HC Deb 24 July 1941 vol 373 cc1040-3
39. Mr. Brooke

asked the Home Secretary what arrangements are made to coordinate the work of Government Departments, local authorities and other agencies concerned with the welfare of the civil population during and after air raids?

Mr. H. Morrison

As the answer is rather long, I will, with Mr. Speaker's permission, make a statement at the end of Questions.


Mr. Morrison

I must first point out that the welfare of the civil population during and after an air raid is bound up with the restoration of the life of the community and depends upon a large number of services, extending far beyond the Civil Defence organisation as originally conceived. To give a few examples, let me mention evacuation and rest centres; emergency feeding; relief of distress; first-aid repairs to houses; road and rail transport; restoration of shopping facilities; salvage of furniture; restoration of gas, water and electricity supplies; clearance of sites which are a danger to public safety or public health. All these, and various other activities, directly or indirectly affect the personal welfare of the population. Many Departments are involved, but the examples I have mentioned are particular aspects of the work of five or six Departments, and they could not be dealt with in isolation from the work now carried out by those Departments under normal conditions.

As Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security, I have a general responsibility for seeing that the plans of the various Departments are properly coordinated, and that adjustments are promptly made in the light of experience. At the centre, co-ordination is achieved through the Civil Defence Committee of the War Cabinet and its Executive Sub-Committee, over both of which I preside. Under present conditions, the committee meets weekly and the Executive Sub-Committee meets at least twice a week; meetings are held daily if necessary. The Ministers immediately concerned meet under my chairmanship with their senior officers and advisers. Other Ministers including Ministers of the Service Departments, attend when matters arise affecting the work of their Departments. Oral reports are made by each Department represented, and immediate decisions are given where necessary. The Executive Sub-Committee is also a planning body and calls for reports upon particular problems which need detailed examination. I need hardly say that I meet the Regional Commissioners individually and collectively at frequent intervals for discussion of a wide variety of problems.

So much for planning and the settlement of policy. Then there is action to give effect to the policy in the regions and localities. This is done through regional representatives of Government Departments and local authorities, subject to co-ordination by the Regional Commissioners, who are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that all the interests concerned, including regional representatives of Government Departments and local authroities, make plans in advance and act quickly and effectively when the emergency arises. They also maintain close contact with industrial organisations and voluntary bodies. Thus the Regional Commissioner is the point at which all plans for dealing with the consequences of enemy attack are focussed. Power; on specific matters have already been delegated to them, and there will be no hesitation in extending such delegation as the need arises.

Experience has shown that after a heavy raid rapid and effective progress can best be made if the Regional Commissioner initiates arrangements for a conference at an early hour, at which the various agencies at work are repre- sented, including, if necessary, the military authorities. These conferences are called to enable the position to be appreciated in perspective and to initiate and co-ordinate remedial action, the general lines of which have been planned in advance. Every Department and agency places its services unreservedly at the disposal of the Regional Commissioner, and the regional representatives work as a team under the leadership of the Regional Commissioner. By the methods I have outlined, policy is quickly settled and plans are co-ordinated nationally, and in the regions lines of action are determined and preparations made in advance under the direction of the Regional Commissioner.

Mr. Brooke

Will my right hon. Friend enlarge that very interesting statement in one respect? Exactly what is the Regional Commissioner expected by him to do if a local authority is not reaching the standard of efficiency in some respect which he expects of it, or if he is not receiving the co-operation which, in his view, he requires from the officers of some other Department, not the Ministry of Home Security?

Mr. Morrison

In the case of the local authorities, the Regional Commissioners, subject to Ministerial authority, have powers of direction, if necessary, but, as the House will agree, it is far better to do these things by discussion and through good will, and very little difficulty is in fact experienced. With regard to other State Departments, if the Regional Commissioner finds he has difficulty with the regional representatives of another Ministry he can make representations to that Ministry through the Minister of Home Security.

Mr. Thorne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is conflict sometimes between the Regional Commissioner and the Controller, and if there is a conflict between these two gentlemen who is the final arbiter?

Mr. Morrison

Finally it would be myself. If I came to the conclusion that the fault was with the Regional Commissioner, I would have to deal with him. If I came to the conclusion that the Controller was hopeless, I would have the power to remove him.

Major Milner

Is there any co-operation with, or assistance from, Members of Parliament in the areas, or are they completely ignored?

Mr. Morrison

As my hon. Friend knows, the Regional Commissioners meet Members of Parliament from time to time.

Hon. Members

Very rarely.

Mr. Morrison

I can only say that I think the whole of the Regional Commissioners have invited Members of Parliament—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—and in a number of cases there have been several meetings. If any hon. Members have any feeling about that point in a particular region, I will certainly take it up.

Mr. Ellis Smith

They give two days' notice by telephone.

Mr. Lindsay

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Viscountess Astor

Do I understand that this policy has always been the policy that has been carried out from the beginning, or is it something new?

Mr. Morrison

In principle, in many respects, it is from the beginning, but, as the noble Lady knows, it is very desirable.

Viscountess Astor

Supposing a Regional Commissioner finds that local authorities are really not up to scratch, is it the duty of the Regional Commissioner to deal with them drastically?

Sir J. Lamb

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Notice has already been given that this matter is to be raised in a discussion on the Adjournment.