HC Deb 24 October 1940 vol 365 cc1124-7
17. Mr. Woodburn

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that there is considerable unemployment among skilled building trade workers; and whether he is prepared to harness this unused skill and labour to the work of demolition, clearance and, where possible, reconstruction of damaged buildings?

Mr. H. Morrison

I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service that there is no appreciable unemployment amongst skilled building trade workers other than that occasioned by transfer from one job to another or by the immobility or unsuitability of some workers on account of advancing years or infirmity. The Register is being systematically scrutinised with a view to obtaining suitable labour for the works in hand, including those of the type mentioned in the Question. In the London Region the Minister has found it necessary to call for volunteers for debris clearance work from among physically fit men not previously employed in the building trade.

Mr. Woodburn

Will that inquiry be confined solely to London, or have the Provinces also been taken into account with a view to bringing men from them, if necessary, to do this work?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir, I understand from the Minister of Labour that it will be on a national basis.

38. Colonel Arthur Evans

asked the Home Secretary whether it is his intention to require the War Office to place at his disposal a sufficient number of Pioneer troops to deal with rescue, clearance and demolition work in London; and if he will make a general statement on the position?

40. Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware of the satisfaction given to the citizens of the City of London of the help given by the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps in clearing up bomb débris and in rescuing buried persons; and whether he will consult with the War Office to have the number of troops available increased rather than decreased or withdrawn?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir. I am most grateful to the military authorities for the timely assistance they have been able to afford in helping to meet the urgent problem of dealing with air-raid damage in the London region. The aim of the Department is to mobilise a sufficient body of civilian labour to keep pace with any damage that may be caused; but, in order to deal with arrears which have accumulated in the meantime, such assistance as can be afforded by the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps is most welcome. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friends that I shall be glad to take full advantage of such assistance as the Army authorities are in a position to render without prejudice to the primary role of the Army.

Mr. Thorne

Are the men engaged upon this very arduous work receiving extra pay?

Mr. Morrison

That is a matter for the Secretary of State for War.

Mr. Thorne

They ought to get something. They work jolly hard.

Mr. Morrison

It is a matter for the Army.

Mr. Wedgwood

May I ask why the Army as well as the A.M.P.C. are not helping in the London streets? Is there any difficulty in getting the Army to come?

Mr. Morrison

I am assured that the military authorities have been most helpful in co-operating.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

Will the right hon. Gentleman endeavour to increase the numbers of those employed upon this work, so as to remove the depressing effect which the sight of these masses of masonry has upon people going to work?

Mr. Morrison

If necessary, a request will be made for further assistance, but we are acting on the principle that, so far as civilian labour is available, it is desirable to use it, not only in the interests of civilian labour, but in the interests of the military defence of the country. If the civilian labour available proves to be insufficient, we shall not hesitate to ask the military authorities to help us with additional men, but we must remember that the Army has its military functions to discharge and that they are not unimportant at this time. One must always keep in mind the fact that, unsightly as débris is, there are many other things to do in the way of repairs to street damage—gas mains, water mains—and to people's homes. That is even more urgent that the clearing-up of débris.

Mr. Loftus

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider using for these urgent matters some of the Royal Engineers, in order to assist in the rapid reorganisation of London?

Mr. Morrison

That is within our minds for consideration, but the Ministry of Labour is naturally anxious that we should do all we can with civilian labour. There is no point of principle in it so far as we are concerned, and military help will be used as far as is necessary.

Mr. De la Bère

Is not this work essentially Pioneer work, and is not the present position due to unfinished thinking by the War Office? Why is the delay allowed to go on? Why does not the War Office wake up?