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Commons Chamber

Volume 392: debated on Tuesday 12 October 1943

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 12th October, 1943

[Mr. SEAKER in the chair]

Oral Answer To Questions

Economic Warfare (Iron Ore, Sulphur And Nitrates)

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Commander Sir ARCHIBALD SOUTHBY:

1. To ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare the estimated daily amount of iron-ore now reaching Narvik from Sweden and being shipped thence to Germany; to what extent it is estimated that these shipments will increase; and has the damage sustained by the port of Narvik during the Norwegian campaign now been repaired?

3. To ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare the estimated production of nitrates and other chemicals of the Norsk Hydro-elektrisk Kvaelstof Aktieselskab plants; and how much of this goes to Sweden and Denmark and thence to Germany?

According to my information, these plants produced about 64,000 metric tons of nitrogen in 1941–42, and about 8o,000 metric tons in 194–43. By far the greater part of this production was probably used in the manufacture of fertilisers, chiefly nitrate of lime. These plants also produce nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and the rarer gases, namely argon, neon, xeon and krypton. Exports to Sweden in 194–42 were 100,000 tons of nitrate of lime and about 6,000 tons of nitric acid, while exports to Denmark and Finland amounted to 178,000 tons of nitrate of lime and 28,000 tons of nitrate of lime respectively. I regret that I have no corresponding figures of exports for 194–43, but the proportions were probably similar. There were no re-exports from Sweden of either commodity, and it is unlikely that there were any re-exports form Denmark, though supplies consigned to Germany may have passed through Denmark.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the first week of June at least 8,000 tons of ore a day were leaving Narvik and that about 12 vessels were employed in conveying these supplies from Norway to Germany?

I think my hon. and gallant Friend has got mixed up with this Question and the next Question on the Order Paper.

Will my hon. Friend answer the last part of the first Question, as, to whether the damage sustained by the port of Narvik has been repaired?

Is not the answer the Parliamentary Secretary has given the answer to Question No. 3 and not to Question No. 1?

The hon. Member should apologise to the hon. Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) too. As I am in doubt as to whether we have had the answer to Question No. 1 or Question No. 3, will the Parliamentary Secretary clear up that doubt?

If I may, I will now answer Question No. 1. The daily amount of iron ore now reaching Narvik from Sweden and being shipped therefrom to Germany is between 5,000 and 7,000 tons. I do not expect any very substantial increase in this traffic, since it is limited by the handling facilities at the port, and by the amount of shipping which the enemy can make available. As regards the last part of the Question, I understand that only one of the three ore quays has been repaired.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the first week in June alone 8,000 tons of ore per day were going into Narvik and that at least 12 ships were employed in taking the ore from Narvik to Germany?

That is another question. This Question refers to the daily quantity of iron ore now leaving the Port of Narvik, and I have given my hon. and gallant Friend our latest information.

2.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare the estimated production of sulphur from the Orkla Mining Company in the South Trondheim area of Norway; and how much of that is being exported to Germany?

The capacity of the Thamshavn plant of the Orkla Mining Company is about 140,000 tons per annum. But according to my information production in 1942 was probably below these figures. I have no precise figures as to exports, but there is reason to believe that only a small proportion of current output is being exported to Germany.

Mr. Speaker, may I ask Question No. 3, as there was some doubt as to whether the answer to it was read?

British Prisoners Of War

9.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can make any statement in regard to British prisoners of war who succeed in escaping from Italy to Switzerland?

17.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many British prisoners of war have been sent from Italy to Germany during the past 12 months?

There has always been some movement to Germany of prisoners captured in North Africa and, more recently, in Sicily. In some cases it is known that they were held for a time in transit camps in Italy. 2,40o prisoners were transferred from Italian camps other than transit camps shortly before the fall of Mussolini. I referred to this transfer in a reply I gave to a number of hon. Members on 21st September. I said then that it was probable that since the Italian Armistice the Germans had transferred British prisoners from those parts of Italy which they have occupied. Some hundreds of names have recently been received of prisoners who have arrived in Germany and it seems clear that large numbers of such notifications will be received in due course. At the moment I do not know how many there will be. The next-of-kin will be informed as the names arrive.

A number of British prisoners of war have escaped from Italy to Switzerland and others have reached the Allied lines in the South. Next-of-kin of these prisoners are being informed as soon as names are received. Some prisoners may still be at large elsewhere in the country.

The Protecting Power is continuing to do what is possible to obtain information about our prisoners and to safeguard their interests.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House roughly how many British prisoners have reported to the British authorities either in Switzerland or Southern Italy?

I hope that the House will excuse me from giving that information. As this process is still going on, I think it is extremely important not to say anything which may interfere with the prospects of the final escape of those who are still at large.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can make inquiries, through the International Red Cross, as to what happens to parcels of books addressed to prisoners of war, as a soldier in Stalag XVIIIA, to whom several expensive books have been sent during the past two years, has received none of them?

Book parcels addressed to individual prisoners of war in Germany are despatched through postal channels to the camps in the same way as other individually addressed parcels. If my hon. and gallant Friend will forward me the particulars, such as the authors of the missing books, the names of the permit holders who despatched them and the dates when they were despatched, inquiries will be made through the Protecting Power.

28.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has any information of the intentions of the Japanese Government with regard to removing prisoners of war from the occupied countries to Japan?

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply given to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Gledhill) on 22nd September. I regret that I have nothing at present to add.

29.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many exchange ships have reached Japan; how many parcels for prisoners of war they carried; and whether there is any prospect of voyages by other such ships?

Four exchange ships returned to Japan last autumn. They carried, for distribution to prisoners of war and internees, nearly 4,000 tons of foodstuffs, medicines and clothing. Another exchange between America and Japan is to take place shortly. I regret that it has not yet been possible to arrange any further exchanges.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information as regards the success or otherwise of the conference now taking place in America?

No, Sir, I have not yet. If the hon. and gallant Member will put down a Question, I will give him an answer.

British Army

Silver War Badģe

5.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether men disabled in the last war and now serving with His Majesty's Forces may be allowed to wear their disability badges on their uniforms?

I assume my hon. Friend is referring to the Silver War Badge. This was given to officers and men discharged from the military forces in consequence of disablement or ill-health caused otherwise than by misconduct and is not considered appropriate for wear with uniform.

Is not this really a petty restriction, particularly in view of the fact that men in the Home Guard may wear it, though I realise fully that such men are not discharged but are re-employed?

I will inquire into the matter of the Home Guard, but, on the other hand, the argument put forward is not a matter of vast importance anyway. The badge that is given to identify people in civilian clothes as having been in the Army is, I should say, prima facie unsuitable for wearing with uniform.

Canteen Services (National Fire Service And Civil Defence Reserve)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the increasing contacts of the National Fire Service with the Armed Forces, he is now prepared to consider members of the National Fire Service making use of Young Men's Christian Association and other similar unofficial canteens on the same basis as the members of the Armed Forces?

I regret that the strain on the canteen services is such that it is in general impossible to extend its facilities to others than those now catered for. Arrangements are, however, being made that members of the National Fire Service and the Civil Defence Reserve should be admitted to canteens run by voluntary organisations in large scale exercises when they and the Army are jointly engaged in operational duties.

Rear-Admiral Beamish: Is it not a fact that some units of the National Fire Service are working intimately with the military Forces abroad, and, if so, does that not affect the question?

The hon. and gallant Member will observe that I said that in the case of their being engaged in operational exercises together, an exception will be made.

"World Press Review"

1o.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that issue No. 93 of the official Army publication, called "World Press Review," circulating in the Middle East and Persia-Iraq Commands, contains serious libels on the Soviet Union, personal insults to Marshal Stalin, and allegations that Marshal Stalin had insulted this country; whether he will now put a stop to this sort of conduct which is calculated to injure relations between the two countries; and whether he will make available to the House copies of all issues of this publication in order that some check may be kept on it?

"World Press Review" contains no original matter, but only reprints from articles from the world's Press. Articles reflecting a wide range of views are reproduced, including articles from the Press of the Allies as well as from the Press of this country. A recent issue included an article from the "Daily Worker." But it is not unlikely that other articles have been reproduced reflecting opinions with which the hon. Member does not agree. "World Press Review" is obtainable by subscription only, and no one need read it unless he likes. The fact that an article is selected for reproduction in no way gives official approval of or recognition to the opinions which it contains. In any case I understand that steps have been taken in the Minister of State's Office in the Middle East to exercise some supervision from the point of view of policy over such publications as this.

Would the right hon. Gentleman answer the last part of the Question, as to whether he will put copies in the House so that we may see them?

This is the only copy I have but I will certainly put a copy of this particular issue in the Library.

Is this an official publication or not? Is it under the supervision of the War Office? If it is, is it desirable that allegations should be made against an ally?

It is no more desirable that that should be done than that in Russian official publications there should be allegations against this country.

Are we to understand that because it is alleged that allegations have been made about this country by official Soviet publications, we claim the right to allow allegations to be made against Soviet Russia? Does the Minister accept responsibility for this?

Not in the slightest degree. This is a publication produced for soldiers in the Middle East, where there is extremely little reading matter. Representative selections from the foreign Press are published in it. As I said—and I do not think the hon. Member could have listened to me—I have arranged that the Minister of State in Cairo shall in the near future exercise some supervision from the point of view of policy over these publications.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the wide range of controversial opinions of all sorts contained in this publication are highly popular with the troops in the Middle East, who will greatly resent any attempt to limit or censor them in any way?

I have always assumed that British soldiers are quite capable of judging for themselves.

Did the right hon. Gentleman mean, in answer to an earlier Supplementary Question, in which he referred to the Soviet Union, that he would not have allowed this libel to have been published if he had approved of what the Soviet Press said about this country, but because he disapproved he had allowed it?

Not at all. There are two inferences to be drawn from my answer. If I had edited this Review, I would not have put in that particular article. The second thing is—if the hon. and learned Member will allow me to deliver an exhortation to him—that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Arms Traffic, Palestine

12.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will give particulars of recent trials in Palestine concerning smuggling of arms and the quantities of these, the names and connections of the convicted persons, for what section of the population the arms were intended, and whether such smuggling is rife or is an isolated case?

There have been three separate trials before military courts in Jerusalem, involving two British soldiers, Stoner and Harris, two Jewish civilians, Sirkin and Rachlin and a third Jewish civilian called Sacherov. The two soldiers were deserters, the first civilian was secretary of the Haifa Seamen's Union, the second was the owner-driver of a taxi and the third was a sub-contractor of a contracting organisation affiliated to the General Federation of Jewish Labour. In the first two trials the accused were charged with the unlawful possession of 105,000 rounds of ammunition and 3oo rifles. Stoner and Harris pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. Sirkin and Rachlin were found guilty after a trial lasting over six weeks and were sentenced to 10 and 7 years respectively. The trial of Sacherov, who was also charged with the unlawful possession of arms, ended on 6th October. He has been sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. These sentences are subject to confirmation by the General Officer Commanding. Arms trafficking in Palestine has, unfortunately, always been rife in both communities but known cases of arms smuggling on this scale are rare.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the parents of one of the privates who, according to Press reports, has been sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, are very anxious to have information on this subject? Does it not seem illogical that so humble a member of His Majesty's Forces should appear to be bearing the whole onus of this serious manifestation in Palestine?

As I said in my answer, the General Officer Commanding has to confirm or vary the sentences. After that has been done, I shall no doubt receive verbatim reports of the trial, but until then I think it would be extremely wise to reserve any further comment.

Soldier's Imprisonment (Treatment)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for War, whether the two officers involved in the recent case in which a soldier was confined in an unheated and unlit cell in winter for eight weeks and his correspondence burnt are still holding the same posts and the same ranks as they did at the time of the incidents?

This is a case about which the House clearly felt some anxiety, and I will therefore, with the hon. and learned Member's permission, take the opportunity of making a full statement about it at the end of Questions.

Later:—

Gunner Blunden was placed in arrest on 24th December of last year. On the day following he broke out of the guard room. He was arrested on the next day and placed in a "cell" in a Nissen hut. He remained so confined until his trial by Field General Court-Martial on 16th February. He was found not guilty on the charges of neglect to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, and of using insubordinate language to his superior officer, but guilty on the charge of absence without leave while in arrest. He was sentenced to 112 days' detention, of which half was remitted by the confirming authority. Complaints were received that there had been delay in bringing Gunner Blunden to trial and that his cell had been inadequately lit. These complants were fully examined by a court of inquiry, which found that there was substance in both of them. The two officers concerned were censured by the District Commander. Further complaints were then received about the treatment of Gunner Blunden and about the administration of the unit in general. The further court of inquiry which was called to examine the new complaints found that there was no substance in any of them except that the sanitary arrangements in Gunner Blunden's cell were not altogether satisfactory and that two of his letters had been burnt. These contained allegations about all the officers and some of the N.C.Os. of the battery. These allegations were of such a character and couched in such terms that the officer who read them thought that they would get the soldier into further trouble. The letters should, however, have been handed back to him, and the competent military authority decided that the officer responsible should incur the displeasure of the Army Council for his action, which was irregular, however well-intentioned it may have been.

Several hon. Members considered that the disciplinary action taken against the officers was not sufficiently severe. At first sight, in view of 'the undoubted fact that the inquiries had disclosed some unsatisfactory features, it certainly looked as if there was substance in their view. On the other hand, there was no evidence to show that there was any intention to ill-treat the man or that the delay in bringing him to trial was deliberate. In fact much of the time was lost by delays in correspondence and by lack of initiative in having the case properly prepared. It might be held that Gunner Blunden should have been released to open arrest, but in deciding against this his commanding officer no doubt took into account that the man had six previous entries in the preceding 19 months and all for absence without leave. In addition he had twice been convicted by the civil courts for housebreaking.

The District Commander did definitely consider whether the two officers should be court-martialled, but he decided that a reprimand administered by him would be adequate to bring home to the officers where they had been at fault and to prevent their erring again in this way. In the light of after events it is perhaps unfortunate that the matter was not dealt with by court-martial. However, I have taken the best legal advice open to me, and I am given to understand that it is most unlikely that a court-martial would have awarded a heavier sentence than severe reprimand. As it is, the administration of censure by the competent military authority disposes of the case against the officers, and I am advised that it cannot be reopened. Similarly the case of the destruction of the letters was disposed of by the competent military authority—in this case the War Office—by informing the officer that he had incurred the displeasure of the Army Council.

The unit in question has been disbanded. One of the officers is now on the strength of a depot, and the other is serving in another unit. One officer was a substantive major and is still serving in that rank. The other was a temporary captain. He has now regained that rank after serving for a time as a lieutenant.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say why the officers in this case were treated so much more gently than the man?

The whole purpose of my answer has been to give a completely objective statement of the facts.

Would not a lot of time have been saved if the right hon. Gentleman had given us some part of this story in answer to the original Question?

I apologise to the House. It certainly would have been better if I had made a fuller statement on the first occasion. I shall be careful not to make the same mistake again.

Is it not the case that these two officers had to be dealt with under the Army Act, which leaves no punishment open to a court of inquiry between censure on the one hand, which may be inadequate to meet the case, and dismissal on the other, which may be an excessive punishment for the offence; and could the right hon. Gentleman intimate whether there is any chance of getting the Army Act amended so as to provide an intermediate punishment?

It is quite true that the Army Act provides for no punithment between a severe reprimand and dismissal. From time to time the question of providing some intercalary punishment has been considered. Hitherto the House has not seen fit to adopt that, but I agree that it is a matter which requires consideration.

Civilian Employees, Auxiliary Vessels (Dependants)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether civilian employees of the War Office on auxiliary vessels operated by the War Department are entitled to a pension if they lose their lives in the course of their duties performed under orders from the War Office?

A civilian employee of the War Department and his dependants are not entitled to a pension as if he were a member of the Armed Forces. In the case about which my hon. and gallant Friend has written to me an award has been made to the widow and children of the deceased seaman under the Government scheme framed under the Workmen's Compensation Acts and instructions for payment have already been issued.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the widow has been offered only £300 and £263 for her two children, aged nine and six? Can he go into the matter again and see whether it is possible for her to have a pension?

I have been into the matter. The award is the full award payable under the Workmen's Compensation Act and is in accordance with the treatment of civilian employees of all three Service Departments.

Soldier's Political Activity (Sentence)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that Private Sam Gold, Royal Army Service Corps, a member of the Independent Labour Party, was arrested and court-martialled for taking part in a political meeting when on leave and in plain clothes, and was sentenced to 28 days' imprisonment; and how many prosecutions of this kind have taken place in the last 12 months?

As regards the first part of the Question, this soldier was tried and convicted by Field General Court-Martial on a charge under Section 4o of the Army Act for taking an active part in the affairs of a political organisation, in that he had spoken from the platform at a political meeting. Such conduct on the part of a serving soldier is forbidden by paragraph 54r, King's Regulations. The sentence was z8 days' detention, not imprisonment. As regards the second part of the Question, the answer is none.

Since this has been a unique case and no other soldier has been treated in this way for exercising his political rights when on leave and in plain clothes, will the Minister give an undertaking that this type of prosecution will not occur again?

I would not like to do that without further consideration. I think it is extremely desirable that we should not be too literal in our interpretation of the King's Regulations.

Will the Minister say whether he considers it improper for a man in plain clothes, on leave, to make a political speech?

It is forbidden by King's Regulations. Although the man was in plain clothes, he did announce that he was a soldier and make some pretty controversial remarks.

If a Member of Parliament happens to be a serving soldier and makes a political speech on a platform, is he subject to prosecution?

I would be very glad if the hon. Member would put that Question down, because there is a Regulation on which I have not refreshed my memory. There is an Instruction on the subject of Members of Parliament making political speeches. As the Prime Minister made clear, in answer to a Question a few weeks ago in this House, it has always been the desire of this House that Members of Parliament should be treated exceptionally.

Is the Minister aware that in the proceedings a representative of the War Office said that the content of the speech did not arise and that the only controversy occurred when this young man answered a question put by an officer in uniform? Will be take steps against the officer?

It is quite true that no question was raised about the content of the speech.

In the course of my reply. Nothing in the content of the speech was taken into account in the punishment inflicted by the court. Detention is not in the same category as imprisonment. It is very light. Detention does not take place in a cell; it takes place under camp conditions.

Surely the time has arrived when a soldier on leave and in mufti should be allowed to have some say publicly as to what he is fighting for instead of being locked up in this unBritish manner?

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that it is of frequent occurrence that officers and men in uniform speak at political meetings, as, for example, at Labour Party Conferences? Why should there be this discrimination?

Ancient Monuments And Art Treasures, Italy (Protection)

26.

asked the Secretary of State for War the arrangements made to protect ancient sites, historic buildings and works of art in parts of Italy occupied from time to time by the Allies?

34.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether any arrangements are being made to safeguard the priceless art treasures of Italy, such as frescoes, paintings and sculptures, as far as is within the power of the competent military authorities as soon as they obtain control of Italian territories?

11.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether adequate steps are being taken to safeguard our troops in occupied territories against accusations of wanton damage to, or looting of, objects of aesthetic or historic value?

British and American experts are engaged in occupied territory for the protection and supervision of ancient monuments, museums and works of art. British officers sent or provisionally selected are drawn from the British Museum and from the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments (Ministry of Works), the National Gallery and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Lists of the aesthetic and ancient monuments, prepared by experts in this country, have been supplied to these officers. Detailed instructions have been issued regarding the closing and guarding of museums and buildings containing works of art, which troops have been forbidden to enter. Italian curators and their staffs where suitable have been retained in their previous appointments. Damage caused by operational activities is, of course, unavoidable but where historic buildings and those containing works of art have been damaged, immediate steps are being taken to effect such temporary repairs as may be necessary to prevent further damage to the building or theft or damage to its contents. At home an adviser on archaeological questions is being appointed. He will direct and supervise measures for the protection and conservation of ancient monuments and works of art in territories where British troops are operating.

Are these experts available at the earliest opportunity after the occupation of territories?

I imagine that they are attached to the civil affairs part of the military organisation and that certainly a part of it accompanies military formations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing the names of some of these experts?

Will we safeguard these Italian treasures as well as we are safeguarding Roatta and Ambrosio?

Pay Corps (Commissions)

3o.

asked the Secretary of State for War, what qualifications are required for a commission in the Royal Army Pay Corps; and whether there are limitations of age and physical fitness?

Candidates are required to have administrative ability and be capable of controlling a staff, and also to pass a War Office Selection Board. Candidates of all medical categories which permit of employment at home or abroad are eligible, except that those of medical categories Ai to A3 are only accepted if they are over 35 years old, or if they are unsuitable for commissions in other arms and are in possession of a specialised knowledge of Royal Army Pay Corps duties.

De-Requisitioned Houses

32.

asked the Secretary of State for War, whether he is aware that it is the frequent practice of officials of his Department verbally to de-requisition houses without giving any notice to the owner; and whether he will consider giving at least one month's notice in the case of dwelling-house property and three months in the case of industrial, commercial and agricultural holdings?

When it is thought that accommodation will no longer be needed as much notice as possible is given, usually in writing, of the intention to end the requisition. It is, however, impossible in war-time conditions to forecast precisely whether a particular property will or will not be needed in a month or in three months' time, and I regret therefore that my hon. Friend's suggestion cannot be adopted as a rigid rule.

Troops, North Africa (Recreation And Entertainment Facilities)

33.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the British troops in North Africa are suffering from deficiency of wireless sets, sports equipment and indoor games, including darts and playing cards, hostel facilities and entertainment, such as cinemas and vaudeville shows; and whether he can give an assurance that these defects are being remedied?

Yes, Sir. I am alive to the needs of the troops for these facilities for recreation and entertainment. Much has been done to meet them, but I am aware that there are still deficiencies. My hon. and gallant Friend no doubt appreciates the difficulties involved in view of the shortage of materials, labour and shipping, but I can assure him that earnest efforts are being made to overcome them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the B.B.C. has for a long time been preparing admirable programmes for the troops in North Africa, and what is the use of this extra work if, as was the case up to the end of July, there were no wireless sets available for the troops and it was impossible to buy them in North Africa?

I do not think the hon. and gallant Member is accurate in saying that there were no sets in North Africa. Over 1,000 sets have been sent there.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a fund with which I am connected would be delighted to send out some thousands of playing cards if the President of the Board of Trade would only grant a licence?

Is it the policy of the Army welfare authorities to provide the troops a standard of amenities comparable with those supplied to the American troops by the American Red Cross?

It is no good talking about policy. The question which is at issue is capacity.

Freed Inhabited Places, Africa And Italy

35.

asked the Secretary of State for War the number of inhabited places in Libya, Cyrenaica, Tunisia, Pantellaria, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and Italy freed from enemy occupation since the Battle of El Alamein?

I do not know that they have ever been counted, but they must by now be quite large in number.

Auxiliary Territorial Service

36.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many A.T.S. girls have resigned under the four years' limitation of service; and whether he will use this opportunity to reduce the number of these women so that they can do more urgent national work?

The answer to the first part of the Question is 664. I am glad to say that this is only a small proportion of those who might have chosen to exercise their right to be discharged. The remainder are all experienced members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and I find it difficult to believe that in general they could do more urgent national work elsewhere.

Pensions

37.

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the average amount of Service Pensions awarded to ex-soldiers of the South African War, 1899–1901, and the corresponding pensions awarded to-day?

The conditions governing the issue of pensions have been entirely changed since the South African War, and no comparison can usefully be made. The majority of Service pensioners who saw service in the South African War did not become pensionable under the regulations in force at the time of that war. They are therefore drawing considerably higher pensions than would have been awarded under the regulations current at that time, and many of them are drawing pensions comparable in value to those given under current regulations.

Welfare Officers (Overseas Service)

38.

asked the Secretary of State for War on what principle welfare officers are appointed for overseas work; and whether such appointments are offered to Welfare Officers at home in view of the excellent work they have done?

The Welfare Officers for service overseas are found by selecting suitable serving officers who are unemployed. Only those who show a marked interest in welfare are selected and preference is given to those who have had welfare experience with their units. All such officers undergo a course of training in welfare duties. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the system at home is different. The Welfare Officers are voluntary and are unpaid. Moreover in all but a few cases Welfare Officers at home are over the age limit for service overseas. The answer to the last part of the Question is "No, Sir." I should like to take this opportunity to say how much the work done by Welfare Officers at home is appreciated.

Batmen (Employment)

39.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is now in a position to reply to the letter dated 25th August, addressed to him by the hon. Member for Streatham, in regard to the daily employment for several months of a Guardsman as a batman in a London club?

I hope the hon. Member has by now received a reply from me explaining that the arrangement about which he complained was stopped as soon as it came to light.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the daily use of a six-foot Guardsman as a domestic servant to a junior officer employed at the War Office at a place where valeting services exist is an affront to all the men and women who are toiling in the fields, the mines, the factories and the homes?

I am not in the least prepared to defend this particular case, but, as I have said, as soon as the arrangement came to light it was stopped.

40.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has considered the case of Sapper Congdon, of Streatham, a skilled tradesman, who is employed as a batman because of an injury to one of his hands; and whether he will take immediate steps to have this man released from the Army so that he can fill a job in the aircraft industry?

A release can only be granted on the application of a prospective employer, sponsored by the Government Department concerned. If any firm wishes to employ Sapper Congdon, and will apply in the usual way through the Department concerned, the application will of course be considered in the usual way. The man's medical category would be taken into account when considering release.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this skilled tradesman has been employed for 12 months on domestic duties, and would he not be more use in industry than untrained women of 5o years of age?

There is a perfectly recognisable procedure for dealing with these cases, and perhaps the hon. Mem- ber can provide some help to the sapper in this connection.

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to look more closely into this matter, in view of the fact that there is a widespread belief in the country, whether well-founded or not, that a large number of men are being retained in the Army to do work which is really unnecessary and that the promise of replacing fighting men so that they can go into the line is not borne out by the facts?

I have given a good deal of attention to this matter, and the combing of War Office establishments and employments is continuous. It is, I know, going on with particular vigour just now.

Separated Wives (Court Conduct Money)

19.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that where a soldier has notified the Array authority that he arid his wife have become estranged and the wife's allowances have accordingly been stopped the wife before she is able to obtain a court order must deposit the necessary money to enable her husband to attend court, and that this, after the allowance has ceased, is causing many cases of hardship; and whether he is prepared to discontinue this procedure?

The provision that a wife must deposit conduct money when bringing an action for maintenance against her husband who is a soldier, is enacted by Section 145 (3) of the Army Act. The provision is necessary to protect the soldier against the expense of attending court in cases where his wife has applied for a summons without sufficient cause. It is hoped however to complete arrangements at an early date by which wives will be assisted to find the conduct money in cases where they are unable to provide it themselves and they are considered to have a good prima facie case against the soldier.

If I put a Question down in two weeks' time, will the right hon. Gentleman be able to give me an assurance?

The hon. Member need not put a Question down. He can take it that in a very short time arrangements will have been made of the nature that are referred to in the last part of my answer.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a very old and a very real grievance and is part of a system which makes it far too easy for a man in the Armed Forces to desert his wife?

I think the hon. Lady can be re-assured by the statement in the last part of the answer.

Cypriot Soldiers {Family Allowance)

2o.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is now in a position to make a statement regarding the allowances paid to the dependants of Cypriot soldiers?

Yes, Sir. It has been decided with effect from 1st October to increase the rate of family allowance for families living in Cyprus of Cypriot soldiers from half to two-thirds British rates. The increase will apply also to families living in Cyprus of Cypriots who have enlisted in the Navy or the Air Force.

How is the two-thirds proportion arrived at? What is the justification for it? Is it not the case that the cost of living of these dependants is as high as it is in parts of this country?

I shall be very glad to consider information from the hon. Member as to that fact. It is based on a recommendation from the Governor in the light of the cost of living in the island.

Home Guard Headquarters (London Telephone Directory)

21.

asked the Secretary of State for War why the telephone numbers of certain Home Guard headquarters are included in the latest issue of the London Telephone Directory?

Unless there are security objections, telephone numbers of this kind are included in directories for the convenience of all concerned.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the list in to-day's "Daily Herald" of what one would assume was information of a secret nature, and further is not there an extraordinary divergence in matters of security? For instance, neither the Press nor the public would be allowed to know that I was asking my Question other than on the 1st Sitting day after loth October, 1943?

I can assure the hon. Member that none of these entries is made except in consultation with the security services.

Paratroops (Income Tax)

22.

asked the Secretary of State for War why paratroops receiving 2s, special allowance have to pay income tax on it whereas R.A.S.C. and others who receive extra allowances are not assessed for Income Tax?

This is not an allowance but additional pay for special duties and like other forms of pay is therefore liable to Income Tax. I am not aware of any comparable payments to personnel of other units which are not liable to tax.

If there are cases where allowances are not subject to tax, will the right hon. Gentleman see that this special allowance is put on the same basis?

That is exactly the question that I have answered. I say I do not know of any comparable case where pay is not subject to tax. Certain allowances in the nature of out-of-pocket expenses are not taxable. If the hon. Member wants to attack the Income Tax law, I must ask to be excused. I have enough of my own troubles to look after.

That does not arise out of my Question. If I submit other comparable cases, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps?

I shall be interested to see the other comparable cases. I reserve the right to challenge the comparability.

Occupied Territory (Shop Stewards)

23.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether the election of shop stewards will be permitted in territory controlled by the allied military government on the lines of the procedure approved for the Italian mainland by the Badoglio Government on 2nd September?

Inquiries are being made, and I will communicate with my hon. Friend as soon as the information reaches me.

Education Officers

24.

asked the Secretary of State for War how Army education officers are appointed; and whether any evidence of educational attainments is required of the candidates?

Officers and men in certain categories which are specially needed for combatant duties may not transfer to the Army Educational Corps. Otherwise an officer or man wishing to be considered for an appointment as an officer in the Corps must apply through his Commanding Officer. His name will then be forwarded to Command Headquarters and he will be interviewed by a Command Selection Board, the President of which is the Command Education Officer, and if he is recommended by the Board the recommendation is submitted to the War Office. The final selection is made by the Controller, Army Educational Corps, and those approved are attached to the Army School of Education to undergo a short course before being finally transferred. All candidates must have had experience of teaching or of educational administration and they must be honours graduates.

Are any of the previous civil employers of these officers consulted as to ability?

I think each has to produce certain evidence of qualifications and references.

Compassionate Postinģģ

43.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will arrange that members serving in His Majesty's Forces whose wives are suffering from serious illness will on compassionate grounds be posted to convenient centres from whence close touch can be kept with their wives?

Requests for compassionate postings are carefully investigated, and if, having regard to the man's medical category, rank and trade, there is a suitable unit near the man's home, such a posting is carried out. When a compassionate posting is not possible a period of compassionate release is often granted if the circumstances of the case justify it.

As these cases are continually arising, will my right hon. Friend, in the interests of family life, deal with them on compassionate grounds?

Requisitioned Hotel, Northern Ireland

44.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will derequisition the hotel in Northern Ireland, now vacant for six months, which has been brought to his notice, and allow the owner to retake possession in order to earn a livelihood, as it has been found impossible to obtain alternative accommodation?

Although this hotel is at present unoccupied, it will shortly be needed. I understand that no alternative accommodation exists, and I regret therefore that the hotel must continue to be requisitioned.

Colonies (Self-Government)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to say whether the statement by the Secretary of State for the Colonies at Lagos, on 17th September, that no country could be self-governing without being economically independent represents the views of His Majesty's Government?

I have ascertained that no verbatim record was made of what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies said at Lagos on 12th September. My right hon. and gallant Friend with whom we have communicated suggests that the Question may refer to a remark, which was in effect what he had already said in this House on 13th July, namely that there could be no reality in self-government without the ability to be financially independent. As a general statement this seems to be unexceptionable.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I, too, have made inquiries, and have ascertained that the words in this Question were actually used in the official release given out to the Press of what had taken place at the interview?

Well, and we have the advantage of knowing direct from the Secretary of State for the Colonies what is the position in principle which he adopts.

Government Policy (White Papers)

46.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will give directions for the issue of White Papers setting out the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to agriculture, land purchase and development and the Beveridge Report, respectively?

No, Sir. His Majesty's Government's proposed policy in these and other matters will be laid before the House in due time and in the usual way

Can the Prime Minister hold out any hope that we may be informed of the policy of the Government on at any rate one of these important topics before the Christmas Recess?

Service Benevolent Funds (Appeals)

47.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will represent to those responsible for the various appeals for the benevolent funds of the Services that their appeals should make it clear that the money will be used for supplementing Government allowances which legislation has authorised and for dealing with specially hard cases, and that suggestions that contributions to these funds are necessary to enable wounded men to exist are not in accordance with the facts and do not have the Government's approval?

I certainly hope that the point raised in the Question of my hon. Friend will not be overlooked by those making the kind of appeals to which he refers, but I do not propose to make any special representations to them on the subject.

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to a statement in the evening papers of 28th September on the Air Borne Forces Security Fund, which states:

"To show how much we appreciate their valour"—
and then I leave out a few words—
"so that each may know that if he should ever become a casualty his dependants will be well taken care of."
Does my right hon. Friend not think that a statement of that kind is inclined to give the public the idea that if they do not subscribe to these funds men who have suffered will be left upon the streets without any support?

I do not think the public are so obtuse as all that. They know there is a good deal of Government action in this matter, and anyhow the Question of my hon. Friend and the answer which I have given, and the notice which will be taken of it, will, no doubt, attract attention in the quarters which are concerned.

May I not ask a Supplementary Question, as there has been only one supplementary upon this Question?

Members are not entitled to say how many Supplementary Questions there should be.

Heligoland

48.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a condition of peace the handing over of Heligoland to Great Britain for her retention?

Such matters would be more appropriate to the Peace Conference than to Question Time.

Is it not the case that there would have been no war had Heligoland remained in British occupation?

Germany (Bombing)

49.

asked the Prime Minister whether steps are being taken to bring up the strength of our Bomber Command and the United States 8th Army Air Force here so as to enable them to bomb Germany at saturation point and thus, by destroying all her main sources of production, bring about her early defeat with a minimum loss of manpower?

Can my right hon. Friend say when he feels that we shall reach the point of saturation in this matter?

Ministers' Confidential Statements

5o.

asked the Prime Minister whether, when statements of a secret or confidential nature are made by Ministers of the Crown to non-official bodies outside Parliament, the members of these bodies are under the same obligations of secrecy as Members of Parliament in relation to Secret Sessions; what is their position with regard to the Official Secrets Act; and under what circumstances they may divulge the information so received?

I cannot give authoritative interpretations of the law, but I am advised, firstly, that the rules of Privilege and the law relating to Secret Sessions would not apply to the circumstances set out in the Question; secondly, that under the Official Secrets Act if it is made clear that the information is entrusted to the persons concerned in confidence by a person holding office under His Majesty, for example, a Minister of the Crown, its unauthorised communication by them to others, when of a character hurtful to public interest or safety, would be an offence. With regard to the last part of the Question, such information should not be divulged except with the authority of the Minister.

Is it intended to prosecute any of the ladies who went to the Albert Hall for the secret meeting?

Old Age Pensions

51.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is yet in a position to make any announcement on the increase in existing old age pensions?

I have been asked to reply. I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer which my predecessor gave to the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) on 23rd September.

Ex-Service Organisations (Funds)

52.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will take steps to coordinate the work of the organisations which exist for the benefit of ex-Service men and women to ensure that their funds are used to the best advantage without overlapping, at the lowest cost of administration, and with adequate safeguards for the prevention of fraud?

These organisations are to a large extent purely voluntary bodies, but it is the policy of the Departments concerned to co-ordinate their efforts so far as possible and to further their efficient administration. I understand that, with the encouragement of the Service Departments, certain of the largest organisations are already directing their efforts to closer co-ordination.

Post-War Control Of Industry (Home Secretary's Speech)

53.

asked the Prime Minister whether the speech made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department on 3rd October, on the future of controls in industry, represents the policy of the Government?

I have seen some reports of this speech, and of others too. It is common ground that, in the words of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House on 3rd February:

"a considerable measure of control of our economic life will have to continue after the war."
This is very much what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. In a National Coalition formed to carry on the war, a certain diversity of opinion or at least of emphasis is indispensable to political sincerity. I earnestly hope, however, that party controversy will be avoided, at least until we are nearer to our goal. This is a time when all combative impulses should be reserved for the enemy.

Would it not be worth while for my right hon. Friend to follow the example of, I think, Lord Melbourne, who said, "It does not matter what we say as long as we all say the same thing"?

I think that would be imposing undue rigidity upon the affairs of a National Government.

Are we to understand from my right hon. Friend's reply that it is an instruction to junior Ministers not to embark upon further controversies?

I do not think I need add at all to the answer which I have given.

Will the Prime Minister draw the attention of his colleagues to the answer which he has given to-day?

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider suggesting to the Home Secretary that he should join the National League for Freedom?

Demobilisation

54.

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the experiences of 1939 and recent divergent statements, he can now make a pronouncement upon the principles to be adopted in carrying out demobilisation, subject of course to over-riding national exigencies; and whether steps are being taken to reach co-ordination of view and system with the Dominions and Colonies in this connection?

Upon the first part of the Question, I cannot at present add anything to the statement made on 23rd September in reply to Questions on this subject. As regards co-ordination of demobilisation arrangements with the rest of the Empire, I doubt whether, in view of the widely differing circumstances and differing conditions of enlistment, complete uniformity is either necessary or desirable, but as soon as we have reached provisional conclusions as to our own arrangements we shall of course communicate them to the other Governments concerned.

In view of my right hon. Friend's active participation in such matters in the last war while the war was going on, will he give the House an opportunity of hearing something about the Government's provisional plans at an early date?

When the new Session begins there will be an oppor- tunity of discussing all these matters in the Debate in reply to the Gracious Speech, which is the main occasion of the year, and I cannot forecast in any way what, if any, announcements the Government will have to make.

Post-War Civil Aviation (Empire Conversations)

55.

asked the Prime Minister how far arrangements have been made for the holding of an Imperial Conference on post-war civil aviation; where this Conference is to be held; and what Empire countries have agreed to attend?

Conversations of an informal and exploratory nature are now taking place in London. Besides the United Kingdom, the following are represented: Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, and India. Newfoundland, Southern Rhodesia and Burma are represented by observers. The United Kingdom delegation includes the representative of the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Civil Air Transport Crews (Awards)

56.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider the award of Service medals and decorations to pilots of British Overseas Airways engaged on the war effort on similar lines to those awarded to the Mercantile Marine?

The awards available for Civil Air Transport air crews are the George Cross, appointment to the appropriate class of the Order of the British Empire, the George Medal, the British Empire Medal, Commendation for valuable service in the air, Wound Stripes and Chevrons for war service. Bars may be awarded to the George Cross and to both Medals. These air crews are therefore accorded a wide range of appropriate Honours and awards, and I do not think that there is need for any change.

Will men who served, say, in Malta during the period of the siege, be eligible for the Africa Star?

I think I should have to look into that question. As I have said, I look forward to the opportunity of discussing these questions with the House, because we must endeavour to deal with them.

Women's Albert Hall Meeting (Report)

57.

asked the Prime Minister whether it is proposed to answer and to publish the answers to the main question which were put forward by women at the Albert Hall meeting but were not then dealt with owing to lack of time?

I have been asked to reply. Yes, Sir. It is proposed to deal with the main questions in the report which will be circulated to those attending the Conference.

Will not the report be available to the general public and to Members of the House?

The intention is that the report should have a restricted circulation.

On what ground is public money being spent for the secret distribution of information to a class of persons picked nobody knows how?

Who is to receive a copy of this report? Is it confined to members of the Conference?

It was intended that the report should be restricted in its circulation. The intention was that the people who were attending the Conference should receive a copy.

Is it really intended that the only people to see this report are the people who attended the meeting and therefore already know all about it?

The hon. and learned Member's knowledge of conferences surely will convince him of the necessity of a report for people who are representing organisations, in order that they can report back.

Balkans And Eastern Europe

58.

asked the Prime Minister whether it is the intention of the Allied Governments to extend the Mediterranean Commission to other territories where problems of common interest arise or to set up a further commission or commissions to deal with the problem of the Balkans and Eastern Europe?

These questions will I daresay be discussed among others at the Conference in Moscow, and I can make no statement at present.

Post-War Reconstruction

59.

asked the Minister without Portfolio whether he is now prepared to make a further statement to the House concerning reconstruction plans under his supervision?

We are now reaching the stage in our work on reconstruction when major issues of public policy begin to emerge each requiring a full statement in itself by the responsible Minister, and I anticipate that several statements of this kind will be made in the coming months. I consider that such statements will prove more informative to the House than would any general review such as is within my province.

Are we to understand that these will just he statements, or will they be embodied in legislation? Is it the intention of the Government to produce legislation on these matters departmentally?

I hope at any rate there will be detailed proposals put before the House, obviously with a view to legislation.

Will the Minister take into account the desirability of having some of these statements made before the Debate on the Address, as that will make it easier for the Home Secretary and the Under Secretary of State for Air to pre pare their speeches?

Local Government Reform

6o.

asked the Minister without Portfolio whether he will give the House and local government authorities an early opportunity, by the issue of a White Paper, to consider the various Departmental proposals for changes affecting particular services which can only be brought about at the cost of some modification of local government structure?

I should be reluctant to trouble the House with mere proposals unless and until those proposals had taken definite shape and the Government had formed an opinion regarding them. As soon as the Government have arrived at conclusions in respect of a particular service, these will be laid before the House, as in the recent case of education, and I would suggest that this method of presentation will best meet the convenience of the House.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable anxiety among local authorities?

I am fully aware of that, and I have already said that in considering every proposal the Government look also at the cumulative effect.

Will the Minister take note of the very important conference that took place in the West Riding last week, and make a note of it?

In any changes which may be contemplated in regard to local government will the Minister see that the people elected are properly elected by the people?

Are we not to have a statement of the general plan into which these particular plans will fit?

I do not think that point arises on this question of local government. As I have said, when we have any proposals at all definite, the House will be consulted, and before considering any proposal we consider the cumulative effect.

Questions To Ministers

May I call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that more than 8o Questions on the Paper have not been answered? Will you consider some system of rationing or of reducing the number of supplementary questions to one?

India (Food Situation)

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

120.

—To ask the Secretary of State for India, whether he has considered the recent communication addressed to him from the mayor and corporation of Calcutta concerning the grave famine situation; whether the communication contains any specific requests or demands; and what action is proposed to be taken in regard to it?

With the permission of the House, I should like with reference to this Question to make a further short statement on the food position in India, especially in Bengal. The House will naturally be concerned, first and foremost, with our own responsibilities in this anxious situation.

At the beginning of the year His Majesty's Government provided the necessary shipping for substantial imports of grain to India in order to meet prospects of serious shortage which were subsequently relieved by an excellent spring harvest in Northern India. Since the recrudescence of the shortage in an acute form we have made every effort to provide shipping, and considerable quantities of food grains are now arriving or are due to arrive before the end of the year. We have also been able to help in the supply of milk food for children. The problem so far as help from here is concerned is entirely one of shipping, and has to be judged in the light of all the other urgent needs of the United Nations.

The Central Government of India have been actively concerned from the first signs of possible dangers to the food situation. As far back as April, 1942, it inaugurated a "Grow More Food" campaign, which brought 8,000,000 new acres under food crops last year and will bring 12,000,000 this year.

In a situation in which the difficulty was mainly, though not entirely, one of distribution, their efforts have been primarily directed to securing grain from surplus areas to meet the needs of the areas in deficit. In the six months since last April—against a normal annual net intake of 330,000 tonsa total of 375,000 tons of rice or other food grain has thus been delivered on Government account to Bengal by rail or coastal shipping from other Provinces. During September deliveries were 72,000 tons.

Using their special war-time powers, the Central Government, without invading the primary responsibility of the Provincial Governments, have established in all the areas most affected their own Regional Food Commissioners, who report, advise and convey instructions. It is largely thanks to their exertions that what might have been a situation of widespread serious distress has been confined to Bengal, Cochin, Travancore and parts of the Deccan.

In dealing with the situation the Central Government have been faced with the reluctance of producing Provinces to part with supplies and, in particular, with the necessity of persuading them that they need no longer harbour doubts as to the manner in which supplies sent to Bengal would be utilised.

The Centre has also afforded direct financial help to the Bengal Government in meeting the heavy costs of relief, amounting to not far off £2,000,000, and of grain purchase.

The Bengal Government are responsible to the Bengal Legislature for the administration of the Province, including the feeding of the people. Faced with a poor harvest in 194–3, the Ministry then in office apparently judged that they could get, population and that there is now a re-through without outside assistance. Earlier serve of one month's supply. But prices soared beyond the reach of the poorest elements, whose numbers have been swelled by many thousands of refugees from hard hit districts outside. Under the stimulus of Sir Thomas Rutherford's long experience of Provincial and District administration, the Ministry have since tackled the problem of distribution in the other areas of the Province. They are distributing food from 2,600 free kitchens established by the Government and many others subsidised by them. 1,300,000 persons are being fed daily in this way. The problem of the destitutes in Calcutta and elsewhere is being tackled by the opening of relief camps. The Government of Bengal are also, with the aid of the Government of India's Adviser, working out a system of individual rationing for Calcutta which is to come into operation before the end of next month.

The efforts of the Bengal Ministry to deal with the crisis have not been rendered easier by the vehemence of local party and communal feeling, and it can only be hoped that a realisation of the gravity of the situation will lead to a greater measure of co-operation by all concerned. While His Majesty's Government will not hesitate to take, or to authorise the Government of India to take, whatever measures may be essential to restore the situation, it would only be in accordance with our principles, even in such a crisis as the present, to give to the Government and Legislature to which the primary and immediate responsibility in this matter has been entrusted, a reasonable chance of fulfilling that responsibility with such aid as both the Government of India and His Majesty's Government here can afford them.

In view of the conflicting statements which have been made on this most poignant and terrible problem—about people dying in the streets—and the injury which may be done to our war effort by misleading and mischievous statements which assume a responsibility which we do not possess, will the right hon. Gentleman earnestly consider giving the House an opportunity of discussing the matter, so that he may make a fuller statement, explaining where the responsibility really lies?

But will the right hon. Gentleman express himself in favour of such a Debate on a matter which must surely concern this House in some respects?