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Commons Chamber

Volume 402: debated on Wednesday 21 June 1944

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House Of Commons

Friday, 21st July, 1944


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Wisbech Corporation Bill Lords

Read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.

Germany (Internal Situation)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he has any official information with regard to the recent alleged developments in Germany and, if not, whether as soon as he has, he will make a statement to the House?

I am sorry I have no information at present which extends beyond that which is in the possession of all hon. Members. If and when I am in a position to make a statement, of course, I will tell the House at once. I think I should like a little time to consider the various reports that are coming in as to what is happening.

I think it would meet with the approval of the House if the right hon. Gentleman could make a statement at the earliest possible moment.

Flying Bomb Attacks (Conferences With Ministers)

I am sorry. I desire, Mr. Speaker, to ask your Ruling on a question, which I have already submitted to you privately. I desire to submit a point of Order concerning the proposed meetings or conferences between Members and Ministers, on the subject of, bombs, on which an announcémnt has recently been made by the Leader of the House. It would seem certain that disclosure by Members inside or outside the House of what takes place at these meetings, would not be a breach of Privilege as disclosure of what takes place when the House is in Secret Session is. This would seem to be proved by the fact that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) said in the House that one of these meetings or conferences previously held had been informative. Clearly, such a statement applied to a Secret Session would have been out of Order. Yet I submit that it is highly desirable that these proceedings should be treated as secret, as would be a Secret Session, in order that Members may put points which could not be discussed on the Floor of the House. No difficulty need arise in practice owing to the high standard of reticence and responsibility which Members observe in matters of this kind but it is, I submit, highly desirable that, if possible, some direction should emanate from the Chair on the subject. I, therefore, most respectfully beg to submit for your consideration, Sir, that you should make a statement to the effect that Members should feel themselves as much bound to secrecy over matters discussed and questions asked and answered at these conferences and meetings, as they would be if these proceedings had taken place in Secret Session, even though there is no Standing Order to bind them to such secrecy.

The Noble Lord has asked me for a Ruling on a point of Order, and has also submitted a Private Notice Question for my approval. It will be convenient to deal with both in the same Ruling. As regards the proposed meetings between Ministers and Members of Parliament, I consider these to be of the class of all-party Private Members' committees, and, therefore, I must decline to give any direction from the Chair as to the rules of secrecy. This cannot be covered by Privilege, or by the Emergency Defence Regulations in the case of such unofficial committees. I agree with the Noble Lord when he says that no difficulty need arise, owing to the high standard of reticence and responsibility which hon. Members observe, and I leave it at that.

As regards the Private Notice Question, strictly speaking, I should not allow a Question on a matter for which a Minister is not officially responsible to this House and I cannot allow such Questions in the future, but for the general convenience of Members, I am making an exception on this occasion. I take this opportunity of warning the House that these meetings should be regarded as quite unofficial as far as the proceedings of the House are concerned, and while I recognise that the demands of war must give rise to exceptional methods, I trust that in more normal times, these meetings shall not become a regular practice, as a substitute for Debate in the House.

As my name has been mentioned may I say one word? First of all, if in using the word "informative" I overstepped the bounds I should like to apologise. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think we all recognise that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) is the mentor of this House, and sometimes the tormentor, and I only want to say that, instead of using the word "informative" I might just as well have used the word "useful." It was meant as a compliment to the elasticity of the methods of this House, and not in any way as support for the Government, or advertisement for myself. That is how I feel about the matter.

I should like to make a persona] explanation. I intended to make, and indeed made, no attack on my hon. and gallant Friend. I was only drawing a distinction between proceedings upstairs, and what would take place in Secret Session. I merely used his phrase as an example.

May I put to you, Mr. Speaker, a point of Order about the forthcoming Business? I understand the Home Secretary is likely to make an announcement soon about signals for flying bombs. Would it be in Order during the forthcoming stages of the Supplementary Vote of Credit, for London Members to make suggestions as to what they consider Londoners would appreciate in the way of signals? This might be of some assistance to the Home Secretary in framing his decisions. Over arid above that, would it be in Order, during the discussion on the Supplementary Vote of Credit, to raise matters that concern billeting anomalies for evacuees?

I suppose, really, these things would be in Order, but I imagine —I do not know —that hon. Members would insist that they should be heard in Secret Session. As far as expenditure of the Vote of Credit is concerned, I cannot rule it out on the grounds of Order, that is perfectly clear.

I would like to raise a further point of Order on a Question which I put yesterday to the Leader of the House. It may be extreme stupidity on my part but I really do not know the position into which the House is getting itself. On this Vote of Credit to-day and on the discussion on the war which is to take place in ten days' time, if any Member, in discharge of his Parliamentary duties —especially those Members representing constituencies affected —desires to raise the question of the flying bomb, he, obviously, could not be ruled out of Order. Are we then to go into Secret Session? We really must have a statement from the Government on the matter, which will arise acutely on the Prime Minister's statement to be made in ten days' time.

I think the Noble Lord is making heavier weather than he need do. In conditions like those, I have great confidence in the good judgment and sense of the House. When we come to these matters Members may feel that they wish to make some references, and, if they wish to make them in public, with a due sense of their own responsibility, I have no doubt they will. If it should so happen that, in the view of the Government, the Debate began to take a turn of a dangerous character in the national interest we should —as any hon. Member would have the right to do —spy Strangers, and move into Secret Session.

Would the right hon. Gentleman clear up the point with regard to reference to places? I understand the Prime Minister has made it quite clear that no reference must be made to places. According to a report in the "Daily Mail" this morning, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security, in a speech in Manchester last night, referred to Kent. Does that mean that, in future, what is said by Ministers confidentially upstairs can be referred to by Ministers, but must not be revealed by Members of Parliament?

I am sure the hon. Member will realise it does not mean that. I appeal to the House to consider that it would not do very much good in pursuing these matters.

In your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, you said that the matters I had mentioned might come under the heading of secrecy. I suggest that signals concerning flying bombs and the evacuation of children could not possibly concern security.

Could not all these matters be left to the commonsense of Members studying the public interest?

(By Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the fact that by longstanding custom, when Ministers meet Members upstairs, only questions are asked by hon. Members and no speeches are made, if it is the intention of the Government at the forthcoming conferences or meetings between hon. Members and Members of the Government on the subject of flying bombs, to permit speeches, since hon. Members may wish to state a particular point of view; and if so, as the speeches may be critical of the Ministers concerned, whether he will arrange for a member of the Panel of Chairmen to occupy the Chair, and not a Minister?

The intention of the Government has been, throughout, to try to meet the wishes of hon. Members in this matter, because the Government were conscious of, and shared the view, that the House did not wish at this time to hold a Secret Session. That is the basis on which we are proceeding. I do not think it is invariably the practice that Members are restricted to asking questions. I have myself had other experiences, and it was not the intention of the Government to restrict business in this way. In fact, I do not think that the Government would impose such limitations on essentially private meetings. I would emphasise that these meetings are essentially of an informal character, and I think it best to leave it to the good sense of those present to arrange a suitable procedure. I really think that, as regards the Chairman, Ministers may be trusted to conduct the proceedings in a fair manner. The meetings are not, I repeat, being arranged to protect the Government, but to assist Members on a particular matter.

Without asking my right hon. Friend to give an answer now, and while thanking him for his sympathetic reply to the first part of my question, might I ask whether he will give attention to the second part? It may be very embarrassing for Members who want to criticise a Minister if that Minister is in the chair. Why cannot my right hon. Friend arrange for a member of the Panel of Chairmen to take the chair?

I would ask my right hon. Friend to reflect where this is leading him. This meeting upstairs is an informal private meeting. It would be highly improper to have, at a private meeting, a Chairman from the Panel of Chairmen in the chair. We have to be careful of these things, to keep them on an informal basis. We can always look at the matter again, and see how we get on.

While endorsing what my right hon. Friend has said about the imformality of these meetings and their confidential character, may I suggest that it would be for the convenience of Members if he would agree to an impartial chairman? I believe that it would also be for his convenience, as well as for the efficient conduct of the meetings.

That is a little different from what my Noble Friend suggested. That is what I took exception to. I think we had better see how we get on next week. We only want to help hon. Members.



"That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn till Tuesday next."— [Mr. James Stuart.]

Orders Of The Day


REPORT [ I8th July]

Supplementary Vote Of Credit, 1944


Resolution reported:

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,000,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the expenses which may be incurred during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945, for general Navy, Army and Air services and supplies in so far as specific provision is not made therefor by Parliament; for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of the war; for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community; for relief and rehabilitation in areas brought under the control of any of the United Nations; and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

I desire to take this opportunity briefly to raise a matter on the Report stage of this Supplementary Vote of Credit. I realise, Sir, that I shall have to navigate along a rather narrow channel as regards keeping in Order, but I believe, and hope, that I shall be able to convince you that the matter I wish to raise is in Order. In the statement of services provided for in the Votes, on page 4, will be found a statement, classified under Group II, which includes the expenditure of the Stationery Office in connection with special war-time demands of the Defence Departments and of the new war Departments. If you will turn to page 79, of the same Command Paper, you will find there that £13,400,000 is set aside to the Stationery Office for this special war-time expenditure. Some of that money will undoubtedly be found out of the Vote which we are discussing. It may be within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that on 1st March this year I was fortunate enough to persuade His Majesty's Government to make a free issue of a limited number of copies of HANSARD to the Fighting Forces, as a special war-time concession. Those free issues are undoubtedly paid for out of this Vote. They will be paid for during the year ending 31st March, 1945, and they are certainly an expense arising out of the existence of a state of war. Sir, I hope that these three facts will satisfy you that I am in Order in making a brief reference to this subject.

I am very grateful to the Treasury for what they have done for the Fighting Services, and I have plenty of evidence that the Services are grateful for what has been done. But it is not enough, and I am detaining the House for a few minutes to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that they really must go a little further in this direction. The Association of the Friends of Hansard, which is shortly going to be put in a more permanent form, under the name of the Hansard Society, and which is interested in getting news about the proceedings of this House to the public, has had a great deal of correspondence from Service units, asking for HANSARD. We are very glad to get such letters, and as we are constitutionally minded we always write back telling them that they should make an application through the usual Service channels, as there are a limited number of copies—500—available to the three Services for free distribution. I am not going to burden the House with a lot of evidence, but I will give one example of what happens to a Service unit which is trying to get hold of free copies. After an officer had applied and we had told him that he had better apply through his usual Service channels, he said:
"We are very isolated … and our men find copies of The Times,' Manchester Guardian,' and one other daily paper in their information room each day, but, as we have here a big crowd of members of the Intelligence Corps—all keen young men, who are the fellows upon whom will fall the responsibility of helping to rebuild civilisation after this war, if they return—it seems to me that a copy of HANSARD would be a most important and valuable addition to their reading matter."
He is quite unable to get a copy, for the simple reason that his is only one unit in a very large command, and that there are only eight copies allotted to that command. He says again:
"It looks as if we are not going to get one."
He goes on:
"We have always here about 100 members of the Intelligence Corps—many of whom are professional men, including clergy, barristers, civil servants, schoolmasters, and a good many university students. To such men as these, HANSARD would be invaluable, and, as we are a static unit, copies would be filed in the unit library, where they can be seen at any time,"
I realise that some Members may think this a small point, but I submit that this is a serious state of affairs. It is most important that the men in the Fighting Services should be acquainted, as part of the efficient prosecution of the war, with the proceedings of this House. Debates have recently been held—and no doubt such Debates will be held again—on peace aims, war aims, the registration of Service voters, and many matters affecting the post-war world, for which these men are making such sacrifices. I will not repeat to this House what I have proved before, and will easily prove again if challenged, that what the late Lord Balfour said in 1908 is even more true today than it was when he said it. He said that there was no place in the world where difficult questions were better thrashed out than on the Floor of the House, but that one could not get the full sense of what happened from the Press. There is only one place where the Service man—or, for that matter, anyone else—can find out adequately what is proceeding in Parliament; and that is in HANSARD. Therefore, I am profoundly dissatisfied with the meagre expenditure on this aspect of the prosecution of the war. It amounts to about £1,000, or less than 1/10,000th of one per cent. of the total expenditure which we are discussing today. I think more should be spent on such an important matter, which is essential to the efficient prosecution of the war.

There is one further point which I wish briefly to put. On page 79 of this same Command Paper, it will be observed that, amongst the special war expenditure of the Stationery Office, towards which we are being asked to vote this money, there is a sum of £30,000 on Press advertisements. I will not embarrass my hon. Friend, who may be going to reply on behalf of the Government to what I have said, by asking how the money is spent, but I will tell him how some of it is not being spent, and how some of it ought to be spent. None of it is being spent on telling the public something which it is absolutely essential to the efficient prosecution of the war that they should know—that is that they have the right to buy the full story of our proceedings.

I take it that nobody in any part of this House will venture to get up and tell me that there is no connection between "securing the public safety, the defence of the Realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of the war," which are the purposes of the Supplementary Estimate to-day, on the one hand, and the knowledge by the public of the proceedings of Parliament, on the other hand. The public simply do not know this fact. I do not want to detain the House or I could give most extraordinary and almost unbelievable evidence of the class of persons, business men and so forth, who do not know that they can buy a copy of the proceedings of this House. I want the public to know—and I am sure the House will support me in this—that if they read in the Press or hear on the B.C.C. that a certain subject has been discussed in this House, they can get a proper and full account of the proceedings from the Stationery Office or through any bookseller. The fact should be made known to the public and I submit that a few thousand pounds of this £30,000 of Press advertising money should be spent on telling the public that, in a people's war, the people can, and indeed should, purchase from time to time the only full and authentic account which exists of the proceedings of the people's Parliament.

Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word on this subject on the point which my hon. and gallant Friend has just raised. I am well aware of the great interest that my hon. and gallant Friend has taken for a considerable time in this subject. But I have to confess that since he sent an intimation to my office last evening, to the effect that he desired to seek an opportunity of raising the matter on this occasion, I have not had an adequate opportunity of informing myself, and I hope that neither he nor the House will think it discourteous of me, if I do not say any more than that I will see that the matter to which he has drawn attention will be looked into.

I wanted to say a word which concerns the Minister of Health and he has just told me he will be coming back shortly so I will postpone a question that concerns him until he returns. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Parliamentary Secretary is here."] I am sorry I had not noticed him. In that case I need not postpone my remarks until the Minister returns. I want to say a few words about the billeting of evacuated children. Why do not the Government introduce some equity into the present boarding-house position? The keeping of a boardinghouse is a trade just like any other little business, and how can you expect boarding-house keepers to remain solvent, when they are compelled to fill their rooms with evacuated children at 3s. per head per week? To some extent you cannot blame them for trying to compensate by charging unofficial adult evacuees exorbitant prices. I feel that the time has come when the Government should consider paying fair billeting allowances especially to people whose business it is to take in visitors.

There is another point I desire to raise. Apparently there is shortly to be an announcement—possibly next week—by the Home Secretary about simplifying official and localised flying bomb signals. As regards local signals, the present position is, of course, bewildering and chaotic, and undoubtedly the Home Secretary has that in mind. It is most confusing to go round some of our big stores in London, because they all have different signals, what with sirens, bells, whistles, klaxons, red buckets, cones, balls, big flags, little flags, flags at half mast, flags at full mast, to say nothing of flying socks. Unnecessary confusion and anxiety are naturally caused by this, what I might call, bizarre symphony. As for the official warning, the other day a bomb dropped near a distinguished Member of this House but he did not hear it coming and was not able to take shelter because the alert went on too long.

The best system of signalling would be, if every time a flying bomb or group of them had got through our defences and were making for a certain area, the sirens in that area would give three short blasts, and it had been previously announced to the public that all would be clear, say, after three, or possibly four, minutes' interval, and that "all clear" signals would be done away with altogether. Factories, shops and such like could indicate that the three minutes were up and danger was past by a blast on their own pet instrument. Such a system, official and otherwise, would not only simplify and unify the present localised signal system, but this proposed new official siren signal would be advantageous to morale, and enable more and better work to be carried out in the factories, shops and offices in the danger area. In other words, if, three minutes after hearing a siren, you had not been knocked out, you could go about your business happily instead of as often occurs now, wasting literally hours, night and day, wondering whether the noise that you hear is a flying bomb, or one of our aeroplanes, or just a motor bike, or, alternatively, being rather anxious because there is too much noise around to hear sky noises. I have discussed this proposal with important Civil Defence authorities, most of whom think that such a plan would be considerably more satisfactory, and I am putting that forward at this stage before the Home Secretary comes to a final decision and I think it is right and proper that one should, hoping that the Home Secretary will take such a suggestion into his consideration as coming from a representative of a London constituency.

Many, of course, are wondering why we have not constructed a flying bomb of our own. We ought to have known long ago that we were up against an enemy who would stop at nothing and that we would have to be prepared to retaliate. We were evidently prepared to do this with gas; so why not then, with indiscriminate robot bombing? This weapon would have been invaluable to us and our Allies, especially as we got nearer to the frontiers of Germany, and would have meant possibly the saving of hundreds and hundreds of heart-rending casualties to our airmen, for the ground defences round Berlin and other large German towns are formidable, and will be more so, as we close in and their anti-aircraft defences become concentrated. Early in this war, the man who invented tanks, Major W. G. Wilson, invented a jet-propelled flying bomb simpler than the German model that we know of, but nevertheless with a bombing accuracy hitherto unheard of. The Government put every obstacle in the way of developing this British robot invention with the result that we have been caught napping.

I only want to say this last word. The Prime Minister recently told us that he had known about the present flying bombs for the last six months. [Interruption.] Six months from the time when he made that announcement. After hearing this little John Citizens meekly asked "Why then were the deep shelters not ready?" It was a month after the arrival of the flying bomb before the last of the deep shelters was opened. The man in the street also wants to know why was not the evacuation of children advised or started if it was known six months ago that this menace was likely to occur, and why, during the last six months, have thousands of civil servants been brought back to London? I do not think that I have raised any matter that affects security, but they are matters that are of considerable interest to a great number of the public, and I do feel that the Government will make a very grave mistake if they are to ignore—as I anticipate they will do—the questions I have put other than the questions to the Minister of Health. I think they will be ill advised to ignore such questions, because the fact that we do not have any open Debate in this House is making the public rather apprehensive. They feel that there is nothing that can be said but what would frighten them, and they are made all the more anxious by the fact that they know we are having secret meetings of M.Ps. upstairs, where, in all probability, they will anticipate that we are about to hear far gloomier things than are ever likely to be conveyed to us.

The hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) will forgive me if I do not refer to the subject he has raised, except to say that I hope that the Government will take the earliest opportunity to give the maximum information on our progress against the flying bomb to our people, of course within the limits of national security. I do not think there is the slightest doubt about the fortitude and endurance of our people in dealing with this menace, and I hope the Government will bear in mind the good advice given by Lord North-cliffe many years ago, when he said, "If you tell the British public as many of the facts as you can, they will back you through anything." Therefore, I hope that the Government will not get into a "phobia" of semi-secrecy about this, which would be exaggerated many times over outside of this House. Because if this impression was created the ripples in the pond would reach higher watermarks than one would be able to reach by replies to questions in Parliament. Move-over selective statements by Ministers are not as effective as reports to Parliament. Therefore give Parliament the maximum information possible.

I desire, however, briefly to refer to another question. On the Committee stage of this Supplementary Vote of Credit for £1,000,000,000 several hon. Members, during an interesting Debate, to which I do not intend to return, except for a minute or so, put points to, and asked questions of, the Government, and hoped that they would get a reply. I did not get a reply to a question I raised, because the Government then stated that they would require longer notice. I hope they have now had good notice, and that they will be able to give me an answer. In the Vote of Credit there are the words:
"… for relief and rehabilitation in areas brought under the control of any of the United Nations…"
I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if lie could make a statement about negotiations with the U.S.A. with regard to the franc, and he was good enough to say that discussions were proceeding. The right hon. Gentleman gave us as much information as he was able to give then, but I hope the Government will make a further statement as soon as possible as to how far we have commitments, because I have no doubt that the currency has been already issued and is in circulation in Normandy. I also asked the Government—and I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs here, because he may be able to answer me—specifically, whether any part of this £1,000,000,000 had been earmarked for housing, feeding and rehabilitating the heavily devastated areas of France. Reports show that such towns as Caen, and villages, have suffered. They are in rubble and ruin as a result of our own and the enemy's bombardments, and it is not good enough for the Government merely to ask for such astronomical sums of money as this for relief and rehabilitation of areas brought under the control of any of the Allied Nations without giving more information.

Have the Government any practical emergency plan which they intend to put into effect, in regard to the towns and villages which we are now mercifully liberating from the enemy? Apart from U.N.R.R.A. activities, are there any plans to deal with the evacuation of French civilians, either to this country or to some shelter from the battle area, particularly during the tremendous bombing operations which have been going on during the previous 48 hours? We have heard a suggestion that they might be brought to this country. We have seen all kinds of pictures in newspapers of a German woman spy whose name, I think, was "Emmy," who was landed here amidst great publicity, but we have never been told whether these unfortunate French civilians and genuine evacuees from the fighting area are being brought here. They have suffered terribly from bombing operations. It is no good pretending that they have not. As I pointed out before, they have not the same A.R.P. services in France as we have here, and I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us something about this matter which will be reassuring.

I also expected that by now the right hon. Gentleman's Department would have made some reference to the terrible act of butchery that went on at Oradour-sur-Glane. All we have had are newspaper reports, and it may be difficult for the Government to get the facts, but the story has been circulated and broadcast that 800 French men, women and children were foully murdered by the German S.S. When our Armies go forward in France, when our blockade moves forward, it may be that there will be many other Oradour-sur-Glanes, and that most terrible suffering will take place. It may be found that the Germans will carry out a "scorched earth" policy of the most diabolical and ruthless kind. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what steps they propose to take to bring home the responsibility to the German people for this.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also answer a question raised during the Committee stage by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who asked whether the Maquis are now receiving adequate arms? Can he give an assurance that arms are getting through to the resistance movements in Europe? Secondly, can he tell us if any of this money which we are now voting on the Report stage is to be used for the purpose of a practical plan to assist the devastated areas of France? Finally, I hope that, in the course of the day, the Foreign Secretary will be able to give us any official information he has been able to collect with regard to the reported assassination of Hitler and whether we are taking full advantage of this position in Germany.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) referred to the level of billeting allowances. He also reminded us of the difficulties of those who keep boarding houses, and suggested that the billeting allowance should be increased. I did not quite understand whether he meant an increase in cases where billettees are taken into boarding houses, or whether he meant an increase for everybody.

I meant billeting in houses where the taking in of visitors is a business.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman now puts the proposition to me that where the taking in of visitors is an occupation, the billeting allowance should be greater than in other areas. I think if he were to put that to his colleagues he would find that there was not much agreement. We all realise the difficulty of this problem. We realise the difficulty of the housewife in taking billettees whether on the basis of the lodging allowance for a mother and children, or the full board and lodging allowance for children. I think it would be extraordinarily difficult—and I would not agree that it would be desirable—to say to Mrs. X in one village in the country "Your billeting payment will be so much" and to Mrs. Y in another area, which has been accustomed to take people in far profit, that her billeting allow- ance would be raised so that she would have a larger billeting allowance than the ordinary housewife. The housewife may be under a very great strain, because she may have a small house and may be accustomed to looking after only her own family, so that it Would not be fair to ask her to take people in for a smaller sum than was paid to those who have larger houses and have been carrying on the business of letting rooms.

May I take the argument of the hon. Lady to its logical conclusion? Why billet these children at 3s. a week on boarding-house keepers, and exclude the luxury hotels? Why not billet these children on luxury hotels?

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not very clear that the lodging allowance of 5s. for an adult and 3s. for a child does not include food?

I quite understand that if people are lodged they take up space, and a bigger person takes up more space than a smaller person. The fact remains, however, that the allowance is for lodging only, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman had looked at the billeting form he would have seen exactly what has to be given in return for the allowance. The suggestion which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is putting now, as I see it, is that these people should not be billeted on boarding houses or hotels but, of the two, he would prefer the luxury hotel.

No, I say, if we do it with one, do it with the other. Let us have equity.

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to continue, I hope to show that there is equity —as far as we can get equity in this very difficult matter. I would like to remind the House that arrangements have been made for a very large number of people to be evacuated into areas in which they have not been living. Arrangements have been made, too, for those who have gone out by themselves or on official travel warrants. A very big job has been done at great speed, and I would like to take this opportunity of saying that I think the London County Council machine has done a splendid job in this connection, and may well be proud. The staff has worked nobly to take people as quickly as possible from areas considered dangerous to areas where, at any rate at the present moment, there is not so much danger. It is a big job and a difficult job—I think I know something about the evacuation problem now because I have been at it for nearly five years. I have always thought that the main thing is to get the people out of the dangerous areas as quickly as we can do it in an orderly fashion. For that reason we arrange in many cases for the people arriving in the reception areas to go first to rest centres. When a mother, for instance, goes with six or seven children you have to find at the other end the best way to billet her. There may be one family which can take two children, another house may take four and it is a real problem to fit families with children into the right place. I gather from the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he thinks boarding houses ought to be excluded unless a larger billeting allowance is paid.

If the lodging business cannot be excluded there should be an all-round increase in the billeting allowance.

In that case we come to a different proposition altogether: the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now asking for an increase in the billeting allowance for everybody.

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to continue. He has put his point and I think it would be as well if I put my points His point now is that the billeting allowance should be increased and I presume he means both the billeting allowance for lodging and the billeting allowance for the unaccompanied child. That proposition has been put up several times in this House and I would remind the hon. arid gallant Gentleman that the billeting allowance for children has been increased several times. It runs now from 10s. 6d. a week up to 17s. 6d. The allowance for lodging alone has not been increased. The reason for increasing the allowance for unaccompanied children, which of course includes the provision of food, was because figures for the cost of living went up, and it was thought that those who provide food should have some extra payment. We cannot argue on the same basis that the cost of lodging has increased. I quite see that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now suggesting not that there should be a different allowance in the case of the boarding house and hotel on the one hand and private homes on the other, but that all should have increases. I have, however, given him the reason why we have increased one type of allowance and not the other.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the fact that we had information of the existence of the flying bomb for six months or more and asked, "Why wait until now to evacuate the children?" Knowing something of this problem, may I say, with due humility, that if we had evacuated the children when flying bombs were not falling six months ago, we should have had them all back long before the flying bomb came?

Will the hon. Lady agree anyhow that when the flying bomb arrived, the arrangements for the evacuation of children were in their infancy?

No, they were more than six months old. I do not quite know what "infancy" covers, but I do know that when we are talking of infancy, "neo-natal" means less than one month old. I can assure him, and I have already said elsewhere, that the complete scheme of evacuation was prepared last September. The train time-tables were arranged, complete schedules for evacuation, from London at any rate, last September—the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred only to six months ago. Those time-tables had long been in existence when the War Cabinet decision for evacuation was made, and we had merely to say to the London County Council and to those who had the arrangements in hand, "Evacuation is to start." There had to be no argument then as to time-tables, no argument about assembly points, no argument about where trains were to go. The whole thing was laid on last September. Since then, naturally, changes have had to be made. Increases have had to be made because, whatever our knowledge was, we could not be quite certain six months ago what was going to happen. Our plans had to be sufficiently elastic for additions to be made when we saw what were the dangers. Complete arrangements were ready, both at this end with regard to trains and registration and assembly points, and at the reception end where a large number of children—over 10,000 a day—were going. That was all laid on last September, and in this difficult time we had merely to say "Go ahead." The order was given and the machine worked.

The other thing the hon. and gallant Gentleman asked was, Why did we, during this six months, bring civil servants back to London? That does not come completely under my Department, but I would say that if the civil servants had been occupying some of the places they were occupying in the provinces, there would have been less room for the mothers and children, and I have always thought that mothers and children must have the first chance. I am very glad that many places were given up and that we had that room for our evacuees.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the subject of warnings. He has already heard that the Home Secretary is to make a statement, and I would assure him that this matter has been under very close consideration by the Home Secretary and by the Civil Defence Committee. I listened to the various suggestions he made. I know my right hon. Friend will consider those suggestions, but I can assure him—without wishing to give offence—that every single suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend has been on our agenda already and under discussion at these meetings. It is a very complex problem——

But the hon. Lady is surely not objecting to my expressing my views?

I was interested to hear that the views of the hon. and gallant Gentleman were those which we have received and discussed, and I can assure him that when the Home Secretary comes to make his statement, views such as his, and those which we have had from many experts, will be taken into account. It is after consideration of those suggestions that the final decision will be made. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) raised other points which do not concern my Department. He said that the Government ought to give maximum information to the House. I think my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already done so. The Government are only too willing to tell the British people the facts but what we are not willing to risk doing is to tell the Germans the facts.

I know the hon. Gentleman agrees with what I have said. He does not want anything said in the House or publicly that would give information to the enemy, and it is on that basis that the Government are giving all the information they can.

I would like to thank the hon. Lady for the very interesting facts on evacuation and other matters that she has given to the House to-day. The public will be most interested and grateful. I think it is a great pity that these facts were not given before.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) has raised two or three matters, which he said, rightly, were raised in the Debate on Tuesday last and which, unfortunately, owing to lack of time my right hon. Friend could not deal with then. The first matter he raised was the question of the operation of U.N.R.R.A. He will realise, and the House will realise, that U.N.R.R.A. is an international organisation made up of the United Nations and is, if I may say so, a very valuable organisation which is expected to do a very considerable amount of good work in the liberated countries. I am not sure whether this Vote actually covers U.N.R.R.A., seeing that a Vote on the British contribution amounting to some £80,000,000 was passed through the House about six months ago, when a very full Debate on the functions of U.N.R.R.A. took place.

My hon. Friend will know that there are two stages which have to be passed through in the liberated countries. The first stage is where the military are in control, and in France at the present time, from the point of view of the responsibility for the civil population, the military are in control. It is true that certain civil functions have been handed over to representatives of the Free French Committee but, as far as the relief and rehabilitation of the people in liberated France are concerned, at the present time, that matter is still under the control of the military authorities. U.N.R.R.A. is building up its organisation and getting ready to carry out the useful functions which have been given to it, and I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that by the time U.N.R.R.A. is called in, that organisation will be ready to relieve and rehabilitate many of the unfortunate people who have to suffer as the result of the process of liberation.

The evacuation of civilians is also under military control. I understand —I would not like to be categorical about it—that a number of French civilians have already been brought to this country. I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that everything possible is being done to relieve the suffering and the distress of these unfortunate people. My hon. Friend also referred to the butchery of the French inhabitants of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. It is just another instance of this kind of atrocity. It is not the first village where the total population has been butchered. We have had some information concerning the matter, and I am afraid that it very largely confirms that given to this country and to the world through the Press. All I can say is that, not only has note been taken of this which is but another of these crimes of which we hope that the United Nations War Crime Commission has taken note, but that those who are responsible for these diabolical crimes and atrocities will be brought to justice.

The last point which my hon. Friend raised was the question of arming the Maquis. I do not think that my hon. Friend and, indeed, the country realise the call which has been made upon the supply services of this country. It is again, of course, more a military matter than a Foreign Office matter. Is it realised that there is not a country fighting on the side of the Allies which has not looked to this country for some military, naval, and air assistance to enable them to carry on their campaigns? Not a single country. In every case, the appeals for assistance have been met, though not to the full extent, and not as much as we would like to give them. I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that not only the Maquis but the other resistance movements in Europe are being given all the assistance which we can possibly give them. It is not only the Maquis. The resistance movement in Yugoslavia looks to this country for assistance; the resistance movement in Greece, the resistance movement in Italy—it is to Britain that they look. I am sure that my hon. Friend reads with a good deal of interest the contribution made by this country and the U.S.A. to the U.S.S.R., which has enabled the very gallant work of the Red Army to be carried out, in tanks and trucks, and Air Force equipment of all kinds. I am not suggesting that the assistance is as much as they would like, or indeed as much as we should like to give them, but we have given assistance to the best of our ability. It is the policy of the Government to render all possible assistance to all resistance movements which are fighting the enemy, and we shall go on giving it.

With regard to the evacuation of people from Normandy, is there a committee of Free French in this country in touch with them who can talk to them in their own language?

I could not say off-hand and it would be unfair to pretend that I know. I will make inquiries and will let the hon. and gallant Gentleman know.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution, "put, and agreed to.

Housing (Temporary Provisions) Money

Resolution reported:

"That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to extend the making of contributions under Section one of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938, as respects new housing accommodation provided by local authorities before the first day of October, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase in the sums payable out of such moneys under Section four of the said Act of 1938 which is attributable to provisions of the said Act of the present Session removing, as respects new housing accommodation provided as aforesaid, the limitation of contributions under the said Section one to certain classes of housing accommodation."

Resolution agreed to.

Housing (Temporary Provisions) Bill

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS in the Chair]

Clause 1—(Contributions To Be Made In Respect Of New Housing Accommodation Provided By Local Authorities Before Specified Date)

(Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

I should like the Minister to make clear whether or not the provisions of the Clause are extended to other than local authorities who may be engaged in the construction of houses in the next two years.

This Bill deals only with houses built by local authorities. I indicated in an answer a week or so ago, and I think in the course of the Second Reading Debate, that legislation would be introduced, after appropriate discussions with the local authorities, dealing with the question of subsidy in respect of houses built by other agencies.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make one thing clear to me? I understand that the subsidies will be confined to local authorities who are building houses. Can he give any indication as to the extent or manner in which that subsidy will be divided between urban and rural local authorities or, putting it another way, will he give any indication of the number, out of the houses contemplated, which will be erected in rural areas? Although to those in the towns the problem of housing may appear greater than it is in the country, those who are acquainted with conditions in the villages and small towns appreciate that there is a very real need indeed, that some part of the 300,000 houses which are to be built under the provisions of the Bill should be allocated to rural areas, not only to deal with existing needs but so as to enable the industry of agriculture to be carried on and maintained at a high level.

There was a small point that I raised in the Second Reading Debate, which the Parliamentary Secretary was possibly not able to deal with, with regard to an assurance which I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave in the course of his discussions with the local authorities. I appreciate that it is proposed to introduce a Measure at some time in the future, to deal with the question of subsidies in the light of the actual cost of post-war building, and that any subsidy eventually fixed will be retrospective. But I also understand that the Minister gave an assurance about houses commenced at the outbreak of the war but not completed, and I am informed that the subsidy will be available on the completion of such houses in the same way as if they were commenced after the passing of the Bill. I believe local authorities are definitely under the impression that in the case of houses commenced at the outbreak of the war, they will get the same subsidy as houses commenced subsequently to the coming into force of the Bill.

This Clause extends the scope and range of the subsidy but it does not deal in any way with the amount, or indeed the distribution as between the Exchequer and the rates, of any subvention given in respect of local authority houses. I think that, if it is right to postpone the fixing of the amount, it is right also to reserve for the discussion with local authorities which will precede legislation, the further question of the principle of the division, as between the Exchequer and the rates, of any such subvention. It is my intention to leave that point over for discussion at the same time that we discuss the question of amount, which will have to be related to building costs and the level of rents.

With regard to the matter of rural housing, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), I cannot at this stage, for obvious reasons, indicate what will be the balance in the first two years as between urban and rural housing, any more than I could indicate the ratio of houses to be built as between bombed areas and other areas. It would be wrong, particularly at this moment, when the housing shortage in London and Southern England is being increased daily, to give any fixed, or even reasonably fixed, proportion of building activity. Of course, in a large measure it is necessary for economic building to use labour where it is available. Building is not economic where it involves direction of labour or anything of that sort from place to place. That my Department and I myself place very great importance on rural housing is, I think, evidenced by the fact that we have had a special Rural Housing Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, whose report has been made available and with regard to which I have indicated a certain decision. We regard rural housing as being a matter of first-class importance. It has to be tackled not only by means of building new houses but also by other measures which the Committee will have in mind, all of which are under close consideration.

With regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), I quite appreciate that there was, perhaps, a certain ambiguity in what I said on the Second Reading in regard to houses already begun but perhaps only just begun. It would obviously be wrong that in proper cases they should not attract subsidy on the new basis. It is our intention, with regard to work approved as part of the building programme in the period we are considering, that the subsidy shall be available in respect of houses completed within the period covered by the Bill.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 2—(Compulsory Purchase Orders: Temporary Suspension Of Local Inquiries)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, to leave out "two", and to insert "seven."

This is a very simple Amendment and I think the Committee will see the intention which is behind it. Clause 2 provides that for two years from the coming into operation of the Bill the Minister shall be under no obligation to hold a public inquiry, even when there is opposition, in the case of the compulsory acquisition of land for housing by local authorities. The Amendment says that that period should be seven years instead of two. In the course of his speech on Second Reading my right hon. and learned Friend gave his justification for making the period two years, and I understood him to give two reasons The first was that he was following precedent, the precedent of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1919, under which a similar provision was made, and that he thought it was a good precedent. The second reason was that he related the period to the two years' housing programme announced by the Government, under which about 300,000 houses will have been built or be in course of construction. I submit that neither of those two reasons is valid. I think the precedent of the Act of 1919 is a very bad one. My right hon. and learned Friend himself said the sequel in the first two years after that Act became law was that in the first year 750 houses were built, and 30,000 in the second year, and that it was seven years before 200,000 houses were built in one year. Therefore, I submit that the provisions of the 1919 Act were inadequate, and that it was purely, but not wholly, because of the delay involved in acquiring land for housing that the results were so poor.

The justification for the provision making it optional on the part of the Minister to hold an inquiry is justified; I submit, by the housing emergency with which we shall be faced after the war. The emergency is the provision of a sufficient number of houses to enable every family to have shelter, and that until that has been achieved it will be wrong to limit to two years the speeding-up procedure contemplated under Clause 2. My right hon. and learned Friend has talked about 300,000 houses in the first two years. On the other hand, the Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of her remarks, made it clear that she could give no guarantee whatever that 300,000 houses, or any number at all, would be under construction in the first two years. I think she was very wise, and she quoted me as saying that I thought she would be lucky if 200,000 were in course of construction. I still maintain that view, and if two years after the war we are both here we shall be in a position to exchange notes and see if either of us was right.

But the real emergency is not the fortuitous number of houses which may be in course of construction in the first two years. The real emergency is the number of houses needed to give every family shelter, and my right hon. and learned Friend has told the House what that number is. In a speech on 15th March he talked about the size of the housing problem and said it had been calculated that something like 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses would be needed in the course of 10 to 12 years. He went on to say:
"It is not, thank goodness, the number we need immediately the war is over. It includes the needs which we believe will accumulate during that period, and it includes the replacement in that period of a large number of houses which we believe should be regarded as obsolescent if not obsolete, but the immediate need is much less than that. We cannot give an exact figure, but I think it is reasonable to put it in the neighbourhood of 1,000,000 houses."
If it was reasonable to put it at 1,000,000 houses in March, it is reasonable to-day, probably, to put the figure at something higher. At any rate, let us accept the figure of 1,000,000 houses as the immediate need, and I say that until that immediate need has been satisfied Clause 2 should remain in operation. That is why I submit the Amendment making the period seven years instead of two. I do not know how long it will take to satisfy that immediate need, but it is certain it will not be done in two years and it may not be in seven. It all depends upon when the war comes to an end, because until then I visualise that very little will be done. It depends, also, upon the other commitments of local authorities, which will be heavy. As regards the acquisition of land, they will have imposed upon them the duty of dealing with areas of extensive war damage and acquiring, possibly, large areas of land in that connection. They will have the duty of acquiring land for education purposes when the Education Bill becomes law.

Possibly, also, my right hon. and learned Friend will be imposing further duties of acquiring land for hospital purposes, for medical centres, and so on. Housing must, of course, take a very high place, but in view of these other large commitments with which local authorities will be faced it may take seven years from the coming into operation of this Measure before the immediate need for 1,000,000 houses—which by that time will of course have been added to by the circumstances referred to in my right hon. and learned Friend's speech—will have been fulfilled. Therefore, I submit that my right hon. and learned Friend ought not to limit the operation of this Clause to two years.

What is the value of the Clause? My right hon. and learned Friend said the time taken by a public inquiry would be about four months, and the Secretary of State for Scotland talked of six months. In my Second Reading speech I put it at eight months. Since then I have had 240 public inquiries looked up, and the average time taken was over eight months; that is to say, if there had been no public inquiry the saving of time in all those cases would have been over eight months. What that means in terms of human happiness is this, that in so far as one can curtail the period for the acquisition of land for housing by eight months one speeds up by that period the provision of homes for families who are in need of them. To that extent we should be making human beings happier and giving them an earlier realisation of the ambitions and aims of most of them. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will see his way to extend the period from two to seven years. I am not wedded to seven years and if he likes to "do a deal" and make it six years I shall agree.

In conclusion, I am not raising here the general question of the rightness or otherwise of holding public inquiries. That is a separate question on which the Committee know my views. Nor does this Amendment mean that never will the Minister hold a public inquiry. There are bound to be cases where, from the point of view of my right hon. and learned Friend, a public inquiry would be right and proper. The purpose of Clause 2 is not to abolish public inquiries, nor am I asking that that should be done. My right hon. and learned Friend agrees that public inquiries may be necessary in some cases, and what I am asking is that the period during which a public inquiry shall be optional shall be seven years and not two years. I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will see his way to do something in this matter.

I hope that the Minister will resist this Amendment. On Second Reading I said something about Clause 2, and I do not want to repeat myself and thereby tire the Committee, but the position, to my mind, is that while under the very exceptional circumstances to-day the need for more houses is so overwhelming that we can accept certain conditions that arise from that need we should not tie ourselves to continue to accept them for a longer period than we can help. I believe that if public inquiries are to be given up for a longer period than is absolutely essential it will be a great hardship to owners. We all know that questions connected with the provision of land for houses arouse much local controversy and very often much local bitterness. It is generally agreed that the land must be provided, but everybody thinks how very much better it would be if somebody else's land were taken, and these local inquiries do give an opportunity for views to be aired and much after-bitterness avoided. I understand that the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) is not asking for inquiries to be entirely suspended for seven years, only that they should be optional during that period. I think it will be an extraordinarily difficult thing, and also an invidious thing, to have to decide where inquiries are to be allowed and where not. There should be a rule one way or the other.

If during the two years it should be found that we are not getting on as fast as we should like with the building of these houses the matter could be reconsidered and the Minister could come to Parliament to ask for an extension of the powers of suspension. It is not necessary for the period to be settled permanently to-day; it could be dealt with as circumstances dictate. While I appreciate what the hon. Member for Peckham said about eight months being saved if there had been no inquiries in the cases which he had examined, I presume that those would be cases in the London area. Is that so?

I suggest that in London it may take longer to hear these cases than it will in provincial areas, because there are a great number of owners and cases, and probably one case will have to wait for another. I hope that the Amendment will be resisted. I feel that doing away with public inquiries is an infringement of the liberty of the subject. The provision may be necessary, in the urgent need for houses after the war, but it should not be continued any longer than is essential.

Like the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), I am a member of a local housing committee, so that he and I have just the same interest in enabling housing to go forward quickly when hostilities with Germany are over. He is, perhaps, in a more fortunate position than I am, because his authority already owns a large acreage of housing land, whereas mine does not. I am in support of the principle of this Clause, that for a temporary period the Minister should have discretion to dispense with local inquiries. But the Amendment strikes at the root of the Bill, which is offered as a Temporary Provisions Bill. If we were really planning our housing policy for seven years ahead, I trust we should have a fuller Committee here to-day considering it. This is a temporary Bill and a great deal is, necessarily, somewhat indeterminate. We are accepting it as such because we know that we can keep an eye on what is happening, and we want to help the Minister from time to time when Parliament is called upon to take further decisions.

It is right that we should keep the question of the Minister's discretion as to the holding of local inquiries under review. If the Bill passes in its present form he will have to come to the House again two years hence, should he wish to propose that it should be continued. We do not yet know how he will use the discretion. I am glad my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) made that point. It was also made by the hon. and gallant Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew) on Second Reading. The Committee is entitled to a definite pronouncement from the Minister. Will he use this discretion exclusively to help local authorities to proceed quickly with building, which might be held up badly if a public inquiry had to take place? Or will he use it much more widely, in a way that might enable less scrupulous local authorities to avoid the possible odium of a local inquiry, if they were trying to slip through a compulsory purchase order and buy land on which everybody knew they were not going to be able to build for a considerable number of years? It is in order to get houses quickly, and for no other purpose, that we are passing this Clause, and I hope it will be passed in its present form.

I want to support the eloquent plea made by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) as to the vital urgency of this problem and the difficulty of suggesting that it can be solved in two years. On the other hand, I rather agree with the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) that we cannot too much emphasise that this is a temporary Measure. We do not want the Government to get away with this Bill and to avoid the responsibility at the earliest date of producing a comprehensive, bold and satisfactory Measure to deal with the larger problems. My only difficulty in supporting the Amendment is that it would suggest to the country and to London, with its burning need for houses, that we can be "fobbed off" with a temporary Bill for a long period. I hope that we shall have something on a much larger scale, substituting new legislation for existing legislation, to deal with the housing problem, and we ought to regard this Bill merely as a temporary Bill to deal with the emergency.

This topic seems to be to be one of great importance. I oppose this Amendment. Unlike the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) and the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) I am not a member of a local authority or housing authority, but I and others on this side appreciate the necessity for a vast housing programme at the earliest possible moment. It has been said by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Peckham that one thing which holds up the housing programme is the holding of a public inquiry. I find that difficult to follow, and I hope that the Minister will give a further explanation of why it has that effect. The hon. Member for Peckham stated that it caused over eight months' delay, but he gave no reason for that. The Minister said that it caused three to four months' delay. We ought to go into it a little more before we accept such delay as a necessary result of holding a public inquiry. We must bear in mind that under this Bill the objections will be in before the Minister decides whether an inquiry is to be held. It is to be held for the purpose of letting the objector put forward his objections, and I can see no reason why an efficient local authority, which is convinced that it has a good case for the acquisition of the land, should not arrange for the holding of the inquiry in a week or a fortnight after the abjection comes in.

I do not understand the argument of delay. There might well be delay where a local authority is desirous of acquiring land and is not sure that it can put forward good grounds for getting it. I accept with some reluctance the Minister's statement that this discretion is necessary for the first two years, and I hope that it will not be carried any further. It is not so much the big vested interests that are affected by this provision as the small man who suddenly finds that an order is about to be made against him taking away his property and giving him compensation on the level provided under the Town and Country Planning Bill, leaving him to face the difficulty of getting alternative accommodation in a free market. We want to be careful about how far we go in depriving the private individual and the small man of the opportunity of putting forward a case to one of the Minister's' inspectors.

Although I agree with the hon. Member for Peckham that in the majority of cases the public inquiry may not appear to serve a useful purpose, and that in a large number of cases no change appears to be made in consequence of the inquiry, I think that can be remedied easily by slightly altering the form of the inquiry. The one thing we have to be careful about is that local authorities, out of an excess of enthusiasm, do not try to get land when they are not sure what they want it for. I would like the Minister to give an assurance, or to put a provision in the Bill to the effect, that this Clause will not be used for compulsory land acquisition and land hoarding by some grasping local authorities.

I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) for having moved this Amendment, in spite of the fact that I doubt whether he seriously expected the Government to accept it. It has given the opportunity for a short, interesting and useful Debate, from which, I believe, one can gather the general feeling of the Committee with regard to the Amendment. It also gives me the opportunity of making rather more clear what is the intention as regards the exercise of the power which is given to the Minister by the Bill of dispensing with a local inquiry, which is obligatory upon him at present if objections are made and not withdrawn. I differ from the bon. Member for Peckham when he says that to alter the general law for a period of seven years is not raising the general question. It would be a major matter, and not a temporary matter, if the Minister were to be free to dispense with local inquiries in respect of all acquisition of land for housing purposes which will take place during the period of seven out of the 10 to 12 years in the course of which we hope to build such a vast and increasing number of houses, and when we should see, probably, in the first five or six years, a greater acquisition of land than in the later stages. Therefore, it would be a serious proposal, and one which I should not have felt justified in putting before the Committee at the present stage.

My hon. Friend mentioned my reference to precedents. The reason I referred to precedents was this. There are many cases in which there is some anxiety about the gradual increase of centralised powers uncontrolled by such means as public inquiry, and it is, I think, only within the emergency period that such an added provision should be made. It is true that there will be a serious housing shortage for considerably longer than the two years with which we are dealing, but the position is not governed solely by that fact. The reason why we have asked for this exemption from the obligatory local inquiry is the particular urgency there will be during the two years. In the course of those two years plans will be made, and they can be made when the local authorities and my own Department are becoming more strongly manned than they are at present; and I do not see why we should conclude that in the third, fourth and subsequent years there will be any need for this accelerated procedure.

With regard to the time that public local inquiries involve, I was interested by my hon. Friend's researches and their results. I can assure him that it was after inquiry into the general experience within my Department that I gave the figure of three to four months. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has made a suggestion with which I am glad to concur. My hon. Friend, being a member of the same profession as myself, is aware that, wherever there is any form of inquiry, the convenience of the parties and of the tribunal has to be considered, notices have to be given, and convenient dates arranged. The number of skilled officers is not unlimited, a report has to be drawn up and considered, and I am told that the average time taken is in the region of three to four months. I shall be very happy to look into the question whether, in the interests of what I conceive to be the general principle of public advantage, there are any ways in which the procedure of local inquiry could be accelerated, so that we might combine the advantages of speed with those of a local inquiry.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke)' was, I think, under a slight misconception with regard to the function of the Clause as it stands. There will not be a rule, as I think he suggested, that there should not be a local inquiry, because I shall have a discretion as to whether or not there is to be an inquiry. That discretion must be there, because there will be cases in which it will be most desirable that there should be an inquiry. I must accept that responsibility, and I want to make it clear that the position is not as he has indicated.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) raised an important point. It is often desirable, as I said in the course of the Second Reading Debate, that land for housing purposes should not be acquired in small parcels, irrespective of the interests of good planning, and it may have been that observation that led him to seek an assurance that planning considerations should not give rise to wholesale acquisitions of land not based on any principle of urgency, but based on the fact that part of the land is urgently needed while other large areas are wanted in the interests of planning. I should like to give him an assurance that this dispensation from the obligatory inquiry will not be used except to enable local authorities to proceed quickly with building. It will not be used in respect of land which is not required for early action or where there are large areas which the local authority seeks, on planning grounds, to acquire, but which, it can be seen, will not be used within the short programme. I shall not allow such large acquisitions to go forward without a public local inquiry.

My right hon. and learned Friend has made a most important statement, that he proposes to look into the present procedure for inquiries, which has been responsible in the past for an immense amount of delay. I think every Member of the Committee is with the Minister in trying to reduce that delay as much as possible, especially in the first two years after the war, when building will be of such immense importance. I want to ask him whether it is possible now to insert words in the Bill in order that his successor, if any, may be bound by the terms of this Measure. The undertaking which he has given is of value so long as he is Minister of Health, but Ministers come and go, and it would be good if he could see his way, before the Third Reading, to insert words in the Bill to make it sure, beyond any doubt at all, that means have been effected for enabling inquiries to be held without causing unnecessary delay.

The Bill could not, at this stage, be so amended, and would not properly be so amended, as to alter the general procedural provisions with regard to local inquiries of this or any other kind. Probably my hon. and gallant Friend has not entirely followed the drafting of the Bill. The Clause has been carefully drafted so that the existing procedural provisions are preserved, subject to any subsequent amendment by Parliament, in regard to this matter of public local inquiries. Local authorities submit to the Minister of Health compulsory purchase Orders, for his confirmation or otherwise. The Clause provides only that with regard to such compulsory purchase Orders as are made before the expiration of two years from the passing of this Measure, I, or my successors, can dispense with the necessity of holding a public local inquiry.

I should like to ask two questions. Is the right hon. Gentleman giving the Committee a promise that he will really look into the whole question of procedure of local inquiries, with a view to curtailing the time as far as possible, and that be will take any action that is necessary, such as the appointment of more inspectors for that purpose, and will report to the House what he has done? Secondly, does he give an assurance that before the end of the two years, if it is still necessary that this power not to have an inquiry should be continued, he will come back to the House of Commons and say so?

The second question of my hon. Friend is, of course, hypothetical, but when two years have run, during which there have been no inquiries for this purpose, there will be experience throughout the country as to whether such an absence of inquiry, in any cases where the discretion is exercised in that way, has been thought satisfactory by all those concerned, or not. There will have been ample time to consider that matter within the period of two years which is provided in the Bill. With regard to procedure, I certainty intend to ensure that any modifications which would reduce this period, which I believe is usually from three to four months on the average, will be considered. We are moving, we hope, from war to peace, and I cannot say when that consideration will be complete. So far as the Bill is concerned, I am getting power to dispense with the local inquiry, but it is a matter to which I shall see that attention is given.

I would like to thank the Minister for the concession he has made, and to ask him to consider putting words into the Bill in another place to carry into effect in statutory form what he has just said. I suggest that he might add words to Clause 1 to the effect that he can confirm an Order without causing a public inquiry to be held if he is satisfied (a) that the objections are frivolous, or (b) that it is a matter which can be dealt with by the arbitrator or in the assessment of compensation, or (c) that it would involve undue delay. If he could interpolate those ideas into the Bill, they would carry out his expressed intention without in any way limiting his power in the next two years to proceed without an inquiry or in any way impeding the acquisition of land which is so urgently needed. I would also ask him to consider whether he could introduce into the Bill words to give effect to the statement which he made in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) that this power to confirm without a local inquiry would not be used save where the land is needed immediately for the erection of houses.

If those things are put into the Bill, why limit them to two years? They seem perfectly reasonable provisions for any or for all time. Why hold an inquiry if the objection is purely frivolous, or if it is going to hold up housing? The three provisions suggested can apply generally for all time.

There are large areas of housing legislation in which hon. Members would, no doubt, like, if the legislation were before the House, to make suggestions for amendment of one kind or another, I am satisfied, and I hope that the Committee will agree with me, that a temporary provisions Bill of this kind needs to be short and simple. We do not desire at this stage to go into minutiae of procedure, and I hope that the Committee will be content to rest on my assurance that this power will be used in the way that I have described.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Before we approve the Clause I should like to ask the Minister to reply to a question which I put during the Second Reading Debate, when the Parliamentary Secretary made a most comprehensive statement, but, unintentionally I am certain, forgot to mention it. It was that the Minister should undertake, in cases in which money has been spent in providing ground for recreation and sports, to give a guarantee that it should not be taken for housing purposes.

I cannot conceive circumstances in which existing public recreation grounds would be taken for this purpose and I am not quite sure what are the grounds for my hon. Friend's apprehension. If he is thinking of public recreation grounds owned by local authorities, I can hardly imagine the local authorities suggesting that they should be taken for housing purposes.

If my hon. Friend is suggesting that no land which is used for a healthy purpose, such as for a golf club or as a sports ground, will in any circumstances be used for housing, he recalls to my mind a matter which has given rise to considerable interest in part of the borough which I represent, where there was a difference of opinion as to whether part of a golf course should be used for housing. Such matters must be decided on the merits of each case, and I could not give an undertaking that no such land should in any circumstances be used for housing.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I should like to congratulate the Minister on having brought in this Temporary Provisions Bill, to aid in meeting the demand that there will obviously be for a tremendous number of houses immediately the war ends. I heartily agree with him in resisting the endeavours made to induce him to promise to increase the number of houses which can be provided in the first period after the war. I suppose everyone will agree that the Government and the Minister know much better than anybody else how many operatives and what quantity of material will be available by that time. I have attempted to make an independent and, I hope, unbiased investigation into the conditions that will face the building industry when the war is over, and I cannot see how the industry is likely to be able to produce any more houses than those that have already been promised; in fact, I feel considerable anxiety whether it will be possible to get even all those that have been promised in the time specified. I believe that to get them will require the very best possible organisation and also the best arrangement if the building effort is to achieve success, and I am convinced it will require a certain Number of progressive steps to be taken at once if we are to give the nation the benefit which this Bill contemplates and get the needed houses in time.

With this objective in view I feel that the Minister is entirely justified in asking for the compulsory powers called for in the Bill so as to save time, because it is essential that time should not be wasted in this operation, and also in the granting of the subsidies to overcome the problems inseparable from high cost. But most of these benefits may well be lost during the actual period of building. To avoid such a misfortune I would suggest that the Minister of Health should consult with the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Aircraft Production and find the great advantages they have gained during the war when production was needed very urgently and time was very limited. "Time-studying" the processes of manufacture of all their products—guns, planes, fabric and engines—the Minister of Supply endeavoured to produce the objects needed in the least possible time. This time-studying also resulted in finished materials being turned out in better quality; it also enabled manufacturers to pay higher wages; and it gave the workers the opportunity of doing their work under less arduous conditions. I think if the Minister inquires he will find that these results were obtained in hundreds of cases.

Time-studying is already being experimented with on a small scale at the Building Research Station at Watford, and I believe this is the first time the building industry has ever been so investigated; but this procedure needs to be taken hold of on a very much larger scale and with much greater speed. The Minister of Supply could tell the Minister of Health that by this time-studying process he was getting work done——

That question does not appear to arise in the Bill, which deals with two subjects, the question of subsidy and the question of the variation of the period of public inquiry.

With respect, I am endeavouring to show that in my judgment this form of investigation will be essential if the Minister is to get the benefit of the time he is trying to save and of the money which he will be expending by way of subsidy. Without it I fear the Bill may be ineffective, and that he will not get the housing so vitally needed in time or gain the advantage from the subsidy here proposed.

The hon. Member is not entitled to go into any detail on that matter, but only to refer to it in passing; nothing more than that.

I naturally accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I would in consequence ask the Minister to confer with the Minister of Supply and see if he can benefit by following the practice which the Minister of Supply has found so useful.

There is another point which I think will equally apply and I will be equally brief in referring to it. Will the Minister at once look into his by-laws that will direct how this housing work is to be controlled? I will not go into detail on this point, but I do hope he will not require the House to push him on this particular matter, because here again the advantages that this temporary provisions Bill can give to the country may quite easily be lost unless his advisory by-laws are looked into, simplified, modified, and to a certain extent, unified. I will say no more about this as I believe the benefits to be obtained are obvious. Again, I want to congratulate the Minister on having brought in this Bill at this time and I would like him if he feels it is within his power to consult specially with the Minister of Works on the subject of post-war building and see if the Department (of Works) which was established by this House to handle emergency construction could not take over this emergency housing for the first two post-war years which this Bill substantially covers and see if there cannot be a rearrangement of the administrative control of this programme so as to enable the nation to get the homes so urgently needed by the time they are required. I will conclude by congratulating the Minister on having brought this Measure forward, and I hope he will bring in any further housing legislation he has in mind as quickly as possible so that the utmost care can be given its consideration and hon. Members may in consequence be able to make every contribution they can towards this programme that is possible in the circumstances.

I should like to associate myself with all that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) has said in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend in regard to this Bill. I feel that this will give a chance to the local authorities and to private enterprise to put some vitality and vision into their housing schemes for the immediate future. I particularly welcome this Bill because I think it gives a chance to provide permanent homes for the people rather than the temporary buildings about which we have heard and read so much. I believe we cannot too greatly stress the need for providing the young men and women, when they come out of the Forces, with permanent homes rather than a temporary building. We have heard far too much of the difficulties which are likely to confront us immediately after the war in providing buildings and homes. These difficulties seem to boil down to lack of skilled building labourers and lack of building materials. But I would suggest that the new technique which the Americans have shown us in building aerodromes and aerodrome buildings could provide these houses within the time specified in this Bill. We have in my part of the world seen aerodromes grow up in three weeks which would in pre-war days have taken three years.

Also, I believe we could make plans now to train young men and women in the Services to undertake a great deal of the technical work in house building under the new technique such as we can visualise to replace a great many of the old, worn-out, pre-war ideas about house building and home provision. I notice the Russians have been confronted with the same type of problems that we have, and they have found many substitutes. I see I am straying a little from the matter in hand. My point is that we could, and should, provide these homes by substituting a new technique, new methods and new materials in a very large way, and this Bill, I believe, provides us with the beginnings of how to carry them into effect. Briefly, as I see it, we could provide standard houses built by the metal industry——

I am sorry to interrupt the Noble Lady, but I am afraid she must confine her remarks to what is in the Bill.

I am hoping that this is what the Minister visualises we are going to be able to do in the future.

I am sure the Noble Lady will see that her remarks relate to the general housing question rather than to the particular housing question which is dealt with in this Bill, to which she must confine herself.

I feel that this is definitely at the back of the mind of the Minister, to go as far as we possibly can to provide permanent homes for people rather than temporary buildings. I should like to pass on quickly, in view of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and say that I feel that standard houses can be provided. What I have in mind are buildings of steel to eliminate the great difficulties——

The Noble Lady cannot continue on those lines. The Bill, as I have previously stated, deals with only two questions, the question of subsidy and the question of speeding up the process in relation to public inquiries, and on Third Reading it is competent for the House to deal only with what is in the Bill.

I will conclude by congratulating the Minister on this Bill which, I think, is full of potentialties for us all in the future. I will merely say I think it will help to eliminate the jerry-builders who have so disgraced our countryside and towns in the inter-war years. Many of these houses are being scattered to the four winds at the present time, recalling the fable of the little pig and the wolf who "huffed and puffed and blew the house down." That is what I hope this Bill will help to eliminate. I trust that the Minister will provide good sound homes for the people, and that we shall, in return, have the advantages of a contented well-housed people after the war.

In supporting the Third Reading of the Bill I, along with everybody in the House, hope that machinery will be created here which will be used to the full by the local authorities, with the good will of the Government, in promoting the building of houses to the maximum extent during the period in which the Bill operates. I would like once again also, in spite of the opposition which it aroused in the Second Reading Debate, and with due deference to the Parliamentary Secretary and the trenchant case she put up against it, to make an appeal to the Minister to take into consideration the possibility of using men, after consultation with the War Office, who are in the Forces now but are in the building trade in their normal life; at the first opportunity these men should be transferred, and preference given to their release from the Forces so that they can assist in the building work. I would also ask the Minister to look very seriously into the position in regard to building trade materials and see if it is not possible to, have——

The hon. Member is straying from the narrow path which I tried to indicate. I am afraid that neither of the matters to which he has so far referred comes within the Third Reading of the Bill.

Like previous speakers who have been called to Order by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall endeavour to keep within the straight lines of the Bill, difficult as it may be, with your keen and legal eye and mind always operating. I hope that your reminder that I was straying from the straight line, will impress still more upon the Minister the things that I have said, and the things which I believe he knows I was going to say. In connection with what he said about preference being given to ex-Service men, I am second to none in my desire to meet the claims of ex-Service men, but I think that what they want is equality on a basis of citizenship in the matter of housing. There is a danger that, if such preference is pursued too far, civilians and Service men will be set against each other. There are hundreds of thousands of civilians in the London area who have been in the front line of the bombardment, and I hope that houses will be given on a basis of equality of opportunity and on a basis of citizenship, rather than on a basis of Service men against civilians. Remembering the advice given by your predecessor in the Chair just now, Sir, I have endeavoured to keep within the straight line of Order, and I hope that the Minister will take note of what I have said.

The Rulings given from the Chair during the last half-hour, not only absolve me, but preclude me, from dealing with most of the points which have been raised in the Debate, but I am grateful to my hon. Friends who have congratulated the Government upon this Bill. I gather that the House is reasonably satisfied that this Bill will take its place, when it becomes an Act, as a logical and appropriate part of our housing plans.

With regard to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) I find it satisfactory that the houses which will be best, and which will last longest, have come before the House in advance of the legislation for temporary houses. The opportunity to discuss those houses will arise very shortly. This Bill will be the signal, I hope, for energy and initiative on the part of the local authorities, in which I shall give them every assistance I possibly can. With regard to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) and by other hon. Members, I am not in a position to say more, in view of the Rulings of the Chair, than that I will take note of them. Some of them are not strictly within my province, but those will be brought to the attention of the Departments whose immediate concern they are. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie), I have always been careful not to name any absolute priority classes in regard to housing. Houses must be allocated on the basis of urgency of need. But I am sure the Committee will be with me in feeling that a very great need, with a very high grade of priority, will be found among those who have been serving with the Armed Forces of the Crown.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Armed Forces, India (Welfare)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Drewe.]

I wish to raise a question which, I think, is of considerable importance to a large number of the population of this country who at present are serving in uniform in India. It concerns their welfare. Many questions have been put in this House to the Secretary of State for India, who, in the main, is responsible for those troops, although they are members of the British Army. I do not think it would be exaggerating the position if I said that some of the answers have not been entirely satisfactory. That is the reason that has prompted me to bring the matter before the House to-day. I wish to show that, whatever has been done by the War Office for troops serving either at home or in theatres of war nearer home, not sufficient has been done for those troops —and their numbers are considerable—who happen to be engaged either in operations in India, against Japan, or are situated in India—because not all the troops actually quartered in India are engaged in operations against the enemy. I do not know what proportion of the British Army serving in India is occupied in battling against the enemy, and, even if I did, it would obviously be against the public interest to say; but I have a suspicion that only a small proportion of the troops in India are engaged in actual warfare. But this always emerges: that troops, when they are engaged in actual warfare, somehow or other do not require the same welfare arrangements as those who are static or less actively occupied in the face of the enemy. I maintain that that is the position in India.

I am bound to pay this tribute to the War Office, although, as my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary knows, I am a constant critic of the War Office. They have recognised from the early days, when they had a very scanty organisation as far as welfare was concerned, that welfare is an essential part of Army organisation and administration, if we are to maintain the highest possible morale amongst the troops, which is necessary if they are to achieve those victories about which we are always talking.

This strange fact emerges when considering the British Army in India. For a long time, dating back to the days of the East India Company, which was eventually incorporated in a more official and departmental organisation, the Army in India has been under the control of the Viceroy of India, with a separate Commander-in-Chief, and, of course, ultimately, under the control of the India Office. That is why to-day we have on the Government Bench the Secretary of State for India, who is to answer the case which will be put. The War Office have very little to say, if any say at all, in affairs relating to the Army serving in India. To-day we have the position that, although we have an Indian Army establishment, dating from the peace-time regime, we have injected into India large numbers of British troops—I suggest, hundreds of thousands—who are not part of the India establishment, and are not the responsibility of the War Office. Once they leave these shores and get to India, they are the responsibility of the Government of India; and, therefore, the remarks —and I am afraid they will be critical remarks—that I shall make about the lack of suitable welfare arrangements in India must be directed to the Secretary of State for India, under whose authority they come as soon as they land in India.

There is divided control in what one might call the administrative part of these arrangements, although I note that there is not quite the same division of responsibility and control when it comes to operational matters. It is true that we have the South East Asia Command — now centralised, I believe, in Ceylon, but a little while ago in India—under Lord Louis Mountbatten, who are responsible for the operational side of the troops in that Command, fighting against the enemy; but I believe that when these troops come within the area of the Indian Government, for example, in Burma, fighting against the enemy, even in that respect they come under the Commander-in-Chief in India. When it comes to welfare, there is no doubt that the only authorities who can help these men—and I have said that there are hundreds of thousands of them—are the Government of India, and, eventually, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India.

I do not believe that that is the most satisfactory arrangement. I do not know what better arrangement can be made; but when I have put Questions on these matters to the Secretary of State for War, and they have been transferred to the Secretary of State for India, I have got the impression, from my right hon. Friend's answers, that he merely acts, to use colloquial language, as a postbox; that he passes the matter on either to the military authorities here or to the military authorities in India, gets their reply, and then passes that on to us. It is not quite the same with the War Office. We have the Secretary of State for War in this House. Whenever we put Questions to him, or to his under Ministers, we know that those Questions will produce some sort of result, and quickly, if the Question happens to be a substantial one. We have the feeling that when we put these Questions to the Secretary of State for India he, not being a Service Minister, has not, somehow or other, the same urgent interest in these matters as have the heads of the Service Departments, whom we have in this House, and who have to answer our questions and our criticisms.

I come to the main point of criticism, which is the lack of suitable welfare arrangements for these troops in India. First, let us take the question of canteen arrangements. There have been many criticisms to make against N.A.A.F.I., which is what I may term a co-operative organisation, supplying Service needs in this country and overseas, wherever they come under the control of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. N.A.A.F.I., undoubtedly, is not a perfect and ideal organisation, but it supplies, in a rough and ready manner, the ordinary requirements of the Army and of the other Services. What is the situation in India? There is no N.A.A.F.I. at all in India; there is, I understand, a Canteen Board which is controlled by the Government of India, but which, I maintain, is not quite the same democratic organisation as N.A.A.F.I., which has its headquarters in this country, which we can constantly see at work, and which we can constantly press for improvements.

Now N.A.A.F.I. have, under the pressure of Parliament or the national Press, effected many improvements in the services they give in the form of supplies at reasonable prices or clubs such as are run by N.A.A.F.I. overseas and in this country. But as far as the Canteen Board in India is concerned, we know very little about their operations and we cannot get at them except through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. I have had many letters myself, and I have no doubt that other hon. Members have also had letters about the excessive price or inferior quality of the goods supplied by the Canteen Board in India. Some improvements have been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but, to-day, I can say truthfully that the Canteen Board in India is not up to the same standard of N.A.A.F.I. even with all N.A.A.F.I.'s defects.

What is the reason? The reason is—and it dates back to the traditional days of the British Army in India, when they were a comparatively small Army paid by the Government of India—that our troops in India to-day are not paid by the War Office but by the Government of India. This dates back to those days when officers were a different set, or class, from what they are now; when officers who served in the Indian Army were in a much more affluent position than they are to-day, and when because of that position, with the polo ponies and all the rest of it, which officers had to keep up in those days—and I believe they still enjoy those amenities—they created a feeling among the native contractors in India that they could well afford the prices charged by the native contractors. And so that position has gone on until to-day. These native contractors, although they are controlled and limited in their charges to a certain extent by the Canteen Board and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, still feel that the British Army in India—a much bigger army than it used to be—is well able to pay the prices, in some cases almost black market prices, for those articles which are in scarce supply.

Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India will have to improve the canteen arrangements for both officers and other ranks in India if he is to get somewhat similar conditions as those which are enjoyed to-day by British troops serving in other theatres of war, which come under the Department of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. These men in India—and I have very good evidence of this, and I have a suspicion that so also has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—have a feeling that they are forgotten men. They say that—and I can bring evidence to bear on that. Why do they say that? They are far away from this country——

—and they believe that, after the war with Germany is over, they will be left there to fight the war against Japan. I am not suggesting for a moment that these men are more lacking in patriotism than other troops in any other theatres of war more immediately engaged in the fight against Germany. They believe somehow or other, either because they cannot get quick reports through our Press or the Indian Press, or through the radio and the other methods that are open to our troops at home or near home, that they have been pushed out there, and that they have very little opportunity of coming back to their homes in this country for many years to come. What will be the effect of the suspicion in their minds that, as soon as the war with Germany is over, the decision will be that they will have to carry on the war, perhaps for another year, or another two years? It is not a very pleasant feeling.

I would like to read to the House, in support of that statement, what has appeared in an official Service newspaper in India—not wild statements by un-authorised or irresponsible Members of Parliament or irresponsible journalists but statements made in Service newspapers in India. Here is one that has been brought to my attention on this particular point of the feeling that they are going to be out there for a very long time, which they cannot foresee, and have not the same opportunities of coming home to this country at the end of the war with Germany as the large Armies now engaged in direct contact with the German Army or any subsidiary operations of war. A considerable correspondence has occurred in this Service newspaper, and it started with a lieutenant who wrote to the editor about some correspondence that had appeared in the "Forum" on the subject of repatriation and the announcement which was made by the B.B.C. May I say in passing that some of the statements that are made on the B.B.C., to try to soothe our troops in India, are remote from the facts, as we elicit them in this House sometimes? Therefore, in response to something which has gone out from the B.B.C. from this country to India this letter appeared:
"On the subject of repatriation stating that men with five years service in this country"—
"are to be repatriated this year"—
that is the year 1944—
"I would be grateful if you would inform me whether it is applicable to British officers in the Indian Army."
If he had been in the establishment of the British Army normally he would have been entitled to a fairly substantial period of leave in this country if the war had not occurred. This is the reply which the editor put in his newspaper:
"British officers of the Indian Army are not eligible for repatriation home on account of long service abroad as India is to be considered their home."
One can imagine the effect of that statement not only on the personnel belonging to the Indian Army but on hundreds of thousands of men belonging to the British Army who are attached to the Indian Army establishment at the moment. They all get the feeling that, although they may get leave in India, they will not get leave to come home. Many questions have been put to the Secretary of State for War. He has been asked what facilities will be available for our troops serving overseas for periods of three, four and five years to get them back to this country, and the Secretary of 'State for War has stated that he has now brought down the period of service overseas to 4½ years in order to make these men or officers eligible for a period of leave at home.

The feeling is—at least that is my impression—from the statements of the Secretary of State for War, and more particularly the Secretary of State for Air, who says that it is going to be a shorter period than that, that this personnel will be able to get home to this country for a break after 4½ or five years, or perhaps more quickly than that, as soon as shipping arrangements can be provided. But the British personnel under the control of the Government of India have the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that they will not get home and will not have the facilities provided for them that are to be provided for men in the Middle East Forces and Central Mediterranean Forces, and probably shortly for troops serving in Normandy. I could go on quoting from numerous letters, this one unfortunate statement of the editor of this Service newspaper that, if they are in India, India is to be considered their home. Their home in this country is something they can look forward to in the dim and distant future. Frankly, that is going to have a very bad moral effect among the troops serving in India, because many of these men are there because we in this House passed the National Service Act. They did not volunteer; they were conscripted. They did not even volunteer for India—although some may have done so —they were sent there to fight the enemy. Only a small proportion are fighting the enemy, but perhaps it will be a larger proportion later on. But they want to get on with the war and finish it quickly and to get home, just as the troops serving in Normandy or other theatres of war are looking forward to that time.

I would say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India that, if for operational reasons the time is going to be delayed when these men can be brought home, he must of necessity do something to improve the welfare arrangements in regard to radio, newspapers, lecturers, mail, concert artists and all the whole paraphernalia that is utilised by the Director-General of Welfare in this country and the War Office to keep up the morale of our troops serving in this country or in the other theatres of war. Whatever his answer is to-day, I hope he can give an assurance that he will improve radio reception facilities in India by the provision of sets and otherwise for the news which is going out from this country and the special programmes which, I understand, are being arranged for the troops in India.

I know the difficulties of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. I do not want to minimise them. India is a very large country. Hundreds of thousands of British troops are scattered all over India and it is not as easy to provide for them as it is in the concentrated zones in this country or the Central Mediterranean or the Middle East. I know the difficulties. I suggest that my right hon. Friend is not yet quite cognisant of the demand to overcome these difficulties. I think the reason is because he is not a Service Minister. For instance, there is the question of club arrangements in India. All sorts of efforts are being made in Italy, Egypt and North Africa to provide club facilities for our troops. A good deal has been done by the War Office, but not enough. My hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office can be sure that I shall never be satisfied that the War Office will provide all that I want, but if they will go some distance to meet what I have outlined, they will be doing something.

As far as clubs in India are concerned, even in the bigger towns, I hear some good reports of certain clubs set up by the Viceroy and the advantages he has inaugurated there—I still hear that when it comes to a comparison between the clubs that the American forces have in India and those of our own forces, there is really no comparison. The Americans somehow or other seem to be able to get in British India, which is a part of the British Empire and not of the United States of America, what our own troops cannot get. It is a condemnation of our own authorities if at least we cannot do as well as the Americans can do for their troops out there, and they have less there than we have.

I would like to give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, in case he has not heard of it, some information from a most reputable source. It is from none other than the Director-General of Welfare of the War Office, Sir Colin Jardine. Earlier this year, for some reason or other—I do not know why because, as I have said, welfare is under the Government of India and not under the War Office—Sir Colin Jardine made a tour of India, amongst other places, and he then gave an interview to a correspondent of an evening newspaper in this country—a most unusual thing, because even in these days when certain generals seem to want to talk a lot, it is a recognised thing in the Army that, although generals should perhaps not be quite as silent as the senior Service, the Navy, at any rate, they should not give interviews to national journals. However the Director-General of the War Office did, and this is what he said about the welfare arrangements in India. I am surprised he said this but I must take it that what he said was true. He was reported as saying that the British women in India, especially the younger ones, were not doing nearly enough for the troops and they could do a great deal more. Now if the Director-General of Welfare at the War Office has been correctly reported, I say that my right hon. Friend has failed, through the Viceroy of India, in organising the women of India. I do not know what the Director-General had in mind, but we will assume he meant that the younger women in India could do more in the way of welfare. That confirms what I am saying to the Secretary of State for India to-day. Some of the letters I have received bear out what I said in my earlier remarks. For instance, one correspondent wrote:
"My husband says that the general feeling is that they are forgotten men in India."
My hon. Friend the Member for Sedge-field (Mr. Leslie) has brought up in this House more than once matters connected with Income Tax, which is a burning question. As he is here, he may want to put that special point to the Secretary of State himself. I may say in passing that he has a son serving out in India and I understand it would not be a breach of confidence to say that he hears many of the things to which I have referred. I think that is the best way—to hear from our own people serving abroad what is actually happening. I do not want to quote more from the Director-General of Welfare at the War Office, otherwise he might get into trouble for having said too much, but what I have quoted bears out what I am saying to-day.

I think I have made a case in certain respects to show that an investigation should be made into welfare arrangements in India. I do not know whether it is possible for the War Office to have any hand in these matters, but I do not think they can wash their hands entirely of the many thousands of troops they are sending overseas. As a matter of fact I believe there is some sort of liaison because I understand the Adjutant-General has made a tour of India to see for himself what is happening there. However, I am not quite sure how far the Army Council's writ runs in India. I believe it does not run very far. But the Army Council, which is responsible for the Army, is to a large extent ignored in India because I believe I am right in saying that the Commander-in-Chief in India is on the Indian establishment and not subject to the War Office. My right hon. Friend can correct me if I am wrong. I think the House will agree that I have put my points in moderation, and that it is the duty of this House to interest themselves in these matters. Although these troops are far away, they are our kith and kin, and they want to get back to this country as soon as they have finished the job for which they were sent to India. I hope the Secretary of State will tell us the arrangements he is making for improving welfare arrangements.

With regard to the Air Force in India, I think there is a certain number of Air Force personnel stationed there, but there is no representative of the Air Ministry here to-day. Rightly so, because I have had a talk with the Under-Secretary of State and I told him that I did not want to raise particular points concerned with the Air Force. I would ask the Financial Secretary however to bear in mind that somehow or other the Air Force are able to get better facilities than the Army, and many of their clubs are better than the Army clubs. In India, I think it would be true to say that the welfare arrangements they have are better than the Army arrangements but it would also be true to say that the Air Ministry are subject to the same limiting factors as is the Army in India, namely, that they have to go through the bottleneck of the Government of India. However, my case is mainly based on the Army which is, far and away, the largest military force serving in that country.

I should have thought that the Government could have arranged for a special Minister to be appointed to co-ordinate welfare arrangements between the three Service Ministries. I should have thought that would have been the best way of dealing with this subject, because there are inter-departmental conferences between the officials of the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry constantly taking place. However, when it comes to those on the higher levels, with whom we are concerned in this House and to whom alone we can make our representations, we have either to go to the Financial Secretary, to the Secretary of State for War, to the Secretary of State for Air or to the First Lord of the Admiralty. As far as India is concerned, we have to go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India who, I maintain, because of his lack of—I will not say Service background because he has an eminent record in that respect, but because he is so removed from the Service Ministries—is not so fully informed on these matters as would be possible, if we had one Minister, in whom we could link up all the threads of these matters as they affect all the Services, wherever they may be. Whatever arrangements the Government make in this matter—I can see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you do not want me to develop the point of a special Minister too extensively—the Indian situation must be improved. Otherwise, when the war with Germany ends and the war with Japan intensifies, I am afraid there will be outspoken dissatisfaction. There is considerable discontent at the present moment—I will not put it higher than that—about the conditions among our troops serving in India.

I can assure the House that my only object in raising this issue is to remedy these grievances, which I do not want to exaggerate or magnify. The Service Ministries know about them and I suspect that my right hon. Friend, if he has followed Questions in the House very closely, must be aware in part of some of the discontent which exists in India at the present moment. I am looking forward, as are all hon. Members, to an early termination of the war against Germany, and I am sure, if the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office mean anything, that should be at no distant date. Whether that is so or not, the time will arrive when the war with Germany is concluded. What shall we do then with those hundreds of thousands of troops in India, who may be engaged for a longer or a shorter time in overcoming Japan? I say that unless we can take time by the forelock and provide some of the welfare arrangements given to our Armies fighting against Germany, a situation may arise in India that will be none too pleasant for the Minister to deal with, whoever he may be. That is why I have brought this matter before the House to-day. I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take it not entirely as a criticism of his Department, but a plea that, in so far as his Department is responsible, he will improve the present unsatisfactory conditions.

As this is a Debate on the well-being of the troops in India I would like to ask the Secretary of State very briefly about the supply of "V" cigarettes to our troops. I had some evidence, which I think was good, that these cigarettes were still being supplied to our troops in India, or to those based on India. As my right hon. Friend appreciates what cigarettes mean to troops in the forward areas, I would ask him if it is true or not true, that what are commonly known as "V" cigarettes are still being supplied to them?

I hope that both the Secretary of State for India and the War Office will pay strict attention to what is being said by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) to-day and that these grievances will be removed at an early date. I have put several Questions to the Secretary of State for India with regard to the position of the junior officers, and these were based, not on information from my son alone, because these questions have appeared in the Indian Press. I have also had letters from other junior officers, from their wives and mothers stating that, despite the assurance given by the Secretary of State for India, they still feel aggrieved over this question of Income Tax. I know it is true that an allowance was given as a set-off to Income Tax but, strangely enough to the men there, they found that the allowance is now being taxed so that they are not so well off as they believed they would be.

Then there is the question of food over which they still feel aggrieved. They believe there should be N.A.A.F.Is. instead of the canteens where it costs them double the amount that it costs in this country. I hope that the Secretary of State for India will inquire very carefully into that matter. Another question I am asked is this, "Why should we British soldiers have to pay an Income Tax to the Indian Government while the American soldiers appear to be free?" Now if it is the case that because soldiers are situated in India the Indian Government can impose a tax upon them, why should that apply to British soldiers any more than to American or any others who happen to be stationed in India?

I would like to take this opportunity of endorsing what has been said by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) with regard to the period of service spent by soldiers in the Far East, though what I have to say applies equally, of course, to the Middle East and nearer home, but, as we are dealing at the moment with the Far East I will limit my remarks to that part of the world. My hon. Friend referred to the advantages or disadvantages of these matters being dealt with by a Service Minister. I am not quite certain that he had a proper conception when he referred to that, because my grievance in this matter is that it is dealt with too much from a Service point of view. I think part of the trouble arises because in peace-time the War Office are used to dealing with soldiers who make the Army their career, and are quite content and, indeed, expect to be sent overseas for periods of perhaps seven years or so. Nowadays, however, we are not dealing with soldiers in that category, but with amateur soldiers, men who have careers and lives of their own in this country outside the Army, with domestic ties here which are very dear to them. Five years is too long for these men to spend so far from home, and they find a particular grievance, of course, in the differentiation between the soldiers and those serving in the Navy and in the Royal Air Force. I know there are good reasons for this differentiation but, if it has to be maintained, I think the War Office will have to be at great pains to make those reasons plain to the soldiers. Part of the trouble arises from the fact that they do not understand what those reasons are. There may be, as I said, good reasons, but when they all see their friends the aircraftmen and the naval ratings going home while they are left behind they have the uncomfortable feeling of being, as the hon. Gentleman opposite said, forgotten men.

It is one of the commendations of this House that we are able to judge, in a rough and ready way, from the correspondence we get, what people are thinking. I would like to tell my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office that I find, more and more, that my correspondence is taken up by men writing: "What are Members of Parliament doing about getting us home?" They know, as we know, that the war in Europe is drawing to an end, and they feel that this five years is putting them off for a short period, until such time as they will be so enveloped by the Far East war, that they will not even come home at the end of the five years. That is what is worrying them, and I hope the Government will bear that attitude in mind. The men are worried about what is happening to their wives and children in this country, about their future when they get back, and because they know that others will get home before them, which, in the great race which is coming afterwards, may leave them at a disadvantage. These are human considerations which are worrying these men, and it is no good the War Office taking the standpoint of saying that they are engaged for five years and must serve that time over there. These men must be given more consideration, and it is for that reason that I am putting in my plea that this period should be reduced, and that so far as it is necessary to differentiate between the Services, the reasons for the differentiation shall be made clear. I hope it will be made clear, at the same time, why American soldiers are able to get home from the Middle East sooner than British soldiers are able to get to this country. It is a good deal nearer to England from the Middle East than it is to America. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not continue to allow these men to regard themselves as forgotten men.

I think the House ought to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) for raising this matter to-day. I would feel that I was not doing my public duty if I did not reinforce what has been said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Brighton (Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe). I get a very large number of letters nowadays from men in the Middle East and India and they have a number of criticisms to make. One of the chief grounds of criticism is their anxiety to know how long they are to be there. The other concerns their welfare. It would have a most disastrous influence upon the psychology of the men in India if they thought that, having been sent from our sight they had also gone from our hearts and minds. No better service can be done to the maintenance of morale in the Indian Forces—and there is no reason to believe that it is not high —than for this House continually to exercise a vigilant watch over their welfare and try to redress their grievances. That is why I hope the discussion we are having to-day will be widely reported in the Service newspapers of India, so that our men there will know that the House of Commons has spent some hours in considering their welfare.

I especially want to raise the necessity of making clear to the troops in India the actual meaning of what my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office recently said about leave. There is great confusion about the matter. I have received during the last four or five days letters from wives of men serving in India who say, "Is it true that my husband has to stay there for five years?" It is absolutely essential that that misapprehension should be removed; I know it is wrong but, nevertheless, the idea is there. Everyone of us will appreciate what a terrible thing it must be for a young father, who may never have seen his child, to know that that child will be five or six years of age before he can see it. The association with and bringing up of young children at home is one of the most precious relationships between parent and child. For a child to go from babyhood almost into puberty without its father having seen it involves a very cruel deprivation, which should be limited as much as possible. This is one of the commonest sources of almost unbearable nostalgia that men have when they are far away from their own country. We are not able to get our hands easily upon the levers of administration in India, as we are able to do at home, and it is for that reason that people suffer. You cannot allow people's welfare to remain in the hands of bureaucratic administration. Such administration always has to be kicked into action by public representation, and if we cannot do a bit of effective kicking to-day, we shall have to think of some other way.

As has been said, there is great resentment about the lack of welfare facilities. May I make a suggestion? I am against Members of Parliament being sent to all parts of the world, away from their duties here, but our views on that, as on other subjects, have had little influence with the Government. Since then, Members of Parliament have been dispersed to the Antipodes, Africa and all over the world. Who picks them I do not know but, nevertheless, by some mysterious agency, they are collected and sent off on their journeys. The other day I saw photographs of some Members enjoying themselves in Australia—I do not envy them, I hope they have a good time. But why not send a deputation to India? We have had deputations to Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Trinidad, Africa and New Zealand. Would it not be an excellent thing to choose a Parliamentary delegation of safe Members, and send them to India? They must of course be safe Members; we must not send Members of Parliament to India who would get into the political boiling pot, and who might stir up trouble. There is such a vast censorship in India that we are entirely unaware of what is happening there. So I say, we should send out safe people, including some paternally-minded Members of Parliament, who might visit our troops, see them for themselves and hear what they have to say. What more excellent contribution could we have to the morale of our soldiers than if Members of Parliament went out there and talked to them, found out their grievances, told them what the situation is in Great Britain and thereby established a human link between the Forces there and Parliament here, which would be advantageous to all concerned?

I make that serious suggestion. It is much more important for us to send representatives where the troops are, than to send them to places where we have no definite responsibility at the moment. The American Congress sends many representatives over here. Apparently, America has no difficulty in finding facilities for Senators, Congressmen and large numbers of other visitors to come here to vist American camps, talk to their men and then go back home to report. As part of the maintenance of a link between us and the troops in India and the Middle East, I invite the Government to send out representatives from the back benchers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] Well, I know a lot of safe people on the back benches. I know men who have given years of silent docility to the Government, and who might do this job very well.

I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State—I am not sure whether he can give me an answer straight away, because I did not give him notice of it—a question concerning conditions of service in India. Occasionally, when I have raised with his Department cases of men who have served for a considerable period of time in rather unhealthy parts of India, the Department have replied that it was only fair to point out that there are parts of that country which are much healthier in climate than others, and that every effort is made to send troops to those parts for a change whenever possible. That is perfectly proper, and I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can give any indication of the approximate percentage of troops in India who have enjoyed breathing spells in the pleasanter climates of those parts of India.

This Debate, which has been so usefully initiated by the hon. Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenger), has touched on pretty well all the points which figure in the correspondence we get from our friends and constituents in India. Length of service overseas, Income Tax, "V" cigarettes, welfare generally, canteens—all these points are the ones which come up most often. On one point, particularly, which was raised by the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull), I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could clear up the rather confusing situation with regard to "V" cigarettes. Originally, I believe after a considerable fuss was kicked up in this House, it was announced that no more "V" cigarettes would be made or distributed to troops. Then, some time later, some hon. Members discovered that they were being issued, at any rate to the troops in India, if not in the Middle East. Several of us asked Questions about it and I gathered then that the right hon. Gentleman was rather going back on the previous statement that they were not to be made any more, and was implying that they would still have to be distributed, to some extent, in India itself. I wish he would clear up, once and for all, the exact position.

Yes, and I also asked questions about it, and so did other hon. Members. There seemed to be some contradiction between the two different answers given over a period of time by two Ministerial spokesmen, and that is why I am asking for that apparent contradiction to be cleared up.

Of course, the most important question that always crops up in these letters is, What is going to happen to us out here after the war in Europe is over? It is most important that particular attention should be paid not only to the conditions of welfare for that interim period—the second phase of the world war, or whatever you like to call it—but also to the possibility of a considerable increase in pay for troops serving in those far regions, who may feel that they are missing the chance of establishing themselves in civil life again after the end of the war in Europe. Moreover, not only should we be looking forward to improving their conditions of service, of welfare and of pay during that period, but it is even more essential for the Forces in the Far East than for those nearer home that the Government's scheme of demobilisation, when it is announced, should be explained to them fully in advance, through A.B.C.A. and in every other possible way. However carefully thought out and planned that scheme may be, it will not work properly, unless pretty well everyone in the Forces understands it and sees that it is as fair a scheme as can be devised. A statesman has been defined as a politician who is kept upright by equal pressure from all sides. The pressure to-day has, undoubtedly, been applied quite equally from all sides of the House to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope he will show himself a statesman.

At any rate, I respond to that pressure. I certainly welcome, and I think the House will have welcomed, the initiative of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) in raising this matter and the good fortune of the early termination of the earlier Debate which has enabled us to deal more fully with it. I entirely agree with him that to deal with a question of this sort merely by question and answer is unsatisfactory, and I hope it is to that fact and not to the actual character of my answers that his dissatisfaction has been due. I also entirely agree with him that the welfare of the Services is an essential part of their efficiency and only what they are entitled to expect for all they do for us in a struggle of this character. I also agree that, the further away they are, and the longer the inevitable consequence of operations protracts their service, the more we are, in duty to them and to all who depend on them, bound to do the best we can for them.

The hon. Member drew attention to the constitutional issue and to the fact that, constitutionally, in this House, matters that affect the troops in India are within the responsibility of the Secretary of State for India. India, of course, is a country—perhaps I ought to say a continent—with a complete legislative, administrative and financial system of its own. While it is true that in the last resort the influence of the views of Parliament and of the Cabinet can be directed through the Secretary of State to the Viceroy, and through him to the machinery of government in India, it is impossible for any Secretary of State to cover the whole field of administration—finance, agriculture, transport, supply, Army, Navy and Air Force—with the same closeness of detail as is given by Ministers to matters in this country—directly under their control or to make every suggestion of his have the force of law, as it might if matters of vital safety of India were concerned. Yet, of course he can exercise influence and do the best he can to draw the attention of the Government of India to defects which he thinks should be remedied.

Naturally also where you come to specific technical issues like those of the Indian Army, or the Royal Indian Navy or the Air Force, there is an obvious advantage in a close liaison between the Services of India and the corresponding Services under the direct jurisdiction of the Parliament of this country. Therefore, a great deal quite naturally takes place in the way of communication, consultation and inspection between the Royal Navy here and the Royal Indian Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Indian Air Force, and between the Army here and the Indian Army. Indeed, it would involve intolerable delays if I had to find specialists in my Department to look into all these questions, or if every matter in which the War Office deals with India had to be submitted to me beforehand for my consent, though there is naturally the closest relation and consultation. The position differentiates the responsibility of this House and the Secretary of State towards the Services in India from its responsibility and authority for the Services directly under its own control. At the same time, the Secretary of State for India is able to exercise a very considerable measure of influence and authority, which he certainly intends to exercise in the direction that hon. Members wish on this important issue.

It is necessary that there should be no misunderstanding. I fully appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but surely there is no doubt whatever that the House has not handed over the persons conscripted by it to any other Government and that there is a direct responsibility to this House, through the right hon. Gentleman, for the welfare and safety of our people in India.

Perhaps it would be wise if I reminded the House that I have been watching this Debate very carefully and I think I am right in assuming that the control of military affairs has not been handed over to the Indian Government. I, therefore, assume that His Majesty's Ministers in this country are responsible. That is why I assumed that all the points which have been raised, all connected with military affairs, were in Order. I say so to make it quite clear that there is this separation.

Undoubtedly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I was not endeavouring to minimise my ultimate constitutional responsibility but only pointing out that, in the administration of the affairs of a continent, covering all its branches, and more particularly the military service, it is not possible to exercise, directly, the same contact and influence as the heads of Departments directly under this country, and that from that point of view there is a great advantage in the corresponding Service Departments in this country being in close contact with the Service Departments in India.

To come to that aspect of welfare concerned with the Services, the hon. Member suggested that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the existing prices and the inferior quality of the goods and services supplied by the Indian Canteen Board and that they compared very unfavourably with those of N.A.A.F.I. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) suggested that the prices were double. Under the old Indian Army, with its limited numbers, the canteen arrangements were carried out by contractors under the general control of a central contractors' syndicate, whose prices were fixed in consultation with the Government of India. When the great expansion of the Services took place, and the ordinary methods of importation largely came to a standstill, that situation could not work. The contractors were not able to buy what they wanted so far as imported goods were concerned.

Consequently, just over two years ago that system came to an end and the Indian Canteen Board was instituted, under the chairmanship of the Quartermaster-General of India. The whole matter of canteen supplies is a directly Governmental one and the price is fixed the same for all ordinary purchasable stores, in all parts of India, and there is no possibility of profit-making for anyone concerned. In the operational regions of the Indian front, and the more outlying stations this service is actually carried on by low officers and other ranks of the Indian canteen service. In some of the older stations, contractors are employed, but only as agents for the Board and not to make profits for themselves. I have made very close inquiries, and I find no substantiation for the charge of excessive prices, let alone the charge, for which there is no foundation whatever, that the troops are the victims of profiteering contractors. There is no room for profiteering.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the position about officers' messes? Are they in direct relation with the contractors and not with the Canteen Board?

As regards most purchasable articles, they go through the Canteen Board. As regards things that have to be bought on the spot—vegetables, perishable goods, and fresh meat—the prices are fixed by the local Command. For the men's messes meals are served by the Canteen Board. I am not quite sure whether regimental units do not employ contractors to serve them in their messes.

The goods are bought for someone, and therefore the prices charged in the canteen, although no profits are made, bear a direct relationship to the prices charged by the contractors who supply the provisions.

All the goods sold in the canteens are bought directly by the Canteen Board and are bought wholesale, largely from this country. There is no question, therefore, of profiteerìng. As regards excessive prices, I have made special inquiries and the Government of India's statement is that the ordinary monthly requirements in various articles like soap, pens and ink, paper, razor blades, stationery, tobacco and cigarettes, the average monthly requirements of the ordinary serving soldier, from the Canteen Board are cheaper than in any of the N.A.A.F.I. services in this country, the Mediterranean, Persia, Egypt, or anywhere except Ceylon. Ceylon is the only other canteen which is cheaper than the Indian one. The prices of Indian-made cigarettes are less than for corresponding brands in this country. I will come to the question of quality in a moment. Beer is similarly considerably cheaper.

If I send the right hon. Gentleman a cutting from a newspaper, showing the prices of the various things that the soldiers have to purchase in India, will he see how they compare with the prices he has mentioned?

I will inquire into any facts any hon. Member gives me, to see whether they are correct, and if they are what the cause is. On the subject of prices generally, it is correct to state that the prices charged by the Indian Canteen Board of the things that are bought from the same sources here compare very favourably with those of N.A.A.F.I. or any other canteens anywhere. There is, of course, the question of the cost of meals, such as tea and supper. Here we are up against the fact that when you deal with fresh vegetables, eggs, meat and so on, they have to be bought locally. In some of the outlying places in India these things are difficult to procure, and, therefore, prices vary considerably as between one station and another. I have made an inquiry, and the answer I have received by telegram does not suggest a situation quite as bad as has been conveyed by some of the speeches. The reply states that the prices vary in different circumstances according to the state of the local markets. A meal comprising fried steak, fried onions, chips, bread, butter, cake and tea costs in the canteens, a minimum of 7½ annas, that is, 8¼d., up to a maximum of one rupee and four pies, or 1s. 6½d. I do not think that even that is an extortionate price. Nothing can prevent the fact that if there are aged oxen in certain districts the beef may be tough.

I can assure the House that the Indian Canteen Board make every effort, and I think make the effort successfully, to meet the requirements of the soldiers in this respect.

There is the particular point that was raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield, the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull), and by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), about the "V" cigarettes. These cigarettes ceased to be manufactured in August last year. As far as my information goes, stocks in the Middle East and in India were worked off by the end of the year.

What has caused some misunderstanding is that the cigarettes even now sold in India contain a high proportion of Indian tobacco. When the shipping situation was much easier, it was possible to supply cigarettes with 30 per cent. Indian and 70 per cent. American tobacco. When the shipping situation became serious, it was found impossible by the Government of India to import that quantity of American tobacco, whether for civilian or Army use.

I will come to that in a moment. The cigarettes, therefore, for all except the American Army in India, were on the basis of 70 per cent. Indian and 30 per cent. American tobacco. I am not a smoker, and I am, therefore, not prepared to say how far the soldiers' dislike of these cigarettes is due to any inferiority of Indian tobacco, or because the soldiers are accustomed to different types. What one is accustomed to, makes an enormous difference. When I was at the Admiralty many years ago, I tried to encourage the smoking of Empire tobacco as against American tobacco, and I was advised that there would be no difficulty about doing that on a considerable scale provided the change was not made to the extent of more than 5 per cent. in a year. In still earlier days, when I occasionally smoked cigarettes as an undergraduate, one was hardly allowed to smoke an American cigarette, or what was then known as a "stinker" in the same room as people who smoked Turkish or Egyptian cigarettes. I will not venture to decide on the abstract intrinsic merits of Indian versus American tobacco, but I do realise, and the Government of India realise, that the high proportion of Indian tobacco in the cigarettes is not popular with the British troops. They have been laying themselves out to try and see whether arrangements cannot be made to revert to a much higher proportion of American tobacco. We are in consultation with the Board of Trade and the War Office to see whether a somewhat larger volume of American tobacco can be imported and whether arrangements can be made so that India may be able to manufacture cigarettes which will be more palatable to our troops.

Has my right hon. Friend any idea of how long this will take? The troops are a little interested to know.

I hope that a decision in the matter will be come to very speedily. It will take some little time to get the American tobacco shipped out, but I do not expect any serious difficulties.

Is it absolutely essential that the cigarettes should be manufactured in India? Is it not possible to export the troops' favourite brands to India in the same way as it is done for the American troops?

It is easier to manufacture them on the spot. Bulk tobacco is easier to transport and it keeps better than tobacco made up and put in tins. However, I will inquire into the matter.

Would the right hon. Gentleman suggest to the Government of India that, having regard to the fact that they are having difficulty about the quality and price of food, the House of Commons would be willing to lend them some members of the Kitchen Committee?

I might take this opportunity of dealing with the interesting suggestion which the hon. Member made about a "paternal" delegation. No doubt if such a delegation went, the Kitchen Committee could supply some of its members. I speak for the moment as a supporter, and not as a critic of the Kitchen Committee. I would say in that connection that those Parliamentary delegations which have gone to other parts of the Empire in recent months, have gone at the invitation of Parliamentary bodies to discuss, not administrative questions, but matters of interest to Parliament as a whole—broad matters of Empire and international policy with the object of strengthening Parliamentary contacts. It becomes a different matter to invite small bodies of Members of Parliament, however paternally—or indeed maternally—minded, to look into actual problems of administration and all the difficulties involved. I should not like off-hand to commit myself to launching such a precedent.

I am not suggesting a committee of inquiry. It seems to me that, as our boys are to be out there for some time, it might be a good thing to send out a small body of Members of Parliament who could visit the troops, who could go to the forward lines and camps and see the men and hear what they have to say. The right hon. Gentleman could see by their evidence whether his satisfaction with the canteen arrangements is confirmed.

Even such a visit would to a certain extent amount to an inquiry. It could hardly go without looking into administrative problems. If they did not, the visit might not be very valuable. Anyhow, the matter could be considered.

On the question of Income Tax raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield, I come back to the point that the Indian Army is an army paid for by India and administered under Indian law. It is a part of the governmental system of India and paid on entirely different scales to the pay in this country. It is not unnatural that the Army of India, whether its personnel is Indian or British, should pay the Income Tax of the country in which they are and which pays them. That Income Tax in some respects is appreciably lower than that in this country, but in other respects, for example, remissions for family, and other purposes, are not like those enjoyed in this country. I have drawn the attention of the Government of India to this matter, and they have made appreciable concessions involving a certain loss of revenue. I do not think it possible under the constitutional relations that exist to insist that in every detail, whenever it tells in favour of our people, Indian laws should be similar to ours regardless of Indian conditions at large. That brings me to another big and important issue that was raised by more than one Member, namely, the question of leave home. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw quoted what he described as an unfortunate statement in a Service newspaper to the effect that there could be no leave home because India was supposed to be the home of the Indian Army. It is not only an unfortunate, but a totally incorrect statement. The conditions in the Indian Army are so different that identical arrangements which the War Office have arranged for British troops in India, cannot very well be applied to that British personnel of the Indian Army, but the Indian authorities have arranged a leave system which I hope will afford a great deal of alleviation. One hon. Member pointed out that the situation is entirely different in so far as even the Indian Army to-day contains officers who were originally conscripted in this war, a proportion of whom were at one time attached to the Indian Army compulsorily. In the main, however, they are all volunteers who joined the Indian Army. I would only observe that the element in the Indian Army that has only come into it since the war began, has not yet had five years' service in India. The real need is for those who have had five years and more in India to be brought home, and naturally, I am as anxious as anybody else can be to bring them home, especially if, as is quite likely, some have then to continue on in service against Japan, after the German war is finished.

There are, however, very real and practical difficulties which limit the numbers who can be brought home at any particular time, and the greatest of these difficulties is the fact that the operational value of the British officer in an Indian unit depends entirely upon his intimate knowledge of the men, and above all, on his capacity to speak their language. New comers, to a very considerable extent, do not fulfil that necessary qualification. It is therefore, in many units, very difficult to bring away senior officers, until some of the juniors are sufficiently trained to know how to handle the men. Meanwhile, there is a system of leave within India, and though I could not give any exact proportion of the extent to which that leave is made use of yet——

I understand that if a British officer goes from this country he becomes subject to these conditions which now apply to the Indian Army—if he volunteers. That is the issue. If he is transferred, we have sent him out, and therefore we have conscripted him. He has gone to India. Is he then transferred from what might be called the British Forces in India to the Indian Army, without asking his consent at all, and does he then become subject to a different set of conditions?

I am glad to be able to make that point clear. British officers and men who go out to India with units of the British Army go under the general control of G.H.Q. India, and enjoy those advantages in respect to leave of which my hon. Friend has spoken. Those who join the Indian Army or, strictly speaking are British officers in Indian units——

Yes. Naturally they were all volunteers before the War. At an earlier period of the war they were also volunteers, but there was a short period of some months during which the War Office took the view that it was better to post officers compulsorily to serve with the Indian Army rather than to invite volunteers. The India Office subsequently persuaded the War Office that it was far better to invite volunteers. Therefore, the great majority of the young officers now attached to Indian units have gone out because they wished to join the Indian Army.

This is a very important point, because we have now two categories of men. One is subject to the conditions which are laid down generally for the British Army. The other consists of men who were transferred without their consent to the Indian Army and now become subject to a different set of conditions. That transfer system was subsequently found to be inadvisable and the voluntary system was resumed. What about the unfortunate category in between? Are they to be given an opportunity of transferring back to the British Forces or of volunteering to continue with the Indian Army?

While some were transferred, they were transferred to the higher rates of pay and other conditions of the Indian Army. No doubt if they wished to leave the Indian Army they will have eventually an opportunity. In that connection it is true that the troops in India are far away; they are far away in a wider sense than troops in the Middle East or in Italy. Troops in the Middle East cover a limited front whose utmost extension is a line of 1,500 miles from Damascus to Tunis. It is relatively easily visited and administered. In India we are dealing with a continent which is over 2,000 miles each way. The Burma front is as long as the whole Russian front in the present war. The outlying stations in the jungle are by no means easy to approach, and the great expansion of the Army in India in the last year or so has naturally involved a certain amount of difficulty for the men in getting everything they want, such as lectures and clubs, but all that is being pressed forward.

An inquiry about radio sets was made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw. It is true that the Forces in the Middle East secured radio sets earlier, and that there are limitations of manufacture, but I may mention that 8,000 of these sets are now on order for the troops in India and I hope that they will be got out as rapidly as they can be manufactured.

I think the troops have a priority over the British consumer in this country. We are genuinely endeavouring to do everything that can be done. The expansion of British personnel in India has taken place at a later date than the great expansions in the Middle East, and in some respects there has been delay. I can assure hon. Members who have raised this subject in Debate that there is no lack of understanding of the fact that welfare is an essential part in operational efficiency and that both the Government of India and the War Office will do their very best in the matter.

As this Debate is apparently drawing to an end, may I ask if there is any chance that we shall be having the statement on the progress of events in Germany which was half-promised for about this time?

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly till Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.