HC Deb 12 June 1941 vol 372 cc344-438

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. James Stuart.]

Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)

During this Debate on Civil Defence the House has the advantage of an impartial and detached investigation, contained in the Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. This, I think, is the first time we have had such an investigation made into the operations of Civil Defence from the Ministry itself down to the humblest member of the Service. It is remarkable that little reference was made to this Report in the previous Debate, although I believe the Home Secretary himself referred to it. The Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure took evidence from most of the Commissioners in the 12 regions, and saw some of the areas at work immediately after they had suffered a heavy raid, as at Birmingham, for instance. Altogether they have issued a Report which runs to40 pages, and they have made certain recommendations. Although the Home Secretary referred to some of these recommendations and declared his attitude towards them generally, I should like to ask some questions with regard to two or three points contained in the Report. First of all, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Committee had extraordinary powers, and that they had no hesitation in stating the conclusions they reached.

The House and the Government can, I think, congratulate themselves on the fact that the Committee have reported, in the highest terms, their approval of the Civil Defence structure. They say the fact that it has proved its efficiency and has demonstrated its courage, has won the admiration of the world. In the whole of the Report there is no criticism to which one can object from the point of view of the effectiveness of the service. When we consider the initial difficulties in forming our Civil Defence service, and the fact that we were entering practically an unknown field of human experience, and when we consider the grim experience we have had in the past 12 months, especially during the winter, this House and this democratic country can, I think, congratulate themselves on the fact that this Report is in itself a tribute to democracy, from the Government down to the humblest local authority. We have heard much of the efficiency of the enemy in many respects. I wish it were possible to compare the enemy's operations in this respect with the achievements of this country in the same circumstances. We hear whispers, but, apart from that, there is one material fact. It is said that masses of people have been moved from Germany to other countries. While some of ours have moved—a few, not many—it is a remarkable fact that recent experience has not in the least affected the courage and morale of our people.

One of the points which emerges from this Report is its testimony to the regional system. In yesterday's discussion there seemed to be a certain vagueness as to what the regional system was and how it worked. We had, however, testimony to its effectiveness, and, indeed, on the whole, yesterday there was little criticism of it. I want to deal shortly with the regional system, because I think there is a danger of even its achievements being used to push the moral of its success too far. Whatever criticism may have been made of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council in other respects, there is one thing which he can take to his credit. He conceived and worked out this regional system and built up a structure which has been comparatively effective— really effective—in the face of the grim circumstances which we had to meet. Some of those who spoke in yesterday's Debate did not seem clear about how far the Regional Commissioners conferred with people outside. As a matter of fact, as those in close touch with the situation know, there are conferences almost every day with controllers, and heads of businesses, workers' representatives, Members of Parliament, local authorites, emergency committees, and interests and bodies of all kinds.

One thing which is not, I imagine, too well known is that in the regional office— I do not think I am touching on too delicate ground in mentioning this—there is, as a rule, a principal civil servant for most of the Departments of State. That makes it possible, very often to settle in half-an-hour questions which might take weeks to settle if they had to go through the ordinary routine of the Government Departments. The value of the regional system for these purposes cannot be overestimated. People of all kinds come to the regional office with all kinds of questions and as a rule the Regional Commissioner can almost immediately bring into the room a representative of the Department affected, and the question can be discussed and dealt with at once. These are questions about which, in ordinary circumstances, a Member of Parliament would have to write letters and organise deputations and get in touch with a Minister, only to find that that particular Minister could not settle the problem himself. But in the present circumstances, the Regional Commissioner can bring together two or three principal representatives of Departments and settle on the spot vital matters which might otherwise take a great deal of time and prove very difficult.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

Would my hon. Friend give us some information as to the powers of the Regional Commissioners? It is not so much a question of being able to go to them for information on a particular subject, but of whether they have sufficient power to deal with those matters quickly.

Mr. Lawson

I shall deal with the question of powers in a few minutes. But let me put this to the House. I heard it stated yesterday that in a certain Commissioner's office the Ministry of Health was not represented, but generally speaking, the Regional Commissioner has the good fortune to have a principal officer of the Ministry of Health in his Department and if questions cannot be settled by conference between the principal officers of Departments on the spot, there is at their disposal very direct means of contact with the people in London. But there is a multitude of questions which can, as a rule, be settled without reference to London and I think that both Members of Parliament who are acquainted with the system and the local authorities, will agree that it has been very effective from that point of view. It is true that at the beginning everybody thought that the Regional Commissioner would be a kind of dictator. Even I, as a humble deputy, remember that some of my own friends did not appear to know whether they should approach me in the usual way or bring along a club of some kind to deal with me. But suddenly it was discovered that things were not what they appeared in this respect.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a very general statement upon this matter. I do not know whether what is happening now is the result of the old British practice by which, in past times, when the Normans tried to teach French to the humble people of this country, the people themselves in the long run taught English to the descendants of the Normans. But I must say in this; matter, whether or not it is the case that the Commissioner has not the powers—and I do not think he has—and is really acting in an advisory capacity, but the fact remains that the local authorities, for some reason, have taught him to speak their language just as much as he has taught them to speak his language. But it is true that he is there only in an advisory capacity. I have not found too great a difficulty in that respect. After all, local authority representatives are experienced men and women. They are chosen for their good sense, and, while we know they vary in their capacity, I very much regret that in some quarters there is a tendency to doubt their capacity and experience. As a rule the Commissioner, in conference with local authorities, does not find a great deal of difficulty, and it is very rarely indeed that you find a recalcitrant council.

The suggestion which has been made that the Regional Commissioner, because of the success of the system, should be put in charge of the whole business and that all the powers which the scheme-making authorities now hold should be taken from them is a very regrettable one indeed. I think it is a pity that it was ever made, because these people represent, after all, the good will of the average citizen, and without them we shall lose that good will. If I thought it was necessary in the name of efficiency, I myself am so eager in pursuance of victory that I should not hesitate to take that step and lend my influence to it, but in fact the result would be a considerable reduction of our effectiveness in pursuance of victory. I am glad that the Minister has refused to accept that proposition, because these men and women, able and experienced, not only give their experience but carry with them great influence, and, if there is one thing that is necessary for success in meeting the attacks of the enemy, it is that you should rally all the citizens with you and make them feel that you are doing as much as ever you can. If one wants an example of that, one wants to see people when they are being looked after, after heavy bombing. We have not in my part of the world had what is called a blitz, but we have had heavy bombing over a long period, and one of the most moving things that can come to one is to see how grateful and thankful people who are being attended to are for what is being done for them. It makes one feel very humble indeed to think that persons who have lost their homes and all the little treasures that they have built up over a life-time should be able to give thanks for the little services that are rendered. It is the most amazing testimony to the power of the human spirit to prevail over such terrible things as bombs.

But I would go further than that. The regions have done a splendid work in dealing with local authorities, and the relationship ought not to be official. It ought to be very intimate, and I believe it is. It has been my experience that not only have Members of Parliament regular access, but that employers and trade unions have come to look upon the regional office as a place where they can get information and guidance.

Mr. Granville (Eye)

Is the hon. Gentleman now speaking on behalf of his own region or about Regional Commissioners generally?

Mr. Lawson

I am speaking of what I know myself. I think the average citizen should not only be encouraged to go to the regional office but should look on it as a place where he can find friends and guidance. The Prime Minister once said, "We are all in it," and we are, both public representatives and average citizens, and the region can bring both public and industrial representatives in direct contact with the chiefs of Defence and know the personnel, so that, if an attack comes they will know the kind of men at the head of affairs. They can tell their people that they know them and that they are cooperating not merely with a machine but' with persons.

I should like to ask a few questions about some items in the Report. There are committees which look after rest centres, and they do a very useful and valuable work. There is a great organisation which was taken over for this purpose, but it was found in some parts that they did not in the early stages get themselves in touch, with some of the women particularly, who were really representative in the areas, and I should say it left rather a big gap in their operation. That has to some extent been remedied, but I have often wondered how far that operates in the country. If there is such a woman, particularly, who is well known in her village or town, it seems to me that great efforts should be made to get her in as a member of the committee, because it takes people of courage and experience to look after these people who have been bombed or blitzed. In the early stages, in my own part of the world, it was always that kind of people who were selected and put upon the committee. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has looked at this question. It is not a question of roping-in members of all parties, but a question of using women who have the capacity and flair for this kind of thing. When I was at the pit I sometimes had to take a message of a fatal accident to some home. I seldom did it, for I knew that there was a woman in the village who could do it better than I could. Such a woman is the village mother, the mother of the street, and she has greater experience than Members of Parliament in dealing with people. That experience ought certainly to be used in this connection. Then there is the "good neighbours" arrangement. How far has that gone? It has been a great satisfaction to find in some places to which one has gone after bombing that there is someone on the spot to see that all the people are in homes. They have made arrangements with their friends or neighbours and the local council has sent out its letter asking people to do it. I have reason to believe that that system could be considerably developed and improved.

I want to deal with one or two recommendations which the Committee make. On page 36 of their Report they make three recommendations and propose in effect to cut down full-time personnel, or, if not to cut it down direct, to do it by engaging part-time workers in place of full-time workers when they leave. I think that the Committee is wrong in these recommendations. It fails to accept the full logic of its admission that Civil Defence is the fourth arm of the Defence Services. It is equal to any of the other Defence Services. I know what a soldier has to face, but he has weapons with which to deal with the enemy. He can dig himself In and can get cover. Civil Defence is a most remarkable service. Those who get out and about at night must have been amazed to see how men and women go through the streets and do rescue work, first-aid and fire-fighting. I have been amazed to see how these men and women go about their work in the dark, with no means of cover, never attempting to take cover, with the enemy firing at them from above with the most devilish artillery ever used in a conflict. They cannot hit back, and they must have nerve to do this kind of tiling. No one two years ago would have thought it possible for people to do the things that they are doing to-day. In one part of my region I was informed by the controller and other people that even messenger boys were fighting with each other for turns to go out with messages while bombs were dropping. Frankly, I have seen some of this kind of thing, and I do not understand how the Civil Defence workers have the nerve to stand it. In the days before the war the Germans, and indeed most people, thought that it would be possible to panic the great mass of people. They have failed.

Events and operations have demonstrated that this is service on the battlefield, and you cannot do without a considerable body of trained people. In the Army no one would think about a part-time system. It is a wonderful thing that we get so many volunteers. Here and there are people who do not do their duty, and I am glad that the Home Secretary has taken powers to make such people do their duty in certain circumstances. It would be a fatal thing to reduce the number of trained people in this service in view of the grave operations in which they have to take part. We have built up a great army for Civil Defence, and I should advise the Home Secretary, in view of these recommendations, to be careful about tampering with this service lest he injures it. I ask him to treat it as a real Defence force. I should like to be told what his attitude is towards these recommendations. It it were a matter of making people do their duty, I should not have any criticism of them, but as it concerns the efficiency of the service it would be a dangerous thing to take too much notice of the recommendation.

One condition vital for victory is that that those of our people who are in the rear should be assured and kept in good heart, and that those who are fighting should know that the people in the rear are being protected and having everything done for them. I believe that if we are careful to harvest our experience, to use it without hesitation, and not to make the regional system try to do more than it is intended to do, it may be that in time to come that system will be of great service, and of even greater service, to the country in its hour of need. I am certain that the fourth arm, in its own way, has had as great a test as any of the other Services. It has stood that test, and I trust that nothing will be done to interfere with efficiency in the way suggested in this report.

Mr. Willink (Croydon, North)

This is the first time on which I have ventured to address the House, and I would ask the House for the indulgence which it is its generous custom. There is one matter on which I should like to say a preliminary word. This is the first occasion, I think, on which the House has been asked to listen to Regional Commissioners, or rather, if my hon. Friend and myself may be humbler, Deputy Regional Commissioners, addressing the House on the subject with which their appointments are concerned. I personally felt some perplexity about the position that Regional Commissioners occupy in this situation. They are a war-time product, and if they are Members of Parliament, they are rather a strange hybrid, for they are at the same time in a sense both legislators and Civil servants. Accordingly, I felt that I must think carefully what attitude it was proper to take with regard to the subjects with which I was appointed to deal in relation to the Department which answers for those subjects. Obviously, as I am sure the House will agree, it would be most unfortunate if the impression were created by the attitude of those who hold those appointments that they were in any way tied to become advocates of the Government. On the other hand, it would be equally unfortunate if, being Civil servants as well as legislators, they ran any risk of using information officially obtained to criticise the policy of the Department which they have been appointed to make effective. Accordingly, the conclusion I came to, and I hope it will have the approval of the House, is that those holding such an appointment as this must avoid both that Scylla and that Charybdis, but that it would be unfortunate if Members of the House who are asked to, and do, devote the whole of their attention to matters as important as Civil Defence should be debarred from what one might call an informative or factual speech giving information as to how the system which is under discussion appeared to them to work.

I am proposing, with the permission of the House, to offer a few observations on a side of the work with which I have been exclusively concerned, and a side of the work which I think it has been common ground was least prepared for in the whole sphere of Civil Defence. One of the matters that took us most by surprise in September was the extraordinary extent of the homeless-ness which surrounded destroyed houses, the enormous numbers of people who were out of their houses and needed succour very badly indeed. I appreciate fully that the problems of succouring the homeless are not at all the same in some of our provincial cities and towns as they are in London, and I can speak only of London.

London has not got the problem of a congested area changing rapidly into a comparatively empty and rural district with a low density of houses. London has immense resources of property. On the other hand, I believe that the experiences of London may be of use to other cities. London has had many heavy attacks, and hon. and right hon. Members may have read what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health last week, that if one takes the criterion of houses destroyed, or houses rendered uninhabitable, there are twice as many such in the London Civil Defence Region as in the whole of the rest of the country. If one takes this rough computation, that the population of the rest of the country in peace time—and that is the test for density of houses—is four times as great as that of the London Civil Defence Region, it follows that the ratio of destruction of property in London is eight times as great as in the rest of the country. The same result would be obtained, I believe, if the criterion of casualties were taken.

Thirdly, in so far as this analogy is applicable, London, with its 95 local authorities, its two complete counties, its four part-counties and its extraordinary administrative complexity, is a fair example of the problem which has to be dealt with in succouring the homeless. The real fact is that a homeless person needs the services of six or eight, and possibly ten, Government Departments. Therefore, I hope that some observations based upon the history of London in the last eight months may be of assistance to the House. I can assure the House that the arrangements made by the local authorities for dealing with this problem in London has improved progressively in the last eight months. The two raids in the middle of April—that on the 16th April was the heaviest of the whole lot— and the heavy raid on 10th May were dealt with more speedily and more successfully than any of the earlier raids, and I think I can properly assure the House that the improvement in the arrangements very largely accounts for the undoubted fact that the spirit of the people shows no deterioration whatever as the months go on. As the months go on, and as the raids go on, the people are more determined, not less determined, more resourceful and more responsive, and there is a most repaying feeling in finding how simple folk do respond and come to understand how they should act in order to help themselves and help the community when the proper arrangements are made and become known.

One rather curious fact is that during those eight months my small office has been visited with a request for general information by three persons in high official positions, all of them from different countries over sea. It is, I think, a curious fact, in view of the experience of London in September and October, which preceded the experience of provincial cities, that nobody in my office, or myself, has ever been asked for any general information on the way London attempted to deal with this problem by any local authority in England, Scotland or Ireland. There is one point which I venture to bring to the attention of the House for its consideration.

There is a very real risk throughout the whole of this problem of theoretical answers being given on questions of policy unrelated to observation of what the people really want and what the people are really willing to do. I should like to give four examples. The first, of course, is known to all, and I will describe it very shortly. In September it was widely suggested that there was an easy solution to the bombing of any Eastern part of London. It was to move the people to the West. I can assure the House that it is a very small percentage indeed—and greatly if it to their credit—of those who live in Eastern boroughs who are willing to move to Western boroughs. The rooms art-large and inhospitable, the shopping is expensive, it is all strange and unhappy, and if they do go there.they go back pretty soon. They like their neighbourhoods, and they are proud to stay in them to the last.

Then I was pressed by some people at the begining to do all I could to get certain so-called "target areas" wholly evacuated. I have come to the conclusion—I hope my right hon. Friend will think the same and continue to think the same—that that is a wholly impracticable proposition. They cannot be denned in a city, and what embarrassing boundaries would result from such a proposition. Inevitably a boundary would run down some street, one side of which would be so dangerous that nobody ought to be allowed there, and the other side would be so safe that no help could be given to anybody whose house still stood undamaged. As a matter of leadership, what could be more unwise than to say to those who are proud to stand in the front line that they are living somewhere that is horribly dangerous? What is more, I visited two such districts only last week which would undoubtedly be in such an area. In one I found a magnificent block of steel-framed flats entirely undamaged. In another I found a modern cottage estate, each cottage with its Anderson shelter, each entirely undamaged. Is it really to be asked that people should leave such properties which are their homes? We cannot afford to lose such property.

Thirdly, I was pressed by many who were very sympathetic—and sympathetic indeed one is—to get as many old people as possible out of London. That does indeed go to one's heart, but there is an enormous number of elderly people in our cities. What is, I think, more relevant still is that often when they have been bombed out—and how much more before they have been bombed out—they do not want to go. I was speaking the other day to a lady who has been for six months supervising a most admirable establishment run by the L.C.C., where old people who have been bombed out go for greater comfort than is to be found in the rest centre. Many old people had passed through her hands to billets in the country. I asked her what was the real desire of the old people of London. "The more active," she said, "all want to stay in London. Of those who are rather infirm, less than a quarter want to go far away; most of them want to be in the suburbs at a place whose name they know, where they will be in touch with their families."

Fourthly, it was suggested to me that some of the local authorities—I think the Metropolitan borough councils—would be wholly ineffective as billeting authorities, that I should do all I could to obtain the grant, and exercise the power, of an executive billeting and rehousing authority. Apart from the appalling dislocation such a process would have involved, where the billeting staff was to be got I do not know, whereas the local authority have their sanitary inspector, rating officials and other officials. I came to the conclusion that the local authorities in the London region were most anxious to do all they possibly could to serve their people, that they would rise to the occasion, and that in spite of the depletion of their staffs, which has been a very serious matter indeed, they would, in course of time, by resourcefulness and by learning—and this was vital—to make the fullest possible use of every sort of volunteer and voluntary body, accomplish the task. They are doing so progressively better and better.

What is the real object in these circumstances? It is to obtain, to create, an organisation of extreme flexibility. It has got to be an organisation which is not wasteful of man and woman-power when there are no raids, but it has got to have the most extreme powers of acceleration. It is a poor organisation that has not got its rest centres absolutely ready whenever a bomb falls, and which has not got its services ready by 8.30 the following morning in full working order—and every morning, Sundays as well as weekdays. As an example of what responsible authorities are now doing, it is to me an immense satisfaction that the Assistance Board has adjusted itself most admirably right away from its own original areas and has adapted itself to the structure of the local authorities. A paying unit, or units, of the Assistance Board is now ready to come into operation as early as 8.30 a.m. in any London borough after a raid, and when the need arises in immense numbers. When I say immense numbers, it may impress the House to know that in one Metropolitan borough after one raid the Assistance Board had no fewer than 18 paying units, each consisting of five officers. That indicates the scale to which the organisation has to grow with the utmost possible rapidity.

How is one to achieve this flexible organisation? What have appeared to be the useful steps to take? I see them under four heads again. First, it seems to me vital that in every region there should be some person or body of persons charged with the duty of having information. That was one of the greatest difficulties in the early days of September. No one knew what the homeless situation was in any particular district. Communications are very bad and much slowed down in such conditions, and one of the objects that I have endeavoured to achieve has been that we should, by close contact with the A.R.P. organisation, be put in touch, at the earliest possible moment, with what was happening at every place. That involves night duty officers. Secondly, I feel that in every region there should be some person or body of persons with the opportunity of going about the region and setting standards. It is essential that there should be somebody who has the right to go to local authority B and say, "Local authority A is doing this. It is no use your saying you cannot; it is being done." I am afraid I have said that sort of thing 100, 200, 300 times in the course of the last eight months to different authorities. There is a most healthy spirit of rivalry among authorities once it is brought to their notice in that way. Thirdly, there is a great necessity to have an organisation which will stir the imagination, not the imagination of horror, but the imagination of need. It is extraordinary, though it is very typical of our people, I think, how authorities whose areas have not as yet experienced the heaviest type of attack are most reluctant to move before the event. They are most reluctant to realise that there may be a raid on Saturday night. Again, one needs an organisation which will tell people what happened in some particular area, how many people came into the rest centres in one particular night in a particular area, how they reacted the next morning, where the gaps were next morning, so that information can be spread around.

Lastly, but most important, it has been my great task in the last few months to build up schemes of co-operation, a long process which never ends. 1 could not possibly weary the House with the list of schemes of co-operation which we have endeavoured to foster. They are innumerable. First, there is the main one of all. There are not enough officials to do this work. There must be the closest co-operation. Every sort of mutual suspicion must be removed as between official and voluntary bodies. Churches must be brought in in full force. The Women's Voluntary Services must also be brought in in full force, and bodies like the Citizen's Advice Bureaux must be at the administrative centre at the town hall ready to help, and not in some office half a mile or three-quarters of a mile away.

Then, as between rest-centre authority and control room and the police and the wardens, it is absolutely vital that liaison must be built up, if people are to find the rest centres when they are bombed out. Just as there is a controller of the A.R.P. services there must be someone who must be responsible at all hours of the day and night for caring for the homeless in this respect. There must be someone who knows when the rest centre is destroyed by a bomb, or when it is absolutely packed out, so that this information may spread down the chain to the police and the wardens. With regard to the wardens, I feel, with the hon. Member who preceded me, that, in many districts in the London region, it is doubtful whether, if there were no paid wardens, this service would be satisfactory. The wardens have the highest reputation among the people. They shepherd them to shelters and to centres. They do not forget that they have put people into a shelter at night, and they go in the morning and bring them to their breakfast in the rest centres. In every way it seems vital that the wardens' service should be maintained. It is essential that there should be close liaison between rest centres and transport services, in order that the very large numbers of people who are affected, sometimes because of an un-exploded bomb, in any particular neighbourhood, may be dispersed to comfortable places.

I would say a word about the rest-centre service. I was a little surprised to hear it suggested that 90 rest centres were needed in a particular town which I think we could have identified yesterday. In the raids which I have mentioned, on 16th and 19th April and 10th May, the first-line centres in the County of London took the whole strain without any call on the reserve centres, except for two or three of such centres. That resulted from this liaison between police and wardens getting people into the most convenient centres. In the whole County of London there arc only 160 of these first-line centres. I have encouraged local authorities to have a moderate number of first-class centres rather than a vast number of somewhat ill-equipped and dangerous church halls. In connection with this matter the London County Council has provided a magnificent service of first-line rest centres in London. By arrange- ment, no doubt, between the different Departments, they have used the schools. A certain number of upper rooms in the schools are quite sufficient for the number of children who are left. A school makes a magnificent place for a rest centre. Separate rooms can be used to reduce to a minimum the calamity risk. The windows on the ground floor can be bricked up, and blast walls can be provided. Rooms can be used for the children, or for the old people, and there can be an interview room for the welfare officer. Not more than 40 or 50 people need sleep in one room. I was surprised to hear that the education authority in one of our provincial cities was so powerful that it did not allow the use of any schools. I wonder very much whether other buildings were anything like as suitable.

Another example of co-operation is between the Assistance Board, the Lord Mayor's Fund, the clothing depots and the Citizens' Advice Bureaux. All these departments must be brought into cooperation immediately, at convenient centres, on the morning after the bomb has fallen. Another example is between the counties, county districts and the British Red Cross. I am convinced that this is a most valuable service for those who are only slightly injured and are not hospital cases. They come in very large numbers, bandaged and bruised and in a very poor state, but needing only a week or a fortnight of rest, without expensive nursing or care, which is exactly what the Joint War Organisation of the Red Cross and St. John can and does provide, magnificently and in increasing quantities. It is essential also that there should be close contact between inner and outer local authorities so that what reserve accommodation can be provided in every district is known. The relevant regions can be found in relation to the size of the districts, but one can postulate an arrangement covering 10 or 20 miles. Even within local authorities themselves great effort has to be made if this co-operation is to be really developed, for example, as between the rehousing, the billeting and the shelter departments. No one ought to be rehoused without shelter accommodation. There should be cooperation between the rehousing department, the department which deals with the repair of damaged homes and the Ministry of Works and Buildings. I could give a dozen other examples but here are three or four features of co-operation with which I am not yet satisfied.

From my personal experience, that is the way to approach the problem. I heard with relief that statement of the Home Secretary that, as the Government saw the matter at the moment, it was not practicable to amalgamate all the Departments, in so far as they succoured the homeless, into one new Ministry. If we had imagined, eight or nine months ago, the extent to which bombs would fall on our great cities I think we should not have imagined that London to-day would be in its present amazing condition of normality, of undisturbed life, reasonable calm and serenity among the population. We have cause for immense thankfulness to the Royal Air Force, the Balloon Barrage, the anti-aircraft guns, the bomb disposal squads, among the first, and to the A.R.P. services, and, above all, in my humble opinion, for the spirit of the people of this great city.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

It falls to my lot, and in this case it is by no means a routine matter, to offer my congratulations and, I am sure, the congratulations of the whole House, to my hon. and learned Friend who preceded me, upon the speech which he has just delivered. Not only has he given us a most instructive, able and constructive speech in his capacity as a Regional Commissioner, but he made his speech in splendid language and with great facility. We must hope that in more happy times, when peace comes, we shall have the services of my hon. and learned Friend back in this House, and that he will be able to make further contributions to our Debates. We have had another speech by another Regional Commissioner, or Deputy Regional Commissioner, my hon. Friend on the other side. To-day is Regional Commissioner's day. Often I cannot associate my hon. Friend with his duties as Regional Commissioner; he is so painstaking and so sedulous in his attendance at all the Debates of this House, but I have no doubt that with his usual energy he devotes a great deal of work to his regional office when he is not here. In the course of his remarks he mentioned that the Regional Commissioner's office was the place to which people in trouble from any direction must go to seek help. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was here at Question time, but I suggest it would be difficult to do that in the case of the London Regional Commissioner, because he has only a box-office address, and I am not quite sure how the close co-operation and frequent talks which the hon. Gentleman mentioned would be possible in that case.

It had been my intention to talk more particularly about the reception areas, which are after all part and parcel of the system of our defence, but I will come to that in a moment. I was very pleased to see that a very powerful and dynamic Member of the War Cabinet, speaking in another place, paid a glowing tribute to the present Home Secretary and to the work which he had done in connection with Civil Defence. I think the House would agree that the present Home Secretary has been a signal success in that direction. At the same time, I feel that it would not be right not to pay a tribute to his predecessor, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Lord President of the Council. I was in the House in the early days of the war and in the years before it, and I saw this question evolving from one Home Secretary to another, and I feel that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council did lay the foundation of the very remarkable effort which has been made in connection with Civil Defence.

Practically the whole of yesterday's Debate was devoted to a discussion of the formation of one separate Ministry, and had I had the good fortune to be called, I would have advanced strong arguments against such proposals. In view of the fact that the Government view of the matter has been expressed, it is not necessary to go much further into it. One has read the very important article in the '' Times '' on the subject—I have it in my hand now—and very forcible arguments are brought to bear on the question of the formation of a single Civil Defence Ministry. But it seems to me that there are almost overwhelming arguments against it at the present time. In the first place, we have not the time. It is a very big scheme and a very big thing to do, and in this country we do not move with the rapidity of Nazi Germany; the very conditions of democracy are such that it is difficult to do so. There may be a case, in some of our big cities, like London, Plymouth; Cardiff, Liverpool, Bristol and other places, for having a whole-time Minister of Defence to look after those areas, but after all they are contiguous to, and connected with, the reception areas, where entirely different problems are involved, and it seems to me that the work of such a Ministry would have to be sub-divided in that respect.

My hon. friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) yesterday very strongly advocated making the Civil Defence workers into a fourth army, and I must say that on paper it sounds extraordinarily attractive. From many points of view one would like to see this vast and wonderful body really one of our forces. But the hon. Gentleman went on to advocate that step from a purely operational point of view, leaving out the administrative part. If we think of His Majesty's Army divided into two separate armies, one operative and one administrative, we see how such an argument falls to the ground. We take our caps off to this army, to which to-day my hon. Friend has paid a tribute. I never walk through the London streets without metaphorically taking off my cap to the London policeman. But if to the London policemen, why not the London taximen, postmen and the men who sort letters through the heavy bombing, why not the transport workers who deliver our newspapers and make that magnificent effort whereby the newspapers are delivered to the door in every town in England almost at breakfast time next morning? Two or three years ago I took up with the then Minister for War the question of the distribution of medals for work done in the last war. There was much misgiving and heart-searching, and I had a great deal of correspondence about it, but difficult as that was, I do not envy the work of the Minister or the Department of the Government which will have to deal with the allocation of medals for this war. If there is to be anything like an equitable distribution in recognition of participation in the second great war, medals will have to be allotted to 45,000,000 people.

We are now within a few days of the longest day, and in a short time the shades of winter will be approaching. I am not sure whether we have had anything but shade, but at all events I am not making any rash statement when I say that it will not be long after the longest day that we shall see the shades of night approaching. I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether he is now taking adequate measures in every direction to see that our people will be adequately protected, clad, given warmth and food, all of which subjects are concerned in the question of administration. I hope that every effort in that direction will be made by next winter. We are glad to see a slight relaxation of the bombing. We should be fools to think that this relaxation of the last few weeks is likely to lead to a complete cessation of bombing. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider some form of modified lighting for next winter. Our people can face anything, but if we can ameliorate their conditions without putting the people in jeopardy, we should do so. Let our experts go into the question of whether we can have some form of diffused lighting.

Tribute has been paid to the way in which evacuees have been received in the reception areas. In those areas, we have sympathy for those who have had to leave their homes and whose belongings have been destroyed. It is no light matter to have those small personal belongings, which are irreplaceable, destroyed. The sympathy shown to these people has, to a great extent, ameliorated their suffering. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, showing his usual energy and personal interest in his work, has paid visits to every area in the country. The people like to make personal contact with a high Minister of State. My area is almost entirely a reception area. I must not emphasise the matter too much, but there is not much that the Germans do not know about North Wales—they mention North Wales towns on their wireless from time to time. People are crowding into that area from all parts of Britain, and it is becoming overcrowded. I wish the Minister of Health and his colleagues would see whether it is not possible—I know there is a shortage of timber—to build some sort of wooden chalets—we do not want camps. There is a shortage of accommodation in this area. All the hotels are commandeered. As a matter of fact, the position is that the business life of this country will not be able to go on if all the hotels are commandeered in this way. Members of this House know that there is difficulty in obtaining accommodation in that area. My right hon. Friend has told us that the Government have taken over 27,402 large houses. In North Wales he must have used a very small tooth-comb in selecting these houses. Very few houses there are not taken. However, if there are any left I hope that my right hon. Friend will have no mercy, and that he will take them—it does not matter whose they are. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not make the mistake that was made by his predecessor, and, I think, by the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary, about the difficulty of sanitation. The Nazis would not worry about the difficulty of sanitation; they would create proper sanitation; and they would do so quickly.

In North Wales there are two additional problems—religion and language. We have a large number of Roman Catholic evacuees, and that is not such a small matter as it may seem to some people. Then, a large number of English evacuees are entering homes where only Welsh is spoken, and there is a nationalist element in North Wales which is antagonistic to this development. I do not take the same view as they do. The Welsh language has survived 800 years of association with England, and its tenure is not so transient that it is likely to be submerged by a development of this kind. I think that in the reception areas our people have done very well. The most conservative-minded nation in the world, whose people hardly speak to one another in trains, have thrown their doors wide open to other people. I have no doubt that the people who have done so will benefit as much as the people they have taken in. As my right hon. Friend said the other day, this is not only a revolution, but an evolution. It may have laid the foundations for something which after this disastrous war will prove a benefit for many a day in times of peace.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brown)

I am sure that the House listened with the greatest regard, as it always does, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). As I know that he has to go very shortly, and as he put one or two questions which do not affect me, about the Report of the Select Committee on the subject of personnel, may I tell him at once that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will give the Government's answer on points relating to this in the Select Committee's Report.

I think I shall serve the House best if I first answer points affecting my side of the work. The war which my right hon. Friends and I have to conduct is the war on the doorstep. Whereas the Minister of Home Affairs and Home Security is concerned with active Civil Defence, involving a great deal of action by the A.R.P. services, and cognate matters, I have to do with that vast field, referred to by my hon. Friend, of effort to keep our people as healthy and as happy as possible in the dire conditions of this war, which has come to millions of doorsteps and will come to millions more before victory is won.

He was concerned about the committees which work in connection with rest centres. I think that perhaps it was not made clear to the House, for yesterday there seemed to be a little confusion about it. The responsibility for establishing rest centres in the country is either that of the county borough or the county council; it is not the small unit, but the county council. The county councils have adopted their own way of doing the job which the Government laid down that they ought to do, and they have delegated the task, sometimes to their Public Assistance Committee, or sub-committees of the Public Assistance Committees, and sometimes to District Councils in country districts; and they are assisted, as my hon. Friend rightly said, by a vast army of voluntary workers. I can assure him that the Members of the Government and the Ministries are as anxious as he is to see that the personnel is varied and as capable as can be, and I know that that is also the desire of the Dowager Marchioness of Reading, who is the head of the Women's Voluntary Service and has been doing such remarkable work, which neither I nor any other Member of this House can praise too highly. It is hard and detailed work, and the doing of the detailed work incurs sometimes as much opposition as is experienced by Members of the Government themselves who are accustomed to have it in their daily life and administration.

I Know that my Noble friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) has also to go, but perhaps I may be allowed to say one or two frank words to her about her speech yesterday, in which she made several quite unwarranted statements. The House knows her well.

Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)

And knows you well too.

Mr. Brown

Yes, and knows me well, and the House, I think, has a certain amount of affection for the Noble Lady. About myself, I will say nothing. The Noble Lady is accustomed to shake that minatory forefinger of hers at all kinds of people and to say what she thinks of them. We know that she has many virtues, but she is not entitled to come to this House and say the kind of things she says about other people without having a direct answer, and I am going to give her a direct answer to-day. She, like me, is a life-long total abstainer, but I often feel that she has moods—and they are frequent moods—much like a bottle of champagne with the cork just popping out, effervescing.

Viscountess Astor

And she pops.

Mr. Brown

Yes, the Noble Lady pops all right, but sometimes she does not quite know where the cork is going to land. For instance, yesterday she said that there were no women billeting officers.

Viscountess Astor

No chief billeting officers.

Mr. Brown

The Noble Lady will be popping off, and if she will let me pop, we shall perhaps get out the facts. Now she says, "No chief billeting officers." I do not know on what authority she says that. She is entitled to say to the House and to the country that she does not know any women chief billeting officers, but when she tells the House that there are not any, I can tell the House that there is quite a number. For instance, in three Regions only, I have a considerable list of most able women who are chief billeting officers. I may say to her, in support of her claim, that women chief billeting officers do good work, that I have myself met three of these women who are all doing most admirable work.

Viscountess Astor

I am delighted to hear it.

Mr. Brown

Perhaps the next time that the Noble Lady talks about women chief billeting officers she will not say that there are no women billeting officers. She went into the question of the children and attacked the Ministry of Health because, she said, they had no plan for the under fives.

Viscountess Astor

Hear, hear!

Mr. Brown

We are being attacked in other quarters because we have a plan. There was an article—not very well-informed—in the "Times Educational Supplement "the other day. There were some ex-parte statements in it— which, as a matter of fact, was not an attack on the ground there was not a plan but rather suggested that the plan we had was wrong. What is the plan? The Noble Lady said that there are 42,000 children under five in London who ought to be got out and that we ought to have a plan to get them out and ought to have had it long ago.

Viscountess Astor

Long ago.

Mr. Brown

Let us see what the facts really are. The movement of little children, especially the very young ones under five, is a very delicate, and, it may be, if wrongly done, a very dangerous operation. The best place for an infant is in most cases with its mother. [Interruption.] If only the Noble Lady will listen for once, the facts are that, so far from not having a plan, we have a very considerable plan for the movement of the under fives, who cannot be looked after properly, from London. As rapidly as we can equip residential nurseries for these children under five, the children are moved from London. They are going each week. I will repeat what I said to the House in the evacuation Debate last Thursday week, so that the House may understand what the evacuation of even a small number of little children entails. 1 do not think that any experienced Member of this House who knows about children will disagree when I say that 'you do not want to have too many little children under one roof. The small unit is the right unit. To equip a nursery for 40 children under five, we want a house with about 20 rooms. Whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) might say about sanitation in big houses for other purposes, for the care of little children away from their mothers there must be proper sanitation and water supply. Some have hastily tried and have had sore experiences. I am setting out the plan, which is first of all based on this fact—that we do not intend to move children under five from their mothers or family unless we can put them into surroundings where they will be both healthy and happy. As I have said, for 40 small children, we require a house with 20 rooms. We want a trained staff, a nursing staff of 10, because it is day and night work to care for children who have no mothers beside them, and we must have a domestic staff of three or four for the exacting communal services for a residential nursery of that kind. It has to be equipped. For every one of these residential nurseries for 40 children 4,300 articles are needed. It means that if we are suddenly to be asked to move 42,000 children at one operation, we would have to have 1,000 such houses with corresponding staff and equipment—

Viscountess Astor

The Ministry was asked to do it in 1939; not now.

Mr. Brown

If the Noble Lady will wait a bit, I will tell her what has been done since 1939. She seems to think that nothing has been done since then, but, in fact, people have been working overtime and are still working overtime on this matter. I will give her the facts in a moment. I do not want to suggest to the House that we are not prepared to tackle this problem

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that from the pre-war experience of the London County Council it would require a 20-roomed house for 40 young children? I would refer him to what was done to the Southern Hospital at Dartford, with which I am associated. We had nothing like that.

Viscountess Astor

Does the Minister remember the nursery school which was started in the last war by Margaret McMillan in the East-end of London?

Mr. Brown

I am talking about taking children away from their mothers, caring for them by day and night under State responsibility and with myself standing at this Box to answer for anything that goes wrong to any one of these children, and for instance, if some disease swept through these centres, not about daytime nurseries. I am putting to the House serious considerations. We are getting as rapidly as we can all the houses, nurses, trained staff and equipment with which to tackle this question, but we must concentrate on the children whom the mothers concerned find it most difficult to look after. How do we do that? There is a panel which operates daily in London, which vets all kinds of cases, so that those who need evacuation most get the chance of going away. That is my answer to the Noble Lady who says there is no plan. On this panel are devoted people, working regularly, and they have the difficult problem of selection between one child and another and between one mother and another.

I have here a whole list of the kind of cases which were vetted by this panel last week. Here is a case where the mother was killed in an air raid, where the baby of 18 months crawled out of the wreckage next morning, and where the father was in a pitiable state of distress and could not go to work. It is quite clear that such a child ought to go and has, in fact, gone, because there is at the moment, I am happy to say, only a very small waiting list for extreme cases. Let me give another case. Here is a boy of four years and three months whose father was discharged from the Army with gastric ulcer trouble after 14 years' service. The mother works in support of the family, and the woman friend who was looking after the boy has been called up. It is quite clear that it is absolutely necessary to vet cases, and so select ones of that kind, if we are to make the best use of the capacity we have, which we are expanding as rapidly as human ingenuity and organising ability can do it.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

The right hon. Gentleman says there is a waiting list. What are the numbers on the list, and why should they have to wait at all?

Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)

What numbers have been dealt with?

Mr. Brown

I was about to give the figures to the House. There is a small waiting list at the moment. The figure, I think, is about 50. Three weeks, ago it was six. that is not to say that there are not many more mothers with children who would like them to go, but I am talking of the children who have been vetted by this expert panel and given the chance because of their need.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)

That is the definition of the waiting list?

Mr. Brown

The panel work to a regular plan, and the plan has its instructions to which they work. I am asked what has happened. We have established 216 of these residential nurseries, and at the moment the number of unaccompanied children who have been moved from London to these centres, and are now being cared for, is 6,900. Extension is going on rapidly as suitable premises can be discovered and staff and equipment supplied. So the House will see that when the Noble Lady says there is no plan for children under five, she is making a statement that has no relevance to the actual facts. More than that, I am happy to say that during the last month or two there has been a very great further movement in this matter. We have cause to be grateful to our American friends for many things and to the American Red Cross, working with the Women's Voluntary Service, and to the British War Relief Society, working with certain other women in this country who are as keen as we are about this matter. I want to make it perfectly plain that there is no one in the country keener than we are at the Ministry to see the widest practicable extension of this movement for the kind of cases I have described. These are the facts underlying the plan, which is going rapidly ahead.

Mr. Lindsay

I know the excellent work which these bodies are doing, but can my right hon. Friend tell me whether he is receiving from them money or personal help inside the centres?

Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)

With regard to the increase in the priority cases from six to 50, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why, as there has been very little bombing during the last few weeks, those cases could not be dispersed more rapidly? Can they be dispersed more rapidly in future? The position is rather alarming.

Mr. Brown

I do not think so. A week or two ago there were six cases. Some- times there is a flow of cases which pile up for a few days until places in residential nurseries are ready for the children, and then, when you look at it again, perhaps within two days, the list is almost blank. I assure the House that the system is working adequately, and that the panel does this very exacting work with the greatest skill and care. It is due to them, and to those who are working the system, that I am able to show the House that, far from our being unmindful of this problem, we have taken these steps; and the fact that there are 216 residential nurseries shows what a big movement this has become. These are war-time residential nurseries, and they have no relation to anything of the sort established outside London before the war. I would remind the House that it is not only residential nurseries for which we want houses.

If I am to do my duty as Minister of Health in securing the happiness of the people in these circumstances, I have many other things to do for which I need houses. We have 660 hostels for children who are not suitable for billeting with private families. We have 731 special hostels for family groups who cannot readily be billeted in the ordinary way. That is one of our most difficult problems. There are 730 social centres established in the reception areas. We have 483 communal feeding centres, including those in connection with schools.

Mr. Lindsay

How many are there in the schools?

Mr. Brown

Speaking from memory, I think there are 114. There are 638 occupational clubs, and there are no fewer than 389 nurseries and playing centres. All this has happened since the recent movement took a new lease of life after the second evacuation. I think these facts will show the House that there has been a very steady and welcome, and indeed, in some ways, a very rapid, increase, in these after-care and welfare arrangements. The fact that during the two days we have been discussing these problems most hon. Members who have spoken have paid a tribute to what has been done is a proof that the Ministry, the local authorities, and the hundreds of thousands of voluntary workers who assist in this great work, are very much alive to the importance of after-care in the reception areas. There is one other point about the Noble Lady—

Viscountess Astor

I am getting too much attention. I wish that as much attention had been given to the nurseries.

Mr. Brown

The Noble Lady spends plenty of time in attacking other people, and after her speech in the Debate, it is due to the House that I should say something about my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. The Noble Lady made a speech for which, if she reflected upon it in the still hours of the night, I think she must have been sorry. The House will understand why I say that. The Noble Lady said: I must say that the one lady in the Ministry of Health does not understand children. I do not want to be rude; it is not her fault. I am not blaming her. I have often said that the greatest work ever done for children was done by single women, for instance, Margaret McMillan. I am not blaming her, but this particular lady does not happen to be interested in children—[Interruption.]—If you had been interested in children, you would have done far more."—[Official Report, nth Jane, 1941; col. 259, Vol. 372.] I want now to give another quotation to the House. On 16th December, 1938, in the Second Reading Debate on the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Bill, which was seen through the House with great skill and effort by my hon. Friend who is now Parliamentary Secretary, the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth said: I was interested when the hon. Lady spoke about a woman who adopted a child, and the child was perfectly happy but the husband got jealous. I wish they could have taken the husband back instead of the child. There is nothing in the world more pathetic than a woman without a child who is longing for one. It wrecks her life. I have sat in this House and heard people talking about mothers, as though every woman was a mother: but our greatest reformers have been unmarried women, and to-day we have a spinster bringing in a Bill which is going to do a great deal for child life in this country. We ought to be most grateful to her.—[Official Report, 16th December, 1938; col. 2384, Vol. 342.] I remind the House of that statement, because I do not expect the Noble Lady to be anything but incorrigible. I have been singularly fortunate in those who have served with me as Parliamentary Secretaries. My hon. Friend is the sixth Parliamentary Secretary who has served with me, and I say that I would as soon have the hon. Lady as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health at this moment as I would have any one of the most able men who have served with me at other Ministries. As for my hon. Friend not being interested in this subject, the fact that the progress which has been made has been as rapid as it has been—and it has been, considering all the facts and considering especially that there is in matters concerning children a very natural conflict of opinion as to what is the right thing to do—has been very largely due to my hon. Friend's influence. Moreover, perhaps one of the toughest jobs that we have had to tackle in wartime has been the handling of the refugees who came from Gibraltar, large numbers of whom were children. Nobody who has had any responsibility for the care of those refugees will say that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health at this time has no interest in children.

Viscountess Astor

Out of fairness to the House and the Parliamentary Secretary, may I say a word about the statement which the Minister has quoted? I made it, and I still mean it. For many years some of us have been trying to increase the number of open-air nursery schools. Before the war we submitted a plan to the Ministry of Health. We told them what would happen, and we said that there would be great difficulties. I went to the Ministry with Miss Hawtrey, who is a real expert on the subject, and we put a plan before them. I say now what I said then, that I do not believe you will find women, I will not say in this House, but in the country, who will not say that if the Parliamentary Secretary had had any vision and any real knowledge of the subject, she would have fought for that plan in 1939. I am certain that if she had done so, she would have got the plan accepted. If that had happened, she would have saved all this trouble, and there would have been hundreds—I will go further and say thousands—of children properly cared for. It ought to have been done in time. I do not mean to be rude; it is a question of politics and not personalities.

Mr. Brown

The Noble Lady does not know when she is rude, but again she has made assertions without being able to prove them. She is entitled to state her views to the House, but she is not entitled to say that every woman in the country shares those views. The particular scheme to which the Noble Lady has referred was described by me as a scheme for super-minders, and although the custom of having minders is well known in Lancashire and Yorkshire, it is not a custom which those who care most about children would say was the ideal way of dealing, as a general policy, with the care of children. I described the scheme as one for super-minders, and I would not wonder if the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary of that time strongly disapproved of the scheme in that respect.

Not only are we doing these things for children under five from evacuation areas in London; we are doing welfare work over the whole field of evacuation, and for women at work. Here is the problem. We have to consider, not merely the health of the child—and for children under five the Ministry of Health are responsible for maternity and child welfare—but also the education and happiness of the child. There have been all kinds of movements for children under five and nursery centres are, in my judgment, the very best for this purpose. There are day nurseries, nursery centres, and residential nurseries to which I have been referring, and there are conflicting views among women who care for children on what is best. The President of the Board of Education and myself have, in recent weeks, been happy to draw up a scheme for the extension of war-time nurseries for children under five. We shall do the scheme together, and the President of the Board of Education is lending me one of his very best officials who will sit with the officials of my Maternity and Child Welfare Department. We have sent out very full instructions to the authorities concerned, and I have no doubt that we shall have a terrific increase in war-time nurseries. We shall do our utmost to see that the standard is pitched high, and we shall select trained women to be in charge —so that we shall not be cluttered up with a lot of inefficient organisation when the war comes to an end and we tackle this question, not on a war-time basis, but on a much more ample peace-time basis than was the case in previous days.

Let me turn now to the practical working in the bombarded areas of the subjects under the Ministry of Health. We have to consider organisation in three ways. Firstly, we have to consider organisation before the bombardment, our preparations and policy, and, secondly, we have to consider our organisation during the bombardment—always remembering that the very best-laid schemes may be bombed to pieces. A rest centre which a Member of Parliament may have visited in his division on a Monday, may not be there on Tuesday evening if it has unfortunately been hit by a bomb. One of our difficulties in carrying out these welfare schemes arises out of the fact that this is a war on the doorstep. There have been occasions when, out of a series of 23 rest centres in one particular area, on one night we have perhaps lost two, and the next night we have lost 11. However careful your planning may be, because this is a war on our doorstep, there must be improvisation and good will. The reply to those who would supersede the local authorities for these particular services is that without the good will of the local authorities and the knowledge and skill of their staffs, the whole basis of these particular operations would disappear. Thirdly, there is the question of recovery, and what steps have to be taken which have not been taken before. I want to say a word or two about that. This is not a matter where dramatic and sudden decisions have been made because of certain events. It is a fact that from the beginning of the heavy bombardments continuous reviews have taken place and continuous alterations have been made, are being made, and will be made. There is no complacency at headquarters.

The House will have heard in the most admirable speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink)—his speech was a model of objectivity—a description of the rest centres. I intended giving some slight description of the rest centres, but he has relieved me of that task. I agree with the hon. Member for Denbigh when he said that he was sure the House would be glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon on any and every occasion. His objective and factual review is of great value to this Debate. I would deal with him in two ways, firstly in his description of himself and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street. I would not call him a Civil servant. He is a public servant, and so are the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards). They are great public servants. Whatever may be said about precedents, the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon has set a precedent which will be followed and welcomed by the House. Secondly, when he says he has had no one coming to his office from outside London, I would point out to the House the explanation for that. One of the great advantages we have had from him and the other Deputy Regional Commissioners with special responsibilities delegated to them, is that they have sent us factual reports and constructive suggestions. We have not merely acted upon them in their own spheres, but memoranda based on them have been circulated to the regional offices throughout the country, so that other regions may adopt the suggestions, as described in that admirable speech to-day, with such adaptations as may be necessary.

It is quite clear, surveying the field, that with the new duties cast upon the Regional Commissioners in relation to fire righting, there may be a need for strengthening the regional machine at the top. If that is so, it will be done. [An Hon. Member: "In what way? "] Possibly by the appointment of another Deputy Regional Commissioner, having special regard, although not exclusively, to post-blitz conditions.

Mr. Lindsay

Some of us have asked for this for a very long time. If the right hon. Gentleman now says "possibly," and, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) has given in his excellent speech personal testimony of what we asked for in other regions, is he saying that there is a chance that other "Willinks" will be appointed throughout the country?

Mr. Brown

We have learned the lessons of experience, and if a Commissioner, in view of his new obligations, requires deputies to assist him in his most important task, that will be done. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) seems to assume that Ministers are not in daily and hourly contact with the condi- tions in the regions.. It is clear that that view is not shared in this House.

Take my own arrangements in the regions. In every one of the regions I have a senior regional officer, equipped now with a very fine staff—there is an expert on the spot, whether it is a question of water supply, engineering, or health, and so on. In the light of what has happened I am now strengthening, and shall continue to strengthen, that regional organisation to the utmost degree necessary. My predecessor delegated to the senior regional officers in ample degree immense powers of initiative, so that they do not have to come to London for decisions on small matters. All those in touch with the senior regional officers know that, and every. Regional Commissioner will pay and has paid tribute to the close and effective co-operation between those responsible for other parts of civil defence in the regions and my own officers.

Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)

Is the House to understand that the right hon. Gentleman's desire is to make the regions the normal channel through which local authorities will approach him and other Ministers?

Mr. Brown

On all things within the competence of Civil Defence, except on certain matters, for instance which affect policy, which ought to come to the Ministry in London and of which no Minister can divest himself in this democratic State. I want the House to understand how wide are the delegated powers given to the officers of the Ministry in the Regions.

The hon. and learned Member for North Croydon put a very important point when he pointed out that there was need for more and more information. One of the great advances of recent months has been the succession of campaigns to get local people to understand where the rest centre is. Hon. Members will have seen various posters, one very simple and very effective, drafted in London, on this very thing. I have impressed on all those concerned, when I have made my travels in the Regions, that one of the best ways they can serve the community in the period before bombardment is to make sure that the simplest citizen understands just where to go and to whom to go if trouble comes.

I could not back up more warmly than I do the hon. and learned Gentleman's desire to see that done. Now, of course, it is quite clear that the practice which began at Coventry must be continued and extended, namely, the practice of giving assistance and guidance, if necessary, to local authorities after a bombardment takes place. We have established the practice, in case of heavy, continuous bombardment, of setting up advanced headquarters in or near the town, whither the senior regional officer will arrange for a regional team, including the necessary administrative and technical officers, to proceed at once for the purpose of advising the Regional Commissioner or his Deputy on Ministry of Health questions. We have found that work with great effect, and I know that there are many towns which have been very grateful for it.

There is a second point. We need to extend and increase the amount of mutual aid that can be given between one town and another. This is much easier in some districts than in others because of location, surroundings and the kind of contiguous local authorities. Nevertheless, in the areas where mutual aid is harder than in others, we have prepared mobile teams of officers of the Ministry in the region who can be sent to any town that has been heavily hit and assist the local authority or, if necessary, take over any work that has to be done. The personnel of the team has been selected in each region, and special appointments are being made to ensure that every region will have on its staff a sufficient number of officers taking vigorous charge of any work which is required in post-blitz conditions. It is an extension of the old system in the light of events, so that we may be sure that we have a mobile team for any eventuality which may come, because we cannot assume that we have had the worst bombardment, and we are not only measuring the problem by what has happened but also by what is likely to happen. [An Hon. Member: "Is the team under the local authority?"] It is sent to guide and assist, and it may take over, as it has done in one or two cases, with the good will of the local authority. The Home Secretary yesterday told us what had happened to him in Coventry. It can happen elsewhere. We are making sure that our mobile teams are so effective that after the heavy strain that those under bombardment have to undergo the local authorities can if it is required have all the aid that our experienced, skilled staff can give them.

Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)

When the right hon. Gentleman says he is going to put this into operation, does he mean that if a blitz occurred to-morrow, it would be in operation?

Mr. Brown

I do mean that. This is what I have done. It is a machine that is ready, and in certain areas it has been working for months, but I am making sure that it works over the whole field so that no authority in case of need is left without a mobile team.

There is another thing that has been made clear by our recent experience. We need a very large extension of rest centres, not merely in the centre but on the fringe of a town, and in certain areas outside the town—I do not say in all cases. The Ministry of Works and Buildings has undertaken, in areas which I will not name, to arrange at once for a certain number of hutted camps and hostels to be established to meet the particular needs of areas where there is not a cushion of reserve accommodation outside a particular bombed area. The particular kind of hut under consideration is not one that takes a long time to put up or to make ready. This scheme will be of quick operation.

Captain John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

Would it be possible for these huts to be built of concrete?

Mr. Brown

That would take longer; they are huts of a certain character which can be readily put up. Certain areas have been chosen in the light of experience, and the work will go right ahead. Of course, our responsibilities here are first of all for the homeless, but experience shows that there are others after a blitz than homeless people, and you cannot discriminate for a time, perhaps for a day or two, in the atmosphere of a heavily bombed district, between those who are homeless and those who are not. But I should not like the House to assume that arrangements have not been made for a hidden reserve of billets. In every area we have left a cushion of billets. There are certain billets with regard to one of the most discussed towns to-day which were left without evacuees from London or elsewhere because they were regarded as earmarked for a particular local town if it had to be vacated. We have had a number of new surveys, and we are making more, some by teams sent in from outside, to check up.

One thing is clear—that in billeting there must not be any inequality between the householder in a small house and the householder in a large house. We are suggesting to the local authorities in areas where complaints are made and billeting has not gone well, and where they had a part-time billeting officer only, that it would be well if they appointed a whole-time paid billeting officer. In cases where complaint is made that certain large houses are not being used he should be an officer who is not in difficulty when dealing with people of authority in the locality. We are determined that there shall be no inequality in this matter. I cannot say that complaints are large in individual number, but they are continuous. There is no doubt that nothing in an area will cause a greater feeling of resentment than a feeling that one household is taken and another, even more favourably situated, is left.

I want to say another word about rest centres. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street pay his tribute to the people in charge of the rest centres and the voluntary helpers. I read with great appreciation a charming article in the "Manchester Guardian" a couple of days ago by somebody who had been to a rest centre. It was not merely about the paid officials but about the ordinary women and men who are a source of comfort to their fellows when they go to a rest centre after a heavy bombardment. These ordinary people, who realise when they deal with other ordinary people how much warmth, hot water, food and a sympathetic and cheerful word mean, have done no little to sustain in a wonderful manner the spirit, the determination and the morale of our great people in this unprecedented and barbarous "war on the doorstep."

Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)

This Debate has been an extremely valuable one, and to-day we have had one or two contributions which have been of great help, and which will be of still greater help in the future. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) made a most encouraging and informative contribution which indicated what could be Hone. I hope that what he said will be a help and encouragement to those in other parts of the country who have not perhaps had the hon. and learned Gentleman's experience. The Minister of Health gave us a long catalogue of work, all of which seemed to be in progress. Very little of it seemed to be either complete or on the way to completion and one felt much more ought to have been done in the past. It was however encouraging to hear the right hon. Gentleman, and I congratulate him upon the work that has been done and the plans that have been made. If this Debate has done nothing else it has enabled Ministers to tell us the plans they have in mind, and I hope that one result will also be that Ministers will feel that the House is not behind but in front of them and only too anxious to push them on to greater efforts in all the matters they have in hand.

I want to say a word about the relation between the Government and local authorities, because I feel that to a large extent the position of local authorities has not been recognised in these matters and that it ought to be made clear. A good many of the deficiencies and complaints that have been voiced are not in any sense the result of faulty working on the part of local authorities, but are, in my submission, directly due to acts of omission or commission on the part of Government Departments. We must remember that everything done by local authorities and the various services organised by them has been done in accordance with the instructions and under the supervision of the Ministry of Home Security or one or other of the other Ministries which are concerned. Local authorities really implement Government schemes, and only where they fail to do so can they be said to be at fault. I speak with some authority and on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations when I say that local authorities deny that they have failed in any respect or that the alleged deficiencies or complaints or some of the muddles which have occurred are the result of their neglect. The Government have piled responsibility upon responsibility upon local authorities, who have accepted them manfully. Their greatest struggle has been, and, I believe still is, to obtain clear and definite instructions from Government Departments. Prompt decision has been and is still lacking to-day in some respects and throughout finance has been a constant worry to local authorities.

I cannot help feeling that in the case of the really energetic and progressive local authority the authority has been like Sinbad the Sailor, with the Government as the Old Man of the Sea, riding on the back of the local authority and hampering it at every turn. I do not think it can be denied that in many matters the Government have had to be pushed by local authorities in order to get things done. Take the case of first-aid depots, for which approval of expenditure has to be obtained from the Ministry. Up to at any rate a recent date it was not possible for Regional Commissioners to give the necessary authorisation. That is one of the matters where the power of the Commissioners might be increased. Approval for first-aid depots was held up for months. When eventually it came prices had risen and labour was scarce, and the depots cost something like twice what they would have case if the authorisation had been given when it was asked for. On the question of compulsion, only recently local authorities have been able to retain A.R.P. personnel, although they brought pressure to bear on the Government ever since the beginning of the war to enable them to do so. The result of that delay on the part of the central Government was that many of the best men in the A.R.P. service were lost to the great disadvantage of the service.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security, for whose great qualities I have considerable admiration, is in the habit of going to the microphone. He went about a month ago and broadcast that stirrup pumps were available and that application should be made to the local authority. The authorities were bombarded with applications, but the pumps were not available and they are not available in adequate numbers to-day, nor, I am assured, are steel helmets. Then there is the question of the treatment by the Government of A.R.P. wardens. One or two hon. Members have paid a well-deserved tribute to the work done by the wardens, and yet they are still, as has been said, the Cinderella of the Civil Defence service. Speaking in the House on 26th March my right hon. Friend the Minister for Home Security gave credit to various categories of A.R.P. services, but he did not even mention the wardens' service, which is the linchpin of the whole Civil Defence organisation. Within the last few days it was decided to issue battle-dress among the A.R.P. services, but there is to be none for the wardens' service. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will tell us why there should be this discrimination between one section of the personnel of the Civil Defence services and another, and in particular why the wardens, who have such responsible and dangerous duties, and to whom, as was said by the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon, the public look in the case of a blitz to act as guides, philosophers and friends, are not being treated in a fashion at least equal to that of the other services, and why credit is not given to them for the work they do and the position they hold.

I entirely agree with what was said by the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon, and I think also by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), as to the doubtful desirability of reducing the paid warden personnel. I am told by those who have practical experience that wardens should consist very largely of young and fit men, at any rate there should be a nucleus of them, and that there ought not to be a decrease but rather an increase in the number of paid personnel, especially in London. I think a review all round of the personnel of the Civil Defence services is necessary. I am told that there is a surplus of personnel in the first-aid, ambulance, medical and similar services, while in fire and rescue services the numbers are too few. Some general review both of the establishments and of the numbers engaged should be undertaken.

Then the suggestion was made yesterday that there was a good deal of overlapping and too much parochialism among local authorities. No doubt there may be instances of it, but I am pretty confident that that criticism is not generally true. I have been told by A.R.P. controllers of many instances of help willingly given by one local autho- rity to another, without thought of expense or consequences of any kind. In my own city help has been given over quite considerable distances, distances which I should have thought rather uneconomic— help given sometimes to the point of danger. In my submission whilst there are undoubtedly justifiable complaints as to the efficiency of our Civil Defence services those are mostly due to Governmental faults and not to the local authorities and there is no case for the supersession of the latter.

There is one other serious complaint which local authorities have against the Government, and in particular the Minister of Home Security. I am sorry he is not here. On the last occasion I raised this question he was not here either. The House will remember that in October last the Minister introduced a grant of 100 percent. for shelters. That was something to his credit, for he had been a protagonist of the 100 percent. grant when out of office, but when out of office he also stood for that grant being made retrospective. Before he introduced it, however, he had allowed himself, as I imagine, to be overawed by the Treasury and failed to make it retrospective, and the result is that the most progressive and energetic local authorities have suffered to the extent of several million pounds. The right hon. Gentleman has put himself into what is really a very regrettable and invidious position in relation to local authorities. I still hold that it would be a wise act on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do the right thing in this matter, even at this late date. Local authorities are carrying on manfully, but they do feel aggrieved at finding that those who have been the most progressive and energetic, the most anxious to fall in with the wishes of the Government, are just those which are left to suffer.

There were two fundamental matters brought forward in the course of yesterday's Debate. One was a proposal to give additional powers to the Regional Commissioners, and the second was a suggestion to set up a separate Ministry of Home Security. As to giving additional powers to Regional Commissioners, I shall be extremely interested to hear the views of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has been a Regional Commis- sioner and is now a member of the Government. My own view is that Regional Commissioners probably have all the powers that are necessary. Their difficulty, as I understand it, is to obtain the necessary authorisations and decisions from Government Departments, and it does not seem to me that there is any real case to extend their functions or powers, particularly as they have one power which, above all others, should enable them to carry out their duties, and that is that they can in any single case, as I understand it, with permission, supersede a local authority. That power has been exercised only on two or three occasions, a fact which in itself is some evidence of the good work which the great majority of local authorities are doing.

The "Times," in an article on 16th May to which reference has already been made, suggested that all the resources of local government should be pooled and that local authority officials should be set free to act under the orders of the Regional Commissioners. I would call attention to that phrase, "all the resources"; not merely the resources relating to Civil Defence but all the resources should be pooled. Apart from the fact that we are not fighting this war to set up gauleiters of our own, I suggest that such a proposal is impracticable and uneconomical. It is uneconomic because it would clearly mean setting up, in effect, another organisation. The existing work of local authorities, which has no relation to Civil Defence, would have to be carried on. It would be impracticable because, as was made clear by the hon. and learned Mem-before for North Croydon, local authorities have no surplus staff available in these days.

That raises another point which the Government ought to take into early consideration. Why is it that officials of local authorities are only reserved at the age of 35 while Government officials are reserved at the ages of 25 and 30—depending upon the date on which they became Government officials? That is, local" authorities throughout the country are losing their staffs, while Government Departments are expanding by leaps and bounds. I do not want to take up time in developing that point, but I commend it to the attention of the Government, particularly the Minister of Labour. In my view there can be no justification for such discrimination between Government Departments and local authorities. There is one other objection to the proposal to give greater power to the Regional Commissioners. One would have thought that a knowledge of local government would have been an essential qualification in a Regional Commissioner. My right hon. Friend has appointed men who, however distinguished in other walks of life, have no such knowledge. It seems to me that that is another matter to which attention might be drawn. I make no reflection on the personal capacity of these individuals, but it is the very essence of the position surely that the Regional Commissioners and their Deputies should not be dug-outs from some other Service but should have knowledge of the authorities with whom they are expected to work happily, and in co-operation, and to help in every way in their power. It seems to me that there is no case whatever for giving additional powers to Regional Commissioners.

There is one direction, however, in which I think some progress might be made. It might be helpful in some cases if there was something in the nature of voluntary regional grouping. A good many years ago I was the chairman of a regional planning committee in which local authorities in a defined area voluntarily associated themselves together, and appointed their representatives in the persons of aldermen or councillors. That committee did extremely useful work. It should be a duty of the Regional Commissioner either to ensure, in some other way, that co-operation should be brought about between local authorities, or to form such regional committees. That would perform a very useful function indeed.

The other fundamental point which arose in the course of yesterday's Debate was as to the setting-up of a separate Ministry of Home Security. I was not at all convinced by what the Home Secretary said on that point. He pointed out—indeed it was his principal point—that it would mean taking away parts from 15 or 16 Government Departments and handing them to the new Ministry of Home Security that was set up. That is not at all an impractical proposition, because the Secretary of State for Scotland runs all these 15 or 16 Departments, or, at least, quite a number, I will not say with ease, but certainly with distinction and capacity. All Scotsmen certainly have confidence in him. That clearly shows that the proposition is not an impossible one. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman's position was something in the nature of an analogy, and that the very fact that there are 15 or 16 different Departments now administering Civil Defence services in one direction or another was, far from being an argument against the setting-up of a Ministry of Home Security, the best argument for such a Ministry. I am not, therefore, convinced that such a Ministry is undesirable, and I hope the recommendations of the Select Committee on that matter, and the views of the Members of this House, expressed in this Debate, may be further considered by the Government, the sole test being the efficiency of the services.

Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)

Many of us have particularly looked to this two days' Debate on Civil Defence. Quite apart from Members of the House, a very large public outside have been greatly looking forward to a Debate on Civil Defence, not least the personnel of the Civil Defence services themselves, who, I have good reason to believe, have not been too happy about the situation in which they themselves, are very vitally concerned and for whom it is the duty of us Members of this House to speak. I must confess that I was disappointed with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security yesterday, though I was delighted with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to-day. I am certain there will be many in the Civil Defence services all over the country who will feel that the great opportunity of this Debate, a Debate which is long overdue and which we should have had many weeks ago, has been missed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security, in so far as he was not able to make man more concessions to the point of view which is widely held in the country, and who was far too rigid and far too defensive of the status quo. I feel that he also showed an attitude of self-satisfaction and complacency quite unjustified by the situation in the country.

There are many problems which Members have discussed. I do not wish to go over old ground, but there is a problem with which many of us have been in close touch which is not necessarily one of policy or administration. I refer to the human problem. Many fine things have been said about the courage and enthusiasm of the personnel of the Civil Defence services, which we all most heartily and sincerely endorse. I also sympathise with that class of individuals in the Civil Defence services who have not yet had the opportunity of showing courage. There are many of them in all parts of the country who, from the beginning of the war, and before the beginning of the war, have been most conscientiously carrying out very dull and monotonous duties with little or no opportunity to distinguish themselves or to do anything more satisfying than the daily round and common task and monotonous routine. The spirit of these men has been admirable. In spite of all that monotony, when they have not had the opportunity of doing anything particularly testing apart from the normal task, they have still carried on with the same enthusiasm. I have been in close touch with a large number of these individuals, especially in the wardens' service.

I have been delighted to hear many Members pay tribute to the splendid individuals who comprise the wardens' service throughout the country. I am particularly sympathetic to the wardens' service in areas which have not hitherto had much experience of blitzes, for the monotonous life they lead and the fact that no one seems to visit them. If an officer in the Army has men scattered about an area, it is his duty to pay them frequent visits to see that their morale is good, that they are happy and comfortable, and to have a chat to find what are their little problems and troubles. I wonder how often these wardens' posts are being visited by officials—controllers and sub-controllers. I know a great many posts which have not been visited since the war began. These men are just left in their little wardens' posts to get along as best they can. Certainly they have done marvellously in getting along, but they should be encouraged more.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that, if he thinks there is something in what I say, he might consider the possibility of appointing inspectors, welfare officers, liaison officers, or a cross between all three, whose responsibility would be to visit and call in on various Civil Defence posts, which are sometimes in isolated districts and which have for far too long, been ignored and neglected, in respect of regular contact. I believe that, if this were done, it would give to the individuals concerned a very happy feeling that somebody was taking a direct interest in them. They would have an opportunity of putting forward to a sympathetic mind little grievances from which they might be suffering and to some one who would pass the complaints on to higher authority. There is no direct contact between the rank and file in many Civil Defence services and the higher-ups. The rank and file feel, and are very conscious of it, that they have to go through routine and all sorts of ropes which are covered and overlaid with red tape before they can make the necessary representations to higher authority.

Now I want to express disappointment, my own and I believe that which is felt in Scotland, that the Minister of Home Security was not able to make more concessions to autonomy in the Civil Defence services in Scotland. There is too much London control in those services. This is felt unanimously throughout the length and breadth of Scotland by those who know. We are suffering from Government by circular. Regional and district Commissioners and local authorities are inundated by circulars from Whitehall. I wish the Minister had been able to delegate more autonomous responsibility to Scotland in the matter of Civil Defence. I should like to have seen a Civil Defence Council set up in Scotland, perhaps for the whole of Scotland, or one for the East and one for the West. I think such a council, with carefully selected individuals, with no fundamental legislative authority, but at least of a definite advisory character, could do a very great deal to help ton and to improve the present situation in Civil Defence in Scotland.

I wish to pay my tribute to the magnificent services of local authority officials in the local Civil Defence services throughout the country. They have done most wonderful work, very often without any extra pay and on the top of their ordinary daily round and common task. The same applies to local authorities. To take away responsibility for Civil Defence from the local authorities and to hand it over to Regional Commissioners or regional authorities would, I am convinced, be a very great mistake. We cannot possibly do without the machinery, the good will and the experienced services of local authorities and their officials. It is impossible to attempt to do without them; the whole scheme would break down in ruins. On the other hand, in the case of an inefficient, recalcitrant, awkward, or obstinate local authority, which just will not conform and thinks itself too good to be taught lessons, the regional or district commissioner should be encouraged to exercise powers which I am aware they possess.

When I say that there have been cases where far too much exhortation, making of representations and expressing of hopes has been done by the regional or district commissioner to recalcitrant, inefficient or obstinate authorities which have too often snapped their fingers at those exhortations and representations, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland knows to which authorities I am referring. A stronger line will have to be taken in future in these matters. Far too much licence has been given in many instances to recalcitrant authorities, and the regional authorities have been too patient. I think it is just about time that their patience began to be exhausted. I make no reference to any individual cases, as I believe my right hon. Friend is well aware to whom I refer.

Now I want to discuss the artificial, obsolete, pre-war boundaries between the vulnerable, neutral and evacuation areas. Much has been said about this matter in this Debate and in that which took place the week before last, and I do not intend to go over old ground. I am convinced that the Secretary of State is right in the attitude he has adopted, that he is unable, for reasons which he has given and may be will be given later to-day in the Debate, to meet the viewpoint of many hon. Members who have felt that the situation was far from satisfactory. We must naturally speak for our own particular areas on these subjects. The public do not know all the facts which the Secretary of State for Scotland is in a position to know, and the public should bow to the superior judgment of those who know all the facts which it is not always possible to reveal. However, there are implications, in the decision to maintain these boundaries between neutral, vulnerable and evacuation areas, to which I would call the attention of my right hon. Friend.

A great many of the personnel of Civil Defence services, their numbers and the amount of their equipment depend upon the decision with regard to these boundaries. Whether a great many people are to be entitled to shelters, whether they are to be free shelters, the number of shelters per thousand of the population, as well as many other questions, hang upon those boundaries. While it may not be possible to alter boundaries, from the point of view of evacuation— I appreciate the difficulties in that respect —surely it is unwise to stick to these boundaries as the principal criterion for many other factors connected with Civil Defence services, such as shelters, equipment and the strength of the various Civil Defence posts. I would even suggest to the Secretary of State for Scotland that we consider doing away with the boundaries altogether. They mean nothing, but cause a certain amount of irritation. What is the good of maintaining them there? Let us forget that they were ever there. We should do no harm to anybody, and we should prevent a certain amount of misunderstanding and irritation in many areas.

In regard to fire watching, I suggest that the Secretary of State might seriously consider expediting decisions respecting my part of Scotland. In Glasgow, for instance, the authorities are still waiting for clear and explicit instructions from Whitehall. They do not seem to understand some of the instructions which have come along; I do not blame them, after having read the instructions. The Secretary of State should do his best as soon as possible to encourage certain local authorities, who are a little reluctant, apparently, to exercise their compulsory powers with regard to fire watching. There are grave difficulties of inequalities of payment. A great deal of discontent has been caused in the Glasgow area by inequalities in the rates of pay for fire watchers. They should be standardised, and the situation should be put on a more satisfactory footing.

I do not want to delay other speakers who, I know, are very keen to take part in the Debate, but there is only one other point I want to deal with, although there are so many one could take up. That is a speech made by an hon. Member for a West of Scotland constituency—I will not be more specific, not to spare him, but for reasons of security—about a week or two ago, in which he said that in the matter of evacuation people in his constituency were treated like criminals. Great indignation has been caused by that most unworthy, untrue and ill-balanced remark, in many parts of Scotland, among those who have done their utmost to help the people from constituencies which have suffered, and among those who have tried every possible means to house them and make them content. My hon. Friend who made that most unfortunate remark, which I dare say he now regrets, quoted a particular instance which he meant to emphasise his point. He quoted the case of a father, mother and 13 children who were blitzed out of a certain area, and said that because it was difficult to find them a home, as they particularly insisted on not being separated, they were put into a hut and were very unhappy and uncomfortable, adding that it was a shame and a scandal that such things should be. Since then I have had an opportunity of being in that area, and I hold in my hand a letter signed by the parents of that family of 13 children. I will not bother the House to read the letter, but in it they declare that they have been most comfortably housed and have been splendidly treated, in the kindest possible way, from the very moment they were blitzed out until now, and that there is not one single genuine word in the suggestion that they have any grievance whatever. I hope that what I have said will do something to discredit the statement made by the hon. Member and to put his speech in its proper perspective.

In conclusion, I want to implore the Secretary of State for Scotland to do something with regard to the point I mentioned at the very beginning, that is, to try to alleviate the dullness and monotony of the life of many of the Civil Defence personnel. I would ask him to consider whether it would not be possible to think out some kind of welfare assistance to relieve the monotony, and, above all, to consider the possibility of having liaison inspectors to go round among them, who would be able to represent their views to a higher authority. We must keep up the morale of these men. It has been magnificent all over the country, but monotony does ultimately tend to kill morale, and while in some areas, like London, there has been no monotony but heaps of excitement and plenty of thrills, hon. Members know well that there are many parts of the country where it has not been so, and it is our duty, and the duty of the responsible authorities, to look after those who have not had those thrills just as it is to give our admiration and respect to those who have.

Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)

This subject is so wide and vast that unless one confines one's self to a very few aspects of it, one soon gets bogged in a mass of detail, and I hope my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down will excuse me if I do not follow him up on various points. I should, however, very much like to support the pleas he made for looking after the morale and welfare of the A.R.P. wardens, particularly those who have now, in some places, been waiting 18 months for something to happen. We must not forget that there is absolutely no reason to suppose that it may not happen to-morrow or the next day, and it is particularly important to keep peoples' interest alive. There is the same problem in the Home Guardsmen, and in industry; one can only guess as to when the thing for which they have been preparing themselves for so long may happen.

One of the few subjects on which I want to touch in my brief intervention is the position of the children in this continuous battle for Britain which is taking place. I am sure there is no disagreement anywhere in this House that it is a harsh fate which condemns children to undergo the horrors of total war. We all want to do everything we can to shield them, both physically and mentally, from the consequences of these war conditions. It is worth a sentence to say that it is quite remarkable how even very young children do appreciate what the central issue of this war really is and what it is about. I think I know something about that, because, up to very recently, it was my privilege and honour to talk once a week to children on political events and world affairs, and I always regarded that as one of the most responsible and perhaps important duties which could fall to anybody's lot in a democracy. I gave it up when I had the honour of coming into this House, because I felt that it was wrong that a voice that was perhaps trusted by thousands of children should be attached to a body which had then a political label tied round its neck.

I mention this matter because, necessarily, a great many mothers listened as well, and I would like to take this opportunity of appealing to any mothers who may read what I say to heed the Government's advice and take advantage of the evacuation scheme. I assume that in making that appeal I shall have the support of the Ministry of Health, although possibly we shall part company in regard to my next suggestion. Before the Recess I gave the Minister a list of seven or eight places which seemed to me particularly liable to enemy attack and asked him whether it might be possible to make it illegal to keep a child in those special areas. He could not see his way to accede to that request, and in fact spoke of the dire consequences of trying to do so. I think that this is a direction in which the Government are failing in their duty to take a decision, which I believe in a fairly important way is necessary to the proper conduct of this war. I think it is wrong to leave the decision, as it has been left, to a parent as to whether or not the children should be evacuated. The parent has not the information at his disposal on which to make that decision. Again I appeal to the Minister, and to the Parliamentary Secretary, to reconsider this matter and to insist that children should not be allowed to stay put in those dangerous places.

Before I came into the House I had to attend a Committee of which the Parliamentary Secretary was chairman, and I am bound to say that from the observations I made there I cannot understand the remarks made yesterday to the effect that she was not interested in children. There were certain people there whose interest in children was not perhaps of an entirely desirable character, and I am quite sure that as far as they were concerned they were very well convinced of her interest in children. In case I am asking too much, and I suppose I shall be, in asking that it shall not be possible to keep these children in the special areas, may I propose a compromise? Cannot the Minister reverse the procedure —can he not issue an order making it compulsory for people to show reason why they should keep a child in those particular areas? May that suggestion please be given consideration? I am bound to say that my angle of approach to these children, apart from its being based on the desire to save them the horrors they are bound to undergo in those particular places as the war increases in severity, is also perhaps based on a military point of view. It is a very striking tribute to the power and strength of democracy in this country that even when we are engaged in total war it is still almost unpopular and dangerous to say, if it closely affects the civil population, that something must be done for military reasons. But if you have a certain area which you are sure is going to be heavily bombed, and if you keep in that area persons, especially children, who cannot contribute to the military defence of that area, and, indeed, have to have special attention paid to them, that is not being sensible from the military point of view. When I refer to an area in which it is desirable to increase the number of rest centres, my right hon. Friend will know the particular area I am referring to and the need there is for doing something before the winter is upon us.

I was glad to hear his reference to the difficulty of making a distinction between the homeless person and the person who, if not homeless, has a damaged home or even someone whose home has not actually been damaged. I was speaking the other day to a woman with two children, who had spent five nights under the stairs. and she explained to me, with, I thought, good sense, that, having got away with it five nights, she did not propose to take a chance on the sixth night. There are a couple of other points I want to deal with. One is the matter of the billeting officers. Here, again, I thought the Minister right. He recognises the difficulty of expecting the local man to do the job satisfactorily in certain cases. It is liable to lead to unfairness. The billeting officer is bound to be a kind of cuckoo, and it is wrong to expect the local cuckoo to operate in the local nests. Long ago the Chinese recognised that difficulty.

Their Viceroys were never allowed to be in office in their own home provinces. The Chinese also had a body of men called the Censors, who travelled about making criticisms of officials, but were never allowed to criticise the administration in their own home provinces. If the Censors wished to criticise the emperor, as they did in, I think, two cases, they invariably committed suicide en masse afterwards. I hope that the Select Committee will not be found committing suicide on the doorsteps of the Ministry of Home Security. If I interpreted the speech of the Minister of Home Security correctly, he believes that we have to learn by experience in connection with these novel problems.

I am still inclined to think that if the war increases in severity and tension, we shall have to come to something of the nature of a Minister of Civil Defence just as we had to nationalise the Fire Service. I think we got that six months too late. My conception of such a Minister is not at all a conception of a gentleman struggling with an administrative machine. I will not detain the House by outlining how I expect him to work, but I regard him much more as being responsible for operational policy, for the strategy and tactics of anti-blitz operations. I shall be very willing, if time permitted, to argue that you cannot have a man doing that unless at the same time you hang an enormous bag of administration around his neck. The Prime Minister is Minister of Defence without having to administer the Army, Navy and Air Force. One of the most dangerous things which could happen in war is for the "Q" side to get too closely tied up with the operational side, because the "Q" side will drive other considerations out of mind.

I should like the Minister to clear up the suggestion which has been made that the regional commissioners have the power to supersede local authorities. That may be the case, but I have always understood that the regional commissioners were really, in a sense, advisers of the Ministry, that they could recommend to the Minister that a local authority should be superseded, or have this or that done to them; but I should be surprised to hear that a regional commissioner has, at present, legal powers to walk down to a local authority and supersede them. I think the hon. and gallant Member who spoke before me was right when he said that a regional commissioner has up to the present had to exhort and bluff and persuade and, generally, use his personality. I do not object to that. I do not worry so much about the powers of the regional commissioners as about the personalities of the men who are appointed. I do not think that a regional commissioner needs to know much about local government. There might be disadvantages in his having such knowledge. You might as well say that a Minister, before being appointed to a Department, should know a great deal about the technical details of that Department.

I think a certain amount of unfair criticism has been levelled against Members who have been doubtful of the suitability of local government to carry out certain operations in this war which are essentially military in character—if I may mentioned that word without hurting sensibilities. To say that certain local authorities are not, by their structure, capable of carrying out military operations is not to say that one wishes to destroy local government. It is true that the personnel, whatever you do, has to a large extent to be the same—perhaps as to 80 or 90 percent. Some of it may not be quite suitable, but, so far as my knowledge goes, some very suitable personnel is not able to do its best because the machinery at the regional level is not quite of the right kind. But there is no idea of destroying local government, of being rule to local government, of being offensive to local government. That is not what is in my mind when I hear of these changes being made—I believe, although I have no knowledge, that we are going to hear more in a few minutes about such changes. My only object is to increase our defence efficiency, and so preserve those liberties without which there will be no Parliamentary or local government in this country.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health here. I regret the absence of the Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security. The Minister of Health and the Home Secretary have many things in common. They are both energetic, very hard working, very conscientious, and very sincere. But in some respects, as their speeches show, they differ. The speech of the Minister of Health went into quite a lot of detail in regard to his Department, although I am sorry that so much time was taken up by a battle between him and the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). However, apart from that, he endeavoured to give the House a lot of information. I cannot say the same with regard to the speech yesterday by the Home Secretary. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member opposite that that speech was an expression of self-satisfaction. It was even smug; it was vanity itself, and boasting about matters about which I do not think that any man is entitled to boast, and that is, doing one's duty. If you do your duty, and no more than your duty, you are certainly not entitled to boast about it. May I refer to one or two things that occurred in his speech? Right at the outset he described what has been done. He said: We have provided as a community and the House has supported us, new homes, alternative homes, or accommodation for the homeless who have been bombed out and blitzed out. What would we have said if they had not? Is it not the duty of any community to provide for members of the community who are more unfortunate than others? He went on: We have provided through the Assistance Board grants to replace cash necessities, clothing, furniture, and essential household articles. And then comes this priceless remark: We have made financial provision for grants to replace even essential tools for workpeople in their employment or small handicraftsmen in their work. Were these men to go without tools or any provision so as to provide for the war effort in this country? I would have thought that that was the first thing that you would have done, and certainly would not use it as a matter for boasting. I now come to Col. 283. Having said all that, he then said, at that Box: It is right and necessary that these things should have been done,"— If he had paused there it would have been all right— but let even the House of Commons not hesitate to pause and praise itself, the Government and the local authorities for rising to the occasion."—[Official Report, nth June, 1941; cols. 282 and 283, Vol. 372.] It is the duty of the House of Commons and of the Government to rise to the occasion, and not a matter for praise or for boasting. Are the Government, or is any member of it, satisfied with what has taken place? Are they satisfied that there have been no buildings burnt down that might have been standing to-day? Are they satisfied that no damage has been done through want of watchers, through want of water, through want of organisation and the getting together of the fire brigades, which have now been brought under one command? Has there been no suffering? Have there been no troubles with regard to food conditions and evacuation? Has there been no trouble about the sleeping accommodation or the provision for the workers or the producers? My complaint is that throughout the attitude of the Government has been that you can continue the national life in the ordinary way and through the ordinary channels and win the war. It cannot be done.

On 3rd September, 1939, there was a cleavage cut between the life we had led hitherto and the life we have to lead in order to win the war. We cannot have the privileges that were ours on that 3rd September; we cannot expect the same treatment that we had before then, and certainly, we cannot expect the continuance of any privileges that were in existence at that time. The national life as such has altered or should have altered materially since 3rd September, and it should continue to alter until the end of the war. What have we seen? Certain services are under the supervision of certain Departments. Ministers have spoken as though they were doing no more than supervising and seeing that the services were being carried out. The Secretary of State for the Home Department yesterday spoke of housing as being a matter not only within the cognisance and supervision of the Minister of Health but as though he was actually responsible for the housing. He is not. It is the local authorities that have to build the houses and he exercises the supervision and control over them, and maybe, occasionally the urge upon them, but it is no more than that. In the same way various other Departments exercise supervision, as, for instance, the Board of Education, but the actual form in which the work is carried out and the buildings and so on are under the local education authorities.

What I felt throughout was that the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in his speech, was creating arguments, putting them into the mouth of my hon. Friend who opened this Debate, arguments which he himself certainly did not use, occasionally representing them in his own way merely in order to knock them down. That is an old trick of advocacy. When your case is not a very good one, you set up a sort of dummy and then knock it down. That is the way he got away with the Debate.— [Interruption]—He has been a long time at it, and he has not much to learn. What I felt as he went through these various Departments was that he was saying, "There is no time to do it; you will be upsetting the whole machine." That is a very familiar argument in this House. It was advanced with very great strength in the last war when there was a shortage of shells and the War Office said, "Leave that matter to us, and certainly do not go and alter all that in the middle of the war. There is no time for it." But fortunately, the Ministry of Munitions was set up in spite of that argument, and because of the setting-up of the Ministry of Munitions the war ended in 1918 in the way it did, otherwise it would have ended sooner in quite a different way. It is the same argument that was advanced also from that Box against the formation of the Ministry of Shipping before it was formed and against the formation of the Ministry of Supply, so I am really not impressed by the difficulties that might arise.

If I am asked what kind of a Ministry I think ought to be formed, I find myself very largely in agreement with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall). This matter has to be looked at differently from the way in which the Government have looked at it. They seem to be regarding this war and the new weapon that Hitler is using against us as something that has been in existence for a very long time with which the old Departments and the local authorities are quite capable of dealing effectively. This is a new weapon that Hitler has devised, the most cruel and most destructive weapon. He has invented war against women and children and against civilian inhabitants. He is bombing ruthlessly people who hitherto thought that they were safe, and he is hitting two types of people—the innocent women and children, and, at the same time, the producers. It is not a local problem. It is not a war between Germany and Plymouth, or between Germany and Coventry. Hurt Plymouth, and you hurt the lot of us; hurt Coventry, and you hurt the production of this country. This is a matter in which we are all concerned; it is a national matter and not a local matter. That is how I approach it, and that is why I therefore ask for a consideration of this position. The most helpful bit of the speech of the Home Secretary was where he said he still kept an open mind on the matter and was prepared to be persuaded. Let him look at it again. I daresay that the Ministry of Health do all that they can with regard to billeting, housing and sanitation, water and matters that come within their ken, and I daresay that the President of the Board of Education does all he can to help the educationists. You get this committee meeting so that they can discuss the problems that arise.

The hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) yesterday gave a startling instance of what can go wrong when he said that one district, having had some experience, came to the conclusion that its water supply was insufficient. It then got into touch with the Ministry of Home Security, which apparently came to the same conclusion. The local authority thought all was well, but they and the Ministry ought to have known -better. Water is a matter for the Ministry of Health, and three months later this was drawn to the attention of the local authority, with the result that three valuable months were lost.

There is a plethora of these committees; there is too much of the committee mind. We must have a Ministry responsible for direction and seeing that the proper standard is maintained. This is very essential. Many things have been said in praise of local authorities. I conducted an inquiry which involved local authorities some three years ago, and I had to say things which were not so favourable. That, moreover, was after searching inquiry and the hearing of evidence. I found that local authorities varied almost out of recognition from one another. One was good, a number were indifferent, and some were thoroughly bad. That was the system which was in existence when war broke out. What, also, did I find with regard to the Ministries—the Ministries of Health and the Board of Education? There was a Regional Commissioner sitting at Cardiff who ought to have been doing his duty. The Ministries would say that something out to be done, but that would not be the beginning of putting things right; it would be the beginning of a long series of correspondence between the Department and the local authorities. I am sorry that the Minister of Education is not here, although I see that his Parliamentary Secretary is present. I will give an instance connected with his Department.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education (Mr. Ede)

I was not in office then.

Mr. Davies

I know, but in 1927 the Ministry of Education conducted an inquiry into schools and black-listed some 180 schools in Wales as being a danger to the health of the children. I conducted an inquiry in 1937 and found that more than half these schools were still in existence. Nothing had been done except to pile up the correspondence with the Board of Education. In war we cannot wait while correspondence is passing and while committees are making up their minds. We must move more quickly, and that is why I want to see a Ministry carrying out its functions either directly or indirectly through the various local authorities. If anyone fails, let the Minister not hesitate to use his powers. Yesterday the Home Secretary said that he was not afraid. He repeated this phrase two or three times. But actions speak louder than words. When he was explaining what happened he said this: I shall be accused of spoiling them and being emotional and being afraid of them"— that is the local authorities. He went on: I am not afraid of them; I have taken away their fire brigades "— That is courage. He continued: I have done it perfectly peacefully, and I think it was right. If I had tried it six months before it is probable that the House would have made a great row about it."—[Official Report, 11th Tune, 1041; Col. 304. Vol. 372] Is that to be the test? If you come to the conclusion that something is right, must you not do it if there is to be a row about it? Is that the test of courage and the way in which the Government in this country should be carried on? Would the Minister admit that if he had taken this action earlier, many buildings and houses that are in ruins would now be standing? When the Government make up their mind that a thing is right they must carry out their duty towards the people. The right hon. Gentleman challenged me whether I was prepared to give up my democratic principles. I would prefer to surrender democratic freedom completely to the right hon. Gentleman during the war, knowing that I would get it back when the war is over, rather than surrender it to Hitler for ever. We must win this war; we are fighting a foe who is ruthless and will continue to be ruthless. In order to win it I will surrender everything I have, and so will the people of this country. Let there be no privilege, no property and no rights—[An hon. Member: "No profits "]—and no profits. We ought to be treated as an army. May I refer to a speech made in this House some time ago which puts the matter much better than I can put it? It was said: But what I fear is that these expedients will be put off as long as possible by the Government; and I must say certain speakers in the House this afternoon have seemed to have encouraged the Government in that evil course. They will be put off as long as possible, until, when they are adopted, much of the usefulness which could be derived from them is gone. Then there is this striking passage: In war what is the obvious is nearly always obsolete. In this war at any rate once a thing becomes so clear that everybody is agreed—all the newspapers, all the House of Commons, both parties of a Coalition Government, all agreed—that this is the right thing to be done, by that time you may be quite sure that the need really demands something further beyond this. The speech was concluded with these words: This nation at war is an army; it must be looked upon as an army; it must be organised like an army; it must be directed like an army; and it ought to be rationed and provided and supplied like an army. That is the brutal fact to which we are being hurried remorselessly by events which we cannot in the least control. The nation is perfectly willing to subject itself to these strange departures from all the old familiar easy private life that prevailed in England before this catatrosphe came upon us. Parliament is quite ready to support a Government that comes forward with well-considered schemes. We ought to have done this or something like this at the beginning of the war if we had been wise; we ought to have done it a year ago if we had not been foolish and supine; and we ought to do it now unless we are prepared seriously to jeopardise the essential foundations of victorious warfare."—[Official Report, 16th November, 1916; cols. 1106–1108, Vol. 87.] These magnificent words were uttered in November, 1916, by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Prime Minister of England. I hope Members of the Government will study them and take them to heart.

General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)

If I venture to intervene in the Debate, it is because I have been, since the very early days of Air-Raid Precautions, the chairman of the Air-Raid Precautions Committee of a county council, and it is to that aspect that such remarks as I have to offer to-day, which will be concerned almost solely with questions of organisation, will be directed. In the first place, I welcome the decision, as I understand it, not to take Civil Defence and Air-Raid Precautions out of the hands of the local authorities. It is possible that, in the first instance, a better system than the administration of Civil Defence by local authorities might have been devised. The machinery was somewhat hastily constructed and thrown together, but it is now run in, so to speak, and it is working, and has worked, very successfully on the whole. Moreover, the personnel, the services and the buildings of local authorities are so interconnected with the corresponding services of Civil Defence that it would be very difficult to disentangle them, and if they were disentangled, almost inevitably confusion and disorganisation would result. I was very interested yesterday to hear my right hon. Friend, in the one allusion he made to his connection with local government as chairman of the London County Council, say that in that capacity, and in those early days, he was very much dissatisfied with the guidance and assistance which he received from the Home Office—or words to that effect. So was everybody else connected with local government and Air-Raid Precautions who, at that time, had anything whatever to do with the Home Office.

On three occasions since 1938 has real progress been made. The first occasion was during the crisis of 1938, when we were almost at war; the second was during the crisis which preceded the outbreak of war in 1939; and the third was about a year ago, after the Dunkirk episode. On each of those occasions control was relaxed and the local authorities were allowed to do what they thought best to get necessary work done without the prior sanction of the Minister. Great work was done during that time. It is possible, and I think it is very likely, that there were some mistakes in some quarters at any rate, but a very great deal was done before the dead hand of Ministerial control came down again. Undoubtedly progress was made from the moment when my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council took over the direction of affairs, and there was further progress from the moment when the regional organisations, with considerable staffs, were set up.

But the formation of the Ministry of Home Security is, after all, a half measure. It is an offshoot and an adjunct of the Home Office from which its nucleus personnel was drawn. Its methods are, and have been, Home Office methods—minuting, scrutiny, querying, delay. Those methods may be very suitable—probably they are very suitable —for a Civil Department in time of peace, but they are not suitable—they are eminently unsuitable—for a Defence Department in time of war. For this is a Defence Department. It may be passive defence and not armed defence, but it is none the less a Defence Department, and the principles which apply to the conduct of such a Department apply to it in the fullest measure. Moreover, it has only partial control over Civil Defence, for the Ministry of Health is responsible for certain operational services, including first-aid posts and ambulance services, though not, paradoxically enough, first-aid parties. Why that division should be made between first-aid posts and first-aid parties passes the comprehension of ordinary people. The Home Office was, until lately, responsible for fire services. I am glad to think that now those fire services will be under the control of the Ministry of Home Security. The Ministries of Transport, Food and Supply are all concerned. In fact, we were given to understand by my right hon. Friend yesterday that there are some 15 Ministries concerned. I confess that was very much more than I was aware of, but it seems to me to complicate the problem very much indeed, and to make stronger the argument for one single Department.

Lastly, the telephone communications are in the hands of the Post Office. I do not think that has been referred to so far in the Debate, but communications are a matter of immense importance for a Defence Department. If they break down, as they are apt to break down, and as indeed my right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security mentioned yesterday, parenthetically, that they have on occasion broken down, the whole of the machinery is to that extent disorganised, and the results might conceivably be very serious indeed. I shall refer to that more particularly a little later on. So we have a Defence Department which is not responsible for its own first-aid services, for its own fire services, or for its own communications. Finally, the Minister himself is shared with the Home Office. It is well known that my right hon. Friend is a man of exceptional ability and exceptional energy, that he is in fact a super-man; but to carry out properly the duties of two great Ministries he would need to be not merely a super-man but superhuman, and I can hardly believe he would claim to be that. It is essential, in my humble submission, that there should be one Ministry, independent of the Home Office and of the Ministry of Health, controlling its own first-aid and fire services, and with a far greater measure of control over its own commundations.

How this last would be effected is no doubt a matter of arrangement with the Post Office. Certainly, I do not suggest putting the Post Office or its services out of it. It might be arranged possibly through having a representative of the Post Office, with very considerable powers, at the Ministry. But I urge that communications, and telephonic communications particularly, are a matter of the very greatest importance in Civil Defence and at present they are, in my experience, a weak spot. The Post Office has not always been too co-operative in these matters, and certainly not with local authorities and scheme-making authorities. Its attitude has appeared to be that what was good enough for peace is good enough for war, and that all work, new lines and so forth, are a commercial proposition to be paid for, after suitable argument and bargaining, at commercial rates. I have known it to be said that no materials were available to carry out what has been considered by local authorities to be very necessary work. I have received that answer within the last two weeks. I also had it at the very outset of the war over an Air-Raid Precautions control which was being set up in a place which is a household word, but which I will not mention—a place of great importance. We were told that there was no material available and that, therefore, the work could not be done. I ventured at that time to presume on an old acquaintance with the then Postmaster-General, and a personal letter produced the work, the workmen and the materials the next day. When we are told the same stories, I cannot help thinking that the same state of things may be existing; to-day.

I feel that the Post Office should cooperate very much more. There are cases—and I have no doubt it is a very good arrangement for the Post Office— where every line from miles around goes into the same great centre and has to go out again if two places outside that centre, possibly quite remote from it, are to be connected. If that particular centre is very heavily blitzed—I do not like that expression, because it is un-English—but if that centre is bombed, all communications will break down, not merely in the city in which it is situated, but between places outside where communications might still have existed if direct lines had been available. In such circumstances a great deal of the potential danger could be avoided and might have been avoided if these lines existed. As it is at present, we have now to persuade the Post Office to put in these lines, and, as in peace-time, it depends to a certain extent on what the Post Office is to be paid for doing the work. I hope the system of a regional communications adviser may be extended to other regions and that he may have very considerable powers. I hope there will be a communications adviser, and one with influence, in the Ministry of Home Security to secure that this question of communication receives adequate consideration from the Post Office and to see that the necessary work is done and done quickly.

I hope I have shown that there is some necessity for a Ministry of Home Security, or Civil Defence, or whatever it may be called, controlling all branches and all accessories of Civil Defence in the operational sense. I am aware that it is almost impossible for it to control everything which comes into Civil Defence. I would say, in parenthesis, that I am by no means sure that the police should not also be under the Ministry of Home Security, or Civil Defence, or that the reorganisation of the police, in a similar manner to the reorganisation of the fire brigades, should not be seriously considered even in wartime. Such a Ministry of Home Security should, in my view, be concerned primarily with policy, and there should be the utmost possible devolution of matters of detail, not merely to Regional Commissioners, but also to scheme-making authorities. At present the Regional Commissioners and their staffs do not seem to have authority to approve expenditure to the extent which makes for speeding-up of the work of A.R.P. They have to refer nearly every question to the Minister, or one of the Ministers, and in consequence delays are increased in obtaining approval for anything. Sometimes these delays are quite unconscionable, and especially is there delay in approval for A.R.P. buildings, shelters and so forth. Delays are, in my knowledge, endless. Every detail is haggled over, and frequently, while prices are being disputed for sites and other things, prices suddenly rise and a much higher price than that originally estimated has had to be paid.

In that connection the non-antedating of the decision of the Government to pay the complete cost for shelters did not do us as much harm as one of my hon. Friends seems to think. Such a lot of work, which would have been put through, was held up by the Ministry that the Government had to bear the whole cost instead of the local authorities, if the work had been carried through when it was first projected, paying for a considerable proportion of the expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman has had experience himself of local government. He has been chairman of the greatest of the county councils.

[Hon. Members: "Never!"] The biggest county council. He has been the leader of the biggest of county councils, although there are other large county councils. My right hon. Friend knows that county councils and county borough councils have expert staffs and that their chairmen, or leaders, and their committees are just as anxious as any Member of this House and the Government to economise in rates and taxes. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman arrange to give far more discretion to these county councils to spend money? I do not hesitate to say that that would speed up essential A.R.P. and Civil Defence work. I do not pretend that it would not be necessary to have some safeguard.

As regards works or buildings, I suggest that a general type might be laid down and that permission should be given to local authorities to work to that type. I suggest also that there should be a limited expenditure to which local authorities could go, and that within those limits they should be allowed to spend any money they considered necessary. Of course, they would be held accountable and would have to account for anything they had to pay and there would be the auditor as in all matters of local government expenditure. It would speed up the whole proceeding if more power was devolved upon the regions and the scheme-making authorities, which in most cases are the county councils. I do not suggest that these powers should be devolved upon the smaller councils, because they have not got the staffs. In many cases their staffs have been depleted because many of their men have been called up, but I suggest that it should go as far as the scheme-making authorities.

The Committee on National Economy made certain recommendations to which I should like to refer. One was a reduction in casualty services. I deprecate any reduction in casualty services. It may be a fact, as they said, that the casualties with which this service has to deal have not been as serious as had been anticipated, but very much worse may come than has come already. Probably very much worse would come preceding, for instance, an attempt at invasion. I think it would be a mistake to reduce the casualty services to any considerable extent, especially as by arrangement, at any rate in my county, they cater for the Home Guard. The Home Guard, where it is mustered with any considerable number of Regular troops, benefits by their medical and casualty organisation, but in country districts where no Regular troops are stationed it looks to the casualty services of the A.R.P. Then there was the recommendation that the wardens' service should revert to a part-time basis. We owe an immense debt of gratitude already to these part-time wardens. They have done wonderful work all over the country for which they get no pay and very often, I am afraid, very little thanks. I quite agree that it would be desirable, if you could, to run the wardens' service on a part-time basis, but it is not possible in the great cities, where there has been very heavy raiding, and where in a very large number of cases all the sufficiently able-bodied men are already engaged in national essential industries and are not available for wardens' duties.

Further, there has already been a difficulty in many places through the very necessary institution of the fire watchers' service. In many cases these fire watchers have been offered high rates of pay, and wardens, part-time and some paid, have been, so to speak, decoyed away for that work. It is difficult enough to get a wardens' service going with much part-time personnel, and it would not be possible, even if it were desirable, to do away with the paid, and in many cases very efficient, wardens' service in the larger towns. Then there was a recommendation for the amalgamation of the first-aid and rescue services. There might be some advantages about that, but there are many women in the first-aid services, and they could certainly not be absorbed in the rescue services, where a great deal of heavy work is involved. Another recommendation was a further consideration of the amalgamation of all the functions in a single Ministry. I gathered from the right hon. Gentleman's speech yesterday that this was not entirely out of the question and that, although he was opposed to it now, sooner or later we might come to it. I hope, whether it is sooner or later, it may not be too late.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

I have heard very much talk about democracy in this Debate.

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