asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the delay which must inevitably occur before the passing into law of a comprehensive scheme of National Insurance, he will forthwith introduce measures to bring the exceptionally low rate of sickness benefit into conformity with unemployment and other benefits, and at the same time extend to all cases of sickness, provision for dependants as recently made available in the case of tubercular patients.
Partial legislation on this matter in advance of the main insurance Measure would be unsatisfactory, but it is the Government's intention so to frame the main legislation that the earliest practicable opportunity may be taken of bring into effect, as part of a general plan, the improvements in rates and conditions of health insurance benefit which it will propose.
:Can the Minister say when the comprehensive Measure is going to be introduced? Does he realise that the proposals now under consideration mean that accident benefits are, quite rightly, basically, 45s. a week, plus allowances to dependants and so forth, whereas the sickness benefits are 18s. a week for single men, 15s. for a spinster and 30s. for a married woman?
I fully appreciate that. It is proposed to introduce the major Bill early in the New Year, and to press forward to pass it into law during this Session.
Means Test (Old Age Pensions)
asked the Minister of National Insurance the number of old age pensioners applying for the supplementary old age pension; the cost of abolishing the means test for this class of applicant; and whether it is his intention to make this concession before the major social insurance improvements promised in the King's Speech.
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether it is proposed to continue to apply a means test to old age pensioners during the coming winter.
At the end of August, supplementary pensions were in payment covering the needs of about 1,600,000 pensioners. If old age pensions for all persons now eligible for them were assessed on the present supplementary pension scales, including the allowance for rent, without a means test, the extra annual cost immediately would be about £100,000,000, rising rapidly with the growth of the aged population. In reply to other Questions on the Order Paper today, I have indicated the proposals of the Government as to the time by which it will be possible to improve the fixed pensions. But I ought to make it clear that, if reductions in the amounts now being paid in many cases are to be avoided, opportunity must still be left for pensions supplementary to the fixed amounts to be paid where the circumstances of the applicant are such as to make this necessary.
Sea Fishermen (Unemployment Benefit)
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he will expedite the formulation of a special scheme for the purpose of making adequate unemployment benefit available to all sea fishermen, with special reference to the anomalous position of share fishermen.
This is one of the matters to which the Government will give full consideration in framing the provisions of the main Insurance Bill to be introduced early next year. In the meantime, I cannot go beyond what is said on this subject in Part I of the White Paper on Social Insurance, paragraph 78 (iii), Cmd. 6550.
But does the Minister realise that the White Paper is wrong when it excludes fishermen from Class 1 on the ground that they control their own unemployment?
I can only say that the matter will be given further consideration and that our proposals will eventually be embodied in the major Bill.
Old Age Pensions (Increase)
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, pending the coming into effect of a comprehensive scheme of national insurance he will take immediate steps to bring about a substantial increase in old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions, blind pensions and other forms of contributory and non-contributory State benefits.
asked the Minister of National Insurance when he expects to introduce his proposals for increasing old age pensions; and if he proposes to include all pensions, both on a contributory and a non-contributory basis, in order to encourage thrift and consider a provision for abolishing every type of means test.
asked the Minister of National Insurance if he is aware that the present basic rates for old age and widows' pensions are quite inadequate; and if he will take immediate steps to increase them.
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he proposes to increase the allowances to old age pensioners during the coming winter.
asked the Minister of National Insurance when he proposes to increase the basic rate of old age pensions.
Old age pensions and pensions for widows over 60 or with children are at present being supplemented by the Assistance Board in cases of need, in accordance with Regulations approved by Parliament in December, 1943. These lay down a scale of payments for general guidance and give the Board a wide discretion to deal with the individual circumstances of pensioners. About 1,600,000 out of a total of over 4,000,000 pensioners are at present receiving supplementary pensions, amounting annually to a total of £60,000,000.The Government intend substantially to improve the basic rates of pension to be payable on retirement and so to reduce the need for supplementation. Proposals to this end, which will also include improvements in the rates of a number of other national insurance benefits will be contained in the Bill which it is hoped to introduce early next year and to pass into law during the present session. A considerable time will be required to bring into full operation all the far-reaching changes contemplated, and the Government have considered various possibilities of improving the pension rates at an early date. They have come to the conclusion that a Bill dealing separately with pensions would be unsatisfactory. It could only be partial in application; it would delay the bringing into effect of the general insurance scheme and would not accelerate the payment of improved pensions by any considerable period. They have, therefore, decided to proceed as rapidly as possible with the general insurance Bill and to make special arrangements to bring its pensions provisions for existing classes of old age pensioners who have retired, including widow pensioners over 60, into operation at a date substantially earlier than that at which it will be possible to operate the scheme as a whole. Provision will be made for the payment of the increased rates under these special arrangements during the coming financial year, and it is intended to introduce them as soon as is possible after the Bill has reached the Statute Book.
Is the Minister aware that, while his reply will give great satisfaction, there are still many widows, many old people and many blind people and other members of the community who are living in conditions of great distress, and that many of them feel that they are entitled to a reasonable minimum standard of living without the necessity of replying to inquiries of a kind which they feel are infringements on their personal rights and freedom; and will he consider reviewing the matter?
I fully share the concern and anxiety which the hon. Member has expressed, but I would ask hon. Members to realise that they are faced with the dilemma with which I am faced myself. There are two choices before us—either a series of temporary Measures to deal with pensioners and sick persons, or pressing forward with the main Bill. I have come to the conclusion, and the Government have come to the conclusion, that the right thing is to press forward with the main Bill and bring it into operation, and that for two reasons. First of all, temporary Measures, in my short experience in this House, are never satisfactory. They always give rise to anomalies. There is a second reason. If we have temporary Measures, we shall have to postpone the bringing forward of the major Bill, and I would ask hon. Members to realise that all this social legislation has to be dovetailed, and, as a matter of fact, the Bill we are discussing to-day and which we hope will get its Second Reading, cannot come into operation, until the major Bill is passed. For those reasons, the Government have arrived at this decision, which, I am certain myself, is the best one in the interests of those affected.
Will the Minister say whether the Cabinet have now agreed as to what shall be the basic rate of increase for old age and widows' pensions, and, if so, as it is the general desire on all sides of the House, why should it hold up the major Measure to introduce something which would help these people this winter?
A temporary Measure could have been passed at any time during the last two years. I have said that the Government have arrived at the conclusion that we have had enough temporary Measures dealing with old age pensions, and that it is time we put the matter on a really permanent basis.
Can the Minister say whether, in relation to the increases which have been agreed upon, the old age pensioners will have any chance at all of benefiting by them during this winter?
No, Sir. This new basic pension cannot come into operation until the main Bill is passed, and, therefore, I am afraid that that will not be possible this winter because the legislation has to be passed first.
If the old age pensioners have to wait for their increases until the big insurance Measure is through, can my right hon. Friend give us an approximate date when the increases will be paid, and if this is likely to be later than the winter, is there any form of Parliamentary procedure, other than a temporary Measure, which might be used to secure for these old people a flat rate increase before the onset of the coming winter?
It is not possible at the moment to give a date and when I give a date it will be one upon which I shall be perfectly satisfied myself that I can begin to pay the new basic rates. With regard to the other points, I can only repeat what I have said that, having carefully considered the matter, we have come to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to begin temporary Measures all over again, and that right policy is to press forward quickly with the major legislation. I can give an undertaking that the new pension rates will begin to be paid at the earliest possible date after the main Bill has reached the Statute Book.
Will the Minister indicate if it is the intention of the Government to make provision in the new Bill for persons who are now excluded from pension, such as widows whose late husbands were not contributors under the present scheme, or elderly persons who are not entitled now to old age pensions?
I would ask the hon. Member to put that Question down, as it raises another point not included in the Questions which I have just answered.
Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the supplementary pensions to which he made reference are only given after a means test has been instituted? Could he take steps immediately to withdraw such a means test, so that those applying for a supplementary pension can be granted it?
We have come to the conclusion that the right way of doing this is to increase the basic pension.
Does that mean that a Labour Government is wedded to the means test?
asked the Minister of National Insurance what steps he proposes to take to correct the anomaly in the Family Allowances Act, 1945, under which allowances are not paid in respect of the children of naturalised British fathers.
The Family Allowances Act makes these allowances payable in cases where the father is a British subject born in the United Kingdom, and in any other cases to which payment is extended by Regulations made under powers conferred by the Act. Regulations will be made and laid before Parliament in the near future, and will deal, among other cases, with those in which the claimant is a naturalised British subject.
Health Insurance Contributors (Old Age Pensions)
asked the Minister of National Insurance what percentage of national health insurance contributors reach the age of 65 and actually receive the old age pension.
Information precisely in the form asked for by my hon. Friend is not available but approximately 95 per cent. of the claims for old age pensions received by my Department are successful.
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider, in bringing in his new Bill, reducing the age, as there are numbers of old people now who have paid contributions to this fund for half a century who die before they are entitled to get their pension?
The age at which pension will become payable will, of course, be provided in the new Bill. At the moment I cannot make a statement about what the position will be finally.
Police Forces, Surrey (Amalgamation)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will now revoke the wartime amalgamation of the Reigate Borough Police with the Surrey County Police.
The future of the Reigate borough police force cannot be considered in isolation from that of other forces amalgamatedunder the emergency powers. This general question has been receiving the consideration of the Govern- ment; and I hope shortly to be a position to put my proposals before Parliament.
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the amalgamations made under Defence Orders are based on wartime considerations which have ceased to operate?
The amalgamations made were under special powers granted during the war. The question of what is the suitable size for a police force is one that we shall submit to this House for their consideration in the new Bill.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has now been able to investigate the causes of the extensive disfranchisement of service men at the General Election, including many who had taken the necessary steps to be included in the register; and if he will make a statement.
Figures to show the proportion of the service electorate who voted either by post or by proxy will be available shortly, and as I indicated in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend on 23rd August I intend to lay this information and will include with it an explanatory statement.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider providing in all polling booths a table, pen and ink, and registration forms, so that would-be voters who discover that they are not registered as voters can at once put their names forward for inclusion on the next register.
As electoral registration is dependent on the address for which a person is registered in the National Register on the qualifying date this proposal would require legislation. It would, furthermore, cause considerable inconvenience to presiding officers in the discharge of their statutory duties at a polling station.
Arising from that answer, is it not a fact that now people are allowed to go to registration officers and put their names down?
My experience of polling stations between 7 and 9 p.m. is that this would cause very considerable additional congestion and might lead to the practical disfranchisement of a number of people whose names are on the register.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in the light of experience gained in the preparation of the Registers of Electors under war-time legislation, any changes in the procedure and machinery of registration are contemplated.
As the answer is rather long and detailed, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
Following is the answer:
The conclusion of hostilities has made it necessary to review the arrangements of electoral registration with a view to deciding what changes if any are needed to meet peace-time requirements and to lay the basis for a permanent peace-time system of registration. For the purpose of this review, the Government proposes to appoint at once a representative committee consisting of Members of Parliament, the chief party agents, electoral registration officers, and Departmental representatives, to consider and advise what, if any, changes should be made in the machinery of electoral registration, and to what extent use should continue to be made of postal and proxy voting. It is hoped that this Committee will report at an early date.
In the meanwhile, there are certain matters in regard to electoral registration on which, in the light of experience, immediate legislation is required. Under the Representation of the People Act, 1945, the register to be produced on the 15th October will last for twelve months for local government purposes, but for parliamentary purposes it will last only until the end of the year. If a Parliamentary election or by-election were initiated in the period between January and September of next year, an ad hoc register would have to be prepared under the Parliamentary (Elections and Meetings) Act, 1943, and would have to be prepared on the basis of a two months' residence qualification unless the amending Act of 1944, which expires at the end of this year, were continued by Parliament. This amending Act had to be passed because it was found that with the staff at their disposal, electoral registration officers could not under-
take the complicated procedure necessary to prepare the register on the basis of a two months' residence qualification. The Government are satisfied that it would be quite impracticable next year to prepare a register on this basis. Electoral registration officers have other urgent local government duties to perform and, experience gained in the preparation of the May and October Registers, has shown that with the shortage of printing facilities, which may continue for some considerable time, the preparation of an ad hoc register between January and September of next year would be out of the question.
The Government propose, therefore, to introduce at once a Bill to give the October Register a twelve months' validity, and to provide for the preparation of a Register in October next year on the same basis as the present October Register, viz. the qualifying date will be the 30th June, and the Register will be published on the 15th October, 1946. As the Register will have a twelve months' validity, and in order to avoid disfranchising persons who move from their registered electoral address after the qualifying date, it is proposed to meet this difficulty by an extension of postal voting facilities. The opportunity will, at the same time, be taken to give effect to the recommendation made by the Speaker's Conference that persons physically incapacitated should be enabled to vote by post.
The Government are also anxious to enfranchise at the earliest opportunity members of the Forces and merchant seamen who will not be included in the October Service Register, either because a declaration was received subsequent to 30th June, which was the qualifying date, or because no declaration was made prior to a person's discharge subject to that date, with the result that he would not be included in the October Civilian Residence Register. Accordingly, the Bill will provide for the compilation of a supplementary Service Register to be published in the early part of next year, which will contain the names of persons whose declarations were received between 30th June and the end of 1945. This Register will also contain the names of persons discharged between these dates, if they are not already entered in the October Service Register.
One further item must be included in this Bill. Increasing difficulty is being experienced in ensuring the attendance at the Courts of a sufficient number of jurors, because the present jury lists are completely out of date having been compiled in relation to the Register published in November, 1939. A provision will, therefore, be inserted in the Bill for the compilation next year of fresh jury lists to be effective in 1947. This is a brief outline of the Bill which the Government consider must be passed before the end of the year to cover the period while the details of permanent peace-time legislation are being worked out. It will be introduced as soon as it can be drafted.
Defence Regulation 18B (Exdetainees)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will establish special procedure which will enable persons formerly detained under Regulation 18b to appear in the High Court with a view to clearing their reputations after public examination of the evidence which occasioned their detention.
No, Sir. As has been frequently pointed out, these persons were not detained for contraventions of the law, and I do not think the examination of their cases by a court of law could produce any conclusion helpful either to the public, or to the individual detained under the Regulation.
Will the Home Secretary agree that although Regulation 18b has been revoked, a stigma remains, and injustice may have been done to a number of British subjects who have never been brought to trial? In the circumstances, is he prepared to leave it at that?
This matter was dealt with in a judgment by Lord Findlay after the last war where he pointed out—and these are his words—
"It seems obvious that no tribunal for investigating the question whether circumstances of.suspicion exist warranting some restraint, can be imagined less appropriate than a court of law."
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, then, he proposes to provide those people who have been detained at any time with the real evidence on which they were detained?
Will the Home Secretary consult the present Lord Chief Justice as to whether it might not be possible to set up some procedure which would do this work?
I do not think there is any need to do that.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment.
Civilian Gas Masks (Disposal)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has prepared for the collection and subsequent disposal of civilian gas masks and civil defence respirators; and when these plans will be brought into operation.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether instructions can now be given to the public as to the disposal of respirators.
To avoid unnecessary use of man-power and storage space, for which the demand is considerable, I have not asked local authorities to collect gas masks for the time being. I am advised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and of Aircraft Production that there is no shortage of the material for remanufacture. I would, therefore, repeat the request made to the public by my predecessors to continue to keep their gas masks safe and free from damage.
Is the Home Secretary aware that the continued retention of this equipment in every home would indicate to most householders a very considerable degree of bureaucratic inefficiency?
I would not think so. I should have thought it would have reminded them that man-power is exceedingly short, and that storage space is required for manufacturing and the export trade to an extent that makes it impossible to collect these gas masks at the moment.
Re-Distribution Of Seats
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made with regard to the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference concerning two-member constituencies; and when he anticipates that action will be taken in the Parliamentary division of Brighton.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he proposes to introduce legislation to proceed with the re-distribution of seats at an early date as recommended by Mr. Speaker's Conference.
:As announced on Tuesday by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, it is intended tomorrow to move approval of a draft Order, fixing 15th October next as the date from which the machinery for the first general re-distribution of seats shall operate, in accordance with the House of Commons (Re-distribution of Seats) Act, 1944. This Act provides that when the first general re-distribution of seats takes place the Boundary Commission shall abolish double-member constituencies coming under the Act in any case where a local inquiry does not reveal particular circumstances justifying the retention of the double-member seat.
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain, for the benefit of those Members who were not here in the last Parliament, that this provision relates only to those parts of the Speaker's Conference recommendation which referred to double-member seats and certain small seats, and does not involve a general re-distribution of the seats of the country?
I would not like to be quite so sweeping in the statement that I have made. Under the Order which we are going to ask the House to make to-morrow the whole of the seats of the country will be reviewed with relation to a standard-size constituency.
Will the House have an opportunity of considering the principles that will underlie the future distribution, about which there may be some argument?
:There was a Re-distribution of Seats Measure passed in the last Parliament, which did deal in general terms with the issue raised by the hon. Member. Perhaps he will look at it and refresh his memory. If he does he might find that the questions he wants to raise have already been settled.
Taxi-Cabs (Canopy Signs)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plan to make it easier by day and by night to tell whether a taxi-cab is free or engaged.
:I assume that the Question refers to the Metropolitan Police District. At the suggestion of the Commissioner of Police, a larger and improved canopy sign for taxi-cabs is now being prepared. This will show the words, "For Hire," and the intention is to make it clearly visible by day as well as by night. If the new sign is found suitable, it is proposed to make it a compulsory fitment to all new cabs; and the question whether any similar action can be taken as regards existing cabs will not be overlooked.
As taxi-cabs are already always engaged, why go to this expenditure?
:I have had a bit of luck on rare occasions.
Dartmoor Prison (Use As Borstal Institution)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will reconsider his decision to use part of the convict prison at Dartmoor as a Borstal institution.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will reconsider his decision to make Dartmoor prison a temporary Borstal institution.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware of the dismay caused by the suggestion that His Majesty's prison, Dartmoor, be used as a Borstal institution for boys; and why Dartmoor was selected for this purpose.
:While apologising for the length of the answer, I am glad to have this opportunity of making a statement to Parliament on the subject. The increase in crime, unfortunately apparently inseparable from time of war, among youths has placed so severe a strain on the Borstal system that unless immediate and drastic steps are taken the training on which the system is based will be denied at the most critical stage to those who, the Courts have decided, are in need of it.The simple fact of the present situation is that owing to the large increase in the number of youths committed by the courts for Borstal training and the shortage of accommodation, some 600 youths are at the present time being detained in ordinary prisons awaiting vacancies in Borstal institutions. Thus they are being kept in conditions where they are being denied any form of training for an average period of about four months. Immediate action is required to remedy this most unsatisfactory state of affairs. To make full provision for the increased numbers, several additional Borstal establishments will be required and the Prison Commissioners have examined and are examining every possible method of finding suitable accommodation. In particular they are hopeful of obtaining some camps in the near future, but the mere obtaining of camp accommodation is not a solution to the immediate problem. Camps have to be equipped and staffed and living accommodation must be made available for married staff and their families. Such accommodation is not generally available in camps or their immediate neighbourhood. To build such accommodation must necessarily take time, to say nothing of the fact that it would be out of the question to give first priority to the provision of houses required for the accommodation of the staff to be employed in such camps. I was left, therefore, with the problem of making use of some building immediately available to the Prison Commissioners and of adapting it for Borstal purposes. This in the past has been done in the case of Portland and other prison establishments which have been converted into Borstal institutions. The only building available is Dartmoor, where there are facilities for outdoor work, for workshop training and for exercise and recreation, and where there is accommodation for the staff, including married staff. As regards the isolation of Dartmoor, it is of course difficult to com- bine the advantage of proximity to a large town with the advantage of a situation where there are opportunities for outside work, and some of the most successful Borstal institutions—for example, that at the North Sea Camp—are in isolated situations. While, therefore, I am in full sympathy with those friends of the Borstal system who are anxious that the premises shall be the best possible, I am satisfied that it would be wrong by failing to make use of the only establishment at which Borstal training can be carried out at once, to continue the present evil of detaining youths for long periods in prisons where it is impossible to give them the kind of training which they ought to be receiving or, to avoid this, revert to the practice of early release before the training has had a fair chance of being effective, a policy which, when tried during part of the war, was severely criticised by judges and chairmen of Quarter Sessions.
Does the Home Secretary think that if he had tried to find a more unsuitable place than Dartmoor for a Borstal prison he could possibly have found one?
Yes, Sir, I think there are several worse.
The House of Commons.
:When dealing with these lads how is it that the official mind turns on prison, instead of taking over some of the big country houses which could be used for their training? Would the Home Secretary consider spending a few months in prison himself to see what it is like?
I have sufficient experience of prison from the outside to feel quite sure that I should not benefit by a course inside. I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman that we are examining every possibility, and that we shall use any building or estate that is suitable. In addition to accommodation for the lads, however, we must have sufficient accommodation for the married staffs we shall have to employ.
Will the Home Secretary give an undertaking that this step will be regarded as a temporary expedient, and that as soon as other accommodation is available Borstal will be moved from Dartmoor?
As soon as sufficient other accommodation is available we shall move the boys from this place. As a convinced supporter of the Borstal system during 22 years' experience of Quarter Sessions, I came to this conclusion with the greatest reluctance. But I was faced with the alternative of seeing the whole system break down, which I could not contemplate.
Has my right hon. Friend considered the question of using some of the very large hospital accommodation which was built for the American Forces in the Shrewsbury area and elsewhere, which would be big enough to house all those who had to be housed, including staff?
As I indicated in my answer, we have a number of camps under active consideration, and perhaps we shall use some of them. I am faced with the necessity of getting these 600 boys out of prison, where they are sewing mail bags, which is not any part of the Borstal system of training.
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider using certain well equipped and large aerodromes which are no longer required for Service purposes?
That is covered by the answer I gave to the last supplementary question.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Dartmoor has already been condemned as unsuitable for criminals? How has he come to the conclusion that these conditions are, even temporarily, suitable in this case? Surely he can find something better.
I have been quite frank with the House, and I will go so far as to say that when this was first put up to me I marked the paper, "I am revolted by this suggestion."
So are we.
I am glad to know that for once my hon. Friend and I are in agreement. I am faced with the fact that either the Borstal system must break down, and these lads kept in prison, or I must use this alternative which, so far as I have been able to discover, after the most diligent search, is the only one available.
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of using redundant R.A.F. hostels or some of our aerodromes in East Anglia for this purpose while this difficulty continues?
As the right hon. Gentleman has said that these boys are at present incarcerated in cells, can he say whether they will be confined at Dartmoor in other than cells? Is he aware of the climatic conditions of Dartmoor in winter, and will be consider, as this gaol was built for prisoners-of-war in the years between 1812–14, whether it is not more suitable for demolition than for use as a Borstal institution?
If I can get the boys there, they will be employed in outdoor work on the farm, and in some of the excellent workshops there, where they can be given some training. As it happens, I am particularly well acquainted with the climatic conditions of Dartmoor, because I did most of my courting there. Dartmoor is the name of a very large expanse of country which contains more than the prison. These lads will get the chance which the courts desire them to have, and the moment I can find other suitable accommodation for them they will go to it. It would be a disastrous thing to keep 600 youths—and it will be an increasing number—doing nothing more than the jobs that can be provided for them under the present circumstances.
The following Question stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. JOHN PATON:
"To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state the highest and lowest figures of rainfall in Prince town during the last 20 years and the average annual rainfall during the same period; and if these figures were considered before he decided to use Dartmoor Prison as a Borstal institution."
I wish to ask Question 32.
The figures immediately available, which are based on—
I must ask the hon. Lady whether she is asking a Question which she herself has put on the Order Paper?
I understood, Mr. Speaker, that I could ask a Question in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton). I apologise.
I am afraid not. The Question can only be asked by the Member whose name is on the Order Paper.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, before making the decision to abolish British Summer Time, he took into consideration the campaign to increase coal production.
Does the Minister's answer mean that there is no extra coal used if all the lights are put on one hour earlier, or is it that there is no co-ordination between one Department and another?
It means neither of those things.
National Fire Service
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that many members of the N.F.S. are anxious to obtain their release and to return to their pre-war employment; and if he will indicate how and when they will be able to do so.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now in a position to give a statement on the reorganisation of the N.F.S., particularly with reference to recruitment and demobilisation.
:My Department has for some time been engaged on measures for the progressive reduction of the N.F.S. strength and I recently received a deputation from the Fire Brigades Union which made representations on this, among other matters. I think it is clear that the strength of the Service is now reaching a point at which further releases must, in the main, be balanced by further recruitment. I am well aware of the desire of many members of the Service to obtain their release and will make a further statement on the matter as soon as I am in a position to do so.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say if he intends that service in the N.F.S. shall be on a voluntary basis or not?
:Under the new scheme of recruitment which I hope to bring in and submit to the House and the local authorities, undoubtedly, it will be voluntary.
Is the Minister aware that in many parts of the country there are a great many redundant N.F.S. personnel, and will they be able to come out of it?
Running a fire service is very much like running a war. You do not know where the fire is going to break out and until it does break out people may appear to be redundant, but when the fire is in progress they are sometimes found to be deficient in numbers.
Is the Minister aware that considerable dissatisfaction has arisen at the method of applying demobilisation in the N.F.S. in the past year or two?
There is some dissatisfaction, and these men are anxious to get back to their ordinary vocations. I sympathise with them, but my duty, at the moment, is to maintain the Service, and I endeavour to see that between man and man justice is done.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am rather puzzled by his answer?
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any statement to make on the future of the N.F.S.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can give a date for the return of fire brigades to local authorities.
I am not yet in a position to add anything to the answer given on 23rd August to my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar), except that consultations with the local authorities are in progress and I shall be meeting representatives of the London County Council and the Local Authority Associations on the 17th instant.
Can the Minister give an indication of when he will be able to make his statement on this matter? There is a feeling in the country that there is a good deal of redundancy, and there is disquiet in some parts of the country about it.
Taking the country as a whole, there is no redundancy. Our real problem is shortage of the necessary personnel. As soon as I have had this conference with the L.C.C. and the Local Authority Associations, I shall be in a position to consider the future of the Service, and I hope to make a statement at as early a date as possible.
Hotels, London (Evening Dress)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that some of the London hotels propose to refuse admission to diners who do not attend in evening dress; that many have lost their evening clothes as a result of enemy bombing and cannot now replace them; and, in view of the hardship which will arise if this rule is brought into force, whether he will instruct the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis to object to the renewal of the licence of any hotel which refuses to provide dinner for anyone by reason only of the failure of the proposed diner to wear evening dress.
I have seen paragraphs in the Press, reporting that certain hotels have refused, or proposed to refuse, admission to diners who are not in evening dress, and expressing the view that this is not a reasonable attitude to adopt in present conditions. With that view I entirely agree, and I hope the criticisms already made and the publicity, which will no doubt be given to the hon. Member's Question, will have the desired effect. But I see no need for action on my part: I think the most effective remedy lies with the patrons of the hotels in question.
Austrians And Germans (Description)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider an alternative to the description Enemy Alien for those Austrians and Germans who have proved by military service or in other ways their loyalty to this country and to democratic principles, particularly in view of the offence it gives at the present time to many such persons.
The expression "enemy alien" merely connotes a foreigner who is the subject of a State at war with His Majesty and has no necessary reference to the political sympathies of those so described. The description is used only in formal documents in which technical accuracy cannot be avoided. Except in a few cases personal to the individuals, all the Germans and Austrians who have proved their loyalty to the cause of the United Nations have been exempted from the special restrictions applicable to aliens of enemy nationality, and are treated in the same way, and are subject only to the same restrictions, as aliens of Allied nationality.
Can the Minister say whether it is not a fact that at one time in connection with Austrians and Germans there was a number who were entitled to no description on their official documents?
I hope the answer I have given will indicate this is merely a technical definition to which we are bound to adhere.
Can the Minister give me an answer to the question which I asked at one time of the last Prime Minister without success: How are we to be enabled to distinguish our friendly enemies from our hostile friends?
I would hesitate to say that my powers of improvisation were greater than those of the last Prime Minister.
Even though it is a technical definition, is it not grossly unfair to the Austrians who were among Hitler's first victims, and is it not in effect recognising the Anschluss and recognising Hitler's seizure of Austria?
It recognises the facts of the situation at the time we went to war.
Allied Nationals (British Wives)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that British girls who have married members of Allied nations serving in or with the R.A.F. and other Services, now have to register and report as aliens; and whether, in view of the recent Australian decision on this matter, he will reconsider the position.
:Under the law of this country, a British woman who acquires, by reason of her marriage, the nationality of her husband ceases to be a British subject and becomes an alien. During the war, it became necessary to withdraw the exemption from registration as aliens which was granted in 1933 to British women in this position, but I am giving further consideration to the question whether it is necessary to retain the existing requirement.
Distribution Of Industry Act (Northern Ireland)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can state the total number of new industries established in Northern Ireland in the past six months due to the Distribution of Industry Act, recently passed by this House.
:The Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, docs not apply to Northern Ireland. If my hon. Friend would communicate with me as to the information he desires, I will do my best to obtain it.
Could the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House the reason why Northern Ireland is not included in the Distribution of Industry Act?
:That Measure was passed during the last Parliament at a time when my hon. Friend was a Member of this House. The issue should really have been raised then.
Is not Northern Ireland to be treated as a development area in accordance with the terms of this Act?
:I do not think I can be asked to interpret an Act of Parliament at this Box.
Street Trading (London)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will curtail the activities of the large number of street vendors in the London area, whose source of supply is largely in the black market.
I assume that the Question refers to the sale at excessive prices by certain street vendors of fancy goods in short supply. I am informed by my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, that energetic action is being taken by his Department to deal with offenders, and there have recently been a number of successful prosecutions. I am not, however, aware that there is need for the imposition of restrictions on street trading in general, which in any case would require legislation.
Is the Home Secretary aware that many of these hawkers are, in fact, robbing Allied soldiers over here who do not understand our currency? Can he do anything about it?
:As I have indicated in my answer, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is dealing with this matter as energetically as the circumstances allow.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that street vendors, generally speaking, are decent people?
Polish Seamen (Great Britain)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, when the hon. Member for Ipswich may expect a reply to his letters of 4th and 21st September, regarding officers and men of the Polish Mercantile Marine who do not wish to return to Poland and desire to have their position in this country regularised.
:I regret that I have not yet been in a position to reply to my hon. Friend's letters, which raise questions on which it is necessary to act in consultation with other Departments. The present position is that these men have been given leave to land on the normal conditions imposed on foreign seamen not resident in this country, namely that they resume sea employment within one month of discharge from their previous ship. I propose to give further consideration to this question in consultation with my right hon. Friends the Minister of Labour and the Minister of War Transport.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that before I wrote to him this matter had been brought up by the persons in question some three months previously, but nothing had been done? The position is still very unsatisfactory. Can he give any indication as to when a final decision will be taken?
I do not know what happened three months before I took office and I cannot answer for that. With regard to the other point I am actively engaged on these discussions. I am myself very anxious to deal satisfactorily with the question of Polish seamen.
Can these men take up employment in this country other than that of seamen?
That is really part of the discussion on seamen on which I am now engaged.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether any consideration has been given to the granting of an amnesty to prisoners as a mark of appreciation for the cessation of hostilities and, if not, will he give it favourable consideration.
I have already given careful consideration to this question and I decided that the old custom of granting an amnesty to prisoners on occasions of public rejoicing, which has been abandoned for more than a generation, ought not to be revived at the present day.
asked the Prime Minister if he can make an early statement as to the arrangements which it is proposed to make for full-scale peace celebrations, victory parades and other matters of that kind; and in particular whether any special date or dates will be fixed for celebrations throughout the country.
I am not yet in a position to add to the reply which I gave to the hon. and gallant Member on 9th October.
Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is suggested that there should be one or more fixed days for peace celebrations which would be applicable to the whole country? There are villages and towns that want to know whether they will have their days fixed for them or whether they are to be allowed to choose the days themselves.
I have not really had time since the 9th to go into this question in detail but I am looking into it now, and I will let the hon. and gallant Member know as soon as I can make a further statement.
Police Officers' Widows (Pensions)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the difficult circumstances in which the widows of police officers find themselves in the presence of increased cost of living, he will consider additions to existing rates of pensions.
I should not be justified in introducing any legislation on this particular subject in advance of, and in isolation from, consideration of the general questions arising from the impact of the Government's National Insurance proposals on existing police pensions provisions. I would remind the hon. Member that widows of police officers who comply with the conditions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1944, are entitled to benefit under the provisions of that Act.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many pitiful cases among the widows of these police officers, and would he represent to the Minister of National Insurance that in the preparation of the scheme this matter should be considered?
I am already in communication with my right hon. Friend on this subject.
Is the Home Secretary aware that the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1944, expires in December of this year and that it was a very unsatisfactory Act at the best? Will he use his good offices with the Treasury to see that when the Bill is re-introduced for extension it is a very much better Bill than that which was passed in 1944?
I will bear my hon. Friend's suggestion in mind.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is either three or four years since a Commission appointed by the Government passed a unanimous report in favour of greatly increasing the pensions?
Police pensions cannot be considered in isolation from the others.
Bomb Disposal Units (Recognition)
asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered awarding some distinguishing emblem to volunteers of the R.E. who formed the bomb disposal sections in 1940–41; and whether he has any statement to make.
Service in mine or bomb disposal units of the Forces in this country is to be recognised by the award of the Defence Medal, and on account of the hazards of the occupation, the time qualification of three years has been specially reduced to three months. The grant of an emblem in addition, to be worn on the ribbon, would at once give rise to demands from other quarters which it is evident could not be overlooked, and it would be almost impossible to draw a dividing line at any particular point. In the result, emblems would soon become of slight value as a form of recognition, and it is not proposed to recommend the institution of a special emblem for this purpose. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the services and the bravery of the officers and men of the mine and bomb disposal units who undertook tasks of great danger during the enemy attacks on the United Kingdom.
Might I associate myself with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said and add that I think it is historically correct to say that we did not ask for volunteers for this service? We thought that would be wrong in view of the nature of the service, but that in no way detracts from the gallantry of what that service did, and I think the House will welcome the extra tribute which has been paid to them.
Japan (Acknowledgment Of Defeat)
asked the Prime Minister what are the principles followed by the Allied commanders in regard to the treatment of Japan; and whether he is satisfied that all steps have been taken to make the Japanese people fully aware that they have been beaten and have unconditionally surrendered.
These principles were laid down in the Potsdam Declaration of 26th July and in the Instrument of Surrender of 2nd September. With regard to the second part of the Question, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply which I gave yesterday to the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Captain Marples).
How can the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that reply with the Press reports one constantly sees to the effect that Allied commanders are using Japanese troops to administer liberated territory, which apparently they do with arrogance?
I am afraid I cannot attempt to reconcile my replies with Press reports.
Atomic Energy (Advisory Committee's Reports)
asked the Prime Minister when he expects to receive the Report of the Advisory Committee on Atomic Energy.
Two Reports have already been received from the Committee.
Indo-China And Indonesia
asked the Prime Minister whether the statement of His Majesty's Government's obligations to wards the French and Dutch Governments, in regard to the Indo-Chinese and Indonesian puppet Governments, recently made by the Secretary of State for War, was preceded by consultations with our French and Dutch Allies and represents the policy of His Majesty's Government.
If the hon. and gallant Member has in mind recent Press reports regarding a statement alleged to have been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, I can assure him that my right hon. Friend made no such statement as was attributed to him.
Armed Forces (Irish Enlistments)
asked the Prime Minister whether he can now give the numbers of men and women domiciled in Northern Ireland and Eire, respectively, who enlisted in the fighting services during the war.
No, Sir. The figures required are not readily available and could only be obtained by a disproportionate amount of time and labour and at the expense of more urgent work on Class B releases.
German War Casualties
asked the Prime Minister if he can give a reliable estimate of the total German casualties in the war, in view of the conflicting figures which have been given.
The estimated total losses of the German Armed Forces in killed, permanently wounded, and permanent medical casualties, between 1st September, 1939, and 10th May, 1945, were 7,400,000.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what the civilian casualties are estimated to be?
Not without notice.
Further Education And Training Scheme
asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware of the long delay in dealing with applications for financial awards under the Further Education and Training Scheme, and that many intending students have been un able to start term owing to uncertainty about grants; if he will state the number of applications for awards to commence on 1st October which have not been dealt with; and what steps he proposes to take to remedy this.
These applications, which require careful consideration, are dealt with by the Ministry of Education, the Scottish Education Department, the Ministry of Agriculture and by my Department according to the type of training for which an award is claimed. I regret that there should have been delay in dealing with these applications. This has been largely due to insufficiency of staff, but steps have been taken to remedy the situation. It is not possible, without examination of each case, which would involve further delay, to give the figure asked for.
asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of the need for increasing the number of doctors, he will consider including medical students in the categories eligible for priority release from the Forces under Class B.
I would refer my hon. Friend to my reply to the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) on Tuesday, 9th October, a copy of which I am sending him.
asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that in the Birmingham School of Architecture the duration of the course and the standard required are not less than at the universities; and whether he will now extend to students at this school the scheme for release under Class B of certain art students.
The scheme for release of certain arts students under Class B has been confined to universities, and I could not make an exception as suggested by the hon. Member without extending the scheme to other institutions with similar claims.
Why should university students be favoured in this respect as compared with other students?
Because we have had to draw a line somewhere, and it was drawn at the universities.
But are not the difficulties of the schools exactly the same as those of the universities?
Directed Mine Workers
asked the Minister of Labour why boys directed into the mining industry who were not allowed to go into the Forces will not have equal rights of reinstatement in civil employment after demobilisation; why they may not now transfer to the Forces and their places be compulsorily taken by trained miners eligible to return to the mines under Class B; and whether the eventual date of release of these boys under Class A grouping will conform to the date of group release announced by the Navy, or the Army, or the Air Force, each of which is different.
As far as men are concerned, the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1944, applied only to members of the Armed Forces of the Crown and to certain members of the Civil Defence Forces. I hope to make a general statement in the near future about the position of boys called up compulsorily to the mines.
asked the Minister of Labour how many boys have been conscripted for work in mines; how many have opted for this work since the start of the scheme; and what have been the figures for absenteeism amongst both classes during July, August and September, respectively.
:Up to the end of August, 20,893 young men had entered coalmining employment as a result of the ballot, while 24,849 men had entered that employment in preference to service in the Forces. With regard to the second part of the Question, I am advised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power that absenteeism figures are separately not available for particular classes of workmen defined by reference to the manner in which they entered the industry.
Arising out of that answer and the previous one, can the Minister say when he can make this statement, as it deals with both those questions?
I hope to make it in the immediate future. The matter is under examination and one or two figures have yet to be checked, but I really am anxious to make the statement soon.
asked the Minister of Labour when he proposes to restore to men employed in the coalmines freedom from direction and control.
The whole question of labour controls is at present under examination, and I will make a statement on the subject as soon as possible.
As attendance is no longer enforced by penalty, what is the point of continuing to use direction?
I think that is another question.
Employment (Local Residents)
60 and 61.
asked the Minister of Labour (1) whether he is aware that men are being discharged at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Usk, Monmouthshire, and that as other employment becomes available in the area in which the factory is situated it appears that it is only for men who reside in the district covered by the employment exchange of that area; and will he take steps to ensure that men living in localities where new industries are not being established will be afforded equal opportunity to share that employment;(2) to what extent employment at the places, the names of which he has been given, is reserved only for persons residing in the areas covered by the employment exchanges in those particular places.
I am aware of the discharges which are being made at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Usk. Employment in this area and in other areas, the names of which the hon. Member has given me, is not reserved for local residents. The general rule applies here, as in all other areas, that when vacancies are notified suitable applicants for work on the register of the local office are considered for submission in the first place but if a vacancy cannot be filled in this way it is circulated over a wider area.
Does it not follow that people in the area covered by the exchange receive an advantage over those who do not reside in the area?
Surely, it is an advantage to the person residing in an area to get a job in that area and a disadvantage to the man living miles away to bring him from his home to another job.
Does it mean that those people who do not reside in that particular area in which a factory is situated do not get the same option as those who do reside in the area?
If the hon. Member will give me any specifications of these grievances I will be glad to look into them and communicate with him.
Palestine Immigrants' Camp (Armed Raid)
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if members of the armed gang who broke into Athlit Clearance Camp in Palestine yesterday and murdered Constable Hill of Aberdeen as well as maltreating four Arabs and a Jewish constable, have been apprehended and what steps have been taken to prevent further attacks on the camp.
I regret to say that I have received the following report from the High Commissioner on this incident. It appears that a large number of armed Jews attacked Athlit Clearance Camp for Immigrants between 1 and 1.30 a.m. yesterday. They were armed with rifles, pistols and daggers. Some were in police uniform. Four temporary constables on guard were seized, beaten with rifle butts, bound and gagged. One Arab was seriously hurt. One Jewish temporary constable was tied up but not injured. The attackers cut an avenue in the wire on the north side of the Camp, and over 200 illegal immigrants were released, apparently with inside knowledge. Eleven immigrants, who presumably refused to accompany the escapees, were bound and gagged. Of these, one Christian woman died of suffocation. The party then escaped in the direction of Mount Carmel.The police took immediate action to seal the Carmel Range. One police party proceeding to establish a road check was fired upon from ambush by Jews armed with rifles, sub-machine guns and grenades. The police truck was overturned and I regret to state that a police constable was shot dead. The next of kin has been informed. One Arab constable was seriously wounded and a Jewish corporal slightly wounded. According to the latest information available, the miscreants have so far evaded arrest, but police investigations continue. Further particulars are being obtained from the High Commissioner. With reference to the last part of the Question, all possible measures are being taken by the High Commissioner, Viscount Gort, to prevent further attacks of this nature.
Can the right hon. Gentleman deny the truth of the reports which have appeared in the Press to the effect that after the murder of this constable—with whose relatives, I am sure, the whole House would like to sympathise—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—and the most serious attacks on these Jewish and Arab officials, the police, acting under instructions from higher authority, did not use the lethal weapons with which they are provided; and will he give an assurance that armed resistance to the law in Palestine will be met with full rigour?
I can make no further statement until I receive the result of the inquiries from the High Commissioner.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman can give an assurance that there is no truth in the report which was, no doubt, given falsely, that the police had had instructions from higher authority, even when their numbers are murdered, not to use lethal weapons against the murderers?
That is one of the matters about which the inquiry is being made, and until I receive the result of the inquiry from the High Commissioner it is impossible to make a statement.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether instructions have been given, and if not whether they can now be given, that all parties, Jews and Arabs alike, are to be told that they must give up their arms?
It is a very easy matter to tell Jews and Arabs to give up arms, but the difficulty is to get them to surrender the arms. It certainly would be very much easier for the civil Government of the High Commissioner of Palestine if the duty of maintaining law and order were left to the civil and proper authorities. That is what we desire, and we are attempting in every possible way to prevent outbreaks such as this, whether they are instituted or initiated by either Jew or Arab.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that all these regrettable incidents arise out of an attempt to enforce a law which the Mandates Commission—
The hon. Member appears to be raising a rather wider matter than that in the Question.
I hope the question which I was going to put will be regarded by you, Mr. Speaker, as in Order. May I put it, and then you can see whether it is? I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether these incidents do not enforce the demand for an early review of the whole situation, for which this House has been asking for some time?
In connection with that matter I am afraid I can add nothing to the reply which was given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the general question which was put to him on Tuesday last.
We are getting a little wide of the original Question.