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India

Volume 409: debated on Thursday 29 March 1945

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Cloth Supplies, Benģal

14.

asked the Secretary of State for India if he is aware of a severe shortage of cloth in Bengal; what action is being taken to meet the need; what contracts for cloth have been given by die Government; and whether tenders were asked for these.

War conditions have led to a reduction throughout India of the supply of cotton cloth available for civil consumption. Supplies allocated to Bengal as to other provinces are on the basis of a proportion of previous consumption, but there are local difficulties of distribution, and complaints have been made recently of severe shortage in some parts of the province. Ministers of the Bengal Government are answerable for distribution within the province and detailed information is not available here as to the remedial measures they contemplate.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reply more fully to the latter part of my Question—whether tenders were asked for contracts given by the Government?

The matter is entirely one for the Bengal Government; and I do not know whether, they have asked for tenders, or mean to ask for them.

Indian Army Officers

15.

asked the Secretary of State for India if he is aware that there is no scheme of repatriation for temporary officers in the Indian Army similar to that in force for British Army officiers attached to the Indian Army; and if he will take steps to correct this anomaly.

I would refer the hon. Member to the replies which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland) on 14th November and to my hon. Friend the Member for the Cathcart division of Glasgow (Mr. F. Beattie) on 14th December of which I am sending him copies.

As this matter arouses considerable feeling and the anomaly is one which could be ironed out, will the right hon. Gentleman look again, to see if something cannot be done for these officers?

I believe that everything has been done that could be done. If the hon. Member looks at my previous answers, both to Questions on the Paper and to supplementaries, I think he will find his point completely covered.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for India whether he is aware that emergency commissioned officers of the Indian Army are being subjected to hardship on release from Army service in India, owing to delays in settling up their pay and allowances; and if he will take steps to remedy this.

I am sure that the Government of India endeavour to avoid delays in the settlement of the accounts of officers released from service; I will, however, specifically bring to their notice the question of my hon. and gallant Friend.

Political Situation (Discussions With Viceroy)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for India if his discussions with Lord Wavell will include consideration of the political situation in India.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for India to what extent the visit of Lord Wavell to this country indicates a reconsideration of political issues and the possibility of fresh negotiations towards a settlement; and whether the question of the release of political detainees is likely to be discussed.

As I stated in the Rouse last week, I hope to discuss all political issues, as well as many other issues, with Lord Wavell.

Will these discussions cover such points as the early Indianisation of the Viceroy's Council?

Does it also include reconsideration of the question of releasing political detainees?

Will the Secretary of State not only consider the release of political leaders but also consider the representation of the political leaders at San Francisco?

Press Aģencies (Payments)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for India the amounts paid to Reuters and the Associated Press by the Central Governments and the Provincial Governments either as subsidies, fees or subscriptions and the increase in these amounts during the past six years; what amounts are paid to any other agency of a similar character; and whether there is any Indian representative on Reuters.

I am making inquiries of the Government of India and will inform the hon. Member of the outcome.

Prison Libraries

20.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the expenditure per prisoner on books for prison libraries has been or will be raised to cover the increase since the outbreak of war in the cost of books.

Under a Treasury ruling common to all Departments with grants for buying books, the grant for books for prison libraries was cut by 25 per cent. in 1940. I am glad to say that it has now been found possible to restore this grant to the pre-war figure. In the meantime, however, with the goodwill and encouragement of the County Councils Association, very valuable help, which I gratefully acknowledge, has been given to prison libraries from various county libraries and also from other libraries and from private gifts. Arrangements have now been made at some prisons for prisoners to have access to the prison library and to choose and exchange their own books; this, wherever it has been instituted, has resulted in a marked decrease in destruction of books, and it is hoped to extend this experiment to other prisons as soon as the staff situation permits.

Does my right hon. Friend think that, as a result of these arrangements, for which I thank him, the supply of hooks available per prisoner is as great as it was before the war?

I think so, and, indeed, the county libraries arrangement, I think, should enable the number of books to be greater than before the war.

Can the Minister say whether HANSARD is supplied, and, if not, whether he will consider supplying it?

Cruelty To Children (Sentences)

21.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the strong public feeling that the sentences being imposed by magistrates in cases of cruelty to children are inadequate; and whether he will take early steps to circularise those concerned or to take such other action as appears to him to be desirable to ensure heavier sentences in such cases.

It is the responsibility of magistrates, in this as in other classes of offence, to decide what is the appropriate penalty having regard to all the circumstances of the particular case. I have no information which suggests that there is any general failure to do so where offences of cruelty to children are concerned, as distinct from neglect due to ignorance or lack of training, and a circular from me is not necessary for the purpose of calling the attention of magistrates to public feeling on this matter. Moreover, in the exercise of judicial functions it is of paramount importance that magistrates should address their minds to the merits of the individual case and should not be carried away by waves of feeling which may occur from time to time in the direction of either leniency or severity. My hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate that, for these reasons, it would be wrong for me to recommend an indiscriminate increase of sentences for this class of offence.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask if he is aware of the very great public feeling that there is at present about this class of case?

Yes, Sir, I certainly am, and I am quite sure that the magistrates are also aware of it.

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that there is a great deal of feeling about circularising magistrates?

Service Register (Prisoners Of War)

24.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to ensure that British prisoners of war returning to this country between now and the General Election will not be deprived of their right to vote because they have been unable to complete the service electoral registration forms by the appointed day.

Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act provides that an electoral declaration by a member of the Forces who has been a prisoner of war, if endorsed to this effect, will entitle him to be included in a service register provided the declaration is received not later than four clear days before nomination day. The Service Departments have taken steps to give effect to this provision.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him whether the provisions are being made known to the prisoners of war, or whether they will automatically he made known to them on their return to this country?

My hon. Friend will, of course, appreciate that it is not too easy to let them know as things are, but steps have been taken to see that, immediately they are released, they shall be informed.

Street Musicians And Mendicants

26.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that a gradually increasing number of street musicians and other mendicants are making their appearance in London; and whether, in view of the continuing shortage of labour and the more generous treatment now available from the appropriate social services, he will take steps to check this growth.

I am not aware of any recent marked increase in the number of street musicians or mendicants, but I am in sympathy with the object which my hon. Friend has in mind, and I have been in consultation with the Commissioner of Police on the subject. The Metropolitan Police are well aware of the desirability of doing everything they can to deal with those who exploit the mistaken generosity of many members of the public, and I am satisfied that there will be no failure on the part of the police to make the fullest use of their powers to mitigate this nuisance.

Would my right hon. Friend arrange for the powers of the Metropolitan Police to be somewhat strengthened in this respect, particularly in view of the fact that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Pensions have made appropriate arrangements now for training and rehabilitation schemes, which could be applied to the people described in the Question?

I will consider the point. I am afraid that it will involve legislation, to which it might be difficult to give time, but, as I say, I will look into the point.

No, Sir. That would be a grave abuse of the powers of delegated legislation under the Emergency Powers Act—an offence which I should be shocked to commit.

Is it not a fact that most of these people are old and decrepit?

They are a mixed lot, but I would not attempt to make any general description of them.

Will my right hon. Friend pay special attention to the barrel organ grinders?

Publication, "The Vanguard"

29.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has considered the copy sent to him of a leaflet, signed Alexander Ratcliffe, advertising a publication called "The Vanguard," which is being circulated to Members of Parliament and others, in which Hitler is held up as

"the saviour of Europe if he succeeds in sweeping hack Bolshevism, which is blessed by the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the American President";
and that action he is taking to prevent the, irculation of leaflets designed to haper our war effort.

Yes, Sir, I have considered the leaflet which my hon. Friend has sent me. It is very similar to the propaganda which this man has been disseminating since the beginning of the war, and objectionable though it is, I have found no evidence that he has succeeded in persuading the British public to accept his extraordinary views. Intervention on my part would appear to be unnecessary.

Will my right hon. Friend say why this Mr. Ratcliffe and his pernicious paper should not be dealt with under Regulation 18B, under which far less notorious and more humble persons have been dealt with; and what is the reason for this differentiation?

Regulation 18B was never meant to be used to put inside everybody we disagree with, and it is most important that that should be remembered. If I were convinced that this man was a danger to security, and the prosecution of the war, in he would go, but I am convinced that he is not, and that he is not worth the distinction that 18B would confer upon him.

While agreeing with my right hon. Friend that this man and his activities are beneath contempt and should be ignored, is the Minister aware that the same man issued a regular stream of publications advocating a sort of racial hatred and anti-Semitism of the most violent form, and that he is doing real harm among ignorant people, and cannot that side of his activities be repressed?

It is objectionable, but, again, the only question for me is this—Is it endangering security and the prosecution of the war to such an extent that I should take extreme action? I do not think it is and I beg of the House to treat with respect the instinct at the Home Office that we should not use these exceptional powers, unless it is really justified in the public interest.

Is there the slightest likelihood of this publication altering the further progress of the war now?

In view of the shortage of paper, surely paper ought not to be supplied to such a publication as this?