HC Deb 05 November 1945 vol 415 cc944-63

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pearson.]

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Sidney Shephard (Newark)

The subject I am raising tonight is the continued requisition of industrial premises by Government Departments. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade who, I understand, is to reply, is not here, but I am sure that it is not through discourtesy on his part. The present position is causing grave anxiety to industry, and it is high time the Government made a statement giving some indication of when they will release all the industrial premises they now occupy. I put down a Question on 21st August asking the President of the Board of Trade how many square feet of industrial floor space had been requisitioned by the Government during the war, and how much had been returned to industry since V-Day. The answer was that the Government had requisitioned 150,000,000 square feet of industrial space, that by the end of July they were in process of returning 8,000,000, and that by the end of July they had returned 4,000,000. In order to ascertain what further progress was being made, I put a similar Question down in October, and in reply I was told that the Government were still in possession at the end of September of 138,000,000 square feet of industrial space.

That answer led me to believe that this matter was not being treated with the urgency that it demanded. We hear a good deal from the Government of the need of getting industry going at full speed. We have heard in the House a good deal about the need for labour and raw materials, for without them industry cannot function. It is equally true to say that with labour and raw materials but without manufacturing space industry cannot function. Government Departments are still in possession of vast areas of floor space capable of employing large numbers of workers. To give some idea of what that space means in terms of employment, the Board of Trade recently announced that they had handed over to civilian industry117 war factories with floor space of .35,000,000 ft., and that these factories would be capable of employing 220,000 workers. If we can take that as a basis, it means that the 138,000,000 ft. that the Government were in possession of at the end of September would provide work for something in the region of 900,000 men.

The chief offenders, if I may so describe them, are the Service Ministries and the Ministry of Supply and Aircraft Production. At the end of September the Admiralty were in possession of 22,000,000 feet, the Ministry of Supply and Aircraft Production of 21,500,000, and the Air Ministry of 8,250,000 feet. Although I put down a Question to the Secretary of State for War, he was unable to supply me with any figures, but it is obvious that the War Department has a very substantial area. This may be a difficult problem, but it must be tackled with the same urgency as the supply of labour and raw materials. While the problem remains, there are two aspects of vital importance. The first is that civilian production is being retarded, and the second, which is far worse, is that many employers will be unable to fulfil their reinstatement obligations to the men who are coming back to them from the Forces. I want to be fair to the President of the Board of Trade because he is only the requisitioning and derequisitioning authority. He only requisitions at the request of another Ministry, and he obviously cannot derequisition unless that Ministry is prepared to vacate the premises. The Service Ministries are notoriously unsympathetic to anything which is outside their own sphere. I know that if one approaches them, the usual answer is that they can do nothing unless they have alternative accommodation. The onus is then thrown back on the Board of Trade, who naturally at this stage are not willing to requisition further premises, so that the position remains as it is.

I understand that the Air Ministry have allocated certain airfields and hangars for storage purposes. That is a step in the right direction, and I would like the President of the Board of Trade to consider whether some use cannot be made of the redundant Royal Ordnance factories. Many of them are on a care and maintenance basis, and I am sure that they are very suitable for this purpose. It is the responsibility of the Board of Trade to get peace-time industry functioning at its highest level, and I want to put three questions to the Minister who will reply. I do not know who he will be, but presumably somebody must reply.

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

I am sure that the hon. Member will realise that we have reached this stage of the day's proceedings earlier than anyone anticipated. I am making a careful note for my right hon. and learned Friend, and we are in communication with the Department. I hope that someone will be here, and if he can read my writing he will endeavour to reply to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Shephard

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says. I said at the outset that I knew it was not a question of discourtesy. In fact, I had a word with the Minister before the House sat. These are the three questions to which I should like an answer: First, will the tempo of derequisitioning be accelerated? Second, will pressure be brought to bear on those Ministries which are reactionary in this matter? Third, will the President give us an approximate date when the whole of requisitioned industrial premises will be vacated by Government Departments and returned to industry?

Colonel Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

On a point of Order. May I ask what steps we can take to get a Minister here? It must have been obvious to hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench for some time that the Motion for the Adjournment would soon be moved. My hon. Friend has been talking for ten minutes, and it is turning these proceedings into a farce if a representative of the Ministry cannot be here.

Captain Prescott (Darwen)

Further to that point of Order. The Parliamentary Private Secretary to the President of the Board of Trade was here a few minutes ago. Was an indication sent to the President that the ordinary proceedings of the House were about to terminate?

Mr. Ede

My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury had anticipated that there would be considerable opposition to the Bank of England Money Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) earlier indicated that some attention is paid by hon. Gentlemen opposite to the criticism of their behaviour in letting Government business get through quickly, and we anticipated that, while he found himself unable to oppose the Bill which I previously submitted, there would be some prolonged discussion on the Bank of England Money Resolution. The means by which we are endeavouring to get a representative of the Board of Trade here is to ask for him over the telephone. I have every reason to believe that he will not be long delayed. In the meantime, I am taking as full a note as possible, and I hope we may be able to proceed with the Debate on that assurance.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)

I rise to support the request which has been made by the hon. Member who opened the Debate because this matter, apart from the Party point of view, is of great importance to the industrial life of this nation. I come from an area—Stoke-on-Trent—where normally we produce all kinds of earthenware and china. During the war a great many of our premises were requisitioned for various war purposes, and particularly for storing goods. We were able to divert much of the labour previously employed in the pottery industry into the production of munitions of war, and that both provided work for the people, and enabled the floor space to be available for other purposes. Now that production in the war factories is no longer necessary, people are most anxious to get back into civilian production, and in my area, manufacturers are most anxious to get back into the production of earthenware and china. In fact, a local manufacturer came to see me during the weekend, and explained his difficulties in the production of glazed tiles, which we shall want in great numbers for housing purposes, in the next few weeks and months, and possibly for years ahead. He asked me to make most urgent representations to the Government on this matter.

As the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Shephard) has said, Questions have been asked from time to time, in this House, and the Prime Minister gave us a statement in which he expressed the hope that, by the end of the year, there would be encouraging news to the effect that much industrial space would be released. Indeed, he said that nothing would stand in the way of the Government's freeing much of the factory space which is now not used. He said that goods would even be dumped in the open fields—at least I gather that he said so—and that the greatest urgency would be applied to the problem, but I gathered that there were difficulties of transportation and so on. I urge that this is a matter of great moment in the turnover from wartime to peacetime economy. Some of our factories have been closed down, and I am particularly concerned with the provision of employment, as well as with getting into the export market, and providing the components for the houses which are so urgently needed. I know that many hundreds of people have been liberated from some of the munition factories, and that manufacturers, as soon as they have a reasonable chance of getting hold of their premises and putting their house in order, will do so and provide work for their people I believe that the Government are fully aware of the urgency of this matter, and I am hopeful that some good news will be forthcoming in the reply.

5.4 p.m.

Captain Prescott (Darwen)

I rise to support the arguments so well put forward by my hon. Friends. I am delighted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is now with us; he is very welcome in the House, as indeed he was in Darwen, where he helped to increase my majority by many thousands. Perhaps he will forgive me if I repeat one or two figures given by my hon. Friend, because however full the note that was taken for him, I think those figures should be repeated. I, and I think many hon. Members in all quarters of this House, feel grave concern about the large amount of industrial floor space held for Government purposes. As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Shephard) the Board of Trade is both the requisitioning, the derequisitioning authority, and it is, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that we address ourselves tonight.

As a result of Questions put by my hon. Friends on this side of the House, it was elicited that during the period of the war, some 150,000,000 square feet were under requisition. I understand that in September last the figure was 138,000,000. Therefore, only a comparatively small area has been derequisitioned, and tonight we ask the President of the Board of Trade for an assurance that this matter is being dealt with as expeditiously as possible. In view of the fact that the Board of Trade very largely acts as the agent for other Government Departments, I put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the possibility that the demands of other Government Departments are excessively estimated. If he and his Department would look more closely into this matter it might be possible to release more speedily a considerable area which is still under requisition.

It must, I think, be obvious to the House that however speedily we demobilise the Forces, however readily raw materials are made available, those two things by themselves will count for nothing in peacetime production, unless the industrial floor space has been made available to the various concerns who rightly claim it now. We urge that this is a matter of very great and grave importance. No political issue at all is involved, and this matter is raised in no political spirit, but merely to ventilate something which we feel should rightly be brought to the attention of the night hon. and learned Gentleman. However eager employers may be to provide employment for returning ex-Servicemen, one thing is obvious, and that is that their premises, or an adequate part of them, must be returned in order that they may fulfil their obligations. Of course, it would have been stupid for us in this House in the last Parliament to have passed the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, if its. effect was rendered nugatory because Government Departments unnecessarily and unwisely held on to industrial floor space which, in fact, they no longer needed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark gave some figures which I think were very startling. He asserted—and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will contradict it if it isinaccurate—that a floor space of 138,000,000 square feet could provide employment for some 900,000. If that is a fact, then surely it is a matter which deserves the closest possible scrutiny. I would refer to one example which I think is relevant although it does not actually concern industrial premises. I own a small house. Half of that house has been requisitioned for a considerable time. I have no objection to that; it can remain under requisition as long as the Government Department requires it, but if it was derequisitioned now, I would make it available to some of the people who require housing accommodation. In point of fact, three-quarters of the requisitioned, area is never used. It stands empty, I cannot use it and I cannot allow other people who desire housing accommodation to use it. If the same attitude is adopted with regard to industrial floor space, it would seem possible that many hundreds of thousands of square feet are requisitioned at this present moment when they need not be.

I do not think I need weary the House by underlining any further the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark. He put three questions to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade; a note was taken of them by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and I hope they will be answered. I would only add that in Darwen, with which the right hon. Gentleman and myself are both familiar, this is a pressing problem. If it be pressing in that town, it must be equally pressing in many other towns and we ask that the President of the Board of Trade, who acts very largely as an agent in these matters, should not take the figures and demands of other Departments as they are presented to him, but should scrutinise them most carefully, and while retaining all floor space which is necessary in the national interest, ensure that as much as can be derequisitioned is derequisitioned at the earliest possible moment, because we believe it to be in the national interest that that course should be taken.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. Collins (Taunton)

As a manufacturer with a number of factories, I must support what has already been said about the extreme urgency of this matter of derequisitioning. I feel sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be able to give us an assurance on the first point raised by the hon. Member who opened this Debate, namely, that derequisitioning will be accelerated. What I feel is very important in addition, however, is that we should be given some knowledge of the concrete proposals and measures by which derequisitioning will be accelerated. I think we are entitled to know the methods which it is intended to pursue. With regard to the third point mentioned, I do not see how it is possible for anyone, at this time, to state with any degree of accuracy even the approximate date by which derequisitioning will be complete. I am sure that all hon. Members could quote many instances all over the country of premises, many of them empty, which are not being put to any visible use, but which the manufacturers who require them very badly cannot obtain for the re-employment of men already demobilised or about to be demobilised. It is urgently necessary to speed up this matter so that manufacturers submitting their applications, particularly in respect of premises which are empty, may have an early answer.

Only today I have submitted to my right hon. and learned Friend a case in my own Division of manufacturers who are engaged on very urgent and important work and who, for the last three years, have been sharing premises with other manufacturers under a tenancy agreement. They now have to find other premises; they exercised a good deal of forethought, and for 12 months have been looking round for suitable premises. They have actually found empty premises and have been in negotiation with the Regional officer of the Board of Trade, who has been most helpful. But here they come up against a point that was mentioned before, namely the difficulty of inducing the other Department concerned to come to a definite decision, when there is no visible or even invisible reason why a definite decision should not be arrived at. I know another case which affected myself. We wanted another factory, and as it was for the production of furniture it is urgently needed now. We saw a factory which, at that time, was filled with coffins for the American Army. Very fortunately, the purpose for which those coffins were made will not arise. Eventually, to our surprise, when the coffins were taken away, the British Army took over the factory, and although we cannot find out for what purpose they are using it, we are not allowed to have it.

In many parts of the country, and particularly in my Division, there is a number of camps, many of which would be eminently suitable for turning into trading estates and factory colonies. On Saturday last I was discussing the matter with the secretary of the development association in Taunton, and he gave me a list of seven different firms which were awaiting factory space. In the South-West we badly need auxiliary industries in order to maintain employment; yet firms are not given any idea as to when these buildings may be available. This matter affects agriculture as well. In a very exposed part of Exmoor, where there is a really urgent need for farm buildings, there are disused buildings which have been empty for a long time, but here again, although the farmers would be very willing to take over those buildings for a variety of very useful purposes, no information can be obtained as to when they are likely to be released. I know of another instance where for several years a fairly large building has been used for the storage of furniture which might have been required for evacuees; that furniture is still in the building, although no doubt there would be a very good market for it, and it is urgently needed elsewhere. I have no doubt that these points are receiving urgent attention and I can understand that they take time for adjustment, but is is now time for the most urgent representations to be made to the Departments concerned, which ought to show a real reason why the premises cannot be released.

Reference has been made to the possibility that some of the buildings are still being used for storage, and it has been said that it is impossible to find other suitable accommodation to enable the buildings to be released for manufacturing purposes. There is one matter which I think ought to be taken up. There are many airfields, having good hard roadways, which are not being used. Those hard roadways would make good standing grounds for a large variety of materials which would not deteriorate to any extent if they were so placed. I suggest that any such materials which are now in buildings suitable for manufacturing and trading purposes should be moved out and put on to standing grounds of this sort. I urge that this matter be given the most urgent consideration and that, wherever possible, the buildings be emptied and their contents transferred, so that the buildings may be derequisitioned. This should be done at once so that industry may be given the opportunity of acquiring and using the buildings.

5.19 p.m.

Mr. Attewell (Harborough)

I wish to refer to derequisitioning of buildings relative to the boot and shoe industry. I have sat on many committees within the industry throughout the period of concentration and I have knowledge of the difficulties as a result of interviews with Government Departments. I appreciate fully the difficult situation which now confronts the Government, but I want to appeal to Government Departments to press forward with all speed in the derequisitioning of factories in order that there may be de-concentration of the firms. Many of the firms with which I am connected as a trade union official were concentrated in one of two ways; either they were concentrated within themselves, giving up floor space or they were concentrated with other firms and vacated the whole of their premises. I know the difficulties which face the Government in this respect. Where whole factories were vacated, the factories were in many cases taken over by recently created firms, and a great deal of money was spent in placing those firms in a position in which they could carry on their new wartime activities. One can understand that there is a certain amount of reluctance in handing back the factories until the job for which they were taken over is completed.

Nevertheless, in the boot and shoe industry, we feel that we must look ahead to the coming months when our people will be returning from the Services. It will be impossible to employ these returning Service men and women unless we are able to obtain the maximum space. In the boot and shoe industry each individual man or woman operative has a different job, one following upon the other, and consequently a great deal of floor space is called for. It is true that an increase in floor space would not lead to an immediate increase in output. I could not honestly say at this moment that if there were deconcentration the boot and shoe industry would give a greater output. We could not do so, because we are conditioned by the materials available. But we are looking to the months immediately ahead, and we ask that the pledge that was given to our manufacturers should be honoured. There has been some doubt expressed. Some of the firms who are in the factories that were vacated, feeling that they have Government backing, seem to be bold in retaining the factories until they have themselves looked around to find floor space for themselves. I do not think there is any truth in those doubts. I think the Government will honour the pledge that was given to our manufacturers, who were among the first to concentrate and who have, I believe, given less trouble to the Government than many other trades have done.

But the main point is this. In this process of concentration, in which the operatives of two firms were placed in one factory, the operatives have had to work under conditions that have been far from beneficial to their health. Many of the factories in which they are working at the present time are lacking in many of the essentials which the Factory Acts state should obtain. In the course of my trade union activities, I have seen the factory inspector and we have had to agree that in the circumstances of war we could not expect the Factory Acts to be fully carried out. Nevertheless, these men and women should not be expected to work under such conditions a moment longer than is necessary. There is, then, the question of travel. London is a unit, but it is a pretty large unit when it is a question of people coming from South London to work in North London. Often the operatives find that when their firm has been concentrated and they have to go to the factory of another firm, it involves a long daily journey, and with the approach of the winter this will cause a terrific strain upon their health. I ask the Government to do everything they can to release these factories, and to give us an opportunity to increase our production so that we may be able to supply foot wear not only to the men and women of this country but to the world.

5.26 p.m.

Mr. Deer (Lincoln)

I crave the indulgence of the House on rising to make my maiden speech. My reason for intervening in this Debate is that I have had some experience while acting as a representative on one of the regional boards dealing with this matter. I reinforce the appeals that have been made to the President of the Board of Trade to give more power to the regional boards in dealing with this matter of derequisitioning. Personally, I have no complaints whatever regarding the recent regional changes and developments in the Board of Trade machinery. Considerable advances have been made since the regional machinery was improved and perfected by the Board of Trade.

I want to urge the President of the Board of Trade to have the courage to take risks in releasing factories. It is true that there may be some articles, either wholly manufactured or partly manufactured, that might deteriorate if they were placed in the open, but I suggest it would be sound economy to take that risk. The time that is being wasted in dealing with these stores represents a greater loss to the country than any loss that would be caused by deterioration of the stores. In the North Midland region there was a large firm which had come from Coventry into Nottinghamshire. This firm ceased production over 12 months ago, but so far as I know, the factory has not yet been cleared. At one period a staff of 400 people was dealing with the distribution of the remaining goods, which had to be allocated, valued and got rid of. I suggest that if it had been possible to clear that particular factory both of manufactured products and partly manufactured products, whatever might have been lost as a result of the stored articles going into the open or elsewhere would have been more than balanced by the saving of 400 people's time in stock-taking in a factory that had been shut down. That is the sort of thing we want to avoid.

I do not think that all the blame rests with Government Departments. Obviously, when a factory is requisitioned, various structural and other alterations take place and these have to be dealt with and settled when the particular firm who have gone in have to come out and the factory is restored to its normal purpose. I am told that there are endless financial wrangles over the value of the alterations to property during the wartime period. That ought to be short circuited. I think it would be possible for some particular deciding figure to be given by the Board of Trade and the factory to be cleared, and if the figure was not satisfactory they could settle by arbitration afterwards what the financial obligation should be. To keep a factory idle because they cannot agree on the price of a wall that has been put up in order to divide the factory is foolish when we are dealing with the problem of returning quickly to postwar production.

My final word is that with the reconstruction of the Regional Boards, and with the additional industrialists, other than engineers, who are now advising the Board of Trade, there ought to be the machinery and the advice to help the President of the Board of Trade to accelerate the change over from wartime to peacetime production. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to use that machinery to the fullest extent in order to hasten the day when we shall get back from wartime to peacetime production.

5.32 p.m.

Colonel Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

My first and very pleasant duty is to congratulate the two hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches—the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Attewell) and the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Deer). Both of them have shown in their speeches three qualities which always make a success of any speech in this House: the first is brevity, the second is keeping to the point and the third is a real practical knowledge of their subject. I am sure that the whole House enjoyed their contributions very much, and we hope to hear them again on these subjects on which they are obviously so well informed. I think all of us must be grateful to my hon. Friend for having given the opportunity for a short discussion on this extremely important matter. Probably no one is more grateful than the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, because in this case I am sure the arguments that have been put to him are arguments with which he agrees, and his interest is the same as the interest of all of us in the House, and that is, to get the de-requisitioning done as quickly as possible in order to restart trade.

I am not going again over points so well put by hon. Members. There is only one point to which I want to refer. In this matter the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the defender of trade interests against the defenders of the Service interests, and I hope this Debate will have the effect of giving him self-confidence if he feels at all shy in the presence of his Service colleagues. I remember sitting, not so very long ago, on a Committee with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I know that when it comes to matters of this kind the Service Departments are really like limpets. They stick to factory space and storage capacity to the death, and they can only be prised off it by the use of very considerable force. For any particular case by itself they can nearly always put up a good defence. I am talking particularly about the release of space now used for storage. They could not put as good a case no was in the summer, because then they could refer to materials which might be wanted for the Japanese war which, if they were stored under less favourable conditions, might deteriorate, with ill effects from the military point of view. But they can nearly always plead that, if they were to be made to vacate some certain storage which actually meets their requirements and keep the things either in the open or under less favourable conditions, it would lead to some deterioration, and when it came to a question of disposal that would mean some loss in value and therefore of money for the Treasury.

All of us in this House are prepared for this. It is a question of the balance of advantage. It may well be worth facing some monetary loss to the Treasury owing to deterioration of certain stores which have been disposed of when you put that against the greater loss to the nation by depriving trade, particularly export trade, of the use of floor space. I am sure that all my hon. Friends on this side of the House will realise that argument perfectly and that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman at some future date says, "I am bound to admit that the Treasury, by disposal, has suffered some loss because these goods were turned out in the open air," we shall all say that the right decision was taken and we shall all be prepared to back it. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will hold his end up against his Service colleagues and put this matter through as soon as he can.

5.37 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)

I should like to join with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite in his congratulations to the two hon. Members who made their maiden speeches this afternoon, and to say that I shall always be delighted to hear contributions from either side of the House, maiden speeches or otherwise, which are as constructive as the suggestions which they have put forward this afternoon. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were, first, to state the facts up to the most recent date for which we have them, and then answer the questions as regards how we are dealing with this matter and what we hope to be able to do. As the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Shephard) remarked in his opening speech, we have reduced the 150,000,000 square feet, which was the original figure which had been requisitioned for storage purposes, to 138,000,000 square feet by the end of September, and since then it has been reduced by rather more than 2,000,000 square feet further; but that is not quite the full measure of what has been done. As hon. Members will appreciate, it takes a little time to clear and to get the various final arrangements completed when premises are derequisitioned. We have a method by which requests to vacate are issued immediately the occupying Departments undertake to ask to derequisition the premises. Thereafter it may take a month or so, or even longer in some cases, to get the premises emptied, but the Departments who are in occupation have determined to finish their occupation, and that means to say that inter-Departmentally we have solved the problem. Then it becomes merely a physical problem of doing what is necessary in order to clear the premises.

At the end of September requests to vacate had been given for rather over 25,000,000 square feet, and by the end of October, 32,000,000 square feet. It is hoped, therefore, that, as a target, by the end of this year 35,000,000 square feet will actually have been vacated, and it is hoped that the whole of the rest of the premises, with possible small exceptions, will be vacated by the end of 1946. That is the target at which we are presently aiming. This is not a matter which one can carry through haphazard, because it is no good vacating premises where there is no labour or raw material ready in order that those premises may be utilised. One wants to maintain storage in premises as long as they cannot be used effectively for anything else, so that one can vacate premises which can at once be used for something else.

We have drawn up a list of three priorities: the first are to be vacated by the end of the year, the second by the middle of next year, and the third in the last half of next year. In determining those priorities we have taken into consideration these matters. First we have regard to the need of the Development Areas, because that is where we anticipate the greatest difficulty will arise in keeping the people employed and giving employment to those who return after demobilisation. Secondly, we concentrate on those industries which can best contribute to the restoration of our export trade, because that is, from the production point of view, the most vital matter that we have to face. Thirdly, we take into consideration meeting the general needs of the public for consumer goods, which are at present in short supply. Over and above those three particular matters we naturally have regard, in association with the Ministry of Labour, to the figures of unemployment, or of the potential unemployment which seems likely to arise in any particular area, and having regard to this, we allocate the priorities under which various premises are to be vacated.

We have not, fortunately, met with any great opposition from the Service Ministers. In some cases they are in very real difficulties. It will be appreciated by the House that the Admiralty, in particular, has lost a very large part of its prewar storage premises. After the bombing of the ports a very great volume of Admiralty storage was found outside, and even though the war is not still on, it is necessary, in order to maintain the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, to have a volume of stores behind the various Services in this country, and some accommodation must be found for these stores. Those stores which are not surplus but which are required for the Services for the next year or so. Therefore, owing to the destruction of the normal storage facilities, it is necessary to maintain for a period longer some alternative premises in which those valuable stores can be placed. That deals with what is still required for the Services.

There is, of course, a vast quantity of surplus goods that are no longer required for the Services. Each week now more and more goods are being declared surplus by the various Services. We have already taken the step of instructing those who are responsible for clearing these premises that they are not to pay undue attention to the preservation of the value of these stores. We have told them that it is more important from the national point of view to clear the premises than to preserve the stores. When I get "called over the coals," as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests that I may do at some subsequent stage, I shall call in aid what he has said tonight. Clearly the most urgent matter today is to get the capacity that is required to re-employ our people when they are demobilised or when they come out of the munition industries.

We propose, therefore, to take the most drastic measures, and we have already done what one, hon. Member suggested we might do; that is to say, we are using airfields for storing surplus goods, out of doors if necessary, and taking the risk of their deterioration. There is one difficulty about storage on airfields, which is that generally they are remote, and often very remote, from industrial districts, and the transport problem which arises is very serious indeed. At the present time, with the need for moving coal, food and all other necessary materials in the country, it is very difficult to find a sufficient volume of transport to move all the goods that need to be moved, or, indeed, to find a sufficient volume of labour to move them, the labour being, as a rule, of a type which is very competitive with the need for building labour. However, we are, I hope, organising it to the best of our ability, and, at the present moment, I do not think we are holding anything up.

Regarding the question of what organisation we are adopting to do this, under the Board of Trade, this is dealt with by one or two Departments, and we have asked General Lindsell, who is probably well known to hon. Members of the House as an efficient administrator with great experience of the movement of goods during the war, to take charge of this job, and he has consented. It is, perhaps, an advantage to have a military man when dealing with military people in regard to the clearing of storage space, and there is no doubt at all that, as soon as he took hold of this job, he organised it in such a way as will very much expedite the procedure of de-requisitioning.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

Is it not possible to sell some of these stores instead of re-dispersing them?

Sir S. Cripps

I am coming to that in a moment. I am dealing, at the moment, with surplus stores which are unsaleable, or very largely so. The demand for second-hand tanks, for instance, is very small. As regards the method of organisation, we have, in addition, set up a network of regional controllers in order to decentralise this work as far as possible, because I think it is obvious, as the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Deer) suggested, that things can often be dealt with more rapidly in the Regions than by coming to Headquarters. We hope, in that matter, to have the assistance of the Regional Boards, who are, I think, fully acquainted with our regional organisation, and of the National Advisory Committee on production, who have had the whole matter explained to them. With that new machinery, which has only been functioning for a few weeks, we hope that we shall get a very considerable acceleration of the process.

As regards the class of goods to which the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) referred a moment ago, goods which might be sold to the public quickly, we are taking every step to see that they are put on the market as soon as possible, but the hon. Member will bear in mind that a White Paper was issued by the last Government, or the last Government but one, which laid down the method by which these disposals should take place. Broadly speaking, it laid down that, where possible, the disposal should take place through the normal channels of trade, in order that there should be a reasonable dispersal throughout the country, and that one particular district would not get an advantage over another. That method is being carried out. We are not going to stick too rigidly to it, and, if we find, in any particular case, that it interferes with quick clearance of goods, we shall adopt other methods, but, broadly speaking, we shall stick to that at least as long as it seems to be working satisfactorily. The actual volume of goods which can be quickly disposed of to the civilian population is very small—furniture, cups and saucers, pots and pans, some clothing and materials of that kind—but the bulkiest goods are things like propellers for aeroplanes, which do not have a ready sale at the present time. They are an expense to break down, and there is no profit in them at all. If paid, someone might take them away. There is a large volume of goods which have no value at all beyond the value of the scrap which can be got from them and they are the bulkiest to handle. Ammunition, too, has to be broken down before it can be safe for any use at all. But we have all these matters fully in mind.

I hope that, by continuing along these lines, we shall be able to show, by the end of the year a very substantial measure of de-requisitioning, and be able to clear out, to all intents and purposes, by the end of next year. We feel that, if we can do that, we shall, if we are fairly accurate in our priorities, keep pace with the demands for capacity arising from a freer flow of raw materials and from demobilised and other labour which is coming along. One hon. Member mentioned boots and shoes and said, very justly, that, if we did derequisition footwear premises at this moment we would not get any more footwear, because there is no material or labour, as is the case in many other trades. We have these matters well in view, and if any hon. Member, at any time, will draw my attention to any particular case in which he feels that the reinstitution of normal trade is being held up, I shall be only too glad to have it inquired into at once, because, although we try to do our best, it is quite obvious that, with such a large and widely spread area, it is quite impossible to certify that we do not overlook some case which may be quite important. I would, therefore, very much welcome the assistance of hon. Members in trying to do what I am sure we all want to do, that is, get these premises back again to their normal manufacture as rapidly as we possibly can.

Mr. Shephard

Would the Minister tell the House whether he intends to make use of any of these redundant Royal Ordnance Factories, some of which are now on a care-and-maintenance basis? With regard to airfields and hangars released by the Air Ministry, are they restricted to use by the Air Ministry or made available to other Ministries?

Sir S. Cripps

We are definitely taking over a number of suitable airfields for this purpose. Under an arrangement with the Air Ministry, we have got a certain number of airfields, conveniently located, and we are using them for this purpose. In regard to the Ordnance Factories, in nearly every case these have either been allotted to industrialists for manufacturing or are continuing to manufacture such things as housing fitments and so on for the Ministry of Supply. There are one or two special cases, such as underground factories, which are now being used for storage purposes for machine tools and things of that kind. We are anxious, where there are quite new factory buildings, not to use them for storage; we would rather use some old buildings for storage and make available the new factories for productive enterprise.