§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I am aware that my appearance at the Box at this stage will be a great disappointment to the House. I cannot recall anything like it since I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and went to see Ellen Terry perform at a matinee. At the door I received a slip stating that she would be absent and her part would be played by an understudy. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who was to have opened this Debate, has very heavy duties in this matter of Civil Defence in this great city, and that it is impossible for him to be present at the moment, and that, therefore, he will speak at a later stage in the Debate. We are hoping this afternoon to have some information from the officers responsible for Civil Defence and for evacuation. I want to say at the outset that we understand that in the course of a week or two there will be a discussion on education, and that, therefore, except for the small extent to which education and evacuation 2161 are bound up together, it is not my intention to-day to deal with educational problems. But there are one or two observations that will have to be made in the course of my remarks and to them I hope that the Minister of Health will be able to give an answer, possibly after consulting with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education.
I want to deal with the situation of the air-raid precautions personnel in the country. My hon. Friends and I wish it to be understood that we do not take any part in the satire and derision which in certain places are being cast on the general body of A.R.P. workers. It will be within the recollection of hon Members that at the opening of the last war there was a number of misguided women who went about offering white feathers to young men who, they thought, ought to be in the forces, and I believe that on certain occasions they presented those white feathers to some of the most distinguished members of the Secret Service. That was a good proof of the efficiency with which the recipients were carrying out their duty. On this occasion, of course, the institution of compulsory military service has made that particular form of public nuisance quite inapplicable. But there are some people who have been making the most reckless and random charges against the integrity and good faith of the people engaged in this service.
I am sure I shall now have the sympathy of the House when I have to do the understudy's part in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney, who has just arrived, because he has all the notes for the speech which I did not expect to have to deliver. I have noticed that in some cases local authorities have thought it necessary, in defence of the service, to publish a list with the names and salaries of the people who are engaged locally in this particular form of service, because of the way in which suggestions have been made regarding persons who have been doing work in an honorary way. I am bound to say that I think that is a most unfortunate circumstance. While, of course, the public is entitled to full information about money which is paid out, I think that the way in which this particular information has been extracted has not 2162 been to the public advantage. But we do desire to get from the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister for Home Security, some information with regard to the way in which the personnel is now being overhauled and its numbers in some cases reduced.
I speak on this matter with some feeling, because I am a member of one of those triumvirates which have been established by the various counties to act in conjunction with the A.R.P. Controller. We made particular inquiries as to what were the wishes of the region with regard to our particular area. We were short of establishments and we had seen statements made in general terms that this personnel might be reviewed. We inquired whether that meant in our case that there would be a reduction, although we were under establishment, and whether we should take steps to press local authorities to bring the personnel up to establishment. We were assured that we might endeavour to get our establishment up to strength and that no subsequent pronouncement would prove that we had taken action that was against the wish of the Minister. We accordingly took the action. Within five days we received instructions that meant the cutting down of some of the original establishments. That is very unfortunate. It makes it exceedingly difficult to maintain that good feeling between the county and the other local authorities which would enable this work to continue smoothly.
We should like to know what are the Minister's views at the moment on this question of personnel, and whether there is anything to be added to the Circular that he issued recently. I have questioned the right hon. Gentleman myself once or twice about the position of some of the volunteer personnel who work by the hour for quite small people—small people who really cannot afford to make up any loss of remunerative time that these men might have to incur. I hope the Minister will realise that, especially in the small urban districts and in some of the rural areas where warnings may be expected, the firms are not corporations with substantial resources but quite frequently are small businesses, not one-man businesses but two-men or three-men businesses, and that a good many of the firms are keeping these men on when they can get them a 2163 job and have to pay the wages when they have not the advantage of the men's remunerative time, and that this is a great burden. If we lose these volunteers we may very well have to increase the number of paid personnel in areas such as these.
Now I want to deal with the question of shelter. We wish to know how far the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the provision of shelter is not progressing satisfactorily. Undoubtedly the Civil Defence Act became law at a very late stage of the Session, and prior to the outbreak of war not much could be done. The right hon. Gentleman must not blame those on this side of the House too much for the delay, because I noticed, when I took the trouble the other day to calculate the columns of speeches delivered, his own contribution to the OFFICIAL REPORT was no small beginning to any paper shortage that may be experienced in the near future. All the provisions of that Act with regard to shelter were quite novel and the right hon. Gentleman assured us on the Third Reading and during the Committee and Report stages that he was not at all sure how far they would prove workable and whether he would require to have them reinforced.
There is the question, for instance, of shelter for the dweller in flats. I had the honour of moving an Amendment, which was accepted, which enables the majority of the dwellers in a particular group of flats to compel the owner of the flats to provide them with shelter, and he is then, having provided the shelter, allowed to charge them an increased rent. In drafting the Clause, we did not put in any penalty as to what was to happen to the owner of the flats if he failed, in these days when we are fighting for democracy, to obey the democratic demands of his tenants. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has any information as to how far the dwellers in flats, where they are persons above the Anderson shelter income limit, are able to secure and have secured reasonable shelter or are likely to get it in the near future.
Then, when we come to the communal shelters, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the extent to which communal shelter is being provided? As I move about South London and the regions near 2164 it, I get the impression that the provision made in similar districts differs very much from district to district. I know that there are great difficulties in some districts. To take the instance that I gave during the Committee stage of the Civil Defence Bill, you have constituencies like mine—South Shields—which are so built over that, except under the public streets and in certain places where there has been slum clearance and the re-erection of the houses has not yet taken place, there are no real facilities for providing this shelter. The worst of it is that many of these very crowded areas are also among the most vulnerable areas in the country, and in the event of air raids taking place one may reasonably assume that they will be districts which will be the object of attack. I think that what one has seen in the newspapers in regard to certain areas, suggesting that they will have strikes of one sort and another, with regard to rent or rates, unless shelter is provided, gives some indication of the feeling of the public with regard to this matter. I sincerely hope that if the right hon. Gentleman cannot say anything particularly reassuring about the position as it is to-day, he may be able to give us some indication that progress is being made and that he and his Department are doing all that is possible to ensure that shelter shall be provided as rapidly as possible.
There is one other matter that I think the House will have to take into very serious consideration, and that is the wartime financing of the local authorities which are engaged in the task of air-raid precaution work. We have the difficulty that nobody at the moment among the local authorities knows exactly what their income for the current year will be. We have had houses closed and furniture removed, and while I do not want to say anything that may hinder local authorities, one has usually understood that in those circumstances rates were not payable. I see that the City of Westminster, which was not very enthusiastic on this subject a few months ago when my right hon. Friend was endeavouring to secure a fractional rating of empty property, is now endeavouring to establish the point that in the case of houses or flats left in the condition I have just indicated, if the persons who have left them intend to come back, rates are still payable. I do not want to say more than this, that, 2165 as an old local government hand, it is an entirely new proposition to me, and in the present circumstances I could almost wish that they would succeed, but as a native of Epsom I am not putting any money on their chances myself.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Home Security knows that a number of us, representing all the great local authorities' associations of the country, met him in July. We selected as our spokesman, quite irrespective of political predilections, the best man for the job, namely, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney, and we had a very full reply from the right hon. Gentleman. He left out no vague statement that could be relied upon to make us go away feeling that we had his good wishes, but quite empty of any specific promises. Three months have passed since then, and all that we have heard has been contained in a circular that has been sent to these local authorities. I have a copy of it in front of-me, and it is called:A statement of Government policy submitted by the Home Office as a basis of discussion.I read this document through very carefully, and I came to the conclusion that either it was the notes from which the right hon. Gentleman made his speech in July, or it was the note made by his private secretary of the remarks that he made to us; and one does not have to be very skilled in what the theologians call the higher criticism to realise that this is a document that has been fetched out of a pigeon hole, because paragraph 9 of it—and this is a document that reached the local authorities on 21st September, when we had been at war 18 days—is headed:Arrangements during a period of special emergency not necessarily resulting in war.That is the ninth paragraph, and we are asked, on 21st September, to give our attention to the following:In a period of special emergency such as occurred in Septemter, 1938, local authorities might well be called upon to undertake measures on a scale beyond that of ordinary peace-time preparation for an emergency. The Government recognise that such measures might call for special financial assistance from them. They think, however, that so far as concerns measures which would normally be the subject of grant aid under (he Air Raid Precautions Act, 1937, and the Civil Defence Act, 1939, the general basis of grant should not be disturbed during the period of the emergency. If the emergency did not result in war"—2166 They may not have heard, in this Department of the Home Office on 21st September that the crisis of the last few days of August and the invasion of Poland had resulted in war, and—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)
Perhaps the hon. Member does not recall that at the meeting to which he referred an understanding was come to that the memorandum which was going to be prepared should be the subject of informal consultation before it was communicated in a more formal way to the associations. The memorandum was prepared well before the outbreak of war, and it was communicated informally. It is not the case that it was brought out of a pigeon hole in order that it could be communicated formally.
§ Mr. Ede
I am not dealing with what happened before the outbreak of war. I am dealing with a formal communication on 21st September. If it had not been a formal communication, I would not have mentioned it to-day. It goes on:If the emergency did not result in war, the Government would undertake that the special expenditure should be reviewed as soon as possible after the event"—I should have thought it would have been "after the failure of the event"—and they are prepared to give an assurance now that the settlement would not be ungenerous to local authorities. If the emergency resulted in war, expenditure immediately before the outbreak of war would fall to be dealt with under the special arrangements for dealing with war-time expenditure.This has given us the very gravest concern, because many of the poorer authorities at least are faced with a day-today consideration of how they can make both ends meet in the present circumstances, and it is high time that we got away from vague generalities and came down to the practical business of discussing pounds, shillings, and pence actually to be paid over by the Government. I do trust that in the very near future this particular matter will receive the active attention of the Government, and that the local authorities may know at a very early date exactly where they stand in this matter of finance, because unless they are able to get a very careful and detailed statement from the Minister, with some assurance that money is to be forthcoming from the Treasury, it will be quite 2167 impossible for them to carry on, not merely war-time expenditure, but their ordinary peace-time expenditure. I have reason to believe that others of my hon. Friends will have something to say about this question of finance, but I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the local authorities and we on this side of the House regard it as a matter of the very first concern. We think that an early meeting should take place and that a decision should be taken by the Government at the very earliest possible moment.
May I now say a few words on the subject of evacuation, and may I begin by saying that I think the people who are most to be thanked by this House, and by everyone who has the safety of the children at heart, are the gallant women who, for the past eight or nine weeks, have been providing homes and all the comforts of home in the reception areas for these children? They have played their part in a way that is worthy of anything that has ever been said of the spirit of our race in facing difficulties for a national need. I am quite sure of this, that while, of course, we cannot evacuate this large number of people without there being some misfits, there has been, on the part of the receivers of the children, in the vast majority of cases an earnest determination to make the best of the situation and to do the very best they could for the children. I hope that that will be recognised and that every effort will be made, consistent with maintaining the scheme, to ease the position of these people as much as possible.
I am bound to say that I think the Government have not been over-generous in the payments which they have made to these people. I know there are some children whom one can feed for the figure allowed, but it is astonishing—at least, this is the view that I have formed after many years camping with boys—what a variation there can be in the appetites that boys have. It is by no means the boy who eats most who is the best advertisement for the food that he has received. Some of the thinnest people appear to consume the most. I feel strong sympathy with those women who have children of their own who go to school at one time of the day, and have billeted on them evacuated children who go to school at another time, if the home is any distance from the school, because it 2168 almost inevitably means two meals to be prepared for the children in the middle of the day. It is, of course, essential that the children should get a good meal in the middle of the day. I hope that it will be possible to arrange for some form of communal feeding in most of the areas. I do not think that the Minister will be able to deduct a very large sum from the amount that is provided for the billeting of the children, but it is clear that some slight deduction will have to be made. I doubt whether more than 3d. a day could be deducted as a maximum. I am sure, however, that communal feeding would be one way of considerably easing the domestic burden that is thrown on the householder.
With regard to the position of the education authorities, it is a great pity that they were not made the billeting authorities, because from the moment the child has been placed in the billet all the services on which he has to rely are the services of the education authority and not of the billeting authority where it is not the education authority. In the case of Part III education authorises, the billeting authority and the education authority are one and the same, but in the great bulk of the receiving areas the county council has to provide the services once the child has been billeted. The two services of health and education which have had to stand the strain are those of the county council. I hope that it may be possible to associate the county council more closely with any further scheme of billeting than was the case in the original scheme. I was disappointed to hear the other day that the first camp to be constructed and occupied had been occupied by the Bank of England. It was a clear indication who rules the country. Mr. Montagu Norman clearly comes before the children who might have been evacuated to this camp. I hope that some of the more highly specialised schools will get a chance of being brought together in these camps.
The Parliamentary Secretary made some remarks at Question Time about technical schools with which I heartily agree. I can only hope that he will secure for technical purposes the Guildford Technical College as soon as possible. Schools have been scattered over several villages irrespective of. any technical schools which they might attend. London has selective central schools, a highly 2169 specialised form of school which is almost peculiar to London. I do not think there is any county area which has a selective central school within its educational framework. I hope that schools such as these may be brought together in the camps. They are the kind of schools which would form good inhabitants of the camp and for which the camp form of life would be appropriate. I hope that no other mercantile organisation, if one is allowed to refer to the Bank of England in that way, will get the priority which the Bank of England obtained in this case.
The problem of evacuation has now been seen in practically all its phases, except that of the possible increased tendency to return now that the Government have declared their intention of eventually opening schools in the evacuation areas. What I am about to say is my personal view, and does not of necessity bind anyone else. I should be very sorry to undertake the responsibility of compelling children, as the Government will have to do after Christmas, to attend school in an area which they have previously declared to be unsafe for attendance at school. The responsibility is the Government's and not mine. If I get an order I will obey it, but I shall do nothing of my own volition to incur that heavy responsibility. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make sure that there is reasonably adequate shelter, and not makeshift shelter, in any school in an evacuation area to which he calls children. Nearly the whole range of this particular form of defence is entirely novel in the history of our country. I saw that a good lady wrote to the Times" the other day citing Cobbett's strictures on the caves at Dover to prove that somebody had thought of A.R.P. during the Napoleonic wars. I cannot but think that her ingenuity was somewhat misplaced.
We on this side have never believed that there would not be discomfort and unavoidable friction in the working of this new service, but we ask the Minister to realise that we are very anxious that this service for the preservation of life and limb and of morale on the home front is one in which we take the liveliest interest. We shall be prepared to give him the utmost support in any effort he may have to make to ensure the efficiency of the service. We desire to pay our 2170 tribute to the men and women, whether paid or voluntary, who are doing anything to make this part of our war effort successful. We hope that the efforts that are made will, in the event of air attack, be of sufficient efficiency to enable people to endure with fortitude any trials that may come upon them. We can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if we find him failing in securing the efficiency of those services we shall feel bound from time to time to see that he is appropriately criticised in the House.
§ 4.39 P.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris
In the Debate two days ago the right hon. Gentleman as Home Secretary had a very hectic evening. To-day I think he will have a smoother passage in his other capacity as Minister of Home Security. I cannot help recollecting that before the war, when he was Lord Privy Seal, home security was considered to be his whole-time job. I felt considerable sympathy with him on Tuesday when he had to stand such a volley of attack from every section of the House, because as Home Secretary he had only taken over during the war, while his main interests in the previous months had been the difficult task of providing for the safety of the people in case of war. I think that, on the whole now, we can feel considerable satisfaction at the progress made in Civil Defence. I do not think it is unreasonable to say that we have made more progress in many respects in the last two months than we did in the previous 12. We can only thank our stars that there was no mass attack during the first week of the war. It is extraordinary what a stimulus there is when danger is at our doors, and how much the local authorities were able to accomplish and how many difficulties they were able to overcome in the early days of the war. Within my own knowledge London has been provided with thousands of shelters since the outbreak of war, shelters which there were all sorts of difficulties in providing in the weeks before.
The Minister will be the first to admit that in an area like London, particularly Greater London, there are considerable gaps. That is inevitable in a system of local government like that in the Metropolitan area. Of one thing I should like his assurance. How far has he a system of inspection and how far does his De- 2171 partment supervise and stimulate in an endeavour to get the gaps filled up? One of the problems in London is that many people work in one, area and live in another. Sometimes the area in which they work is the wealthiest and perhaps the best organised and well provided with shelters, but when they get back to their suburban homes they find there is not such good provision. The organisation of A.R.P. varies from area to area, from borough to borough, and from district to district. I suggest, therefore, that one of the main responsibilities of the right hon. Gentleman is to get one common standard so that the citizen does not suffer by reason of the differences in organisation between the different areas. The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate showed great capacity in dealing with these subjects. I cannot believe that he did not burn the midnight oil, but if his speech was not the result of burning the midnight oil, the less he prepares his speeches the better. He paid a tribute to the splendid men and women who are rendering voluntary service. In the fire brigade they have the compensation of a picturesque uniform which adds to their attraction.
There are also the men and women who do the dull, dreary routine of air-raid wardens as volunteers. The work of the volunteers is often obscure because of the comparatively few people who are receiving salaries, but it is necessary to have a nucleus of paid officials so that if there were a raid the organisation would be ready. These volunteers have one real grievance over their equipment. In some parts the equipment is good, but I am receiving constant complaints of lack of necessary appliances such as steel helmets, and the special gas masks. A good deal depends on the efficiency and go of the organisation. One authority knocks at the door of the Minister's Department more energetically than others, with the result that in some districts they are well supplied with necessary equipment. The volunteer who gives his services free and gives his time, often after a long day's work, to the service of the State is entitled to demand as good equipment as the paid man. In many areas there is a shortage of steel helmets. I have a letter stating that application was made for waterproof capes, but they have been refused, the applicants being told that they must buy 2172 them for themselves or utilise their own waterproof coats. I do not think that is a very generous way of treating citizens who are making such sacrifices for the State. At least they are entitled to as good treatment as special constables. The servants of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) ought to have, I will not say as picturesque a uniform, but the necessaries not merely to protect their clothes but to enable them, with comparative comfort, to carry out their aduous duties which are so vital to the safety of our towns.
I was glad that the hon. Member who opened this Debate gave us some personal experiences of the evacuation. I have been for 18 months—and I am still quite unrepentant—an ardent advocate of the evacuation of school children. I was on the committee of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure we were right. I hope the turn of events will not prove that we were right, but, quite apart from the danger of air raids, I am satisfied that children ought to be out of the hives of industry and the atmosphere of danger in our great cities under war conditions. I agree with those critics who have opposed the evacuation of mothers and their billeting in private homes. However anxious two mothers are to co-operate it is a terrible test to suggest that they should share the same fireplace and use the same cooking arrangements. It always leads to difficulty, and if it is insisted upon on too large a scale it is a way to cause civil discontent and to create an atmosphere hostile to the war. I know that that was the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman's Committee. We were very loth to encourage the evacuation of families. We felt that if the children could be got away into safety it would be easy, first, for the parents to look after themselves and, secondly, and not less important, for the local authorities to provide for the parents the necessary air-raid shelters. It is one thing for a mother to go out in the darkness of the night, at the sound of the airraid warning, dragging five or six children to a shelter, and quite another thing if she can go there with her husband and know that her children are far away out of danger and that she need not worry about them.
2173 I wish to pay a tribute, as did the hon. Member, to the splendid reception which, on the whole, and with certain exceptions, the children have met with in country homes. Like most hon. Members I have received many letters on the subject, some were letters of complaint but far more were letters of appreciation, particularly from schoolmasters. After all, I represent probably the poorest district in London, an overcrowded area where the conditions of life are extraordinarily difficult. The headmaster of a large school there has written me some very interesting accounts of what has happened. I shall not bore the House with long quotations, but I should like to read one or two extracts from his letters. He writes:So far, our existence has been very primitive. No bus, no post office and one delivery per day. Water drawn from a pump down the road and the sanitation does not bear thinking about.The standard of sanitation in Bethnal Green is not very high, but imagine taking people from a crowded area of London and scattering them among a lot of country villages with no proper water supply and no sanitation. Transport is another very real problem, and I do not know how it is going to be overcome. The headmaster writes:To get round the villages I have to use a car- It is quite impossible otherwise. It is rather amusing to find that the London County Council or the Ministry of Health, I do not know which, has laid it down that expenses may be claimed only when journeys are taken by public vehicles. I am 3½ miles from a bus, and when the buses do run they only run twice a week.He has to go round six or seven villages to see that the children are all happy, and has to pay the cost of running a car, which is a considerable expense. Another problem to which reference has already been made concerns the work of the billeting officers. Here, again, I should like to pay a tribute to those public-spirited men and women who have given voluntary service in the country areas, but undoubtedly some of them are very difficult. This headmaster writes:The chief weakness here is in the local billeting officers, who are voluntary workers and appear to take no responsibility.One billeting officer in his village asked the children to go home. They did not go, so he put three or four on a coach and sent them off to King's Cross in charge of the conductor, and the head- 2174 master says that it was not until a week later that he learned that they had arrived home safely and that for two or three days he did not know they had left at all. In this connection a lot depends upon adequate inspection, as I am sure the Ministry of Health realises. The people who give voluntary service vary very much; they are very human, and sometimes they are a little too critical; and I feel that after two months' experience we ought to have more effective supervision by the Ministry of Health.
Another serious difficulty, and one which is increasing, arises from the multiplicity of authorities in these areas. There is one for school children, one for land girls and one for the military. I have heard of a village, quite a country village, where 2,000 or 3,000 children had been billeted, and on top of that the Army has come along with a whole battalion of soldiers, putting an extraordinary strain on the sanitation and the local organisation of the district. I do not know whether the Minister of Health is conscious of the importance of this new problem. There ought to be closer cooperation between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, the War Office and the Air Ministry. It upsets the whole system of billeting if, after several hundred children have been billeted in a place, in marches the Army, and after them the land girls, all competing for everything and very often offering better prices for accommodation.
There is one satisfactory feature—I am going to quote once more from my headmaster—which will be encouraging to some of the agricultural Members. He writes:The children now talk about harvests, trees, game-birds, angling. They can spot partridges, pheasants, hares and rabbits, and all the common British birds.[Interruption.] Not the land girls. The young people from Bethnal Green are too innocent to know that phrase. The letter continues:They have taken part in the harvest and are now able to judge whether a stack is good or bad.In other words, the children have identified themselves with rural life. That must make a great difference to these children from East London. Had it not been for the war many of them would have remained tied to East London and never have visited the countryside.
2175 I am convinced that the country is the right place for children in war time. Not only is it safer, but it is better for their nerves. I have a vivid recollection of the bad effect of the last war upon thousands of children. Many of them have grown up weakened as a consequence of the nerve strain and constant excitement of the last war. We do not want to repeat that experience. But we are a free country. We are constantly reminded that we are fighting for freedom, and however much I am convinced of the immense advantages of evacuation for children I should be the first to resist any attempt to compel parents to part with their children. Still, I think the Government might have done more effective propaganda, in co-operation with the Press and the B.B.C.
I think that even now, after two months of comparative freedom from air attack, we ought to do more propaganda to persuade parents to allow children to go to the country. It is not made easier by the fact that parents now have to pay. Two months ago it was free. Most of us who went to see the parents put that forward as an inducement. I admit that there is a strong case for parents who can afford to pay being asked to pay, but it was a pity the claim was not made two months ago. It looks a little ungenerous, a little mean, to come along after two months and ask parents to pay the bill. That will not make it easier to persuade those parents who have so far held their children back. Also, it would be better to collect the money through the machinery of the education authorities than through public assistance, because there is something unpleasant in people having to be associated with what they still, unfortunately, regard as the Poor Law. But there it is. This is a free country. We must realise that many parents will not part with their children. It is very natural in the case of poor people, who have not much interest in life. The only things they care for are their homes and their children, and to ask them to break up their homes and send away their children is making a very big request.
I have said before, and I repeat, that it is about time the Board of Education woke up. I am glad to see that they are going to reopen the schools. It is easy to 2176 be critical and it may be that they did not realise what a large number of children would be left behind; but almost as great a danger as an air raid is the danger of having children neglected and robbed of their right to a proper education. The schools should reopen without delay, even if attendance is voluntary and not compulsory. If the local authorities are not prepared to take the responsibility for children in school because of the danger of air raids, I believe the vast majority of parents would be prepared to face that risk rather than see their children robbed of the advantages of education. It is absurd to suggest that putting the children in school is exposing them to undue risks. Anybody who goes about London knows that the children are not at home in the nursery; they are running about the streets, and if an air raid comes there is no organisation for collecting them and pushing them into air-raid shelters. In the day time, at any rate, they would be safer under the care of efficient teachers than they are when running wild about the streets. The State has a special responsibility for their education. Parliament has voted large sums of money, and the parents are entitled to have their children properly educated.
I agree that the Board of Education should co-operate with the local authorities to see that there is a reasonable system of air-raid shelters for the children. Playgrounds are available for the provision of shelters, and many buildings in our towns are strongly constructed and, with a little ingenuity, could be converted into safe refuges. That applies not only to evacuated areas but almost equally to some of the neutral areas. In some of the areas around London I believe that the whole of the juveniles are more or less deprived of a proper fulltime education. It is not merely that their education suffers; their health also deteriorates.
We have built up a fine system of medical inspection and treatment, and at a time like this I insist that whatever happens to their education, these medical services and nursing services should be brought into play to look after the children who are left behind. It is an integral part of our whole system of home defence. If as a result of the war the intelligence standards and the health standards of our child population deteriorate, we shall win by paying a very big price for it. However, I hope the President of the Board 2177 of Education will translate his promise into a practical scheme, so that parents who have been persuaded to part with their children will know that they are receiving some education.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
I agree that it is equally desirable from time to time to review some of the great Civil Defence services as it is to review some of the fighting Services and, therefore, I hope hon. Members will not grudge me the time if I review briefly the picture of the evacuation scheme up to date, and will forgive me if I intervene now rather than later on. There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss other points which will be raised in the Debate, and I can assure hon. Members that although I speak now, I have no intention of leaving, and shall listen attentively to any further points which may be raised.
§ Miss Wilkinson
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us who is going to reply, as some of us have important points to raise?
§ Mr. Elliot
It has been arranged through the usual channels that the Home Secretary will reply. He is, of course, closely concerned in these matters and his Department has been referred to several times already. If a general statement is to be made it should be made early so that hon. Members can view the position as a whole. We are apt to lose sight sometimes of the wood by too close an examination of the trees. This is a matter which is a particular concern of the House of Commons, because it is based on the recommendations of a Committee of the House which decided on the policy by a unanimous vote. At the beginning of last year about 100,000 workers were sent out into the country to call on 5,500,000 houses to ascertain whether accommodation could be provided on a voluntary basis for this great movement of the children. It was found that the people in the country were willing to accept this enormous responsibility, and I am more than happy to hear the tributes which have been paid by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) to the magnificent way in which the housewives of the country have accepted the task which was offered them to take in and care for this enormous exodus of children from the towns to the country.
2178 The scheme was worked out not merely as a result of Debates in this House, but also as a result of debates which took place throughout the length and breadth of the land. In all the great regional capitals, in places like Newcastle and Leeds and Bristol, meetings were held with local authorities and the policy and the scheme and the duties of each partner in it were carefully discussed. In Scotland similar action was taken. The scheme, of course, covers Scotland as well as England and Wales. The responsibility for the operation of the scheme in Scotland is in the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I shall give figures covering the United Kingdom, because the problem of the two countries is not dissimilar and the action taken has been on closely parallel lines.
The House will remember the universal relief there was when the crisis came that these plans were in existence, and they will remember, too, what pressure came at the end of August last for the plans to be put forthwith into operation. The matter was one which could not be delayed. Many of the criticisms which have arisen since might have been avoided if time and labour had permitted. But in the circumstances in which we found ourselves in August pressure was brought from all sides, and it met with unanimous consent, that the plans for evacuation should be put into effect. Although difficulties and hardships would arise, the country as a whole was willing to accept them as part of the price it was willing to pay to ensure that, as far as possible, the children should be removed from immediate danger. The actual movement covered 750,000 unaccompanied schoolchildren, 542,000 mothers and young children, 12,000 expectant mothers and 77,000 others. These 1,500,000 people, mainly children, were entrained, moved 50 to 100 miles, detrained, fed and re-accommodated, in the space of four days without a single casualty. That is an achievement for which the Ministry of Transport, which had the duty of transporting these children, and the Ministry of Food, which had to provide the rations for them, deserve the very greatest credit.
The scale of the administrative preparations which the scheme involved can be judged by, for instance, the complaints tribunals. Tribunals had to be set up in each one of the 1,200 reception areas 2179 in England, Scotland and Wales. Those who have had anything to do with the setting up of tribunals at short notice will appreciate what a task that was. The tribunals have done their work well. In two months' time this system has heard and decided on some 10,000 cases. I have here the figures covering two-thirds of the areas. In them 5,363 cases have been heard and the complaint upheld, 1,658 cases have been heard and the complain rejected, and only 648 remain still for hearing. Not 100 cases—not 50 cases, I believe—have gone to the law courts. That is a very remarkable fact, and it reflects the greatest credit on those who, at short notice, undertook these most onerous duties.
The basis of the scheme was billeting in private houses. Camps and empty houses have been used wherever possible, but they could not carry the main load. Let me refer to a paragraph of the House of Commons Committee's report:It does not appear to be practicable to rely at the outset to any large extent on the use of camps for the permanent accommodation of evacuated persons. The capacity of existing camps of a permanent or semi-permanent character is very limited, and temporary camps (apart from the time occupied in their erection) involve questions of feeding, water supply and sanitation which militate against their use on any extensive scale.To accommodate 1,500,000 people in camps would entail a capital expenditure of £100,000,000, and, even if labour and materials were not being drawn upon for other essential purposes, a programme of that size would require a long time to carry through. But labour and materials are being drawn upon most heavily for other works which are vitally necessary for the safety of the nation and the conduct of the war. The difficulties which the War Office and other Departments have experienced in carrying out a programme of hutments—the difficulties which the Ministry of Health has itself experienced in the construction of hutted hospitals—are sufficient proof of the obstacles, almost insuperable, with which we should have been faced if we had attempted to start a camp programme to cover this enormous movement. Furthermore, camp accommodation is not without its own disadvantages. The desirability of using camps is present in all our minds, but do not let us think that camps would remove the difficulties which we find in the billeting system. They would 2180 substitute fresh difficulties of their own, and would necessitate much supervision if they were to be a success. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for South Shields speak of the desirability of using hutted camps for secondary and technical schools. I have taken note of what he said. It seemed to be closely in line with the conclusion to which we have been coming. The suggestion will be examined on its merits, and we shall see that the problem is regarded as a problem not of one particular institution for one particular camp, but as a general rule which is to be applicable in all cases.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not want to tie the hon. Member down, but I was only indicating that his mind seemed to be running on the same lines as those who consider this matter from the official point of view: that it is not a question of these camps being suitable for a large number of small schoolchildren, but rather for the more specialised type of school which he had in mind. No doubt the House would wish me now—
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain why he gave the use of the first camp to the Bank of England?
§ Mr. Elliot
Perhaps the hon. Member will excuse me if I do not go into the matter in any great detail. The general movement was made out of London of institutions, both teaching and other, which were vitally necessary for the conduct of the war. I acted on a certificate from the appropriate authority that the work to be performed by certain girl clerks of the Bank, who were living in conditions of great discomfort which were in fact complained about by letters from hon. Members on the other side of the House, was work of great national importance. It seemed to me desirable as a precautionary measure and for a short time that a certain amount of accommo- 2181 dation should be offered to those people. I do not apologise for that. We have to remember that the use of these camps was contemplated for adults as well as for children. I have heard it suggested that they should be used for mothers who found difficulty in billets. I am not at all sure that 50 such cases living together in one long hutted domitory would have found any less difficulty. We had to consider the problem presented to us at the outset of the war from the point of view of getting the maximum evacuation from London in the shortest possible time, and on that basis and after consultation with those concerned I think the action which I took was the best in the circumstances.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
Some of the handicapped children are housed in camps which are not satisfactory. Accommodation was urgently needed and evacuation was for the priority classes. I have yet to learn that the Bank of England was included in the priority classes for evacuation.
§ Mr. Elliot
The right hon. Gentleman knows that a large number of handicapped children have been and are being found accommodation. Those who were billeted in unsuitable conditions were moved or are about to be moved. Camps on the east coast of England to which the right hon. Gentleman and others took exception have so far as possible been evacuated. I think the fact that they have been evacuated to camps a great deal nearer to the west coast of England has not entirely solved the problems which he and I found when we were examining these conditions. I say again that I will not take it for granted that even for handicapped children or some classes of handicapped children that particular camp was the most appropriate place. Let us remember that the camps were built not for handicapped persons but for fully fit persons, and that to set handicapped children to climb up steep slopes or to scramble into bunks built one above the other is not the most satisfactory solution of the problem from the medical point of view. I beg hon. Members to consider that many things are done as temporary measures that none of us would wish to continue. It is not desired that this arrangement should continue as part of the mechanism of either camps or billets.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am attempting to give the House a reasoned picture of this vast subject of evacuation. I am willing to deal for a short time with this point of detail but I do not think the House would wish me to be led away into long discussions of purely detailed matters. This is a very big subject and I do not want to trespass unduly on the time of the House.
The next thing I want to touch upon is a matter which concerns us all. It is, to-what extent has the movement succeeded or failed? How many children are still out; how many mothers are still out, in the reception areas? I have taken steps to find out both by census by the receiving authorities, which unfortunately takes a long time, and by special inquiry in six or seven of the largest cities. Because of the children who are still in them those large cities can give at the present moment the most accurate picture we shall be able to get. It is interesting and important to realise that 50 per cent. of the mothers who went out in September and over 78 per cent. of the children are still in the reception areas. We are sometimes asked to believe that nearly all the mothers and about three quarters of the children have returned. But so far as we can ascertain to-day 78 per cent. of the children who went to the reception areas are there tonight. That is very fine testimony to the success of the scheme so far as the children are concerned. We need not be ashamed that 50 per cent. of the mothers and others who have gone out are still there when we consider the very special difficulties that arise from the separation of families.
The House will further wish to know—I believe it is the special desire of the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest)—about the work that has been done to maintain healthy conditions in the reception areas. Again, I wish to give figures which will cover the matter in a general way. The efficiency of the health services can best be estimated from an examination of the vital statistics to date. Let me take the simplest of them, those 2183 that relate to epidemics. It was the great fear of many people before, during, and after the evacuation, that epidemics would be widespread as a result either of the condition of the children who came out, or of the lack of sanitary education of which people have complained, or as a result of the additional strain on the sanitary arrangements and health services of the reception areas to which the children went. We have returns of the incidence of infectious diseases in the reception areas for the first two months since the outbreak of war. The salient fact stands out that there has been no outbreak of epidemics within those two months. Not only that, but the figures for the epidemic diseases are lower than those of the corresponding period of 1938. That is a very fine result.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
In dealing with this matter would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is aware of any district in which rather than lose the payment which is made for billeting, children are being kept in the homes to which they have been evacuated and not sent to the hospitals that have been provided?
§ Mr. Elliot
No, Sir, I am not aware of that. And I should be surprised if it were taking place on any large scale—certainly on any scale sufficient to vitiate the figures which I am about to give to the House. I am dealing with notifiable diseases for which medical men receive a fee for notification. It is not merely a matter of good will on one side or the other. The doctors are being paid to carry out this work and they receive a fee for notification.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Perhaps the Minister has not overlooked the fee for attendance if the patients remain at home.
§ Mr. Elliot
Any doctor who did not isolate cases of cerebro-spinal fever, infantile paralysis, enteric fever, diphtheria and the other diseases I am talking about would be guilty of the greatest negligence. He might indeed find himself open to a much more serious charge. I do not want to over-emphasise these cases because we have had a sunny and healthy autumn and the figures which I have must be considered with all due reserve. But it is remarkable that in the two months of this great migration the nation had actually less epidemic disease than 2184 in two corresponding months of full peace. I will give the figures of the fever group of diseases, diphtheria, enteric fever, pneumonia, cerebro-spinal fever and polio-myelitis or infantile paralysis, for the seven weeks to 21st October, 1938, and the same period in 1939. For diphtheria there were 9,960 cases in 1938 and 7,637 in 1939. For enteric fever there were 284 cases in 1938 and 437 cases in 1939. I will give an explanation of these figures in a moment. There were 4,365 cases of pneumonia in 1938 and 3,268 in 1939. With regard to cerebro-spinal fever there were 141 cases in 1938 and 177 in 1939. There were 544 cases of infantile paralysis in 1938 and only 267 in 1939.
If we take in detail one group of these cases, the figure for enteric fever, or typhoid, the disease of movements, the disease of bad sanitation, we get an even more striking result. We went into the migration with a high enteric figure and came out of it with a lower enteric figure. Notifications during the week before evacuation began were 62. In the week when it actually started they were 77. As against those figures the notifications were 47 and 32 in the corresponding weeks of 1938. In the last two weeks for which we have figures the numbers are 42 for the evacuation year and 32 for the previous year, and, for the last week, 31 for the evacuation period and 36 for last year. The figure has actually declined from the higher to the lower figure over the corresponding week of full peace. That is the disease of camps, of movement, of unsatisfactory or careless sanitation, and it is lower in the last week for which we have records than it was in the corresponding week in the year before, when no such movement took place. That is a figure which it is worth giving and placing on record, because every Member of this House can take comfort from that result of the work of our health and social services the effectiveness of which in the reception areas under evacuation conditions some Members were inclined to query.
The same conclusion is borne out by an examination of the maternity problem. To move some 12,000 expectant mothers, and still more to carry through the labour in maternity homes with a scratch personnel and improvised accommodation was a very great and anxious task. In the 165 or so maternity homes which were 2185 got together comprising 4,500 beds, we had in the first six weeks of the war over 3,500 confinements. The proportion of complicated cases has been no higher than normal. The incidence of puerperal fever and puerperal pyrexia up to the week ended 21st October showed no increase over 1938. That is a tribute to the care, the attention and the devotion of those who served the women in labour in those 165 maternity homes. And it is right for this House to take note of it, and for the nation to appreciate it.
We are not intending to stand still. In our circulars issued at the beginning of last week—in Circular 1882 which was issued on 2nd October for England and in Circular 38 issued on 18th October for Scotland—we authorised the provision of accommodation in separate houses for children suffering from minor illnesses, or convalescent from more serious illnesses, who could not properly be cared for in briefs. That was the point raised by an hen. Member opposite. In many areas Women's Voluntary Services have expressed their readiness to help with the staffing of the houses. Where the receiving district authorities agree, the county council will be responsible for providing and maintaining the sick bay. As most hon. Members, and professional Members especially, will realise, the establishment of sick bays for cases of minor illnesses requires careful medical control. It is important in making arrangements of this kind that each case of minor illness should be admitted only on the recommendation of a medical practitioner, that the practitioner should continue to attend regularly at the sick bay, and that the staff should include at least one trained nurse. We do not want simply to shovel cases of sickness among children into houses where enthusiastic amateurs might neglect to observe the development of certain symptoms which might be dangerous to the patient or to those around him.
I cannot give figures for the whole country showing how much additional sick-bay and isolation accommodation for non-notifiable infectious diseases has been provided, but I have some specimen figures. They show that for a total evacuated population of about 380,000, about 800 beds are being provided for non-notifiable infectious diseases, and about another 800 beds for minor illnesses, so that if that proportion persists 2186 throughout the country we have something like 2,500 beds for non-notifiable infectious diseases and about the same number for minor illnesses, a total of some 5,000 beds in all.
The present arrangements provide for the compulsory notification of scarlet fever. Hon. Members will notice that I did not include scarlet fever in my figures. I omitted it because this is not a scarlet year. It is a year in which the figures for scarlet fever would be declining anyhow and, therefore, they would follow the same trend as the other figures which I gave the House. This is what is known as a measles year—I hope that will not be taken to have any political significance—and consequently we have made both measles and whooping cough compulsorily notifiable. Thus the local authorities will know at once whenever an epidemic threatens and will be able to take the necessary measures promptly. Of course hospitalisation will be available—the beds in the emergency hospital scheme will be available if necessary to deal with calls for extra beds for cases which the existing infectious diseases hospitals are not capable of accommodating.
It will be within the recollection of the House that, in co-operation with the Central Medical War Committee, arrangements have been made for the domiciliary treatment by general practitioners of unaccompanied school children in the reception areas. The treatment will be given to every child in need of it without charge to the householder. The doctor will look for payment to the Government and not to the local authority. The cost works out at slightly over 2d. a week, which is equivalent to about £250,000 per annum. 5,000 additional institutional beds and £250,000 for children's domiciliary medical treatment show the size and sweep of the arrangements which we are discussing this afternoon.
So much for the present. As for the future the great question is, will those who have been evacuated continue to drift back? Let us look at some of the main factors. One factor was mentioned by the hon. baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green when he referred to the effect of the scheme for recovering billeting costs. In order to consider the effect of the scheme for recovering billeting costs of unaccompanied children from parents, I have obtained figures from two 2187 large evacuable areas—London in the South and Newcastle-on-Tyne in the North. I obtained these figures as they applied up to last night. Up to last night in Greater London, which includes the county boroughs of Croydon, East Ham and West Ham, 213,000 parents had been communicated with and replies had already been received from 157,000 of them; 12,400 parents state that they are in receipt of unemployment assistance or public assistance, and they will, of course, receive "nil" assessments. Of the remainder, 86,000 parents, or 60 per cent., have submitted particulars of their circumstances and these will be reviewed by the responsible officers who will assess the amount to be paid or, in those cases in which there are circumstances where it is justified, will return "nil" assessments. 58,600 parents, or 40 per cent., have already offered the full payment of 6s. or over. In Newcastle-on-Tyne nearly 12,500 parents have been communicated with and over 8,400 have replied. 900 parents say that they are in receipt of unemployment or public assistance and, of course, the same "nil" assessments will apply. Of the remainder, 3,700 parents, or 49 per cent., offer 6s. or more and 3,800, or 51 per cent., will require assessment. 202 appeals against assessments have been made to date and 65 parents—not 650, nor 6,500 but 65—have said that it is their intention to bring their children home. These examples show that a large proportion of parents realise that the scale on which they are asked to contribute is reasonable, and that the parents are prepared to make the contribution asked for. I do not consider that the recovery scheme is a decisive factor on the success or failure of evacuation. Most of those who have returned to the evacuable areas did, in fact, return before the recovery scheme became operative.
The next point is the effect of opening schools in evacuation areas. We have decided that such schools in evacuation areas as can be made available for educational purposes shall be reopened for the education of the children. The arrangements will take time and the rate of progress will vary in different areas but, as was said yesterday, we know the authorities will do their best to open the schools as soon as possible. I think it will be agreed that the opening of schools 2188 is no justification for parents to bring back their children from reception areas to which they were evacuated in the interests of their safety, but it is admitted on all sides that the reopening of schools in evacuation areas is essential as soon as possible. Education, school discipline, school health services and the milk-in-schools scheme are vital to the nation, and so are the maternity and child welfare services. It is vital for the evacuation areas to realise that the responsibility rests upon them and every step must be taken to discharge it.
Of much greater effect on evacuation is that of the social impact—the difficulties which were inherent in the scheme and which were, indeed, evident from the first day, and even before that—the sundering of the family, the relations of guest and host, the surrender of privacy, the incalculable effect of bringing certain inhabitants of crowded towns suddenly into homes which had never dreamt of the conditions under which some of the back streets live and move and have their being. That is the real impact and that is what the nation encountered in the first week of September of this year. Rarely has it been put to a greater test. According to the way in which we overcome those conditions, which will reveal shock and heartburning to the whole of our people now and in years to come, we shall stand or fall as a nation.
Some people have said that to avoid danger evacuation should be compulsory. A few air raids will soon show. I have here the figures for Scotland, for Rosyth, South Queensferry and North Queens-ferry, where they have had raids, where the Germans have been over, where the people have seen air battles taking place, and where they have had some indication of the conditions which might arise. There were 100 children in North Queens-ferry, 36 registered for evacuation and 35 of them went. In South Queensferry there were 500 children, no registered for evacuation and 79 of them went. In Inverkeithing there were 700 children, 90 registered for evacuation and 34 went. This was after the raids had taken place. These were areas, as hon. Members and especially Scottish hon. Members will remember, which were added as evacuation areas after the raids took place. They are close by the Forth Bridge, which is one of the greatest targets in this country. Yet there you have these figures—700 2189 children out of which 34 went after the raids had taken place.
§ Mr. Elliot
None of these places was actually bombed, I agree. What I mean is that even if the air battles went a great deal further than they have gone at present, I do not think it would make a very great difference to the number who would evacuate. Large-scale bombing of the civilian population would no doubt make a great difference, but at the same time, what I am dealing with is the situation which we have at present, and under present conditions I do not believe that a compulsory scheme would have a chance of being accepted by the people of this country.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
As the right hon. Gentleman has given the figures for other places, would he give the figures in respect of Rosyth?
§ Mr. Elliot
I could give the figures for Rosyth. They are extremely small, but it must be remembered that Rosyth was an evacuation area actually before the raids took place, so the fact that there is a small figure in regard to Rosyth—I think it is of the order of 100 children—is not a conclusive factor as in the other areas where we have taken the figures showing almost untouched school populations after raids. I find that in Rosyth 361 children went out, and no less than 31 per cent.—113—have come home again.
§ Mr. Watson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in that area Inverkeithing and North Queensferry are more dangerous places than Rosyth because Rosyth is some distance from the dockyards? Inverkeithing and North Queensferry are on the water's edge and not far from the dockyards.
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, but I have just given the figures for Inverkeithing. I do not think there is any difference of opinion throughout the House. The fact is that in certain villages and small towns where air raids have taken place the amount of evacuation is not as great as it has been in some places where no air raids have taken place, and I was using that as an argument for putting forward the statement, with which I think everyone agrees and which was agreed by the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West 2190 Bethnal Green, that a compulsory evacuation scheme would not have the backing of public opinion without which it would certainly fail. The return of 50 per cent. of the mothers and the movement about of many children show that—
This evacuation scheme for children was brought in by the Government in the national interest, that is to say, to preserve the men and women of the future, and also, if possible, to prevent the children of the present day having to go through the terrifying experience of a really bad air raid. The point which has been made by the Minister may be misunderstood in the country. The Government are going back upon that policy and they are saying because children have come back again to these areas—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman rose to ask a question; I must ask him to put it more concisely and not make a speech.
I am trying to explain. I am sorry if I have not done it very well. I hope the Government are not going back upon this policy in regard to the evacuation of children. It may not be possible to make it compulsory, but it is in the national interest that the children should be evacuated, and that they should not come back whether they wish to or not.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am afraid I have not made myself clear. I did not think it was necessary to repeat the warnings which were given in this House yesterday by the Parliamentary Secretary and also by the President of the Board of Education, as to the desire which the Government have that the children should not be returned to their homes. I have been going into details throughout my speech about the steps which are being taken in the reception areas to maintain adequate services for the children. I deprecate any suggestion that the figures that I am giving now should in any way be taken as an indication that the Government are weakening in their policy. All that I am saying is that compulsory evacuation would not be supported by the country, and I gave the figures merely by way of chapter and verse for that. Our purpose is not only to preserve child life, but to maintain the national morale. Of all the poolings from 2191 which we might suffer, pooled existence would be the most intolerable. If you tried to keep the nation pooled by pressure it would explode.
Let us recognise this: the scheme is striking root. You cannot now move children anywhere in the reception areas without instant comment, and in most cases complaint, not only from the parents but from the foster-parents, the householders, also. I have here the correspondence dealing with three cases which are typical of dozens that are coming into the Ministry weekly. The correspondence comes from an East coast town, a west country village, and a South coast holiday resort. All say that the children and hosts have settled down together, and beg that the children should not be moved. Here is a telegram from Frinton:Please do not move our evacuated children to Clacton. They are happy. So are we. Please give us your help.In the west country the parent's objected to the removal of their children from a village even though it seemed that that removal would be to the advantage of the children. The village billets were some distance from the school and it was considered convenient to bring them into Cirencester where they would be near the school. I have here a number of letters parents sent to me personally, quite independently of each other, begging that the move should not take place.
Then here is a series of petitions signed by an infinite number of people; and cuttings from a paper from which I think quotations on rather different lines were given earlier in the year—the "Eastbourne Herald." The paper says—in strenuous terms:Willingdon foster-parents up in arms.… The fight against the transfer to Barcombe will continue.… It has given us a chance a Herald reporter was told 'to consolidate our position and marshal our protest.'The petition was signed by many householders who said, "They have entered into the life of our homes," I am grateful to them and to the "Eastbourne Herald" for their great public spirit. I brought some of the foster-parents' letters down to the House myself. I am of a suspicious nature, and I could not accept this as a genuine unsought testimonial unless I examined it myself. Here are the signatures. It is within the power of any hon. Member to look over 2192 these very human documents, and I believe that any who do so will come to the same conclusion as I have.
§ Mr. Elliot
I hope the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth will be very gratified by the vigorous response which his constituents have given to the evacuation scheme, and that he will derive from it the encouragement which we all have in carrying out schemes of social reform when we know that they meet with the hearty good will of our constituents.
In such a Debate as this it is impossible for one speaker to do more than take one aspect of the subject. I have tried to take a general view, and I have had therefore to pass over many points of great importance—points which will be raised by subsequent speakers, I am sure, for they are very present in my own mind. There are health questions, questions about the position of relatives, and many other matters which have been raised in the House, and to which I shall certainly give attention. Yet. in comparison with the main picture, they are points of detail. This is an exodus bigger than that of Moses. It is the moving of 10 armies, each of which is as big as the whole British Expeditionary Force which has recently gone overseas to France. We have moved many scores of thousands of mothers, and we have moved every second schoolchild from a city population of nearly 15,000,000 souls to the countrysides. And they are there yet. These facts represent not only a great effort on the part of our people; they represent a great achievement of our people. The work, the hardships, the heartaches which that achievement has demanded will never be fully known. We at the Ministry are as conscious of them as most; and we have worked, and shall work, night and day to help. But that Sunday morning when war broke out and the syrens blew, which of us would not have grasped with both hands this picture of the children two months ahead if anyone had offered us a gift of the future?
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
I have listened with great attention to the Minister. I am only sorry that he could not speak later in the Debate, because there are some 2193 points on which I should have liked a reply, and on which I hope there will be a reply from the Minister who winds up. I confess that the statement in regard to evacuation is more favourable than I had expected. The statement that evacuation is striking root is one of the greatest possible significance, and one which augurs very well for the future. I had begun to have doubts latterly as to whether the Government were really adhering fully to the policy of evacuation; and the hon. and gallant Member for North Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) had evidently had such doubts as well. I am glad to know that the Government are adhering to it. This evacuation policy is not only designed to save life; it is a great Defence measure of importance from several other points of view. By taking people away from the scenes of bombing it avoids unnecessary casualties, which would overcrowd hospitals at a time of air attack and make first-aid work extremely difficult. Perhaps more important than anything else, it saves the younger generation from suffering war shock. What I am most afraid of in connection with the child population in the event of extensive air attack is war shock, from which I think there will be many unseen casualties, and from which it will take much longer to recover from than it would from an ordinary wound. Because of the need for this evacuation policy as a means of national defence, I hope that the Government will take means to strengthen the organisation already existing in the reception areas because, although the organisation has improved, it has certainly very serious deficiencies. Quite clearly, there is a need for improved educational facilities, especially secondary and technical schooling; but I do not propose to deal with that matter, because I understand that at an early date we are to have an opportunity of considering the education question in all its aspects.
There is an urgent need for improved welfare services in the reception areas, especially medical and nursing services. I am referring, of course, to school medical and nursing services, in the form of clinics, the inspection of children, and the general prevention of illness, which have made such a tremendous difference to the health of school children in the large cities during the last generation. We have been told that it is not certain 2194 whether the required number of nurses and doctors are available. I have made it my business to carry out inquiries among those who are responsible for, on the one hand, the national organisation of the nursing profession, and, on the other hand, the national organisation of the medical profession, in order to ascertain the situation with regard to the number of nurses and doctors available for the public health services, especially in the schools.
The situation is that, owing to the fact that on the outbreak of war medical officers of health to the various local authorities became the heads of the casualty medical services in their particular districts, the public health nurses belonging to those local authorities almost automatically went into first-aid posts, mobile units, and other services of that kind. I am told that in many public authorities as great a proportion as 80 per cent. of the nurses left their ordinary public health duties and became members of the staffs of first-aid posts or mobile units. That is excellent work, but it is a waste of the special capacities of these women. They are trained for public health duties, especially for school work, which is very specialised, and they have been drafted to first-aid and casualty work. That work might be regarded as essential if there were no other people to do it, but I have ascertained that if the whole of those nurses were withdrawn from their present employment in first-aid posts and allied services they could all be replaced from the civil nursing reserve, which contains a large number of people who are available and adequately trained for first-aid work.
I would point out that what the Minister has said to-day about the need to reopen the medical and clinic services in the towns will make it essential for him to take some of those nurses from the work on which they are at present employed. It would certainly be a very valuable step, and one which I believe ought to be made a definite point of policy, to bring all public health trained nurses back to their public health work, especially those who were engaged in the schools, in view of the fact that they can be replaced in the first-aid posts. It has been thought by a great many people that there are not enough doctors to go round the casualty services, and that all doctors should be marking time in readi- 2195 ness for a catastrophic air raid. The services must, of course, be kept up to the mark. I do not propose to deal with that question, although there is a good deal to be said on it. But in addition to meeting the need for doctors for the casualty services, there are sufficient to staff the public health services in the evacuation areas and to do the medical work required in the reception areas.
There seems to be no reason at all why the nursing and medical services required for school work should not be reinstituted in the towns, and why those not required in the towns should not be lent, as the Minister's Circular 1882 envisages, by the evacuation authority to the reception areas. Perhaps the Minister will say that in the circular he issued to reception authorities he said that they should address their request to the evacuation authorities for the staff they require, such as medical and nursing staff. I suggest that, in view of the enormous number of circulars which the poor unfortunate local authorities are always receiving, and which it is impossible even for the most experienced people to digest at once, there should be a plain and simple instruction that a certain proportion of doctors and nurses are to be- sent to the reception areas. In order to set up the services necessary from the school point of view the Government should take that responsibility and say within limits what the numbers of these people should be. It is also very essential that there should be welfare workers, either health visitors, or trained or partly trained people doing work in the reception areas in connection with the organisation of meals, the supply of clothing and of boots and shoes. While in certain areas billeting officers and their wives have been unswerving in their devotion to the duty of looking after the condition of the billeted children, in some areas the billeting officers I am told—I have not met them myself—have taken the view that once the children had been billeted their job was done. Of course it is not done at all. The children must be looked after, visited and cared for, and arrangements must be made with regard to meals, milk, clothing and so on.
There is another thing which has arisen in the reception areas. I am stressing the point because I believe it is essential to perfect and improve the con- 2196 ditions of the schools and the living in the reception areas so as to attract as many children there as possible, because it is much better to achieve the results of evacuating children by voluntary means than by compulsion. But there is another thing which requires doing in the reception areas, and that is the organisation of the leisure and social activities of the children outside school hours. In the towns from which the children come they live in their own homes and have their own social circle, the streets in which they play and neighbours whom they go and see, but when they get into the country they are in a strange world and have not the same friendships and social connections, and they may fall into a condition of very considerable boredom and dissatisfaction, or they may, especially in the case of older girls, fall into very serious social danger. It is very desirable indeed that this aspect of the matter should be given greater attention, and that organised methods of providing leisure occupation, games and opportunities for meeting in the evenings should be provided in the villages and small towns where perhaps they have not been provided before, otherwise, I am afraid, difficulties will arise.
Another way of strengthening the organisation of reception areas is by now earmarking and requisitioning, not necessarily for immediate use but for use if required, places for clinics and welfare centres to which difficult children may be sent. That is a very important point. The organisation for the possible reception of a much greater number of children in the reception areas than at present should now be prepared in order that if there is, as there well may be, and as many of us expect there will be, the necessity of another and a greater evacuation. Arrangements in the reception areas will be ready and they should be even better than they are now.
I want to turn to another matter which is not a public health one, but one which has been brought to my notice, and that is with regard to the necessity of maintaining the democratic control of the civil defence organisation. I have had brought to my notice the condition in one particular place—I will not give the name publicly, but if the right hon. Gentleman would like it, I will give it to him privately—where the town clerk has appointed himself evacuation officer, 2197 Billeting officer and food control officer, and has also appointed the borough engineer to be the division petroleum officer. These two officials of the local authority between them have the whole of the organisation of the place in their hands. They make all the appointments themselves—I can show newspaper cuttings on the matter—and in fact they are endeavouring apparently to see whether they can learn something from the methods of Hitler rather than from the methods of English democratic government. They are tyrannising over the local organisation. I have seen other not so serious examples of this but suggestions of that tendency towards undue control by individuals coming out in the coarse of some of the civil defence organisation. It is essential that we should keep democratic control of civil defence in every way, just because it is the most efficient kind of control and the way in which the organisation will best work.
There are many other points I could mention but I do not want to go over the whole ground for, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has said, there will be other opportunities for debates on this matter. This is only one of a series, but I urge that with regard to evacuation, we should keep the route of evacuation, as it were, oiled and greased for very swift action if it is required. The organisation in the country should be ready and more complete even than it is at present, and we should keep it human and humane and, above all, we should keep our organisation democratic and not allow these dictatorial people with brief authority to get away with something, which, I know, was never intended by the Minister, and I am sure is not sympathised with by this House.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
In his interesting speech the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) covered a great number of topics, and concluded by saying for his party what I am certain is true of the whole House, that the universal desire was for efficiency in air-raid precaution services. I only wish to raise one topic myself this evening, and it is not in a spirit of criticism for the past, but merely that it may be considered for the future. It relates to the choice and qualifications of air-raid precautions personnel. What 2198 I say may apply to other services, but I am thinking particularly at the moment of the London Ambulance Service. What are known to be the qualifications of the personnel at the time that they volunteered? In the case of the drivers the only known qualification was the possession of the driver's licence, and in the case of the attendants absolutely no qualification of any sort or kind was required. I dare say that at the time that, or something like it, was necessary and that no great harm has resulted therefrom, because, in the interval between the time when the personnel were first collected and the present time, some system of inspection has no doubt enabled the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), to satisfy themselves of the general qualifications and efficiency of the personnel still retained.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
It would be helpful if the hon. Member would give an indication of the minimum qualifications he himself thinks the services require.
§ Mr. Strauss
I was about to come to that. There are certain qualifications of course of character, intelligence and reliability. Under a system of inspection, whether conducted on behalf of the Minister or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney, it is possible no doubt to put right any failures that show themselves. The particular matter which I want to put forward for the consideration of both right hon. Gentlemen is that none of the personnel has submitted to medical inspection. That is very important indeed. If the London Ambulance Service is put to the very strenuous test to which it may be put, some of the personnel will be physically unable to stand up to the strain, and it is probable that it could be ascertained to-day who these were. But there is another point in connection with this matter of medical examination which must, I think, also be borne in mind. The protective clothing is at present not issued to the individual, but there is a given amount of protective clothing per ambulance. If the members of the service have to share protective clothing, I suggest that it may be injurious to the happiness and efficiency of the service if it is possible to suspect that some of the members are suffering 2199 from an infectious complaint. I offer the suggestion to both right hon. Gentlemen that there is a strong case for medical examination of a personnel that may be subjected to serious physical strain, especially when it is borne in mind that they share protective clothing and do not have their individual clothes in all cases. There are many other matters which many of us would like to raise, but I know that a great number of hon. Members wish to address the House, and I confine myself to that single point, not, as I say, to criticise for the past, but in order that the two right hon. Gentlemen, who I know are working hard for the efficiency of this service, may consider it and take such action as seems to them right.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
We have had from the Minister what, I think, we may congratulate him upon as being an excellent seller's talk for his particular scheme, and he could do it the better because he would know that he would not have to answer questions at the end, as he could put that awful job on to the right hon. Gentleman sitting beside him, and say "It is not my fault." Frankly, I think that the Minister has glossed over a number of the difficulties which are worrying those of us who are dealing with this problem in evacuation area constituencies and who go and see the children of our constituents in the reception areas. I admit that a very good job has been done, and it is a testimony to the organising ability and the very much aliveness of the Government Department, and the value of British local government, but a better job would have been done if the right hon. Gentleman had not overstrained the resources of small reception areas, where they have not the staff and personnel or the money to deal with some of the problems which were dumped upon them. Many evacuating areas with excellent municipal organisations dumped their problems of evacuation on to the small areas which had not the staff or the personnel available.
The right hon. Gentleman glossed over the difficulty with regard to what one might call the trek back. He put it rather cleverly that 50 per cent. of the mothers are remaining in the reception areas. He took care not to say that 50 per cent. had 2200 gone home. He has naturally to put his own case in the best way he can. In one matter I cannot accept the Minister's figures. This is not the Glasgow Union Debating Society, but the House of Commons. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman states a problem and then waves his hands as if it were no longer there. Let me deal with his figures in regard to Newcastle. He said that 12,500 parents had been written to and that 8,400 had replied, that the unemployed numbered 900, and that 3,700 had signified their willingness to pay. "Ah," said the right hon. Gentleman, "49 per cent. have agreed to pay. "But it was not 49 per cent. of the whole. He ignored the 4,100 who did not reply. From my knowledge of the Tyneside area I can say that people who cannot afford to pay are a pretty proud sort of people and just the sort of people who would not reply. I quote this only as an example of the Minister's habit in regard to figures.
I should be glad if the Minister would pay attention to a problem which is very serious and affects many people, not of the poorest class, who are willing to pay and can manage the 6s. with difficulty, but they feel the strain very much if there are two or three children evacuated. If the right hon. Gentleman would work out the percentage cost on a small income where two or three children are evacuated, he would soon see what it means in these households if they are to pay for two or three evacuated children. I have selected from a pile of letters some typical cases which show the charges that mothers in some cases are being asked to meet, in addition to the 6s. The mother of a secondary school scholarship girl says that she has been asked by the school to pay 2s. per week for school dinners and she is already paying 1s. 6d. a week postage for linen sent home to be laundered as she cannot afford to pay for the girl's laundry being done in the reception area. The mother of a London County Council schoolgirl is asked to pay 1s. 6d. per week for dinners and a letter of consent has to be signed and returned with the money.
Here is another case, still more common, where a scholarship girl is what one might call a swell secondary or grammar school girl. The mother of such a girl was asked by the school to contribute what was said to be a reasonable addition to the billeting allowance paid 2201 to the girl's hostess. From 4s. to 6s. a week was suggested as a reasonable addition, as the 8s. 6d. and 10s. 6d. were insufficient. In this case it was a circular letter of a kind that was sent to the parents of all the children at that particular school. There is another case of a scholarship girl attending a secondary school who was evacuated from London, and the mother has been asked to pay 25s. this term and 35s. in a normal term for bus fares and school meals. She was informed that this was a pooled charge for this particular school. These are typical cases out of a large number which shows that there is a real problem in regard to payment.
When we are dealing with people who are poorer than those to whom I have referred, I think it would have been better if the Minister had made it clear from the beginning not only that payment would be asked but that adjustments would be made. I understand that it is next Saturday that the payments come into operation. I spent last Monday visiting evacuated children in a considerable number of areas where the children from Jarrow, Hebburn, etc., had been evacuated. In each case I was informed that the number of children who were going home, or where notice had been given that they were going home, had very considerably increased that week because of the demand for payment which the mothers did not feel able to meet. This has a good deal to do with another problem in regard to the mothers, particularly in the distressed areas where, say, the wife and children of an unemployed man have been evacuated. It is not at all clear yet that the man is entitled to an amount above 17s. to keep the home together. The experience as to what amount is given varies very considerably, and it is rather worrying to some of these men who are receiving only a single man's allowance. I have received a large number of letters on this matter. There is an even greater difficulty in those areas which are not big pool areas of unemployment, but where the unemployed are small in numbers and they are asking for the extra allowance.
Now I come to the point as to how long we are to have to deal with this situation. We have to face facts. The Minister has given us a review of six weeks from the beginning of the war. We know from our own lives of the tre- 2202 mendous emotional urge and emotional stress in the early days of the war. I have heard most charming stories from little Weardale villages on the moors, where the whole population came out to welcome the children and the mothers, and there were cases where women went home weeping because they had not had a child allocated to them. It is a touching story, and that spirit is still alive, particularly where the children are concerned; but if this problem continues, and we are told that this may be a three years' war, then we are dealing with a problem where the strain will grow, and is growing considerably. It means not the taking in of children for two or three months but for a longer period, and it becomes a greater problem, a psychological problem when mothers and children have to be billeted. The problem where the mother of the children, without any particular work, is a real one, spread over a period. If the situation worsens, if we are likely to have air raids on a serious scale, then obviously more and more billets will be required and the greater will be the pressure on the reception areas. Therefore, we have to face up to the position and to the continuing strain.
The Minister will remember that those of us who met him when he was in Newcastle were very much in favour of hutment camps. We realise now that the difficulty of obtaining materials is serious, and I am afraid that hutment camps may be ruled out for the present time. But there is something possible other than the continuance of individual billets. Experiments are being made and I would ask the Minister, in spite of his having closed his mind to the idea of hut camps, that he would not close his mind entirely to the principle of communal groups or communal life, which certainly sounds better than the pooled existence of which we have heard. I should like to refer briefly to a few of the experiments that are being made, and to ask the Minister to look into them. I am not suggesting that these experiments should take the place of billeting, because it is clear that the individual billeting system has very largely come to stay; but I think we ought to develop the group system in order to relieve the pressure on the individual billets, because households cannot go on for ever with strangers in them.
One experiment for expectant or nursing mothers with very young children has 2203 been made by an organisation known as the Peckham Health Centre. They took 50 mothers down into the home counties, and the result has been that instead of the mothers being bored stiff with nothing to do except perhaps helping a bit in the household or doing a spot of cleaning or washing, they are being welded into a real community. Some help with the household work, others help in raising vegetables, and the whole scheme is worked on the basis of community existence. In addition, special provision is made for the husbands. When a husband goes down to visit his wife and children it often happens in other cases that he has no privacy, but in this particular case arrangements are made for married quarters if notice is given beforehand. The experience is that instead of the husband hanging round as a sort of supernumerary, he is soon helping in the general work of the community. I ask the Minister to consider that as a possibility of getting a real community life with something for the mothers to do. I beg hon. Members to forget that old joke, which has been run to death, that there are not two women who can share the same tap. For that matter, I do not suppose there are two men who can share the same razor. These things are all right as a cheap joke, but it is marvellous how many of these women have tackled a completely artificial existence, and I think we ought to consider some of the problems which they have to face.
Another point to which I want to refer is the difficulty of central control. I am sure that the Minister will agree that one problem has been the far too frequent visits of the parents to the children, especially in cases where the evacuation area is very near to the reception area. In such cases, naturally, the mothers and fathers visit the children every week. It is like pulling up a plant to see how it grows, and it does not give the children a chance of settling down. That is something which cannot be controlled in individual billets. In this connection, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider a scheme, which has been successfully tried in Durham. In the case of the Wolsing-ham Grammar School, to which the Jarrow Secondary School was evacuated, there was an almost impossible billeting problem. There was a long road going through many villages, with long dis- 2204 tances between them, and there was difficulty in communication. What the extremely energetic headmaster of Wolsingham Grammar School did—I am afraid on his own authority—was to take certain halls, and a large house which was put at his disposal, and organise in each case a community group. In the case of the boys, that has been so successful that the number returning home has been less than 3 per cent., and some of them have been older boys who have got jobs and gone away for that reason. When some of the boys were asked to volunteer to go into billets, because they were wanted by householders, they received the suggestion with laughter, and utterly refused. In the case of the girls, the scheme has not been quite so successful, because it has been impossible to get the Minister of Health to O.K. a very simple scheme for giving light to the-hall in question. I am worrying his Department about that now. I saw those girls, and it was wonderful to see the way they have settled down.
That is an experiment in community life, and I ask the Minister not simply to shut his mind to such schemes in areas where billeting is difficult, especially as in some of the areas where it is most difficult, there are available some very large houses. There is a feeling in some of the villages that the billeting officers are rather tending to put the children into the smaller houses where there is least accommodation, and that the larger houses, which have ample accommodation, bathrooms and gardens, have not been used. It may be that some of the houses are closed, but they could be reopened. I am not pleading for hutted camps, but I ask the Minister to give greater consideration to the question of group settlement.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health for his survey of evacuation. I think hon. Members in all parts of the House recognise that we are living through an experiment which is still going on, and the results of which will, perhaps, be the most important results of the war. It is something the. importance of which we cannot stress too much. Hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate have pointed to one or two small things which might be, and. which I hope will be, done in order to make the accommoda- 2205 tion and lot of the evacuated children and their mothers in the reception areas rather brighter and easier, especially during the winter. The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) said that he thought something should be done with regard to the leisure time of the evacuated children and their mothers. I think that is of tremendous importance. Some of us are trying to see whether cinematograph vans cannot be obtained to go round the villages and give exhibitions of not too dull a character. In my constituency, where they have received people from East Ham and West Ham, I find that what these people seem to miss most is the companionship of the streets and the possibility of going in somewhere and talking. I imagine that a village in Berkshire in the black-out is a very different thing from East Ham or West Ham. We can try to see whether we cannot bring cinematograph vans, or something of that sort, to the reception areas and give entertainments to the evacuated people. I think the Minister would be the first to recognise that all sorts of institutions, such as the Women's Institute and the women's voluntary services, are ready and anxious to contribute whatever they can in order to try to make the life of these people in the rural areas happy and comfortable.
With regard to the actual process of evacuation, I should like to say a word about the work that was done by the rail-waymen of all grades. The Minister of Transport was congratulated on the evacuation. I wonder whether hon. Members are aware of the overtime that was worked by the railwaymen cheerfully and happily, the extraordinary work that was done by the guards, the collectors, and even the engine drivers and firemen to make the children happy. They took immense pains, and even went to the length of providing hot water from the locomotives in some cases. These things have all done something to bind people together in this very great experiment, and I think everybody who has contributed towards this should be recognised.
§ Sir R. Glyn
Certainly. Moreover, at that time the bus drivers were being asked to move troops for the manning of 2206 anti-aircraft units, and many bus drivers worked far more hours than they ever claimed for, and showed a public spirit which many other people might well copy. There is another section of people, who have not been referred to in the Debate, to whom I want to refer. Wonderful self-sacrifice has been shown by Church workers of all sorts. There were particularly bad instances of a lack of imagination. I am thinking mainly of the evacuation of the Roman Catholic population from a part of Liverpool into an area of the country where there was a condition of Protestantism which was perfectly incredible, and where the people really seemed to believe that Papists were persons whose end was already assured. Hon. Members can imagine the strain that was put on such an area when Roman Catholics came from Liverpool and elsewhere and were billeted in the very homes of people who had been brought up to believe that a black Papist was the last person in the world. In spite of that extraordinary situation, owing to the tact and consideration very largely of the nuns and the friars the strain has been broken down. I do not mean to say for a moment that those districts of the country which are addicted to extreme Protestantism have been converted to Roman Catholicism—far from it—but the people realise that there is-some good in other people, even though they belong to a different creed. That was a remarkable achievement. I think it is only fair and right to recognise the way in which all Churches, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, have worked in this connection.
There is one matter which I ask the Minister to consider. At the present time, a large number of troops are billeted in certain areas owing to the necessity of having training areas for the divisions which are preparing to go overseas. In many cases troops have had to be billeted, under police arrangements, in an area already full of evacuated mothers and children. That is a matter which has not yet been fully appreciated, but it will lead to considerable complications. I need not go into the details, but anyone can imagine the difficulties that may arise if you cram a large number of troops into an area already full of children, and in some cases mothers. As far as I know, nothing has yet been done to define the areas and to make allowances for 2207 this sort of overcrowding. It is a matter which, as the winter approaches, needs very careful consideration, for undoubtedly the barns and other places in which the troops are now accommodated will not be suitable for them in the midst of winter, and they will have to be moved into billets, thus making the situation even more difficult.
There is another matter to which I want to refer. I think we have a responsibility for a very large number of foreigners who live in this country—and have lived here for some time—and have been evacuated. Many of these nationalities provide their own old-age homes for their old people. I happen to know that Scandinavians of this sort have been evacuated to a centre in Hertfordshire. These people, who had been living in alms houses supported by the Churches of their countries, were suddenly moved down to Hertfordshire, and put altogether. They are finding great difficulty in obtaining the necessary attention, as no nursing is provided for them; they are not getting a sufficient amount of food; and, indeed, when they were first put there, there was no heating whatsoever, and older people of 70 and 80 years, who had thought their lives were going to finish in the alms houses, found that they had to walk in the open through all weather at great discomfort. We ought to recognise that we have an obligation to make as happy as possible the lot of these people belonging to other nationalities.
The hon. Member for North Islington spoke of the position of the great voluntary hospitals and the immobilisation of a good many doctors. Those who have been associated with the London general hospitals know of the tremendous day-to-day work which they perform. I know that this matter is receiving the close attention of the Minister, but the fact remains that it must be settled fairly soon—especially with the winter coming—as to what ought to be the establishment of the general hospitals in London. When the scheme was first put forward, the general hospitals had to keep a large number of beds empty, and to evacuate patients, and each hospital had a sort of zone through which it would work; but the essential matter to-day is that the doctors, who have now been acquainted 2208 with their war stations and know what they will have to do in cases of emergency, should have such terms offered to them as enable them to get on with their ordinary work, especially as consultants. There are many instances, of which the Minister is aware, where it is almost impossible for a general practitioner to recommend his patients to go for a second opinion, because the person to whom he would like to send them is immobilised, and in many cases there is nothing for that person to do but to play round after round of golf. He is unable to take up his ordinary work.
The Minister stated at Question Time that he had appointed a committee which would make a report. I hope that report will be rather more generous than the previous terms, because unless it is made an attraction to distinguished specialists to give their part-time services, it will not be possible for the hospitals in London to continue the work which they should do. I think that inquiries at any hospital in London will show that the number of beds they are now allowed will be inadequate if there should happen to be an epidemic of influenza in London. I am certain the first thing to do is to have the specialists and consultants freed from their immobilisation somewhere in the zone of their particular hospital.
This question is one which doctors in the House know more about than I do as a layman. The Minister of Health being of that profession himself, is far more aware of the difficulties than I am. I can only speak from my knowledge of a particular London hospital and its work, but I beg the Minister to realise that those connected with the London hospitals feel this to be a matter of great importance. We hope that a solution will be found which will give confidence to the medical profession and enable the ordinary medical care of the civilian population to be continued without interruption. In the last war, I believe, that doctors once they had learned their war stations were enabled to continue their ordinary work. I recognise that there is a new situation to-day owing to the danger of air raids and the necessity for keeping open a great deal of accommodation to meet any emergency but surely it is possible to combine those precautions with the proper care and treatment of the civilian population in London and other large cities.
2209 I mention only one other case, and that is the case of people who are under treatment for threatened blindness. Owing to the immobilisation of a number of specialists who are now unable to carry on their normal duties, people who were under treatment for threatened blindness are seriously affected. There are cases in which radium has to be administered, and for certain reasons radium treatment cannot be given at this particular time. This makes it all the more important that we realise that the care of the sick and suffering is the doctor's first duty. One can imagine the feelings of those doctors who are anxious to carry on their noble work at the present time but are prevented from doing so by bureaucratic rules.
I would like to add a few words about the medical care of children who have been evacuated to rural areas. If mobile clinics, equipped in the same manner as the clinics used for the Army oversea, could go round and provide temporary treatment for throat and ear ailments and the like, it would be of the utmost importance. It is impossible for us in the reception areas to undertake that all cases will be accommodated in the cottage hospitals, but it ought to be comparatively easy to find equipment and means for the periodic inspection and treatment of children now in the rural areas. It cannot be done however under the existing machinery. That is already inadequate for our needs, and if children have been receiving, up to this time, treatment in places where the amenities and facilities were better than those which are available in the country, it is very foolish that they should be allowed to go back in their treatment now, owing to lack of supervision.
In a country school one will sometimes find a boy with a dirty face being told by the teacher to go and wash his face, but when he goes to the washing place he takes a dry towel and scrubs his face with it, without using the water. That is due, largely, to the difficulty of getting water. We ought to provide the children with the wherewithal to do these things. The children should be treated with the patience and kindness which can be shown by those who are accustomed to children and we should try to ensure that both the children from the towns and the rural children are able to derive advan- 2210 tage from the present position. I think the Minister has stated that there has been an astonishing change for the better, even within two months, in the physical condition of some of these children. That is a great national asset and to retain it, we ought to see that proper medical and dental supervision is provided in the rural areas.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett
I intervene with some diffidence in this Debate, because I wish to call attention to some other aspects of Civil Defence which may not seem to hon. Members anything like as important as the subject which has so far been discussed. I wish to ask the Minister, or rather the Ministers, because the matters which I wish to raise affect more than one Department, certain questions. In the first place, there is the question of the black-out. Naturally, and quite rightly, the military authorities want the black-out to be as complete as possible. It is their job to keep down civilian casualties. They would probably prefer that we should live in complete darkness. They might even prefer that we should not live at all, were it not that there would be nobody then to pay the taxes. But because we do not want to live like troglodytes in caves, there is a growing feeling throughout the country against some of the black-out regulations. There is a growing feeling that the regulations are exaggerated and in some cases unnecessary.
If these regulations are really necessary, I suggest that a greater effort should be made to convince people of their necessity. It is obvious that safety is the first, but it is not the only, consideration. It is no good making us safe, if by so doing you destroy the morale of the people and that cheerfulness which the posters issued by another Government Department assure us is so very essential. If you destroy that cheerfulness, by compelling masses of people to stay in their homes in this miserable darkness at night, inevitably it will have a serious effect on the spirit of the men at the Front. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister refer to-day to the high spirits of the men at the Front, but if, week after week, they receive depressing letters from home about black-outs and the like, that spirit, that morale, will go down.
2211 I would ask, in the first place, is it necessary that the lights in small towns and villages should be cut off in the same way as the lights in big cities? It seems to me that if the lights are reduced in equal proportion throughout the whole country, you are still maintaining the normal contrast between the lighting of villages and the lighting of large cities. However black you try to make a city like London, however many casualties you cause in the streets by excessive blacking-out, however careful the people may be, the very existence of a lot of people in one city is bound inevitably to throw a certain amount of light into the sky. I should have thought that it would be advisable—and perhaps the responsible Minister will explain why it is not advisable—to encourage a certain amount of lighting in sparsely inhabited areas, especially in the reception zones. You might, in that way, add to the cheerfulness of these zones and help to avoid the danger to which so many hon. Members have referred to-day, of too many people returning to the big cities.
I suggest, too, that the same consideration applies to road traffic. It would, I suppose, be dangerous to allow motor cars and other vehicles to show more light than they show at present if they are inside the 30-mile limit. One would rather like to think that as soon as a car got out of the built-up areas the driver would be entitled to show a little more light. It might be dangerous in the case of large built-up areas, because the very presence of so many lighted cars along a main road would show where those built-up areas were, but would it not be possible to arrange that more lighting should be allowed on the minor roads where that additional lighting would be liable to confuse rather than help enemy aircraft? There is also the question of lighting in trains. One would have thought that with drawn blinds and black rims painted round the windows, it should be possible to allow travellers by train to escape from their present misery. In most cases I imagine the light from trains which can be seen from above is mainly the light from the engine, and you are not going to abolish that danger by sending us round in funereal, blacked-out boxes on wheels.
Then there is the question of gas-masks. Three weeks ago the Minister assured 2212 me that he would look into the exaggerated pestering of people who did not carry gas-masks, even in reception areas. I assure him that the persecution still goes on. On Monday of this week I was only allowed into a theatre in a South coast town, in a reception area, without a gas-mask because I happened to be the speaker at the meeting which was to be held there and a large notice at the door pioclaimed that by order of the police nobody thus undressed would be allowed into the place. We have all seen pictures of small children in remote villages going off to school carrying their gasmasks. Surely that sort of thing tends to bring into disrepute regulations which are, in other ways, very important.
I do not want anybody to think that I blame the Government for taking precautions. Nobody could possibly have told that Hitler would not try to employ lightning war tactics, and I myself have so often criticised the Government for inadequate precautions, that I am very glad to pay my tribute to them for the precautions which they have taken in this case. But surely it is time to adapt our policy to meet the facts. Because Hitler has, so far, left us more or less alone, there is surely no need to harass us with home-grown Hitlerism. Most of the people working on A.R.P. are people who are giving up a lot of their leisure with very little reward and very little praise for their work. I believe that if the regulations which they are instructed to carry out are considered by the mass of the people to be excessive, it will only bring them into undeserved unpopularity.
Finally, there is this aspect of home defence. With one or two rare exceptions, it seems to me that the Government have made no effort, through the B.B.C. or the Press, to point out to people that this period of strain through which we are all passing has its good side; that we should be very thankful that we have only the strain, instead of those terrific bombardments which we feared, and that the period of strain must be felt much more deeply in Germany, because the German people were told all the time that in no circumstances would the British or French go to war, and now find themselves confronted by such a war. There seems to be no effort to remind people—despite the inevitable frictions in connection with the evacuation scheme to which reference has been made—of the 2213 causes for that evacuation, and there has been not nearly enough thanks given to people for the services they are rendering to the country by their efforts to make this evacuation business work as smoothly as possible.
It is for that reason I believe that this Debate will do a great deal of good in the country. It has been a grand opportunity to thank the advanced section of the public who took part in the scheme, and as the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) pointed out, we have to keep up that spirit. But I do not believe you can keep it up by shutting up the people in darkness and allowing petty officials to harass them about gas masks or chinks of light. That is not the way to win the war. I, personally, believe that one way of helping to win the war would be to bring more often to the microphone men like the Minister of Health and to let him give to the public of this country the sort of heartening speech that he gave to the Members of this House.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards
I want to say frankly to the House that I look at the question of evacuation from the point of view of evacuation areas. I had an opportunity of seeing the evacuation taking place over a very great part of North Wales, and I would like the House to understand that I am reviewing the position from that particular angle. It is easy, in a Debate like this, to exaggerate the evils and the difficulties of evacuation and to generalise on very slender foundations. There is the inevitable conflict, to which reference has been made to-night, between the evacuation area and the reception area. They look at the problem, naturally enough, from opposing angles. I can only give my own impressions, having seen the reception offered to these children over a very wide area in North Wales. The first impression that I had was of the remarkable warmth and sincerity of the reception that was extended to them everywhere. There was hardly a train that came into any station, bearing its burden of puzzled children, some of them obviously under a considerable strain and bearing on their faces evidence of the strain they had already experienced in leaving their homes and entering an entirely new type of country—there was hardly a train, I say, coming into North 2214 Wales that week-end where the people on the platform were not entirely reduced to tears. It was, as the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) said, a most pathetic scene. On the other hand, I was astounded at the alacrity with which the people who were receiving them were immediately ready to take the children in. There was one rather amusing instance that I witnessed. There were two little dark fellows who were evacuated from somewhere in either Birkenhead or Liverpool, and there was a regular fight as to who would get those two little dark chaps, and the billeting officer had the greatest difficulty in allotting them to a particular family.
The second most vivid impression that I gathered was the filthy condition in which, in too many cases, those children arrived, and this was particularly galling to the people in North Wales. Just recently, as everyone knows, a certain inquiry had been made into the public health services of North Wales by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Davies), who had subjected those services to considerable criticism, and I think he was justified, but I would like to point out that he was concerned with what I might call the major problems of public health, such as the after-care of tuberculous cases, after their return to their homes, the scandalous condition of many of the houses in North Wales, and particularly the extreme poverty of many of the smaller public authorities. It was a tremendous revelation to the people in North Wales generally to find children evacuated from the wealthier authorities across the border arriving in the condition in which they did arrive, and I may say that it has had one effect at any rate; it has rehabilitated the public health services in the estimation of the Welsh people.
Of course, such a sudden influx of children, some of them, as I say, in a filthy condition, was bound to add very considerably to the stress on the exiguous public health services in North Wales, and I should like to pay my tribute, as tribute has been paid already, to the splendid work that was done by the medical officers of health, by the nurses, and by the other people concerned in getting these children thoroughly examined before the schools were opened. One felt a very considerable degree of responsi- 2215 bility in this connection, because it was found that some of the children who were evacuated were already actually suffering from infectious diseases like diphtheria, scarlet fever, and other diseases, despite what the Minister has said to-day about the general absence of scarlet fever. There was one case of an outbreak among evacuees at a town in North Wales where 40 children were down at one period with diphtheria. It is a very interesting fact that, for some reason or other, the infection did not reach the local children, and I am glad to hear that the other children are recovering very rapidly. It is, I think, a scandalous thing that comparatively wealthy authorities should have turned out children in a condition of this kind, and I hope and trust that one of the things that will be done as soon as the war is over, or as soon as we are in a position to do it, will be to get a very searching inquiry into the work of the public health authorities in these very wealthy cities.
We have had some comment to-day about the way in which the evacuation was carried out. It was done, of course, in the peace-time before the war, but I suppose that, whatever be the conditions under which evacuation on this scale is attempted, there is bound to be a very large element of panic about it. I cannot say that the railway companies in every case, in spite of the tribute that has been paid to them, did execute their task to the satisfaction of the people who were receiving the children. In more than one case all that we heard from the evacuating end was that a train was leaving immediately for such and such a destination, but the schedules were not adhered to, although they had been very carefully planned. In one case I found an instance of this kind. In the case of a train that was running to a particular point, a request was made that it should stop at a small town some six miles before it reached its destination, but, although it was passing through that station, whoever was in charge of it deliberately refused to stop, and these children had to be detrained and brought back again by buses to that point in order to be distributed over the reception area, with the result that the children were distributed in the dark, which made it, both for the people who were receiving them and for the children themselves, a much more difficult matter.
2216 I understand that the Government, naturally, are very much concerned about the fact that a very large proportion of these children, a much larger proportion than was given by the Minister, as far as North Wales is concerned, are returning, and I should like for a moment or two to look at the reasons why, as far as I can see, these children are returning. Reference has already been made to the fact that in many cases they were accompanied by their mothers. I am sorry to say that in almost every case the influence of the mother has been wholly bad. With very few exceptions, where the children and the mother have come along they have all gone back together. I do not think that anybody as far as North Wales is concerned regrets it very much. We all know that it is the thriftless and feckless who first go away. Consequently they were the first people to leave. Some of these women started walking home again as soon as they arrived at their destinations. I am sorry to say that in the case of some of these women there is no doubt that the condition of the children was due to the life that was lived by them. They did nothing but grunt, and on the first opportunity they went back.
Such women and children, as can be imagined, gave their hosts a bad time. I have heard, and my hon. Friends have heard, of pathetic cases of the way in which certain people who acted as hosts were treated both by the women, who ought to have known better, and by the children, who could not possibly know better having been brought up as they had been. This means that unfortunately the homes in which such evacuees were received are closed against them for ever. I was present at a meeting of the Anglesey County Council last week when I was told that sooner than receive people in that condition again the men and women in Anglesey would be prepared to face a period of imprisonment. I am sorry to have to say this, but it is a fact, and it makes the return of these people absolutely impossible in future except under compulsion.
The second factor that works in the direction of closing the door against the return of these children starts from the other end. Not only were many of the children filthy and in a poor condition physically, but they were badly clothed. I know of cases where people have taken 2217 the trouble to clean the children and to clothe them and to give them in many cases a new lease of life. One Sunday—it is generally a Sunday—a sister or brother comes along with a doleful tale that the father or the mother is dangerously ill. The evacuated child is taken away that day in the new clothes in which it has been rigged by the family which had taken charge of it. The result is that these people, who in many cases say they had fallen in love with the little child, say they would never again take an evacuee. Unfortunately, there are these two permanent factors working for the gradual return of many of these children.
We are not supposed to deal, except slightly, with the question of education to-night, but I would like to say a word about it. There were many good people in Wales who, when they heard of the coming evacuation, were much concerned about the effect it would have upon Welsh culture. This problem did not naturally arise in the West of England, but in Wales it was a vital consideration. Here we have a community which for 2,000 years has struggled hard to keep alive its own culture and language, which was to be subjected to a bigger invasion than it had ever experienced before. People asked what would be the result of introducing into North Wales 40,000 or 50,000 English-speaking people.
§ Mr. Richards
It was a serious consideration and there were a great number of Welshmen who were definitely against receiving the evacuees. Most Welshmen, however, realised that the process was not so simple as that, and that it was the duty of everyone to encourage the care of these unfortunate children in the predicament in which they found themselves. I think that those friends of Wales who over-emphasised the effect on Welsh culture under-estimated the virility of that culture. The Welsh always had a great knack of assimilating its captives and it is happening now. If these children are allowed, as I hope many of them will be, to remain in Wales for any length of time they will pick up Welsh. In some schools they are doing it already; they are writing Welsh and speaking it.
When the hon. Member describes this invading army as an army of English, does he really mean it? Is it not an army of Irish?
§ Mr. Richards
That is true, and I suppose that some degree of assimilation may be due to the fact that they are Irish and not Saxon. When we go into the question of education we have to make a sharp distinction between secondary and elementary schools. In every case which I visited I found that the secondary schools were settling down admirably, greatly to the advantage of both sides. The teachers who have come to Wales have adopted the system in vogue, and Welsh teachers have spoken to me enthusiastically of the experiences they have had of teaching alongside the visiting teachers. That will be a great benefit to the children in every case.
In elementary education there is the greatest chaos in many cases. The question of accommodation is extraordinarily difficult, and I am sorry that the support of the Board of Education and of the authorities over the border has not been given to the Welsh authorities in their struggle to accommodate themselves to the new conditions. Imagine a small education authority in Wales finding its school population trebled in three or four days. That is bound to give rise to difficult conditions. At first no provision was made by the evacuating authority for books and equipment, although things are improving gradually in this direction. The Board of Education ought to be at the back of this experiment, which is a very fruitful one, of bringing city teachers to the rural areas. The Board ought to be actively engaged, especially if the problem is to be permanent, in trying to invent some kind of education which will meet the needs of both the town and the country child.
I would like to say a word about the most unfortunate kind of evacuation of all—the evacuation from Whitehall. That has been carried out in a much more high-handed fashion than any of the evacuation to which I have referred. I find, for example, that in North Wales, especially in the more attractive towns on the sea-board, whole hotels were commandeered six weeks ago and nothing has been done. One proprietor told me that he had £20,000 worth of furniture which he was trying to store, he did not know 2219 what to do with it. He said that no use at all had been made of any of the hotels. Whitehall, in its own interests, should put its own house in order, because it is setting a bad example to the country of how not to do things. It is no use to commandeer hotels and boarding houses two months before you require them and then to stand still and not know what to do with them. Moreover, the officers who were employed have in a great many cases dealt with these people in a very high-handed fashion. If the children got a very warm reception in North Wales, I am afraid that the Whitehall evacuees will get an even warmer reception, though warmer in a different sense.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Simmonds
This is the first occasion since Civil Defence has been mobilised that we have had an opportunity of discussing it in the House. Although there are still many problems to be solved, I think we can take some solid comfort from the position as we find it to-day, having regard to the quality of equipment, the increase in the number of shelters, the numbers of the trained personnel, and the wonderful esprit de corps of that personnel. In all that there is something for which we can be grateful, and seeing that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Home Security has been the subject of much criticism since the outbreak of war, I think we should place it on record that in this vast new sphere of Civil Defence, although mistakes have been made, a great deal has been achieved which is vastly to his credit.
Let me add this. We are grateful to see sitting beside the right hon. Gentleman, the new Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane). Sometimes when back benchers are promoted to the Front Bench—I believe it is true of all Governments—one is apt to congratulate the hon. Member concerned on the success with which he has concealed his aptitude for the particular appointment he has received. That is not true in the case of my hon. Friend. Those who have been trying to find out some of the truths of Civil Defence know that nobody has worked harder than he has to try and get some line on the problem of personnel in Civil Defence. It is on the question 2220 of personnel that some of the outstanding problems in the question of Civil Defence must be solved, and we are doubly grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has the assistance of the hon. Member for Huddersfield.
I should like to review the present position with regard to personnel. For my part, I think the country owes a great debt of gratitude to those volunteers who before the outbreak of war week after week, trained in a subject which many people thought was an absurdity, and when the whole community steadfastly refused to assume that Civil Defence was of any importance at all. I regret infinitely that after it was found that air raids were not taking place hourly there was a tendency to turn on these volunteers who had served us so well. The main attack, both in discussions in this House and in the Press, was on the basis of economy; that these volunteers who were now very largely being paid were constituting a heavy drain on the finances of the country. Indeed, the sum which was mentioned, in answer to a question, of £750,000 a week is a substantial sum. I believe that this misunderstanding would be to a great deal eliminated if the Government, through my right hon. Friend, could tell the House and the country upon what principle the rates of pay for those engaged in Civil Defence have been setded. It seems to me that the principle in general which one should adopt is that those engaged in Civil Defence should not be paid more highly than those engaged in comparable tasks in actual Defence. That does not mean to say that a person engaged in Civil Defence should receive 2s. a week; that is an absurd distortion of that principle. If we take into consideration the allowances for clothing and food and family allowances of those engaged in actual Defence, and equate them to the payments made in Civil Defence, it will be found in many cases that there is not much disparity. In some cases there may be some disparity, but I ask the Minister to tell the House and the country that that is the basic principle which is being adopted, although it may be difficult to equate it arithmetically in all cases. If he can say so, it will go a long way to assure the country that there is in fact ho financial ramp in connection with Civil Defence, and that what has not been noticed is that those engaged 2221 in Civil Defence provide their own clothes and uniforms, and live at home, and have in many cases other expenses which are not common to those in uniform.
Another important point which I find exercising many people who are responsible for Civil Defence is this: Should those engaged on a voluntary basis in Civil Defence be on a contractual basis? In many towns the volunteers are themselves finding it a little difficult to understand why their frequent attendance is still necessary, and the tasks are falling with increasing severity upon those who are most keen to fulfil their duty to the utmost of their ability. I should like to read a letter which I received yesterday from Councillor Tipcraft, the chairman of the A.R.P. committee for the city of Birmingham. He writes:It has been said in the Press that the Minister will not agree to a contractual obligation on the part of volunteers. Unless he does so it is absolutely impossible to cut the paid personnel. To make A.R.P. economical and efficient necessitates either (a) conscription or (b) a contractual obligation if conscription is not possible. At present the local authority has no control whatever over its volunteers, and it is quite impossible to maintain a satisfactory reta when a. person is giving only four, eight or 12 hours a week unless there is some compulsory power behind it.Many of us would not, I am sure, go as far as the chairman of the A.R.P. committee in Birmingham, but this problem is with us and cannot be shirked, and sooner or later my right hon. Friend will have to find an answer. Since I received that letter I have asked one or two gentlemen who I knew were volunteers in A.R.P. in London what they thought of this problem, what was the conclusion which they and their colleagues came to as to the desirability of there being a contractual basis. In one case I was told that if there was too much rigidity in the contract there would be large-scale resignations. Another gentleman who is in a mobile squad on the outskirts of London said that while five weeks ago there were 41 persons—volunteers—in that squad, to-day there are only 14, who are endeavouring to do the same work as the 41 did, and naturally he thought it was high time there was some contractual basis.
Is there not a possible compromise between too much rigidity and too much working of the willing horse? If every volunteer were asked definitely to under- 2222 take a certain number of hours' duty each week, and there were sanctions if that obligation were not fulfilled, I believe that would prevent many of those remaining in those services which are being depleted from having themselves to resign in the end owing to overwork. Although I believe there should be some contractual basis, I would not for the world like to see the voluntary basis of the system abolished. That is the strength of Civil Defence in this country and as we look round many of the creations of other Ministries and see the bureaucratic plague which is upon us, we can congratulate the Minister and ourselves that, although there are aspects of Civil Defence which we should like to see changed, the plague of bureaucracy is not yet upon it.
I have mentioned the point that some of the volunteers are wondering whether all this Civil Defence work is necessary, and as a student of air strategy for many years I should like to say a few words on that point. If I were in command of an air force and I were not too well blessed with petrol, and if there were the possibility that my armies might move into new territory whereby the distance to the target from my aerodromes would be reduced by 66 or 70 per cent., I should say that I preferred to wait until my armies had moved into that advanced territory and I could attack at short range and economise my petrol. If it should be that Herr Hitler is tempted to invade Holland and Belgium he could then drop three times as many bombs on London for every 100 gallons of petrol used as he could to-day. Therefore, I should like to say to all those who are engaged in Civil Defence, "Keep on training. You may yet be needed even more than you had imagined in the early days of the war."
To the Government generally I should like to say this: Although we are doing a great deal in Civil Defence for the airraid protection of our people let us never forget that the greatest protection of all is air offensive. That is going to be the element determining whether our casualties run into thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands; and the moment the enemy strikes at this country I hope that we shall have the resolution, which I believe the French Government have, to strike hard against the enemy. That is the least the Government can do for our country and our people.
§ 7.37 P.m.
§ Mr. John Wilmot
I wish to say a few words about a very vital service of Civil Defence which has not been mentioned very much this evening, except by the hon. Member for Duddesdon (Mr. Simmonds): I refer to the fire fighting service. I should like to echo his statement that nothing could be more undesirable than that the state of affairs which has existed since the war began should encourage anybody to think that we can safely dispense with the services of those vital, and now trained, men who have undertaken a very difficult, and it may be a very perilous, job in the defence of their country. It would be the height of folly for anybody lightly to encourage the disbanding or the reducing of these vital forces. There has not been sufficient recognition of the remarkable public service that these men and women have performed. The conditions of life of an auxiliary fireman are, in the terms of the soldier, "no picnic." These men are living and sleeping in warehouses, in cellars, under arches, in places which are damp and unheated, and are enduring those hardships because they know, as everybody who has studied this problem knows, that they are vital to the defence of their country. It is very necessary that the public should realise what a debt of gratitude they owe to the firemen and the men and women of the auxiliary fire services.
I have a word or two to say about an aspect of their service which seems to be somewhat unsatisfactory. I know that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to the matter, for I would like to say that, charged as he is with manifold and heavy responsibilities, he has done a fine service by the fire brigade. I speak as the chairman of the London County Council Fire Brigade Committee and am primarily concerned with the London Fire Brigade, but I believe that what I say, both in this matter and in the matter of the conditions of service, applies very largely to fire brigades all over the country. I should like to pay a tributes to the Minister for the way in which he has made good those deficiencies in the equipment of the brigade which was causing us such anxiety two or three months ago. To-day the London Fire Brigade is almost up to strength, both in its personnel and its equipment, and we 2224 are going about our business with more assurance than we did two months ago.
This remarkable force was improvised in a very short time. It was grafted on to a peace-time fire brigade of some 1,200 regulars and consists of a volunteer body of between 30,000 and 40,000 men and women. That was made possible only by the remarkable public spirit of those who answered the call to volunteer. It must not be forgotten that these men and women undertook, for months in then-spare time before the war began, a most arduous and rigorous training in order to prepare themselves for the work which might, and which tragically has, come to them. There seems to be happening, in regard to the conditions of service of these people, something which is surprising, unexpected and, if I may say so, indefensible. When these men and women were recruited they were informed that provision had been made for their payment in sickness and for their compensation in case of injury. In the case of the London service, a comprehensive insurance was effected which gave these people adequate and proper protection. When the war came, these conditions were naturally continued. If a man or woman went sick, payment continued, as is usual with staffs of reputable institutions, on full pay, less such payment as they might receive from health insurance. If they were injured in the service, they continued to receive their pay until they had recovered from their injury. If they were permanently disabled, adequate benefits were provided under the insurance scheme.
Now comes this Regulation No. 1143, made under the Statutory Rules and Orders. It replaces the scheme which was in operation before the war began and under which these men and women were recruited by a new scheme of allowances in cases of injury. I understand that a similar scheme to deal with sickness is being incubated in the appropriate Government Department. I feel sure that the Minister of Home Security, who is not personally responsible for the production of this scheme which seems to emanate from the Ministry of Pensions, understands and appreciates the value of the Auxiliary Fire Brigade, and cannot regard this scheme as satisfactory or as worthy. A man who is a member of the Auxiliary Fire Brigade may meet with an accident, 2225 as so many of them do in the course of the dangerous and arduous duties which they are called upon to perform. These men and women are, at this moment, fighting the actual fires that occur. They are not only waiting for the enemy; the enemy of fire is always with us in London, and they are on active service all the time.
The state of affairs under this regulation is something which I feel sure the House will not allow to continue. In London we have ignored the regulation and we are continuing to pay peace-time conditions and rates, because we feel that until some further consideration has been given to the effect of this scale we ought not to take a step which would have disastrous effects on the efficiency of the force. If we were to adopt these scales I invite the House to consider what would be the situation.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I hope the hon. Member will not mind my interrupting him to ask him a question. He said that the London County Council pay those scales. Is he not referring to the scales of compensation for war injury? I am not sure how the situation can have arisen.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am not sure either. It happens in the case of a large number of fire authorities. I shall show in a moment that the result of the production of the regulation is that when a man is injured at a fire or in the course of his duties as a fireman, every penny of his pay stops. He is sent off to the Unemployment Assistance Board to undergo a means test. I am sure that that was not the intention of the Minister. That is the point to which I am coming. It was to avoid that position arising that, in the London area, we felt that we ought, in the interests of the efficiency of this vital force, to continue to treat these men properly and fairly, as we have been doing in peace-time. If we were to do what some, in fact the majority, of the fire brigade authorities are doing, I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what the situation would be.
The scheme applies only to injuries. No scheme has been produced for sickness. We have been paying full pay when a man went sick. What would happen? A man may get a bad cold or contract influenza, which is a very real risk to men who may be drenched by hose pipes 2226 at a fire and who go back to their archway or cellar to find that there are no clothes into which to change. These men have only one uniform. They have no change of clothes and they are on continuous duty for 48 hours. They may go to a fire, as I watched them do the other day in that furniture blaze, and get drenched to the skin. That is a usual condition of fire fighting. They return to their improvised substations drenched with water and unable to change their clothes. By the way, I think the Minister will have to consider this question of a change of clothing. I do not think these men and women can go on for the duration of the war with only one set of clothes. Fire fighting is necessarily a dirtv and wet job, and these people will have to be provided with better protection against the natural risks of their job.
Let me return to the point about compensation for injury. We felt that it was intolerable that a man who got a cold should receive full pay, while a man who had been thrown off a ladder and broken his leg should not receive a single penny. That is the state of affairs which is existing—I ask the Minister to take note.—in a very large number of authorities. What is happening? I have in my hand here statements made to responsible people by men concerned, giving exact details of the treatment which has been meted out to them since this scheme appeared. Some authorities have taken the view that they must no longer pay any sick pay or injury pay at all. Large numbers of these auxiliary firemen find that the moment they are sick or are injured they are deprived of every penny of wages. They are sent to the Unemployment Assistance Board. The Board do not appear to be fully instructed what to do about them. The men are sent on from the Unemployment Assistance Board in some cases, to the Employment Exchanges, which do not seem to know, either, what to do with them. I have here sworn and attested statements that men have been asked to fill in forms alleging that they were out of work when in fact they were not out of work but had been injured in the performance of their duties. Only after days, and in some cases weeks, of delay have they received any pay at all. In some cases they have had to go to the public assistance authorities—men who had been injured by fall- 2227 ing from ladders or been thrown off walls—in order to get the barest necessities, because their pay had been stopped.
There is clearly some misunderstanding. When these men present themselves to the Board they are immediately subjected to the sorts of question which comprise a means test: "How many children have you?" "What is your father earning?" and so on. I feel sure that this must arise from some confusion of procedure, because clearly the family circumstances of a man injured on active service have nothing to do with the case. I would add that the scales laid down in this document are not applicable to auxiliary firemen at all. They were intended as scales of compensation to civilians who may be injured by enemy action in the war, but they seem to be applied to these fire workers who really are part of the active forces of Civil 'Defence, and they are meagre in the extreme.
We have in the Auxiliary Fire Service a large number of young people, particularly young women, who are performing remarkable yeoman service driving these appliances about the streets under conditions of risk and danger. If any of those women under 21 are injured and sent to hospital they receive an allowance of only 4s. a week. That is not a sum which in any case can be regarded as adequate. Many of these young women were clerks, factory workers, and shop assistants, and they went into this Service out of an urge for public service and to do something to help their country in time of war. In many cases they have given up their lodgings. They are making do with such accommodation as can be found at the fire stations during their 48 hours on and going to see friends during their days off. When they are injured or sick they are immediately plunged into the most desperate poverty. They cannot do anything with the allowances which are granted. I feel sure that when the Minister, who has the welfare of the fire brigades very much at heart, studies the actual treatment of the men and women in these particular case's which I will bring to his notice, when he sees how these people are badgered about from Unemployment Assistance Board to Employment Exchange, he will appreciate that we cannot allow this force to continue in this way.
2228 It is having some very peculiar byproducts and unexpected effects. The chief officers of fire brigades are not prepared, if they can prevent it, to allow men who under their command have been rendering splendid service, to be subjected to these humiliations and privations, and so the chief officers of fire brigades are keeping men on to perform light jobs when they ought to be in hospital having their limbs repaired. I have got here report after report of men with broken wrists and injuries in other parts of the body sustained in the course of this very dangerous work, who are being kept hobbling about at fire stations because otherwise their small wages of £3 a week would suddenly go down to 18s. and even that they would only get after a long round of humiliating search from one Government Department to another. I feel sure that having brought this matter to the Minister's notice it will be remedied, and with that object in view I have ventured to speak to-night.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
I hope I shall be forgiven if I do not follow the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot) in the important matters to which he has directed the attention of the House, because I desire to deal with the problems of evacuation. I listened with very great care and pleasure to the sympathetic and humane speech delivered by the Minister of Health. He has a broad understanding of this mighty question. I also wish to associate myself with the speech that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), and I feel sure I am voicing the opinion of the whole House when I say that we do not hear that voice sufficiently often in this House. He always speaks with effect and with knowledge, and I can confirm every word that he has said to-night to the Minister. What is more, the facts which he brought to the notice of the House are also known to the Minister; both he and I have been in correspondence with the Minister.
The people of Wales undoubtedly welcomed with open arms the people who came from Liverpool. They were looking forward to them and. as the hon. Member said, they had a deep shock. As the hon. Member has reminded the House, I have been recently conducting an inquiry and I had to make rather a severe comment upon sanitation, housing 2229 and the weaknesses of the local authority, and Wales began to think that it was the really black spot of the whole country. They thought that things such as I had to describe and which I have seen with my own eyes were not to be found elsewhere. Then when these children came from these large and wealthy cities and they saw the condition in which they were, I am afraid that the repercussions came upon my head and will continue to fall upon my head for many a long day to come. I could not help comparing this Debate with the Debate that took place immediately after the evacuation. Despite all the acrimony and bandying of words across the House, there is no denying that the children have won the sympathy of everybody and the affection of their hosts; and, as was said by the hon. Member for Wrexham and the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), they have won a place in the hearts of the families where they have come as honoured guests. The small children with whom I have been honoured are regarded by my family and myself with affection as if they were almost blood relations.
§ Mr. Davies
The only jarring speech was introduced by the hon, Gentleman the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) and I am sorry he is not in his place now. It is a tradition of this House and, indeed, of every thinking man that the religion of every man is his own sacred concern and nobody else's, and I am sure when the hon. Baronet reads what he said in the House to-night in that rather superior and flippant manner when he referred to the religion, obviously, of my countrymen, he will regret it. It is rather a low form of humour to sneer or laugh at anybody's religion. However different we are, not only in religion but, as the hon. Member for Wrexham has said, in culture and in language, matters of that kind do not occur to us; the only matter which occurred to us was that there were children and people in distress. I am glad to say that the children and the people who have come have justified the welcome which was extended to them.
I would like to draw the Minister's attention to one or two other matters, although I have mentioned them before. Fortunately, the figure which he has given 2230 us with regard to epidemics shows that epidemics have not been as serious as we feared they might be. To some extent, we can be grateful to the weather for that. It has been a remarkably open August and September, but the winter is coming. In my part of the country it will be a severe one. The children there have come from Liverpool and Birkenhead, where they are sheltered, certainly by the streets, and where the roads are paved, and they have not to walk over the muddy fields and muddy roads over which the country children walk. Moreover, they come from schools where there are central heating and comforts which we have not been able to afford for our country children. It may be that our country children are hardened; certainly, they are better clothed and better shod.
As the hon. Member for Wrexham said, when these children came they were wearing flimsy clothes and shoes.which could not have withstood the wear and tear of the country for more than a few weeks. The local people in many cases bought them new clothes and shoes out of their wages. I would remind the House that the standard wage in Wales is the agricultural wage of 35s. a week. Out of that, although they have families of their own, they bought these children clothes and boots. That is an expenditure which should not have fallen on them, but should have been borne by the State, because it is a question of the protection of the future generation. Who is to attend to questions such as this, which should be attended to at once? Do not let us quarrel over financial matters. The winter is upon us now. Can the Minister not in some way assure us that each child will be inspected by somebody capable of judging? It should not be left to the father or mother to write from home, or to the host and hostess, or even to the teacher, but there should be someone to see to these little children, and to direct that they should be clothed at once.
Then there is the question of nutrition. These children are now getting used to our country food. At first they did not like it. They preferred fish and chips and things of that kind, which we never see in the country. But they will not get used to going without a mid-day meal. The country child has to go in most cases without his mid-day meal. He has to take his sandwiches and his glass of milk, and subsist all day on them. These 2231 evacuees have to cope with the extremes of weather that we get in the country—and in the winter it can be extremely cold in Wales. They cannot do that without proper food. I would also refer to the position of our local authorities in connection with medical inspection and nursing. I know that the evacuated areas were supposed to help the reception areas. They have not done so to the extent that the Minister or anyone else would desire. Will the Minister look into that matter, because a heavy burden is likely to be thrown upon the country doctor and the district nurse, who already have to travel miles to visit patients scattered three or four miles apart? Let them have assistance before the winter comes.
I have drawn the attention of the Minister of Transport to the next question to which I am going to refer. It arises out of the black-out. The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) referred to the differences between the villages and the big towns. Might I also call attention to the differences between the country road and the broad highway? The doctor, travelling to a case over hills and narrow roads, will have to go in a car with just a glimmer of light showing. It is bad enough travelling over some country roads with the car lights at full strength. The country doctor will be called out this winter more than has been the case in the past, because of these evacuated children and evacuated mothers, and because of the fear in the minds of the host and hostess lest the little child who is living with them may be in greater danger than they think. They will have more fear with regard to those children than with regard to their own. Their first thought when one of these children is ill will be to send for the doctor. How is the doctor to travel along these dark country roads with so little light? Could not some relaxation of the restrictions be granted in his case?
Another matter with which I want to deal is the question of visits by parents. I regret the references that have been made to "too frequent" visits by parents. I wish that hon. Members who have spoken in that way would think of the children. I think nothing of the child who does not wish to see his parents every day. And think of the parents, far away 2232 from the children, and anxious about them. Naturally, the parents wish to see their children; but there are thousands who cannot afford to do so. Christmas is coming. Let us think of the joy with which we ourselves used to turn our faces on Christmas Day towards our homes. It is a memory which is always with us. Think of these people as well. Cannot something be done so that the fathers and mothers can visit their children, at any rate somewhere about the festive season. I know that there are some women who pawn their clothes in order to pay the railway fare. I know that it would be possible to have excursion fares; but could they not be given the right, perhaps once a month or once every two months, to travel to their children, no matter what the distance, at a small flat rate? The parents did not decide the distance that their children should be taken. Some children have gone as much as 150 miles from their homes; others have gone only 10 to 20 miles. Should there be a special privilege afforded to the one whose child has had to go only 10 miles, and denied to the one whose child has had to go over 100 miles?
With regard to the schools, I have already mentioned the question of central heating. There is a school in my village which last winter, fortunately, came to an end. Fortunately, the roof fell in. It has not been possible to use the school since, and we have not had a school to replace it. The children have had to be accommodated elsewhere. They are all Roman Catholic children, and they are all made welcome—not a word about religion has been mentioned. Chapels have had to be used for the accommodation of these children, in order that they may be taught. It is doubly difficult, because they are Roman Catholic children. The teacher is Church of England, because it was a Church of England school. He cannot take Roman Catholic, Nonconformist and Church of England children together, and he has to move from one chapel to another. I know the difficulties. I have written to the Board of Education with regard to this matter, and they say they are looking into it, but they point out that they are having difficulty in getting building materials. If they can spare the building materials for the camps, why cannot they spare the building materials 2233 for the coming generation before the winter comes? The schools which are deficient ought to be attended to so that the health of the children shall not suffer.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health for visiting South Wales the other day, and I understand that she also proposes to visit North Wales. I am also grateful for the interest which the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary are taking in the welfare of the people of Wales, and especially of these children.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
Like the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) I wish to speak on the billeting system. Like him, I live in a reception area among similar scenery, upon the Pennines in the West of Durham, and also, like him, I have had personal experience of receiving evacuated children into my home. So many eulogies have been expressed in this House to-day of the women who are bearing the great burden of receiving other people's children into their homes, that I must in duty bound add my eulogy as well. Fortunately there have been comparatively few cases of verminous children. The talk of the newspapers and of many people who know very little about it is very largely exaggerated. It is almost an impossibility to have thousands of children and not to have a few of them with verminous heads. My long experience in schools taught me that even among the cleanest houses and families there were occasions when the children were not quite as free in their heads as one would have expected. But there ought to have been more supervision of these children before they were sent away. Not only have we had a few cases of verminous children, but we have also had a few cases of children who came with running sores. Last week one of the hostesses to two evacuated children asked me who was going to pay for the bed and pillow which had been almost ruined as a result of one of these children being billeted upon her. I referred her to the local authority, but if there had been that careful medical examination before the children were sent away there would have been fewer of these cases and there would have been a good deal less news about it in the country.
2234 Besides being sent away without careful medical examination, many of the children were sent away unsuitably clad. My two evacuees had not been very long with me before I had to have their boots and shoes soled and heeled. In some cases the boys and girls have come with rubber sand-shoes into a country district. When they go to the country school and take part in school gardening one can imagine what boys with rubber shoes are going to do when they take a spade and start to dig. What will happen when they have to go to school and the snow is a foot or a foot and a half deep? Last Thursday I visited one of the schools in my area to see these evacuated children. There was a blinding snowstorm at one o'clock when I got there, and when I left at half-past three in the afternoon there were four inches of snow on the ground and it will probably lie there until March or April of next year. These boys and girls have come to this cold climate unsuitably clad, and something ought to have been done when they were sent away to see that they were properly clothed to stand the rigours of our severe winter.
I am afraid that in the reception areas all was not done that might have been done in good time, and that the survey of billeting which took place at the end of September was very perfunctory. It ought to have been more comprehensive. Not only ought consideration to have been given to the number of rooms, but to the size and suitability of the rooms, and there ought to have been a survey of the persons upon whom these children were to be billeted. Many complaints have been made to me about some of the larger houses not being used for evacuees. One local authority official told me that in the survey it was found that the poorer the person and the poorer the accommodation the greater was the response. I know that there are well-to-do people who have been ready enough, and I pay my tribute to them here, but far too many of them have avoided that obligation. Many of the people who have avoided that obligation are people who, in times like jubilees and coronations, are very much in the limelight, but now, when they have been called upon to do a real job of patriotic work, they have hardened their hearts and barred their doors to the evacuees from the poor areas.
2235 It was observed to me, in talking of using an empty castle we have in my village, that there was some very valuable furniture there. I treasure my furniture, and I have two evacuees in the house without having had to move it, and if it is to come to a question of disfiguring furniture or having children dismembered by bombs, well, the furniture will have to suffer. My experience of the billeting is that in the smaller houses the children are far too much on top of the host and the hostess and there is no privacy. But I have had the experience of seeing the children in the larger houses. I visualise a large house where there are eight children, two mothers and a helper. The good lady of the house has given them a part of the house for themselves, with a fireplace and cooking range. It is far more successful than the private cottage billeting. When I say more successful, I also mean that none of these children have returned to the area from which they came.
Like the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), I have visited them in communal billets. She referred—and I am not going to enlarge upon it—to the hostels which have been set up by the Wolsingham Grammar School master, to whom she paid a high tribute, and I also pay my tribute. He has up to the present four hostels running. There are 20 beds in one, 20 beds in another, and 30 in another, and in another hostel, a large baronial hall, which has been standing empty for 10 years in four acres of ground in a beautiful situation, he has provided accommodation for 140 girls. There were 10 teachers and other helpers. I was there at the inception of these hostels. I saw the boys and girls lying on the floor, because bedsteads were not there. Some people complained about the children having to sleep on the floor. I suggested that it was far better to sleep on the floor for a few nights than to sleep in the cemetery for ever afterwards. Within a week those 200 children had each a single bedstead, and when I visited them last week the place was running on board-school lines, almost perfectly.
When it comes to a question of private billets, halls, big houses or hostels, I prefer the latter because I find that from these communal billets less than 1 per 2236 cent. of the boys have returned home. It is true that a few more girls have returned home. My opinion is that if private billeting goes on as it is at the present time in my area, and others, the returns will be many. From the private billets in my area the returns have been about 50 per cent. I hope the Minister will take a look round these scattered areas. He will find big halls standing empty, or some only partly occupied, with very few people in them, which could be used more economically and more efficiently than cottage billeting can ever be. In the reception areas I am afraid that not sufficient thought has been given to the leisure time of the children. Some people think that the teachers should have the children morning, noon and night. That is not. the job of the teachers. I know from 40 years' experience as a teacher what it means to be constantly in touch with the child mind. Six hours a day with them was enough for me, and I did not want them at night and at the week-ends. In the villages there are many organisations such as the women's institutes; the women's co-operative guilds, the churches, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides, and if they took a night each they could provide entertainment for every week. In my own village the best work that has been done in this direction is a joy-hour once a week given by the Salvation Army. I pay my tribute to that organisation, which has been the first in my village to institute any entertainment for these children.
The question of mothers and relatives coming to visit the children at the weekend has been discussed and I will not say much about it, but I would sugeest to the Minister that he ought to allow halls to be hired on the Saturday and Sunday wherever possible so that the mothers and fathers could go and have a cheap meal provided for them. All that they require and ask for generally is a cup of tea and a few biscuits. There they could have their cup of tea and biscuits and they would not be imposing upon the hosts and hostesses who in my district at any rate are, many of them, badly off themselves. If the halls could be occupied on Saturdays and Sundays and the parents could meet the children and have a meal, and in the inclement weather could spend their time under cover, in- 2237 stead of trailing about the roads, it would be a very good thing.
Let me say a few words on the reasons for the return from the evacuation areas. I have visited nine elementary schools in the last fortnight and one secondary school which has been evacuated in my area, and have talked with the boys and girls. I found that the chief reason that kept them there was that they did not lack town attractions. In most of the villages they have no cinemas and the evacuees find time heavy on their hands. I talked to them, and the teachers are doing noble work also in trying to emphasise the fact that we have our rural delights. This problem of leisure is going to be a great problem in the future. I spoke about our rural delights to some of the boys staying with me. One of them came in one night and said: "I never knew there were so many stars till I came here." All the stars he knew about were film stars, flitting across the screen, and he knew the names of all the film stars. It would have been better for him and a more abiding and satisfying thing if he had known more of the stars in the firmament than of the stars on the screen. I pointed out to him and the other boys and girls that it is just as useful and delightful to be able to recognise the stars of the heavens as to recognise the film stars.
We in the reception areas are willing to share our security in the shadow and shelter of the everlasting hills among which we live. We are willing to give the hospitality of our hearts and our hearths and to provide the very best educational facilities we possess, although they are not as good as those in the towns. We are willing to contribute to the health and the safety of our guests, and so to demonstrate to them the fine characteristics of the yeomen of England. The qualities of the yeomen are not the qualities of the town and the industrial areas, but they have contributed much to the wealth and the welfare of Britain. This emergency has provided an opportunity to bring about what I have longed for, and that is the union of town and country. By these boys and girls coming to us and by the mothers coming and being visited by the husbands, the fathers and the relatives, they have learned of our problems, and from what we have seen of the children who have come to 2238 us we know something of them and their problems. Evacuation has shown us that both town and country can play their part, and if I could talk to the parents who are thinking of bringing their children home I would say, "Leave them with us," because the preservation of the offspring, and the fulfilment of that human duty, is the surest course that will pay in the end.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle
The subject to-day has been discussed in so many delightful and helpful speeches, and not least that of the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton), that I do not think there is much that I can add, but as an old county medical officer of health and a school medical officer I should like to make a few remarks. I feel that we are in danger of forgetting the very long period for which we have to prepare. We all hope that in one sense the war will be a Blitzkrieg and that it will be over sooner than is anticipated, but we have to be prepared, and the Government have said that we ought to prepare for a long war. I understand they have given instructions to the Departments to prepare for a three-year war, and it is right that we should make that preparation. If it is shorter than three years, as I believe it will be, then all the better, and we shall all be much relieved. Our procedure ought to be to direct our attention a great deal more to the idea of what we are preparing for in two or three years time, and not merely the difficulties of the present and the past.
I should like to add my tribute to the extraordinary organisation which has carried through the evacuation scheme. The organisation dates back to the starting of the general scheme by the hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary for Mines, and successive Ministers and officials have carried it through in a surprisingly short time. It had to be done at a time when there was little public opinion behind it, and when most of the public were on holiday, and indeed, it was not until the end of August that we began seriously to think of the problems facing us.
The Minister referred, to our great satfs-faction, as well as his own, to the great immunity from disease of the evacuees. One has to remember, as two or three hon. Members have said, that we have 2239 had a marvellous autumn, which has been a great delight to those of us in the country who have been acting as hosts to some of the children from the towns. We have seen the children playing and enjoying themselves in the sunshine, and, indeed, it has been a great relief to us to be able to turn them out into the sunshine instead of having to provide for them indoors the whole time, which would have added greatly to the difficulties. But the winter is coming, and with it the winter diseases. The Minister skipped rather lightly over the difficulties we are bound to have. He pointed out that measles and whooping cough are now made notifiable diseases, but I would observe that it has always been the regular understanding in the public health service that one should not make a disease notifiable unless one has means of dealing with it, those means being either nursing or isolation, or both. The Minister did say that he hoped to be able to provide isolation in the new hutment hospitals. Perhaps his statement was a broad and general one, but certainly, as far as I know, it would be impossible to isolate and deal with an epidemic of whooping cough or measles in any one area in my part of the country.
Therefore, what we come back to—and we have to deal with practical measures and possibilities—is the one means which has been mentioned to-day, but of which, perhaps, sufficient account is not taken in the organisation, that is to say, the enormous services of the health visitors, district nurses and school nurses. I hope the Minister will be able to do more on those lines than has been done hitherto, and that he will urge local authorities to make further provision in that direction. As far as I can see, what has hitherto happened has been that the reception authorities have received the evacuees, and that their officials, with very little extra help, have had to deal with the whole business—and still have to deal with the whole business—of the enlarged population. There has been little additional staff in the offices and departments of the county councils that have had to deal with these evacuees. That also applies to the clerical and other staff of the medical departments and the nursing departments of the county councils and other local authorities. The nurses are the most important element in helping to keep these children safe and 2240 sound during the winter months. I believe that there are in most of the counties of England admirable county nursing associations, with district nursing associations everywhere, and it is the district nurses who ought to be given extra help, whether it be in the form of special nurses attached to the county organisation who can go to any particular area in the county to relieve the district nurse, or whether it be by duplicating the district nurses in certain areas. I hope that more use than is made at present will be made of the county nursing organisations and the Queen's Institute of District Nursing, which is the central body that organises district nursing, and that arrangements will be made for the evacuating authorities to send relief in that respect.
As to the difficulties of the future, reference has already been made to leisure hours. I wish to endorse the demand that has been made in this respect. The nursery school to which I have the privilege of acting as host at the present time used to have attendants attending the children eight hours in the day, whereas at present they have to do so for 24 hours a day. This places a heavy burden on them, and they are doing splendid work, with two or three extra voluntary helpers. It is very hard work, and therefore, there is all the more need for bringing in outside help to assist them in one way or another, especially in leisure hours, or leisure days, in order to given them some relief. In my village, the village women have been extraordinarily good in helping when they have been asked to do so. I believe that one of the main arms of assistance to which we can look is the voluntary effort that will be given if only people are asked to give it, and if they are given definite work to do.
The difficulties that arise with the evacuees, to which many hon. Members have referred and which we all know exist, can be met if voluntary help is brought in to obtain the appeasement that is required between the two sides. For instance, in St. Albans we have a system which has worked extraordinarily well, but it is a system which requires a good deal of organisation in order to get it on to a proper footing. When complaints were made as a result of difficulties of one kind and another, we considered in what way pro- 2241 vision could be made for the complaints to be dealt with. The organisation is really complete. The chief billeting officer is a retired police inspector, a very tactful man, and he has a deputy. They have an office in the middle of the town, and there is a definite inquiry room; the staff consists primarily of a young married man and a young married lady—not married to each other—who receive any complaints that there may be. In addition to this official organisation, there is also a voluntary committee working through parochial organisations, and the members must be persons who are practical and not merely sentimental, chosen, I imagine, for their practical qualities. The result is that complaints are comparatively few, and that only a very small number of cases have had to go to the tribunal, the weekly number of appeals to the tribunal being two, eight, 30, and then six, and two, and now the number has gone down to only two a week.
I believe that in this way one can really solve the difficult cases, but do not let us blind ourselves to the fact that there will still be a certain number of difficult cases, and I have not yet heard how the Minister proposes to tackle these cases of real incompatibility. We have to look three years ahead, we have to consider the possibility of the air raids to which we shall be subjected, we have to consider the people who will pour out of London as a rabble if London is seriously bombed; and undoubtedly, there will be a large number of cases of real incompatibility. One cannot but feel that in the original procedure of evacuation there should have been a definite arrangement to keep evacuees for a few hours, or even for a night or two, in some place until they were sorted out, and given their final billets. That has been done in one or two cases apart from the official arrangements, and it proved very successful. I consider that should be done in all cases. I know that to some people it is heresy but I believe that it should be done in the schools. The schools were not in session when evacuation took place and it could have been arranged in every case for the children to go to the school or to some central hall, where they could have been sorted out.
§ Mr. Ridley
May I say that in my division we have a hall which accommodates 40 to 50 children where these so-called 2242 "incompatible" children were taken first, and at the end of a month or six weeks they had been turned out "compatible" children? Very useful results are accruing from that sort of grouping or communal arrangement.
§ Sir F. Fremantle
That is very good. I think we ought to be clear about a scheme, if there is to be a further evacuation, whereby there will be some such arrangement as has been suggested to provide community life for a certain number of these difficult cases. It is a difficult problem and I do not yet see how we can find a solution of it in any general terms. I conclude by agreeing with what was said by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle. We see certain benefits accruing from this evacuation. Many townspeople have discovered where their milk comes from. Many children have discovered "how the milk grows," which they did not know before. They have learned how different is the country life from life in the towns and that there are advantages as well as disadvantages in it. On the other hand, the country people are learning more about the appalling conditions in which so many of their fellow-creatures have to live in the cities. They are learning now about conditions which, before, they would not have thought possible. They have heard of cases described perhaps in exaggerated language but very definite cases of people living in places not much better than pig-sties. The country people are beginning to realise, and indeed the country as a whole is realising that certain of our people are living under conditions which those of us who are acquainted with the slums know only too well. Those are conditions for which the community must take responsibility and we must keep before us the prospect, even if it has to be deferred until after the war, of a measure of further social improvement and progress along lines for which we have been waiting for many years.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
I apologise to the House, and particularly to my colleagues, for my inability to be here when this Debate commenced. I had anticipated that the Prime Minister's statfi-ment and the statements of the other party leaders would be of the usual length. Unfortunately, I was disappointed and I had pressing business 2243 elsewhere. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was to have wound up the Debate, for taking my place, and, if I may say so, he very ably discharged the task of opening the Debate on this very important subject. Civil Defence and evacuation arrangements began on the assumption that when war came there would be immediate and extensive air raids on this country. Up to now, as it has turned out, those raids have not taken place. The consequence has been a totally different problem of morale from that which we expected. Nevertheless, there is a problem of morale. It is a curious business. We had prepared for all sorts of problems of morale consequent on heavy enemy bombardment, but we have had another and perhaps a still more different problem of morale to face as a result of the fact that the expected has not happened.
This has expressed itself in a number of ways. There has been a return of a certain number of the evacuated population and the pros and cons of the problem in that respect was. I think, very well stated by Syd Walker in his broadcast last Saturday night. I think he is one of the most valuable institutions in the country in these days, because of the manner in which he states the simple human problems of the people. On this occasion he did not conclude with any recommendation. He stated both sides of the problem and simply said. "Well, chums, there you are, and I leave you to settle it for yourselves"—and perhaps he was wise. There has been criticism of Civil Defence expenditure by some people who have not realised that the Civil Defence organisation is a vast organisation which must cost a substantial sum of money. There has even been dissent from the provision of uniforms for Civil Defence volunteers and there has been criticism of the Civil Defence volunteers themselves. These are signs of a problem of morale—an inverted problem of war nerves. Sometimes one reads about it in letters to the editors of newspapers; sometimes, unfortunately, we witness it even on the part of Members of this House. It is necessary that we should keep a sense of proportion and realise that this is a vast and important service and that we should give it all the encouragement possible.
2244 I suggest that criticisms of the Civil Defence workers have been a little below the belt. If somebody who has a job already is taking £2or £3 a week for Civil Defence work as well, then in the first place the local authority is not doing its job properly, and, in any event, it is wrong. But the tendency to regard all A.R.P. workers as people who have sneaked into soft jobs and who ought to be weeded out, and to suggest that it should be made a sort of unemployment relief service, is a false conception. These people volunteered for what they had reason to believe was going to be a very dangerous, risky service. They gave many hours, unpaid, in training themselves for the job. To eliminate them at this stage would be a very poor reward for the response which they made to the patriotic appeals of Ministers and civic leaders before the war, and would be a very foolish thing as well. I am proud of the Civil Defence volunteers. They are doing a fine job of work.
If it be the case that they have not had to do the things that we anticipated, it is not their fault, and I do not know-that we ought to grumble about that. It is the same case with the anti-aircraft units who are dotted about all over the country, and with the sentries on sentry-go. Nobody grumbles because the soldier on sentry-go or in the trenches has not had a fight every day of the week. On the contrary we tend to be glad if that is so, and we ought to preserve a sense of proportion and a sense of appreciation of those thousands of people, many of whom have voluntarily given up jobs with higher remuneration, in order to render this public service. At the same time we must remember that air raids may happen. It would be exceedingly foolish to assume that because they have not happened so far they will not happen at all. I think it will be a pretty wonderful thing if, as the enemy grows more embarrassed and more desperate he does not do something of a desperate character. It may be that he will not. I certainly do not want him to do it, but we must be ready for it. The motto therefore still is, "We've got to be prepared."
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields dealt with the question of shelter, and I do not need to extend it except to say that we would like a statement from the Minister as to how far he is now satisfied that substantially the whole popula- 2245 tion is provided for by means of either individual or communal shelter. There are problems of the ambulance service which have been mentioned in part by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss), and I am sure the Minister will have taken a note of the point that he made. The Constitution provides that Ministers are answerable to Parliament, but not that the leader of the London County Council is so responsible, so I must safeguard myself against a tendency that has come from one or two quarters to use the House of Commons as a means of running the London County Council. With every respect to the House of Commons, the House of Commons is not going to run it, and that must be understood. In the earlier stages it was exceedingly difficult to get the number of ambulance volunteers that we wanted. The Home Office figures went up from 5,000 to 17,000 in one week, and it was profoundly difficult to find them, and therefore, we took, I must frankly say, nearly all the people we could get. If the Minister, on examination, comes to the conclusion that there ought to be some sort of examination, I am sure the Council will be willing to give that point consideration, but the Minister is not exactly in a position to pick and choose too minutely, because it is still the case that the numbers are under the war strength that the Home Secretary himself would desire.
The vehicles for that service also leave much to be desired. The scheme was based upon earmarking through the Traffic Commissioners. Regulations were laid down, and it worked out that no vehicle could be less than two years old. I agree that some of the vehicles in the Ambulance Service are by no means all that they ought to be, but we are gradually weeding out and improving. The difficulty, however, is inherent in the scheme itself, and I agree that there is room for improvement, not only in London, but all over the country, because there has been a mobilisation of commercial vehicles not less than two years old, and many of them are not as suitable for the task of they might be. Certain matters in connection with the Auxiliary Fire Service have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot), and I hope very much that the point about the compensation for accidents not arising out of air raids, such as 2246 falling off ladders and so on, will be sympathetically considered by the Minister. I join with my hon. Friend with regard to the supply of equipment, as to which I made vigorous complaint a little over a year ago, but since the right hon. Gentleman has been in office an enormous improvement has been made, and, practically speaking, we have nothing to grumble about at the present time in that respect. We are grateful to him and his officers for co-operation in the matter.
There is a case for consideration on the co-ordination of supplies. I am told that a grave difficulty is arising with regard to hospital supplies, particularly surgical instruments. The War Office has been in touch with the Surgical Instrument Manufacturers Association, who have agreed that 90 per cent. of their output should be allocated to the War Office for military purposes. How the hospitals of the country, voluntary and municipal. will get their share out of the remaining 10 per cent., I do not know. Here is the War Office looking after itself. I do not complain about that, for every State Department will if nobody co-ordinates them, but it is wrong that one Department should be able to jump in and try to earmark 90 per cent. of the output, irrespective of the convenience of the other Departments. Moreover, the War Office arrangement is that the channel of supply shall be purely the very limited number of firms within the Surgical Instrument Manufacturers Association, and in so far as other firms manufacture, the supply has to go through that limited number of firms. These are really 1914 War Office methods.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not sure it is not Crimean. It is clear, first, that with this need for supplies all over the country, we need to mobilise everybody who can make them, whether they are members of the association or outside it. Secondly, if the channel of supply is to be through this very limited number of firms—there is only a handful of them—it is clear that they will want a rake-off for handling the supply, and needless charges and profits will be made. It is a matter of some importance, and it is absurd that this kind of disco-ordination should go on. If we had got a real Ministry of Supply, these things would not happen.
2247 I now come to the question of evacuation, the educational aspect of which will be dealt with more fully next week, and I want to leave the way open for that discussion. It should be recognised that this has been almost the biggest social experiment, I suppose, in history, and the Minister of Health was right in drawing attention to the dramatic fact, which I confess had not occurred to me, that here we had dealt with a mobilisation and a transference of a population of about 10 times the size of the British Expeditionary Force in France. When we remember the great boast which the Secretary of State for War has made, quite properly—and certainly he would not be behindhand in boasting anyway—of the fact that the British Expeditionary Force of about 150,000 men has been safely got to France without a single casualty, well, here is a job 10 times that in numbers which has also been done without a single casualty.
§ Mr. Morrison
And not fully disciplined. When I saw those children going away, with almost clocklike precision, with everything going to time, with teachers and voluntary helpers on their job in time, with the transport organisation really working splendidly, and with the most friendly spirit, right down to the humblest grades in the transport service, we could not but be proud of the mechanism of evacuation that went on all over the country. I cannot disguise the fact that, difficult as that problem was, elaborate as was the need for organisation, to get ready for it, I have always taken the view that the task of the reception areas was more difficult and complex than that of the evacuation authorities. As one who was interested in the evacuation and had some responsibility for it, I know there are points that one could legitimately criticise with regard to certain matters in the reception areas, and that there are things that the reception people could complain about in regard to some of the people from the evacuated areas, but I feel it my duty to express my very warm thanks and gratitude to the general body of local authorities and citizens in the reception areas throughout the country for the kindness, the co-operation, and the hospitality which they extended to the people from the evacuation areas.
2248 There were three parties to this business. The Government were responsible for policy and co-ordination and most of the money, and it has cost the Government a lot of money—I understand somewhere about £500,000 a week, which is a very big item. Then there were the evacuation authorities, and, thirdly, the reception authorities. Broadly speaking, the local authorities in the evacuation areas were responsible for evacuation, and the local authorities in the reception areas were responsible for reception, with the Government co-ordinating, supervising, and dealing with matters of policy all the way round. There seems to be an impression in some quarters that the evacuation authorities had a sort of responsibility to jump into the reception areas and take over the business of local government in those areas. Clearly that could not happen, and if it did, the local authorities in the reception areas would soon have told the authorities in the evacuation areas to go about their business.
It is clear that in an area there can be only one local authority for the statutory functions of that area and that their rights and responsibilities must be respected, but I do not want it to be thought from that that evacuating authorities have no moral responsibility to be helpful to the authorities in the reception areas. We have that responsibility, and I think I can say that, so far as my own authority is concerned, we have sought to discharge that responsibility in every possible way. The body that should be the mobilising body to arrange for help from the evacuating areas to the reception areas, so far as it cannot be provided otherwise, is the Government as the linking up body between the two London has despatched 44 out of 54 of its education inspectors to the reception areas to help them; 90 members of the London administrative staff are assisting the various education authorities, and 47 London children's care organisers have assisted with difficult billeting problems and organising social work for evacuated women and children. About 12,000 voluntary workers accompanied the evacuees, and a large proportion of them are prepared to stay if required. Requests for 80 additional workers have been met. One hundred and twelve midwives of the London County Council who accompanied the expectant mothers have remained in 2249 the reception areas for confinements and have been provided with maternity equipment by the council. In addition, 124 mid wives have been released from London hospitals for service in the reception areas; 70 nurses, normally engaged on school nursing work, and also nurses trained in fever nursing, have been sent from London on the understanding that they must return if war casualty work requires. Members of the council's school medical and dental staff are registered with central authorities to whom reception areas can apply for assistance if needed. Educational and hospital equipment have been supplied and advice has willingly been given in addition to all the help of the London teachers.
I mention that only because some ill-informed people, who make one a little tired now and again, have written letters to the newspapers—a number have appeared in the"Times"—implying that we have done nothing at all. Strictly and officially, there was no obligation on the part of the county council to go as far as they have gone. We have willingly gone as far as that, and I say to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that if there is anything further they think we can do we are at the service of the reception areas. That is the case, I am sure, with every local authority in the evacuating areas. It is a little unjust to have these criticisms when somebody has a rough corner and is having difficulties in the reception areas, like a certain mayor recently who dashed in to the Press making all sorts of wild statements, when we are doing the best we can. The truth is that this is a three-party partnership—the Government, the reception authorities and the evacuating authorities—and it is for the Government to decide what they want and where they want additional assistance.
I have the impression—although I only guess, because I do not work inside the Ministry of Health—that there has been a little lack of co-ordination within the Department. I have every sympathy with the Ministry. They have not had an easy life in this matter and have had some terribly worrying experiences. In the hospital branch the officers—quite naturally, and we should all be the same if we were in their place—are tending to hang on to their doctors and nurses in the casualty and base hospitals in case of 2250 air raids. They have a terrible feeling that if they let doctors and nurses go to the reception areas there will be trouble, and their instinct is to hang on to them. The evacuation branch of the Ministry probably needs many of these doctors and nurses. A fair proportion of them are kicking their heels in hospitals and would like to go and help the reception authorities. It seems to me, on the face of it, that, provided you make a scheme of mobilisation whereby the doctors and nurses can be got back with reasonable speed if air raids come, and they do not go too far, there may be an element of risk but the risk ought to be taken, and they should be allowed to go to the reception areas if their services are needed. They will not be needed for ever; it is only a question of getting the machinery going.
The standard of public health administration varies enormously all over the country. People have gone from places like Sheffield and London, for example, which have highly developed municipal services, to very rural areas. They have not found the highly developed municipal services which they get in the great cities and are getting unhappy about it. It is a difficult position, because you cannot revolutionise the policy of the county councils of some of the rural areas all at once. You can, however, help and try to bring them up to the standard which is needed because of the greater number of people with whom they have to deal. The authority which must do this mobilisation is obviously the Ministry of Health. If there is a bit of a struggle—an understandable struggle—going on between the hospital branch and the evacuation branch of the Ministry, this is a problem for the Permanent Secretary. He should co-ordinate them and pool them together. I am sure that the Permanent Secretary is conscious of that, but if the two branches do not get pulled together the Minister must have the responsibility of doing it. He must make a decision and shoulder the responsibility of taking any risks that may exist.
Do not let us overestimate the problem. There are children of London alone scattered about from the Wash down to Land's End. There are 470 local authorities with reception powers over that area. The number of education authorities is also large. The Ministry have 2251 officers regionally co-ordinated. I do not want to over-estimate the problem of the difficulties because the thing has worked as a whole with great smoothness. We ought to remember that. If I may say so respectfully to my friends of the Press, it is very desirable that they should remember it. It is understandable—and I know enough about journalism to understand it—that if there is an exciting story or some one makes a speech or some complaint comes along, it is news; but they ought to remember that there is a duty on all of us to make this thing work smoothly and not to exaggerate the difficulties. There are serious difficulties, but evacuation has been something like an 80 or 90 per cent. success. It is a credit to the capacity of the British people for public administration that that should be so. Surely the Minister of Health made a mistake when, apart from education, he left the authority to deal with all the varied problems of reception to be the district council. I am not going to enter into the controversial field and argue about county versus district government; it is much too exciting for me to walk in. The rural district councils, taking them by and large, have done a fine job of work. To expect them, however, with their limited staffs to deal with all these varied problems was absurd, and the county councils ought to have been in it from the beginning—with the cooperation and assistance of the district council certainly, for they are on the spot and know Tom, Dick and Harry in the villages, and so on.
The county council organisation, with its substantial staff, was the only unit of government in the rural areas that could give the necessary staff backing to produce the necessary degree of success. I know the motive of the Minister. The Ministry of Health in administration is really sometimes a cowardly department. It saw a row between the rural councils and the county councils, and said, "There are more district councils than county councils and so we will come down on the side of the district councils. Moreover, the Conservative party is what it is in the House of Commons." The Minister should decide what is administratively right on a job of this kind and stand to it. If he is administratively right he can prove his case, and the House of Commons would back him up, 2252 in spite of some of the Tory backwoodsmen. It is the same with town planning. For the Ministry of Health to preserve the district council as the town planning authority is preposterous and sheer moral cowardice in facing a big administrative problem. I beg of the hon. Lady to say to her Minister and the Department, "A little more courage and a little more 'go' in facing these administrative problems." They should let their heads function, and, if they decide a thing is administratively right, do it.
I have dealt with the medical and nursing staffs, and now there is the question of education. I will not go into that very deeply now, because it will be dealt with next week, but there is one-point which I would put to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Education. There are in the provinces education authorities with very limited financial resources. The position is that the Government is responsible for evacuation costs as such. The local authorities saw to that, and I am very glad they did. There is, I understand, a guarantee to the distant education authorities that they shall not be responsible for any extra costs and that the Government will settle the battle with the education authorities in the evacuating areas. I think that is right; it will be a matter of subsequent adjustment. Therefore, the distant education authority has nothing to worry about, but when there is before the distant education authority some question of spending substantial sums which some day, in some way, it will get back from the Government—subject to all sorts of arguments on the road—the administrative mechanism gets choked up and decisions are slow. Moreover, a lot of these education authorities have limited financial resources and cannot put their hands on ready money, and they must be careful. Therefore, it is vital that this question of financial allocations shall be settled, because so long as it is not settled dozens of problems which require immediate decision will not be settled, the education authority in the reception area being not unnaturally concerned as to whether it will get the money paid back. It is really a matter of administration, but I believe that it is at the basis of two-thirds of the problems of educational administration in the reception areas, and it is worth while dealing with it in the interests of speedy administration.
2253 There has been a lot of exaggeration about verminous children and verminous grown-ups. Let me say straight away that a citizen who is evacuated has a duty, when going into other people's homes, to go there clean and not to become a nuisance. This is not a matter of snobbery. Sometimes they go into the homes of well-to-do people. Perhaps it does not matter as much there, because they have the means of putting it right; but when they go into the homes of decent, respectable, clean, working-class people in a rural area they have a real duty to see that they are in such a condition that they are not going to create trouble and be a nuisance to their hosts, who are being very hospitable in receiving them. On the other hand, some people have exaggerated the position hopelessly, trying to imply that the working classes are a dirty lot. In the main the working classes are not. There has been an enormous improvement with the spread of popular education and the introduction of school medical services.
But I am not going to deny that there has been a minority of cases of which I am not proud, and I make an appeal to everybody to try to play the game. Still, the position ought not to be exaggerated, and it must be remembered that many of those people came from very poor areas, slum areas, where it is not too easy to keep clean from vermin. They may be clean one day, but the bugs are in the building and they may get them next day. Allowance must be made for that state of affairs. In any case, an evacuating authority could not say to Mrs. Brown, "You cannot go because of fleas." If she was in danger of being bombed she had to go. There are no compulsory cleansing powers in the case of adults. The right hon. Gentleman forgot that in his Defence Regulations the other night. I do not know how he overlooked such an opportunity to interfere with the liberty of the subject. But we have not got that power. We have the power in the case of children, but it so happened that the children went away at the end of a month's holiday, and that was unfortunate, because the school medical services had not been functioning. As far as possible, the doctors and the school nurses were brought back and got on the job, and did what they could.
2254 We also told the teachers to classify their children. We told them that if they had any reason to believe that some were "a little lively," shall we say, they were to be noted, and the reception authorities told, so that they could be specially dealt with. Some of the children were known to be naughty children, and we told the teachers to classify them also. That was all very fine, good administration, all perfectly sound, and if it. had worked all right things would have been different. What happened at the other end? There were not only the billeting officers to deal with, but those lively lads the transport officers. A transport officer would not hang about while the teachers were classifying and sorting the children. He said, "I want 50 kids for the bus, and I shall not wait while you are sorting them out." And into the bus they went. And so the scheme largely "went west." Since then some of the teachers and other voluntary helpers have said, "Let me have a go at these youngsters," and have cleaned them up. Another set have said, "Give me a house and give me the naughty children and I will get them right within a week or a fortnight." And they did.
That is the British spirit of initiative and enterprise. It is far better to have in the world people who will face a problem and solve it than those nice, easy-going gentlemen and parsons in the country who have been writing grumbling letters to the "Times." Those others are British, they are the people who get things done, they have initiative, and I like them. Some of the other people I do not like. The problem was a real one and everything was done as far as it could be done, and again I say that if experienced school nurses and doctors were needed to clean these kids up and get them right the Government had only to ask and every evacuation authority would have done all it could in the matter. However, what has happened has taught some nice respectable people in the stately homes of England what life is like in the slums and the great cities, and the educational effect of this evacuation is going to be a great thing. It will be a great thing for the people who have met these poor children and a great thing for the children themselves. One of the greatest things will be that the town child will go back with a knowledge of the problems of the countryside which is 2255 going to be good for his soul and is really an education in itself.
I wish now to raise a point about visits to the reception areas, not only the visits of parents to their children but the visits of husbands to wives. I do not want to be indelicate, but I have received from a wife a letter which is a very human letter. She would not sign her name, because she did not want her husband to feel that she had any doubts about him, but she said: "Mr. Morrison, you have done a fine job with this evacuation, but if the husbands cannot see their wives now and again, and the wives their husbands, there are going to be some domestic tragedies, perhaps ending in separation." I do not need to say any more, because hon. Members will fully understand the point, but it does show that the question of cheap fares and travelling facilities is a very important one. It is not a case of going every week. Moreover, when people do go, I beg of them not to regard the receiving household as a sort of hotel where everybody will get free meals. They must remember that those at the other end are poor people. If collective refreshments could be arranged for it would solve a lot of problems. I suggest that it is eminently desirable to have cheap travelling facilities to enable husbands to see their wives and parents to see their children. After all, the railways are running half empty anyway and you ought to be able to do a deal with them. It is extra revenue for them and it ought to be possible to obtain cheap tickets for the purpose.
§ Sir Irving Albery
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it would probably be better if the mother could be given facilities to go home?
§ Mr. Morrison
Of course, she has left in order to be free from the risk of air raids and, if she came back on an unlucky day, it would be a pity, but I agree that the point is worthy of consideration.
Then there is the problem of unofficial evacuation. When the war came, the Government appealed to parents whose children were away on holiday to leave them, and some were left with relations, but the Government will not recognise this evacuation for the purpose of paying the billeting allowance. Some of these 2256 youngsters are with relatives and some are not, but a large proportion of the relatives are poor people and it is officious, bureaucratic and hard that the billeting allowance should be refused in all these cases. I beg the Minister to give friendly and sympathetic consideration to that point. There are other problems in connection with evacuation, most of which have been dealt with. There is the question of collective meals, upon which we should very much like an answer, and there is the question of the provision of milk for children needing it who are now in the reception areas. That should be a matter capable of adjustment between the education authority in the reception area, the Government and the evacuating education authority.
The medical services I have dealt with, and I do not think I need say anything more on the point, but I would add this about clothes. I quite agree that parents, in the ordinary way, should shoulder their responsibility for clothing the children and should be encouraged to do so. On the other hand, they need more clothes under the new conditions than under the old. Some kind people are contributing clothes and boots, but care should be taken to see that boots voluntarily subscribed are suitable for the children. But there will be a residuum of families who cannot afford to buy clothes and boots. On the other hand, the people in the reception areas, some of them quite poor, have it on their conscience that the youngsters are walking about badly clad and badly shod. I appeal to the Government to give the local authorities in the reception areas proper discretion in order that the kiddies may be reasonably and warmly clothed and shod, and stand behind them as far as the financial requirements are concerned.
We must make evacuation an attractive thing, a bright thing, a happy thing. Let us write it up and not write it down. If there are difficulties, let us face them like men and women and solve them. The parents have a responsibility. The Board of Education is going to reopen the schools and all sorts of problems of security and so on will arise, but the parents must face this point, that the Government and the local authorities have made provision whereby all these children could be out of the vulnerable areas. The responsibility for them not being out of those areas does not rest with the Gov- 2257 ernment and the local authorities but with the parents. I am not going to bully the parents for not having them sent, but they must shoulder their responsibility for not letting them go or for bringing them back. I would urge them not to encourage the children, at any rate, to come back into the area of danger. It has been a vast social experiment. There are plenty of troubles about it and there are going to be plenty more, but it has been a great social experiment. In the main I think it has been successful. We must have a sense of proportion about the difficulties that are arising and do everything we can to discourage any sabotaging of this great and necessary movement.
So far we have not been subject to serious air raids. At any moment we may be so subject. The enemy may lose his nerve or his head or both, and when he does, in the frame of mind of the Nazi party in Germany, he is capable of doing very desperate things. The Nazis may do them, and if they do them on a sufficiently large scale we must expect a proportion of bombers to get through and to do fairly serious damage to our people and to our country. That may happen. I hope it will not. It will do no good, but there will, in those circumstances, be a clamour which no Government will be able to resist. Let us not misunderstand the position. It will not be a clamour that our Government shall send bombers for the specific purpose of killing women and children; I hope they will not do that. It will be a demand that we must bomb German towns and military objectives in a way which will, incidentally, kill German women and children. Let Herr Hitler understand that if he does this thing he will call back similar action which will certainly be in no degree less effective and efficient than his own action in the air will be. If he comes here he will have a warm time, and active defence will inflict very grievous casualties upon the German Air Force. Nevertheless, good as that defence may be, let us not ignore that if the German Air Force come in sufficient numbers some of them will get through. They will have a warm time. There will be serious casualties and they are bound to get similar action in their own country.
Our Civil Defence is a new organisation, still with many imperfections, largely the result of the Government not starting on the job early enough and effec- 2258 tively enough, and partly because some local authorities may not have done their job as well as they ought. Nevertheless, it has been built up in a period of little more than a year, and it is a great and powerful organisation for the protection of our people. I believe that our Civil Defence will function and that, whatever the enemy does, British people will keep their nerve, and that he will not break the spirit of our people whatever he may do. Let the enemy understand, therefore, that if he goes in for these desperate methods he will not succeed in his objective. The defence will be active and strong, and the consequences to Germany itself may be grave. I get no happiness out of the thought of British towns being spoiled. I sometimes think at night of the new beautiful housing estates that are going up, of the new schools, better hospitals, lidos and other great social achievements of local authorities all over the country, and of this devilry of the air coming there, smashing up and destroying much of it, and of our having to start all that constructive work again in an impoverished world. I have been to Germany. I have seen the well-planned towns in Germany and the fine results of German municipal action in happier and more constructive days- It gives me no comfort to feel that British airmen may do in those towns the same as German airman may do here.
Surely it will be madness if there is this war of mutual destruction which will do nobody good and will do everybody harm. I hope that it will not happen; but I warn Herr Hitler, Field-Marshal Goering and all their colleagues to understand that if they do that business and decide to go mad, if they embark upon a warlike policy of destruction of great cities and of the civil population, we are ready for it. We shall stand up to it, and in the end the British people will come through triumphant.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Sir J. Anderson
This has been a very friendly and helpful Debate and has ranged over a wide field. If proper publicity is given in the newspapers to the speeches that have been made, I am sure a great deal of misapprehension will be removed and the people of this country will be able, so far as Civil Defence is concerned, to view things in a far better perspective than that in which they have 2259 been presented since the outbreak of war. It is perhaps irrelevant, but the main impression which I will carry away with me from this Debate is that the task of the Minister of Home Security in certain circumstances can be less trying than that of the Home Secretary.
I am not going to pick up all the points that have been raised in the course of a long and remarkable series of practical speeches since this Debate began. Many points have been raised in regard to evacuation and the problems of education incidental to it. I know that a careful note has been made of all those points and they will be considered and dealt with in due course. As we all know, there is going to be a Debate, I think the week after next, on education, which will afford an opportunity of dealing with many of those points. There are, however, a number of outstanding questions with regard to my particular side of Civil Defence which have been raised by more than one speaker with which I would like to deal as briefly as possible.
I come first to the question of personnel which was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). He said that the policy of the Department seems to have changed more than once in regard to the strength of the Civil Defence personnel. That is perfectly true. Certain establishments were settled, as is well known, in the period of preparation. Those establishments were not complete at the outbreak of war. As soon as it was clear that war was imminent the Department very naturally and properly urged local authorities to set about completing those establishments, and certain action was taken by local authorities. Then, after the outbreak of war it became apparent, for the time being at any rate, that it was not the sort of war for which we had been preparing, and inevitably adjustments had to be made. To a large extent local authorities themselves realised the need for the adjustment and started making changes here and there. Then the outcry of which we are all aware—a very unfair outcry—started against Civil Defence personnel; the people who were regarded as heroes in September of last year—what we still call the crisis—came to be regarded as the drones of to-day. It was most unfair. I heartily associate myself with what has been said by hon. 2260 Members who have referred to the public spirit, zeal and enthusiasm of these volunteers, paid and unpaid. I think I may fairly claim that my Department did not allow itself to be rattled into precipitate action by those unfair criticisms. What we did was to get in touch with the local authorities, who were in direct contact with the problem of personnel and who were able to find out how things were working, and after a period of close consultation occupying two or perhaps three weeks definite proposals were formulated. Those were communicated to various people up and down the country and in the end we produced a circular, one of the long series, but certainly not one of the least helpful, of circulars issued by my Department, and the local authorities up and down the country are now at work in conjunction with the regional staffs, making adjustments in the personnel arrangements.
That circular, while calling attention to the need for economy, emphasised the danger of overdoing economy. What we aim at, as I explained in this House not very long ago, is maintaining a body of Civil Defence personnel in the various services constantly available, adequate to meet the first shock of attack—a body which could be supplemented rapidly from the second line if an attack developed; and I am glad to say that local authorities everywhere are cooperating very loyally and diligently with the Department in applying to the circumstances and conditions of their own areas the general principles set out in that circular. We did not try to set out any hard-and-fast rules to be applied automatically everywhere. We indicated the general lines on which the local authorities should proceed, taking full account of local differences.
So much for the general question of the adjustment of the strength of our Civil Defence personnel to the actual circumstances in which we find ourselves. There are various other points affecting personnel that have been raised in the course of the Debate. There was a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston Division of Birmingham (Mr. Simmonds) regarding the basis of pay. This is a point which has been explained time and time again, and it seems very difficult to get into people's minds that 2S. a day plus a great many other 2261 things means something more than 2s. a day. The pay of the Civil Defence personnel was fixed after close discussion with the Service Departments and, of course, with the Treasury, so that it should be as nearly as possible equivalent to what the private soldier with dependants would receive—I think a soldier with a wife and one child—in meal and in malt, in money and in kind. If the matter needs to be put to the test, there is a comparable service under one of the fighting Departments — the Observer Corps, paid solely in cash with no other allowances of any kind. The members of that service receive pay at the rate of 10s. a day for a six-day week, which is exactly equivalent to £3 a week. There is absolutely no question at all about that basis and it is a perfectly fair basis.
Then the same hon. Gentleman spoke on the question of what he called the contractual obligation. We do not want to introduce any element of compulsion into this business. Although at one time hon. Members were gravely concerned about the possibility of being short of personnel and were advocating throwing overboard the voluntary basis, facts have shown that compulsion was unnecssary. But, short of compulsion, I have found it difficult to understand how, in the case of unpaid personnel, one can go further than to set out clearly on paper the exact conditions that the men and women concerned were being asked to accept, to make quite sure that they understood those conditions, and to get from them an undertaking in writing conforming with those conditions. It is true that one of the essential elements of contract is lacking, but in other ways it is a binding obligation, and I find it difficult to see how one can go any further. I am certainly prepared, however, to take into account any practical suggestions which may be put forward on that point.
A very important question was raised by the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot) in regard to compensation. I do not think I am in a position to deal exhaustively with that question; as the hon. Gentleman said, the Order from which he quoted was an Order for which I have no primary responsibility; but I should like to explain what I conceive to be the position. It was always contemplated, and it was made known in this House, and, I think, made known to local authorities in a circular last May, 2262 that if war did break out there would be a scheme of compensation which would be of general application for members of Civil Defence services and for civilians, members of the general community, who might suffer injury or death from air attack. I think it was indicated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the general basis of that scheme, which would apply universally, within the limits I have mentioned, in the event of war, would be the compensation to be provided for the private soldier. That certainly was the genesis of that Order and the basis of the scheme of compensation provided for in the Order. That does not cover the question of sick pay. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or injury on duty."] I think it was always contemplated that injury on duty would be treated on the same basis as injury suffered by reason of enemy action; there is no obvious reason why a distinction should be drawn. But there was no question of sick pay. I was rather shocked by what the hon. Gentleman had to say about the indignities and hardships which were being suffered—I hope in only a few cases—by members of the fire brigade service. The question of sick pay has been under discussion, I know, by the Departments concerned, and I will certainly see that it is pressed to a conclusion without delay. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing the matter to my notice in that way.
§ Mr. Wilmot
The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, appreciate that the soldier who is injured is taken to hospital, and fed and cared for; but the fireman is not.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am going to deal with that. I wish now to refer to the question of uniform. I think that the attitude of certain hon. Gentlemen in this House towards the question of the provision of uniform to the Civil Defence personnel has rather reflected the kind of feeling that sprang up shortly after the outbreak of war, but which has been so markedly absent from this Debate. I will certainly give consideration to the point made in regard to change of clothes.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Whatever may be necessary for personnel who happen to get wet through and have to remain on duty. All these points will be very care-, fully considered. May I pass, before I deal with the question of equipment, to the question of shelter?
§ Mr. H. Strauss
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will deal with the suggestion that I made with regard to medical examination.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am very sorry; I had a note on that in another place, but I will now deal with that point. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) referred to it, and I think it is worth while my saying that I fully agree with the observation which fell from him, and I will certainly look into the matter. I think I am right in saying that the only case in which medical examination was provided for in the original scheme was that of the Auxiliary Fire Service. There we had a medical examination because it was felt that these people would be exposed to exceptional exertion and possibly hardship.
I am not going into the question of shelter at very great length. There has been very little said in detail in the course of the Debate on this subject, but I can tell a fairly satisfactory story, and I will tell it as briefly as I can, and perhaps it will be the more satisfactory on that account.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have not been going very long. First of all in regard to the portable steel shelter, I think the House would like to know that the number of these shelters delivered to date is no less than 1,600,000, representing shelter for nearly 10,000,000 people, and there is no doubt whatever that all but a minute proportion of these shelters are already installed and ready for occupation. The number of applications on hand, that is to say, covered by lists of addresses already supplied by local authorities, is 400,000, and the rate of delivery has been fairly consistent round about 50,000 a week. I think that very great credit is due to all concerned in this matter, not only in the Department, but in the in- 2264 dustry, for the way in which this delivery has been carried out. It has been kept up so far in spite of a greatly increased demand for steel for the Services and for industry, and we are doing everything possible to ensure that it shall be maintained until the demand has been met.
We are introducing, in order to secure greater expedition, a smaller form of shelter—a shelter designed for four instead of six persons. There are many households for which it is quite suitable, and that, of course, economises in material. We are also producing as a standard article shelters capable of taking eight or 10, and we have within the last few days in a Circular to local authorities, outlined a scheme for the sale of these shelters to persons above the income limit that we have fixed for free distribution, with provision for hire purchase. The rate at which shelters can be put on sale in the first instance will not be very high, about 5,000 a week in the most vulnerable areas, but I hope there will be a progressive increase.
§ Mr. McEntee
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is proposed that the local authority shall have power to fix these purchased shelters, otherwise they will be of no value to most people?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Many friends of mine have installed them very efficiently. There are many parts of the country where the shelters that have been supplied free have been installed by the recipients, and that is an interesting fact.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Yes. I was going to say, in respect to hire purchase, that it is rather in the nature of an experiment. It is not going to be easy for the local authorities to undertake this business, but we have worked out the arrangements in close consultation with the Hire Purchase Trading Association, and in a Circular we have given very full directions as to how we suggest the local authorities should proceed.
Apart from these domestic shelters, there is the question of public shelters. It is undoubtedly the case, as the hon.
2265 Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said, that in this respect there has been tremendous activity up and down the country since the outbreak of the war. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was right in saying that there are great differences between one area and another. That is perhaps inevitable, but I should like to say that, taking the country as a whole, there has been very great and very satisfactory activity in the provision of public shelters. My Department is now in a position to provide skilled guidance and assistance to local authorities that may be confronted with special problems and find it difficult to make the progress that they desire. I should welcome it if hon. Members on both sides of the House would let me or my Department know of any authority that may seem to be falling behind, and we shall certainly see what can be done to improve matters, in collaboration with the local authority. I could, if I were disposed, mention local authorities which until a short time ago were very backward in the matter of these shelters and are now in a fair way of bringing themselves up to the level of the most advanced authorities, by cooperation with my technical department and trained staff. I will do anything that I possibly can to assist local authorities in that matter.
Before passing from the subject of shelter may I say a word about the administration of the provision of the Civil Defence Act to which the hon. Member for South Shields referred? I have not previously had an opportunity of giving the House any indication how the provision in regard to shelter in industrial and commercial establishments is working out. Let me take factories. There are, I think, 15,000 factories where the obligation arises to provide shelter for the workpeople under the Act. In more than 90 per cent. of those cases, although three weeks of the statutory period have still to run, reports have been received from the occupiers of the factories. Over two-thirds of the proposals received have been approved, and I know that in a high proportion of cases work has been undertaken in anticipation of approval. I am not in a position to give any final figures in regard to commercial establishments, but I have no reason to think that there also the progress of the work has not been satisfactory. Taking that 2266 section of the Act generally, I think we may fairly say that it is working well and that very great progress has been made in the last few months.
I cannot say more than a few words about the special case of flats, to which the hon. Member opposite referred. Many hon. Members will recall the history of the Section of the Act dealing with that subject. The subject was found so difficult that my Department had not been able to frame a Clause by the time the Bill was introduced. While the Bill was passing through a somewhat leisurely progress, because the Compulsory Service Bill had come along and other Bills had to be introduced and passed in priority, we evolved a Clause. The Clause was certainly not considered satisfactory by me, and by hon. Members opposite it was even more certainly not considered satisfactorily, so we put our heads together and devised a Clause which we thought was the best we could produce at that time. That Clause contained no appeal provision. It was designed to put on the owner an obligation where a majority of the tenants desired that a shelter should be provided. It has not been possible for the Department to collect any statistical information in regard to the progress that has been made under that Section of the Act. My officers have been very fully occupied, as hon. Members will appreciate, in dealing with those matters in regard to which they have, under the Act, a definite and specific obligation. I do know, however, that the Section has by no means remained a dead letter. I believe there are some cases where the owners have put forward, after the tenants have taken the initiative, proposals that were completely inadequate, and almost derisory. I am advised that such a course does not amount to compliance with the requirements of the Act, and I am glad to have an opportunity of saying that publicly. The tenants are entitled to claim from the owner that he should put forward a properly considered and reasonable scheme of shelter. I will see what I can do, as soon as my staff has a little more leisure, to collect information as to what is being done, and I think that if, perhaps, I could publish a few typical instances of such shelter, showing how it has been provided and what the cost has been, that might stimulate action, either at the initiative of the tenants or 2267 otherwise. I will do what I can in that matter.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I hope the Minister realises that, in spite of his promises when the Bill was going through, so little has been done, and that the tenants have nobody to whom they can appeal.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I would remind the hon. Lady that I made no promises as to what would be done under that particular Section. I said it was the best we could do, but the Section puts no obligation on the Department and gives no power to the Department. That must be borne in mind. I am very anxious indeed that progress should be made, and the Section enables progress to be made where there is goodwill.
§ Miss Wilkinson
The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, forgive me for interrupting him, but I have sat in the House and heard great lawyers explain at great length that one does not legislate for good will and good people, but for bad people. Here the right hon. Gentleman has merely appealed to people's good will and left it at that, and vast masses of people in London are completely helpless in the matter.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I think the hon. Lady is talking about penal legislation. This particular Measure was not conceived as a penal Measure; it was largely an enabling Measure.
May I pass now to the question of equipment? The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green referred to the fact that there are still shortages of equipment for Civil Defence. That is true. The House will remember that when I first addressed it on the subject of Civil Defence, I said that a programme of equipment which had originally been designed to be completed by the end of 1941 had been compressed with the intention that it should be completed by the end of 1939. That is the programme to which we have been working. We have not yet reached the end of 1939. It is inevitable that at this date there should be certain shortages. Further, it is inevitable that those shortages should be concentrated in the less vulnerable areas for the most part, and it is, in the main, from those areas that complaints are received in regard to shortages of equipment. But that is not the whole 2268 story. I have been well satisfied, on the whole, with the progress that has been made in the supply of equipment, and may I say how grateful I am to the hon. Member for Kennington and the right hon. Member for South Hackney for what they were generous enough to say about the supply of fire appliances? On behalf of my Department, I thank them for observations which will be a great encouragement to men who have been wrestling manfully with a novel and difficult task for many months and are at last beginning to see the fruits of their labours. I was saying that the fact that there are still two months to run of the year in which the equipment was to have been brought to completion, is not the whole story. Further, there are certain items of equipment required for Civil Defence in regard to which, owing to the outbreak of war, we have had to forego supplies for which we had contracted, because the needs of the fighting services seemed to be greater. In the case of steel helmets, for example, we should have had all the helmets required for Civil Defence and public utilities by the end of September as a result of contracts placed by my Department, but we thought it right to hand over a certain number of those helmets to the War Office.
The same applies to other items. We were dependent on the fighting services for the supply of general service respirators. We made arrangements by which we should receive for Civil Defence purposes a certain proportion of the output. We have had to forgo part of our share in order that what we consider to be a greater need may be satisfied in priority. The same is true of protective clothing, which we obtained under contracts placed by the Admiralty. I think about half the supplies due to us had to be diverted. The same is also true of gum-boots and so on. Broadly speaking, the equipment position is wholly satisfactory, and where there are still shortages —and there are some shortages, as for instance in the case of fire hose—those shortages are nothing like what they were, and we are doing our best to make them good. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney raised a new-point in regard to surgical equipment. Ministry of Supply, or no Ministry of Supply, we have machinery which is working smoothly and effectively for 2269 determining priorities as between different Departments of State in regard to all matters of supply and I will certainly see that this question is taken up at once.
Passing to an entirely different topic, I would refer to what was said by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) on the question of the black-out—a subject which was also raised, I believe, by another hon. Member who is not now in the Chamber. I shall not go fully into the question of the black-out. If I attempted to give a full account, it would occupy far longer than I desire to inflict myself on the House. I will make only two observations. In the first place the black-out is fundamentally strategic. It is designed to produce, as far as is reasonably practicable, those conditions which are most favourable to the defence and least favourable to the attack, and we must always bear that fact in mind. Certain specific questions were put to me on this subject with which I should like to deal. The House was told that there was a growing feeling against the black-out, a growing feeling that it had been carried too far. I have been at some pains to test feeling up and down the country on this subject, and I think it is very easy to exaggerate the matter. There are a great many people who derive considerable comfort from the black-out, and who think that in the security of the black-out they are safer than they would be if there were twinkling lights all round.
§ Sir J. Anderson
It is a most remarkable thing that the records of that sort of crime, of smash-and-grab thieves, bag snatchers, and all that sort of thing, have shown no increase. That is very satisfactory. In one or two parts of the country just after the black-out began there was an increase, but London was not among them. Ever since the outbreak of war we have been paying, in conjunction with the Air Ministry, very close attention to various aspects of the black-out regulations in the interests of safety, comfort, and industrial efficiency. We have gone in detail into the question of industrial lighting, and the lighting of certain outdoor operations which in the public interest have to be carried on day and night, such as building operations, quarrying, the loading and unloading of ships, railway marshalling yards, and all 2270 that sort of thing, and various adjustments and relaxations have been made. We have gone very closely into the question of traffic lighting, in conjunction with the traffic undertakers and the representatives of the men, and I believe i am right in saying that the industry is not dissatisfied with the steps that we are in process of taking to make the position easier for all concerned in that respect.
Lighting in railway trains has also been the subject of special consideration, and steps are being taken to provide, in the long-distance corridor trains, something more approaching normal lighting, certainly lighting which will enable travellers to read in reasonable comfort. The problem of the suburban train is much more difficult, because it stops frequently, and at the stopping places when the doors are thrown open, even if you have blinds—and some of these trains are not equipped with them—you get a dangerous degree of light. A railway station with lighted trains, or a railway line with lighted trains moving along it, is a very conspicuous feature when viewed from the air. All these aspects of the blackout regulations are under continuous examination, and I would like to say that if hon. Members feel that it would be of advantage that the whole subject should be presented more fully to them than is possible in a public speech, I should be very glad to arrange a conference at which the considerations that influence the Government in determining the extent to which complete obscuration should be aimed at could be explained. We have already had conferences with representatives of industry and employers and men, with, I think, very good results, and I think that is a process that might well be carried further.
The right hon. Member for South Hackney referred to the question of ambulances and the problem of the supply of vehicles in that connection. That is a matter which has recently, I think, been the subject of a circular from the Ministry of Health. I know that there are some who prefer the trailer system and some who prefer adapted motor cars, but if after that circular has been taken into consideration there are still some differences of opinion or difficulties, I know my right hon. Friend will be very glad to go into them.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields referred to the question of 2271 war-time finance. I do not know whether he expected me to take seriously all he said about the memorandum that was communicated some time in September to the associations of local authorities. He referred to the conference which was held at the Home Office some time in July, and suggested that I was at pains to say a great many things but to say them very vaguely. I would remind him that two things I said were definite. One was that in the event of war the Government would take on their shoulders the whole cost of personnel. That announcement had not been made before and the local authorities, I think, welcomed it. Another statement I made, speaking from memory, was that if there were difficulties about ways and means the Government would see to it, and that has also been done. I also said that the Government would formulate suggestions as quickly as possible and would then take the local authorities into consultation. A memorandum was taken in hand for the first time after that conference. It was ready before the end of July, and I made some inquiry during what ought to have been the holiday period and was given to understand that the local authorities would not mind if there were a little delay in sending it out. It was held in readiness, and shortly after the outbreak of war, the same memorandum, which had been prepared and had been the subject of some informal consultation, was communicated to the associations of local authorities. I am still awaiting the observations for which I asked. I really do not think that the right hon. Gentleman could have been speaking on behalf of the associations of local authorities if he meant to convey that they had any sense of grievance about the way in which that important matter was being dealt with. I have a perfectly clear conscience in the matter. I am ready at any time to go into the question with the local authorities, but I hope first to receive the observations in writing of each of the associations. I have taken up practically all the time I had intended to allow myself. There are some points which I have noted with which I have not dealt, but I have dealt fairly comprehensively with the main subjects raised in the Debate. I will see that the other points are taken up and that communications 2272 are made in one form or another with the hon. Members who raised them.
I think that we can all feel that this review which we have been making of our Civil Defence arrangements can be concluded with a considerable measure of satisfaction. Although, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, the arrangements have not been subjected to the crucial test of intensive air attack, wehave had, at any rate, the experience of full mobilisation. That has shown conclusively that the foundations of our Civil Defence service, this great new service of which the right. hon. Gentleman spoke so eloquently, have been well laid, and that we were well advised to rely on the voluntary principle and also to base our plans on local authority organisation, holding fast, as the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) said, to the democratic principle even though there may have been, here and there, some examples of the sort of pluralism to which he referred. I am sure it is the feeling of all hon. Members in all quarters of the House that the manner in which all have collaborated in the task of Civil Defence since the outbreak of war—the volunteers, paid and unpaid, the members of local authorities, the officers of local authorities, the transport personnel and all concerned in any way with the multifarious problems to be dealt with—have shown a spirit that is worthy of the very highest praise, and that the experience we had had up to the present is full of encouragement for the future, whatever that future may bring forth.
§ Miss Wilkinson
Before the Minister sits down may I call his attention to the promise made by the Minister of Health that questions with regard to evacuation and billeting would be answered by his right hon. Friend. Exactly what I prophesied has happened, and not one of the questions which were addressed to the Ministry of Health have, in fact, been answered by his right hon. Friend.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee
I am sorry if I am keeping Ministers and hon. Members, but I have sat here since 3 o'clock listening to all the speeches, and there are one or two things of serious importance which even now have not been dealt with. I am going to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health to do me the honour of allowing me to call upon 2273 her in her office to discuss one or two little items of interest and importance in regard to the mothers in the reception areas. I do not feel so complacent as the Minister of Health appeared to be about the figures he quoted to-day. We have been at war for nine or ten weeks, and 50 per cent. of the mothers who were evacuated at the beginning of the war have returned home. If anybody can feel satisfied with those figures certainly I cannot. In addition, he stated that 22 per cent. of the children, an astounding figure, had also returned. What I was waiting to hear from him was any suggestion of what he was doing to meet this problem of the returning children and mothers. Not one suggestion was put forward. I put a question to the Minister a week ago asking why the mothers and children were returning and I received a reply which told me that they were returning for certain reasons, with all of which I agreed. He said then that he could not tell me the number, but we have had the figures to-day. Those figures are definitely unsatisfactory. Fifty per cent. of mothers have returned. If that rate is maintained, in five months the whole of the evacuated population will have returned to London. No step is being taken presumably to stop that trek back to the danger zones.
I was somewhat surprised that no reference whatever has been made to from the beginning of the evacuation period up to now in regard to expectant mothers—not those who have gone away but those who from day to day are coming within the category of expectant mothers. No provision, apparently, is to be made for their evacuation. I want the Minister to give some assurance that, when their time comes, an opportunity shall be provided for them to go away into some area where they are considered to be safe. Are they to be sent into areas into conditions from which other mothers similarly circumstanced have been forced to return? I hope not. I hope some attention is to be given to the question of the reasons why other expectant mothers have returned from those areas and that coming expectant mothers will not be sent into similar conditions but can go to some place where there will be a reasonable hope that they will remain when they have become mothers.
2274 I have heard from my wife of the good work the Parliamentary Secretary has done in some of the areas which she and I have visited. I have no doubt she experienced what I, and no doubt others, did. Mothers and expectant mothers are seriously hampered by the lack of anything to do except walk in the streets or sit indoors day after day. No provision whatever has been made in some areas, and altogether inadequate provision in others. I want to pay my tribute to the many churches which have provided halls for them and to the kindness of people responsible for the provision made for them in those halls. The same applies to co-operative societies and others. It may appear a trifling matter to the Minister but to me it is one of extreme importance, because I believe it will tend to keep the mothers where they are rather than bring them back to London. In those halls there are petty expenses. I know of a co-operative society who were willing to lend their hall if someone provided £4 to make it usable. There is no other hall for miles round in which the mothers can meet. A public appeal would probably have got it in, but they had no means of making a public appeal. I went to my own local authority and said, "Cannot you send them £4?" They said "No, the Public Health Acts do not permit it." I was inclined to say, "To the devil with the Public Health Acts and all other Acts. Can you not send it and risk it?" Cannot the hon. Lady or the Minister of Health give local authorities discretion to spend some limited sum of money for such payments as rent, to enable these people, in places like Oakham, to meet together; otherwise they will come back, as sure as daylight. I want local authorities to be assured that they have a power which none of them can find in the Public Health Act at the present time.
One other matter will have to be dealt with if we are to keep these people in the country. We shall have to find outside inspectors, apart from the local billeting officers. I was speaking to one of these officers and he told me that, because he had to live in the area after these events are all over, if he dared to criticise local people his life would be a hell. In the same circumstances I should probably take the same point of view. I suggest that the Minister should get outside in- 2275 specters so that there may be proper inspection of the circumstances under which people are living. These inspectors might also be given authority to spend, or authorise the expenditure of, small sums of money to enable the people to meet and have some kind of social amenity such as they have not to-day.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Sir Irving Albery
I am sorry to intervene at such a late hour. It has become the custom of Ministers to speak to an audience of private Members; but it is unusual for a private Member to make a speech to an audience of Ministers. In regard to evacuation, there are some things to which I wish to direct the Minister's attention. When the billeting took place many households were very closely billeted. A case came to my notice the other day in which there was no bed for a son home on leave from the Army. On the other hand, as a result of many of the evacuees having returned home, other households have now few or no evacuees at all. I therefore suggest to the Minister that some measure of re-billeting should take place.
The second thing I want to mention is in relation to the neutral areas. Many of these areas, especially on the outer fringe of London, have also been made reception areas. This must, of course, be a matter of opinion, and I cannot claim personally to be any expert on the subject, but it does appear to me that those areas, in which the villages are frequently surrounded by anti-aircraft batteries, are just the areas which would be the battlefield of London if any serious air raid took place. Therefore, I suggest that this is a matter which needs further consideration.
I wish to refer to the ambulance service in London. I am not going into it in any detail because I have had an opportunity of communicating with the Minister and I know he will go into the matter. I know of many young women who have joined this service, not because they particularly wanted to—for if there were air raids it would be unpleasant—but they joined it because there was a great shortage, because of their patriotic spirit and because people could not be obtained. Some of them came up to London because there was a shortage in London. I said that because I do not want anything I may say to discourage the people in this 2276 service, who deserve our thanks, but I cannot help feeling that there is something wrong with the organisation in the staffing supervision of that service. They do not get enough help; there does not seem to be any adequate senior staff dealing with them, supervising them, and training them. With regard to training, there should be a very serious alteration, and I do not suppose that 90 per cent. of the people in that service have ever had to assist at a serious accident. I believe they are in some way connected very loosely with the regular ambulance service of the London County Council. That ought to be a very excellent thing. If they were helped by that professional branch of the London County Council, and if their training was assisted by it, they would have some knowledge of what they would have to face when their services were required.
The question of vehicles I have already mentioned to the Minister. I understand that the London County Council claimed that a lot of suitable vehicles were earmarked before the war, and that when the war broke out they were required for other public services and the public contractors and people of that kind—and that is why they have not got the use of the vehicles. I find that explanation rather difficult to understand, because that type of vehicle would essentially be a heavily sprang vehicle, and it is obvious that those are not the kind of vehicles required for ambulances. Lightly-sprung vehicles are required as ambulances. I did not know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) was in his place. I hope he has heard what I have said about his own professional ambulance service, and the wish that I expressed that it would become possible for that service to give assistance in training and supervising the other volunteer services throughout London.
The last thing to which I want to refer is the staff of taxicab drivers attached to these stations. As far as I can understand, there is nobody in charge of them. In an average taxicab station, there are about six drivers. Surely it is necessary that one should be in charge, responsible for the condition of the vehicles and for the work of the other five. At present, I take it, the sub-officer of the station is responsible. It is not easy for a woman, unless she has experience, to control men 2277 on a job of that kind. I do not say this with any wish to belittle the services rendered by the sub-officers at the stations, but I think many of them have not sufficient experience and are not. getting enough help. There should be an inquiry into the experience and knowledge of the different people employed and a reorganisation of the whole staff and of that service.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
Perhaps I might answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson). She asked specifically about the Wolsingham Grammar School which is experimenting with a system of group billeting. She thought insufficient interest had been taken in this experiment by the Department and insufficient assistance given. The Ministry have been looking into the matter, to see how the buildings can be made suitable for the winter; and she knows what is happening at present. We must see that there are sufficient lighting and heating systems in these buildings, so that they will be suitable not merely for a week or two but for the whole winter. The other matter on which she asked for a reply relates to the unemployed man who remains at home when his wife has been evacuated and difficulties occur, perhaps with the rent. She rather asked us to believe that the man left at home was treated as a single man and given the allowances of a single man, but if she looks into the matter she will find that help is being given, especially in connection with the rent and other difficulties.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I think that probably there is a different standard in different places, but every effort has been made to see that the particular needs of the individual are looked after. No definite line can be laid down on this. Assistance has been given, through the Unemployment Assistance Board, to the wife and the young children who have been evacuated. The hon. Lady spoke about group billeting and community life. I thoroughly agree with her. We have had many interesting experiments all over the country. It is one of the most interesting things in this evacuation problem to go about and see how in different parts, with initiative and ideas, local people have got together and given us many interesting experiments. It is upon such experiments that the success of the scheme may largely depend.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) asked about communal feeding. The answer is that it is more a subject for the Board of Education, and I think a statement will be made very shortly by the President of the Board of Education. The matter has been looked into, and a further discussion can take place in the next Debate. A circular will be sent out very soon giving definite suggestions.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes before Eleven o'Clock, till Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.