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Volume 389: debated on Thursday 27 May 1943

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Italian Prisoners Of War


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the rule whereby Italian prisoners must number 10 before they can be employed has operated to the disadvantage of the small farmer and smallholder; and whether he will allow single Italian prisoners to be employed as in the last war?

Wheat Subsidy (Payment)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, to provide money for harvest wages, he will arrange that the payment of £3 per acre wheat subsidy be made on 9th August to all wheat growers who rendered their 4th of June return to the Ministry of Agriculture by l0th June?

No, Sir. It would not be practicable to adopt my hon. Friend's proposal.

Machine Tools


asked the Minister of Production whether he is satisfied that we are utilising the machine tools capacity to obtain the maximum output; and what action has been taken recently to deal with the problem?

I can say that having regard to the many factors which govern production the fullest practicable use is being made of machine tool capacity. This is a matter which receives the constant attention of the Supply Departments. In addition the Machine Tool Control exercises a general supervision of the use of machine tools. The measures adopted for this purpose are described in a reference book which the Control has recently issued for the guidance of contractors and others concerned. I am sending a copy of this book to my hon. Friend.

Can my hon., Friend say whether a recent survey has been made by the Ministry with a view to seeing that machine tools throughout the country are utilised in order to obtain the maximum production?

Yes, Sir, a survey was made recently, and any necessary action is being taken upon it and in fact has been taken.

Is not the complaint in this Question largely due to late realisation by the Ministry of Labour that excessively long hours are not desirable?

Is it not a fact that there is a large surplus of machine tools at the present time, whereas there is a shortage of springs, ball bearings and things like that?

I do not think I could accept the broad generalisation of my hon. Friend. There are some classes of machine tools for which at the moment full use cannot be found, but I do not think they are a large number.

53 and 54.

asked the Minister of Production (1) why so many machine tools are not working at a factory of which he has been informed; why, on the 14th April night-shift, 32 costly machines did not operate; how frequently that has occurred; who is responsible; and what action has been taken to improve the output;

(2) Whether he is aware of the important product being manufactured at a factory, of which he has been informed; that the internal management and the workpeople are efficient and eager; and who is responsible for the failure to obtain maximum production?

I have had investigation made and find that, generally speaking, production at the factory referred to is up to programme. In one section, however, as I have already informed my hon. Friend in correspondence, action to improve machine tool utilisation as a whole has been impeded through a change in production involving modifications in jigs, fixtures and tooling. This cannot be accomplished without some machine tools temporarily standing idle.

In view of the fact that the Ministry of Supply nominated certain directors to run this place and that action has been taken against workpeople when they have been responsible for slackness, can my hon. Friend say what action has been, or is being, taken against the directors who have been responsible for this situation in this firm?

My hon. Friend's Question refers in the main to the utilisation of machine tools. I can tell him that the position has been closely examined and that in so far as it has been possible to make any improvement by removing surplus machine tools, of which there were a certain number there, that action has been taken.

That is appreciated by the men, but in view of the fact that it is the directors who have been responsible for neglect, as has been proved, what action has been taken against them?

I think my hon. Friend ought to give me notice of that question, because what he has put on the Paper does nut refer to management at all.

Iron And Steel Railings (Collection)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works the approximate total tonnage of iron railings collected for conversion to war material since the inception of the scheme; and whether it is the intention of the Government to endeavour to increase still further this tonnage by improved methods and organisation?

Over 500,000 tons of iron and steel railings have been collected since the commencement of the campaign in September, 1941. The quantity, which remains to be recovered, is estimated to be comparatively small, and I am not persuaded that any change in the organisation or in the methods employed is called for.

Can the hon. Gentleman assure me that the scrap which is lying about in many parts of the country is receiving his attention?

Yes, Sir, I can assure the hon. Member that it is receiving my attention.

But will the hon. Gentleman get on with the job of collecting it? The matter may be receiving his attention, but I want something done.

Can my hon. Friend say whether any of this railings scrap has been used in steel production?

Yes, Sir, about 400,000 tons have already been smelted in furnaces and used in munitions manufacture. Just over 100,000 tons are still available. The Ion and Steel Control have about 80,000 tons under their control, and the residue is in merchants' yards, where it has to be treated by cutting to suitable sizes for feeding into the furnaces.

Royal Parks (Broken Chairs)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works whether he will take steps to repair the broken deck chairs in the Royal Parks, particularly now that people are asked to stay in town; and whether he will approach such organisations as the Lord Roberts' Memorial Workshops to make up any deficiency of labour in his Department?

Every effort is being made by the contractors, whose liability it is under the terms of their licence, to repair the deck chairs in the Royal Parks, but progress is unavoidably held up, not owing to any deficiency of labour, but to the limited supply of canvas material which is urgently required for the manufacture of fire fighting equipment and other vital war supplies.

As the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that the best means of spending a holiday is in the open air, especially for war workers, could he not provide seats for them when they get their holidays by devising some other form of material which will enable these chairs to be repaired, so that people can enjoy the sunshine?

I have great sympathy with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point of view. Everything that can be done will be done.

Has the hon. Gentleman's attention been called to the piles of disabled chairs in St. James's Park, the majority of which can no longer be utilised and the remainder of which are dangerous to life and limb?

Over 6,000 free seats are provided in the Royal Parks in London, and the chairs are under the control of a contractor, whose job it is to repair them. It is not the job of my Ministry. The contractor is responsible for repairing them to our satisfaction, and representations have been made to him. There is no shortage of labour, but the material required for repair is just not available at the moment.

Will the hon. Gentleman arrange for tests to be carried out by himself and the Minister of Labour?

Coal (Prices And Output)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the policy of the Government concerning prices allowed to the coalowners; and to what extent are they dependent on maintenance of output?

The general policy of the Government in relation to pithead prices of coal is that they should be fixed at such a level that they will meet all items of cost incurred in the production of coal and provide a reasonable credit balance, having regard to the importance of maintaining the industry in a healthy condition and encouraging the maximum. development of marginal output. The national average credit balance is regulated at an amount per ton, and it follows that the profits of the industry are directly dependent on output.

Lowe Lifeboat (Trials)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether the new ship's lifeboat, designed by Mr. Francis H. Lowe, of Merseyside, has now successfully passed all tests; whether he has now received official reports on its efficiency, buoyancy and suitability for general use; and whether he will make a statement as to the supply of this kind of lifeboat in replacement of obsolete types?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport
(Mr. Noel-Baker)

Mr. Lowe's lifeboat has satisfactorily passed the official tests which have been made, and I have now arranged that it shall be immediately subjected to trials at sea. If these trials confirm the favourable opinion already formed, I will do what I can in present conditions to encourage its supply to ships in which it may be practicable to install it. I hope my hon. Friend will not assume from this answer that I regard the lifeboats now in use as obsolete. On the contrary, they have met the requirements of the war remarkably well.

May I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and beg him to make haste with the trials in order that this new boat can be put into general use so far as is possible?

We want to make the maximum possible use of what we regard as an important improvement.

Will this and other improved types be available to colliers and other coastal craft?

Ration Books And Identity Cards (Distribution)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport what steps he has taken to prevent disorganisation of transport in rural districts arising from the collection of new ration books from food offices?

I see no reason to expect that the collection of new ration books will cause disorganisation of transport in rural districts. The Regional Transport Commissioners, in conjunction with the transport undertakings, are always ready to adjust services so as to meet demands for essential travel as far as their resources permit.

Will the hon. Gentleman give special attention to those cases where no practicable transport service exists between villages and the appointed food offices?

Yes, Sir, I will give special attention to any difficult cases, but I hoped this matter might be covered by the statement made yesterday by the Minister of Food and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food.

Is my hon. Friend aware that transport in Glasgow, which is already strained, is being further strained? Will he give consideration to the question of district offices being opened for distribution?

The arrangement of offices is a matter for the Ministry of Food. I will make inquiries about transport in Glasgow, but all the inquiries I have made up to now have shown that there has. been no disorganisation.

I know there is no disorganisation, but it is putting on an added strain which is not necessary.

If the Ministry of Food are not able to provide local offices, would the Minister of War Transport arrange for special trains to take people to the distribution centres?

Mandated Territories


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will give an assurance that all British territory held under mandate from the League of Nations continues to be administered in accordance with the terms of the mandate?

In so far as the Question refers to Mandated Territories for which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom is responsible, the reply is in the affirmative.

Can the Minister say whether that includes recruiting of native labour for military purposes?

I could not say what is included in each territory, but in so far as it is included in the mandate it is being observed.

In view of the fact that we are the only member of the League of Nations which pays a subscription, are we not entitled to exercise the mandate system?

The fact is that the mandate system forbids us to do a certain number of things that I do not think any of us would ever dream of doing.

Are reports of the mandatory Powers to the League of Nations still periodically made?

No, Sir, in view of the man-power difficulty and the immense amount of labour involved, it was decided some time ago, early in the war, that they would have to be dropped during the war.

Ceylon (Bribery Commission Report)


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the reasons for the resignation of the Governor's nominees from the Ceylon State Council; and whether it is proposed to publish the Report of the Bribery Commission?

The Report has been published in Ceylon, and the Governor is being asked to despatch a small number of copies by the quickest route. As soon as copies are received I will arrange for one to be placed in the Library of the House for Members' convenience. The Commission found that three European-nominated members of the State Council came within the purview of its terms of reference because they had been remunerated by the Associations which recommended their nomination. This arrangement was publicly known arid had in fact been suggested by a previous Governor in order to make it possible for the best representatives to serve in the Council. The Governor, in requesting these members to send in their resignations as a result of the Constitutional irregularity disclosed, made it clear to them that no opprobrium whatsoever attaches either to them or to the Associations concerned.

Brewery Products (War Department Transport)


asked the Secretary of State for War the reason for an order recently made forbidding the use of War Department transport for the conveyance of brewery products; and, in view of the hardship caused to units which have no Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes canteens, will he make provision to assist such units to obtain necessary supplies of brewery products?

The instruction referred to was issued in order to cut down the unnecessary use of transport. Arrangements have, however, been made to meet the needs of units and isolated detachments not directly served by N.A.A.F.I. vehicles. The breweries concerned will deliver to the military supply depot from which these units receive their rations and the War Department vehicles which carry rations to the units will carry at the same time the products referred to by my hon. Friend.

I think it can be taken that they are in operation, not perhaps throughout the country, but an A.C.I. is about to be issued which will stabilise the position.

Admiralty Contracts, Blyth

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will make a statement in connection with the conspiracy regarding Admiralty contracts at Blyth, Northumberland; and what he intends doing about the matter?

I regret that I have no statement to make, as this matter is sub judice.

Allied Hospital Ships (German And Italian Sinkings)


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will give particulars of the hospital ships which have been sunk or damaged by Axis forces from the beginning of the war to the latest available date; and whether all such ships bore distinguishing marks in accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Convention?

Full particulars are only readily available of German and Italian attacks on hospital ships and carriers, but even so the list is unhappily a long one, and with the hon. Member's permission I will circulate a full statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT. All the ships in the list were properly marked in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

What protests have been made through the International Red Cross or otherwise against this scandalous infringement of international law, and what excuses, if any, have been put forward by either Germany or Italy?

Representations have been made on all occasions through the Foreign Office.

Will the right hon. Gentleman discriminate in the list between attacks by bomb and by torpedo?

That is another question. The list will be circulated to-day, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman can put down any further Question that he wants answered.

Will the list state in what cases the crews and the wounded have been machine-gunned while escaping in open boats?

There is a very large number of cases. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the list and then put any

Date.Name of Ship.Locality.Nature of Attack.Result.
May 1-11"Atlantis"Off NorwayBombed on 4 occasionsNo damage
May 18-24"Brighton"Dieppe HarbourBombed on 3 occasionsSunk
May 21"Maid of Kent"Dieppe HarbourBombedDestroyed by fire
May 24-26"St. Andrew"Near CalaisShelled on 2 occasionsNo damage
May 27-31"St. Andrew"Near DunkirkBombed on 2 occasionsNo damage
May 24-27"St. Julien"Dunkirk; off Calais and in the Downs.Shelled on 2 occasions and bombed once.No damage
May 29th"St. Julien"On passage to Dunkirk.Bombed and machine gunned.Slight damage
May 25th"St. David"Off GravelinesShelledfrom shore batteries.No damage
May 31st"St. David"Off DunkirkBombed,shelled and machine gunned.No damage
May 25-26"Worthing"Off CalaisShelled on 2 occasions and bombed once.No damage
May 27th & June 2nd"Worthing"Nr. DunkirkBombed and machine gunned on 2 occasions.Severe damage
May 26th"Isle of Guernsey."Off CalaisShelledfrom shore batteries.No damage
May 29th"Isle of Guernsey."On passage to Dunkirk.Bombed and machine gunned.Slight damage
May 27th"Isle of Thanet"Off CalaisShelled from shore batteries.Damaged
May 27th"Isle of Thanet"English ChannelBombed and machine gunned.No damage
May 30th"Dinard"Off DunkirkShelled once and bombed once.Slight damage
June 2-3"Paris"On passage to Dunkirk.Bombed on 3 occasionsSunk


Jan. 31st & Feb. 1st."Dorsetshire"Off SollumBombed once, machine gunned once.No damage
Sept. 12th"Dorsetshire"Port TewfikBombedSlight damage
Feb. 23rd"Aba"Tobruk HarbourBombedSlight damage
April 20th"Aba"Suda Bay, Crete (at anchor).BombedSlight damage
May 16th"Aba"Canea, CreteMachine gunnedSlight damage
May 17th"Aba"On passage to HaifaBombed on 2 occasionsDamaged
April 14-21"Vita"TobrukBombed on 2 occasionsDamaged
April 22nd"Vita"On tow in Mediterranean.BombedBadly damaged
April 27th"Ramb IV"Nr. TobrukBombedSlight damage
Aug. 7th"Amra"Gulf of SuezTorpedoed from aircraft.No damage
Sept. 5th"Karapara"TobrukBombedDamaged
Nov. 7th"Llandovery Castle"Suez (in dock)BombedSlight damage
Dec. 7th"Somersetshire"Between Tobruk and Alexandria.Dive-bombed and machine-gunned.No damage


Jan. 30th"Somersetshire"Between Tobruk and Alexandria.Dive bombedNo damage
Feb. 21st"Somersetshire "Tobruk HarbourBombedNo damage
April 7th"Somersetshire"Between Alexandria and Tobruk.TorpedoedSevere damage
Feb. 10-12"Llandovery Castle"Between Alexandria and Tobruk.Bombed on 3 occasionsNo damage
Mar. 27th"Llandovery Castle"Tobruk HarbourBombedSlight damage
May 10th"Ramb IV"Near AlexandriaBombedSunk

further. Question, I will do my best to answer.

Newspaper Export Ban


asked the Minister of Information whether he has issued any instructions prohibiting the cabling abroad, or broadcasting of, any of the contents of those papers whose export abroad is banned?

There is no change in the position described in my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friends the Members for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) and East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on Thursday last. The censorship will not permit the cabling abroad of any quotations from these papers which are likely to cause disunity among the United Nations.

Then no instructions were given placing a ban on the contents of these papers, and the story that such a ban was made and withdrawn a few days later is inaccurate?

As far as my knowledge goes, no. If my hon. Friend wants more specific information, I should like to have notice.

Polish Nationals, Great Britain (Military Service)

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that Polish nationals are being called up for service in the Polish Forces and directed by the Polish Consulate to register by 28th May; and whether he will issue a statement that such Polish nationals are at liberty if they prefer to serve in the British instead of Polish Forces?

I have read the notice in question, which seems to me a perfectly legitimate exercise of the right of the Allied Polish Government to call upon their citizens of military age in this country to perform military service in accordance with the law of Poland. It is recognised even in peace that a friendly State has the right to call up its nationals for military service who are residing in the territory of another friendly State, and this is a right which is obviously very important to our Allies in time of war. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs dealt with this point during his remarks in the Debate on 9th July in the Committee stage of the Allied Powers (War Service) Bill, when he made it plain that the right of the Allied Governments to call up their men was not accompanied by power to enforce the calling-up notices in this country, and the Allied citizens who did not respond to such notices would in due course be called up for the British Forces under our own National Service Acts, in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. The Bill has since passed into law, and has been applied among others to Polish nationals, who will accordingly become liable to be called up for military service under the United Kingdom National Service Acts from 1st June next if they fail to join their own national Forces.

Is it clear that many people in this country who are only nominally Polish subjects; and much prefer to join the British Forces, now have a right to do that, and, further, was the right hon. Gentleman consulted in the matter before this advertisement appeared, with its threat of dire penalties, on those who failed to register before the 28th? Could the right hon. Gentleman not ask them, in view of recent happenings, while they are enjoying our hospitality to exercise reasonable courtesy in avoiding misunderstandings of this kind?

I do not admit that anything is wrong at all. I take very strong exception to any suggestion that the Polish Government are in a different position from any other Allied Government. It is not so. The position is that each of these foreign Governments under the Bill that we passed have a right to call upon their citizens to join up. If they do not respond, they are called up in our Forces, under our own Act. If there is any doubt, I hope that what I have said will make the position clear.

Is not the threat issued by the Polish Government against those of their nationals who did not respond to the call-up in fact a breach of the spirit of the arrangement between the British and Polish Governments?

I do not think so. I have read the call-up notice. It says that the provisions of the Polish law shall be applied to such persons. The Polish Government are entitled to say to their nationals that that is what will happen. In this country our own law operates except in so far as we have given special rights to other Governments under the Act of Parliament.

Is it not much better, generally speaking, that foreign nationals should serve in the Forces of their own country?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the intention of the Act, which was a result of long and patient negotiations, was to give these people an absolutely free and unfettered option between joining our Forces and theirs, and is not the threat of a penalty inconsistent with the exercise of a free and unfettered option?

I do not think so. I have re-read what my right hon. Friend said in the Debate, and I can find nothing in the call-up statement inconsistent with that. If there is any doubt, the fact that the Question has been asked, and. my answer given, will make it clear.

Have any other foreign Governments in this country adopted the same procedure as the Polish Government?

Is it not probable that the threat of penalties referred in fact only to loss of Polish nationality rights, though it has undoubtedly caused widespread uneasiness among those affected?

I think that the words are quite proper words for the Polish Government to use. They state that the provisions of Polish law shall be applied to such persons. That does not bind us.

Is it not clear that no penalty will be enforced if the person concerned expresses a preference to join His Majesty's Forces and is accepted?

The position, I think, is absolutely clear, If these citizens join the Polish Forces or any other national Force, be it Dutch or Belgian, well and good. If they do not, they will be called up by us. There is no penalty that can be applied to them here. So far as their own country is concerned at a later date, it is a matter for their own Government.

The advertisement definitely says that those who do not respond by 28th May will be treated as persons evading military duty, but that is just not true. They are not evading military duty, for they may have good reasons for not joining their own Forces.

It goes on to say that the provisions of Polish law shall be applied to such persons, and that seems to me to be quite all right.

In view of the lack of clarity which results from all these answers, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter at an early opportunity.