emergency Powers) Amendment Bill Lords

Read the First time; to be read a Second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 61.]

Middlesex Deeds Bill Lords

Read the First time; to be read a Second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 62.]

War Situation

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Margesson.]

3.49 p.m.

I spoke the other day of the colossal military disaster which occurred when the French High Command failed to withdraw the Northern Armies from Belgium at the moment when they knew that the French front was decisively broken at Sedan and on the Meuse. This delay entailed the loss of 15 or 16 French divisions and threw out of action for the critical period the whole of the British Expeditionary Force. Our Army and 120,000 French troops were indeed rescued by the British Navy from Dunkirk but only with the loss of their cannon, vehicles and modern equipment. This loss inevitably took some weeks to repair, and in the first two of those weeks the battle in France has been lost. When we consider the heroic resistance made by the French Army against heavy odds in this battle, the enormous losses inflicted upon the enemy and the evident exhaustion of the enemy, it may well be thought that these 25 divisions of the best trained and b