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Civil Defence

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 20 May 1943

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Fire Guard Duties


asked the Home Secretary whether he will consider instituting district or area pools of male civilians from whom all necessary fire-watchers will be drawn, before housewives or women war workers in such districts are compelled to perform these duties?

The primary Tire guard obligation of men is to protect the premises at which they work. Subject to this primary obligation, men who live in a prescribed area, and are not exempt, may be formed by the local authority into a pool of fire guards to be posted wherever there is a shortage of fire guards in the area. Women are at present liable to share with men the fire guard duties at premises where they work, if compulsory arrangements are in force there, but under the revised Orders they will only he so liable if the available men who work at the same premises are insufficient to provide an effective fire guard. Women who do not perform fire guard duties where they are employed will only be liable to do fire guard duties as members of street fire parties.

While that answer is very satisfactory as far as it goes, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in some great industrial undertakings there is a very large number of men and very few women employed, and the men have a reasonably long period between their fire watching duties, whereas in other undertakings there are many women and few men and the women are forced to do fire watching while there are surplus men available in a nearby undertaking?

I think we have met the point as much as we can, and we have given the women equal compensation. My difficulty is that the premises must be protected, and I wish the hon. and gallant Gentleman would help me to get them protected rather than seek to diminish the labour force which is essential to the work. If and when fire watching becomes unnecessary, no one will be happier than I to be rid of that trouble.

The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I was not asking that we should not be protected, but that men should be more fully -employed wfiere they are available and surplus to present requirements, rather than women.

I think in the revised Orders the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find that we have met that principle as far as ever we can.

Motor Vehicles And Vessels In Inland Waters (Immobilisation)


asked the Home Secretary whether he is now in a position to make any further statement on the subject of the immobilisation of unattended motor vehicles and of vessels in inland waters?

Yes, Sir. The Government have given careful consideration to this matter and have decided that some relaxation of the existing orders would be justified at the present time. Amending Orders have accordingly been made by which the requirement of the immobilisation of unattended motor vehicles and of vessels in inland waters will cease to have effect, except in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and those parts of Essex and Kent which are outside the Metropolitan Police district. I must, however, make it clear that this requirement may again be imposed over the whole country at any time if the Government think that course necessary.

Does my right hon. Friend mean that cars need no longer be locked when unattended?

In the interests of public safety will my right hon. Friend consider a relaxation of lighting restrictions when the winter comes?

Northern Ireland (Exit Permits From Great Britain)


asked the Home Secretary whether he will, on compassionate grounds, make a regulation whereby any person from Northern Ireland in Great Britain presenting a medical certificate stating that it is essential for recuperation after illness to spend some time at home in Northern Ireland will be granted a travel permit for the journey?

No, Sir. I could not treat convalescence as a ground for the grant of an exit permit to Ireland without admitting so many cases as to defeat the object of the restrictions. I am always prepared to consider cases of exceptional hardship on their merits.

I should like the right hon. Gentleman to make that known to passport officials.

Personnel (Employment Of Casual Labour)


asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that Civil Defence units quartered in the country employ casual labour, which otherwise would be available for the agricultural industry, as domestic servants; and whether he will put a stop to this additional handicap on home food production?

Much of the routine domestic work at headquarters of units of the Civil Defence Reserve is performed by members of the units themselves so far as essential training and operational requirements permit, but a small additional complement of other domestic staff, including cooks and kitchen staff, is essential for the efficient and economical running of units. I am not aware that staff is being engaged for this purpose to the detriment of agriculture.

Allied Governments (Newspaper Attacks)


asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware of the mischievous campaign of propaganda in regard to one of our Allies, and inimical to the resumption of friendly relations between Poland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, recently commenced by the "Daily Worker"; and whether any warning has been issued to that paper?


asked the Home Secretary whether, in order to safeguard the unity of the United Nations, he will take the necessary steps of warning or suspension to prevent the heads of allied Powers invited to these shores suffering such open insults as are exemplified in the abuse of the President and Government of Poland in the "Daily Worker" of 4th May and in Mr. H. G. Wells' article ridiculing General de Gaulle in the May number of "World Review"?

I share my hon. Friends' anxiety that the relations between the United Nations should not be prejudiced by irresponsible attacks on Allied Administrations. The war-time powers conferred on me for suppressing publications are, as they know, closely limited: but a careful watch will be kept, and I trust that these Questions will serve to direct the attention of the persons responsible for this mischievous propaganda to the dis-service they do to the cause for which we are all fighting.

Is it not peculiar that the Minister is very careful in his language when dealing with Fascist propaganda and very vicious with his language when it is a question of the "Daily Worker"?

Is it not possible that the Allied Governments, and this country, are already aware of the democratic principle that there should be as little interference as possible with the freedom of the Press except in cases where it is likely to interfere with the war effort or to give information to the enemy?

The hon. Lady's observation is perfectly relevant, and I am sure it is understood by all the Allied Governments.

Do my right hon. Friend's powers extend to papers published by refugee organisations and Governments in this country, some of which are themselves engaged in making unjustified attacks on Allied Governments?

As I understand it, my powers extend to any publications which come within the Defence Regulations, whether they are published under the auspices my hon. Friend mentions or not. I think the House should realise that propaganda is going on both ways.

As we are free to criticise our own Administration if it appears to be doing something which in our view is contrary to the war effort or to the best interests of the United Nations, surely we are free to criticise the Administrations of other countries?

It is quite true that the British public take the view that they have a right to criticise their own Government, and those engaged in it, in forceful terms from time to time. Therefore I have taken the view that I cannot lay down the doctrine that refugee Govern- ments, or the Governments of other countries, are exempt from criticism, whoever they may be.


asked the Minister of Information whether he is now in a position to make a statement about the ban on the export of the "Daily Worker"?


asked the Minister of Information whether, in view of the harm that is being done to the Allied war effort by the publication in Allied newspapers published in foreign langauges in this country of views hostile to and inconsistent with the policy of the United Nations, he will consider the possibility of withdrawing their licences from the journals concerned?

I have received representations from hon. Members of this House that the "Daily Worker" and also some other papers which are printed in England in foreign languages are stirring up trouble among the United Nations. The Ministry of Information is conducting an inquiry into the activities of these foreign language newspapers which are alleged to occupy themselves in attacking the Soviet Government. If this allegation is well founded, we shall be in duty bound to prevent the hospitality of Great Britain being abused by journalists who seem to be more interested in feuds than in news. Meanwhile the Chief Press Censor has been instructed to regard their activities as falling within the Regulation which prohibits the cabling abroad of extracts from newspapers which are likely to cause disunity between the United Nations. This Regulation must also be applied to quotations from the "Daily Worker" which has given up a good deal of its space to vilifying the Polish Government. My hon. Friend will realise that in these circumstances I am unable at present to lift the ban on the export of this newspaper.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that some of these journals are clandestinely produced and are not always printed? Will he see that those are dealt with also?

Yes, Sir. It is a very great problem, because these newspapers are printed in small printing factories throughout the country by a nationality for which I have a great admiration but of whom I may say this: Every time you find a Pole, you will find a newspaper.

Is not the answer just given by the right hon. Gentleman in contradiction to the answer given by the Home Secretary earlier to-day, in which he specifically said that he was not opposed to any criticism, by elements in this country, either of their own Government or of any other Government? If we are entitled to express our dissatisfaction, as we occasionally do, of His Majesty's Government, are we not entitled to express dissatisfaction with other Governments?

I am quite in favour of the British papers criticising the Government, because I think that criticism is the absolute basis of democracy, but I might point out that the contents of these small, obscure papers are wired abroad and do infinite harm. This is not a question of the freedom of the Press at all, it is a question of the grossest possible licence, and I do not intend to tolerate these people rushing around the country, publishing in foreign languages the most violent abuse of the Soviet Government, or the Polish Government, or indeed of any Government connected with the United Nations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman not examine the answer to which I referred? I do not object to a good deal of what he has said. To satisfy hon. Members, will not the right hon. Gentleman examine the answer given by the Home Secretary?

Yes, Sir, I read the Home Secretary's answer before I gave mine. They deal with quite different points. The Home Secretary was dealing with the question of suppression, but I am dealing with the editing of stuff that goes out of this country and that is likely to cause disunity among the United Nations.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the material which appeared in the "Daily Worker" was justified by the very vicious and foul slanders which appeared in certain Polish journals in this country?

No, Sir. No justification could possibly be made for the scandalous language used by the "Daily Worker" about the leaders of Poland. The "Daily Worker" called into question the patriotism of the leaders of Poland; well, the "Daily Worker" is no authority on patriotism.