HC Deb 07 December 1937 vol 330 cc259-75

6.1 p.m.

Mr. Mabane

I beg to move, in page 4, line 11, at the end, to insert: provided always that no scheme shall be approved by the Secretary of State unless it contains satisfactory provisions for the enrolment of volunteer personnel necessary to carry out the scheme. I am moving to insert these words in the hope that the House may be given a little further information about the manner in which the volunteer personnel will be enrolled and dealt with. The matter was raised during the Committee stage in certain of its aspects and the Under-Secretary gave some information, but I do not think it was very complete. He informed the Committee that the authority for the enlistment of volunteers is the local authority acting in accordance with one or other of the alternative schemes suggested by the Home Office. As far as I can discover, the schemes suggested by the Home Office refer not so much to the enrolment of volunteers and the conditions under which they will serve as to the manner in which they will be controlled, that is to say, whether by the chief constable or some other officer of the local authority. He said, further, that it will be for the local authorities to make their own recruiting schemes, assisted, where possible and desirable, by any national assistance that can be given.

If some 300,000 or 400,000 volunteers are likely to be required, including air-raid wardens, auxiliary firemen, special constables, and so on, the House ought to interest itself in the kind of contract into which these volunteers will enter if, indeed, they are to enter into any contract at all. The House ought also to interest itself in the question whether there should be uniformity of practice throughout the country in dealing with the volunteers. There is also the question of expenses, which is cognate to the matter. It would be difficult if one local authority made certain provisions with regard to the expenses of the volunteer personnel and another authority made quite different provisions. I have taken some trouble to discover what is happening in the country, because it occurred to me that if you ask for volunteers and a number come forward you need something more than merely their word that they desire to volunteer. There is a question of the obligations into which they are entering.

Suppose a local authority appealed for a thousand men, and a thousand men came along and said they desired to be air-raid wardens, and the local authority said, "Splendid, we will take your names," will nothing more than that be done? If nothing more is to be done, how can the local authority rely on these volunteers turning up to perform the duties when they are to be performed? Will there be anything in the nature of a contract in the obligations into which they will enter? I have here the only form I have been able to get. It is in use in the area of one local authority and is headed "Local Air-Raid Precautions." It has to be signed at the bottom by the volunteer and sent to the air-raid precautions committee. The form says: I hereby offer my services in connection with the local air-raid precautions. As far as I can discover, that is the beginning and the end of the matter. The applicant signs at the bottom, there is no further obligation, and the local authority has no more hold on his services than this mere form. He has to fill up a number of questions such as his name, postal address, nearest telephone number, whether his home is illuminated with electricity, whether he can smell well, and whether he has good hearing. There is a rather more important question about the service offered, and there is a note saying: Wherever possible volunteers will be detailed for the service offered, and such services are mentioned as street warden, special constable, decontaminating squad, and so on. Another question that interested me was: Are you prepared to undergo a special course of anti-gas training? It is not anticipated that volunteers will be involved in any expense in connection with this training. It is not very encouraging to the volunteer to be told that it is not anticipated that he will be involved in any expense. I would like to be assured that not only will he not be involved in expense, but that his expenses will be paid. The last question is: Are you a reservist of any of His Majesty's Forces? Are you serving to-day in any Territorial Regiment or voluntary organisation? Whether this question is asked for the sake of information, or whether the volunteer is asked in order that those who are members of such forces shall be excluded from the volunteers, I do not know. However admirable in intention that form may be, it is not adequate for the purpose, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether the nature of the form has been indicated by the Home Office or whether it has been devised by the local authorities. Is it the intention of the Home Office to indicate to the local authorities what sort of form of enrolment should be offered to volunteers, or do the Home Office propose to devise an enrolment form and require the local authorities to use it?

I have raised these points because I feel that until they are settled and until we are clear on many of them, we are not likely to get the volunteers in the numbers or of the kind that are required. I would emphasise the point I made with regard to expenses, for it is cognate to the whole matter of enrolment. Will the local authorities be informed by the Home Office of the nature of the expenses of the volunteers that will be met? The Home Secretary in the last Debate gave the Committee a complete assurance that the necessary expenses of volunteers would be eligible for grant, but I would like to ask whether those necessary expenses will be the same in the case of all local authorities, and, in order that they may be, will the uniformity be secured by instructions from the Home Office?

6.10 p.m.

Mr. Crossley

I beg to second the Amendment.

It strikes me as important that those who enlist for these services should on the outbreak of war be immediately able to take their places without there being any other call upon their services. I cannot help thinking that there should be certain disqualifications for these services as well as qualifications, particularly in regard to young men who ought to be members of the fighting services. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said on the Committee stage that it was undesirable that these services should provide funk-holes, and the House will agree. It is undesirable that people should be content as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not have been content if he had been a young man, to act as auxiliary firemen at the age of 25 or even as air-raid wardens at the age of 30 if they are fit and strong men and ought to be taking some part under military discipline in the armed forces of the Crown.

Dr. Guest

Does the hon. Gentleman really think that the services in the street during an air raid will be safer than with the military forces of the Crown? Surely the safer place will be the front-line trench?

Mr. Crossley

It depends where it is. In the East End of London that may be so, but I doubt whether it would be so in Liverpool. Allowance should be made for that. Another category which is even more important is that of the skilled workers. I raised that point on the Committee stage and got a rather unsatisfactory reply. The Under-Secretary said that no doubt the local authorities would judge very well whom to select. He added that in the case of men who had important work to do each air-raid post had attached to it a number of men who could go on at different times, and that there would undoubtedly be provision for people who were at work to go on in their own time. I cannot help thinking that the Under-Secretary did not give full consideration to the actual duties of a skilled craftsman in, say, an engineering works supplying munitions in time of war. If the air-raid post is to have a 24-hour day, so is the munitions factory, and the skilled worker will not have any spare time of his own. His whole energy will go to the supply of munitions.

It may be said that it should be left to the local authorities. I am not satisfied that, unless the local authorities provide the Secretary of State with something like a general register of their personnel for these services, they will apply a sort of test whether or not a man is more wanted on munitions production than for air-raid precaution services. I would like to have a satisfactory reply to that. To give an example; not many years ago, one of the searchlight units for the London air defences was found to be manned entirely from the technical personnel of a company which, in time of war, would immediately withdraw all of them for the whole-time production of an important form of munitions. They were being trained at the time by the War Office for a duty which they could not carry out in time of war. If that can happen in the Army, as it did happen less than four years ago, I cannot help thinking that it might happen if the local authorities are left too much on their own.

I doubt whether the Under-Secretary would admit that the local authority in Birmingham was any less efficient than are the local authorities in the Metropolis. It seems to me vitally important that there should be some sort of a national register, and particularly important that the local authorities should know that the recruits which they have trained, and for whose training they and the Government have paid, should be eligible for the services for which they are trained and not be immediately required for the fighting Forces of the Crown on the outbreak of war.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

I have no idea what attitude the Home Secretary will adopt to this Amendment, but I should have thought that it was an unnecessary one. It is easy to say that we should lay down all manner of regulations and have a register but for how long will that register remain effective? I have experience of a constituency in which there are 5,000 removals every year, and if we were to make a register this month and allocate people to these duties that register would begin to be out of date in a month's time.

Mr. Crossley

Would not that difficulty apply equally to the local authorities?

Mr. Morrison

These difficulties will apply to local authorities. I take it that the Amendment asks that the Home Secretary shall not give his consent to any scheme submitted by a local authority unless there are provisions in it to make sure that those who have volunteered shall be bound in some way to carry out their obligations, and I am endeavouring to show some of the difficulties which will arise if anything of this kind is attempted.

Mr. Mabane

Is there any difficulty about the special constables? They enter into a contract; and the Territorials also enter into a contract.

Mr. Morrison

This is a much bigger task than recruiting special constables. I want to give my conception of how this scheme will work out, irrespective of any kind of compulsion. The people who will carry out the work required will, generally, be doing work very similar to the work they do ordinarily. For example, the staff of the borough engineer or the county engineer, who ordinarily earn their living by making and preparing roads, will be called upon to repair roads. Other members of the borough engineer's staff will be called upon to form squads who will be responsible for shoring-up buildings and doing other work upon damaged buildings. Those who will form the decontamination squad will not be clerks, musicians, football players or people taken haphazard from the community, but will be the staff of the cleansing superintendent who are already municipal employés and will be familiar with the work they will be expected to undertake.

As to first aid, obviously the sensible thing to do will be to enrol those who have enrolled in a similar capacity and are already doing that work day after day, not for war but in connection with ambulance units and voluntary organisations associated with the hospitals in a district. The local doctors and nurses could be enrolled for that particular work. In the case of bombs striking gas or water mains or electricity cables, the people who will be called upon to repair them will not be people like Members of Parliament, but employés of the water and electricity companies, all of whom will have been organised and have had special training. That is how I visualise the scheme working. We have now narrowed things down till we get to the fire wardens who will assist in putting out the multitudes of small fires which the Home Secretary has some apprehension may be started in a future war. For that work it would be preferable to have persons with some knowledge of fire fighting, probably retired firemen. There is a very large number of retired firemen, retired at a comparatively early age, who would, no doubt, be willing to undertake the work.

And so we should go on until, as it seems to me, the only service for which we should have to make a general call on the ordinary people would be that of the street wardens. It would be their business to give a certain amount of instruction to people in air-raid precautions, in making their rooms gas-proof, rendering first-aid generally, and acting as fatherly advisers to the street. The warden would be, generally, the best known person in the street, the kind of person to whom the street usually looks for a lead. They would be the sort of people who are always ready to volunteer, and not people such as some hon. Members have in their minds who might try to sneak into this duty in order to escape some more dangerous work. I do not think that the air-raid precautions committees or the local authorities will have a great deal of difficulty in finding the personnel and getting people who will loyally carry out the work.

The really logical outcome of the Amendment would be for us to impose some form of conscription on the people, and if the House wants to make this scheme a first-class failure that is the best way to do it. Whatever may be said of people in other countries, it is notorious that in this country if you want to get something not done—to use an Irishism—you order people to do it. If you ask them to do it I think there is every likelihood that they will volunteer. If the local authorities have to impose some legal and binding agreement upon a person who has volunteered to do something it can only be for a short period, say for three months. Then the undertaking will have to be revised and the person allowed an opportunity of contracting out, because of the dozen and one things that happen to people, such as their occupation taking them away from one district to another. If they have undertaken an obligation to perform a certain duty they may find in three months' time that it is almost impossible to carry it out. It seems to me that the Home Secretary has all the powers which are necessary in this Bill, and that to introduce this Amendment and to lay some form of compulsion upon people who have volunteered will rather retard the Bill and mitigate against its success.

6.25 p.m.

Major H ills

I am glad that my hon. Friend has put down this Amendment, because, whether it can be accepted or not, it raises a point of immense importance in practice. Personally, I think the enrolment of the volunteers will develop into something more permanent. This scheme, if it is properly started, will grow on the same lines as did the old Volunteers, to which I once belonged, and which developed into the Territorial Army. I believe there will have to be some sort of permanent hold over these volunteers, so that there is certainty that they will come when called upon. That will involve chosing them in the way which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley), that is to say that we must not choose men who have other work to do either as Territorials or as men in charge of electricity or water supplies. But I think this scheme implies more than that; it implies a definite engagement, and I should like to see these men enrolled for a period of three years, on the lines of the Territorial Army, to come up when called upon, and I should add that they must be paid when they are called up. I tried to put down an Amendment to raise that point, but all my Parliamentary experience did not enable me to compose one which was in order.

I am certain, that this essential work cannot be done on the basis of the very shadowy obligation which my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) read out. A man might sign such an obligation and, for various reasons, might find that the demands of his family or his business overruled the document he had signed, and he might pot be there on the day. We must know that the people who are on the list will be there when required; but if they are called up they will want to live, and as they cannot find their own expenses there is every reason for paying them. Let not the House forget, also, that these volunteers will be doing some extremely dangerous work. I am not sure whether, if I had to choose between being a warden of an air-raid scheme or being in the trenches, I would not be in the trenches. I think I should, because I feel it would be far less dangerous. Therefore, I submit to my right hon. Friend that he should see that this scheme is started on the right lines and should let it grow into something more permanent.

There is a second point about the enrolment of the personnel. I hope it will be decided that the air-raid precautions officers really have complete control. In a scheme of which I have seen the details the air-raid precautions officer was to be appointed by the town council, but the wardens were to be appointed by the police. Then you have all the varied public services which will be affected by air raids: roads, water, gas, and electric light, all under different departments.

If it is laid down by the Home Office that the air-raid protection officer is to be in supreme control, you must give him power to enforce that control. He will want to know such things as that he can get ambulances easily when they are wanted, especially in the areas of large local authorities such as the London County Council. He will want to know whether the roads can be cleared. As things are now, he will be compelled in many ways to call upon the services of other bodies which he has no power to command. I think the Government have quite rightly put such officers in supreme control, in the areas of district councils. That being so, I beg the Government to make sure, if the schemes go forward, that the air-raid protection officer has the power to enforce them.

6.32 p.m.

Mr. Bellenger

The Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) has opened up a wide and important subject, which is whether all these services can be carried out in war time by volunteer or compulsory service.

Mr. Mabane

I should not use the expression "volunteer or compulsory service." The Territorials are volunteers, but when they are called up they must obey the call. Special constables are somewhat similarly placed. I should prefer to say "contractual service," or service with no contract at all.

Mr. Bellenger

Possibly that was the idea underlying the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but let the House not be under any illusion. Any hon. Member who had experience of the last War can hardly imagine that, if the crisis arises, these civilian services can be carried out efficiently without some compulsory system. Whatever happens in peace time, I shall be surprised, if this country is involved in war, bearing in mind all that that means, if we can get an organisation running efficiently without compulsory service. The matters on which the hon. Gentleman wants information, such as, payment of expenses and the guidance of the Home Office, can be safely left to the Under-Secretary of State in his reply. I do not think we need go any further than that at the moment. I would have preferred an entirely different Bill, with an entirely different organisation to that envisaged in this Bill; nevertheless, rightly or wrongly, the Government have said that this matter is primarily for the local authorities. If it is to be left to the local authorities we should allow them to train as many volunteers as they can, under whatever contractual circumstances you like.

It is true that some of those people will move from one area to another as the years go on, but that will result in the creation of what I might term a short-service civilian army in peace time. The more people you can train in that voluntary civilian service the better, and if they cannot be used in one area they cart be used in another. When the day does come that you really want this service, I think this Measure will go by the board in one night, and that we shall have to adopt an entirely different system. I support the hon. Member for Huddersfield in his request for information about the payment of expenses, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give a definite assurance when he replies that people who volunteer for these services should be recompensed out of pocket expenses. I do not think it matters what forms they sign; the principal thing is whether they will volunteer for the service or not.

6.36 p.m.

Captain Gunston

The interesting feature of this Debate has been the absence of party spirit and the readiness to agree or disagree with the proposals upon their merits. I rather disagree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) because I think there is a danger in accepting his idea and having a sort of fixed force for three years. Volunteers should carry out any obligations they undertake, but if they move their households, it might be detrimental to the force and discourage volunteers. In regard to air-raid precautions, it is true, as was stated by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison), that many of the key men will be the engineers and men in charge of water works. We recognise that, but in the event of war there might be compulsory service. There would also be an enormous demand for the practical men for munition and other work. I do not think that local authorities could resist that demand. Good young men in key positions would be the first to volunteer for service overseas—if you wanted an overseas service. It is therefore very important that local authorities should train men to replace the engineers who are in charge of water works and so on. There ought to be some sort of general scheme by which men in key positions under local authorities can train volunteers, who would perhaps be retired and aged men, or somebody who could take over the work if necessary.

Another point arises out of the undesirability that men of fighting age should be air wardens, and so on. It is obviously an advantage if the men above fighting age are enlisted in or are required to help those services. They will not be taken away, and they would be of great assistance to the services. I saw in a newspaper that the British Legion have been invited to offer their services, and had agreed to do so. It means that we shall have the assistance of a very large body of men who served in the last War but who are much too old to serve in the next. We ought not to underrate the value of those men. Local authorities should try to get ex-servicemen to become air wardens or, as the hon. Member for North Tottenham suggested, street wardens.

The psychological value of such men would be very great. If an air raid came, the ex-service men would feel that they had to put a brave face on it and say: "We had far worse things than this in 1914." They would calm the public. We ought to take advantage of the services of the great body of ex-service men, because of the psychological value of men who have had experience of bombing. I hope that the Under-Secretary will inform us when he replies that he has been in touch with local authorities and that they will encourage ex-service men to assist in this work.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

I have listened with very great interest to this Debate on the enrolment of personnel, and to the efforts of hon. Members to tell local authorities exactly how the personnel of the volunteer forces is to be composed. This proposal will, in my opinion, stultify the efforts of local authorities in submitting schemes. The Bill is already bad because it does not cover many points which we desire to see covered, but the Amendment would make it materially worse. The Amendment proposes that no scheme should be approved by the Secretary of State unless it contained satisfactory provisions for the enrolment of volunteer personnel. Surely the House will agree that local authorities have an intimate knowledge of what is needed in their areas and should know exactly what is required for the local defence. Surely they are more qualified to submit schemes covering every point than the Secretary of State will be to say that unless they can tabulate satisfactory proof of having sufficient volunteers locally to carry out their schemes, those schemes will not even be considered. To place that onus upon the local authorities will provent them from submitting schemes for the defence of their areas.

Much play has been made about ex-service men who, we are told, did this and suffered that during the last War, but they had not to meet during the last War circumstances like those which face us to-day, such as the bombardment of the civilian population. They experienced bombing of military objectives in places where every defensive method was used. We cannot say definitely what will happen, and it is not right that the Secretary of State should be asked to approve the principle that because a man is an ex-service man and was in an area which was bombed during the War, he is more capable and more to be desired than a civilian who has gone through the air-raid precaution tests of the local authority and has qualified for his job. I trust that the Amendment will be rejected by the Home Secretary so that local authorities may be free to submit schemes with confidence.

6.44 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) for moving the Amendment, not, I am afraid, because I wish to accept it, but because it has given rise to an interesting discussion which enables me to say something more about this aspect of the matter. The hon. Member made an observation at an earlier stage about the method of organisation of air-raid wardens, for example, and with regard to recruitment. Recommendations have been made by the Home Office on those subjects. Perhaps I can say something about the circumstances of service. It is the case that, in regard to the circumstances and conditions of service, as well as in regard to other aspects of the recruitment of these volunteers, the Home Office have been making recommendations to local authorities. I hold in my hand at the moment a Memorandum on Emergency Fire Brigade Organisation, containing at page 24 an Appendix, No. 7, which is continued by a further Appendix on page 25, and which deals in considerable detail with various matters connected with the circumstances of the enrolment of fire wardens. There is another memorandum on air-raid wardens, but it deals with the enrolment of air-raid wardens in rather less detail because their duties are not so specialised.

Mr. Mabane

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the matter of fire services, could he indicate the nature of the enrolment suggested for the auxiliary firemen?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not want to go into great detail on the subject, but I think it will probably satisfy my hon. Friend, without wearying the House, if I mention that it deals with such subjects as medical examination, training, the undertaking of service, enrolment, uniform, equipment and so on. Perhaps it will be best, before I come to details regarding the question, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley), of the type of men who would normally be engaged on these services, if I deal for a moment with the question of expenses, because I think that that is a very important point. My right hon. Friend has already said that the legitimate expenses of air-raid wardens will rank for grant, and I think the House will agree that that is satisfactory, but I can give the hon. Member for Huddersfield the further assurance that we shall be prepared to assist the local authorities in this matter with certain model rules in regard to it. We must, however, in a matter of this kind make, allowance for local circumstances, which may differ—for example, with regard to the necessity for transportation and so on.

I come now to the very important question that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford with regard to the type of men who should be recruited into these services. I agree with him as to the great importance of this question. I would assure him at once that at the Home Office we are in close touch with the recruiting authorities of the various departments with regard to these matters, and are not making, and will not make, any recommendations with which they disagree. In that connection the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) raised a relevant point. It is important that we should all realise that service in some of these organisations in time of war is going to be serious service, and that must be borne in mind in making a proper compromise between the needs of the various services. Our detailed recommendations to the local authorities differ slightly in the cases of air-raid wardens and of fire wardens, the age being rather lower for fire wardens, because clearly their work will be of an extremely active kind.

Mr. Montague

What does the hon. Gentleman mean when he says that the service is to be serious service? The question has been raised several times, and it has often been suggested that it might be necessary to have some kind of military law. The answer given to that suggestion is that this service is totally voluntary, but it seems to me, from what the hon. Gentleman has said, that it is to be something more than voluntary.

Mr. Lloyd

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I may have been using too vague words. What I meant was that it would be wrong to think that the service performed by air-raid wardens or by fire wardens, in comparison with that of members of the active Defence Services, would not be a very serious affair. When I spoke of its being serious service, I meant that it was obviously going to be, in many respects, dangerous and very important work.

Mr. Montague

With discipline?

Mr. Lloyd

The question of discipline was dealt with quite clearly on the Second Reading, when I said that the service was to be on a purely voluntary basis. There is no question of military law at present. Obviously a war-time organisation has to be considered on a different basis. What we recommend with regard to air-raid wardens is that no one should be enrolled who is a member of the Territorial Army or of the Auxiliary Air Force, or who is liable to recall as a reservist to the Defence Forces, or who has undertaken to join the police force or a fire brigade for emergency service. I may add, with regard to a point that was raised earlier in these Debates, that men likely to be occupying key positions in industry or business, who could less be spared from their work in time of emergency, should not be expected to be available for regular duty. I think that that is not inconsistent with the assurance I gave, and which I believe was regarded as satisfactory.

Mr. Sandys

With regard to the question of age, would my hon. Friend give the House the assurance which has been asked for at different times, that the Government will seriously consider the advisability of raising the age, not for fire wardens, but for air-raid wardens?

Mr. Lloyd

We are considering these matters in consultation with the manpower organisation and the recruiting authorities of the Defence Services but I am not in a position to give an undertaking about it except that all these matters will be considered. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) raised an interesting point as to whether the basis of this organisation ought to cease to be voluntary, or rather, ought to be voluntary on rather a different basis, such, for example, as that of the Territorial Army; and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Captain Gunston) and others were inclined to think there were disadvantages in that course. I think my right hon. and gallant Friend himself said the last word on this matter for the time being when he said that these are early days in regard to organisation. I do not believe that any of us can be quite certain as to the lines on which the organisation may develop in the future. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury that we very much appreciate the effort that has been made by the British Legion, and the Home Office have communicated with the local authorities pointing out that this great ex-service organisation has offered assistance, and asking them to keep in touch with the local branches if they so desire.

That brings me to the important point of registration, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) thought there would not be any great advantage from registration, and points out the difficulties of shifting population and so on; but I would remind him of the fact, which I think hon. Members will appreciate, that we have to deal with questions of registration in connection with a different kind of organisation, and, although there are difficulties, we are constantly making efforts, all in our different ways, to overcome them. Nobody suggests that the ordinary work of, for example, registration in connection with political organisation need not continue because of the fact that there are considerable difficulties owing to removals and so on. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford that registration is important. It is important that the local authorities and the Home Office should know who are the volunteers, so that, if necessary, a check may be made as to whether or not they are in some of the prohibited categories—

Mr. R. C. Morrison

I am afraid I must have expressed myself very badly. I am not opposed to registration. What I was pointing out was that it is rather difficult to impose what would in effect be compulsory service upon a man who does not know where he will be in a month's time.

Mr. Lloyd

I apologise if I misunderstood the hon. Member. I agree with what he said, but I do not think it was at all in the mind of the hon. Member for Huddersfield in putting down the Amendment to suggest anything in the nature of a compulsory organisation. We have power under Section 284 of the Local Government Act, 1933, to ask every local authority to make such reports and returns and to give such information with regard to their functions as the Secretary of State may require. I am advised that that provision gives us in any case ample power to ask for this information, and, indeed, we propose to ask for it. Perhaps, after the explanation I have given, the hon. Member may be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Mabane

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.