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Commons Chamber

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1943

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 4th May, 1943

The House—after the Adjournment, on 22nd April, 1943, for the Easter Recess—met, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.

Oral Answers To Questions


Football Match, Glasgow (Traffic Arrangements)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether his attention has been called to the bad traffic arrangements and other conditions causing danger and discomfort to the public which arose from the defective arrangements made for the international football match at Hampden Park, Glasgow, on 17th April; and whether he will have inquiries made into the matter, with a view to obviating similar conditions in future?

I am aware that an unexpectedly large number of persons travelled to Hampden Park on this occasion and that in consequence a severe strain was imposed on the police and on the limited transport facilities at present available. The circumstances will be borne in mind when arrangements are being made for any similar event in future. In par- ticular consideration will be given to making admission to such matches by ticket only.

Nurses (Legislation)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is now in a position to make a statement regarding the introduction of a Bill for Scotland similar to the Nurses Bill?

Yes, Sir. As a result of my negotiations with the interested bodies in Scotland, I propose to introduce a Bill shortly, authorising the setting up a roll of assistant nurses on a temporary basis. The primary object must, however, be to increase the number of fully trained nurses and as a contribution to this end the Bill will contain provisions which I hope will encourage assistant nurses to qualify for entry into the State Registered grade. In addition, the Bill will seek to control nursing co-operations and to protect the nursing profession against wholly unqualified competition.

In considering legislation, will the right hon. Gentleman see that due attention is paid to the views of the Royal College of Nurses?

Land Tenure (Uthwatt Report)

3 and 4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland (1) whether he will set up a committee to consider the implications and effect of the recommendations contained in the Uthwatt Report upon the Scottish system of land tenure; (2) whether he will now give an assurance that, in the event of a decision by His Majesty's Government to implement the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee, separate legislation will be introduced for Scotland?

In the examination of the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee which is now proceeding the problems presented by the Scottish system of land tenure are being fully considered, and meantime I see no reason to set up a committee as the hon. Member suggests. Separate Scottish legislation will be introduced to give effect to the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee already accepted on the subject of interim development control, and wherever separate legislation appears to be justified in relation to any other recommendations which may be adopted the same course will be followed.

Is the right hon. gentleman aware that the Uthwatt Committee's Report only touched very superficially upon the Scottish problem, and in view of the fact that the Scottish system of land tenure is entirely different from the English system, will he give an absolute assurance that no comprehensive legislation dealing with the two countries will be simultaneously introduced?

Will my right hon. friend instruct the committee examining these matters to bear in mind the importance of returning to the people the land for which they are fighting?

Scott Report (Normand Committee's Report)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress has been made by the committee set up in February last under the chairmanship of Lord Normand to ensure that the recommendations in the Scott Report, so far as they are applicable to Scottish conditions, are covered by inquiries already in hand in Scotland?

Lord Normand's Committee has now furnished its Report. While recording a few detailed suggestions for Scottish application this Report states that all the more important and urgent of the Scott Committee's recommendations are being given close and practical study, and does not advise any departure from the present method of dealing with the Scott Report in its bearing on Scottish conditions. This Report from Lord Normand's Committee has been presented to Parliament and copies will, I hope, be available in the Vote Office to-day.

Fuel And Power

Coalmine Accidents And Industrial Diseases


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he can give particulars of the number and rate of accidents, and notifiable industrial diseases, in the first quarter of this year; whether the rate is increasing; and the factors responsible for such increase?

In the period 1st January to 3rd April, 1943, the number of persons who were killed or seriously injured by accidents at mines under the Coal Mines Act was 869, a rate per 1,000 persons employed of 1.21. The rate is not increasing. No corresponding figures for industrial diseases are available.

Has my right hon. and gallant Friend's attention been called to the increasing evidence that middle-aged and elderly miners are beginning to show signs of tiredness and fatigue, which will increase the accident rate? Will he consider what steps can be taken, particularly with regard to the supply of more adequate food, to abate this tendency?

I am watching the position very carefully. As I pointed out, the rate is not increasing. In fact, the comparable figure for the previous quarter was slightly greater than that for the last one.

In view of the great benefit being derived from the canteens, will my right hon. and gallant Friend take steps to see that the erection of further buildings is not delayed on account of the shortage of material and labour?

I will do everything I possibly can—and I have done—to expedite the construction of these canteens. They are going on at a fairly satisfactory rate, although I would be happier to see miners making more use of some of them.

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware of the increasing accident rate in Durham County? Are the causes being looked into?

I believe there was an accident in Durham County at the beginning of last year. I have not the figures for any particular area here, but, taking the country as a whole, there was a slight decrease as compared with the same period.

Production And Consumption


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power in what proportions the closing of the gap between production and consumption is due to the producers' effort and the economies in consumption?

The answer is: roughly in the proportions of one-third production and two-thirds consumption.

Labour Research Department Pamphlet


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that a document entitled "Coal in 1943," published by the Labour Research Department, has been circulated by his Midland Regional Controller; and whether this action has his approval?

Yes, Sir. I am aware of this action, which was taken without my knowledge or approval.

Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that it is highly improper for any member of his Department to circulate party political pamphlets, whether they come from the Right or the Left, and in view of the fact that this is not the first grave indiscretion of this officer, would he consider whether he could be more usefully employed elsewhere?

No, Sir, I have nothing to add to my answer. I said it was done without my knowledge or approval.

In order to remove any misunderstanding, does the Minister appreciate that this document was not published by the Labour Party?

Petrol Allowance, Birmingham Region


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many applications for petrol allowances the Regional Petroleum Officer, Birmingham, has rejected after having required the applicants to license and insure their vehicles as a condition precedent to any consideration of such applications?

Such cases are not separately recorded, but I am told that they could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

What objection is there to telling applicants whether they will be able to get a petrol allowance before they license their vehicles?

I think a good indication is given by the Petrol Office if there is a prima facie case for the applicant getting an allowance, but as these cases do not exceed half-a-dozen I do not think the hon. Gentleman need worry very much.

Indians, South Africa (Status)


asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he will publish in a White Paper, or otherwise, full details of all correspondence and negotiations between the British Government and the Government of South Africa, both before and since the passing of the Asiatic (Restriction of Indians) Act by the South African Parliament?

There has been no correspondence or negotiations of the kind suggested. The matter is one which, in accordance with the recognised principles of inter-Imperial relations, has been dealt with directly between the Government of India through its High Commissioner in South Africa and the Union Government.

Has any consultation or advice been sought from His Majesty's Government?

Trade And Commerce

Woollen Underclothing


asked. the President of the Board of Trade to what extent it is his intention to limit the sale of woollen underclothes to children and old persons; and will he announce the age limits and allow persons of other ages to obtain them on a medical certificate?

As supplies of wool yarn are limited, the production of all-wool underwear is now being concentrated on sizes for young children up to four years of age, and on styles suitable for elderly persons, while other underclothing, including mixtures of wool and other fibres, is being made in sizes and styles suitable for all ages. It is not my intention to limit sales to the public in the way my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind.

With regard to the provision of woollen garments for certain classes of people, would the Minister extend that, on medical advice?

I am anxious not to take up undue man and woman-power in administration. I think it would be very difficult to have a distribution of woollen underwear to individuals in the way suggested. What I am now doing is to limit it to certain sizes and styles for the most part, and I think that on the whole that is the best way of doing it.

For the purpose of this definition an elderly person is a person who likes old-fashioned combinations or long-sleeved vests and long-legged woollen pants, but large sections of the community do not care for these styles.

Local Price Regulation Committees (Methods)


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can now make some statement regarding the methods employed by the Board of Trade committees against shopkeepers who are alleged to be breaking the Board of Trade's wartime regulations; and whether he can give some assurance that no objectionable and harsh measures will be employed by these committees?

I presume that my hon. Friend in referring to the Local Price Regulation Committees. These committees are doing most valuable work in enforcing the war-time regulations affecting prices and the licensing of retail businesses; and I have no reason whatever to believe that any of these committees have used harsh or objectionable methods in carrying out their duties.

Bespoke Tailoring (Coupons)


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will consider making a small supplementary allowance of coupons to bespoke tailors who are finding that the coupons they can demand from their customers for suits cut on utility lines are, on the average, insufficient to enable them to replace the materials used?

No, Sir. The coupon pointing of suits has been calculated so as to provide full replacement of the material used.

Is it not a fact that these coupon values were based on the practice and the possibility of large-scale factory production, and that, now that the present stocks are running out, if the coupon values are maintained the small bespoke tailors will be rapidly put out of business?

No, Sir. There is a margin. The present coupon pointing for a man's suit, of coat, waistcoat and trousers, is 26, and we find that in a great many cases 24 coupons will cover it. The matter has to be averaged for different sizes. We have gone into it very carefully, and I am assured that there is no injustice to the section the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Swedish Diesel Engines (Germany)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare to what extent diesel engines are manufactured in Sweden and supplied to Germany; and whether any representation has been made to the Swedish Government suggesting that they should be included in the list of war material contained in the Royal Decree, dated 20th January, 1935?

I accept the assurance recently published by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs that Swedish shipyards do not export diesel engines to Germany, and in particular I have no reason to believe that submarine engines have been exported. In 1942, however, five diesel motors were exported to Norway, and it is admitted by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs that fishing vessels are delivered to Germany with engines which have been manufactured in Sweden. While no representation has been made in the precise sense suggested in the second part of the Question, this whole matter is still the subject of discussion between His Majesty's Government and the Swedish Government.

In view of the importance of the matter and the danger in which we stand from the submarine menace, will the hon. Gentleman take steps to impress upon the Swedish Government that these diesel engines shall be included in the list to which the Question refers?

I do not know if that is the best way of doing it. Vigorous representations have been and are being made to the Swedish Government.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that what really matters is to prevent Germany getting diesel engines?

Prisoners Of War


asked the Secretary of State for War whether all the prisoners of war now being repatriated to and from Italy are disabled or seriously ill?

No, Sir. More than half of those repatriated are doctors, medical orderlies, drivers of ambulances and chaplains. These are entitled to be repatriated,under International Conventions, but a sufficient number has been retained at the camps to care for the needs of the prisoners.

On what principle does the exchange take place? Are they exchanged man for man, and do they give an undertaking not to take any further part in the war? How are they selected on either side? Are fit men sent while wounded men are left behind?

They are selected in accordance with the principles of the Convention.

Have those either in Italy or Germany who have been prisoners longest not a claim to be repatriated?

I am afraid the length of time has nothing to do with it. It is a question, at any rate in the case of Italy, of conforming to the terms of the Convention.

On what principle is it done? Are they exchanged man for man? Who goes first? How are they selected?

Does that mean that the total on one side has to agree with the total on the other?

Will my right hon. Friend circulate an explanation in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. JOHN DUGDALE:

44. To ask the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the hardship suffered by the wives of prisoners of war in having to buy clothes and send them out to their husbands; and whether he will consider making them a clothing grant towards the cost thereof.

I put this Question originally to the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence because it concerns all three Services, and may I ask why it has been found necessary to transfer it to the head of one of the Service Departments?

It is the usual custom that the Prime Minister hands the Question to the Department concerned.

Possibly I can throw a little light on this point. It has been the custom for a great many months for the War Office, which is the Service predominantly concerned, to answer general questions on the subject of prisoners of war. Sufficient uniform clothing, underclothing and boots for the prisoners' needs are despatched through the British Red Cross to the International Red Cross at Geneva to provide all British prisoners of war in Germany and Italy with adequate clothing, underclothing and boots. Relatives can, however, if they wish, supplement this provision by putting clothing in the quarterly next-of-kin parcels. If, in particular cases, they are unable to provide what they would desire to insert in the next-of-kin parcel, they might get in touch with their Regimental Association or with the nearest representative of the British Red Cross Society or the Order of St. John of Jerusalem who may be able to assist them in the matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many cases the Red Cross simply send coupons, and the wives of these prisoners have to spend anything up to £10 or more in buying the clothes, and there is great dissatisfaction in many districts?

As I said, the ordinary official arrangements are supposed to supply sufficient uniform clothing, underclothing and boots, so I do not think it is necessary for supplementary provision to be made to an extent which causes hardship, as the hon. Member has suggested.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider circulating a list of the clothing which is supplied to these men, so that we may ascertain what they do obtain?

British Army

Home Guard


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can furnish an estimate of the value of clothing and equipment issued to the Home Guard which has been written off as unaccounted for?

Do we understand that £600,000 of stores and equipment have been lost?

It is not a very large figure in relation to the total value of the equipment of the Home Guard. In any case, the bulk of it was alluded to in the Comptroller and Auditor-General's Report and presumably it will come under the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee.

Is it not correct to say that a good deal was destroyed during the bombardment of London by enemy action?

British Association For International Understanding


asked the Secretary of State for War whether the British Association for International Understanding renders direct services to the Armed Forces; and, if so, whether any payment is made for those services?

Yes, Sir. First the Association supply a large number of copies of "British Survey" to the Forces, a few of them free but most of them at a price approximating to the bare cost of production. Secondly, they run an information service, providing information, including some fairly lengthy memoranda, on request by Army Educational Corps and other service personnel in connection with Service education and A.B.C.A. Thirdly, they have hitherto done a good deal of administrative work in connection with the supply of lecturers to the Forces, but the War Office have recently agreed with them that this work should in future be undertaken by the Regional Committees for Adult Education in His Majesty's Forces. The War Office paid them £1,000 in the last financial year in respect of the Information Service and lecturers and intends to pay them £650 a year in future in respect of the Information Service. These payments are for specific services performed for and at the request of the Service Departments and are based on the estimated cost to the Association, including an appropriate proportion of the salaries of their staff, of the work referred to.

Political Meetings (Military Police Action)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will investigate the case in which military police in Daventry, on Sunday, 18th April, prevented soldiers in uniform from listening to a Communist speaker who was speaking in support of the Government candidate; and whether he will take steps to prevent any repetition of this incident?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to the incident that took place on 18th April on the market square in Northampton, when the military police prevented soldiers in uniform from listening to speeches at a public meeting; and whether he has any statement to make?

The case has been investigated. The action taken by the military police was the result of an error of judgment, and steps are being taken to ensure, as far as possible, that such an error does not recur.

As so much confusion seems to exist as to the political rights of soldiers, will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the whole position at some time in the future by allowing soldiers on leave in mufti publicly to discuss what they are fighting for?

I do not think that confusion exists anywhere but in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's mind.

Women's Auxiliary, Home Guard


asked the Secretary of State for War whether women auxiliaries of the Home Guard are subject to military law in connection with their Home Guard duties?

Women auxiliaries of the Home Guard are only subject to military law in connection with their Home Guard duties to the extent that other civilians in the service of or accompanying His Majesty's troops are subject to military law under Sub-sections (9) or (10) of Section 176 of the Army Act.

Accused Officers (Procedure)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that there is often an interval of between six weeks and three months between the time an officer is charged with an offence under the Army Act and the time when he is brought to trial by a court-martial, and that a further considerable interval may elapse before the finding of the court is promulgated; and will he do something to expedite this procedure?

Convening officers are aware of the need for reducing time spent in arrest as far as possible and cases in which there seems to have been undue delay are investigated.In many cases, particularly those involving financial irregularities, considerable investigations and correspondence are usually necessary before the accused can be brought to trial. New offences may come to light in course of these investigations and these take up more time. Even so, an examination of 50 recent cases of courts-martial shows the average interval between arrest and trial to have been less than six weeks. It has been impossible to devise a change in the present procedure which would shorten the interval without prejudicing the efficient administration of justice. Army commanders have to consider every court-martial of an officer before confirming it, and in view of the heavy demands on their time I do not consider that the interval between the trial and the promulgation of its findings can be greatly expedited.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider an alteration in the practice whereby an officer awaiting trial must always be accompanied by a brother officer during every hour of the day and night, taking up the time of officers who might be engaged on very much more important duties?

I will consider that, without, however, holding out a promise of any kind.

Officers (Re-Employment)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, having regard to the new decision in respect of officers over 55 years of age, consideration will be given to applications for re-employment by those who were retired under the Order of February, 1942?

Rules for the procedure in regard to the submission, of reports on officers have recently been issued which emphasise the fact that the age of the officer is not of itself a deciding factor in determining whether he shall be retired. But incapacity due to age still provides grounds for a report. The cases of officers retired under the Instruction of February, 1942, have already been carefully considered and it is not thought that fresh application by them will serve any useful purpose.

Billeting Allowances


asked the Secretary of State for War whether a decision has been made to amend the present schedule of billeting allowances to civilian householders?

Certain increases in the present billeting rates are in contemplation, and the details will be issued shortly.

In view of the undertaking that was given by the Financial Secretary before the Recess, can my right hon. Friend give an indication when these new rates will be issued?

I have only in the last few hours had a decision on this matter, so that I can give no further information other than that it will be shortly.

Pay Corps (Subalterns, Promotion)


asked the Secretary of State for War the rules governing promotion of subalterns to captains in the Royal Army Pay Corps?

A Regular subaltern paymaster is promoted to the rank of captain on the satisfactory completion of 12 months' probation. A subaltern assistant paymaster (quartermaster), whether holding a Regular or an emergency commission, is as a war-time measure promoted to the war substantive rank of captain after three years' commissioned service on full pay during the present war. In addition all subalterns in the Royal Army Pay Corps may be selected on the recommendation of their officer commanding to fill certain appointments carrying the rank of captain.

North Africa (Wireless Sets And Reading Matter)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is satisfied that there is a reasonably adequate supply of wireless sets in the First and Eighth Armies for the entertainment and information of the troops?

While the Eighth Army was in the Middle East it was on the whole adequately provided with wireless sets. Its present deficiencies are being made good. Sufficient shipping space could not be allocated to transport wireless sets to North Africa until the military stores and equipment vitally needed there had been despatched. But a number of sets has been sent, and I hope that an adequate supply will reach the troops before long.

What is the organisation through which the public can send wireless sets to the Forces in the Middle East?

I will let my hon. Friend know. I do not remember it at this moment, but there is some means through the Army Welfare Organisation.

Is there a First Army daily news sheet on the lines of that printed in the Eighth Army?

There is certainly a newspaper, but I cannot say offhand whether it is daily or weekly. In fact, both the First Army and Eighth Army publish their own newspapers.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the lack of recreation facilities for the Eighth and First Armies during periods of inactivity and the desire of the men for books, he will arrange for immediate despatch to these armies direct an ample supply of literature as an issue?

I am fully alive to the need for supplying as much reading matter as possible to the troops in North Africa. I gave some details of what is being done in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) on 6th April, of which I will send the hon. Lady a copy.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether whatever he is doing is being done direct for the First Army? That is the main point.

I do not quite understand what the hon. Lady means by "direct." It is being done in the way most likely to ensure that reading matter goes to the troops who need it.

Sentenced Soldiers (Middle East)


asked the Secretary of State for War how many soldiers convicted by court-martial in the Middle East and sent to the United Kingdom to serve their sentences have had such sentences suspended and been returned to the Middle East?

If I give particulars of certain cases, will my right hon. Friend investigate them and disapprove of a course of conduct which, I suggest, causes a waste of shipping space and an embarrassment to the disciplinary authorities in the Middle East?

I am ready to look at any cases which my hon. and gallant Friend sends me, but I think he will find that the legal requirements of the cases make this necessary.

They are serious crimes and usually relate to those involving sentences of penal servitude.

Leave Camps, North Africa


asked the Secretary of State for War whether leave camps or centres have been established in North Africa where troops from the forward areas may spend their leave instead of being sent to the towns and left to find their own entertainment?

I doubt whether the military situation in North Africa has as yet enabled leave to be granted on any wide scale. Any recommendation from the Commander-in-Chief as to the necessity for erecting leave camps would of course receive sympathetic consideration.

Illiterates (Instruction)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider making arrangements whereby soldiers who can neither read nor write may receive instruction?

There are few illiterates in the Army, and they are scattered among various units. Where qualified instructors are available classes are now held to teach them to read and write. A special book is now being prepared which will enable instruction to be given in all units by regimental non-commissioned officers.

In view of the fact that they are so scattered, will my right hon. Friend consider collecting some of them together into groups, so that they may receive this instruction, which is necessary from a military standpoint?

Anti-Mine Devices


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that on many occasions in recent operations in Tunisia the advance of British troops has been held up for lack of adequate minesweeping tanks; and why, when a suitable mine-sweeper was offered to his Department some two years ago, the development was not proceeding with?

For the answer to the first part of the hon. Member's Question, I would refer him to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) on 13th April. I am not aware that any device was rejected by the Army unless extensive trials showed that it did not meet requirements.

As the reply given to my hon. Friend was totally unsatisfactory, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that officers who have been in these battles have told me of the inadequacy of the mine-sweeping equipment and that equipment much better was offered to the Department two years ago? Why has it not been proceeded with?

I am not prepared to accept as accurate, to put it mildly, the hon. Member's facts.

In regard to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave me the other day can he assure the House, in view of the extensive use which the Germans are making of minefields, that an improvement is being made in the method of overcoming them?

I can certainly give the assurance that a great deal of attention is being paid to it and that a special organisation has been set up inside the Army to conduct research, experiments and trials in anti-mine devices.

Have any representations been received from the headquarters staff in North Africa on this subject? Is my right hon. Friend aware that officers who are on leave in this country have made statements to the effect that proper devices are not obtainable and that that has entailed a great loss of life?

As regards representations from the Middle East, certain devices which were under trial in the Middle East have been sent home and are under active development here. As regards the second part of the question, I am not aware that there have been any general complaints, certainly not official complaints, from the Middle East of any unwillingness on our part to conduct research in this very important matter.

Is it not true that by far the majority of the losses in killed at El Alamein were on account of the absence of adequate mine-sweeping facilities? It is nonsense to pretend that they were not.

I should require notice of that question, but I beg leave to doubt it very much.

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the Prime Minister, who made a statement to that effect in this House? It is absolutely true, and he knows it is true.

Leave, Middle East (Meals And Accommodation)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the complaints of exorbitant charges for tea, cakes and lodgings, to men in the Middle East Forces, while on leave in Tripolitania and Egypt; and will he take the necessary steps to secure that serving soldiers are able to afford their leave?

I have received no such complaints, and I do not consider that they would be justified in Egypt, where the Army, philanthropic organisations and generous local inhabitants have made extensive arrangements to provide meals and accommodation for sleep and recreation for troops on leave. Special camps have been built, and clubs and canteens have been set up. For example, Army Welfare last autumn controlled 150 beds for officers and 6,000 beds for other ranks in Cairo and 100 beds for officers and 3,000 for other ranks in Alexandria. More have doubtless been provided in these towns since then. It is not long since Tripolitania was a battle area, and most of the supplies sent there are for military purposes. But those concerned are doing what they can to provide canteens and clubs which, as in Egypt, should make it unnecessary for soldiers to pay exorbitant prices.

Will the right hon. Gentleman look at some correspondence which has been sent to me on this matter, and will he realise that the rate of exchange of currency is making it very awkward for the soldiers?

Will my right hon. Friend take note that many soldiers write back and say how remarkable are the efforts of the War Office to help the soldiers?

Will my right hon. Friend appoint a successor to General Willans, who was accidentally killed, and as soon as he is appointed will my right hon. Friend send him to North Africa to make inquiries into the situation?

General Willans' notes did not survive the accident in which he was killed. A successor has been appointed, but in the meantime another high officer has been sent out to pick up the threads of the investigation which General Willans had been conducting.

Pension Terms (Enlistment Form)


asked the Secretary of State for War for what purpose a volunteer is made to sign an undertaking as to his pension rights; does this alter in any way his ultimate claims in case of disability; and whether there is any difference in regard to pensions between a soldier who volunteers and one who is called up in the ordinary way?

The pension terms are the same for all, whether volunteers or not. The clause in the enlistment form to which my hon. Friend refers dates from the time when all were volunteers, and was intended to call the recruit's attention to the limitation of pension entitlement to disabilities attributable to service. The clause was omitted from the enlistment form for the non-volunteer because he would have no say in the terms of his service. In view of the misunderstanding which has arisen, I am considering the withdrawal of the clause altogether.

Coroner's Inquest, Chatham

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for War whether the War Office are legally represented at the Coroner's inquest at Chatham on the death of Rifleman William Clarence Clayton, who died while undergoing sentence of detention?

Yes, Sir. A representative of the Judge Advocate General is watching the proceedings of the Coroner's inquest, which has been adjourned until to-morrow.

Will the War Office be in possession of the whole of the evidence at the proceedings?

In so far as the War Office is represented at the inquest, certainly; but my hon. Friend can rest assured that there is no question of the War Office seeking to burke any issues which are raised by this incident.

Discharged Service Personnel (Rehabilitation)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the development of the scheme by which personnel discharged from the Services on grounds of neurosis or temporary instability can receive appropriate rehabilitative treatment; whether any residential centres have been established; and which Government Department will be responsible for its working?

All cases of personnel who are being discharged from the Services on the grounds stated in the Question are considered by the Ministry of Pensions and, where appropriate, medical treatment, including rehabilitation treatment, is provided for them either at Ministry of Pensions hospitals or at neurosis centres under the Emergency Hospital Scheme. These centres, 11 in number in England and Wales, and two in Scotland, are residential and are under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland. For those not requiring, or no longer requiring, in-patient treatment, out-patient facilities and social help are available at clinics and through other mental health agencies conducted by local authorities or voluntary bodies. These latter services are not at present complete or fully co-ordinated, but are being developed under the auspices of the Board of Control as far as war conditions allow.

If an hon. Member wishes to pursue this matter with a particular Minister, which Minister will be the appropriate one to approach?

Is the Prime Minister aware that in a number of cases the men concerned are unable to take advantage of the facilities provided, because of the fact that the maintenance allowance for their homes while they are in hospital is insufficient to keep the homes going?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no power to compel a man suffering from neurosis to take treatment, and that there have been many cases where men suffering in this way have been sent to prison?

I am not aware of that. I should have thought the point would have been raised in the course of any proceedings in court, and brought out fully, and the case would then come up. As to compulsion, that would raise a much wider question than I could deal with by an answer to a Question.

Service Pay And Allowances (Co-Ordination)


asked the Prime Minister what permanent machinery exists for the purpose of co-ordinating rates of pay and allowances between the three Services; and is he aware that so far as the Navy is concerned there has been no advance in the pay of senior officers since 1938 and that each of the three Services appears to act in this matter with little or no consideration for what the others are doing?

Co-ordination in this sphere of Government as in others rests ultimately on the existence of a united Government collectively responsible for its acts. It is maintained in practice by the normal machinery of constant Ministerial and inter-departmental consultation, and I cannot accept my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion that the Services or the Ministers responsible for them fail to co-operate to the fullest extent in matters of common concern. As regards the pay of senior naval officers, no general advances have been made since 1938 in the pay of senior members of any Crown Service, and none is at present contemplated.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a tendency to isolated discussions with the Treasury, which, unless they are coordinated, do certainly lead to anomalies? There was a case in the House only last week concerning a rise of pay for commissioned officers in the Army, which is a case in point.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that quite frequently suggested improvements are put up by the Service Departments and are not accepted by the finance branches of those Service Departments, and that it is only when the House forces a Debate that we can get any improvement? Is there no better way?

War Casualties


asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to give particulars of the casualties among our Fighting Services since the outbreak of war to the last available date?

No, Sir, but hope I to be in a position to publish the figures shortly.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that nearly all the belligerents do issue these statistics and that the United States of America issue them very regularly?

I do not know about the regularity with which the United Nations issue these statistics, but a statement has been collected from all the Forces of the Commonwealth and the Empire up to the close of last year. I am not sure whether a later statement could be made beyond that. Such statements should certainly not be too much up to date.

Gas Warfare (Retaliatory Measures)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an assurance that before any decision is taken by His Majesty's Government to embark upon gas war steps will be taken to certify beyond doubt that gas has been used by the enemy, and that such certification will be from a neutral observer?


the Prime Minister whether he will assure the House that before His Majesty's Government decide to employ poison gas a neutral commission shall be requested to ascertain the facts as to the use of that weapon by the enemy against the Russians in the first instance?

Retaliatory action will not be taken until His Majesty's Government are convinced that gas has been used by the enemy, but we have no intention of inviting neutrals to assist us in this matter.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he recollects, as every fighting soldier will testify, how often during the last war misstatements about the use of gas were made; and before this added horror is let loose on the world, will he take all precautions to make sure?

I have very good confidence that we shall receive true information from our Russian Allies.

Beveridge Report (Implementation)


asked the Minister without Portfolio whether he has any further statement to make on the Government's attitude to the Beveridge plan; and whether he will state the probable date of the introduction of the promised scheme of children's allowances?

As regards the first part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement which I made on 22nd April, in the course of the Debate on the Adjournment. As regards the second part, I would refer to the reply which I gave to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) on the same day.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that his statement on the Beveridge plan did not meet with very much approval, and can he not be a little more explicit as to the probable date when the Government will implement the plan and begin to put it into operation?

No, Sir; I cannot be any more specific than I was in my speech. I am sorry that it did not meet with approval.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that the present state of the birthrate does not justify further delay in doing what is possible to remove the economic objections to parenthood?

Will opportunity be given to the House to discuss the establishment of a Ministry of Social Security?

That matter was fully discussed in the speech to which I have referred, on the Adjournment, the week before last.

National Finance

Service And Prison Chaplains


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the total annual charge on the public funds in respect of the pay of Service and prison chaplains?

The total annual charge on public funds in respect of the pay of Service and prison chaplains is approximately £1,160,000.

Apart from this relatively small minority—consisting, of course, of all denominations—would it be correct to say that none of the clergy or bishops of the Church of England are paid by the State?

Income Tax Payers


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will give the number of Income Tax payers during the year ended 5th April, 1942?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the Table given by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in answer to a Question on 23rd July last, from which he will see that the number of Income Tax payers for the year ended 5th April, 1942, is estimated at 10,500,000.

Second-Hand Jewellery (Purchase Tax)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether secondhand jewellery pays the 100 per cent. Purchase Tax?

Yes, Sir, where it forms the subject of a taxable purchase; but many transactions are, of course, not of "a wholesale character."

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous trade which is being done in uncut and unset stones, many of the latter obtained from broken-up second-hand jewellery?

Cannot my right hon. Friend devise some means of taxing these transactions?

Government Departments (Telephone Calls)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the official estimate that approximately 80 per cent. of telephone calls throughout the country are attributable to Government Departments and Government-controlled institutions, he will take every step to ensure that this percentage is not increased by reason of calls no longer being charged to the appropriate Departments and also because no close scrutiny or record is now maintained?

As I informed my hon. Friend on 22nd April, the need for rigid economy in the use of telephone communication facilities has been impressed on all Government Departments. In cooperation with the other Departments the Post Office is keeping under review the practical operation of the new arrangements.

Is not the Minister aware that, notwithstanding the steps that have been taken, a large number of totally unnecessary long-distance calls is made almost daily from Whitehall? Will he endeavour to make Government Departments realise that they cannot monopolise the whole telephone service?

Debt Operations


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will arrange that, in the statement of debt operations for April, 1943, and succeeding months, the particulars regarding issues and redemptions of other debt shall distinguish between internal and external loans?

I have arranged that the transactions under "other debt" from April, 1943, onwards shall be divided between internal and external.

Savings Bank Funds (Terminable Annuity)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what amount of the funds of the savings banks were recently invested by the National Debt Commissioners to provide a terminable annuity of £6,516,331 10s. with a currency of 27 years?

Easter Offerings (Taxation)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether all Easter offerings to parish priests and ministers by their congregations are subjected to Income Tax; and whether he will consider exempting gifts of this nature from tax in future?

The taxation of Easter offerings is based upon the decision of the House of Lords given in 1908 in the case of Cooper v. Blakiston, in which it was held that Easter offerings to a vicar were assessable as emoluments of his office. I do not see my way to propose relief from the ordinary operation of the Income Tax law in this matter. I would remind my hon. Friend that the Royal Commission on the Income Tax considered this question and were unable to recommend any concession; and that proposals for the exemption of Easter offerings have been made in this House on several occasions during Finance Bill Debates and have invariably been rejected.

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow the House to have a free vote on this matter?

Comptroller And Auditor-General's Report


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has considered the Report of the Auditor-General on the Civil Appropriation Accounts for 1941; and will he say what disciplinary action it is proposed to take against the individuals responsible for decisions which lead to waste of public money?

The question of disciplinary action would be a matter for the Minister of the Department concerned. But I would remind my hon. Friend that the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General has still to be considered by the Public Accounts Committee, which will take evidence from the Departments and will report to the House in due course. I do not see how any question of taking disciplinary action could arise on the Report at this preliminary stage.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the subject of the Report of the Public Accounts Committee is of such importance that in the business world it would entail the dismissal of the persons concerned?

We had better await careful examination of the Report by the Public Accounts Committee.

Barge Sinkings, Welsh Coast


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has any statement to make concerning the sinking of two barges off the coast of Wales and the consequent loss of the lives of a number of soldiers?

I have been asked to reply, as the casualties were not soldiers, but Royal Marine and Royal Navy personnel. This regrettable incident, which took place in a heavy gale, has been the subject of a board of inquiry, the full report of whose findings has not yet been received and considered. I can, however, assure my hon. Friend that the report of the inquiry will be very fully examined with a view to taking any necessary preventive or other measures.

Will the result of the inquiry be made public to this House? Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is reported that most of these people were not so much drowned or swamped in the barges as they were dashed to death on rocks, owing to an inshore gale?

I had better have notice of that Question, while I examine the report more fully.

Foreign Workers, Germany


asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any information through the International Labour Office as to the total number of foreign workers now employed in Germany; and whether in. can state the countries from which these workers have come and the respective numbers?

The International Labour Office published in the "International Labour Review" for December, 1942, information which had appeared in a German newspaper in September, 1942, according to which the number of foreign workers in Germany, including prisoners of war, "could be estimated at 5,500,000 and was not far from 6,000,000." Workers have been recruited by Germany from most of the countries occupied or dominated by her, but reliable figures of the respective numbers are not available.

War Criminals (Asylum)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether steps have been, or will be, taken to make it clear to the Governments of neutral countries that when we have won the war we shall not tolerate asylum being given by them to war criminals belonging to the Axis nations, no matter how exalted their position may be?

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) on 19th January last.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the very natural apprehension there is in the country that, after this war, the criminals may be allowed to get off scot free as they were in the last war?

My answer did make clear that there was discussion on this matter with the other Allied Governments.

Food Supplies Conference


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the fact that the International Labour Office and the economic section of the League of Nations have studied the problem of food supplies and nutrition, and that both bodies are located in the United States of America, he will suggest that they should be asked to send representatives to take part in the coming Conference on Food Supplies which will be attempting to relieve hunger and also eradicate the ills of malnourishment?

The position of the United States Government and of certain other Governments participating in the conference is not identical in regard to the International Labour Office and to the Economic Section of the League of Nations. I am sure, however, that the desirability of profiting from their researches into these problems and, if possible, of associating either or both of these bodies in some way with the work of the conference, will not be overlooked.

Soviet-Polish Dispute

The House will no doubt wish me to make a brief statement about the unfortunate difficulties which have arisen since the House rose between the Soviet and Polish Governments. There is no need for me to enter into the immediate origins of the dispute; I would only draw attention, as indeed the Soviet and Polish Governments have already done in their published statements, to the cynicism which permits the Nazi murderers of hundreds of thousands of innocent Poles and Russians to make use of a story of mass murder, in an attempt to disturb the unity of the Allies. From the outset His Majesty's Government have used their best efforts to per- suade both the Poles and the Russians not to allow these German manoeuvres to have even the semblance of success. It was therefore with regret that they learned that, following an appeal by the Polish Government to the International Red Cross to investigate the German story, the Soviet Government felt compelled to interrupt relations with the Polish Government.

His Majesty's Government have no wish to attribute blame for these events to anyone except the common enemy. Their sole desire is that these differences between two of the United Nations shall be repaired as swiftly as possible, and that relations between the Soviet Union and Poland shall be restored to that basis of collaboration established, in spite of all the difficulties, between Marshal Stalin and General Sikorski, which has proved of such benefit to the cause of the United Nations and is of far-reaching importance for the future well-being of Europe. In pursuing this policy, His Majesty's Government are, of course, working in the closest consultation and collaboration with the Government of the United States. They trust that the statesmanship which led to the conclusion of the Soviet-Polish Agreement of 30th July, 1941, will succeed again where it succeeded before. One thing at least is certain: The Germans need indulge in no hope that their manoeuvres will weaken the combined offensive of the Allies or the growing resistance of the enslaved populations of Europe.

May I take it that the right hon. Gentleman means that the United States and ourselves will continue to do what we can to dissipate the differences there may be between Poland and the U.S.S.R. with a view to reaching the largest measure of common understanding?

Was the Foreign Office informed beforehand by the Polish Government of their intention to make this appeal to the International Red Cross?

There are a number of possible questions I might answer, but I feel fairly certain that the best contribution I can make is to remind the House that on this subject "Least said, soonest mended."

Will the right hon. Gentleman encourage newspapers and various organisations throughout the country to follow his example and advice?

National Expenditure

Ordered, That a Message be sent to the Lords to request that their Lordships will be pleased to give leave to the Viscount Ridley, C.B.E., to attend to be examined as a witness before the Sub-Committee for Production and Supply Inquiries (A) appointed by the Select Committee on National Expenditure.—[ Sir George Schuster.]

Orders Of The Day



Considered in Committee.

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

Civil Estimates, 1943


Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a further sum, not exceeding.£30, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Housing in England and Wales for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, namely:

Class V., Vote 1, Ministry of Health10
Class X., Vote 6, Ministry of Health (War Services)10
Class X., Vote 1, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (War Services)10

I beg to move, "That Item, Class V, Vote 1, be reduced by £5."

I think the Committee will probably agree that a full and comprehensive Debate on the subject of housing is long overdue. There are very many different facets of this subject. I am especially concerned with the question of housing in town and country and not, although I think it would come within the ambit of the Vote, the question of rents, though I would like to say a word on that, leaving to other of my hon. Friends on both sides the opportunity to discuss it more fully. I will deal with that by saying that I am not convinced by any argument the Government have yet used that the system of controlling rents in this country is sufficiently comprehensive, and I think that whatever our political views may be, whether we are in favour of public or private ownership, we all agree that during the war there should be no rise of any kind in basic rents where ordinary housing is concerned. The Government have passed legislation to ensure that that is so, so far as unfurnished houses are concerned. A great many of my hon. Friends on both sides of the House will be able to produce argu- ments and examples, as I have no doubt they will do later, to show that in the case of furnished lettings there has in some cases been a state of affairs which can only be described as gross profiteering. I would agree with my hon. Friends on this side in saying that we should by all means prevent the landlord from profiteering in housing, but I would also say, and I hope they agree, that it is equally necessary to prevent the tenant from profiteering by charging excessive rent for letting portions of furnished accommodation.

I put down this Amendment for a reduction of the Vote because I was frankly dissatisfied with some of the answers to Questions which my right hon. Friend has given, and I have taken this course, not in any fit of pique, but as the best way to deal with the matter. I wish to make it clear that I shall not be putting the Committee to the trouble of a Division unless my right hon. Friend does not give satisfactory assurances on the points with which I am concerned. Nor do I wish to make any attack on my right hon. Friend which could be described as comprehensive. I would like at the outset of the Debate to say that if it were in Order, which it is not, to discuss other aspects of my right hon. Friend's administration—it is only the housing Vote—I should like to pay a tribute to what my right hon. Friend has done in looking after the health of the people. He may well be proud throughout his official life in the record, he has in that respect, and I would like to pay my sincere tribute to him.

But when it comes to the question of housing I am afraid the tale is a less satisfactory one, and I am sorry to have to say—if I might have my right hon. Friend's attention, because I am going to make a very direct reference which I hope he will not think discourteous; it is not intended to be—that I think his administration suffers from the fact that he has been too long in office, and too long in one particular office. I have noticed, by extended observation over a number of years, that when a Minister, however competent, has been too long in office, particularly in one office, he becomes very Civil Service minded. That is to say, he is more cautious than bold, more anxious to conform to precedent than to indulge in any innovation. It is not for any of us on this Bench, or for anyone else, to suggest to the Prime Minister what promotions he should make, but I cannot but think that there are within this Government a number of junior Ministers who, if they were brought to this office, would apply to it the vigour which comes from new brooms, whose bristles sweep clean because they are young and tough. I do not want to embarrass my right hon. Friend by making injurious comparisons between him and other Ministers, but I cannot help thinking that if the right hon. Gentleman kicked as much against the pricks as the Minister of Agriculture would have done, his building programme would not have been of the miserable size that it is. It would more nearly have approached the achievement of his right hon. colleague, to whose administration I must not refer now except to say that the benefits of it can be seen everywhere throughout the countryside. We have a striking contrast between what has been done in agriculture and what has been done in this most important question of housing. I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman does remain at the Ministry, he will try to emulate his right hon. colleague, and will not be afraid to kick against the pricks but will make a nuisance of himself, and if he does not get what he wants will say, "I prefer to resign rather than remain in office on such terms."

I want to make certain constructive suggestions along these lines. Nobody denies that the most prominent feature of the landscape so far as building is concerned is the lack of men and materials. My speech will be governed by a complete acknowledgment of the priority which should be given to munitions, aeroplanes, ships and things of that kind, over the needs of civilians. It would be better that we should all live in holes in the ground, or under a piece of canvas stretched over four poles, than that any part of our munitions programme should suffer; but nothing that has yet been said convinces me that it is not possible to do far more in regard to housing without detriment to our munitions programme. First, let us take the question of housing in towns. I would ask the Committee to direct their minds to the serious situation from the point of view of repairs to both privately and publicly owned property. An enormous amount was done, despite statements to the contrary, by municipalities and private enterprise before the war in rebuilding bad property, slum clearance, and work of that kind. The essence of that policy was to see that the new hats and houses were kept in the highest state of repair. A slum does not arise only from the structural condition of the houses, but from the condition in which the property is kept. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that, as a result of the lack of men and materials in the building trade—for which the primary responsibility must rest upon my right hon. Friend, although the secondary responsibility, no doubt, rests upon the Minister of Labour and other people—it has become quite impossible for most private owners, and very difficult for most public owners, to keep their property in repair. You see it in London and everywhere else in this country.

How can the matter be dealt with? In the first place, there is what I might call the psychological approach. In that respect I think my right hon. Friend is behind some Ministers. Why does he not, at every meeting he addresses, say to the people, "We are faced with a serious situation. We cannot get the personnel we should like to keep houses, including municipal houses, in repair"? I would make an appeal to the tenants themselves and also to those who can spare any time from other national service work—such as members of the A.F.S. and A.R.P. Services—to form themselves into a corps of volunteer labour to deal with this work. There is a great number of houses in town and country to-day needing comparatively simple renovation, such as painting outside and distempering inside. In many cases—not all, I admit—the paint is available, but there is no organisation of a voluntary character such as is found in other parts of the national effort, no real encouragement to people to work as volunteers in that way. What is there, for example, to prevent the right hon. Gentleman going to the Home Secretary and asking for volunteers in London from the A.F.S. and other Services to assist municipalities and private owners in carrying out these repairs? It cannot be any question of trade union practices, because they are suspended during the war.

I come to the question of temporary rehousing. I want, with all the earnestness I can command, to impress on the Committee the seriousness of the situation. We have had, fortunately, in the last year an increase in the birth-rate. We have an increasing population. That means more pressure on housing accommodation. There are many people in this country suffering from lack of public spirit and patriotism, who object to taking in lodgers with large families. Consequently, there is a considerably increased demand for houses. No attempt is made to keep pace with this by the provision of more houses. In normal times there is an addition every year to the number of houses in this country, although, as my right hon. Friend well knows, it was not sufficient before the war. We have had no such addition for nearly four years, and all the time there has been this increase of population. That is only part of the story. There are, in addition, thousands of houses in London alone which have been bombed and have not been repaired. I do not blame the War Damage Commission and other organisations which deal with the matter. They are doing all they can, but municipalities and private owners are crying out for materials to get these houses repaired.

Here again, cannot my right hon. Friend consider a comprehensive and well-advertised plan for dealing with the situation? Rightly or wrongly, we depend in matters of administration a great deal on publicity, on appeals over the wireless, by poster, and so on. We hear very little from the Minister of Health on this matter. Other Ministers make appeals on such questions as saving food, not squandering money, and the like; but this vast phalanx of Ministers concerned with housing—of whom I see many in the House at present, and of whom I understand there are more outside, such as the Minister of Town and Country Planning—make no such appeals to the public, pointing out that this question is priority No. 1. Why does not the Minister make an appeal in these terms: "Thousands of people are living under conditions in which they ought not to be living, and I want you, the people, to co-operate with me, the Minister, in order to get this remedied "?

I have made certain specific proposals with regard to repairs. I suggest that my right hon. Friend ought to consider the employment of volunteer part-time labour on these and that he ought to press the Departments concerned to release the materials such as paint. When it comes to rehousing, I have an equally specific proposal to make, but before doing so I ought to refer to another point which I omitted earlier and of which my right hon. Friend must be well aware, namely, that all this time there has been no slum clearance. Houses which were practically fit to be scheduled for demolition before the war, indeed, in some cases, houses which actually were so scheduled are still being used. I would suggest, then, to my right hon. Friend that he can only deal with this question of rehousing in the first place by authorising or in the second place by putting every possible compulsion upon local authorities—I am taking for the moment urban or semi-urban authorities and not rural district councils, to which I shall come later—to erect temporary wooden buildings.

There has been for some years, indeed I think at all times in this country, what I would regard as a foolish prejudice against wooden houses. Incidentally, I may observe that the position is different in the United States, where to say that a man has been born and brought up in a log cabin is almost the highest tribute one can pay to him. However that may be, anyone who has seen, as I have, the huts—they are really more accurately described as houses than huts—that have been erected by the Services departments during this war, will agree with me that they afford excellent accommodation. Most of them have what I think is called an air course between the outer wall and the wooden interior, and through two very bad winters with a great deal of snow and frost, and through last winter with a great deal of rain, they provided excellent shelter and comfort for many thousands of troops. I give this comparison, which I think is a very unfortunate one, from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman's administration, or perhaps I should, in fairness to him, say from the point of view of the Government. In a certain area of England with which I am connected and where I live, I have seen put up for a whole unit of the Army, in an incredibly short time, in something like ten days or a fortnight, huts with concrete foundations and with every convenience and comfort. When the unit has vacated that place, I have often seen—it seems a rather extravagant process, but I suppose it is necessary in the interests of the Service—these huts taken down and removed bodily, the concrete foundations being left for the time being and the huts re-erected on another site. The celerity with which this is done is really remarkable.

Then we come to the case of the big towns. Within five miles of Westminster, with its large population and its bombed areas, there is not, I think, one single site where anything of this kind has been done. Yet people are living there in damaged houses, or else many of them have to travel long distances in order to get to their work. There is thus a great disparity between what is being done by the Service Department and what is being done by the right hon. Gentleman. What is the reason for it? [An HoN. MEMBER: "Lack of initiative."] I am afraid I must agree with my hon. Friend who makes that interjection. That, at any rate, is what it looks like. There again my right hon. Friend does not seem to have grasped the essentials of getting things done in war-time. He should, in the first place, have made an appeal directly to the War Cabinet. He should have said, "I must have some of these houses and, if necessary, soldier labour to put them up." Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not afraid either of the building trade employers or the trade unions in regard to pre-war practices and things of that kind. If he chooses to use soldier labour to erect the houses required for the civilian population, surely no one can object. Surely my right hon. Friend could have made an appeal to the War Cabinet on those lines; and, what is more, he could have told the public how serious was the situation and said to them and to the local authorities, "I can provide prefabricated houses which, at any rate, will provide housing for the next two or three years, and it is better that people should live in those houses than in badly bombed damaged houses, or have to go long distances to their work and suffer hardship and inconvenience as a result of the present state of affairs."

My last point on housing generally is this: I have no official information on the subject, and if I had it would be improper to give it across the Table of the House, but I have unofficial information that particularly in connection with certain armies in this country the construction of what they require is at an end or almost at an end. What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to go to the Departments which have been doing that building and to say to them, "I must have the men who are working on these aerodromes and camps directed, whether they were builders before the war or not, to put up houses in order to meet the present need"? I would like a specific answer to that question. I must suppose, from what I have seen throughout the country, that the Air Force and the Army have got a lot of material which could be used for civilian purposes. I would go so far as to say that both the United States and Dominions and other Allied soldiers in this country as well as the men of the British Army would far rather for this slimmer and if necessary for part of next winter as well, live in tents than see some of the civilian population having to put up with hardship because nothing has been done to deal with civilian housing during the war. I would remind the Minister that as the war goes on there is always the danger that morale in some respects may be, not seriously interfered with, but affected, and if people have to go on, winter after winter, with nothing being done to deal with this question on a large scale, it may, eventually, do a great deal of mischief. So, not in any spirit of contumacy, but as an appeal to the Minister, I express the hope that he will be able to adopt some of these suggestions.

When it comes to the question of rural housing, the story is deplorable. We were told three months ago by the right hon. Gentleman that the only time he had blown his trumpet in connection with housing was in regard to the "magnificent programme"—those were not his words but the words of some of his supporters—of 3,000 cottages for agricultural labourers which was about to be carried out. This was after 3 years of war and something like 3 years of the right hon. Gentleman's administration. Those of us who are interested in this question were not impressed by the magnitude of the figure. Some of us suggested that a figure of 30,000 would be nearer the mark, but at least we hoped that these cottages would be built promptly. I will read to the Committee the answer which the Minister gave me on 22nd April last, when I asked how many houses under the scheme had been commenced and when the whole 3,000 would be ready for occupation. The Minister said:
"No building has yet commenced, but the preliminary work is under way in almost all rural districts concerned and covering 2,962 houses. By 9th April sites had been selected and approved for 2,054 houses and plans had been approved for 126. As indicated on 4th February in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir P. Hurd) the rate of progress will depend on the labour and materials that can be made available having regard to the requirements of other important schemes."
There were no other important schemes in his Department. He was thinking of schemes in the Service Departments, and I have already suggested how that matter can be dealt with.

"In view of previous experience of building in war-time conditions, I would hesitate to forecast the date of completion of the whole 3,000 houses. The local housing authorities will, I am confident, spare no effort to achieve the aim set before them."
—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1943; col. 1814, Vol. 388.)

That is one side of the picture, and here is another side that I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. There is not the least doubt that this scheme, which in itself is a very meagre one, has not been "put across" in the proper manner to the rural district councils, and some of them at any rate are very much disappointed with what is being done. Here is a statement from a local paper in my own constituency where the condition of affairs is so ridiculous that, if it had not been made by an official of the Rural District Council, I could hardly believe it was possible. He is Mr. Percy Ayling, Clerk to the Clactonbury Rural District Council, which is very proud of the fact—and I apologise for referring to my constituency again—of having one of the largest rural cottage building programmes in the early days after the last war of any district comparable in size. He says:
"My own difficulties are mainly concerned with the amazing number of people who have to be consulted."
I think I am right in saying that they are going to build only six new houses in this particular area.

"Apart from our own architects, surveyors, builders, committees and so on, we have the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the County War Agricultural Committee, the senior regional architect, the assistant land commissioner, the Directorate of Lands and Accommodation and others to approve plans and who require information."
The building of these six cottages has not yet been commenced in this rural district. which requires scores of cottages, and the whole of these people have to be consulted. So that this may not be thought peculiar to my own constituency, I find the Evesham District Council criticising the specification for the cottages as far below that of houses already built. There have also been complaints from other parts of the country. At Blyth, in Suffolk, the county surveyor said that the houses would have a room upstairs called the "bathroom," but the bath would be downstairs. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady to shake their heads. I am quoting what is said by a district council, and I would merely say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), who is sitting on the bench behind the right hon. Gentleman, and who represents another building Department, that his Department has been at fault in seeing that these schemes are carried out.

I would remind my hon. Friend that it is not at Evesham, where they would have had the assistance of my hon. Friend's powerful advocacy, but at Blyth, in Suffolk. He goes on to say that the "bathroom" would be useless as a bedroom. Yesterday I came across another example of the same sort of thing. A friend of mine who is a co-trustee of a very ancient charity, called Smith's Charity, and who is a member of the Dorking Rural District Council which owns a lot of land, at the close of a meeting asked if he might address his colleagues in an informal way. He said that his fellow trustees were responsible for a great deal of cottage property, that the Ministry of Health had insisted upon concrete stairs and floors in their designs sent to his council, and that in very damp parts of the world, like, for example, some parts of Wales or the South, people simply would not live in houses of that kind. The reason given to the rural district council, according to my friend, was that no material was available. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman who is sitting on the second bench to say that sort of thing—