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Commons Chamber

Volume 411: debated on Tuesday 29 May 1945

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 29th May, 1945

The House met—after the Adjournment, on 18th May, 1945, for the Whitsuntide Recess—at a Quarter past Two o'Clock.

PRAYERS

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Death Of A Member

I regret to have to inform the House of the death of John William Banfield, Esquire, Member for the Borough of Wednesbury, and I desire on behalf of the House to express our sense of the loss we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the honourable Member.

House Of Commons (Redistribution Of Seats)

I beg to ask leave to present to the House, on behalf of certain of my constituents, namely, those resident in the rural district of Arley whom it is proposed to transfer to the new Division of Sutton Coldfield, a humble Petition protesting against the proposed transfer, on the grounds that there is a community of interest existing between these people and the municipal borough of Nuneaton touching secondary education, petty sessions, shopping, trading, entertainment and convenience of travel.

Private Business

London County Council (Money) Bill

As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.

SOUTH SHIELDS CORPORATION BILL [ Lords]

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Coal Industry

Output

1.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware of the concern among the general public regarding the coal situation; and whether he is considering the complete overhaul of the coal industry at the earliest opportunity with a view to allaying these misgivings and producing the necessary volume of coal.

Does my right hon. and gallant Friend consider that the reduction in their small meat ration has caused the physical fitness of the miners to be less than it was four years ago, and will he consider this and all relevant matters with a view to allaying the serious misgivings which are felt in all parts of the country?

Domestic Coal (Consumption And Cost)

3.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what is the average weekly consumption of coal by a man and wife who have no alternative system of heating or cooking; and what would be the increased cost due to the recent rise in coal prices.

In the present coal year, maximum deliveries would permit average weekly coal consumption of a small family with no alternative means of heating and cooking to be just over 1 cwt. The recent increase in coal prices applied to this quantity amounts to 2d.–2½d. per week.

Will the Minister explain how a rise of 3s. 6d. a ton becomes 2d. a cwt.?

After a rise in prices we generally take it to the nearest halfpenny. In some cases it is taken to the upper level and in other cases to the lower level.

Allocation (North Of England)

4.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will consider amending his Ministry's advertisements that the maximum permitted quantity of coal in the North of England is one ton whereas in practice coal is allocated to merchants on the basis of 15 cwts. per customer and the full allocation is not always received, in view of the anxiety to coal dealers caused by these advertisements.

As I announced in this House on 26th April, the basis of the restrictions has been altered and the quantities obtainable without licence have been materially reduced. The North of England maximum for the 12 months ending 30th April next is 50 cwt., of which not more than 10 cwt. may be obtained in each of the three-month summer periods May-July and August-October, and not more than 10 cwt. in each winter period of two months. The advertisements now appearing already embody this change.

German Prisoners Of War

5.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many of the 1,000 German prisoners of war in this country who are miners have started work in British coal mines.

When are these prisoners of war going to start work to help to overcome the shortage of coal?

I cannot say anything more than that the matter is still under discussion together with the whole question of the employment of prisoners of war in this country.

Could they not be put into employment in open-cast mining where there would be no danger to underground miners.

Will the Minister employ our own British miners who are in the Army?

This matter is still under consideration. I would remind my hon. Friends that we can utilise some of these people to extract coal in Germany, which will be of great assistance to us here, because of the question of supplying S.H.A.E.F. and other sources.

Supplies, Birkenhead (Quality)

6.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that considerable quantities of outcrop coal, containing a large proportion of rock, are reaching Birkenhead and district for domestic consumption; and whether he will make arrangements to stop this hardship.

Only a vey small proportion of house coal allocated to Birkenhead comes from opencast sites. A few complaints have been received about the quality of this coal but on investigation these were found to be unjustified. A special examination was, however, made of the opencast sites and it was found that the screening operations at one site were unsatisfactory. Steps have been taken to remedy this.

Petrol

Motor Coaches

7.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will consider increasing petrol facilities to enable private-hire motor-coaches and omnibuses to take parties of workers for outings and excursions into the country or to places of interest this coming summer.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport
(Mr, Peter Thorneycroft)

I have been asked to reply. It is my Noble Friend's intention that road passenger services should be improved to the extent that the man-power available will allow; but as my hon. Friend will, I am sure, agree, it is necessary first to concentrate on the strengthening of the existing scheduled services, on the restoration of Sunday morning services and on the provision of services later in the evening. I regret I cannot yet say when it will be possible to allow additional facilities for private trips or the re-introduction of excursions and tours and long distance express services, but I hope to make an announcement on the subject shortly.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind, now that the basic petrol ration is being granted again to private car owners, that it would be an act of justice to give the workers who have no cars a chance to share in the brighter times that have come?

Will my hon. Friend give special consideration to trips for old people?

My Noble Friend is anxious to extend facilities as soon as possible, but my hon. Friends will bear in mind that it is not only petrol but manpower that is involved.

Taxicab Services (Permitted Radius)

8.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will consider increasing the present permitted radius of 10 miles for single journeys allowed to those running taxicab-hire services.

Under the control of Motor Fuel Order signed on 18th May and coining into force on 1st June, the inner radius for private hire cars was increased from 10 to 20 miles. At the same time the distance outside the boundary of the local authority's area within which a taxicab is permitted to operate has been increased from five miles to 10 miles.

Basic Ration (Coupons)

9.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will arrange for basic ration petrol coupons not to be dated but, like clothing coupons, to be valid as and when they are required.

Owing to considerations connected with supply and distribution. I have not yet felt able to amend the Control of Motor Fuel Order so as to permit the use of basic ration coupons in any but the month for which they are issued.

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend give further consideration to this matter in view of the fact that it would add considerably to the value of the basic ration?

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's point, but I am sure he will appreciate that, in the first period when the basic ration is being restored, there is a good deal of doubt as to the demand, and we are making it possible for tins to be provided in which the petrol can be stored.

Trade And Commerce

Paper Supplies (Trade And Technical Journals)

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has any statement to make with reference to action to be taken on the memorandum addressed to him by the Council of the Trade and Technical Press, representing more than 200 trade and technical journals, with regard to the difficulties with which publishers are contending and the importance of removing these in the interests of industrial revival.

I am glad to be able to inform the hon. Member that, although supplies of paper are still extremely short, the Department of Overseas Trade has recently arranged for a substantial increase in the ration of paper for technical journals that are solely for export. I am sending the hon. Member, for his information, a copy of my predecessor's reply to the Council of the Trade and Technical Press on those points in their memorandum which are the concern of my Department.

Civilian Uniforms (Coupons)

12.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will reduce the number of coupons at present necessary for the purchase of uniforms for the St. John Ambulance Brigade.

I shall shortly be reviewing the coupon arrangements for all civilian uniform wearers in 1945–46, and I will bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Household Equipment (Exports To Eire)

13.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that shops in Southern Ireland are fully stocked with kitchen equipment and household requirements such as electric fires, kettles and other goods urgently needed in this country which have been imported into Southern Ireland from England; and will he prohibit the further export to Southern Ireland of goods urgently needed in this country.

I am making enquiries about the statement contained in my hon. Friend's Question, but recorded exports from the United Kingdom to Eire in 1944 of most of the types of goods to which my hon. Friend refers are a very small fraction of the corresponding figures in pre-war years.

Does my right hon. Friend really think that our own people should go short of these urgently needed goods for the home while there is a surplus in Southern Ireland?

I am making inquiries. Until I have done so I would not at all accept what my hon. Friend says.

Fruit Preserving Jars

15.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware of the shortage of fruit preserving jars and that wholesale merchants are unable to obtain delivery from the glass manufacturers in time for the jam making and bottling season commencing next month; and what steps he proposes to remedy this deficiency.

Owing to the heavy demand for glass containers for food, drink and medicine during the war and the shortage of labour in the glass container industry, there has been some fall in the production of fruit preserving jars. My right hon. and gallant Friend, the Minister of Food, has, however, been able to arrange for adequate supplies of closures which enable ordinary jam jars to be used satisfactorily for bottling fruit.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are very many jam jars if we could only get the fruit and the sugar?

That question should be addressed to my right hon. and gallant Friend.

Ministry Of Supply Depot, Barry

17.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the Ministry of Supply depot at Palmerston, Barry, has yet been declared surplus; and whether steps have been taken to allocate it to a new industry, particularly to the firm whose name has been mentioned to him, which is willing to extend the present structure and employ 400 men.

The Ministry of Supply depot at Palmerston is being made available to assist the promotion of civilian industry in that area; and various applicants, including the one which my hon. Friend has in mind, are being considered.

German Prisoners Of War

Nazis

18.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether measures will be taken to ensure that no prisoners of war, under British control, who have shown themselves to be unrepentant and aggressive Nazis are returned to Germany free to organise anew Nazi cells and tyrannise over non-Nazi Germans, until they have given evidence of good conduct.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) on 8th May.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that this is causing very serious apprehension and that those who are in touch with these unrepentant, irreconcilable Nazis view with anxiety their early return to Germany, there to revive their nefarious activities?

I am completely unaware that any of these unrepentant and aggressive Nazis are being returned to Germany.

Rations

36.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether German prisoners are allowed a cigarette ration; if so, how many; and whether he has made inquiries to ensure that this does not contribute to the shortage in this country.

German prisoners are not given any cigarettes free. If they have enough credit they may buy up to 50 a week in their canteens at the normal commercial prices. If each one buys his full amount the total number of cigarettes involved is, I am informed, considerably less than half of one per cent. of the cigarettes smoked by civilians.

39.

asked the Secretary of State for War, if, in view of the imminent necessity for reductions in the civilian food rations, he has any further statement to make regarding the rations to be issued to German prisoners of war in future; and how they will compare with civilian rations.

In view of misunderstandings which are still prevalent I should like to repeat what I have already stated more than once in this House—that non-working German prisoners of war have never received more of the nationally rationed items of food than civilians in this country. But in view of the world wide shortage of food it has been decided that the normal scale for these prisoners held by His Majesty's Government must be further reduced, and instructions have been issued for a new scale providing approximately 2,000 calories of all items, that is irrespective of whether they are rationed for civilians in this country or not. Two thousand calories is, of course, substantially less than the average civilian consumption in this country. Suitable additions of non-rationed foods, mainly bread and potatoes, will be made to cover the minimum extra needs of working prisoners, but otherwise they will receive the same scale as non-working prisoners.

Will the right hon. Gentleman publish figures showing the difference between the civilian rations and the rations issued to prisoners of war; and will he ensure that certain commodities such as rice which are unobtainable, are made available for civilians, because there is a great deal of feeling about it?

I do not think I can answer without notice the second part of my hon. and gallant Friend's supplementary question, but I will certainly consider publishing the comparative ration scales now prevailing.

May I ask when these reductions will be brought about, in view of the reduction of the civilian ration which took place a few days ago?

Cannot the Secretary of State for War ask the very large number of public relations officers in his Department to get busy with the newspapers, in order that Members of Parliament might be saved the necessity of answering a very large correspondence on this subject?

I will certainly consider that suggestion, but I would like to add, as a sort of codicil to my hon. Friend's question, that there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that all Members of Parliament are receiving a large number of letters on this subject, because his Department has failed to make the matter clear to the general public?

My answer was intended to apply to certain newspapers, which continue to disseminate inaccurate information in spite of the fact that the truth has been made clear over and over again.

Does not the Secretary of State for War think that a little courtesy would be much better?

Will not the Minister make it clear that his remarks do not apply to—[Interruption.]

May I ask whether the Minister was referring to the newspaper of Lord Beaverbrook, one of his colleagues in the Government?

British Army

Billeting With Germans

19.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that while members of the Forces in Germany have orders not to fraternise with the enemy, in some instances they have to sleep with Germans; and whether he proposes to take steps to prevent this practice.

Instructions were issued by 21 Army Group in January which expressly forbid the billeting of British troops on Germans. I am not aware of any departures from this rule.

Will the right hon. Gentleman read a letter that I have received and consider whether the implications contained in it are correct and reliable?

If the information which the hon. Member has is reasonable information and not mere gossip I shall be glad to investigate it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the letter, which can be accepted as being reliable, and will he treat it privately?

I could not hear properly what the hon. Member said. I will certainly consider any evidence that he has which is more than mere gossip but I really cannot ask people to investigate accusations which are nothing but gossip and have no serious foundation in fact. If he will give me the letter I will consider whether it has a serious foundation in fact.

I take exception to the word "gossip." The letter is from a soldier who speaks on behalf not only of himself but of his colleagues, who are instructed to be billeted with Germans.

If this man was so billeted it was contrary to orders given as far back as January. I hope the hon. Member will assure himself that the letter that he proposes to give me will have enough basis of fact to provide material for a serious inquiry.

Is it not the right hon. Gentleman's duty to consider seriously any letter sent to him by a Member of the House?

Is it not for the hon. Member concerned to decide and not for the right hon. Gentleman?

I assume naturally that, prima facie, orders given in the Army are carried out.

Absence Without Leave (Loss Of Emoluments)

21.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is upon the authority of his Department that an order has been issued that as from a specified date all soldiers charged with absence without leave will forfeit all post-war gratuities and other emoluments that may have accrued to them.

I am not aware of any such order. Perhaps the hon. Member will let me know more precisely what he has in mind.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he would stand up and not lean on the Box we should hear him better?

Eritrea (Administration)

23.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether lie will take action to terminate the colour and racial discrimination now being exercised under the British military administration in Eritrea against the native people of that ex-Italian colony; and is he aware that notices forbidding the admission of Eritreans are posted outside certain restaurants, hotels, theatres, etc., and that Eritreans applying for land, export licences and permits to cut green wood are refused, although such facilities are granted to Italians.

If my hon. Friend will send me the particulars on which his Question is based inquiries will be made. From my information it appears that nearly four times as many concessions to cut wood have been granted to Eritreans as to Europeans.

Discharge Categories

24.

asked the Secretary of State for War why men in category A1when joining the Army are now being discharged as being in BX2 with 14 days' leave, whereas others in C1 or C2 are discharged with 56 days' leave; and whether he is aware that the difference in treatment is causing dissatisfaction.

Other ranks whose terminal leave on discharge begins on or after 8th May will in general receive 56 days' leave on full pay unless they are discharged on voluntary termination of full pay service, or to enter the Navy or the Air Force, or on appointment to a commission or for misconduct. This also applies to officers.

Does that also apply to those who are discharged on medical grounds?

I think the Question refers to people who are discharged on medical or quasi-medical grounds. Perhaps the hon. Member will study the answer in relation to the Question and, if necessary, put down another Question.

Is it not the case that this period of leave on full pay is intended to supplement the gratuity, in which case should not every soldier have it?

I could not hear the question very well. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will put it down.

Requisitioned Premises

28.

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will reduce the number of hotels and other properties requisitioned in the towns of Cromer and Sheringham.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can now inform the House of the result of his inquiries as to the possibility of releasing schools which have been requisitioned for various military purposes; and whether he is aware that pupils of London schools who were evacuated to the country are in many cases returning with their parents, their country billets being no longer available, and are receiving no education by reason of the occupation by his Department of their schools.

42.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is the policy of his Department to de-requisition shops at the earliest possible moment, so that men discharged from the Services who were previously engaged in retail trade may find premises available.

98.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that East Bilney Hall, Dereham, which was requisitioned by his Department, has not been occupied by troops for a considerable time and that the owner, who is a soldier who has served with distinction in the Middle and Far Eastern theatres of war, urgently requires his home for his family who are obliged to leave their temporary accommodation; and as he is liable to be posted for further duty abroad, whether East Bilney Hall can be derequisitioned forthwith.

The reports on the properties held by the War Department are virtually complete and a programme of de-requisitions is now being drawn up. I will make a statement as to this in a fortnight's time. As I have repeatedly said, priority in de-requisitions will be given to small dwelling houses and schools, and these will definitely come before shops and hotels. A considerable number of small dwelling houses and schools have been released already and of course the process is continuing.

If the programme is now complete, cannot a statement be made next week?

I have very carefully studied that question. I shall be glad to make as full a statement as possible, but I should be grateful if I could be allowed a fortnight in which to produce the answer rather than a week.

Do I understand my right hon. Friend to say that the scheme w0ould begin only after his statement in a fortnight's time?

Not at all. The last sentence of my answer, to which my Noble Friend could not have listened, was that a considerable number of small dwelling houses and schools have already been released and of course the process is continuing.

Cannot my right hon. Friend give a specific answer to this quite simple question in view of the great dissatisfaction that exists, certainly in the town which I represent, in regard to these matters?

As I said, I am in the final stages of an exhaustive review, and if my hon. Friend will allow me, I will make a full statement about it in a fortnight's time.

Is it not a fact that even after derequisition it takes some time to assess the damage done to property?

That is one of the very important elements in the process of de-requisition. It is necessary that the dilapidations statement should be agreed between the parties concerned.

31.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the delay which has taken place in derequisitioning properties which have been commandeered by his department and which are now standing empty, he will take steps to overhaul the existing department dealing with these matters with a view to securing increasing efficiency and understanding, having regard to the urgent public need of increased accommodation.

If my hon. Friend will refer to the answers I gave him on 13th March and 15th May he will, I think, find that there is no lack of understanding, at any rate in the War Office, on these matters. I might remind him that the number of requisitioned and part requisitioned properties still held in Evesham, Pershore and Broadway is less than one-half of the peak figure.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that there are still far too many unoccupied premises retained by the War Department, and will he and his Department have enough common sense to derequisition them?

Yes, I have looked into those particular cases. There are not a very great number, and what there are are earmarked for the return of troops from North-West Europe in connection with the release process.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the officials of his Department read his answers before he delivers them but the House of Commons cannot hear them?

Accidental Casualties (Lists)

29.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the termination of the war in Europe, he will consider publishing lists of casualties caused by accidents not due to enemy action.

Lists of casualties furnished to the Press for publication include accidental deaths, but not as a separate category.

Training Grounds (Agricultural Areas)

33.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can now make a statement about agricultural areas taken over for military training purposes as a war measure; and whether the Claims Commission can now be authorised to make good damage, gaps in hedges and fences, etc., as previously promised, so that farmers can proceed with their business.

As my answer is rather long, I will, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report.

Following is the answer:

All land taken over for military training purposes which is not being used, or which it is clear will not shortly be used for such purposes, is being relinquished, with the exception of training areas on which there is unexploded ammunition. This process has been going on since 6th June, 1944, and over four million acres of training areas have been returned to their original use. Where areas cannot be entirely relinquished the training has whenever possible been considerably lightened, so that there will be the least interference with cultivation.

Repair parties have worked in all the larger training areas and for all major exercises they carry out temporary repairs to fences, hedges, etc., damaged in the course of troop training in order to enable farmers to proceed with their normal farming business. Permanent repairs are not normally carried out by the War Department but compensation is paid.

Polish Officers, Italy (Propaganda)

20.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that Polish officers in Italy are distributing broadcast to officers and men of the British Forces anti-Soviet and to some extent anti-British propaganda in the English language printed in this country, in Italy, and in Palestine; and whether he will take steps to put a stop to this activity and to provide facilities for the dissemination of true information as to the British policy of preserving the friendship of the United Nations.

I am finding out the facts about this. I will then consider whether any action is necessary.

German Concentration Camps

22.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether political, religious and other German victims of concentration camps now released will be given facilities to publish their experiences in Germany for the purpose of exposing the lull evil of the Nazi régime to their fellow Germans and thus encouraging the development of the democratic movement.

The restrictions on publication in Germany are at present necessarily very stringent but my hon. Friend's suggestion will no doubt be borne in mind when a relaxation proves possible.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that these restrictions are a very bad contrast to those operating in the zone occupied by our Russian Allies and does he not consider that this is a bad example to show the Germans of democratic methods?

Perhaps the hon. Member will give me the evidence on which he bases his assertion that more freedom of political utterance is allowed in the Russian zone of occupation.

Italian Prisoners Of War (Non-Co-Operators)

25.

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the proportion of non-co-operators amongst the Italian prisoners of war in British hands.

About a quarter of the Italian prisoners in this country are non-co-operators. This includes, of course, those for whom no suitable employment can be found.

Is there any material difference in the treatment of co-operators and non-co-operators?

If my hon. Friend wants to know exactly the difference and puts down a Question I will give him the information.

British Prisoners Of War (Repatriation)

32 and 34.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) if he is in a position to make a statement regarding British prisoners of war who are now in the sphere of the Soviet Union; how many prisoners are unaccounted for; and what was the last place and date when located;

(2) how many British and British Commonwealth released prisoners of war have now been repatriated; how many have come by air and how many by sea; and what is the estimated number to be repatriated from the European theatre of operations and where are they mostly situated.

37 and 38.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) what steps are being taken to get in touch with the British and Dominion prisoners of war who may be outside the areas in Europe controlled by the British and American Armies;

(2) how many British and Dominion prisoners of war have so far been accounted for and how many are still unaccounted for.

41.

asked the Secretary of State for War the number of British prisoners now in camps in areas occupied by our Russian Allies; and what progress has been made in arranging their evacuation to British or U.S.A. occupied territory.

99 and 101.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he is aware that British prisoners of war in Stalag IIIA, Luckenwalde, were liberated by the Russians on 23rd April, but have been retained in the camp; that no British officer has visited the camp; that American trucks which arrived to evacuate the prisoners were sent away as permission for their release could not be obtained; and what steps he is taking to have these men repatriated;

(2) the reason for the retention of British prisoners of war released from Stalag IVB Mulhoerg by the Russians, on 23rd March; whether he is aware that no British officer from our Mission has visited the camp and that there is a shortage of food; and when these British prisoners will be repatriated.

At the beginning of this year it was estimated that there were some 180,000 British Commonwealth prisoners of war in German hands. This estimate was made for the purpose of the provision of relief supplies, and accordingly it contained an allowance for the possibility that some of those notified as missing might turn out to have been taken prisoner. As my hon. Friends are aware, the repatriation of prisoners was undertaken as soon as they were reached by the British and American Armies, and very large numbers were flown back to this country within a very few days of their release. The Soviet authorities were meanwhile evacuating to Odessa those British prisoners which they had overrun in Western Poland and Eastern Germany. In the last days of German resistance considerable numbers of British prisoners were reached by the Russians in Saxony, Bohemia and Austria. When the Soviet Forces had linked up with the American and British Forces it was clearly desirable to transfer the prisoners directly rather than to take them round by Odessa. The local Russian commanders, however, had no instructions to do this, and as they were anxious in the interests of the prisoners themselves that the transfers should be orderly they prevented the men making their own way westward. An agreement for the transfer of prisoners was reached on 22nd May and has been going on since. As a result it is unlikely that there is still any appreciable number of British prisoners in the Soviet zone except in Austria.

The overall position now is that 156,000 British Commonwealth prisoners have been repatriated, over 140,000 of them by air. About 10,000 are awaiting repatriation either in General Eisenhower's or Field Marshal Alexander's zone and about 400 in Odessa. It is known that about 8,500 are in the part of Austria controlled by the Red Army, and it is hoped that arrangements will soon be made for their transfer to the British or American Forces. There must be a number of stragglers on the Continent whose collection and repatriation will take some time, and it is therefore impossible at the moment to estimate how many prisoners cannot be accounted for. The number is not likely to be large.

Is the Secretary of State for War aware that there is considerable gratitude among all ranks of the Army and the Air Force for the steps taken by the War Office and the R.A.F. combined to get these men back?

I am very grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for saying that, but do not let us forget that great thanks are due to the American authorities.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any specific information about the two camps mentioned in Questions 99 and 101?

Speaking offhand, I think the prisoners from those camps have been returned by the direct route rather than through Odessa.

Have any inquiries been made in Yugoslavia about the airmen who baled out and have not since been heard of?

I would like notice of that question. I have not any special information about prisoners liberated in Yugoslavia.

Demobilisation

Procedure

40.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been called to the figures which have been issued by the United States Government as to the number of troops which they intend to demobilise now that the European war is over, and the numbers which they intend to reserve for service in the Far East; and whether in these circumstances he can make an equivalent statement about the British Army, indicating how many men are to be brought home within the next few months, what proportion will be reserved for service in the Far East; and what principles will be applied to bringing home those who have already served for considerable periods in the Far or Middle East.

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Labour on 16th May, and to the answers which the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Members for Everton, Liverpool (Mr. Kirby) and South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and which I gave to the hon. Members for West Lewisham (Mr. Henry Brooke)and Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) on 15th May.

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that there are considerable complaints in the Army about the long term that has to be served by those overseas and of the length of service of those who are in the ranks?

As this is a matter which concerns the three Services, will not the Prime Minister himself give the House some more precise information as to methods of demobilisation, in view of the considerable apprehension that exists in the minds of Service men and of their families? At the present moment all we have is a global figure and not individual figures.

A statement on this matter might well be made before we separate, but the subject is not as simple as it seemed to be at the outset.

Royal Army Medical Corps

44.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can now announce demobilisation plans for officers and men in the R.A.M.C.; and if they will be treated in the same way as officers and men in other branches of the Service.

The ordinary release Regulations will apply to the R.A.M.C. as to the rest of the Army. I do not anticipate that the "military necessity" clause will be frequently applied to other ranks and general duty officers. It will probably have to be applied to specialist officers much more freely in view of the over-all shortage of such officers and of the difficulty of obtaining from civil life replacements which are likely to be necessary.

Is not the Minister aware that there is a great shortage of doctors in many parts of the country? Will he bear that fact in mind in making his plans?

Quite a considerable number of doctors are due to be released under the ordinary working of the scheme.

If medical officers are to be released under Class B as being essential for civilian needs, will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that their rights as regards 56 days' leave are safeguarded? Otherwise a good many of those who are released for urgent civilian needs will lose a corresponding amount of pay.

My difficulty is not of releasing doctors under Class B but of releasing those whose turn comes under Class A.

Is it not the case that a considerable number of applications is being made for the return at an earlier date of those who are due to be demobilised, because in certain areas the civilian need is very acute? If that is so, will the Minister not have regard to the suggestion which I have made to him?

I think that the need of the civil population for doctors is much more likely to be met under Class A than Class B. It is a new idea to me that it will be necessary to have recourse to Class B for doctors.

Russia (Transfer Of British Vessels)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that the war in Europe is ended, he is now able to give information as to the transfer of vessels of the Royal Navy to the Red Fleet.

I will ask the hon. Member to defer this Question, the answer to which would be somewhat lengthy, till next week.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, when he is dealing with British property in this prodigal fashion, remember the promise he made that he would not preside over the liquidation of, the British. Empire, as this is part of the British Empire?

This particular episode was part of the process by which the consolidation of the British Empire was achieved.

When the Prime Minister is preparing an answer to that question, will he also prepare an answer to the question, why he transferred the Secretary of State for Scotland from this House to another place?

Can the Prime Minister assure me that he will not also hand over the Welch Fusiliers to Marshal Tito in the process?

Seac (Headquarters)

46.

asked the Prime Minister whether the headquarters of S.E.A.C. will be moved from Ceylon to a place nearer the scene of operations in view of the liberation of Burma.

The choice of the Headquarters is not governed by its exact geographical location, view of the great distances involved on this Front and the facilities of air transport. Should any change be made, there would be no reason to inform the enemy of it.

Occupied Germany (British Economic Interests)

47.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider the appointment of a special economic advisory body to assist military government in British-occupied Germany for the purpose of designing an economic policy appropriate to safeguarding the traditional interests of British business in Europe, as demonstrated by Europe's ratio of the foreign trade of the United Kingdom.

No, Sir. Adequate arrangements have already been made to enable those responsible for military government in British-occupied Germany to receive from His Majesty's Government the advice, information and instructions which they require on economic matters.

Reparations Commission (British Delegate)

48.

asked the Prime Minister how often the Reparations Commission in Moscow has met; who are the British delegates to this body; and what share of the reparations total is claimed by this country.

The Reparations Commission has not yet met. It will meet in Moscow in accordance with the Yalta decision. The United Kingdom delegate will be the Solicitor-General, Sir Walter Monckton, whom I can mention by name because he is not yet a Member of this House. I regret I can make no statement in advance of the date of the meeting of the Commission.

Could the Prime Minister say whether the report that France is taking unilateral action in transferring cattle from Germany to France, and that Russia is transferring male population in order to rebuild cities, is true?

United Nations (German Territory)

49.

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the fact that the other members of the United Nations are taking steps to ensure strategic control of the approaches to their respective countries, whether consideration will be given to the safeguarding of the United Kingdom by retaking possession of the former Kingdom of Hanover.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree from his researches into history that it would give much greater confidence to the smaller countries of Europe if they felt that this country had a definite status on the mainland of Europe?

We are not seeking to enlarge our bounds as a result of this war. We have fought it for great principles, and in the satisfaction of those principles we shall find our reward.

British Commonwealth And Empire War Casualties

51.

asked the Prime Minister whether he can now state the total casualties suffered by the Armed Forces of the Crown during the present war to date, compared with those suffered in the Great War, 1914–1918.

The total casualties suffered by the Armed Forces of the British Commonwealth and Empire in the present war, as reported from 3rd September, 1939, to the end of February, 1945, a total of 66 months, were 1,128,315 of which 307,201 were deaths. For fuller details I may refer my hon. and gallant Friend to a statement circulated on 10th April in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies). In the first Great War the total casualties suffered by the British Commonwealth and Empire Forces in 52 months were 3,286,090 of which 996,230 were deaths. It should however be borne in mind that in this present war the following additional losses have been inflicted upon the civil population of Great Britain by the enemy bombardment, namely: killed, 60,585; seriously injured, 86,175. I cannot give the precise figures for the slightly injured but they are upwards of 150,000.

Does that include Northern Ireland? The Prime Minister mentioned only Great Britain. What about Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned civilians. What of civilians in Northern Ireland—942 killed in Belfast alone?

Has any estimate been formed of the total loss of human life that has been occasioned in all countries, as a result of this war?

Empire Forces, Great Britain

52.

asked the Prime Minister if opportunity can be given to the peoples of London and other centres to meet and greet contingents of the Dominion, Indian and Colonial forces of the Crown, in order to show our appreciation of their fellowship in the war effort.

54.

asked the Prime Minister if in view of the services rendered by volunteers from all parts of the Empire during this war, and the numbers of Empire troops still in this country, he will arrange for a march through the Metropolis of Empire units before their return home, so that the citizens of London may show their appreciation.

Nearly all the Dominion, Indian and Colonial troops now in this country, other than Canadian troops, are returned prisoners of war, who naturally wish to get home as soon as possible. It would be very difficult to arrange a suitable and representative parade. But the suggestion will be borne in mind. Meanwhile the best way in which we can show our appreciation of the contribution to victory made by these troops is to extend every hospitality and courtesy to individual members of these Forces throughout the short period of their stay in this country.

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that that does not give the people of the country the opportunity of greeting them in the streets in a march past?

I think that it might inflict hardship on these men if, in the short period, they had to go through the drills and organisation necessary for ceremonial parades. I think we can trust to the warm contacts which have already been established.

War Decorations And Medals

53.

asked the Prime Minister to what modal men who have served in Paiforce will be entitled.

The Prime Minister: I should be obliged if my hon. and gallant Friend would repeat this Question this day week.

55.

asked the Prime Minister if he will consider recommending that a reasonable period of service, perhaps 18 months, from 24th August, 1939, shall qualify for the Defence Medal the volunteer veteran members of the Home Defence battalions, many of whom have been prevented from serving for three years by reason of having the age-limit or by reason of ill-health or infirmity.

Such service after 3rd September, 1939, amounting to less than three years and terminated by death due to enemy action on duty or by injuries entitling the candidate to a Wound Stripe qualifies for the Defence Medal. It is not proposed to make any reduction in the qualifying period in favour of those who retired because of ill-health not falling within this definition or on account of age.

Questions To Ministers

The following Question stood on the Order Paper in the name of Sir Arthur Salter:

56. To ask the Prime Minister to which Minister questions on general policy regarding European relief and reconstruction should be addressed.

On a point of Order. Despite the usual practice, can you, Mr. Speaker, permit the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) to put the Question that stands in his name, in order that the Prime Minister can say that the answer to the Question is the questioner?

General Election

Speaker's Conference (Recommendations)

57.

asked the Prime Minister whether it is proposed to introduce legislation before the General Election to implement the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference with regard to the limitation of election expenses and other matters.

Is it not the case that there is general agreement on this subject, and that not much time would be occupied with the necessary legislation?

In view of the shortage of paper might not one recommendation, namely, that a common poll card should be issued, be implemented?

It would be a very uncommon poll card that would meet the desires of all the different parties.

Will the Prime Minister undertake that the General Election shall be held at some time during the last week in June to enable the electors of Clydeside to vote?

Is the Prime Minister not aware that the Conference recommended that in view of the difficulty some people would have in finding their way to vote registration officers should issue a universal poll card?

There is no question of getting this Bill. These matters have to be gone through before the Election, and we have not even started on them.

Are we to take it from the Prime Minister's answer that the labours through which the Speaker's Conference went, when they reached a large measure of unanimous agreement, are to be set aside, and that this Election is to be fought by means which the Speaker's Conference condemned as wrong, merely because the Government will not find the time to carry through these elementary reforms, including the poll card?

My right hon. Friend—perhaps it is my duty to say the right hon. Member—will find plenty of opportunities of descanting upon the topics he has just mentioned.

Is it not the case that if this election had not been brought on so quickly a Bill of this nature would have been introduced into the House during this Session, and passed?

If the sessions of the House are interrupted by a Dissolution, some rearrangement of Business is inevitable.

Was it not part of the recommendations of the Conference that, as there was complete agreement on this subject, people should all work together to facilitate such legislation?

Is it not a fact that, according to the report of the Conference, matters relating to the conduct of elections were intended to be brought in after the next election?

Was it part of the recommendations of the Committee, Sir, that the whole of the police forces of Scotland should be deprived of their votes at this election?

It is not in Order to ask me questions about the Report of the Select Committee.

Palling Date

The following Question stood on the Order Paper, in the name of Mr. SILVERMAN:

64. To ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the date chosen as polling day in the coming General Election is such that nearly 500,000 electors in Lancashire will have no reasonable opportunity of casting their votes; and whether he has any proposal to make to remove or mitigate this injustice.

On a point of Order. May I ask whether, in view of the fact that you have shown latitude on previous occasions, Sir, you could allow Question 64 to be answered, although it has not been reached, as it affects a great many electors in the coming election?

I can only at this stage allow questions of urgent public importance, of which Private Notice has been given.

As Question 64 is in my name, might I ask whether it would be possible for it to be answered, in view of the fact that it affects a great number of people?

In view of the fact that so many thousands of electors are affected, might not the Prime Minister be allowed to answer?

Might I perhaps be allowed to make a statement at the end of Questions, by the indulgence of the House, which would, in fact, answer a Question which is of concern to a great many Members?

At the end of Questions

You and the House, Mr. Speaker, have granted me the indulgence of allowing me to answer, in the form of a statement, a Question which was put down by an hon. Gentleman opposite. The statement is a very short one. I was asked whether, as the date designed for polling day in the coming General Election would deprive nearly 500,000 electors in Lancashire of a reasonable opportunity of casting their votes, I have any proposal to make to remove or mitigate this injustice. I do not admit the figures as being accurate. It is probably a very remarkable exaggeration. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] That is my opinion. The hon. Member said 500,000; I should think it was more like half that number, but still that is quite serious. We are examining the point about these holidays, which affect certain boroughs. I am not, at the moment, in a position to make a statement on the subject, but railway facilities may certainly be considered as a means of assisting holiday-makers. [Interruption.] I am not going to bandy discourtesies with the right hon. Member opposite, who seems to have come out of his tenure at the Home Office with worsened manners. The question of railway facilities, I say, can also be considered. It is a matter for friendly discussion to see if any particular hard case, of a town taking its wakes in a particular week, causes a serious loss to voters of their chances of discharging their civic duties.

When the Prime Minister is considering the matter, will he bear in mind that there are other large centres of population, including the City of Edinburgh, where the same difficulty arises?

That is just one of those difficulties. If it were merely a question of these Lancashire towns, the matter might not be so difficult, but as claims can be made of all kinds, we might not be able to meet them.

Does the Prime Minister realise that the holiday period in question is one which these people have forgone for five years; that their arrangements were made before the decision was taken as to the date of the Dissolution; and that hundreds of thousands of people will regard any failure to make it possible for them to cast their votes reasonably, with other citizens, as a denial of the democratic liberties for which the war was fought?

Is not the Prime Minister aware that the first week of July is an important holiday-time for workers all over the country, as well as in Lancashire, and that the proposed date will cause great inconvenience and, unfortunately, make it impossible for a large number of people to vote?

Will the Prime Minister realise that in any case the question closely affects the industrial burghs of Scotland, and especially on Clydeside, and will he decline to extend to any other part of the country facilities which are denied to that industrial area?

As my constituency is one of those affected, may I ask the Prime Minister whether it would be possible, by a short Bill, to arrange that those constituencies which are on holiday should vote on the Monday or, alternatively, that they should be able to vote, say, at Blackpool or one of those holiday places?

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that there are something like 10 constituencies in Scotland affected in this way and that many of the people concerned will be so faraway from home that it will be impossible to return by rail, even if they could afford it? May I also ask whether this date has been chosen intentionally—I assume it has not—and, if not, is there any reason why a simple Bill should not be passed through the House of Commons making it possible to postpone the Election for one week or two weeks, which would not affect the date of the count, which comes three weeks after the Election?

That would not be any release from this difficulty because the practice of staggering the holidays is very widespread.

If the Election were postponed for another week, another group of constituencies would be similarly affected, and if it were postponed for a fortnight, that would also be the case. I have seen a list of all the constituencies affected which spreads over five weeks, and that would get us into the harvest season, when other great difficulties arise, which have long been considered as cramping the freedom which should exist for a General Election, But I will say that I am quite ready to discuss this with the leaders on the other side to see if anything can be done which is of manageable proportions, to meet the particular Lancashire difficulty which has been described and which is much more wholesale than other cases.

May I ask the Prime Minister if he would consider the possibility of a short Bill to give the returning officers, with the consent of the Home Secretary, the power to postpone voting within a certain period—it may be a day or so—in order to cover a particular wakes period? I am not suggesting that it is possible to make a general postponement but that we should adapt this to the particular circumstances of the towns in Lancashire and the places in Scotland which are most affected.

I would be quite ready to have discussions on that point through the usual channels, and if the thing were agreed, it could be passed very quickly. But I cannot hold out hope that every part of the country from which people go in the holiday season, can have special treatment. That would be beyond all power, but with regard to these Lancashire towns, which I know very well myself—Oldham, for instance—the whole population goes away.

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that, no matter what date in the whole twelve months is decided upon as the date of the General Election, some objection would be found to it, no less valid than the present one?

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that it is not only Lancashire that is concerned, and that in our coalfields we have staggered holidays so that there shall not be an actual interruption of coal production? In my area there is one group of collieries whose turn it will be for holidays, where there are 10,000 workers. Taking account of all these, there are 30,000 workers going on holiday, and if this proposal were restricted to Lancashire it would be keenly resented.

That just shows the difficulty of attempting to make special arrangements.

Would it not have been better if the Prime Minister had taken this into account before rushing the Election—[Interruption]—and had accepted Labour's offer to go on until the Autumn?

All these difficulties would have been removed to a later period if the representatives of the Labour and Liberal Parties had consented to go on until the job was finished.

Is it not a fact that the Prime Minister was so uncertain about this House continuing its life that he proposed a referendum and the introduction of a new feature into the British Constitution?

I think it is time we stopped all these practice shots in advance of the General Election.

May I make a suggestion to the Prime Minister? It is that the General Election should take place in every constituency in the country on 5th July but that returning holiday-makers—seeing that the votes are not to be counted until the 26th—should, under the guidance of various parties and the municipal authorities, have power to cast their votes after coming back from their holidays.

I think it is hardly possible to state more effectively the case against the proposal which has been made.

I rise to a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I heard an extremely insulting expression applied to a Member of another place, namely, the word "blackmail" and I ask you, Sir, whether it is in Order to use this dis- respectful expression about a Member of another place?

I did not hear it myself. It is, of course, out of Order to make derogatory remarks about Members of another place or to mention them by name unless they have office.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I assume that I am the Member to whom the Prime Minister referred. [HON MEMBERS: "No, no."] I did not use the word "blackmail." I referred to Lord Beaverbrook and said he was the Hitler of this country.

May I respectfully ask you, Mr. Speaker, what is the precedent, when a statement is made by the Prime Minister with the permission of the House, for a long Debate to follow, as has been the case to-day; and will you. Sir, intimate, how long this Debate is to continue?