HC Deb 13 June 1940 vol 361 cc1411-34


Motion made, and Question proposed: That a sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941, for measures in England and Wales to deal with casualties and disease, for expenses connected with evacuation, for repair of war damage and for other services arising out of the war.

Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)

On a point of Order. Will it be in Order in this Debate to raise the question of evacuating children from this country to the Dominions, on the ground that evacuation from one part of England to another is inadequate?

The Chairman

If the hon. Gentleman is fortunate enough to catch my eye and tries to raise that question, he will find that I shall stop him, should I think he is going beyond the proper limits.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

Do I take it that the evacuation which is to be examined to-day is evacuation with regard to England only, and that it will be out of Order to raise questions of Scottish evacuation? I understand that it is intended to debate a number of Scottish matters next Tuesday.

The Chairman

There are two Votes on the Order Paper to-day. There is the Vote which has just been read from the Chair and there is a similar vote in respect of Scotland. I took that as an indication that it might be intended that both should be debated to-day, in which case, if the Committee wish it, the two Votes can be discussed together. That can only be done with the general assent of the Committee. At the moment what is before us is the English Vote only. If it is desired that the Scottish Vote on the Order Paper should be included in this discussion, a Question should be addressed to the Chair and it would be allowed with the assent of the Committee.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

May I, then, formally ask such a question in order to ascertain whether the Committee would approve of the Scottish question being considered to-day?

Mr. Denman (Leeds, Central)

Has the Minister responsible for the Scottish Department been informed that there may be a discussion on his work?

The Chairman

I am now given to understand that the Scottish Vote will be put down for Tuesday next.

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

Not the Scottish Vote which deals with this matter. There are other Scottish questions which have to be discussed on Tuesday and surely it would be more appropriate that in a general discussion on evacuation, Scottish Members should have an opportunity of being heard to-day.

The Chairman

In the circumstances I shall have to be guided by what takes place in the course of the Debate. At the moment the only question before the Committee is the Vote which has been read from the Chair.

3.50 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)

I understand that this Debate has been arranged to-day because hon. Members wish to discuss certain aspects of the problems of evacuation and the emergency hospitals scheme. No doubt it will help the Committee if I make a statement on both those questions straight away. The first question, on which I understand hon. Members wish most discussion, is that of evacuation. This is a somewhat complex and difficult problem. During the last two or three weeks the Government have taken a series of decisions and actions regarding evacuation of this or that area, which may appear to be in conflict with earlier decisions, or which, coming as they have one after another as a series of isolated acts, may seem to be somewhat disjointed and unrelated to any broad conception of what policy should be. But I can assure the Committee that the Government have a carefully thought-out and consistent policy on evacuation which is governed by certain definite principles, and into which every one of the recent moves fits.

I think it would be timely if I gave the Committee a comprehensive statement of the principles governing our policy, so that they may appreciate exactly what the position is to-day, as the Government sees it, in the light of the most recent developments in the war. First let me say something about a proposal which, I believe, commends itself to many hon. Members in the Committee, that is, that evacuation should be made compulsory. I think, if we are to have a clear picture of this problem in relation to the proposal for compulsory evacuation, one must begin by making a certain distinction. There are two quite different reasons for which the evacuation of a large part of the population of a place might take place. The first reason is this. A place might be likely to become the scene of actual military operations in which our Forces were engaged against the Forces of the enemy. Such a situation might arise if the enemy were to attempt an invasion of this country. They would, perhaps, attempt to seize certain places on the coast and occupy them as bridgeheads, through which they could pump reinforcements of men and material, and from which they might spread out an offensive over the neighbouring country.

Of course, our Forces would immediately resist that attempt. If such operations were to begin, any civilians left in the areas of these operations would conduct themselves best, both from the point of view of their own personal safety, and from the point of view of the success of our operations, by staying where they were. They should not, under these circumstances attempt to evacuate. They should not go in a crowd of refugees on to the roads, as great parts of the population of Belgium did, and embarrass the operations of our military Forces. But it is true, of course, that the resistance of our Forces to the enemy would be simpler and easier if, before the operations started at all, the civilian population of places affected was reduced to a minimum. In these circumstances it would be desirable that, prior to operations starting, there should be an evacuation of a considerable proportion of the local population. I can only say that the Government are keeping the prospects under constant study, and that they have this matter under review every 24 hours, and that in a case like that, where some evacuation might be necessary for military reasons, the Government would not rule out the possibility of compulsory evacuation.

There is a second reason for which evacuation from a centre might be required. This second reason arises not because a place is likely to become the scene of actual military operations on the land, but because our cities and towns may be targets for enemy attacks from the air. Into this category falls the vast majority of the evacuation areas which we know—London, Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, Coventry, and other great cities and towns which are evacuation areas come into this second category. They are the great industrial centres of the country, the places where the production of our powerful war weapons is going on day and night, the places where our ships are being built, and where our vital trade is proceeding. It is likely that the enemy would wish to strike at these places to cripple them and destroy them, if possible, by sending over great fleets of aircraft to hurl down on them bombs from the air. These places have their defences. There are our fighter aircraft which would engage the enemy and certainly inflict far greater damage than they received. There are the anti aircraft batteries which would certainly take a heavy toll of any invading aircraft. Then there are arrangements for the passive defence of the civil population—the private and public shelters which are distributed widely throughout those threatened cities and towns. But in addition an important part of the plan for the protection of the civilian population in these congested areas is that a proportion of the population which could be spared should be taken away, should be evacuated to places of greater safety. Why is that? What is the principle behind this major part of the Government's evacuation policy? Why when we have our fighter aircraft, our anti-aircraft batteries, and our shelters, is it necessary, in addition, to contemplate evacuation from these centres of a proportion of the population? It is because there is greater safety in what is called "dispersal."

I need only give one brief illustration to make the point. I have given it before, but one has to say the same thing over and over and over again, sometimes, to get it into the heads of a large part of the population. Supposing that there are 10,000 people crowded closely together, and a bomb falls into the middle of that tightly packed crowd. The number of deaths and injuries, from direct hits, from fires started by the bombs, and from shock, would be very considerable indeed. If one now imagines that same crowd of 10,000 people scattered widely over a large area and the same bomb falling into the middle of that area, the number of deaths, injuries, and shocks will naturally be very much lower indeed. These evacuation areas are congested areas. The population of London, for instance, lives as thickly, on the average, as 34,000 people to every square mile; the population of the evacuation areas in England and Scotland, on the average, lives as thickly as 11,000 people to every square mile. In contrast to that, the population in the reception areas is scattered widely and is living on the ground to the extent of only 250 people per square mile.

Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)

If you increased the number of bombs in proportion to the increase of area, would not the risk be the same?

Mr. MacDonald

I will not enter into fine mathematical calculations, but I think the Committee will appreciate the point that there is greater danger to civilians in an area which is being bombed if they are living under congested conditions than if they are scattered much more widely over the ground. Therefore, it is quite obvious that if people are to be taken from congested areas which are likely to be the targets of attack and widely scattered over other places which are less likely to be attacked, the safety of those people is very greatly increased. The question is, Should the evacuation of people from these congested areas which might be the subject of attack from the air be made compulsory? I know that a good many hon. Members of this House would say "Yes"—I dare say that some hon. Members will urge that in the course of the discussion this afternoon—but I must say, frankly and unequivocally, at the very beginning, that the Government, after the most careful consideration of the problem, take the opposite view, and I should like to state the reasons which have led us to that conclusion.

In the first place, it is absolutely true that people who are taken from the evacuation areas and billeted in the reception areas are much safer than they would be if they stayed where they were before. Nevertheless, the Government cannot give any guarantee that they will be absolutely safe. We are fighting an enemy who has shown that he does not regard it as repugnant to bomb peaceful agricultural villages. We are facing enemy airmen who have shown that they are not averse to machine-gunning innocent civilians walking in the fields; and although the safety of people in these country districts is greater than it would be if they stayed in the large towns, we cannot give any guarantee of absolute safety. I think that if the Government were to compel evacuation, especially of children, and if some of these evacuees were afterwards killed, unfortunately, the Government would have assumed a heavy responsibility which, short of absolute military necessity, they ought not to have put themselves into the position of assuming. But that is not the actual argument which persuades us to oppose the proposal for compulsory evacuation. There is another and a more weighty point.

Mr. Kingsley Griffith (Middlesbrough, West)

On the first point, surely the Government have to make up their minds whether the children would be safer under the one plan than under the other. If they are of the view that they are more safe when they are spread, why not spread them? The responsibility is equally taken if you leave them where they are.

Mr. MacDonald

If I may say so, I think that is a cogent point, but to me this first argument which I have just put is not the most decisive one, and I would like, in pursuing my case, to make this second argument, which to me is an absolutely decisive one. There is a considerable difference between the evacuation about which I have spoken from places which might become the field of military operations and evacuation from these other places which are most likely to be the targets of attack from the air. Generally speaking, those first places are comparatively small, and the evacuation of a considerable part of their population would not involve very large numbers. Generally speaking, it would be possible for families to go together, and the actual separation of families under that kind of evacuation would be reduced to a minimum. But the conditions in these other evacuation areas are quite different. It would be impossible to take out of these towns and cities the whole or anything like the whole of the population in them. Only a comparatively small part of the population can go, for two reasons.

In the first place, as I have said, these are centres of vital activity, of vital industrial production. The great majority of men and women in them must stay where they are because they are either concerned themselves in vital war production, or else their presence in these centres is necessary to those who are so engaged. They have to stay where they are. The second consideration is this. The population of these places is vast. Greater London has a population of many millions, and the figures are almost astronomical in the case of many others of the evacuation areas. The accommodation in the reception areas is comparatively limited; it is not boundless. The reception areas are capable of taking only a comparatively small proportion of these populations about which I am speaking.

Because of those two reasons we have been bound to select certain categories of the population in these evacuation areas for inclusion in the organised Government scheme of evacuation. Those categories have been selected as a result of experience, and the reasons why they have been selected have been explained to this House before. In some cases they are obvious; in other cases they are familiar to hon. Members, and I do not intend to go into that argument again. There is provision, for instance, for the evacuation of expectant mothers during the last months of their pregnancy. Those mothers are going out, for instance, from London almost every day as they express the desire to be taken to reception areas.

But the great majority of those who are included in the Government scheme are schoolchildren, and what it comes down to is this: The compulsory evacuation of these places means the compulsory evacuation of the school child population, and that in turn means the compulsory separation, in these times of anxiety, in these times of danger, of families, of parents from their offspring. Is that possible? I venture to suggest to the Committee that it is not. I know very well that there are hon. Members who say that if the Government give an order and make a law in war-time, the population will obey, and, generally speaking, I agree that that is true. I agree that the population are ready to go a very long way in following whatever lead the Government give them, but I think there are exceptions to that rule, and I think we come to one of the exceptions when we come to this question of the compulsory evacuation of schoolchildren. When we touch the ties binding families together in this country, thank goodness we still touch something which is exceedingly tender and exceedingly sacred. The devotion of a father to his child and the passionate love of a mother for her offspring are sentiments which cannot easily be tampered with by Government action, and we have to face the fact that there are very large numbers of parents in this country in the evacuation areas who, rightly or wrongly, will not be separated from their children during this time of emergency and anxiety and danger.

The evidence of that comes to me from every region in the country. It is strong, it is emphatic, and it is decisive. Take the case of London. I have discussed this question with leading members of the London County Council and with officials of the London County Council. I have discussed it with school teachers, and I have discussed it with parents, and their opinion is absolutely unanimous. They say with one voice that if the Government were to order a compulsory evacuation of schoolchildren from London, there are thousands upon thousands of parents who would not obey that order. That is true of London people. I am told, by regional commissioners and others, that it becomes truer still the further you go North. Then if one discusses this question in contact with reality at all, one has to accept the fact that there are scores of thousands of parents in the evacuation areas who, if the order for compulsory evacuation of schoolchildren went out, would not obey the law.

If that were the situation, what would the Government do about it? In that situation the Government would have to choose between two alternatives. The first is this. The Government might close their eyes to the fact that the law was being broken, and they might allow those parents to break the law with impunity. As a matter of fact, that is a suggestion which has been urged upon me by many people who advocate compulsory evacuation but who admit that a large proportion of the parents would not obey. I reject that suggestion. It seems to me that that would be not merely a dangerous but a fatal precedent to create in war-time. It would undermine respect for law in this country, and respect for law has to be particularly absolute, so to speak, in time of war, because it does unfortunately fall to the Government to make a great many laws which are exceedingly severe on the private citizen. It is very tempting for private citizens to evade or break those laws, but in the national interest it is essential that the Government should stand firmly for the carrying out of those laws. How can they do it in other cases if they allow one important law to be broken by a large part of the population with impunity? The discipline of the nation would break down, and we must abide by the principle, especially in war-time, that we should only pass laws that the people will obey or that the people will be punished for breaking, if they do break them.

The second alternative open to the Government, supposing they had ordered compulsory evacuation and a large number of parents did not obey that order, would be to impose penalties upon those people. That is the central issue of this question of compulsory evacuation. It is no good hon. Members advocating compulsory evacuation unless they are prepared to face that issue. I should like to hear from every Member who advocates it exactly what penalty he would impose upon those parents who did not obey. I can think of no penalty which would be effective other than imprisonment, at any rate for a short time. Let the House imagine what the situation would be then. The compulsory evacuation of school children would have been ordered. The day after the move had been completed we should know where the children were and where the parents were who had not conformed to the Government Order. I suppose the police would have to go round to their homes. I am not exaggerating the picture in the least. This is the practical part of the problem. One lot of police would have to take the children, in many cases out of the very hands of their parents, and take them off to the trains which would convey them to the reception areas. Another lot of police would have to take the parents and march them off to prison. That would happen in thousands of homes in London and in other evacuation areas in the country.

All I say is that I do not think it could be done. Even if it were practicable, even if there were room in our prisons and detention camps for these tens and, perhaps, scores of thousands of parents whom we should have to put under lock and key, I do not believe it would be right to do it. In war-time there have to be relations of mutual respect and confidence between the great body of private citizens and the Government. I believe that that relationship would be destroyed by this proposal. To-day we have harmony between the people and the Government. An attempt to put this proposal into effect would turn that harmony into discord. I believe it would threaten most seriously that national unity which, above all things, is important if we are to get through the trials that lie ahead of us and emerge from them successfully.

Sir Ernest Graham-Little (University of London)

Is it contemplated at any time to have compulsory evacuation of children? What steps will be taken in the last resort if a city is threatened, as was the case in Spain? There the children and women were evacuated and it relieved the military operations enormously. Is any similar step contemplated?

Mr. MacDonald

Perhaps my hon. Friend was not here at the beginning of my speech when I dealt with that situation, which is quite different from the one I am now discussing. In a case of military necessity the Government would contemplate compulsory evacuation for a large proportion of the population, not simply children, but others as well. In that case it would not be necessary, save in a minority of cases, to separate members of families. I am putting before the Committee the practical considerations which have decided the Government against the compulsory advance evacuation of school children. We have to abide by the voluntary principle if this policy is to be carried out with the consent and good will of the population in the evacuation areas, and, I may say, in the reception areas as well. A great many stern, unbending advocates of compulsory evacuation have never considered the people in the reception areas at all. We have to recognise that there are limits to what the Government can do. They must put the issue fully, fairly, and frankly before parents in the evacuation areas. They must state without any equivocation the advantages of transferring the children to the reception areas. The Government must be equally frank in stating the nature of the risks which children run if they stay in large cities and towns which may be bombed.

Vice-Admiral Taylor (South Paddington)

The right hon. Gentleman has said that we must take into consideration the areas to which the children are being evacuated. That is true, but is it not also true that the Government would be delighted if all the children were voluntarily evacuated? If that is so, they would still have to consider the people in the reception areas, so that the question of compulsory evacuation does not make any difference.

Mr. MacDonald

I think that it makes a great deal of difference. The position in the reception areas would be one thing if children went with the willing consent of their parents, and another thing if they went forcibly while their parents were being sent to prison. The Government must do everything they can, short of resort to compulsion, to make the issue perfectly clear to the parents in the evacuation areas. I have heard parents say that the risk of a direct hit upon a child from a bomb or piece of shrapnel is rather remote, but parents must understand that that is only a small part of the risk. There may be death or wounds from direct hits, but I dare say that there will be more casualties as a result of injuries from fires started by incendiary bombs. Even when we have exhausted all those possibilities, if a child is not hurt in its body it will certainly be hurt in its mind. Perhaps the greatest argument for taking children away from these centres is that the effect, perhaps the permanent effect, on their minds of the sounds, the sights and the horrors of aerial bombardment in a large city or town may be very terrible. We ought to safeguard our children as much as we can from that kind of thing during their young and impressionable years. It is for the Government to state these things frankly to the parents, but they must then leave the responsibility on the parents to decide whether they keep their children with them in the evacuation areas or send them to the reception areas where safety, though not absolute, is relatively greater.

I should like to say a few words about the reception areas. At the beginning of the war the reception areas were fixed widely over the country from the North to the South, from the East coast to the West coast, and some hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of the Government's scheme and went voluntarily into those areas. I am glad to say that a large proportion of the school children, at any rate, have remained in those districts ever since. They are taller, stronger, healthier and happier as a result of their stay. Some parents whose children are still in evacuation areas, however, have become nervous and fearful about some of the reception areas. To some extent the reason why registrations have been so indifferent is fear lest the children would be sent to places where the danger was considerable as a result of the way the war has developed. Many parents have spoken to me about places on the East coast. The Government have anticipated their fears. The Government have generally been a move ahead of the parents in watching the situation, and making such adjustments as are necessary.

The war has changed since September in a way which my right hon. Friend who was then Minister of Health and the Government could not foresee. We have bed to wait on events. My right hon. Friend's policy was an elastic one, and he was always ready to make adaptations according to changes in the situation. We have been faced with the fact that within recent weeks the enemy have gained occupation of the coasts of Holland, Belgium, and Northern France, and that fact changes the aspect of some of the reception areas. As a result, the Government have made certain moves in regard to evacuation in the last few weeks. Let me recite those moves in order to emphasise my point. First, we took away from certain urban centres on parts of the east and south-east coast children who had been evacuated to them. Five thousand children left those places for the Midlands and the West three weeks ago. Second, there were still a good many evacuated children in rural areas in a belt of country stretching for some 10 miles inland from the coast round a great part of East Anglia and Kent. There were 7,000 of those children, and they were moved 10 days ago to places of greater safety in the Midlands and South Wales. Third, we have considered the position of resident children in 19 towns on the coasts of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent, and on the Medway, and we decided that they should be moved to safer places. The parents in these towns were invited to register their children and 37,000 were moved to places of greater safety 10 days ago. Fourth, we announced the day before yesterday that the parents of resident children in these towns and certain additional towns would have a fresh chance to register their children yesterday and to-day with a view to the newly registered children being moved westward in the next few days.

Let me emphasise this point further by drawing attention to a significant fact in the evacuation of the 120,000 London children who were registered—I hope those actually evacuated will reach that number—which starts to-day and will continue for the next six days. Under the plan for the evacuation of London children it was the Government's policy up to a few weeks ago to send 60,000 London children to places on the east and south-east coast or in the neighbourhood of that coast. Under the actual evacuation plan which is starting to-day not one child is going east of London. They are all going west of London, and the majority of them are going to Cornwall Devonshire, Somerset, and Wales. As a result of recent developments in the war we have drawn a line down the coast from the Tweed, down the east coast, round the corner and a good way along the south coast, varying in distance from the coast but always a considerable number of miles from it. Into that coastal belt no child from outside will be evacuated in future, whether from London, Leeds, or anywhere else.

I mention these facts to show that the Government are keeping this question of evacuation areas and reception areas under constant review. As a matter of fact, it comes up for review at 10.30 every morning, and if necessary at any other hour in between.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Does this review include not only a review of the places to be evacuated but of the places which were chosen, many of them two, three or four years ago, as reception areas, and does it take account of any changes in the degree of danger to be apprehended consequent upon industrial developments since?

Mr. MacDonald

Yes, that is certainly so. The case I have just given is a case in point. Many of the urban and rural areas in the eastern and south-eastern counties were reception areas up to two or three weeks ago, and now in some cases they have been made not merely neutral areas but evacuation areas; and we also keep an eye on the situation as it may change in any part of a reception area as well as in every one of the evacuation areas.

I must not close this review without saying a few words about the householders and the voluntary workers who have done so much in the reception areas. As I said a few moments ago, some of the stern unbending advocates of evacuation are a little apt to forget problems which arise in the reception areas. Large numbers of children have been in the reception areas for many months, ever since September of last year, and I do not think any praise can be too high for the devotion of foster parents, of school teachers, and of all sorts of voluntary workers who have made life pleasant and made conditions as easy and comfortable as may be for these young visitors. Under recent movements and under the move from London started to-day, and under future movements which may have to take place, an additional burden and strain will be put upon people in the reception areas. We understand that. The Ministry of Health's officers and other people concerned are available in those areas to ease the problems and help the people as much as they possibly can; and I can only say that I am certain that those people whose national service is the care of the young generation, upon whom the future of this country after the war will depend, will perform that duty with the same devotion and the same care as so many of them have shown during the past few months.

I have spoken about evacuation at great length because I was advised that that was the subject which most hon. Members wished to concentrate upon this afternoon, but I must try the patience of the Committee by speaking for a few moments on the emergency hospital scheme. Hon. Members know that the Ministry of Health have been charged with the administration of a great hospital system which is to look after not only all civilian casualties which may occur as a result of the grim events of this war, but also the great majority of military casualties coming from the various fronts in the war. An immense structure has been created to fulfil that purpose, and it is growing every day. As a new-comer I can look upon it with a good deal of detachment, and I will say in one sentence that I think that what has been achieved is immensely to the credit of my right hon. Friend who was my predecessor, and his helpers and advisers. The machine has already been explained to this House, and I shall not take up time by describing it again, but this system is now receiving its first real test. We are now able to estimate how it is going to work in actual practice, because the first emergency has been right upon us during the last two weeks. In those two weeks we have received from Dunkirk and from other parts of the front several thousand military casualties, which have been distributed over more than 50 hospitals in different parts of the country, including a few hospitals in Scotland.

It is not possible for me to-day to make any considered and final statement on how the organisation has stood this sudden and rather severe test. I can make only a brief interim statement. Reports from different hospitals are still coming in and are being studied carefully by my advisers and by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and myself. I say without hesitation that in general they show that the arrangements for the reception and the care of those thousands of men coming from the battle line have worked smoothly and satisfactorily. There have been some hitches, perhaps some mistakes. I admit that, and as a matter of fact, though it is sad to say so, I think they were inevitable. When a large machine is being put into operation for the first time some hitches are bound to occur. One always has to learn from experience, and I can assure the House that we shall study the reports coming in with the greatest possible care, and with the one desire that any faults which may show here and there shall be corrected by changes of machinery or, if necessary, of personnel. We must have a hospital system which will give the best possible service to the men who come back from the fighting fronts. I repeat that these reports show already that in general the machine is working both smoothly and satisfactorily, but I would add that one cannot test the machine by staying in London and getting reports. That may be satisfactory up to a point, but one can only see how the machine really works by studying its operations not only in the London region but in all the other regions where casualties are being received and treated, and I would appreciate it if hon. Members would keep a watch upon this emergency hospital scheme in their different areas and let me know what information they receive about it.

I should have liked to go myself into all the regions and to get into touch with my hospital officers, the regional commissioners, and other authorities concerned, and to study the workings of the machine in every part of the field, but, of course, it is impossible for me to be away from London for the time which would be necessary. Still, I do feel that this is the time to study the machine most carefully, when it is beginning to operate, because it may be that in actual practice we shall find that some changes are necessary. Therefore I have looked for somebody with experience, ability and wisdom in these matters who might go round to all the regions and present a report to me upon how the system is working. I approached my right hon. Friend the Member for North Midlothian (Mr. Colville), who until recently was Secretary of State for Scotland, and he agreed to go on that commission on behalf of the Government. He is accompanied by Mr. Rock Carling the eminent surgeon, who is my adviser on casualty services. With him also is Mr. Beam my principal supply officer. This team of three—a very able team—has gone to visit the regions in order to watch this hospital system at work.

They started off last Monday, when they went to Newcastle. They are then going on to region No. 2, the headquarters of which are at Leeds. I expect they will come back this week-end and present an interim report—not in writing, but by word of mouth, because we have no time to write things out and send them through the post. They will come back at the week-end to discuss with me the problems which they have found in the northern part of the country, and at the beginning of next week they will start off again, perhaps to visit the region in the south-east, in Kent and Sussex, where a great many of the casualties have been arriving during the last two weeks. They have agreed to pay a visit to every one of the regions in the next few weeks in order to discuss matters on the spot with all the authorities concerned, so that we may see exactly how this hospital machine is working, and if there is any need for changes we shall not hesitate to make them. But I feel certain that no fundamental change is necessary. It is an extremely carefully-thought out and well-planned machine, but we have to see, in the light of experience, that it is in perfect working order, because unless people are satisfied that the treatment which civilian casualties and military casualties will get is the best treatment we can provide, they will not have that calm and confident spirit which will be necessary if we are to face the trials which are upon us and fight our way through to victory.

Sir Francis Fremantle (St. Albans)

Before my right hon. Friend sits down will he say whether the terms of reference of this committee are in any way restricted to more or less administrative problems, or cover technical problems, or whether they are unlimited?

Mr. MacDonald

The terms of reference are entirely unlimited. They are concerned with the administration of the emergency hospital scheme itself, the relation of that administration to the administration of the regional commissioners, the supply of beds, the supply of equipment, the supply of nurses, the supply of doctors—every relevant question is within their terms of reference. There is no limit whatever to their inquiries, and I am certain that with their ability and their sense of business they will deal with whatever matters may arise.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Ayr and Bute, Kilmarnock)

We are concerned this afternoon, I take it, with the education of thousands of children in new areas and under new conditions. We had a very clear exposition of the issue of compulsion, but I take it hon. Members will be in Order in raising such questions as the feeding of children in the new areas, the whole arrangements for their reception in the new areas, the contact with the local education authorities, and a whole host of similar questions; or are we confined to the mere movement of the children from one place to another?

The Chairman

I think hon. Members must wait. It is very difficult for the Chair to say in anticipation what will or will not be in Order. Hon. Members will have before them the actual Vote and will note the sub-heads. The hon. Member mentioned education. We must remember that that does not fall to be discussed to-day, because it comes under another Vote, with another Minister. I hope hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will do their best to see what is covered by this Vote and to deal only with matters which are relevant, and then I shall pull them up as seldom as possible.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Further to that point of Order. Is it not desirable that when these Votes are put down they should be so comprehensive as to enable hon. Members to discuss all the various aspects of the subject?

The Chairman

That is not a matter for the Chair. These Votes are put down under arrangements which are, perhaps, slightly different at the moment from those ordinarily operating through the usual channels; but that is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Ammon

I venture to put this point. The evacuation which is involved raises the important point that teachers as well as children are evacuated. Therefore we cannot avoid discussing the problems arising, which will involve discussing the mutual relationships.

The Chairman

Again it is impossible for me to say definitely in advance that what hon. Members want to say would or would not be in Order. That subject is, to my mind, in Order, within reason, but we must wait and see how hon. Members try to deal with it, and I ask hon. Members to use their discretion and judgment in these matters. I cannot give Rulings beforehand generally on what is or what is not in Order, beyond saying that nothing is in Order which is not covered by the Vote which has been read from the Chair and which is Vote 5 in the Unclassified Services.

4.46 p.m.

Miss Cazalet (Islington, East)

The Minister of Health has made, as he always does, an extremely able, interesting and persuasive speech on various important aspects of his Ministry. I wish to deal with one aspect only, the evacuation of our school children. I think he made an overwhelming case this afternoon for compulsion in this matter. I cannot help feeling that, if persuasion was all that was needed at the present time, the speeches of the Minister of Health and some of his colleagues, both here and on the wireless, would have done the trick by now. They would have resulted in at least a majority of our children having been registered for evacuation. If the Government still intend to stick to their policy of evacuation by persuasion rather than by compulsion, which, I am convinced, is the right policy at the present time, then I suggest that it might be useful to get a few Norwegian, French, Belgian and Dutch mothers to the wireless, giving the personal experiences of themselves and their children during the last few weeks or months in their respective countries. I was deeply impressed by a report of a friend of mine who was in Warsaw. She is an English lady, and one of the bravest people I know. She was in Warsaw almost till the end, and she said that nothing was more terrible to witness than the fright and terror of children during the air raids.

In spite of what the Minister has said to-day, I submit that the policy of evacuation by persuasion has failed, and that its failure is proved by the figures, some of which were given by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. I think he said that only 120,000 children in London had been registered for evacuation, but he did not say out of how many. As far as I understand, there are at least 500,000 children altogether in London and Greater London at the present time, which really means that only one out of four children has registered as a result of the policy of persuasion. I think I am correct in saying, without going into detail figures, that roughly the same figure is furnished by other vulnerable areas in the country. Many of us are getting tired of hearing it said that we must wait for the bombs to drop before the parents will really make up their minds whether they want their children to go to places of greater safety or not. But it may then be too late to get them away. The Minister told us to-day what I think he said also on the wireless last week, that one of the chief reasons why the Government will not employ compulsion is that they do not wish to invade the sacred rights of family life. I quite understand that point of view, but I submit that the sacred rights of the nation are still more important at this time. If the future is to belong to the children of to-day then for Heaven's sake let us do everything we can to preserve their lives and to get them as far away as possible from places which we think will be most vulnerable.

I know that many people say that London is the safest place; that may or may not be the case, but it is an interesting fact that almost all persons of means have already evacuated their children from London and other vulnerable centres. In Hyde Park and other places in the West End children are conspicuous to-day by their absence, but I regret that that is not the case in Islington and other crowded areas of London.

Sir F. Fremantle

Does the hon. Lady mean that the children have gone with their parents?

Miss Cazalet

Not necessarily. There are a great many parents in London who have evacuated their children, but that is not the case in the more crowded districts. I know a good many teachers and responsible people in London who do not think that thousands of parents would break the law if compulsion were brought in. I think the Minister under-estimates the good sense of parents, and particularly of mothers. I believe it is the absolute duty of the Government to arrange for compulsory evacuation now of all children of school age while it can be done with comparative ease or in an orderly fashion. There is no doubt from what the Minister has said that he believes that there is a danger not only of invasion but of large- scale air raids in different parts of the country. We cannot help remembering what has happened in France and Belgium, when the roads were simply crammed with mothers, children and aged persons fleeing away in frightened disorder. We know to our cost how greatly they impaired and prevented the counterblow of the Allies. The same thing might happen to us; unlike the Germans, we do not bomb and machine-gun our women and children.

If the step I am suggesting was taken, I do not for a moment believe that, as has been suggested by the Minister of Health, our prisons would be filled with disobedient parents. There is overwhelming evidence to show that when the Government think it right to bring in compulsory measures our people fall into line at once willingly. Only this morning I was talking to a friend who had been trying to persuade some parents yesterday to evacuate their children. They had not wanted to do so. In the last resort he suggested to them that they might have to, if compulsion were brought in by the Government. The parents immediately said: "Oh, that is quite different. Then we should have to." I believe that the vast majority of parents in the country to-day would be only too glad to have their minds made up for them, and I think it is the duty of the Government to make the decision now. I would like the Prime Minister to make the announcement himself.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)

I congratulate the Minister upon giving us a clear and lucid statement of the position, though one has to admit that the statement that he has given us of the experiences of the last evacuation suggest that, on the whole, the evacuation policy is a failure. Let us face that fact from the beginning, and perhaps we shall get some help if we briefly review the position and the lessons that have been learnt. The Ministry have undoubtedly learned something from those experiences. Last September 600,000 people were evacuated from London and some 200,000 of them are still away. The Ministry have helped to make the position a little more unpopular, and more difficult in getting people to agree to evacuation. Perhaps conditions were beyond their control, but certainly not beyond their foresight. They have now found it necessary to recall children from places to which they were sent for safety, because those places have become dangerous. That has given parents cause for objection.

The Minister said that the object was to reduce to a minimum the population in the crowded areas. If he means to a minimum of population, the evacuation scheme is not doing it, because the crowded areas remain crowded. The numbers who have registered will make very little difference, and a bomb on one of those areas will still be a bomb upon a crowded area. The analogies and illustrations which the Minister gave do not carry very much weight in that connection. Having brought back those people from the South-East and East Coasts, which was the right thing to do, the Ministry have now to answer the question which is being put by many parents: "Why did you take us away from London, which, as far as we can see is well protected and well guarded, and send us to places from which you have now taken us away, and where there were no air-raid shelters?"

I have had to bring to the notice of the President of the Board of Education letters which I have had from school mistresses, complaining that there are no shelters in places where they still remain. This complaint is not peculiar to London; the same thing is said elsewhere. We have had an excellent report issued by the City of Manchester and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has seen it. It sets out some of the lessons that the city has learnt from the evacuation scheme. When they set about putting the scheme into operation on the last occasion, 133,000 persons had registered for evacuation, including priorities. When evacuation took place, and up to 5th September, 84,209 people had gone, of whom 63,500 were schoolchildren. Within a month, this number had fallen to 30,015. That story can be repeated throughout the country in various evacuating areas.

The House of Commons has discussed this matter on a number of occasions and I do not propose to spend any more time on this aspect of it, beyond pointing out that, to a large extent, the previous experience makes the present position a little more difficult. Let us take the illustration of London, which is very much wider than the London County Council area when we are considering it for the purposes of the evacuation scheme. It extends from Croydon to Ilford in one direction to Charlton to Islington in the other. Only about 120,000 children have been registered in the area, out of a remaining school population of 500,000, which, in round figures, means one in four. That cannot be called a success in relieving the burden of pressure upon the population. I am casting no reflection or criticism upon the Ministry, but we must face that fact.

In the light of that situation, it seems that one is thrown back upon the scheme to which the hon. Lady referred, that of compulsion. But immediately you mention compulsion you raise such a tremendous amount of trouble and criticism that I do not wonder that the Government have paused before putting it into effect. I have been in touch with some of those who have made inquiries and with some of the registration officers, and they all bring back most extraordinary reports of the obstinacy of parents in face of any suggestion of compulsion, even when the most dire consequences of failure to evacuate have been placed before them. Some of the answers, although they may seem trivial to us, are certainly not trivial so far as the parents are concerned, and they are difficult to overcome. I am basing my statement on the inquiries of competent, efficient people whose job it is to carry out the scheme, and with whom I have got in touch. I served on the education committee of the London County Council for many years, so that I have been able to get in touch with them, and I know something of the work. The parents have said, "Even when the bombs fall we are not prepared to separate, and although we may not like it, we are all going to die together." It has been our duty to point out that people who talk like that, to a large extent have lived their lives and that they should have more regard for the younger people, but it does not have very much effect.

Evacuation has been unpopular in other ways. There is a certain slogan in many parts of London, "Once billeted, twice shy," and we have been met with that answer to a large extent. I am not saying that I agree with these objections, but one must bear in mind how the minds of the people are working with regard to this matter. Another question which people raise is this: If the Government really wish children to be safe, how is it that a plan for evacuation is for school children only—why not for the little children as well? Evacuation is unpopular in other ways. A false sense of security has been created by the provision of the Anderson shelters. People say, "We can hide in those, and we are not going to be divided from our children." Then when the specific question of compulsory evacuation has been put before these people they have actually said that they would resist it, even, if necessary, by physical force, rather than be separated from their children. I think a good deal of this is wrong, but one cannot escape the fact that there is that very strong opposition which has to be overcome before we can resort to compulsion. Of course, I must admit that if the Government say compulsion must be introduced, I think it would be carried out. I hope that the Minister will face it resolutely, and on his own responsibility. I could give another objection, which is semi-humorous. In a certain part of London some of the canvassers were met with this question, "When our children go away, where will you send them?"

5.5 p.m.

Whereupon the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod being come with a Message, The Chairman left the Chair.

Mr. Speaker resumed the Chair.

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