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Railways

Volume 414: debated on Monday 15 October 1945

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Missing Goods

34.

asked the Minister of War Transport what are the latest figures regarding thefts of goods consigned by rail; and whether these show an increase or decrease on previous figures.

In the first six months of 1945, £1,311,000 was paid by the four main line railway companies and the Cheshire Lines Committee in respect of 321,000 claims for articles lost or stolen. This compares with £1,197,500 and 343,750 claims in the first six months of 1944 and with £1,207,000 and 322,500 claims in the second six months of 1944. I regret that separate figures for thefts are not available.

Having regard to this very high and disquieting increase, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has in mind any proposed action, and whether he will possibly consider the release of more railway police?

I agree that this is a very serious development, and it is receiving every consideration.

Sleeping Facilities

36.

asked the Minister of War Transport what priorities are still observed in regard to first and third class sleepers.

38.

asked the Minister of War Transport if now that the war is over, he will cancel immediately the priority for Government officials booking sleeping berths in railways trains.

Since 17th September, about 50 per cent. of all first class and 75 per cent. of all third class sleeping berths on trains have been available for booking by the public through the Railway Companies. The percentage varies on the different routes. The remainder are reserved for allocation to Members of Parliament travelling between London and their constituencies or elsewhere on the business of the House, and to persons travelling on urgent business of national importance where the journey must necessarily be made at night and is sponsored by the Government Department concerned. Only a small proportion of the priority berths is in fact allocated to Government officials, and only senior officials are eligible for them.

Why should there be any such priorities now—that is, barring present company, of course—since they must be at the expense of the ordinary citizen, and surely at this time the ordinary citizen should have some of his rights restored to him?

I would like to remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the facilities afforded to the general travelling public have been considerably increased, and when the matter of priorities is being considered by this House the House must bear in mind its own position with regard to facilities for its own Members travelling to and from their constituencies.

Is it not true that the medical profession are now very helpful to the general public in providing medical certificates for persons to travel, and undoubtedly the Minister of War Transport is helping to carry people who are supposed to be sick but who are not?

I am afraid I cannot enter into a question concerning certificates issued by medical specialists.

Why should there be any priority at all? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that business men engaged on vital and important business necessary to this country cannot keep their business appointments? Why should not Government officials, however small the percentage, be treated like ordinary mortals?

The hon. Gentleman will probably be surprised to know that the majority of the priority reservations issued from this Department is for business personnel.

Exports To South America (Facilities)

39.

asked the Minister of War Transport to what extent improvement has been effected in shipping facilities for British goods to South American ports; and if he can give an assurance that further accommodation for consignments awaiting export will be made available with the least possible delay.

I am able to provide shipping facilities for all the manufactured goods now available for shipment to South America. At the end of September only small quantities of manufactured goods were registered with the shipping lines as awaiting shipment. Shipping is being arranged to lift these items together with any others as they come forward. At the moment there are orders outstanding for large quantities of cement for Brazil, and shipment is being effected as quickly as labour and other facilities can be provided to bag the cement for export.

I should like to take this opportunity of saying that the position in regard to South America is typical of the export trade generally, and I have every reason to believe that I shall be able to provide sufficient shipping to cover any manufactured goods becoming available for export.

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply, but at the same time ask him if he realises the importance of providing shipping with the least possible inconvenience to the shippers, in view of the importance of establishing and restoring our foreign trade?

Ex-Prisoners Of War (Christmas Leave)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will instruct the Service Departments that all returned prisoners of war, from whatever theatre, shall be granted Christmas leave this year at home.

Prisoners of war liberated from the Japanese will normally be on repatriation or release leave at Christmas time this year, unless they are on Regular engagements or have elected to serve on. Personnel released from other theatres have been granted, if in the Navy, 14 days plus seven days for each six months in captivity, or, if in the Army or R.A.F., a minimum of 42 days' repatriation leave. On return to units after this leave, the men take their place on the normal leave roster. It would be inequitable to give them the further preference suggested; there may be many others who have been unable to have Christmas leave in past years, including some with long overseas service. While it is not the intention to impose special travel restrictions on Service personnel at Christmas, the numbers who can proceed on leave at any one time are necessarily limited and it is ununkely that more than about 10 per cent. of the Forces at home can be at home on Christmas Day.

Are we to understand that it is going to be possible this Christmas for Service personnel to travel? Normally, they are not supposed to.

I cannot say more on this matter than I have said about the possibility of there being 10 per cent.

Do 14 days, plus seven days, mean 21 days, or do they mean something quite different?

Is it a fact, as stated in some newspapers to-day, that some serving men, including prisoners of war, who are on their way home, might not be home at Christmas because of the trouble at the docks?

Members' Letters (Departmental Replies)

46.

asked the Prime Minister if he will give a general directive to all chiefs of Departments to speed up answers to letters from Members of Parliament.

I do not think any general directive is necessary. I am sure that all my colleagues will continue to impress on their Departments the need for answering letters from Members as speedily as the size of their staff and the volume of their correspondence permit.

Is it not a fact that in the old days, when there was a smaller volume of correspondence than there is now, answers to letters were very much delayed and that now, with the much increased volume, the delay is even greater? Will the right hon. Gentleman not bear this question in mind?

I shall be pleased to bear it in mind, but I gather that my hon. Friend was referring to some Government of the past.

Will the right hon. Gentleman discourage some of his colleagues from instituting rubber stamp signatures?

Is the Prime Minister aware that, although my correspondence has increased enormously, the replies from Ministers have improved enormously?

Air Transport Auxiliary Pilots (Recognition)

47.

asked the Prime Minister if he will state the number of decorations awarded to pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary; and whether he is satisfied that the outstanding services of many of these pilots, who have frequently delivered aircraft to the battle areas, have been suitably recognised.

Twenty-two Honours and 12 King's Commendations for brave conduct, or for service in the air, have been awarded to air crew of Air Transport Auxiliary during the war. I do not consider that the scale of awards has been inadequate.

Royal Air Force Victories (Commemoration)

48.

asked the Prime Minister if he will establish 15th September as a Thanksgiving Day to Fighter Command and the R.A.F. in perpetuity, in memory or those who gave their lives and others who saved this country in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

The question of appointing a day which would serve to celebrate the victory referred to, and other victories, will be considered together with the question of fixing a National Day of Remembrance.

Polish Civilians, Great Britain (British Nationality)

50.

asked the Prime Minister whether, when he is examining the question of implementing the pledge given by the late Government to members of the Polish forces as to assuming British nationality, he will consider making available such facilities and privileges as are agreed upon also to Polish civilians in this country who were in their then Government's employment.

The statement made by my predecessor on 27th February last referred to members of the Polish Armed Forces who had fought during the war under British command, but I understand that the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member is that the principle under-lying this statement should be recognised as applying to the particular class of civilians to which he refers, as distinct from Polish civilians in general. All I can say at this stage is that the point to which he calls attention will be kept in mind.

Educational And Vocational Training Schemes

51.

asked the Prime Minister, in view of complaints that E.V.T. and its equivalents are not functioning satisfactorily and of the importance of such training in the Forces, if he will institute an examination of the deficiencies with a view to their correction.

The position as regards the E.V.T. scheme for the Air Force was announced by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air on Wednesday last. The Army and Navy schemes, although still in an early stage, have already shown substantial progress and are rapidly gaining momentum. There is no evidence to suggest that they are not functioning satisfactorily where military circumstances allow of their implementation. There are difficulties, due to man-power and the world shortage of books and materials, but as far as possible these are being effectively overcome.

War Gratuities

53.

asked the Prime Minister if he will authorise payment now of war gratuities to officers and men of the Services who have been invalided out, as their payment will greatly facilitate such persons to rehabilitate themselves in civilian life.

This has already been done. Full instructions were issued in the Press on 1st September stating how applications should be made by ex-Servicemen and women. Payment will follow as quickly as the applications can be dealt with, but the process of payment will necessarily take some time. Applications are not necessary in the case of personnel discharged since VE Day.