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Civil Defence

Volume 388: debated on Thursday 1 April 1943

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Refugees (Visas)


asked the Home Secretary whether the possibility of instituting a system of block visas for refugees has been considered by His Majesty's Government and will be tried sooner than lose any chance of saving persecuted Jews?

A system of block visas would not be of any assistance in helping refugees to escape from enemy or enemy-occupied territory. As regards refugees who have already escaped to neutral territory, the difficulties are not due to the administrative arrangements for granting visas and would not be removed by an alteration of those arrangements. The question whether some representative should be authorised to distribute blocks of visas among applicants would only arise if it were first decided that there should be a policy of wholesale admissions to this country during the war of fresh classes of alien refugees.

Does the Home Secretary seriously maintain that if neutral countries know that blocks of visas are available for refugees to enter this country from enemy-occupied countries, that will not encourage them to admit more refugees?

Are we to infer from the answer that, in spite of the declaration of 17th December, it is not my right hon. Friend's intention to admit any kind of refugee to this country who was not admissible under the Regulations of his Department as they existed before that date?

As my hon. Friend knows, discussions are about to proceed on international action, and the Government are unable to alter their policy in advance of those discussions.


asked the Home Secretary whether, in view of the bad effect on the morale of men in alien companies of the Pioneer Corps and on other men and women doing valuable war service, of refusals to rescue their parents from danger by admitting them to this country, he will, pending a general revision of the present regulations for visas, relax these regulations to the extent of granting visas to parents in such cases where there is no individual reason to the contrary?

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the replies which I gave to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) and the senior Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) on 18th March, to which I have nothing to add.

Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to consider any individual cases, however hard they may be?

I am often considering individual cases, and many individuals have been permitted to come into this country.

As the Home Secretary has said that we must wait for international action, is he aware that the United States regulation visas long ago anticipated ours in this respect and that the reuniting of severed families is one of the principal objects of the United States regulations? Cannot we follow the example of the United States in this matter?


asked the Home Secretary whether the present regulation permitting the granting of visas to wives of men serving in the Forces or doing valuable war work for ourselves or the Allies will be extended to the husbands of women similarly occupied?

If the circumstances of an alien woman in this country are analogous to those of an alien man whose wife is allowed to join him, I would certainly give sympathetic consideration to any application for the admission of such a woman's husband.

National Fire Service


asked the Home Secretary whether there was any avoidable delay upon the part of the National Fire Service in ordering pumps and personnel to proceed to fires on a certain recent occasion to which his attention has been directed; whether the pumps and crews turned out promptly when the order was given; and whether he is able to make any statement upon the subject?

I have received a full report on this incident. I understand that a few minutes' delay was caused through the call to the National Fire Service being received at a station which was not the nearest one to the fire, but that an appliance was on the spot within seven minutes of the call being received. Calls for assistance from the fire after the arrival of the first appliance were subjected to some delay owing to the local interruption of communications, but a second appliance appears to have arrived four minutes after the first, and a third appliance some eight minutes later. I cannot find any reason for thinking that the pumps and crews did not turn out promptly when the calls were received.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he proposes to hold any investigation into this matter at which persons who desire to do so may give evidence?

When my hon. and learned Friend's Question was put down I caused inquiries to be made—I did so before, as a matter of fact. Considerable inquiries have been made, and this is the result. I hardly think that the question is one for a complicated inquiry with witnesses but if my hon. and learned Friend has any further evidence he would like to put to me, I will have it looked into.

Fire-Guard Duties


asked the Home Secretary whether he will have inquiries made as to the circumstances in which Mr. Leonard Powell, employed as a carter at Ancoats Goods Station, Manchester, London Midland and Scottish Railway, has been excused fire-watching at his place of work?

I am making inquiries in regard to this case, and will communicate with my hon. Friend as soon as possible.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also make inquiries into the case of the Liverpool dockers?

Is the Home Secretary aware that the decision to exempt this man from fire-watching duties has not only added to the difficulties of the railway management but has met with very deep resentment from the members of the National Union of Railwaymen, who emphasise that all eligible employees should share the burden of fire-watching duty on terms of equality?

I think that my hon. Friend will agree that, as I do not yet know the facts, it would be best for me not to express an opinion.

Will the right hon. Gentleman do as I suggested and make inquiries as to whether the dockers in Liverpool have to serve as fire-watchers or not?

I am always willing to inquire into anything connected with that great city.

Air-Raid Warnings


asked the Home Secretary whether any local authority has the power to have any other method than the siren in the case of an air-raid?

No, Sir. No public alarm other than the siren may be sounded without my specific authority; but certain towns on or near the South and East coasts which are liable to hit and run raids have been permitted to sound a local alarm signal publicly in addition to the national warning sounded on the siren.

Has my right hon. Friend granted permission for a siren that sounds like a cuckoo?

It is obviously most undesirable that I should answer questions about particular places in public.

Emergency Water Tank, St Albans


asked the Home Secretary whether he can give any information in connection with the emergency water tank built close to an air-raid shelter at St. Albans; who was responsible for placing the tank in this position; and what action he intends taking about the matter?

As a result of representations recently made to me, this matter has been investigated, and it has been decided to halve the capacity of the tank by constructing a dividing wall and to use only that half of the tank farthest from the shelter. Other subsidiary precautionary measures will also be adopted and I am satisfied that the combined effect will be to prevent the possibility of water entering the shelter in the event of the fall of a bomb in the immediate vicinity. The siting of the tank was the subject of consultation between the Senior Regional Technical Adviser and the City Engineer.

Identity Cards


asked the Home Secretary whether, in the new identity cards about to be issued, provision will be made for the insertion of such particulars as may be necessary to enable these cards to be used, if it should be decided so to use them, for purposes of electoral identification?

Will there be provided a space which could be stamped by the polling clerk to show that the card had been used at an election?

I doubt whether that would be practical, because I would not know how many elections would take place.


asked the Minister of Health whether he proposes to enforce the attachment of a fingerprint of the holder to each of the new identity cards?

I know of no considerations which modify the conclusions previously reached that neither a photograph nor finger prints upon identity cards could be relied upon unless authenticated by a responsible declarant having personal knowledge of the holder. My hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate the difficulty of insisting upon this condition in the reissue of cards to some 36,000,000 persons. Apart from this chief consideration, finger prints would be of little use on the occasions when identity cards are produced for inspection by the police or by members of the Armed Forces.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that he has taken adequate precautions to prevent the new cards being forged, as the present ones are?

Is it not a fact that in every area where the British Army are responsible for security they insist on having photographs on identity cards?

The hon. Member knows of the long answer given by my predecessor, to which I have nothing to add.