HC Deb 25 January 1945 vol 407 cc1105-33

5.54 p.m.

Major C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I beg to move, That an humble Adddress be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order in Council, dated 23rd November, 1944, made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, 1939 to 1940, adding Regulation 68D to the Defence (General Regulations), 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on 5th December, be annulled. Without going into great detail, I feel that it would be convenient if I gave a very brief summary of the conditions which led up to the presentation of this Defence Regulation. After the fall of Dunkirk, the various holiday resorts around the South and South-East coasts of England were evacuated by Government request, and any person who saw the posters, put up in these holiday resorts, would be under no misapprehension that it was the Government's intention that people should leave those towns and villages. The natural result of such an action by the Government meant that businesses, shops, hotels and boarding-houses all had to close down. They had to close down because, in the first place, no visitors were allowed into these areas, and in the second place, all those who could afford to go away or who could be spared were asked to leave by the Government. In fact, they were, to all intents and purposes, ordered to go.

The difference between the South and the South-East coast towns, and places like, say, Coventry, is this: Coventry had, from a war-damage point of view, far greater devastation, than, say, Brighton or Eastbourne or Hastings or any of the coastal resorts, but that, in the first place, is covered by the War Damage Act, and, in the second place, alternative employment was open to the people of Coventry in Coventry itself, whereas in the coastal resorts the only main industry, that of hotels and boarding-houses, was closed down indirectly by Government direction. These areas were faced with economic ruin, which conditions have now been going on for a matter of over four years. If any hon. Member has been into a house or a hotel that has been closed and abandoned for four years, it will not be necessary for me to explain to him what conditions are like.

We raised this matter in the House on several occasions and we were delighted when His Majesty's Government decided to appoint the Minister without Portfolio, as he was then, the present Minister of National Insurance, to preside over an informal committee to investigate and survey these areas and make a report to His Majesty's Government. I have dealt with this very sketchily and very briefly because on previous occasions I, and other Members also, have explained the economic devastation, and I want to accentuate that with all the powers I have. Any hon. Member who wants to see it for himself can visit these areas, and he will then realise in what a terrible state they are.

Secondly, I feel I must say one or two words about the constitutional aspect of this particular Defence Regulation 68D, which is under examination this evening. Why was it necessary to produce a Defence Regulation? A Defence Regulation, as the House knows, must either be accepted in toto or rejected; we are not privileged to make any Amendment whatsoever. Why a Defence Regulation and why not a Bill? It may be said, of course, that before a Bill can become an Act a considerable time must elapse, but I cannot believe that it would have taken more than one day of Parliamentary time, and, after all, we are dealing with many thousands of people who have been ruined economically around the South and the South-East coasts. It is a very big portion of England.

The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, limits the introduction of Regulations to those deemed necessary or expedient for the securing of public safety, the Defence of the Realm, the maintenance of public order, and the efficient prosecution of the war or the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community. I hate to think of the draftsman as being cunning, but I am sorry to say that he has forestalled this criticism, because he begins this particular Regulation with these words: The Minister of Health may, with a view to securing the efficient prosecution of the war and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community. … Even although the draftsman has been clever enough to start the Regulation with those words I do not accept that it is mainly concerned with the prosecution of the war. I believe that it really deals with a post-war problem—which, incidentally, should be started now. It deals with the rehabilitation of areas which have been devastated by the war. The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, comes to an end when the war ends. What will happen to us after that time?

The second point about the constitutional aspect is this: When the Minister of National Insurance spoke in this House he promised that local authorities would be taken into consultation to see in what way the Government's intentions might be brought about, and the best method of carrying them out. I understand that representatives of local authorities were summoned to a meeting at the Ministry of Health and that they were confronted with this Regulation ready printed—not in draft—and were told that that was how the Government intended to administer this £150 loan per individual. I do not think that that is fair on the local authorities. If they are invited into consultation, to decide how things should be done, it seems most unfair then to tell them how it is intended to do the job.

Now I come for a few moments to the substance of this Regulation. The sum of £150 is one which many hon. Members and I think is quite ridiculous. It is totally inadequate. Had a Bill been placed before us we should have had an opportunity of showing our disapproval of various points, and we could have put down Amendments. But here we are in a cleft stick. To-day we have either to accept the Regulation and get this £150, or else reject it, in which case we get nothing at all. We are not allowed to increase the sum the least bit. The sum of £150 is fantastic. Some of us think the figure should be £500, and some think it should be even more. We all know how much it costs to-day to decorate even one room, let alone a whole house. This Regulation is designed to help small people who are perhaps not in such a favourable position as the big people who are better off. But what is £150 to anybody in these days, if he has to start redecorating from scratch? It does not even pay the cost of a coat of distemper. Anybody buying sheets, pillow-cases and towels knows what prices are to-day.

What about the Board of Trade? It is no good giving us £150, or even £1,000, if the Board of Trade are not going to give these stricken districts a certain amount of help in the supply of materials. They have refused to give us any priority whatsoever as far as furniture, textiles, carpets, etc., are concerned. I should like to ask them how much they export of textiles to the Dominions and foreign countries. I should like to know whether pressure is brought upon them by the Treasury and why, when we are begging for materials to rehabilitate ourselves, to give war workers a reasonable holiday, they do not give us some generous help towards getting textiles, carpets and so forth. Is this export of textiles and fabrics really necessary? I am told that there is no rationing of these things in Canada and one can buy almost whatever one wants. A Canadian officer who goes to Canada on leave can get vast quantities of beautiful silk stockings and everything else. Is it necessary to export these textiles to Canada?

What about labour? What is the good of giving us money unless we have a certain amount of priority in labour?

Most of these coastal areas are what are known, in Ministry of Labour lingo, as "green areas." I want Eastbourne to be a red area. A green area means that all mobile labour is sent out of the district, a red area means that they can keep what they have; and a scarlet area means other people are drafted in. We should like to be a scarlet area, or at the least to be red, and to cease to be green.

To sum up. I feel that we ought to have an assurance that that £150 loan is to be increased. I think the Minister ought hurriedly to have conversations with the President of the Board of Trade and obtain from him an assurance that we shall be given a certain amount of preference in supplies of coupons and fabrics and material. We do not want anything excessive but just enough to get going again.

These problems are all so closely related to each other—there are lots more affecting coastal areas which I have not mentioned because they do not come under this Regulation—and there are so many Ministers involved, in fact, all the Ministries, that it is difficult to know to whom to apply. If one gets an assurance from one Department, another Department does not swim in with the first. I hate these Statutory Rules and Orders, and I do not think they should be used unless absolutely necessary. If it were possible to amend this Order, I would recommend that it be amended in the same way as Statutory Rule and Order No. 1198 of 1943, the first paragraph of which reads as follows: The Food (Sector Scheme) Order, 1943, as amended(a) shall be further amended by inserting in the Second Schedule thereto (which sets up the articles of food and drink to which the provisions of the said Order do not apply) the entry 'Nuts.'

6.12 p.m.

Flight-Lieutenant Teeling (Brighton)

I beg to second the Motion.

I fully support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Major C. S. Taylor) has said. I cannot help thinking that this decision to allow £150 for certain purposes in coastal areas has been presented to the public in a very muddled way. The people in the coastal areas have been suffering possibly more than people in many other parts of the country. Some have been suffering all the time and some have had only bad patches. Some have suffered worse since D-Day, and some had their bad times earlier. Perhaps the greatest worry to the people on the South coast has been that endless uncertainty, always waiting and never quite knowing what was going to happen next. They have been in evacuated areas and have not only been afraid of what might happen from the enemy across the water, but afraid of their own financial position. They have seen themselves getting into a worse and worse position, and many have been the cases that have come to me of people on the verge of mental breakdown because of their endless financial worry.

Several months ago, the present Minister of National Insurance was going round these areas deliberately and sympathetically trying to find out what were the woes of the people there. Those he visited included the women of these areas, because the lodging-house class are mostly women and so are many of the café owners, and they are the people who will be most affected by this grant. He also took great trouble to visit the local authorities and speak to many other people, and no doubt he came back and sent in recommendations to the Cabinet which we have not seen. Out of all this long labour of the Government has come forth this very small baby, this tiny crumb of £150. I hope that we are to be told that this amount is only something for to-day, and that the Government are seriously considering all sorts of possibilities for the future. Large numbers of people think that this £150 is a small result for all the hard work that has been done. We hope that greater things will be coming later on, and that this is definitely just something to go on with. We understand from the Defence Regulation that the £150 is intended to give an opportunity for war workers to come to the South coast for a holiday.

I ask myself how it is that the Government have reached this figure of £150. I feel that not one Minister but several Ministers must have been discussing it. I would like to say how much I wish that, in the near future, when we are dealing with such problems, we might have one Minister in complete charge, instead of having to go from one to the other, or to look down the Front Bench hoping there may be some representative of a particular Ministry to whom we ran look to bring our questions, when a Debate comes on. The Minister responsible has presumably discussed it with other Ministers. One feels that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have said: "£150 is really all that we can face."

It is six or eight months since I first had the opportunity of becoming interested in this matter, and I was then given to understand that one had to remember that there would be other parts of the country to be dealt with, and that £150, or £500, or £1,000, or whatever sum it might be, might have to be given to those other parts of the country as well. Is that really wise? Suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer is arguing that he cannot afford to give to tiny people all over the country more than £150; surely he is going back to the old argument about the capital of the country. That argument was that if you divided up the capital of the country among everybody in the country, there would not be enough to give anybody more than £70 or £80 each, and therefore it would not be worth while to do it. It seems to me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is using the same argument.

Our object ought to be to spend all the money that we possibly can at the present moment to put one area right, especially when it is to be a sort of health resort for people from blitzed areas. These people will be looking round for some place in which they can recuperate, and we ought to make the area one which is worth while. We ought not to look round for some part of the country where the visitors will find the same kind of blitzed furniture and carpets such as they left at home. We shall try to give them something more luxurious, something which will make them feel better. Surely the Government ought to try to increase those sums for these lodging-house keepers, so that there will be extra comfort, and the people who come to the coast will feel better when they finally go back to get on with their work. If the Minister does that, he will give his workers far more rest and will make it possible for them to carry on.

It may be that the President of the Board of Trade feels that if the Government give more than £150, we shall be asking for more carpets and more linen than he can give them. I suggest that this point ought to be watched very carefully by all Members of the House, and particularly those representing the South coast. When hon. Members ask questions the Board of Trade are now saying that they cannot supply the goods asked for because they have to be used for this and that purpose. They do not go into detail as to what these purposes are. We have been told that they may be for export to certain parts of the world, possibly the Dominions. I wonder if the Dominions themselves really need whatever is being exported to those particular Dominions quite to the same extent as such areas as that for which I am speaking. If they knew of the real conditions, and what peope on the South coast have gone through, they would not themselves want to ask that these materials should be sent from this country

I also feel that the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought not to feel that other parts of this country might be jealous and adopt a sort of dog-in-the-manger attitude. Since D-Day it has been my privilege to go all over this country on Air Force duty, to Skegness, Blackpool, and such places which are normally like South coast resorts. I have not met officials, but I have gone to public houses and other places and talked to people there. I always do. I have found from many of them that there is very definitely strong sympathy for the South coast in what it has gone through, and a full recognition of the fact that we have had a worse deal than they have had. Evacuated children have told what has happened, and I am sure that if it was properly put to them everyone up there would be more than willing to let us have, for the time being, to the end of the war, the extra support that we need to get going.

I should like to ask for how long this grant of £150 will be applicable. I have in mind the fact that something like 1,000 lodging-house keepers of my constituency are not there at the present time. They have been evacuated and their houses have been requisitioned. These houses are empty to-day, requisitioned for post-war purposes—for returning prisoners of war. If this £150 is just something being given now, and later on present lodging-house keepers are to get more money, are my lodging-house keepers, who are not there at the moment, to get the £150 though the lodging houses are not in use, and will that be added to whatever grants are given after the war? If not, it is grossly unfair if this is to be kept from them and they cannot return until a time when the whole of this sum may have gone.

I would, in conclusion, beg the Ministers concerned to bear in mind that the Ministry of Labour will not lose in the long run if they make sure they have real holiday resorts for the workpeople to go to. Their workpeople will work all the more heartily when they get back. What is being given to these districts cannot be possibly anything like enough to prepare the way for the number of people who want to go on holiday. I believe that something like six times the amount of possible accommoda- tion has already been applied for in my area. How much less is this than the demand which will come when freshly released war workers wish, in the months to come, to go there. I see chaos unless more than this sum is made available. I beg the Government to decide now to increase this sum very considerably, not to let this matter go on in a patchwork way, bit by bit. It is doing a terrible amount of damage to the South coast if we have to get up time and time again and tell of our woes and worries. In the end workpeople will say, "Why should we go to these places? They are uncomfortable, tumbledown places, and certainly not places for us to visit for a holiday." It is bad publicity and does us harm.

6.25 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marlowe (Brighton)

The first point I want to deal with is the question of why the Government have put this proposal into effect by this machinery. It seems to me that a Defence Regulation is not appropriate for this purpose because we have no remedy except to reject it. We do not want to be put in a position of being told "Take it or leave it." Naturally we want some money, and we want all we can get; but £150 is nothing like sufficient. The offer of £150 in these circumstances is not only trifling with people who have suffered very seriously during the war, but it shows a complete lack of realisation of our problem by those responsible. The problem is not merely a local one: it is a problem of national importance, which the Government are now committed at least to recognising as being of national importance; because I do not think it would be within their competence to proceed by way of Defence Regulation unless it were a question of national importance.

These areas virtually were compulsorily evacuated. I think that if the contingency which was anticipated—that is, the enemy arriving in these areas—had in fact occurred, the Government would not have had the nerve after the war to offer us £150. But, apart from physical damage, which is in any event covered by something quite different, the War Damage Act, the disruption of trade in these areas has been just as effective as it would have been if the enemy had in fact arrived there. Thousands of workpeople and thousands of others, particularly small tradesmen and hotel- keepers, have lost their livelihood completely. To offer them £150 to reinstate themselves is nothing less than an insult.

I would ask the Minister to let us know on what basis he has arrived at this amount. In my experience, when a Government Department are sanctioning any expenditure, the first question they put to themselves is, "What is going to be the total cost?" I do not know what estimate the Government have made as to the total cost here. If they have no idea of what the total cost will be, it is evident that the £150 is a purely arbitrary figure, which they have fixed upon without any relation to the total expenditure. Why is it necessary to limit the assistance to any one person to this trivial sum of £150? Why should it not be open to the local authority to introduce some elasticity? It may well be that there will be cases in which a person requires less than £150. Why should it not be possible then to add the balance on to the payment made to somebody else, who may want £200 or £250? There appears to be no reason for this figure at all. It is impossible to arrive at any basis of calculation.

Anybody who had visited these areas would easily recognise that a sum of this size will not get going, for instance, a hotel or boarding-house. With prices as they now are, it would be quite impossible with this sum to put a small hotel, boarding-house or lodging-house into such a condition as would enable it to start receiving guests, and the first problem for areas of this kind is to get prosperity going again. If we can have our hotels and boarding-houses back, then we shall be able to get rehabilitated, but until we do it is impossible to start the wheels going again. The sum of £150 is nothing like sufficient for that purpose.

I should have thought that the first object of the Government in this matter would have been to want to get these places going, so that more workers can go there and that the wheels of trade can start again. This is not, perhaps, the occasion to enter upon the return of our accommodation, but it is a problem which is, in fact, closely linked with this matter. I only make reference to it in this respect, that many of the hotels that we shall, in due course, get back have been seriously damaged by occupation. Of course, although that will be compensated for, no doubt in a different way, there is a considerable shortage of furniture, carpets, curtains, cutlery, sheets and so forth. None of these can be replaced with the sum of £150, which is nothing like enough. I hope I am not going beyond the bounds of this Debate by referring to this matter, because it is related to the question of amount. I would suggest to the Minister that no figure less than £500 is sufficient for the purpose we have in mind. I certainly would like to see a larger sum than that, to my mind, is the minimum.

Before I conclude there is another matter to which I wish to refer, which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne (Major Taylor)—co-ordination in dealing with these matters. There is, at the moment, a complete lack of co-ordination in dealing with the multiple problems that arise. It is impossible to approach any one Government Minister who has jurisdiction to deal with all these questions, and I hope the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance about that and be able to tell us whether there is any proposal to appoint a joint authority who can deal with this matter. If that were done, I feel that a solution of this problem would be arrived at far more quickly, and it might even be possible for us to put the problem more clearly before the authority concerned. I think that, if we were able to do that, we should have no difficulty in convincing that authority that the sum of £150 is nothing like sufficient for the purposes for which it is required.

6.33 p.m.

Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)

I think we are very greatly indebted to my hon. Friends who have raised this matter to-day, because I have been trying to envisage what is behind the making of this Order. The Government must have considered that war workers, in some parts of the country, required a change at this stage of the war, and that it would have an effect upon the whole national health. I want to join issue with the Minister on the question of the geographical limits of this scheme. I think that the North of England—Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland, and even further North, where the heavy industries are—has had as arduous a time as any part of the country and has rendered a service in industry which has made possible the wonderful things that have happened in the war effort. It is strange to me that those towns on the East coast North of the Humber should have been excluded from the provisions even of this meagre measure of help that has been offered. Normally from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 of the workers in the industrial part of West Yorkshire visit the East coast at some time during the summer months. It cannot be said that we have not suffered from war damage—

Major Taylor

Can my hon. and gallant Friend say whether all these areas were evacuated or banned by Government direction, because nearly the whole of our case is based on the compulsory evacuation by the Government of our areas?

Major Braithwaite

Only for short periods and never for long periods, such as they have suffered in the South.

Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)

Under Government direction?

Major Braithwaite

Under Government direction, but it was for a very short period. I am not trying to push our case ahead of that of my hon. Friends, but I happen to have in my constituency the town of Bridlington, a coastal resort which was the first town in England to be bombed with H.E. shells. We were fortunate in not having a great loss of life, but the loss of property has been very considerable. We have had troops billeted in houses compulsorily taken over by the War Office. All the furniture was taken out and stored, the troops were put into these places, and the people had to go where they could.

Flight-Lieutenant Teeling

They would receive a regular all-the-year-round rent?

Major Braithwaite

That may be so, but we want to give West Yorkshire people an opportunity of getting to the coast. There are thousands of children in West Yorkshire to-day who have never seen the sea, and they live in towns which have adequate railway services to the coast.

Mr. Speaker

May I point out to the hon. and gallant Member that the Motion before the House is that the Order be annulled? I understand that the hon. and gallant Member wants to have an increased area included, and that is out of Order.

Major Braithwaite

I was taking it on the basis of equality of sacrifice, and if we were not included in this matter it would seem grossly unfair for the Minister to proceed with an Order of this sort excluding us from participating in a meagre benefit of this kind. I want to assure my hon. Friends who put down the Motion that I have no desire at all to minimise or take away the admiration that we have felt for the way the South coast towns have carried on under very difficult conditions. At the same time, we want to march with them in rehabilitating ourselves and I hope that the Minister will remember us very carefully in that matter.

To return to the question which has exercised the minds of most hon. Members, that of the £150, I want the Minister to look at this matter in rather a different way from that of individual habitation. The sum of £150 is to benefit not the one person coming in, but the thousands of people who come to stay in these boarding houses. Therefore this is not an individualistic loan, but something with which to build up national health and out of which thousands of people will get some benefit. In considering the Motion we have to consider its whole scope. I am quite sure the Minister of Health is anxious that as many people as possible shall get the re-vitalising air of these different places as quickly as possible. Holidays at home are all very well, but when they go on year after year they do not do the necessary amount of good to industrial workers who have been hard-pressed for many years. If he will look at it from the point of view of the volume of labour which is to benefit, he will agree that there is a case for some extra help in this direction. I am very glad that this matter has been raised. I hope earnestly that if the Minister withdraws the Order tonight and puts a new one in its place, he will remember the geographical limits and extend them and give us those facilities which will allow these coastal resorts an opportunity to serve the purpose for which they were planned and equipped.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)

I will not detain the House long, because, in the first place, my hon. Friends from the South coast have put the case so adequately that there is little more to be said; secondly, I think on two or three previous occasions I have intervened in Debates on this subject. However, I would say that I cannot quite agree with the rather severe criticism made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Major C. S. Taylor) about the constitutional aspect of using a Defence Regulation for this purpose. I am one of those who are not prepared to look a gift horse in the mouth too closely, and I recognise that the House is burdened with a mass of legislation and that more is coming. Therefore, I have rather a sense of gratitude that the Minister has devised this method of giving this aid. However, I join with my hon. Friends in complaining, as I have complained before, of the extraordinary inadequacy of the £150, and I would like to put this point to the Minister. One or two hon. Members have talked about a gift. Of course, it is not a gift, it is a loan, and the procedure is that the loan is made to the local authority free of interest, and the local authority, at low rates of interest, lends the money to its ratepayers up to a maximum of £150, probably at 2½ per cent.

What I cannot understand is why some discretion was not left with the local authorities, for this reason, that the Treasury does not lose a penny. If there are any bad debts, it is the local authority, not the Treasury, that stands to lose. Therefore, I cannot understand why some limit should not be given to the local authorities, of not less than £50 and not more than £500, to help the small people, because, after all, what are local authorities for except to judge local cases, local peculiarities, local needs? To do that, they require some discretion in the matter.

Finally, I would support very strongly the remark made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne when he pointed out that whatever the loan given to these small people—£150, £250, or £500—it is quite useless unless they can use it (a) to buy the necessary material to restore their very small businesses; and (b) have the labour, and this is terribly important, to do the very essential repairs, re-decoration, and so on. On the question of labour, I hope that some day we shall have sent back from London to our blitzed towns on the coast the very essential labour to repair the damage which has been caused by many attacks in the past five years.

6.45 p.m.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I do not rise to support fully my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Major Taylor) and those who have supported him in asking for the annulment of this Regulation. Although I have every sympathy with the case they have put forward I am rather inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) in regard to the Order. I do not like legislation by Regulations as a rule, because I do not think they should be too much a part of our system of government, especially in times of peace, I think each of us, perhaps, is getting into the frame of mind of the ancient Trojans about this matter. It is described in the phrase familiar to the Solicitor-General, who once used it to me: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. I think this is a small gift by the Government as it were—[An HON. MEMBER: "No, it is a loan."]—and is a step forward. Never mind the exact word, the Government have come out, and have met us to some degree. What I am concerned about is this: In my constituency—if I can be excused for talking about it for a moment—we are exercised, as other places are exercised, about getting trade going again as soon as possible. We are very concerned about getting loans to enable traders to re-establish themselves. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that the sum of £150 is a little too small, and that it should have been perhaps £500. We must remember that the traders concerned have no collateral security of any kind. They have lost all they had; they have even lost their property, although they have perhaps managed to rent another place somewhere else, with assistance. I think that the loan should have been of greater scope than the amount mentioned in the Regulation.

Before I go any further I would like to ask the Minister to explain what is meant by coastal towns and holiday resorts, because I do not want my own constituency to be outside that category. We are a coastal town and to some degree a holiday resort, although not a holiday resort in the same way as is the constituency of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne. Therefore, I would like the Minister to clarify the position as to what is a coastal town, so that we do not lose any benefit under this Order. I could make a case for Southampton as a holiday resort, as well as a great seaport town, but I shall not burden the House with that.

Another matter I would like to mention is the mode of the grant. I am not at all happy—and I wish to express my views as exactly as I can—that these loans should be made by the local authority. In discussions I have had in the past on this matter many people and officials of the local authorities have said that no difficulty or trouble would arise if the grants were made by the local authority, because people were only too anxious to get the money in order to rehabilitate themselves. I am not so sure about that. I know that an offer of money is always tempting from wherever it comes. Nevertheless, the private trader will have to live in his town and carry on his business there, knowing that he has a loan from the local authority, which, in some degree, as it were, will be his master. It will know his business. We all know that members of local authorities act with complete propriety, but if I were living in a small town I would not like my affairs looked into by the local authority. I think that is quite a natural objection. Perhaps many councillors might not like me and that might prejudice my obtaining a loan; I do not know, but these factors are bound to arise. A man with a loan carrying on his trade will always feel that his business affairs might be examined by the local authority. He will never feel quite free.

The Order says that the loan shall be for such period and on such terms as may be agreed between the council and the person to whom the loan is made. I do not know whether model terms will be given by the Minister but the local authority, being the mortgagees as it were, will have power over a private individual, which I think is unsatisfactory. It would be much better if the loan could be made by some other sort of institution. It is difficult to suggest exactly how that could be accomplished, but I would suggest that the Government should guarantee a bank making an advance to a private individual, and the whole matter would be between the individual and the bank. The objection to that is that the banks would be guaranteed against loss by the Government, but there must be losses somewhere.

If a loan is made by a local authority to a tradesman I presume the ratepayers will bear the loss, and that will add a further burden to an area already burdened enough. Everyone's losses during the war cannot be borne by the community but we have to face up to it that eventually some of these losses must be borne by the nation at large to some extent, and it is unfair to put the burden on to the ratepayers. When the ratepayers realise that, they will probably object. They will say, "John Jones has gone into business as a grocer and has a loan. Why should we bear the loss of John Jones' mismanagement of his business?" That might create bad feeling and put Jones in a difficult position in that he will not only have the Council as a supervisor in regard to the loan but other people wondering how he is getting on, knowing that the ratepayers will have to bear the loss. Now there are to be two financial corporations established, one empowered to advance small amounts and the other larger sums. If small loans could be advanced by one of these corporations to the trader, it would have been a great step forward. I daresay there would be difficulties in administration, but it would be a real help to those who wish to establish themselves. I will not object altogether to the Order, even as it stands, but I would ask the Minister to give me a ruling whether such constituencies as mine are included, because we can put a case, as I have said, even in Southampton for turning ourselves into a holiday resort. I do not join with my hon. Friends in asking for the annulment of the Order, and although I do not like legislation by Orders as a rule, in this case I think the Minister has done something on the whole which, if properly administered, and with necessary alterations and adjustments later on, will be beneficial to those who have suffered.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North-East)

This is one of the Orders to which attention was drawn by the Committee presided over by one of the Members for Ayrshire, and they properly drew attention to it. It is an astounding thing that under the powers which this House gave in 1939 for the efficient prosecution of the war and the maintenance of supplies and essential services it should be possible to authorise local authorities to make grants of £150 to landladies and small businesses. If it is intra vires to do this, there is nothing on earth that cannot be done by Regulation. It is an extraordinarily wide issue which has been brought under these powers, and I cannot think why the Government have decided to do it by Order. I should have thought it was obvious that these loans would require to be made next year, but these emergency powers have to come up for renewal every year, and if the House in its wisdom or otherwise in July of this year refuses to renew them, they will come to an end and there will be no power to make the loans.

There are a great many other objections of this kind, and a strong protest should be made against attempting to do the things that are proposed, however wise they are, under the powers which were given in 1939, which I am sure no Member of the House ever contemplated should be used for a purpose such as this. It has, from the Government's point of view, the advantage that no Amendments are possible, and we must protest against that. Hon. Members from the South object to the Order because they cannot amend the amount. I, as a Yorkshire Member, object to it because I cannot move an Amendment to bring in places like Bridlington and Filey, which, in our opinion, have as much title to help as places in the South.

6.58 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I cannot dissent from anything that has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Leeds (Mr. C. Henderson), but that is not the ground on which I wish to support this Prayer. I do so as a Member for a constituency which contains a large number of South coast resorts which are affected by this proposal. I do not mind, if I am to be given a present that I like, whether it comes by post or messenger, and I feel that that, as far as I am concerned, is the issue which my hon. Friend has raised. In this case it is coming rather more swiftly by messenger, but as I do not like the present I do not want it to come by post or by messenger. A little time ago, when the Catering Wages Act was being passed through its various stages, the Minister of Labour indicated that the South coast resorts would, of necessity, require priority in order that they might put themselves into a position to cater for those who had borne the physical strain and the brunt of the war in the factories and industrial areas. We were led to understand that steps would be taken to enable these health and sea-coast resorts to rehabilitate themselves for that primary purpose. In passing, I should like to say that I am a little disappointed, when we have been pursuing a subject which is so largely for the welfare and for the benefit of the constituents of hon. Members who represent industrial areas, that so few of those Members should have been present.

There is a point which I do not think has been referred to and which I wish very shortly to bring out. It is not a very easy point to make clear. It concerns the question why the Government have chosen this particular arbitrary sum of £150. I do not think it can have been for the reasons that they are limited to the total sum of money involved, because there is no gift of money; it is purely a loan. Presumably the sum must have been assessed upon either the considered requirements of the people who are to receive the money or the use which can be made of the money, that is to say according to the supplies which are available and for which a demand will be created. If it is on that point, the grant of these loans is neither logical nor equitable.

From speeches which we have heard this evening, one might be led to believe that there is hardly a hotel or lodging house along the South coast which is at present functioning, but of course that is a very wrong impression indeed. There is still a considerable number of hotels, lodging houses and boarding houses which have not had to be closed down by the circumstance of the war. Those places, particularly since the removal of the South coast ban, are doing very big business indeed. They are going at full blast. Presumably they are putting themselves into the position, by making profits in the ordinary course of business, to recover and to purchase the supplies necessary to rehabilitate their premises as soon as supplies are available. Therefore if these loans are limited to £150 for the purpose of restricting the purchases of supplies which are required for rehabilitation in these areas, it will fail in its object. The supplies will be bought by the people who are already carrying on their trade and who have not had to be evacuated for the reasons of which we have heard to-day.

These loans are primarily intended for the people who have had to leave the area. They will need the money and will require rehabilitation when they return and when their premises are de-requisitioned or rendered habitable again. It will not be possible for them on £150 to put themselves on a par with the people who have been able to remain and carry on business. That is my basic and fundamental objection to these Regulations, and I hope that the Minister will be able to reconsider the matter. I should like him particularly to consider the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) that it might be possible to authorise the payment of block grants to local authorities and to permit them, under such restrictions as the Minister may consider necessary, to distribute the fund, up to whatever limits they consider are required, to those who need the money most.

7.5 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

I am very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Major Taylor), and other Members who have spoken, for bringing out some of the questions that have troubled them with regard to the making of this Regulation, the good or bad sense in it and its application. There are a considerable number of points that have been raised, and I will try to deal with as many of them as possible. First, may I clear up one of two points about what the Regulation in fact says, and what it means, and then pass on to the question whether it should have been made at all, coming in the third place to what has been the point most seriously raised—the question of the figure of £150 as a maximum, which is included in it.

My remarks on what the Regulation in fact says will answer my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. Thomas) and the point also raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks). My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton asked whether Southampton would come within the Regulation. He referred to "coastal towns." The question is, of course, not whether a particular town is a coastal town but whether a particular local authority area is or comprises a coastal holiday resort, and a "coastal holiday resort" is defined, to guide me in applying this Regulation, as including any holiday resort the attraction of which was, in the opinion of the Minister of Health, to a substantial degree due to or connected with its proximity to the sea or any arm thereof. Undoubtedly there are some places which may not be actually on the sea but on an estuary or even a little inland—one might instance the middle of the Isle of Wight—and yet still be called a coastal holiday resort. I cannot say whether it would be right to regard Southampton as a holiday resort, but it would no doubt be possible to come to a decision on that. I should have to consider a question of fact—whether or not people go to Southampton for a holiday. If so, I should feel that there are the right sort of tradesmen in Southampton to benefit by this Regulation.

On the meaning of the Regulation, there is really no reason why those who are perfectly prosperous and not suffering from the situation which has been described so eloquently in this Debate, should get benefit in the undesirable way the hon. Member feels might be possible, because these loans can be made only for the purpose of enabling the small trader "to carry on again or better to carry on that business in the area," if the local authority thinks that will assist the rehabilitation of the resort. I feel certain that no local authority would give any special facility, if indeed that were asked for, to any establishment which was as prosperous as my hon. Friend has described. The power will be used, I am quite sure, by the local authorities for—and indeed the applicants will be—people who will really need this money.

In the third place, on the framing of the Regulation, again in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, who suggested that some other medium for the loans would have been desirable, I would ask the House to accept the view that it is proper to trust the local authorities in this matter, and that the people of whom we are thinking will not in fact, be embarrassed. In the areas with which we are dealing many people have already had close dealings with their local authority, both in respect of their position—their need for rehousing and so on—when bombed, and also, perhaps more relevantly, in connection with their difficulties about their rates. I have myself in many areas seen local authorities dealing with the most personal problems, arising out of devastation of one kind and another; and I feel satisfied, and I hope that the House also will feel satisfied, that this is a wise machinery.

As to the constitutional question, why was this not done by Bill, of course the Law Officers were consulted, and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has been sitting beside me this evening; but I doubt whether there is really any serious challenge on the ground that this Regulation is ultra vires. I can act only if I am satisfied that the express words of the Act under which the Regulation is made are complied with; and, on the merits of the matter, surely there can be no doubt that during this summer and next summer it will very definitely tend to the efficient prosecution of the war if those who have worked as we know they have worked in our industries are enabled to get such holidays by the sea as it is possible to give them. I took the view that this was, although not perhaps an expected use of the Statute, undoubtedly within its terms, and most fortunately within its terms; because it enabled us to do what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne has frankly described as rehabilitation after war loss, in a form which was within the language of the Act and most beneficially at a time when we could not possibly have contemplated a general Bill dealing with rehabilitation for all whose businesses had suffered as a result of the war. I believe that one would find, if there were an opportunity, that those concerned are really grateful—as my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) has said that he personally was—for the fact that it has been possible to take this step in advance of any other measures for rehabilitation which will have a very much wider application. On the question whether this is merely an instalment, I think it is right, in case it is not widely known, that the Memorandum which was issued to local authorities on the application of this Regulation starts off with these words: As one of the steps necessary to rehabilitate coastal holiday resorts … Of course this is an instalment of what will be necessary; but it is a limited in- stalment, measured by what we are in a position to do to-day.

Some reference was made to an undertaking given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of National Insurance. I have looked up that undertaking, and I believe that it has been complied with. Having described the scheme which I had in mind, after the fullest consultation with a considerable number of my colleagues, in which the points raised to-day were balanced and conclusions were come to upon them, my right hon. and learned Friend, in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft with regard to the rate of interest which should be charged and so forth, said that that was exactly the sort of point on which he thought that discussion with the local authorities should ensue. The Regulation contains nothing about rates of interest, except that they are for subsequent determination. There was a conference and a full discussion and hon. Members know what came out of that discussion, as appears in the Memorandum.

May I pass to what has been most frequently raised this evening, the question of the money figure? I would assure the House that this is not a question of cost at all. If it were, and if there were going to be a serious loss, I feel that we should have heard opposition expressed on behalf of the local authorities—that they were being expected to incur a frightful risk to their ratepayers. The balance between interest-free loans from the Government and loans from the local authority of this comparatively small sum to people whom they know and at a rate of interest which they may fix—which we have said should be 2½ per cent.—has apparently been accepted without any great criticism. This is not a question of cost to the Exchequer. It is a question of doing what we can, with the supplies we have available, in the light of the manifold other claims upon those supplies—and I will go into that in a moment—and taking into account the other claims and other demands that we can see ahead.

It would be the greatest unkindness to make loans available of substantial sums ranging up, as has been suggested by many hon. Members, to £500 or even to £1,000, if the grant of a loan to a business concern was either going to give that business firm far more than a fair share of what is available in the country or else was going to be an unreality in that it would not be possible to make many of the things which the firm would want to include in a £500 purchase. It was on that footing that this figure of £150 was fixed. There cannot, of course, be an accurate calculation, but may I give one or two of the considerations which moved us in fixing this sum and applying this type of test to what we were trying to do to help the desolated towns we have in mind. There is, first, this general proposition, with which I think the House will agree. Important as it is to have a good holiday, still more important is it to have as decent a home as can be provided at the moment. There is an immense demand for furniture at the moment.

Dr. Russell Thomas

Before the Minister goes on to that subject, will he clear up a financial point? The right hon. Gentleman says there will be no cost to the local authority, but, supposing there are failures, would that fall on the local authority?

Mr. Willink

I did not say there would be no loss to any local authority. I said that I took it that the local authorities did not feel that they were having losses thrust upon them, but that they took the view that, by and large, the arrangement by which they could charge a rate of interest on money which they got free of interest was satisfactory to them. Of course, their revenue will also increase in proportion to the success of the scheme.

May I say a word or two about the various materials which are available and those in rather short supply? There will be no difficulty, I am assured by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who has been listening carefully to this Debate, with regard to such matters as crockery, hardware and glass; but, on the other hand, it would be quite unreasonable for us to hold out hopes that there will be large supplies of furniture or textiles or floor coverings or upholstery for those who would, very rightly, wish for them to fit up their boarding houses or small hotels and receive guests during the course of the summer.

My right hon. Friend assures me that the position with regard to utility furniture is really difficult. The demands arising from the heavy losses of furniture during the flying bomb attacks, and still continuing to an extent which I must not define, the demands for timber and on the woodworking industry in connection with the programme of temporary houses, which we hope to bring along at the earliest possible date, the demands for furniture to go into those houses, make it quite impossible to give the priority which would be necessary to make £500 worth of goods available to all who need them all round the Coast or even in the area delimited by this Regulation. There is a priority in utility furniture for the newly married and for those who are setting up homes with children for the first time, but no one can get utility furniture in replacement of what is broken or lost. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works have, I know, a hard time in deciding how to allocate as between furniture and what is needed for the temporary houses. The curious suggestion, as I think, was made that the right way to deal with this matter was to have one superbly equipped part of the country in order that everybody, apparently, might go to that area and have a very good holiday. I cannot think that that would go down well with the rest of the country.

I should say a further word about the labour situation, though I cannot deal with it in detail; but I would like to assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service is among those who are most enthusiastic for the increase of holiday facilities this summer. The House can be assured of that. On the question of labour for the physical rehabilitation of houses and buildings, in relation to the labour demands of London and other areas affected by the flying bomb and other attacks, the balance is watched most closely; but the recently published figures of the situation in the London area must, I know, convince all who read them that the concentration of a very large labour force in London is absolutely essential for many weeks to come.

I should add a word in reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) on the question of the geographical limits of the Regulation. When that question is raised, it brings into the clearest focus the difficulties of supply and the difficulty there would have been had we proceeded by way of a Bill. Everyone would want to extend the area, but could a serious case be made for including Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland and not including the Eastern coast of Scotland? If the whole of that East coast were included, would not there be reason for including many areas in Wales? And if you included all the sea coast, would there not be a very substantial reason for including the inland holiday resorts as well, because they might have been no less, or no more, bombed than many of the areas on the coast? The question of geographical limits was repeatedly and most carefully considered. It is not the case that every local authority in the area laid down in the Regulation will get the opportunity of making these loans. It will be a matter on which I have to exercise discretion but I believe it will be found that those towns which are really desolated by the situation are all within the area that we have marked out, and that we have done what is fair.

If I may apply another test, we looked into the financial position of some of the other claimant towns on the North-East coast. In the Ministry of Health we have, of course, close knowledge of whether any individual local authority is able to meet its expenses by the rate which it raises; and whereas, of course, there are still very great deficiencies in that respect on the South-East coast and other areas included within the area under this Regulation, that is not the case in any town on the coast North of the Humber.

Major Braithwaite

If my right hon. Friend is prepared to agree such cases, is it not possible, if they could not come within the main scope of the Regulation, that the local authority could deal with this matter themselves?

Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)

Before my right hon. and learned Friend replies, may I say that Northumberland has been mentioned? That envisages the whole of the county of Northumberland. Whitley Bay is in Northumberland and it was very heavily damaged. I think it would be very much better to localise, rather than to give new places consideration.

Mr. Willink

I am most anxious that the impression should not be given that it is every town from the Humber to Land's End which will have the opportunity of making these loans, which, apart from this Regulation, would be ultra vires. But I should hesitate very much to have a Regulation covering either every town in the country or the whole coast. It was suggested, I think, at one time, that because a lot of people wanted to make holiday at Whitley Bay, this Regulation ought to cover Whitley Bay. Of course we hope that many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, will make holiday at Whitley Bay, but it is solvent and can meet its expenses from the rate which it raises, and there is no clearer criterion of whether a town is in a reasonable state of prosperity.

There is only one other point on which I desire to say a word. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of National Insurance greatly appreciates what was said last time about the usefulness of the survey he made. I have discussed this matter with him, but I venture to think that at this stage it would be difficult and unsatisfactory if all questions covering such a wide range—labour, the removal of mines, catering licences, this scheme of loans, the operations of the Board of Trade, and so on—all came through one Minister who was said to be co-ordinating or authoritative. I wonder whether it would equally meet the convenience of those who are interested in this matter and be equally helpful if I could arrange with my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir Robert Gower), who is the Chairman of the Defence Areas Committee, that he should send me a list of the subjects which are causing concern from time to time—or are causing concern now—and if I might let him have for circulation to his committee an indication of the Departments which should deal with each of those subjects most conveniently and expeditiously? I feel that those who are interested would get greater satisfaction from that than if, for example, I, or any other one Minister, should be a Minister through whom all these points passed before they reached the relevant Department.

I hope, because it seems to me to be the balance of the Debate, that the House really does not want to lose the benefit of this Regulation. At any rate, I ask that they should not take any step in that direction, because I should regret it very much.

Question, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order in Council, dated 23rd November, 1944, made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, 1939 to 1940, adding Regulation 68D to the Defence (General Regulations), 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on the 5th December, be annulled, put, and negatived.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.