HC Deb 11 October 1944 vol 403 cc1727-9
18. Mr. Walter Edwards

asked the Secretary of State for Air the number of R.A.F. personnel used to assist in the repair of bomb-damaged houses in the London region since the introduction of the fly-bomb.

The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)

Since July last, when the R.A.F. were asked to help, some 2,000 airmen have been continuously engaged on bomb-damage repairs in the London area.

Mr. Edwards

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the great damage to house property in London and the shortage of labour, the figure he has given is very small indeed, and that it should be greatly increased to meet the difficult situation which will exist this winter?

Sir A. Sinclair

The considerations to which the hon. Members refers in the first part of his Question are not those for which I am directly responsible. I am directly responsible to this House for the efficiency of the Royal Air Force and the vigorous conduct of its operations against the enemy. Subject to those considerations, I am most anxious to help those who have suffered from bomb damage.

27. Mr. Astor

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works whether he will consider using prisoner of war labour to do unskilled work in clearing bomb damaged sites and houses in London so that the time of skilled building labour should not be wasted in demolition and clearance work.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hicks)

Italian co-operators have already been employed under the Ministry of Home Security on clearance of bomb-damaged sites in London. The extent to which further use can be made of this labour for this work depends on the availability of accommodation in or near London. Skilled building labour is not used on demolition and clearance work, which in London is carried out by the special organisation known as the War Debris Survey under the Ministry of Home Security.

Mr. Astor

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise the importance of getting on with this job urgently and of not allowing himself to be deflected by any local prejudice on these matters?

Mr. Hicks

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Stephen

Will the Minister state of what Co-operative Society these Italians are members, and, if they are not members of a Co-operative Society, will he use some other word than "cooperators" to describe them?

Mr. Hicks

I dare not mention Camlachie.

Mr. G. Strauss

May I ask my hon. Friend whether he would suggest that Italian co-operators would work with a better heart if the insults to them made in the Press were to cease?

Mr. Thorne

Is there an interpreter where these men are working?

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

Has any attempt been made to discover the experience or knowledge of these Italians, who seem to be keen on repairing bomb-damaged houses? Has any attempt been made to find out whether they are craftsmen or not, and whether they are using this as an opportunity for doing work which they should not be doing at all?

Mr. Hicks

The clearance of debris in the London area is a matter for the Ministry of Home Security and not for my Department. As to whether the men are capable of repairing and building, inquiries have been made; corps have been formed, and, in some areas, they have built their own camps.

28. Sir H. Williams

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works whether his attention had been drawn to the fact that the present excessive hours being worked by the men engaged on the repairs to bombed houses are causing undue fatigue, with the result that the amount of work being accomplished is less than would be the case if they were working substantially shorter hours; and will he take steps to bring about a change.

Mr. Hicks

I am aware that there is some divergence of view with regard to the hours at present being worked on the repair of bombed houses in London, but the Government, after reviewing all the factors of this very urgent situation, decided to maintain until 8th October a 62hour week. As the hours of daylight become shorter, the hours worked are being progressively reduced to 51½ hours per week in mid-winter.

Sir H. Williams

Is the Minister aware that everybody engaged in the direction of this labour thinks the hours have been excessive, which fatigues the men and is causing general dissatisfaction?

Mr. Hicks

I do not think my hon. Friend can chide me for not advocating a shorter working week. It is the urgency of the situation that has compelled the Government to order longer working hours.

Sir H. Williams

What is the use of saying that when the longer hours produce less output?

Mr. Hicks

I cannot agree with that.