HC Deb 01 April 1941 vol 370 cc854-7
41. Mr. McGovern

asked the Home Secretary whether he can state the reason for the absence of mobile canteens when the Clvdeside air-raids took place on 13th and 14th March; is he aware that the military had to be appealed to in order to secure such canteens as they could spare; and will he take steps in order to provide such equipment for future use?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Major Lloyd George)

I have been asked to reply. The inquiries I have made do not indicate that there was any shortage of mobile canteens and the appeal for Military assistance, was, I understand, primarily for field kitchens to provide cooking facilities.

Mr. McGovern

If statements are made by people on the spot that there was a complete absence of mobile canteens and that they had to appeal to the military, who generously gave them assistance, does the hon. and gallant Member say that those statements are completely untrue?

Major Lloyd George

Oh no, but there is a difference between a mobile canteen and a field kitchen, and I think the hon. Member is not unnaturally confused between field kitchens and the mobile canteens which were in the area the day after the first raid. I think there were 17 on the first day and that the number rose to 40. Those were mobile canteens.

Mr. McGovern

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say where those mobile canteens came from, if they were on the spot or had to come from outside?

Major Lloyd George

If we keep mobile canteens on the spot and an area is badly bombed they tend to become immobile. Those canteens came from, I think, Edinburgh, Dundee and other places outside the Clydeside area.

42. Mr. McGovern

asked the Home Secretary his reason for issuing a statement on the Clydeside air-raids of 13th and 14th March in which the figure of 500 persons were stated to have been killed; and will he now give the latest figures of killed and injured, respectively, giving men, women and children separately, and number of houses destroyed or uninhabitable?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

The Ministry of Home Security issue each month particulars of air-raid casualties during the preceding month. It is often difficult after a severe raid to ascertain the casualties with accuracy, and for this reason monthly casualty figures are given which have been carefully checked by reference to the reports from Civil Defence sources, hospital returns, etc. These figures are as accurate and reliable as it is possible to make them. In view of the nature of the attacks in the Clyde area on the nights of 13th and 14th March, it was impossible in the early stages to obtain definite figures of the casualties incurred; and the first reports received indicated, as stated in the communiqu é s issued immediately afterwards, that though the attacks had been heavy the casualties, though serious, were not expected to be numerous. As soon as it appeared that the casualties were heavier than had at first been anticipated, a communiqu é was issued on 18th March giving the latest figures, as reported by the Scottish authorities.

The hon. Member will appreciate that in circumstances such as those in question any figures given soon after the raid cannot be final and complete. Since 18th March I am sorry to say that the numbers of killed and wounded have risen and now amount for the two nights combined to about 1,100 killed and 1,000 seriously injured for the series of municipal and county areas involved. In this case I have departed from the usual practice not to give figures in relation to particular incidents. I have done so because I felt it important to correct any impression that the original announcements were deliberately designed to minimise the seriousness of the damage sustained. They did in fact represent the information available at the time. But I want to make it clear that this must not be regarded as a precedent. For reasons of public security I am not prepared to give statistics of the damage to dwelling houses.

Mr. McGovern

Can the right hon. Gentleman answer the part of the Question which asks for the numbers of men, women and children respectively?

Mr. Morrison

No, Sir, I do not think we have that information in any case, and if we had, I should have to consider whether it is desirable to give it.

Mr. McGovern

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the announcement of 500 as the number killed caused great resentment in the Clydeside area, many people knowing there were many more killed; and does he not think it better, if a figure is to be stated, that it should be nearer the facts, and so prevent the spreading of statements which put the number of killed at 5,000 or 6,000? Surely it is better to have no figure or the real figure.

Mr. Morrison

I do not think that the hon. Member can be familiar with what conditions are in our Civil Defence organisation in the middle of a "Blitz" itself. There are very great difficulties to meet, and really more important things to be done at that moment. I am only concerned with the figures. We gave them fairly on the information which was supplied to us by the local authorities, and I want to assure the House that we act genuinely in these matters, and should strongly resent any suggestion that there was any bad faith on our part.

Mr. Buchanan

Why give a figure at all?

Mr. Maxton

Is the Minister aware that there would have been no resentment and no feeling if no figure had been issued till a later date? Can he tell us who is responsible locally for collecting these figures and for making such a statement?

Mr. Morrison

As to the statement, the responsibility is mine. The collection of the figures is a responsibility of the local authorities, passing up to the Minister of Home Security. If there have been statements giving figures by municipal representatives locally, they have done wrong. They have no right to give any figures whatever. The only reason why figures have been given in this exceptional cast-is that the original figure was misleading by indicating that the casualties were lighter than they were. That was resented on Clydeside, and I thought it only fair that some further figures should be given; but this is entirely an exceptional case and I hope that it will not be regarded as a precedent.