House Of Commons
Wednesday, 6th June, 1945
The House met at a Quarter past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE CORPORATION (TROLLEY VEHICLES) PROVISIONAL ORDER BILL
Read a Second time, and committed.
Oral Answers To Questions
Austria (Provisional Government)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he has any statement to make relating to the powers and scope of the Provisional Government in Vienna; what Allied Missions are in Vienna; what Allied Missions are in Vienna at the present time; and when it is proposed to allow British Press representatives to proceed to Vienna.
The Minister of Education (Mr. Richard Law)
I have been asked to reply. As regards the position of the Austrian Provisional Government, I have nothing to add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend on 30th May, in reply to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Sir G. Mander). Allied military missions arrived in Vienna on 3rd June for preliminary discussions; but it may be some time yet before the Allied Commission for Austria is set up. As soon as the Commission is established I hope it will be possible for British Press correspondents to proceed to Vienna.
Mr. Vernon Bartlett
Could the right hon. Gentleman be a little more specific about "some time yet"?
No, Sir, I do not think I can add anything to what I have said. We must first await the report of the Missions that have proceeded there.
European Relief Policy (Co-Ordination)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the anxiety caused by the reduction in rations and the conflicting reports of the condition, and needs of the populations of liberated countries, he will issue a White Paper giving authoritative information.
While sympathising with the objects which my hon. Friend has in mind, I am satisfied that any summary of information issued now would so soon become obsolete that it would not justify the great labour involved in its production.
Is the report issued by S.H.A.E.F., stating that there was starvation in Europe, authoritative, in view of other statements which have been made regarding Holland, Belgium and France?
It is extremely difficult to generalise about conditions in Europe. In some parts they are better than in others, in some parts they are very bad.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider issuing a statement showing just what can be done in the sending of food, and what it was planned to do, and which are the agencies?
A good deal of that information has been made available in the House, but I will see that the hon. Member's suggestion is considered.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it is important for the morale of our troops overseas that they should not be under the impression that there has been any reduction in the rations of their families at home on account of the necessity of feeding Germans?
That is certainly a consideration which we must always bear in mind.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the need for a co-ordinated policy for displaced persons, a representative of U.N.R.R.A. sits on the Inter-Governmental Committee for Refugees.
I understand that a representative of U.N.R.R.A. attends plenary sessions of the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees, in the capacity of an observer, and that representatives of the Inter-Governmental Committee attend the European Regional Committee of U.N.R.R.A. and the Technical Sub-Committee of U.N.R.R.A. in a similar capacity. The importance of a co-ordinated policy is fully appreciated, and I am informed that relations between the two administrations are close and cordial.
Would not my right hon. Friend consider having a member of U.N.R.R.A. as a full member on the Inter-Governmental Committee?
As far as I know, the present arrangements are working with perfect satisfaction to both parties. If there were any change, we would consider whether any improvement was necessary.
In view of the fact that when the Inter-Governmental Committee was set up U.N.R.R.A. did not exist, is not the position worth reconsidering? An observer cannot take part in discussions, and it is obvious to anyone who has studied the functions of these two bodies that there is a great possibility of their overlapping.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the rapid return of displaced persons to their homes is one of the most important contributions to economic reconstruction that can be made, and will his Majesty's representatives give the fullest support to the efforts of U.N.R.R.A. on that matter?
His Majesty's Government are fully aware of the importance of that question.
Is my right hon. Friend confident that his Majesty's representatives have been supporting U.N.R.R.A. in this matter recently?
I am confident that His Majesty's Government have been doing everything they can to support U.N.R.R.A. in this matter of displaced persons and in all other matters with which they deal.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how he proposes to ensure the satisfactory integration of U.N.R.R.A. with the Allied Control Commission operating in Germany in order that the interests of displaced persons may be adequately safeguarded.
I am fully aware of the importance of this matter, which is at present under active consideration.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the preparations for the Allied Control Commission have taken such a very long time?
I suppose it is because the situation changes so rapidly from day to day, and, until we see how the Control Commission does, in fact, operate, it is very difficult to lay down hard and fast plans for its operation.
Sir Percy Harris
Has the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster taken any action in this matter; and will he represent us at Berlin, or in any other capacity?
Perhaps the right hon. Baronet will put that question down. It is another and wider question.
Persia (Allied Forces)
Sir Geoffrey Mander
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to the evacuation of Allied Forces from Persia, having regard to the note from the Persian Government on the subject.
Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government have made any reply to the Note addressed to them by the Iranian Government requesting the evacuation of British troops from Iran; whether he can give any information regarding the attitude of the U.S. and Soviet Governments to the similar request addressed to them; and whether he will give an assurance that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government, in all circumstances, to safeguard our Imperial interests in South Persia and the Persian Gulf.
The Tripartite Treaty provides for the withdrawal of all troops from Persia six months after the end of the Japanese war. In view of the Persian request and our desire to meet their wishes as far as possible, we are in consultation with the United States and Soviet Governments in this matter, but I have not yet been informed of their views. The answer to the last part of the question of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lancaster (Brigadier Maclean) is in the affirmative.
Does the answer mean that, unless all troops are withdrawn, none will be withdrawn?
The answer actually means what it says. What I said was that the Tripartite Treaty provides for the withdrawal of all troops six months after the end of the Japanese war. The Persian Government have made a request, and we are considering that request, in consultation with our Allies.
Sir G. Mander
Have the Persian Government been defeated on this matter?
Laval (French Representations)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why the Spanish Government has not yet handed over Laval as a war criminal; and will he make representations to the Spanish Government asking that this be done without delay.
This is a matter primarily between the French and Spanish Governments. His Majesty's Chargé ďAffaires at Madrid has, however, been instructed to support the representations of the French Representative to the effect that Laval should be handed over to the French authorities without delay.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that Laval is probably one of the most contemptible figures thrown up by the war?
Major Vyvyan Adams
What exactly are our powers when war criminals and prominent Nazis seek asylum in nominally neutral countries?
I think that question hardly arises out of the case of Laval, who is not, technically, a war criminal. To be a war criminal he would have to be nominated by the French Government as a war criminal, and so far he has not been nominated.
Is there any news of Ribbentrop?
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will publish the report of the representatives of His Majesty's Government who visited the concentration camps in Spain.
No representatives of His Majesty's Government have visited concentration camps in Spain.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was a statement on this matter on the wireless yesterday; and, in view of the concern in this country over the atrocities in Buchenwald and Belsen, will he not arrange for representatives of His Majesty's Government to visit these camps?
I have quite a few responsibilities at the moment, but, mercifully, what is said on the wireless is not one of them. I doubt very much whether any useful purpose would be served at present by adopting the hon. Member's suggestion.
Would my right hon. Friend support the suggestion that there should be an international inspectorate to inspect all prisons?
That is quite a different question.
General Bor (Newspaper Article)
Major-General Sir Alfred Knox
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to an article in the "Soviet News" of 25th May, issued by the Russian Embassy, which characterises General Bor, the defender of Warsaw, in most insulting terms; and whether he will protest against the circulation in Britain of attacks of this nature on a representative of another Ally.
I have seen the article to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers, and I share his regret that statements of the sort contained in it about one of our Allies should appear in an official publication of another.
Sir A. Knox
Will the right hon. Gentleman do anything to stop attacks of this kind? Does he realise that this article called the heroic General Bar "an agent provocateur" and "a dirty adventurer"? Is it seemly that the Press department of an Embassy in London should publish this sort of thing?
I think that the view of His Majesty's Government on this matter is already known. If it was not known before, it should be known now, from the terms of the reply I have just given.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that, for years, so-called official publications in London from the Polish Government have been uttering the most atrocious slanders about the leaders of a great Ally, the Soviet Union, and we have had no protest from the Foreign Office? Will he protest about those slanders now?
I have heard protests in this House on the point the hon. Member has made.
Mr. A. Bevan
Is it going to be the policy of the Government to interfere with the expression of opinion by another Power? Is it not a fact that, on several occasions, protests have been heard from this side of the House about the anti-Soviet propaganda of the Polish Government in London?
Why does not the right hon. Gentleman deplore that?
I do not think it is a question so much of policy as of what is seemly, and, as I say, we do regret that statements of this kind about any Ally should appear in the publications of another Ally.
World Security Organisation (Secretariat)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make a statement concerning the proposal that the Secretary-General and the four Deputy Secretaries-General of the proposed World Organisation should be appointed on the nomination of the Security Council and for a period of three years only.
The four sponsoring Powers have submitted to the San Francisco Conference amendments to the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals whereby the Secretary-General of the new Organisation and his four deputies would be elected by the General Assembly on recommendation of the Security Council for a period of three years, and the Secretary-General would be eligible for re-election. These proposals are at present under discussion by the Conference.
During their consideration, will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government bear in mind the danger that, if these five superior posts were to become short-term diplomatic appointments, it would be impossible to build up a really international body of the kind that is required?
I appreciate the point of view which the hon. Member is expressing, but I think that, on the other side, there is a good deal to be said for the argument that it is important that people in the international organisation who hold really important posts should have been, at some fairly recent date, in active contact with the world of men, so to speak, and not live in an abstraction of their own.
Mr. Vernon Bartlett
Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that those of us who worked in connection with the League of Nations know from experience the immense value of building up an international esprit de corps, which cannot possibly be done if you are going to make these diplomatic appointments?
Is there not considerable danger, in these matters, of failing to see the wood for the trees?
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, while the institutions at Geneva were taken seriously there was no difficulty whatever about superior officials maintaining contact with their Governments at home, which, as a basis of international security, is essential to the strengthening of the whole thing?
United States (International Trading Arrangements)
Sir Percy Hurd
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how the reciprocal trading arrangements made between the U.S.A. and other countries fit into the pattern of international relations as contemplated at Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco; and if he can give particulars of such arrangements.
The functions of the Economic and Social Council, which will form part of the proposed International Organisation, are at present under discussion at San Francisco.
Sir P. Hurd
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if these reciprocity arrangements into which the United States have entered are not exclusive, but that any other countries will have the right to enter into agreements?
I rather fancy that the particular arrangements which my hon. Friend has in mind are bilateral trading agreements, but the position is, I think, that the United States is willing to enter into such agreements with any other country that will enter into them.
Syria And Lebanon
Major-General Sir Edward Spears
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will issue a White Paper giving a record of events in November, 1943, and May, 1945, in Syria and the Lebanon from the reports of the British Minister.
The deplorable events of November, 1943, and May, 1945, in Syria and the Lebanon have been fully described to the House in statements made at the time and widely published, and I do not think any good purpose would be served by publishing a White Paper, as my hon. and gallant Friend suggests.
Member Of Parliament (Visit To United States)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) was recently invited to lecture in the U.S.A. under the auspices of the Society of Friends, at their expense; that the Foreign Office consulted the Ministry of Information and both Departments refused to sponsor such a visit or issue a new passport; that several Members of this House of all political parties have paid visits to the U.S.A. during hostilities to lecture; that Members of the American Congress of all shades of political opinion have visited this country under similar conditions; and, as this refusal violates the rights of a Member of this House and offends a considerable section of American opinion, whether he will reconsider this decision.
The general issue which this case raises has been reconsidered in the light of the changed circumstances. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be making a statement on this subject after Questions to-day.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise what satisfaction that answer will give to all parts of the House? Does he realise that the hon. Member for Westhoughton is an officer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and that his visit to the United States can do nothing else but strengthen the existing friendship between the United States and this country?
Mr. A. Bevan
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am deferring my comments until I hear the statement?
Royal Air Force
Aero-Engine Mechanics (Badge)
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware that first-class fitters in the R.C.A.F. are en titled to wear a distinctive badge on their uniforms; and whether he will consider granting a similar distinctive badge, after certain tests, to first-class fitters in the R.A.F.
The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I am aware that the Canadian Air Council has authorised the use of a trade badge for Royal Canadian Air Force airmen and airwomen qualified as aero-engine mechanics. The introduction of a similar badge for the Royal Air Force would be contrary to present practice, but the question of badges will be further reviewed.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a considerable desire on the part of first-class fitters in the R.A.F. for this distinctive badge?
Yes, but there is a sort of practice or doctrine, and I think it should be carefully considered before changes are made.
Aerodromes (Agricultural Land)
Sir Thomas Cook
asked the Secretary of State for Air how many acres of former agricultural land in Norfolk are at present being used for aerodromes; and when he proposes to release part of this area for farming.
Mr. H. Macmillan
The answer to the first part of the Question is, approximately, 24,400 acres, of which nearly 5,000 were in use as airfields before the war. Approximately 1,450, acres are at present let to farmers. With regard to the second part of the question I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my predecessor to the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) on 28th February last. Meanwhile, there should soon be substantial increases in the acreage let for agriculture from these airfields.
How soon can we expect a statement from the right hon. Gentleman's Department about the future use of this kind of land?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it requires very careful consideration of the whole defence and strategic position of the future, and he would hardly expect me to make that investigation at the present time.
Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare
Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that there are thousands of families homeless in Norwich, and that there is aerodrome accommodation available in the vicinity of Norwich?
Yes, Sir. We will make every possible effort to make every alleviation consistent with strategic needs.
Sir Oliver Simmonds
Will the right hon. Gentleman see that his officers at these various aerodromes discuss this matter with individual farmers, so that in cases where the complete aerodrome cannot be passed back, yet those parts which could be released can be handed back for agricultural purposes?
That is being done. That is the increased land released for agricultural purposes.
Has the Minister started his careful examination of the defence and strategic considerations involved?
These matters are, of course, under consideration by the post-war planning authorities of the Service Departments.
Night Flying, Peterborough
Colonel Viscount Suirdale
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware of the inconvenience caused to the people of Peterborough by the noise of a certain type of training aircraft which keeps children awake at night and is extremely annoying to the adult population; whether he will now arrange for training on this type of aircraft to be carried out on other airfields instead of at Peterborough; and pending such an arrangement, whether he will forbid all flying of this type of aircraft from R.A.F. station, Peterborough, between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. with immediate effect.
I sympathise with my Noble Friend in this matter. Efforts are being made to find suitable accommodation for the Unit elsewhere, but I cannot yet say when a change will be possible. Meanwhile instructions have been issued that night flying is to be reduced to the minimum compatible with efficient training.
Low Flying Aircraft
asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will have inquiries made about machines flying low over in habited areas; and whether there is a stated height to which machines shall not come below unless under special circum stances.
Mr. H. Macmillan
Careful inquiries are always made in order to identify aircraft which disobey the orders in force against unauthorised low flying. Members of the public often give valuable assistance by reporting the identification marks of low flying aircraft to the authorities. All aircraft are required to maintain a height of not less than 2,000 ft., except, of course, when taking off or landing, or when weather conditions would make this unsafe, or when flying in certain areas which have been selected for low flying training. When over towns and thickly inhabited areas, aircraft are required to fly at a height which would enable them to glide clear in case of engine trouble. The hon. Member will, however, appreciate that conditions in this island often make it necessary to fly below the normal stated heights.
I thank the right hon. Member for his reply, and would like to ask him whether he is aware that when I was recently in Blackpool aeroplanes were flying low over the town—much too low to give a feeling of safety—and I thought a warning ought to go forth?
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will make representations to the American Air Force because I think some of these machines are American aircraft? Could he not make friendly representations?
The American authorities have been most co-operative and have taken very stern disciplinary measures parallel to our own.
Sir Herbert Holdsworth
Will the right hon. Gentleman issue further instructions on this matter, as this is a common practice all over the country and is really abominable?
Yes, Sir, the attention of all Air Force Commands was recently drawn to the order in force against unauthorised low flying and that has been specially emphasised lately, but I would re-emphasise the fact, which I am sure those who have had flying experience will know, that there are many days in the climate of this island when you must fly lower than 2,000 feet.
Will the Minister state shortly what the deterrent is? What happens to pilots who disobey the rule?
Very strong disciplinary measures have been taken, and I regret to say that even in my short period of office, it has been my duty to approve of sentences of dismissal from the Service for this offence.
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware of the disturbance to rest caused by aeroplanes which fly constantly over Bristol at low altitudes throughout the day and night; and whether he will take steps to abate this nuisance.
Mr. H. Macmillan
This matter has been brought to my notice. The following steps have been taken: pilots who regularly fly near Bristol are specially warned to avoid the town; appropriate arrangements have been made for the observation and reporting of offenders; and in addition, the attention of all Royal Air Force Commands has recently been specially drawn to the orders in force against unauthorised low flying.
Overseas Postings (Demobilisation Priority)
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will set out in detail the principles which are to be applied in drafting R.A.F. personnel for service in the Far East so far as the various demobilisation priority groups are concerned.
Mr. H. Macmillan
Men in early age and service groups for Class "A" release are not normally posted overseas except to Western Europe. For purposes of assessing priority of release there is no distinction between service at home and overseas; nor will a man be required to complete his overseas tour when his turn for release arrives.
Is it a fact that men in the 25 group have already been informed by commanding officers in France that they are liable to be drafted to the Far East?
I think this question was raised before, and any such order, if given, has been cancelled.
Is the Minister aware that I have a reply from his predecessor which indicates that the people on the spot determine these things and that men of the 25 group have been notified that they are liable to be so drafted?
That was an order of the 2nd Tactical Air Force in France which has been cancelled.
Royal Observer Corps
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether members of the Royal Observer Corps are authorised to retain any part of their uniform or any badge which would show that they had been of service to their country.
Mr. H. Macmillan
Yes, Sir. Former members of the Royal Observer Corps may retain the main articles of uniform, including the lapel badges which may be worn with civilian clothes. In addition, members who have been injured are in certain circumstances eligible for the King's Badge, and those who fulfil the qualifying conditions will receive the Defence Medal. Though the Corps is no longer actively employed, most of its members, with commendable public spirit, have volunteered to continue their membership. These members will, of course, retain their uniforms.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there will be any special recognition of those members of the Observer Corps who are allowed to wear the shoulder flash "Seaborne" because they volunteered for service at the time of D-Day in circumstances of great danger and difficulty in boats crossing the Channel?
I will look into that.
Marshal Stalin's Message
asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will publish the congratulatory message that he received on or about 16th May from the Soviet Ambassador on the glorious part played by our Bomber Command in forging the victory.
Mr. H. Macmillan
I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the message addressed by Marshal Stalin to the Royal Air Force as a whole. That message and my predecessor's reply were communicated to the Press on 16th May. They have also been published to the Service in an Air Ministry Order. I am circulating the full texts in the Official Report.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether this message has also been widely published throughout the whole of Russia?
The messages are as follow:
From the Soviet Ambassador, Monsieur F. T. Gousev:
"I have the honour, on behalf of Marshal J. V. Stalin and my own, to express to you and to the valiant Royal Air Force sincere congratulations on the great victory over our common enemy—German Imperialism. Allow me to express to you my hope that the friendly co-operation between the peoples of Great Britain and the U.S.S.R., built up during the course of the war, will be successfully and happily maintained and developed in the post-war period."
Sir Archibald Sinclair replied:
"It is a great pleasure to receive your letter of yesterday, and on behalf of the Royal Air Force I thank you and Marshal Stalin for your congratulations. I share to the full your hope that the war-time comradeship between the peoples of Britain and Russia will ripen into a firm and lasting friendship. In that friendship, the mutual respect between the airmen of the Royal Air Force and those of the glorious Red Army will be a strong element."
Sir Irving Albery
asked the Secretary of State for Air if men over 30 years of age, who signed on for a further period of service in the R.A.F. as an alternative to being transferred to the Army, will now be given the opportunity of reconsidering the obligation taken.
Mr. H. Macmillan
No recent regular engagements have yet been made final. Every airman who is provisionally accepted will have an opportunity of confirming that he is still willing to enlist.
Medical Staffs (Release)
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will give an assurance that doctors, medical orderlies and other medical staffs will not be retained in the R.A.F. after their release group has been reached.
Mr. H. Macmillan
Generally, the position is as stated by my predecessor on 25th April in his reply to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). I can, however, say that in the categories to which the hon. Member refers it has only been necessary to restrict the release of nursing orderlies in the group lists so far promulgated.
Clerks And Cooks (Release)
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether R.A.F. personnel engaged in clerk general duties are likely to be delayed in their release from the Services; and whether recruitment for this trade category will be expedited.
Mr. Henry Brooke
asked the Secretary of State for Air why it is not found possible to release cooks in the R.A.F. at the same time as the rest of the release groups to which they belong; and whether he will take the necessary steps to remove this inequality as soon as practicable.
Mr. H. Macmillan
The proportion of men in the earlier release groups is greater in the trades of cook and clerk (general duties) than the average for the Air Force as a whole. It is, therefore, necessary, at any rate for the present, that the rate of release of cooks and clerks should be below the average, but steps are being taken to reduce the variation to a minimum by the re-training of airmen not due for early release and by training new entrants as they become available.
Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether service candidates for Parliament have now been given leave to contest the election.
Mr. H. Macmillan
Service, Orkney And Shetland
asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will issue instructions to enable civil air services to use the most direct route to Orkney and Shetland.
Mr. H. Macmillan
Yes, Sir. The necessary instructions will shortly be issued.
Railway Companies (Air Lines)
Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation if he will specify by name the railway companies which operated air lines before the war in England and Wales.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Perkins)
The airline operations of the four mainline Railway Companies in the United Kingdom were conducted by a number of airline companies. These airline companies were:
Great Western and Southern Airlines Ltd.,
Guernsey Airways Ltd.,
Isle of Man Air Services Ltd.,
Jersey Airways Ltd.,
Railway Air Services Ltd.,
Scottish Airways Ltd.,
West Coast Air Services Ltd.
These companies had a total route mileage of approximately 5,700 miles. Of these companies, Scottish Airways operated exclusively in Scotland. Railway Air Services operated between England and Scotland, and Scotland and Northern Ireland. Isle of Man Air Services included a service between the Isle of Man and Glasgow. The other services operated in England and Wales and between England and North Ireland, Eire, Channel Islands, Scilly Islands and Isle of Man.
Sir T. Moore
While thanking my hon. Friend for his very comprehensive reply, may I say that it is not a reply to my Question? May I re-direct my hon. Friend's attention to the specific words of my Question? I asked what were the names of the railway companies operating air lines before the war. He has given me a very long, interesting and, as I say, comprehensive study of the whole question before the war, but not an answer to my Question.
I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will raise this matter on the Estimates later to-night.
Sir T. Moore
I have every intention of doing so.
Aircraft Works, Clayton-Le-Moors (Black-Out)
asked the Minister of Aircraft Production if he will take steps to remove the black-out from the Bristol Aircraft Works, Clayton-le-Moors.
The Minister of Aircraft Production (Mr. Ernest Brown)
Black-out at this factory will certainly be removed as soon as suitable labour can be spared from more urgent work, which I hope will be in a few months' time.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the same kind of comment was made 12 months ago; and cannot the Department speed up this matter so that they can get on with the work?
As my hon. and gallant Friend knows, the real difficulty is that of labour.
Is the Minister aware that there is labour available?
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he has yet received any report regarding the acceptability of the proposals for the future Nigerian Constitution and Government.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Colonel Oliver Stanley)
As I said in the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) on 19th April last, the Legislative Council of Nigeria on 22nd March debated the proposals and passed, without division, a resolution signifying its approval of them and recommending them for adoption. Since then I have received representations from various private bodies and individuals and these will be given due consideration.
Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether those representations from private bodies and individuals were in acceptance or rejection of those proposals?
Some were in favour and some against. One, particularly in favour, came from a body with which the hon. Gentleman is in the closest sympathy.
Will there be a chance for the House to discuss this question?
The hon. Member will recollect that I said the White Paper would not be introduced until the House had had a Debate. Recent events have, of course, prevented that opportunity arising.
Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
Will this matter ultimately be debated in Parliament?
That is the Question I have just answered.
Merchant Navy (Releases)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport under what conditions engineer officers of the Merchant Navy are to be released should they desire it.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
My hon. and gallant Friend will recognise that this country will continue to need a Merchant Navy at least as large as that which we have today. In considering the question of release, it should be remembered that service in the Merchant Navy is the peacetime career of the majority of officers and men now at sea. The principles upon which those who desire to go will be released have been agreed with the representatives of the owners, the officers and the men. Releases will broadly follow the lines laid down for the Services, regard being had to age and length of service during the war. My Noble Friend proposes to proceed at an early date with the release of Groups 1–7 for the officers and 1–15 for the ratings in so far as the officers and men falling within these groups wish to be released.
Is my hon. Friend aware that this class of officer is urgently needed in certain kinds of civil employment—in marine surveying, marine engineering and the ship repairing industry, of course in limited numbers, and will he take this need into account in arranging for the release of any such officers when they desire to take up civil appointments?
Yes, Sir. My Noble Friend had that matter in mind when we decided to release this particular batch in the early stages.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary see that the rates and conditions of these officers are kept at the very highest possible standard so as to encourage them to remain in the Service?
That is another question.
Can the hon. Gentleman give a precise date when this will commence?
It will be at a very early date. The reason I did not give a date was so that we could inform the various organisations concerned.
London-Aberdeen Service (Restaurant Cars)
Sir Douglas Thomson
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether, in view of the fact that the journey between London and Aberdeen takes between13 and 14 hours, he can now cancel his instructions to the railway companies and so enable them to provide restaurant or buffet car facilities on that route.
Mr. P. Thorneycroft
The provision of restaurant or buffet car facilities reduces the number of seats that can be provided. Passenger services are likely to be heavily loaded for some time to come, and I regret that I am unable to say when it will be possible to provide these facilities on the journey between London and Aberdeen.
Sir D. Thomson
Could not my hon. Friend leave it to the railway companies? If he would remove his restrictions, there would be only one obstacle, and the railway companies could run these facilities if they were able to do so.
I have had special inquiry made into this matter recently, and I understand that the introduction of restaurant cars would reduce the seating accommodation, both because they cannot take so many people, and also because of the weight involved. However, I am keeping this matter in view, and if anything can be done I will do it.
Sir R. W. Smith
Does not my hon. Friend think it is more important that there should be more sleeping cars rather than restaurant cars on the trains to Aberdeen?
I am, of course, aware of the limitations of transport in all directions. Restaurant cars cannot be provided as long as there is a shortage of seating accommodation.
Mr. Evelyn Walkden
Would it not be a good idea to advise the railway companies that John Citizen should have a chance of getting a seat for the ticket he buys?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport if he can now provide a fast train per day, each way, between Cheltenham and London, in view of the fact that at present the scheduled time of this journey of 100 miles is about four hours.
This matter is being reviewed, and I will communicate with the hon. Member as soon as possible.
While I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, will he bear in mind that Cheltenham is about the worst served of any city in the country?
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that most of these trains have to stop twice at every station between Swindon and Gloucester, and that the delay is really intolerable?
Mr. Evelyn Walkden
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether he is satisfied that sufficient engines, carriages and trains will be available to provide holiday transport for the large number of workers who, for the first time, will be granted holidays with pay this summer and autumn; and, in view of the fact that the few extra non-scheduled trains now provided are, at present overcrowded, what improvements does he intend to apply.
Mr. P. Thorneycroft
My Noble Friend has asked the railways to run this summer such additional trains as their resources permit and the traffic requires, subject only to the overriding condition that they do not interfere with essential traffic. The number of additional trains the railways can provide for holiday traffic will undoubtedly be limited by shortage of engines and carriages.
As the trains already provided are cluttered up and packed to suffocation now, and there will be no more available, what chances have war-workers, or those who have made the munitions to win the war, got of getting a holiday this year and getting some comfort on the trains?
Everybody will have the same opportunity in this matter, but the hon. Member should not underestimate the difficulties we are in with the repairs and building programme.
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Questions to the Minister of Labour to-morrow, he will find that I have not done so.
Organised Parties (Travel Permits)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport what is the basis adopted for granting permits to organised parties, such as bands, choirs, cricket teams, football teams, or any other groups who desire to travel by a public conveyance; and what is the maximum distance allowed for such vehicles.
Mr. P. Thorneycroft
Where it is desired to hire omnibuses or coaches for private parties, application must be made to the Regional Transport Commissioner for the issue of fuel for the journey. The relevant considerations are generally the availability of vehicles and crews without interference with essential services, the length of the journey and the adequacy of other means of transport. In the case of cricket or football teams engaged in representative matches or in the leading professional football competitions, a maximum distance of 50 miles is generally prescribed and for other cricket or football teams a maximum of 25 miles. In other cases the distance allowed depends on the circumstances.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Salvation Army band, Langley Moor, desired to travel to Dinnington and were refused, and because of that silly decision 10 men had to miss a shift in the pit, thereby losing that valuable contribution to coal production?
I understand that in the case of that particular Salvation Army band the journey involved a round trip of 220 miles. While we try to give these facilities wherever we can, in a case like that I think the Regional Transport Commissioner's decision was probably a right one.
Mr. A. Bevan
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that musical competitions and musical festivals are a part of the national life of Wales, and that the time has now come to relax some of these restrictions and enable the Welsh people fully to enjoy their national institutions?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that matter. We have given permission in a number of cases for these choirs to travel, but each particular case has to be considered on its merits.
Is the Minister not aware that in this case the driver was there, the petrol was there and the bus was there, and still they were not allowed to travel?
March upon music to victory.
In all these cases the drivers have buses, but we feel that they should be used on essential services.
Jarrow Tunnel Project
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether, in view of the importance of improving communications in the north-eastern area, he will give early consideration to the revival of the Jarrow tunnel project so that the plans can be ready as labour becomes available.
Mr. P. Thorneycroft
Yes, Sir. My Noble Friend recently discussed this question with the Joint Committee of the Durham and Northumberland County Councils.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman where the tunnel will emerge?
I cannot say.
Wartime Ministries (Continuance)
Sir G. Mander
asked the Prime Minister if he is able to make any statement with reference to the future of the Ministries of Aircraft Production, Information, Production, Food, Supply and War Transport; and if it is intended to continue them, in whole or in part, as separate Ministries.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)
I have been asked to reply. Yes, Sir. It is contemplated that it will be necessary to retain the Ministry of Information on a reduced scale during the war against Japan, each Department thereafter becoming responsible for publicity policy within its own sphere; that the Ministry of Food will be retained so long as the Central Government continues to control the purchase, sale, distribution and price of food; and that the Ministry of War Transport will continue after the war. While clearly no Government can pledge successors in a matter of this kind, the Departments concerned have been authorised to proceed on the above assumptions for planning purposes.The offices of the Minister of Production and of President of the Board of Trade are now held by the same Minister. No decision has yet been reached as to the future of the Ministries of Aircraft Production and Supply.
Will my right hon. Friend consider taking steps before winding up a Ministry like the Ministry of Aircraft Production to see that concerns like the flying boats works of Short Bros, in Rochester, my constituency, are restored to their proper and rightful owners?
Sir J. Anderson
I am sure everything will be considered.
Three-Power Meeting (Venue)
Mr. Ivor Thomas
asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the desire of hon. Members in all parts of the House that his projected meeting with Marshal Stalin and President Truman shall take place in London; and whether, in view of Marshal Stalin's release from the control of military operations and his own domestic pre-occupations, he will press for the meeting to be held on British soil.
Sir J. Anderson
My right hon. Friend is sorry there is no chance of this.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that the possibility of Marshal Stalin coming to London would be considerably enhanced if he were to meet here a Socialist Prime Minister?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that President Truman and Marshal Stalin would be assured of the warmest welcome if they came here and furthermore that many of us would regard it as a just tribute to the unique part played by Great Britain in this war that one of these meetings should take place on this soil?
Sir J. Anderson
I have already expressed regret on behalf of my right hon. Friend.
asked the Minister of Food what arrangements he has made to ensure that catches of herring for which there is no possibility of immediate sale fresh shall be kippered and not wasted.
The Minister of Food(Colonel Llewellin)
All possible arrangements have been made to kipper any herrings that cannot be sold fresh to the full capacity of the smokehouses.
In view of the reduction in the quantity of protein-containing foods, is it not important to increase the supply of fish?
Yes, Sir, most important.
Will my right hon. and gallant Friend make representations to the Admiralty to release, before October, the buildings and grounds at Lowestoft and Yarmouth which are required for kippering the large herring catch?
That is a question which should be put to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty.
asked the Minister of Food whether he will take the necessary steps to improve the distribution of fish in the rural areas of the North Riding of Yorkshire.
Yes, Sir, so far as I can.
Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that rural areas suffer a great disadvantage compared to urban areas in the matter of fish distribution, because they have no fish shops? Will he make representations to his colleagues that travelling fish merchants should have every facility to make fish rounds?
If it is merely a question of getting a fish licence, in any area where there is a consumer need there would be very little difficulty in getting a licence from my Department to sell fish.
asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that John Donnelly, of 211, Hilton Road, Sunderland, is hawking herring in the township of Crook, and travelling over 40 miles each day to do this work; and if he will arrange for a better distribution of herring in the Crook area and thus cut out this waste of time and petrol.
This man is carrying out useful work in distributing fish, and I see no reason to put him out of a job.
Is the Minister aware that business men in Crook cannot understand why a man should be allowed to travel 40 miles to sell fish on their doorsteps, when they are already selling fish?
I like to see fish sold on doorsteps if we can get the facilities to do it.
But is not the Minister aware that this man is travelling 40 miles to sell fish on the doorsteps of men who are in the trade? [Hon. Members: "Why not?"] Surely the people in business ought to get better distribution which would give them a chance to sell.
This man is also in the trade as a distributor of fish. In regard to other facilities there, there are one fishmonger, 11 fish fryers, and nine fishmonger fryers to serve the Crook and Willingdon area, so there are plenty of "inlets" for fish.
Mr. A. Bevan
Will the Minister make the amenities of Crook available to the whole country?
Mr. Graham White
asked the Minister of Food if his attention has been drawn to irregularities in the supply of potatoes reaching the Merseyside area; and what steps he proposes to remedy the existing shortage.
Yes, Sir, and all possible steps are being taken to ease the position, but I fear that some shortages are likely before the new crop is available in adequate volume.
Would the Minister care, without notice, to make a statement with regard to the prospects of the new potato crop?
The old crop potatoes are now coming towards their end. We knew from the beginning of the year—and I said so frankly to the House—that because of the difficulties of last autumn we should have difficulties at this period with our potatoes. The new Cornish crop is now coming in, and we are deflecting supplies to the areas where there are the least supplies of the old crop potatoes.
Are there any crops coming from Jersey?
No, Sir, not yet.
asked the Minister of Food why Shropshire has been excluded from those areas to receive an allocation of Cornish early potatoes; whether he is aware that Shropshire as a producing county has exported all its potato surplus under instructions of his Ministry; and whether he will take steps to see that Shropshire shall share with other counties in receiving a reasonable allocation of early potatoes.
The stock of old potatoes in Shropshire is still sufficient to meet a fair proportion of the demand and I do not, therefore, propose to allocate Cornish new potatoes to that district at present.
Returning Foreign Visitors (Food Parcels)
Sir William Wayland
asked the Minister of Food what quantity of food raised in this country a Belgian or a Frenchman coming to this country on business can take back as part of his luggage.
After a mere visit here, none, Sir.
Sir W. Wayland
Does that mean that a farmer cannot give to a Belgian friend, who is starving, a bit of ham or bacon?
Yes, Sir, it certainly does.
asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware of the extreme shortage of fruit reaching retailers; to what extent this is due to the diversion of supplies through other channels in which exorbitant prices are obtained; and what steps he is taking to deal with this matter.
Yes, Sir; because the sale of soft fruit has only just started. I have no evidence of sales through any but the normal trade channels, and when we have sufficient evidence that a sale contravenes our maximum price order a prosecution is instituted.
If the Minister has no information what are his enforcement officers and the police doing?
I regret to say that we have had quite a number of prosecutions, mainly of street fruit hawkers, for charging above the maximum prices.
Mr. Evelyn Walkden
Can the Minister tell us why it is possible to buy British strawberries in expensive restaurants at 2s. 6d. per dish or portion, and it is not possible to buy them in ordinary shops, through the normal channels?
I would not accept what the hon. Member says.
Mr. E. Walkden
Strawberries are only to be found in restaurants; they cannot be found in the ordinary markets.
Can the Minister assure the House that his lack of information is not due to any reluctance on the part of the Government to enforce adequate control?
I can certainly inform the hon. Member of that, and tell him that the policy I have pursued as Minister of Food is just the same to-day as it was a year ago.
Can we have a photograph of a strawberry placed in the Library?
We might accompany it by a raspberry, as well.
asked the Minister of Food whether there is any prospect of tomatoes being available for retail in the shops in the County of Durham and the North-east area; whether he is aware they have been obtainable in London for the past month, and, having in mind the recent cut in rationed foods, whether he will endeavour at an early date to have some of the available tomatoes sent North where demand is very large.
Yes, Sir; supplies have already been sent to Durham and the North-east area and as more tomatoes become available more will go.
Is the Minister aware that his answer will give great satisfaction?
Mr. Vernon Bartlett
What steps is the Minister taking to control the distribution of over-ripe tomatoes during the next month?
asked the Minister of Food whether he will put up in hotels, eating-houses, schools and council houses, lists of those foods which contain carbohydrates, fats, proteins and vitamins.
My Department already supplies a list such as my hon. and gallant Friend mentions to schools, domestic science colleges and lecturers.
May I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend whether there is any such list in the House; whether there are only two Cabinet Ministers who know what the list is, and whether man-power does not come before weapon power?
Certainly there is a list in the House, because I have one here. I also have a poster, a copy of which I shall be delighted to send to my hon. and gallant Friend if he knows any place which would like to exhibit it.
asked the Minister of Food whether he will in- crease stocks in retail shops and take other steps calculated to reduce the length of queues in the interests of the health of the people.
Sir Irving Albery
asked the Minister of Food whether he can introduce some arrangement which will reduce the amount of queueing which now has to be done.
So far as the main rationed foods are concerned, the increase of stocks in retail shops would not reduce queues which are caused almost entirely by shortage of staff. As regards those foods which it is impracticable to ration, I regret that shortage of supplies prevents my taking action at present of the kind suggested by my hon. Friends.
Sir W. Wayland
asked the Minister of Food what steps he is taking to relieve the present glut of wheat in storage in the Southern area of England as, in view of the impossibility of accepting further deliveries, all his storage facilities for the use of. the millers being exhausted, farmers are compelled to keep the wheat in their barns, etc., subject to rat and mice attack; and, as further arrivals of Canadian wheat are making the sitution worse, if he will ship more wheat to the Continent to relieve the scarcity in France, Belgium and Holland, etc.
Mr. De la Bère
asked the Minister of Food whether in connection with wheat for milling, he will give an explanation in respect of the difficulties farmers in many parts of the country are experiencing in selling their wheat, the difficulties the public are experiencing in many parts of the country in purchasing cereals, such as wheat flakes; and why, in view of the heavy stocks of wheat available, wheat flakes and other cereals are still to remain on points.
Recent heavy threshings of wheat have caused a temporary surplus in some areas which cannot be immediately absorbed by millers. My Department is purchasing and storing the surplus. Substantial quantities of wheat have been and are being supplied to the liberated countries of Europe. The reason why wheat flakes and other breakfast cereals have to be rationed is not shortage of wheat but shortage of labour in the processing factories.
Sir W. Wayland
Is there any prospect of relief in the near future?
As I have said, the Ministry have now undertaken to purchase and store the surplus.
Meat Ration (Offal)
Sir I. Albery
asked the Minister of Food whether he can do anything to bring about a more equitable distribution of offal, in view of the smallness of the meat ration.
Issues of offal are based on the allocations of ration meat to butchers who, generally speaking, spread their supplies fairly among their customers. I shall be glad to look into any specific complaint of which my hon. Friend may be able to give me particulars.
Sir I. Albery
Does my right hon. and gallant Friend really believe that offal is at present fairly distributed? Is he inviting householders to communicate with him?
I was inviting my hon. Friend to communicate with me.
Sir I. Albery
I shall send my right hon. and gallant Friend a large number of communications.
Sir Charles Edwards
asked the Minister of Food to what extent the meat produced in this country is sent to prisoner-of-war camps and foreign or frozen meat supplied to British people; and will he take steps to see that all the meat produced in this country is consumed by British people.
Home-killed meat is only supplied to prisoner-of-war camps in districts where imported meat is excluded at the request of the Agricultural Departments. The amount of meat involved is infinitesimal.
Ration Reduction (Petition)
Sir C. Edwards
asked the Minister of Food whether he has considered a Petition from the inhabitants of Wattsville, Cross Keys, Monmouthshire, protesting against the reductions in rations and asking that they may be restored, or in creased, especially to men engaged in hard manual work; and what reply he has made.
The answer to the first part of the Question is "Yes, Sir." The answer to the petition is that the reductions would not have been made had supplies been sufficient to maintain rations at their previous levels.
Soap Supplies, London Area
asked the Minister of Food if he is aware of the shortage of soap, soap powder and flakes, in the borough of Bexley and in London generally; and if he will take steps to enable housewives who were unable to get their last month's ration to draw it later.
The answer to the first part of the Question is "Yes, Sir." I am endeavouring to meet the increased demand for soap in the London area. I regret that I cannot adopt the suggestion in the second half of the Question.
Is the Minister aware of the hardship which is caused to housewives in view of the shortage of their ration? During the war period they have had no reserves, and really need their soap ration.
There are great distribution difficulties. In other countries, when people have not taken up their ration, in one period they are allowed to take it up later, but distribution becomes hopeless, and it is not a thing that I could contemplate doing here.
Can the Minister say whether a large number of people now eat soap.
I should not think any.
Is the Minister aware that many retailers were sold out of soap within three days of the commencement of the last rationing period?
The difficulty arose when we had to reduce the soap ration and a large number of people made a rush on the shops at that time. This was quite unnecessary, because there will be enough soap in the shops to meet the ration over the period. This rush put a strain on over distribution system, which cannot stand up to a great many people cashing their coupons on the same day. We are, however, getting the situation right.
Is it not a sine qua non of a rationing system that the Ministry should always honour the ration on time; and is not the necessity for doing so the reason always given for not rationing fish, for instance?
As I have said, there was this rush on the shops. Although the coupon is valid for a considerable period if everybody rushes into the shops in two or three days no system can quite stand up to that. During this period people will get their ration if they do not all rush to buy soap on the same day.
But is it not a fact that when women presented their demands for their ordinary month's ration the soap was not there? Why should not the shopkeepers have the soap, whether a woman wants to get it in the first, second, third or fourth week of the period?
Questions To Ministers
The following Question stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. Kirkwood:
92. To ask the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is yet in a position to announce the setting up of a Naval base upon the Clyde.
Before leaving Questions, Mr. Speaker, would you allow Question 92 to be put? It is a most important Question, the Minister is here to reply to it, and you have several times allowed Questions to be put in this way.
There are a good many Questions between No. 67 and No. 92, and if I allowed the hon. Member to put his Question, all the other hon. Members with Questions on the Paper might want them to be answered also.
Is it not the case that this has been done on one or two occasions?
It has been done only as an exceptional procedure, when the Minister has wished to answer a Question and the House has agreed.
Members Of Parliament (Overseas Travel)
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Donald Somervell)
I ask the leave of the House to make a short statement in regard to overseas travel by Members of Parliament.During the war in Europe it was the view of the Government, which was generally supported by the House, that Members wishing to travel overseas should stand on the same footing as other members of the community, that is to say, exit permits would be granted to them only if it could be established that the proposed journey was in the national interest. As hon. Members are aware, when France and later Belgium were liberated, it was felt to be in the public interest that Members of either House should be able to visit these countries and inform themselves of conditions there. Arrangements were accordingly made for exit permits to be granted freely to Members to travel within the limits of the ballot scheme. Now that hostilities in Europe are over, the Government have decided that the restrictions on the departure of Members of Parliament should be abolished, and exit permits will therefore be granted to Members for travel to any destination on application. It will still be necessary for hon. Members, like other travellers, to pass through the controls at the ports, to carry valid travel documents, and to comply with censorship and currency Regulations. The grant of an exit permit does not imply that a passage will be available, and it will be necessary for a Member to secure the visas or military permits required to enable him to reach and enter the territory he wishes to visit. The number of Members wishing to travel to France and Belgium under the ballot scheme has never reached the number of places reserved for them on the transport available, and I have accordingly come to the conclusion that this Scheme now serves no useful purpose and should be brought to an end. Members of Parliament will be able to travel freely between Great Britain and Ireland on production of a travel permit card or British passport in the same way as the public generally.
Mr. A. Bevan
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred almost exclusively to Europe and Ireland. Will travelling facilities of a similar nature be available to the United States of America, South America and other parts of the world? Will the Minister, in providing these facilities, realise that the House of Commons has imposed upon itself during the war far greater limitations than the House of Representatives or the Senate have imposed upon themselves in America, and that we have been very seriously deprived of travelling facilities during the last three or four years, that a large number of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives have come over to this country and no question has been raised, and that there ought to be no further limitation on the freedom of Members of this House?
Sir D. Somervell
It was because we realised that this restriction had been accepted by the House during past years that the Government have taken the earliest opportunity of doing away with the restriction. What I said applies generally to overseas travel and is not restricted to Europe and Ireland.
Colonel Sir Arthur Evans
Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that currency will be available to Members of Parliament, as required, on a scale comparable with that allowed to senior civil servants?
Sir D. Somervell
That is not a question for me.
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman inform the House whether, as most arrangements are still under the control of Government Departments, Members of Parliament will receive priority in any degree, as otherwise the concession will be valueless?
Sir D. Somervell
I can only deal with what is in my control. I have said that, as far as the exit permit is concerned, the restrictions are abolished. I could not make any general statement on transport facilities.
In the past we have been frustrated by obligations being passed from one Department to another. May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to realise that it is not sufficient for an exit permit to be granted? It is also necessary for the Treasury to permit Members of Parliament who wish to travel, to take cash with them out of the country, otherwise the only persons who can travel are Members who are favoured by the Ministry of Information, or business persons, who have resources abroad, and all the guarantees that he has given are worthless, unless other Government Departments insist upon the Treasury allowing cash to be taken.
Sir J. Anderson
I had no notice of this point being raised but I am in a position to say to the House that I have contemplated that rather special consideration should be given to Members of Parliament in the matter of foreign exchange, because in present circumstances we can fairly presume that Members of Parliament desiring to travel abroad have valid reasons of public interest for doing so.
Sir Herbert Williams
I am not quite clear about this restriction. Is it the case that the restriction is one which Members of Parliament voluntarily imposed upon themselves and that the Executive does not claim the right in any way to prevent their free movement?
Sir D. Somervell
That raises the issue of the exact basis of what was done by the late Government. I think, now that these restrictions are being removed, we can leave that matter for further consideration.
Mr. Ivor Thomas
Does this relaxation apply to Members seeking re-election, between polling day and the meeting of the new Parliament?
Sir D. Somervell
There will not be any Members of Parliament in that period.
Sir Alfred Beit
Will the exemption extend to Members' wives if they wish to accompany their husbands?
Sir D. Somervell
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I wanted to travel on one occasion when there was transport but I was refused a permit, and on another occasion was told I could have a permit but no transport was available?
With further reference to the point raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the delicious limbo between 5th and 26th July will be the only chance that many Members will have of visiting Europe for business or political reasons, and cannot hon. Members of the present House be deemed still to be Members for this purpose?
Sir D. Somervell
None of us will be Members. We may or may not be, of course, after the interval. If cases arise in the interval, they will receive careful consideration, but my statement must be related to Members of Parliament.
Message From The Lords
That they have agreed to— Welsh Church (Burial Grounds)
Emergency Powers (Defence) Bill, Without Amendment.
Water Bill, with Amendments.
Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Bill [ Lords], without Amendment.
Library (House Of Commons)
Special Report from the Select Committee, with Minutes of Evidence and Appendices, brought up, and read [Inquiry not completed]; to lie upon the Table, and to be printed. [No. 98.]
Business Of The House
Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House).—[ Mr. Bracken.]
Business Of The House (Supply)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)
I beg to move,
On Tuesday of last week, the Leader of the House said it would be necessary for the Government to bring forward a Motion to obtain outstanding Supply in a reduced number of days. My right hon. Friend was not then in a position to announce how many days would be given for Supply. That, as he explained, depended on the time required for other business and talks had already begun with a view to ascertaining what measure of agreement might be counted upon in regard to outstanding legislation. There were certain Bills which the Government considered essential and there were other desirable Measures which Ministers in all parts of the House wished to see passed into law before the Dissolution. This desire was particularly manifested on Tuesday morning of last week, when, by general agreement, the Committee stages of the Distribution of Industry Bill and the Forestry Bill were completed. On the following morning the Scottish Grand Committee completed the Committee stage of the Education (Scotland) Bill. During the last two weeks, in an atmosphere of good will and co-operation we have been able to dispose of several important Measures which, ordinarily, would have occupied a very considerable amount of Parliamentary time. We have also, as the House knows, undertaken to bring in the Bill to meet the wish, very generally expresed, that we should deal with the problem of polling day in certain localities where existing holiday arrangements make some change in detail desirable. We hope, too, that it may yet be possible to secure agreement on the Family Allowances Bill. In view of the limited time available, and after allowing for essential legislation and for the other legislation that is desired by the whole House, it is inevitable that we should make a considerable inroad upon the time available for Supply, and what we are proposing in this Motion is to complete outstanding Supply in a further three days, making eight days in all, five having already been taken before Whitsuntide. We shall, of course, require more than the three allotted Supply Days for other related business of Supply. For example, the Committee stage of a Supplementary Vote of Credit for war expenditure is being taken on Friday; the Civil Aviation Supplementary Estimate is being taken to-day, and we shall want to devote two days next week to the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. The public services must be provided for before the Dissolution. In our proposal we are following very closely the precedent of May, 1929, when Supply was completed by a reduction of the time normally available before the Dissolution which occurred in that year. By good will and co-operation we have, as I have said, been able to deal with a number of very useful Measures apart altogether from essential business in an extraordinarily short time, and I very much hope that the course which I am now proposing will commend itself to the House."That for the purpose of concluding the Business of Supply for the present Session, Eight days shall be allotted under Standing Order No. 14 for the consideration of the annual Navy, Army, Air and Civil Estimates, including Votes on Account; and, as respects the present Session, that Standing Order shall have effect as if in paragraph (7) of that Standing Order the Eighth day were substituted for the Twentieth day so allotted."
Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Would my right hon. Friend say whether the Family Allowances Bill is or is not to be proceeded with?
Sir J. Anderson
I am very sorry that my hon. Friend apparently did not hear what I said. I said that we hoped it may yet be possible to secure agreement on the Family Allowances Bill.
Can we be told when, because there are only four days available, and some of us besides the Labour Party are interested in it?
Sir J. Anderson
I am afraid the hon. Lady cannot be told in the course of this speech.
Mr. Attlee (Lime house)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has moved this Motion with his usual combination of businesslike efficiency and sweet reason- ableness. I am not here to quarrel at all with the allocation of the very limited time which we have before the Dissolution, but I think the House should take note that it is being asked to forgo a very important part of its functions, that is, the examination of the Estimates. We do not intend to divide against this Motion, because it is obvious that it is an inevitable consequence of the Prime Minister's choice of date for the General Election, but the House ought to consider what is involved. After all, the power of this House rests on the old principle that "Redress of grievances precedes Supply," and our procedure is designed so that there should be a full 20 days before the granting of Supply in which the Government can be called to give an account of its stewardship, and it is, by custom, the privilege of His Majesty's Opposition to call for the particular Estimates that they desire in order to review Government policy and administration. It is only when a full opportunity has been given for this full review that the Government receives the Supply that it requires, if, indeed, it receives it.There was an occasion in 1895 when the Government were beaten on the Estimates. On that occasion a new Government was formed and the usual amount of time was given for Supply. We are to-day asked to grant the Government their Supply after only eight days instead of 20 days on the Estimates. I recognise at once that this giving away of the rights of the House is not without precedent. It was done in 1929. I looked up that precedent. Unfortunately my vigilant eye was absent at the time, I was in India on the Statutory Commission, and the whole matter seems to have passed sub silentio. However, it is not for me to reprove any lapses in the past. The then Leader of the Labour Party has long passed from our ranks. But if the House is asked to forgo its privileges there should be some compelling reason. To-day it is done by the choice of the Prime Minister. It involves, to use his own phrase, "a constitutional lapse." It seems a little odd that it should be the right hon. Gentleman, who made the other night most groundless allegations against my right hon. Friends of plotting to destroy the liberties of Parliament, who should so shortly afterwards come here with a Motion of this kind. There was, as a matter of fact, no reason whatever why necessary legislation and desirable legislation and all the financial business of this House should not have been concluded in the usual way. Nothing but the decision of the Prime Minister to disregard every consideration but that of the urgings of Party interests has prevented this. I must say I hardly expected that he would regard these constitutional considerations. He had disregarded the convenience of a very great number of people, tired after long and arduous work in the war. He had forgotten the annual holiday, and that has to be put right by this House. He had given scant consideration to the claims of the fighting men to have a full opportunity of considering the issues involved and of casting their votes. He had ignored the question, brought before him very often by my right hon. Friend who was then Home Secretary, of the deficiencies of the register. Perhaps, therefore, it was hardly to be expected that he would consider the historic claims of this House. Nothing seems to have weighed against the clamour of the Conservative Press, or a part of it—not all of it, the less reputable part. But though we must acquiesce I think we should watch very closely these infringements of the rights of the House and register our protest. Of course the procedure of this House is not sacrosanct. In the changing circumstances of the time, after due consideration, after careful consideration of the interests of this House and not of the temporary interests of a party, alterations in our procedure have to be made. It is one of the great advantages of an unwritten Constitution like ours that we can make these alterations. For instance, recently we set up a new procedure to deal with Statutory Orders. I think it was a very welcome improvement and that it works well, and I shall be the last person to suggest that we should be hide-bound by every regulation, every bit of procedure, that seemed good to our ancestors when conditions were very different; but we should be very chary of accepting grave departures from the historical principles of this House, except in times of great emergency and perhaps under the stress of war. After all, this reason for the careful examination of the administration of the Government before granting it Supply goes back to the very roots of our Parliamentary institu- tions. It rests on very cogent considerations of public interest. Let me say that no academic theorist from the Continent would believe, if he saw our Constitution written down, that it could work. It works because of the practical common sense of the British people. They want it to work and make it work, but it would not work unless there was, at all times, a very nice balance between the rights of the Government to legislate and to administer the affairs of this country, and the rights of the House to discuss and oppose legislation, and to examine and criticise administration. The Motion before us curtails the rights of the House, not for any reason of State but for a matter of party convenience.
Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe (Brighton)
The right hon. Gentleman is pointing out all the difficulties that have arisen. I wonder whether he would agree that none of them would have arisen if his party had not quit the Government before the end of the war.
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member, if he did not listen to me on the wireless last night, would look at the speech I made, in which he will see the very cogent reasons given by the Prime Minister as to how we should be careful—[An Hon. Member: "They were not cogent."] I have a higher opinion of the Prime Minister's constitutional propriety in making those remarks than his follower has. I think he was extremely just in the statement he made, in which he said it would be quite wrong to ignore the rights of the electors, but here we have this alteration in our procedure made not for some overriding circumstance arising out of the needs of the State but for party convenience, and for the convenience of a party whose authority rests on an election ten years ago won on a policy which was betrayed, and won by a party which had to be superseded by an all-party Government headed by the man it rejected.
Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
We have to be realists and recognise that the powers that be have decided, and it is fixed, that there is to be an Election in the middle of July. That being so, this Motion is inevitable, but none the less unfortunate. My right hon. Friend said the procedure of the House was not sacrosanct, but I think the ancient privileges and rights of the House of Commons, as representing the people, are a most valuable safeguard for the nation. It is not unreasonable to say that, as expenditure increases, control decreases, and at a time when we have these gigantic commitments, following the expansion of State activities, the taking away from Parliament of these Supply Days is a thing that the House of Commons should not accept without vehement protest. The House of Commons' control of finance is the oldest standing principle of our Constitution. It was achieved by a struggle dating back to the 14th century and it was accepted in the 18th century as established. As time went on that control weakened, and it is an unfortunate coincidence that the Chancellor, of all people, should come to the House and demand this relaxation. It has been stated by Redlich, the well known constitutional authority:
The limiting of the number of Supply Days to 20 dates back only to 27th February, 1906. It is, therefore, really an innovation. There was a time when the number of days allotted to Supply was unlimited, and it was possible, in consequence, to extort concessions as the price of acquiescence to a limitation of days. With the growth of Parliamentary activities the number of Supply Days was fixed at 20, and all the Votes not passed were subject to the Guillotine. This new restriction is unfortunate at a time like this, when we are likely to have great political and economic changes. They are inevitable. The new Parliament will embark on new problems, and it will be full of new men with new ideas and new enthusiasm. They will be impatient of the old traditions of Parliament, and will try to sweep them away. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the Government, who specially claim to be Conservative and the guardians of our constitutional traditions, should have to ask for the sacrifice of the remainder of our Supply Days. I do not want to go over all the polemics which will be inevitable in the Election, but I do thank that the Government frivolously selected 5th July. They did not take into account any of the obstacles or difficulties. When I was asked, I said that if we were to have the Election by 1st July I did not see how it would be possible to have the necessary Supply Days and get the necessary legislation through, and I thought that by having it at an earlier date we could ask the new Parliament to deal with many of these problems. We know about the staleness of the register. I have already had unfortunate experiences in London. In London we suffer particularly, because, owing to the V bombs and the advice of my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Home Security, thousands of working women left London and went into the country."Upon this fundamental principle, laid down at the very outset of English Parliamentary history, and secured by 300 years of mingled conflict with the Crown and peaceful growth is grounded the whole law of finance and consequently of the British constitution."
Mr. Herbert Morrison (Hackney, South)
The Prime Minister advised it.
Sir P. Harris
I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman, because it was sound advice. I myself advised many women to go away. [Laughter.] I do not think the Government should take advantage of their appeal to deprive these women of their vote. Hon. Gentlemen jeer, but I happen to be an honest man. The women came back to London after the blitz, and they find that, as a result of taking the advice of the Prime Minister and the responsible Minister, and as a result of the Election being rushed, they are deprived of the right to vote. I am afraid that in some parts of the country there will be commotion, if not riots. There was no necessity for the Prime Minister to fix 5th July. A more appropriate date would have been October.
Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Sir P. Harris
If my hon. and gallant Friend's intelligence is not great enough to understand why, I will tell him. The present register is full of printing errors and omissions, and an enormous number of people have left their homes and gone into the country for various reasons. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will be surprised to learn also that there are vast numbers of men overseas fighting our country's battles.
I have not forgotten that men are fighting overseas, but it is evident that those who no longer support the National Government have undoubtedly done so.
Sir P. Harris
It is difficult for people overseas to know the personality and character of their candidates, and they cannot take an active part in the Election. There is no section of society more entitled to take an active part in the election of the new Parliament than the members of the three Services. By October more men will have returned to the country, the register will be more up to date, and I hope there will be a better atmosphere abroad.
Major Randolph Churchill (Preston)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that, even if the Election were held in October, a large proportion of the troops serving overseas would still be abroad?
Sir P. Harris
A large proportion would also have returned by that time.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be allowed to continue his speech.
Sir P. Harris
More Servicemen would be on the register by October. If there had been a little more mature thinking on the part of the Government, if the Government had listened less to Lord Beaverbrook, and if there had been more common sense, they would not have had to come to the House and ask it to sacrifice a large number of Supply Days and, at the same time, ask the nation to go to the poll on a stale register, which was out of date almost before it was printed, at a time when Servicemen are still overseas and the nation has hardly recovered from the nervous strain of five appalling years of war.Like everybody else, I have visited my constituency in the last few days. There is no area in the country which suffered more from enemy attack. One-third of it is laid in ruins, and the women particularly stood up nobly to the ordeal. They say to me that it is rather hard, after going through five years of war, with their husbands and sons still overseas and the nation in a disturbed state, to have to go through the ordeal of what one of them, in a street almost cleared away, said to me was very like civil strife. They would have liked to have it in a cooler, calmer atmosphere. Other counsels have prevailed, however, and I am sure that my hon. Friends in the Labour Party and my Party will go into this conflict with confidence. This Parliament has done great work, it has stood the strain of the last few years, and to its credit it has never missed a Sitting. We ought to share pride in that fact. It does not matter how bad the blitz was, and the House of Commons Chamber may have been destroyed, but the House never missed a Sitting. It is unfortunate that that great record should be spoilt by this unconstitutional Motion, which is against all the best traditions of Parliament. It is a bad winding-up to this great story.
Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich)
After the rollicking speech to which we have just listened from the Whig Leader, I have some reluctance in bringing the House back to a sober consideration of the reasonable proposal moved by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have great sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Socialist Party. We all know that there was a great dispute in his party on the way in which this Motion should be dealt with. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), who is conveniently absent from his seat, indicated last week that he intended to make something of a demonstration on this Motion. More sober reasoning subsequently prevailed, and the Leader of the Opposition has made a speech of the most careful and skilful compromise. When I saw the Motion on the Paper and heard the indication given by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale of the opposition that would be offered to it, I wondered what the arguments would be. I think that there are only two lines that the Opposition could possibly take, and both of them have been taken to some extent in the speeches of the leaders opposite.
Major Lloyd (Renfrew, East)
Would my hon. Friend say "election addresses" rather than "speeches"?
I rather fear that there may be something better in their election addresses. One of the arguments must be that indicated by the right hon. Baronet, who talked about this Motion being unconstitutional, although he is not going to divide against it. That argument amounts to this, that you can never have a General Election in the Summer. Until you have reached 5th August and had all the Supply Days it is uncon- stitutional in any event to have a General Election. That is the first proposition, and it will be interesting to see how those who wish to modernise the procedure of Parliament defend it. The second argument is that although there may be some cases where it is proper to have a General Election in the Summer, in this particular year and in these particular circumstances it is entirely improper. Let me say a word on each. But first of all I would say with what pleasure and agreement I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Baronet express their respect for our Standing Orders and for all the constitutional safeguards of Supply Days. I was delighted to hear it. Let me say that I agree with them entirely. I can think of only one thing which would justify this Motion, and that is a General Election. Nothing else whatever would justify dispensing with these Supply Days. That brings me to the question of the General Election.To deal with the first argument, that you should never have an Election in the Summer, I do not believe that thinking men of any party really want to put forward that proposition. I think I am as keen a student, supporter and lover of the British Constitution as any Member of this House, but I think it is a glory of the British Constitution in which all parties have taken pride in the past that it is flexible, adaptable and not rigid, and that, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition rightly said, we make it work. Until that argument is put forward with a little more force than it was by the right hon. Baronet, I shall not assume there is in any quarter of the House an hon. Member who really believes that it is always improper to have a General Election before Supply Days are completed, which must be by 5th August. If there is to be an election then there has to be a Motion of this kind. [Interruption.] I am not quite clear what is the effect of the interruption by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I realise his desire to intervene on all possible ocasions at this time, and it may be that he lacks instructions on precisely what to do to-day.
Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Anybody can see that that is a lot of nonsense. That is what might have been expected from the hon. Gentleman. It is about the cheapest thing I have ever heard.
I think it would have been better if the hon. Gentleman had left the interpretation to his friend who made a quite lucid remark to the House. The other argument is that this particular election is wholly improper. That, unlike the previous argument, is not, on the face of it, nonsense. It is possible that some people might believe it. I wish merely to say that I listened to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the night before last. I was unable to listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition last night, but I had the pleasure of reading a full report of his able speech in to-day's paper. Without going into the merits of either of those speeches, I wonder if, taken together, they gave anybody the impression that a Government with those two right hon. Gentlemen in it would continue in perfect amity until October. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a proposal to the Socialist Party that they should remain in the Government until the conclusion of the Japanese war.
An Hon. Member
Continue the agony, you mean.
Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I will not be reluctant to yield to either of the hon. Members in a minute, but they might wish to hear a little more of my argument, because they may want to make quite a different point if they do. My right hon. Friend made a proposal that the Socialist Party should remain in the Government until the conclusion of the Japanese war. In the opinion of a great many people there was a great deal to be said for that proposal, and indeed a good deal in favour of that proposal had previously been said by right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the Front Bench opposite. The Socialist Party rejected it and, let me say at once, for reasons which I can respect. I can quite conceive that in their opinion there were good and sufficient reasons for rejecting it. All I say—and I commend this to everybody in the House, quite irrespective of party—is that a General Election having been made inevitable, is there anybody contemplating the present state of the world who desires a British Government to conduct affairs either at home or abroad at this juncture without any certainty of life beyond a few months? I cannot conceive such frivolity.While reading with the utmost enjoyment the reports of the Blackpool Conference I have seen two points on the subject of the Election made by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Those two points were these: We think that an Election in July is a perfect scandal. Secondly, we are quite certain that the Socialists will win it. I would suggest that there is nobody quite so simple-minded as to believe that the Socialists believe both those things. If they go on saying that, many people will come to the conclusion that they have not the slightest confidence in either of them.
Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I think the other way.
Although I have been in the House only 10 years, I was sufficiently smart to realise the party to which the hon. Gentleman belonged.
I let you know that the first week.
Let us have some more rollicking.
Perhaps I have bored the hon. Gentleman, although I am not particularly sorry. When I realise exactly the strength of. the arguments put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Baronet, I am able at last to attach meaning to a phrase which puzzled me and puzzled the country when it was used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. Morrison) at the Socialist Conference. On the last day he made an intervention on the subject of what he called "serious nonsense." I think he must have been anticipating the two speeches which preceded mine today.
Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
The hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat has spoken impressively and ingeniously and with that sincerity which prompted his recent well-timed resignation from the Government. His argument would have carried a little more weight, however, if he had not left out about three-quarters of the truth about the subject with which he was apparently dealing with such impartiality. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lime house (Mr. Attlee) was, of course, perfectly correct in observing that the date for this rush Election had been fixed to suit the convenience of the Conservative Party propagandists. These considerations in regard to streamlining the procedure of Parliament, for or against, do not really arise except in that relation. I think there are on all sides of this House hon. Members who are in favour of some modernisation of Parliamentary procedure when it is required in the interests of the House and the efficient carrying out of Parliamentary business. Certainly one of those who was most eloquent in advocating such modifications of procedure was the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), and he found support from all parties on the last occasion on which he raised the matter. But that is not really the issue before us. Here we are asked to assent to this fundamental modification and curtailing of a constitutional right, not in the interests of the House as a whole but in the interests of the Conservative Party propagandists, who realise that their only electoral asset is the personality of the Prime Minister and that it must be cashed in on during the first glow of victory.It is really rather extraordinary that some hon. Members opposite had the effrontery to intervene in order to suggest that it was not the Conservative Party which had fixed the date of the Election, and to suggest that it was the departure from the Government of the Labour and Liberal Parties which made that necessary. I suppose the Tory propagandists have studied fully the lesson contained in that famous Tory handbook, "Mein Kampf," that if you want to deceive the people you must tell a big lie, and go on telling it all the time; but it is time that that particular lie was nailed, and I think it is becoming generally realised that the suggestion that it was anything but the Tory propagandists who fixed the date for the Election is a complete lie. The first and the simplest proof is that the date of the Election, 5th July, was well known to the Lobby correspondents of the Conservative newspapers long before the Blackpool conference. [An HON. MEMBER: "Complete nonsense."] It is not nonsense at all. It is true.
The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Brendan Bracken)
May I interrupt the hon. Member for a moment? He is making a most serious statement. The Lobby correspondents in this House pride themselves upon the fact that they never betray information of any kind to anyone. If the hon. Member has the information that he says he has, could he not give it to us now?
I am very glad to have drawn the right hon. Gentleman to his feet, but I am not to be tempted into betraying the confidence of a colleague. That is a short and simple proof of the duplicity of the Tory propagandists. But the locus classicus, so to speak, is to be found in a speech which has already been quoted here and there—in the newspapers and on the radio. It will do no harm to put a few of the relevant sentences on record in Hansard. I mean the speech of the Prime Minister on 31st October last, when he said:
He was not putting the onus on the Labour or Liberal Parties at all, but was insisting himself that it would be wrong to continue this Parliament beyond that period. But he also said:"We must look to the termination of the war against Nazism as a pointer which will fix the date of the General Election.…Indeed, I have myself a clear view that it would be wrong to continue this Parliament beyond the period of the German war.…I can assure the House that in the absence of most earnest representations by the Labour and Liberal Parties, I could not refrain from making a submission to the Crown in respect of a dissolution after the German war is effectively and officially finished."
"Above all things," he said; how careful they are being! Not only have the Servicemen overseas no proper chance, after the termination of the war in Europe, to consider the various policies of the parties as they would have done if the Election had been held in October, in accordance with the very sensible suggestion of the Labour Party, but the October register would have been, as we all know, a great improvement on the May register, which is admittedly full of imperfections. These considerations—the imperfections of the register, the difficulty about the vote of those returned from evacuation, the building trade workers, and others who have been directed to other parts of the country—were present in the mind of the Tory propagandists when they advised the Prime Minister to insist upon 5th July. I have no doubt at all, in fact it is becoming increasingly clear, that one of the considerations which did weigh with them as among the advantages of an early Election was that the maximum number of working class voters, in the Services and out of them, would be disfranchised."I cannot conceive that anyone would wish that election to be held in a violent hurry.…There must be an interval. Moreover we have above all things to be careful that practically everybody entitled to vote has a fair chance to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 664–667.]
Sir Herbert Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
It was not my intention to speak, but as one who is not having a contested election, perhaps I can take an impartial attitude. It has been very interesting to hear the speeches made from the other side, particularly the one so full of sound and fury which we had from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). The Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party have yet to make out a case for having driven the people to a General Election, despite the fact that the Prime Minister gave them an opportunity to go on until the war with Japan was ended.
Sir P. Harris
Does not the hon. Member realise that the Japanese war might go on for another two years? At any rate, that is quite within the realm of possibility.
Sir H. Holdsworth
I am more convinced than ever on the matter. The party of which the right hon. Baronet is a leader should not have been the first to give notice to leave the Coalition Government at the end of the war. They did so before the Labour Party took action and it seems to me that their attitude now is one of trying to excuse themselves to the electors by shifting the blame upon the Prime Minister.
As the hon. Member is dealing with this point, perhaps he will address himself to the Prime Minister's statement that it would be actually wrong to continue this Parliament.
Sir H. Holdsworth
The Prime Minister's statement was made when it had been announced that the Independent Liberal Party were going to leave the Government. The statement would not have been made if they and the Labour Party had been prepared to stay on until the Japanese war was ended. There is a tremendous body of opinion in the country which feels that hon. Gentlemen opposite have ratted before the job was done.
Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) to call another hon. Member a rat?
Nothing of that kind reached my ears.
Sir A. Maitland
Having regard to the fact that the observation was heard by many hon. Members, may I ask whether it is not the case that one of the Rules of Debate in this House is that there should be no imputation of motives?
If there is anything disorderly in the use of the word in question, may I ask you, Mr. Speaker, which is the more disorderly—its use as a verb or as a substantive?
That is a hypothetical question which I confess I cannot answer off-hand. Instead of all these points of Order, I think we had better get on with the Debate.
Sir H. Holdsworth
I am certain that the hon. Member opposite and I will not fall out about this matter. I am convinced that the right hon. Baronet opposite and his party were responsible for the break-up of the Government. I think there is no getting away from that. I reiterate that hon. Members on the other side know quite well that the people of the country think it is wrong—I do not want to insult anybody—to quit the job, and so they are endeavouring to lash themselves into a sort of enthusiasm.
Mr. de Rothschild (Isle of Ely)
Did not the hon. Gentleman also leave the ship?
Sir H. Holdsworth
No, I did not. What I did was to leave the party because of a difference of opinion, and it is an action which I have never regretted. It would be better if the right hon. Baronet and the hon. Member who has just interrupted me had remained until the job was finished. I am convinced that had they been free to make up their own minds that is what they would have done, rather than having had pressure put upon them from outside. The Leader of the Opposition was wrong constitutionally. In these matters, we do not vote money to the Government but to the Crown. I would be the last person to propose to take away constitutional opportunities from Members of this House to express their feelings and opinions. I am not making a great constitutional point of it, but I would say that all that has taken place so far in this Debate has been a series of election speeches consisting of absolute nonsense.
Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I should like to put one question to the hon. Member. Does he not agree that it is not a matter of voting money to the Crown at all? The Crown already has the money. It is an occasion for Supply; the Crown disperses the money to the various Departments. The important thing is that the Government have the money from the taxpayers at the present, and are illegally getting rid of it.
Sir H. Holdsworth
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I was in error, but it does not affect the argument. I would support every Member of this House in the defence of our privileges as I have done during my 14 years in this House. One of our greatest privileges is to have an opportunity of expressing our grievances before granting Supply. I was protesting against trying to hang a complaint regarding the Prime Minister on to this Debate and was insisting that the blame lies with the right hon. Baronet and his group in the first place, and, in the second place, with those who sit on the Opposition Front Bench.
Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
The Debate has been confined so far to Members of political parties. I think it not inappropriate therefore that the views of an independent Member should now be heard. I wish to raise a point which has not hitherto been brought forward in the discussion and which has worried me very considerably. I should be very glad if the Deputy-Leader of the House could give me an answer. I believe that, in the national interest and in the interests of the world, it would have been better if the General Election could have been postponed until after the end of the Japanese war. Both the international and the domestic issues would have been clearer and I am convinced that till the war with Japan has been won it would be in the national interest that national unity should be maintained.We shall not get national unity to deal with immediate post-war problems if the country is split from top to bottom by a General Election. The Prime Minister himself has said that his preference was not to have a General Election at all until after the end of the Japanese war. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to answer a question. Instead of giving the leaders of the Liberal and Labour Parties the alternative of having a General Election at the end of the Japanese war or now, why did the Prime Minister not say this to them: "I believe that the national interest demands that there should not be a General Election until the end of the Japanese war. I am going to put the national interest first. I prefer, indeed I hope, that the Coalition Government which now exists shall continue till the end of the Japanese war. But if the Labour and Liberal Parties decide that they must leave this Government now, I shall form a Government representative of men of all parties who are willing to support me"—as indeed he has done—"and so long as that Government has the confidence of the House of Commons, in which I have a big majority, I shall continue it in office until the end of the Japanese war." No constitutional point could be raised, because if it is constitutional for this Parliament to be willing to continue its life for another year, or until the end of the Japanese war, if the two Opposition parties agree, why does it become unconstitutional to do so if the majority of this House is willing to support him? Why, therefore, should the national interest be sacrificed because the two parties choose to leave the Government? Why was that alternative not put before them? I believe that the majority of the people of this country would really have preferred to have waited for the Election until the war against Japan had been won. I believe that the interests of the nation demanded this, and I regret very much that that alternative was not presented to the country.
Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Many Members of the House will think that the question which has just been asked of the Government by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) is a rather remarkable question. I think it will also be felt generally that it is an especially remarkable question to be asked by an Independent Member. Independent Members have always claimed that their special function is to represent, as the party machines cannot, in their view, represent, the independent mind of the independent citizen. I think that the independent mind of the independent citizen wishes to be consulted from time to time. I also think that the question came with less grace from an Independent Member than from anyone else. Let me attempt an answer. Let me suggest to the hon. Member that there is all the difference in the world between his suggestion and prolonging the life of Parliament by general consent of the House of Commons, by a Government in which all parties are represented, by a Government in which it is done with the general good will of the whole House. It is a very dangerous thing to do at any time; it is a very dangerous thing to do repeatedly; it is a hopelessly perilous thing to do indefinitely, however you do it, but the very worst way possible to do it, and a denial, I should have thought, of the whole spirit of our representative institutions, would have been to have imposed, by a majority in the House of Commons against an official Opposition—a majority elected in quite different circumstances 10 years ago—a prolongation of the life of Parliament, in circumstances in which everybody realised that the life of Parliament ought not to be prolonged. I do not think that is a suggestion which would commend itself to many people.I do not know whether this question of the date of the Election—whether now or in the autumn—ought really to go on cumbering the minds of the electors for long. For better or for worse, the die is cast. The Election is to take place. For my part, whoever is right or wrong about this issue—I have my own very clear view—I should be very sorry, even if the Government are as wrong as I think they are, to have the issue of this Election decided merely, or predominantly, on the question of whether it ought to be held now or three months hence. The issues at stake in this Election are far more important than that. When we have all had our say on both sides let the issues be determined according to what are the real issues between the parties, not on this single point which, however important it is, is not so important as all that. What are the rights and wrongs of it? I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth) has left the Chamber. He is usually very courteous in the speeches he makes in this House. He is very willing to give way to people who wish to put points to him, and he gave way several times in the course of his speech. There was a point I wished to put to him, but he thought that perhaps it might wait until he had finished, and he said that I would be able to reply to him when he had finished. Though he is not present to hear the reply, perhaps that is not my fault. He did, or attempted, a very gallant thing. Faced with the quotation from the Prime Minister's speech of 31st October last year, he endeavoured to explain it away. This was the point I wished to put to him: He was reminded that the Prime Minister said then that it would be wrong to prolong the life of this Parliament, that is to say, it would be wrong not to have a General Election, when the German war was over. Until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for South Bradford I thought I understood what that meant. I thought it meant what it said—that when there was an end of the war in Europe, when the threat from Germany had been finally done away with, when there was no longer any danger that we might be invaded or defeated, when there was no war left in Europe, that was a good time to have a General Election. He thought last October that it would be wrong to postpone it until after the Japanese war. In other words, he said last October that the invitation which he extended to his Labour colleagues a few weeks ago was an invitation which it would be wrong for them to accept. What then is his complaint? The hon. Member for South Bradford argued that the Prime Minister had said that the Liberal and Labour Parties had already indicated that they were not prepared to go on in the Coalition after that time. First of all, so far as the Labour Party is concerned, that is not true. My recollection of the history of the matter is that the Labour Party reached the decision that it would fight as a separate Party at the General Election, at its annual Conference last December, some months after the Prime Minister's statement of 31st October. Therefore the hon. Member for South Bradford is wrong on that point. The Prime Minister's statement was not made after the Labour Party's statement. But supposing it had been, what difference does it make? The hon. Member for South Bradford suggested that it would be right to defer the General Election until after the Japanese war, provided that the Coalition continued, but if the Prime Minister had intended to make any such condition as that, he should have said so, and there is nothing of that kind to be, found in his speech. His speech is perfectly plain—that when the German war was over but not the moment it was over—wasthe time to have a General Election. When he posed the alternatives of having a General Election at the beginning of July or having it deferred until after the Japanese war, he was putting in those alternatives two propositions, one of which he had himself declared it would be wrong to accept. Therefore, there was only one thing left in the alternatives proposed—early in July. The Prime Minister not only said last October that it would be wrong to wait until the Japanese war was over. He also said it would be wrong to have the Election too quickly. Therefore what the Prime Minister proposed last October was to have it some three months or so after the end of the German war. That is the only possible interpretation of the speech. He said that two things would be wrong, one to wait until after the Japanese war, and the other to rush the Election. What made him change his mind? Quite clearly, when these alternatives were proposed the Prime Minister had changed his mind. He had never withdrawn anything he said on 31st October, but he had changed his mind on the point of whether the Election should be rushed of whether we should wait until October. I cannot altogether follow some of the arguments that are used from the other side. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) said it was quite clear from the broadcast speeches that it was impossible for the Coalition to continue until the autumn. He said that those speeches indicated so deep a division of opinion on important matters that it was impossible to suppose that we could continue in amity even until October or November. What I cannot understand in his speech—the hon. Member was not ready to give way but I will give way to him all the same—is this: If he is satisfied that the division of opinion between the two main component parties to the Coalition had reached a stage that made it impossible for them to continue to collaborate for three months, why does he think they could have continued to collaborate indefinitely?
Mr. H. Strauss
I thought it was clearly put in the Prime Minister's original invitation to the Labour Party. The Prime Minister said in effect—I have not got the quotation, I do not remember the exact words—that you cannot continue simply to a certain date; you must have some overriding great objective, and then you would pull together. I accept that. I do not really doubt the ability to continue in amity. What I doubted was the ability to continue as an efficient Government in the absence of such an objective.
I am afraid that I still do not understand. All that was surely just as clear on 31st October as it is now, and yet on 31st October it did not seem so to the Prime Minister. He was then contemplating the very thing which the hon. Member for Norwich says is impossible. The hon. Member does not attempt to answer the question which I put to him: if it is not possible to continue as a workmanlike team with a definite objective or anything else for three months, why is it possible to do it indefinitely? The hon. Member shakes his head. I remember a story told in the profession about an advocate seeing his opponent shake his head, saying, "Gentlemen of the jury, you will observe that my opponent shakes his head, but when you have known him as long as I have, you will know that when he shakes his head there is probably nothing in it." I do not know why the hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the position seems to me quite clear. You can continue for three months, because you have agreed that it would be wrong to part until you had a proper Register and until the immediate excitement of the end of the war had disappeared; because, for a variety of reasons, an Election in October would be fairer than an Election in July. Having decided that, you could continue for another three months, as you have done for five years. The hon. Member says that it would be impossible. I do not know then his answer to the question, how could the Government hang together for an indefinite period?
Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
There is a better version of the head-shaking story. It concerns an hon. Member on the Front Bench opposite, who said, "I hear my hon. Friend behind me shaking his head." As to the conditions of Coalition, I thought my hon. Friend made the distinction plain enough between going on for a term of months and going on for an object agreed by both sides to be greater than any points of difference.
It cannot be dismissed as lightly as that. In June, 1940, there were, as there have always been and as I suppose there always will be, very deep differences of social, economic and political principle between the Conservative and Labour Parties. In June, 1940, there was an overriding objective which enabled them to sink those differences.
That was the case in June, 1940, but not in February, apparently.
In November, 1944, we had the Prime Minister's interpretation of what the common, overriding objective was. He said, in plain terms, that the overriding consideration which brought, the parties together and justified the prolongation year by year of a Parliament whose life should have long expired, was the German war. When the German war came to an end the common objective had disappeared. There was no longer an overriding objective of that kind in the Prime Minister's opinion, and that was the proper time to part, subject to the other consideration which he urged, and which was commonly accepted, that there ought to be a decent interval between the end of the German war and the actual date of the Election. It is that decent interval which he has abandoned—the decent interval which he himself recommended, and which, three weeks ago, he forsook.What we are left wondering, and what the country is left wondering is, what made him change his mind? We say that there is only one thing that could possibly make him change his mind, and that was the consideration, mistaken as we believe it to have been, of party advantage. Somebody convinced, not the leader of the nation, not the leader of the Coalition, not the leader of the national war effort, but the leader of the Conservative Party, that it would suit that party better to abandon the period which he had contemplated, and which everybody had accepted in October last. I think he was mistaken in so thinking. I think that when Declaration Day comes, it will be clear that he was mistaken in so thinking. There was no difference, such as the hon. Member for Norwich thought there was, between thinking that the Conservative Party chose this date because it suited them, and thinking that it would turn out later not to suit them, at all. It is not impossible to hold that the Conservative Party chose the date because they put party advantage before the national interest, and, secondly, that they were mistaken in their assumption of where the party advantage lay.