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Civil Defence

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 13 May 1943

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Fire Guard Duties


asked the Home Secretary whether he proposes to issue amended fire-watching regulations, with particular reference to boys under i6 years of age?

The forthcoming Orders will include a provision preventing boys between the ages of 15 and 16 from volunteering for fire guard duty at schools and other business premises except where the appropriate authority is satisfied that adequate fire prevention arrangements cannot otherwise be made and even then allowing it only where the parent or guardian of the boy gives his consent in writing. Boys of under 15 will not be allowed to volunteer for fire guard duties at such premises.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even that regulation has not been entirely satisfactory, and will he consult with his colleague the President of the Board of Education, who has expressed his disapproval of schoolboys under 16 years of age doing fire-watching duties?

My recollection is that consultations have taken place, but the circumstances of these educational buildings are often very difficult. Many of the boys rather like to do fire-watching, and I am constantly being pressed to take people off fire guard duties; and on the other hand, if fires occur, I am afraid that the House will be after me for letting them off.

Is my right hon. Friend sure that schoolboys under 16 years of age could cope with the circumstances he has just mentioned?

Yes, Sir, they could do a job on fire prevention; experience has proved it.


asked the Home Secretary the terms of, and reasons for, the instructions issued by his Department, whereby the Fire Guard is given priority over the Home Guard in respect of male civilians directed by the Ministry of Labour to these services?

No such instructions have been issued, but with the concurrence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War I have arranged with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service that in issuing directions under the Home Guard Regulations due regard shall be paid to the fire guard needs of the premises where a man works or of the local authority by whom he has been enrolled.

Then it is quite clear that no priority is to be given to fire watching as against the Home Guard?

Not in the sense of the Question which has been put down by the hon. and gallant Member. But obviously there must be some administrative discretion as to relative urgencies by the Ministry of Labour and National Service.


asked the Home Secretary how many fire-watchers are furnished, under the compulsory Fire-Watching Order, by friendly aliens, enemy aliens and neutral aliens, respectively, who are at present resident in this country?

No alien is at present compelled to undertake fire guard duties. There are no statistics regarding the extent to which friendly aliens have volunteered, or other aliens have been permitted to volunteer, for such duties.

Is it not ridiculous and very disturbing that hard-working housewives and girl war workers should have to care for the safety of thousands of these aliens throughout the country who, apparently, are doing nothing to safeguard themselves or the country which is giving them sanctuary?

I have sympathy with the hon. and gallant Member's point of view. There are technical difficulties, but he can be assured that I am giving the matter consideration.

Women (Convictions Under Defence Regulations)


asked the Home Secretary how many young women under 21, and between the ages of 21 and 25, have been sent to prison on conviction for failing to comply with directions of National Service officers?

Statistics of offences against the various Defence Regulations divided into men and women under and over 21 years are being prepared, but are not yet available. Further sub-divisions of offences or age groups would require a special investigation involving additional expenditure of man-power, which I consider would not be justified under present conditions.

Shelters And Damaged Property (Convictions For Offences)


asked the Home Secretary whether he has considered the Report of the Emergency Committee of the Deptford Borough Council calling attention to the inadequacy of penalties imposed on offenders found guilty of damage to air-raid shelters and thefts from property damaged by enemy action and asking for the imposition of penalties adequate to the offence; and can he make a statement on this question?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for sending me a copy of the Report to which he refers, and I am in full agreement with the comments therein on the despicable conduct of those individuals who damage and impair shelters provided for the protection of the public, or inflict additional loss and injury on people whose homes or shops have been damaged by enemy action. I have already called the attention of the courts to the seriousness of these offences. The question what is the appropriate penalty in a particular case is for the court to determine after consideration of all the relevant circumstances.

Austrians (Registration)


asked the Home Secretary whether he will now consider the advisability of permitting Austrians, now described as Germans, to be re-registered as Austrians in view of the declaration made on behalf of the British Government, on 9th September, 1942, concerning non-recognition of any change affected in Austria since 1938, and the terms of Article 21 of the Aliens Order, 192o, as amended 1939; and whether he is aware of the action taken on these lines in Canada, Palestine and other countries?

I have considered this matter carefully, but have not felt justified in altering the present practice as regards the registration of Austrians here, whatever may be the practice outside the United Kingdom. As I have previously stated, the suggested change in registration Would not alter the status or treatment in this country of any of the aliens affected.

Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the action of the Palestine authorities, who have recently, in view of statements made by the Government in regard to Austria in this House, made arrangements to re-register Austrians as Austrians, and cannot we do the same here?

I have no control over the Government of Palestine, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, and while it may or may not be right in their case, it would be inconvenient in this country, and I do not think that I ought to engage in it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his practice of registering Austrians as Germans is in conflict with the declared policy of His Majesty's Government not to recognise the German conquest of Austria?

Not at all. I have to take the facts as they are. All Austrians hold German passports, and they are subjects of the German Reich. [HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] The Austrians are at the moment subjects of the German Reich. It is really absurd to assume that every person who comes from Austria is not a Nazi.

Could not the same kind of thing be said about Czechoslovakia? Is not Austria in more or less the same category?

Prisoners (Clothing Coupons)


asked the Home Secretary whether he has reviewed the regulation under which prisoners forfeit a number of their clothing coupons while in prison and, in some cases, have not had enough coupons to procure necessary clothing on their discharge?

In connection with this question certain points are being examined in consultation with the agencies responsible for the after-care of discharged prisoners, and I think it will be better that I should defer making a statement for the present.

Does the Minister realise the great hardship on men who have to leave prison without an adequate number of coupons?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I have applied the necessary incentive to the Department to move as quickly as possible.

Work Direction (Sentence)


asked the Home Secretary whether he will now recommend the release of Samuel Naylor, now serving a sentence of three months for refusing to work underground, but who offered to join the Navy, and who has already served six weeks of the sentence imposed on him?

No, Sir. I regret that I can find no grounds for modifying the decision which was communicated to my hon. Friend by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security in reply to his Question OR 21st April.

But is not my right hon. Friend aware that in similar circumstances only fines have been imposed, whereas in this case a young man has been sent to prison when he was, in fact, quite willing to join the Forces? Why is he allowed to languish in gaol, so that the nation is deprived of his services, and why should he be suffering under a very savage sentence?

My hon. Friend is getting indignant, but his indignation is misplaced so far as I am concerned. The issue is whether courts of law are courts of law or whether their functions are to be usurped by the Home Secretary. I am not passing any judgment on the merits of the particular sentence of the court, which was acting within its legitimate discretion. If the Home Secretary is to interfere with the detailed decisions of courts, the Constitution will be upset.

Is it not true to say that the Minister has interfered in other cases and has used his discretion? Further, is he aware that the Minister of Labour, in relation to this case, said that the whole situation would be reviewed and that young men generally would have an opportunity of going into the Forces if they so desired? Would he not reconsider this special case?

With regard to the first point, there have been cases of an exceptional character where I have thought it right to modify a decision, but I must stop myself from making a general habit of interfering with the legitimate discretion of the courts. As to the second point, I think my hon. Friend has exaggerated what the Minister of Labour has said, but in any case the Ministry of Labour do not consider there is anything to distinguish this case from many others, and neither they nor the Ministry of Fuel and Power recommend any remission.

I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter again on the Adjournment at the first opportunity.

Aliens (Statistics)


asked the Home Secretary the number of male foreigners over the age of 16 at present located in this country under the headings "friendly aliens," "enemy aliens" and "neutral aliens," respectively?

Aliens are not registered under the headings "friendly," "enemy," and "neutral," but according to their nationality, and I am not in a position to classify them in the way desired by my hon. and gallant Friend.

But surely the police must have this information, if only for security reasons, and would not the information also be available from identity cards?

It is not so easy to classify, and it would be very difficult to have a clear classification of a friendly alien, for example.

Refugees (Visas)


asked the Home Secretary whether he has considered the case, of which particulars have been furnished him, of a young refugee in an enemy-occupied country whose parents are in this country and have guaranteed his maintenance, who has been promised a visa for a neighbouring neutral country on the condition that a visa for this or some other country of safety is known to the neutral country to be available; and when he expects that the regulations which have hitherto prevented the admission of such refugees to the country will be modified so as to permit the reconsideration of this and similar cases?

I have considered the particulars furnished to me, but they do not bear out the statements made in the first part of my hon. Friend's Question. I am, however, prepared to authorise a visa for this country if the youth can succeed in reaching a neutral country. Instructions are being issued to this effect, but I have no information which suggests that this authorisation will be of any assistance to him in escaping from enemy occupied territory, where he appears to be at present. As regards the last part of the Question, I am not in a position to make any statement on this subject at present.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the neutral country in question definitely said that they would issue a visa if we did? Now he has said that he will probably issue a visa if the neutral country first of all takes in the youth. Is it not about time that we stopped this game of ball between one country and another and in this case gave a visa first, thus showing a generous example?

There is no game of ball. I have made it perfectly clear that I am willing to grant a visa if the youth escapes into neutral territory. My hon. Friend is asking me about the issue of visas into enemy-occupied territory. No machinery exists for that, and it is an extraordinary proposal that the British Government should issue visas into enemy-occupied territory. It would be most dangerous, and if I did it in this case, it would be more likely to do the youth harm than good.

But that is not what was asked in the letter from the neutral country, a copy of which I sent to my right hon. Friend. All that was asked was that the neutral country should be informed that a visa from this country would be available if the youth first got into the neutral country. The Minister is preventing entry into a neutral country unless he gives this visa.

Early Marriages


asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the number of girls of 16 and 17 years of age who marry at that age has increased; whether he has statistics of these cases since the beginning of the war; and whether, in view of the undesirability of these early marriages, he will consider the desirability of not paying marriage allowances unless or until the wife has reached the age of 18, or has a dependant child?

No, Sir. Having regard to the general increase in the number of marriages since the outbreak of war, there has not been any great change in the number of marriages of women of 16 and 17. Of every 1,000 women marrying in 1938, 3.52 were aged 16 and 14.15 aged 17. The figures in 1940 were 2.86 and 12.46 and in 1941, 3.47 and 15.01. Figures for 1942 are not yet available. I assume that my hon. Friend's suggestion in the last part of his Question refers to wives of men in the Forces. As long as the law allows the marriage of women at 16 there seems to be no justification for discriminating in this way only against the young wives of men in the Forces.

While I appreciate the Minister's reply, would it not be in the national interest as well as in the interest of these girls to discourage marriages at the age of 16? [HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] Is it not a fact that there have been occasions when girls have married primarily to secure the marriage allowance?

Is it not of national importance to marry early and marry often?

Church Bells (Ringing)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider with favour permission being granted to all churches to sound the Angelus bell?

In accordance with the announcement already made the existing orders have been relaxed to permit the ringing of church bells on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day to summon worshippers to church. The relaxation therefore does not extend to the sounding of the Angelus bell. I cannot at present add to that statement.

Will my right hon. friend try and meet the wishes of those who are favouring a revival of religion in this country by granting this most desirable observance, if only for its good propaganda?

In view of the Prime Minister's statement that the significance of invasion no longer attaches to the ringing of bells, what is the reason for any restraint at all?

Why is it more dangerous to ring the bells of St. Margaret's than Big Ben?

Children's Allowances


asked the Minister without Portfolio whether, in the proposed Government scheme for children's allowances, he will take into consideration the advisability of seeing that these allowances are paid direct to the mothers?

Yes, Sir. This is one of the points that are being considered.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the large body of opinion in the country in favour of these allowances being paid to the mothers?


Flower Growing


asked the Minister of Agriculture why many districts are being permitted to grow from seed flower crops and bedding plants while in Staffordshire this is forbidden to the loss of seedsmen and nursery gardeners.

I would refer my hon. Friend to my reply to the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Major Mills) on 22nd April. I am not aware that permission is being given by county war agricultural executive committees for the growing of flower crops and bedding plants from seed, otherwise than in accordance with the instructions which have been issued. If my hon. Friend has any cases in mind and will furnish me with particulars, I will have them investigated.

I beg to give notice that in the exceedingly remote possibility of my being called I will raise this point, which calls for good nature and brevity.

Rooks (Destruction)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will arrange for his Department to issue instructions with regard to the killing of rooks, as much difference of opinion exists as to the usefulness or otherwise of these birds?

Such instructions have already been issued to county war agricultural executive committees by my Department, which has also published an advisory leaflet on the subject. I am sending copies of these documents to my hon. and gallant Friend.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that official organisations working under his Department, such as the Nottinghamshire agricultural committee, are practically ordering the wholesale destruction of these birds?

It may well be that it is justified in view of the excessive number of birds in particular localities.



asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he will consider introducing legislation to widen the statutory powers of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, Limited, so as to enable them to handle short term and intermediate credits as well as grant mortgage loans, having regard to the fact that the Corporation have at the present time cash and investments of over £3,000,000 not being utilised for agricultural purposes?

No, Sir. I have no reason to think that existing facilities for short-term and intermediate credit to farmers are inadequate for present needs.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, even if the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation is not a suitable body, farmers do not want to go on paying five per cent. for short-teim credit? Why is it that something really intelligent cannot be done?

Downland Sheep


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is taking any steps to encourage an increase in the sheep population on the downlands, with a view to preserving soil fertility?

I am aware of the importance of hurdled flocks of sheep on light downlands in the interests of soil fertility. It was for that reason that the Ministry of Food, in consultation with my Department, in the autumn of 1941, increased the price of fat sheep and lambs by Id. per lb. for the winter and spring, the period when sheep from these flocks normally go for slaughter. The return from this class of land depends also on prices of corn crops, principally barley, which have been fixed at remunerative levels.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a shortage of experienced shepherds for registered flocks, and will he take some steps to ensure a supply of trained shepherds?

Italian Prisoners Of War


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that Italian prisoners of war have been used to evict furniture from farm workers' cottages; and whether he will issue orders which will put a stop to this practice?

I am aware of a case which occurred last December where two Italian prisoners of war who were working on a farm assisted the police with the removal of furniture from a cottage. Instructions have been issued that prisoners of war supplied to farmers are intended for employment on farm work only, and I think this is generally understood, but I will consider whether the instructions need strengthening.

>National Finance

Gifts To Clergymen (Taxation)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether any gifts of money which may be sent direct or handed to a vicar at Eastertide should be regarded as forming part of the Easter offering, the amount of which is often publicly announced and, therefore, are subject to Income Tax as are contributions to the Easter offering made either through a churchwarden or placed in the collection bags; whether such direct gifts of money to a vicar made at any other time of the year. are subject to Income Tax, as are fees and other moneys which form part of his stipend; and what conditions regarding Income Tax liability apply to a Whitsun offering paid over to an assistant clergyman?

I am advised that the taxation liability of Easter offerings is not affected by the circumstance that the money may be handed to the vicar direct instead of being placed in the collection or given through a churchwarden. I would remind my hon. Friend that the Easter offerings which were considered in the leading case of Cooper v. Blakiston included sums. given in all three of these ways, and the decision Of the House of Lords drew no distinction between them. Any other gifts to a clergyman which accrued by virtue of his ministry would similarly be taxable. As regards the last part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the case of Slaney v. Starkey ((1931), 2 K.B. 148), in which it was held that the proceeds of a voluntary collection made for an assistant curate at Whitsuntide were assessable to Income Tax as emoluments of his office.

Although I did not hear a word of his answer, I would ask my right hon. Friend to make it widely known that gifts to rectors and curates can be given as free gifts?

Could not the churchwardens use the collection to supply the parson with free groceries which, being in kind, are not asessable?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Easter offerings do not accrue to an incumbent in virtue of his office, but in virtue of his personality?

Estate Duty (Wives' Savings, Co-Operative Societies)


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether a wife's savings in a co-operative society are treated by the Inland Revenue Department as her property, and, in the event of her death, are subject to Death Duty as part of her estate?

I can only say that any property belonging to a wife forms part of her estate for purposes of Estate Duty.

Can the right hon. Gentleman reconcile the statement he has already made with the ruling which a judge has just given in the Oxford County Court to the effect that the savings of a wife in a co-operative society belong to her husband?

>Poultry (Imports From Northern Ireland)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that the non-inclusion of Northern Ireland in the Ministry's scheme for the control and distribution of poultry is having a harsh effect on former importers in the North-west of England; that practically no imports are now received by wholesalers from Northern Ireland, and that retailers are consequently deprived of their former supplies from this source; that such supplies are diverted into other channels at prices' beyond the legal maximum; and will he include Northern Ireland in his poultry distribution scheme so that importers and retailers in the Northwest may be supplied in relation to the standard trading year of 1938?

My Noble Friend is giving consideration to the method of marketing Northern Ireland poultry in Great Britain and hopes to be in a position shortly to introduce modifications in the existing arrangements.

Will the hon. Gentleman endeavour to bring the new arrangements into force as early as possible?

Is the hon. Gentleman considering the general question of the distribution of food in this country as well as in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland (Conscription)


asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he can now inform the House of the nature of the representations made by Mr. de Valera with regard to the introduction of conscription in Northern Ireland; what were the grounds put forward by Mr. de Valera in support; and whether he is aware that the failure to introduce conscription in Northern Ireland as requested by the Ulster Government is largely responsible for the unemployment now existing in Ulster?

As regards the first two parts of the Question, the substance of the representations made on behalf of the Eire Government on this subject in 1941 is contained in a lengthy statement made by Mr. de Valera in the Dail on 26th May, 1941. I am placing the full text of this statement in the Library of the House. As regards the last part of the Question, I am not aware of the grounds for this suggestion, but the matter is, of course, one for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

In view of the great services rendered by Ulster to Great Britain and the Allies, as stated by the Prime Minister in his recent letter to Mr. Andrews, why is the request of the Ulster Government turned down to meet the demands of Mr. de Valera, whose action in refusing the British and American Navies access to Southern Irish ports has cost hundreds of British and American lives?

Is it not a fact that the twice repeated unanimous recommendation of the Government of Northern Ireland is entitled to more weight than the representations of a neutral country?

Is there anything to prevent people in Northern Ireland enlisting, and is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is no unemployment in Eire and there are a great number of Irish people in the Forces in this country?

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that they have already enlisted in their thousands?

British Army

Ats (Discharged Personnel, Clothing Coupons)


asked the Secretary or State for War whether, in view of the fact that the present grant of 3os. to discharged members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service to purchase civilian clothing is inadequate, he will take steps to increase the grant?

This matter is already under active consideration.

Instructional Courses (Ration Allowance)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that men on instructional courses within short distances of their homes are permitted to be billeted at home at nights and week-ends but receive no rationing allowances for these periods; and will he make arrangements to meet the difficulty resulting from this arrangement?

No, Sir. I am nor aware of any such complaints. Men attending courses of instruction normally have their meals supplied for them in mess whether they are accommodated in War Department buildings or in billets. They are not then entitled to any ration allowance unless they go on leave for over 24 hours. If in exceptional cases no mess is provided for them to have their meals in and they have to have their meals in billets the householder is paid the normal allowance for the provision of meals in billets. If my hon. Friend will send me details of the cases to which he refers I will have them examined.

Repatriated Prisoners Of War


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether all prisoners of war who are to be repatriated are, in accordance with Article 68 of the International Convention, to consist of all prisoners of war who are seriously ill or seriously wounded, without regard to rank or numbers, after being rendered fit for transport; and what action he intends taking about the matter?

As was stated on 11th May by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War in reply to a similar Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) those who are being repatriated consist, first, of seriously ill and seriously wounded, and secondly, of chaplains, doctors, medical orderlies and others exclusively concerned with the care of sick and wounded. The repatriation of the first group is provided for in the Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; that of the second in the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field.