There are many respects in which this war differs from any previous war in the history of this country. One is the fact that it involves very large movements of population from one part of the country to another. It will be agreed, particularly by those who have had experience of the problem, either at the evacuation end or at the reception end, that the degree of satisfaction with which this problem is handled is of very great moment to our war effort. We thought it desirable, before departing for the Whitsun Recess, to take this opportunity of dealing with problems connected with these large movements of people. I think it will be agreed that the migration of people at the request of various Government Departments is not likely to decrease, but rather to increase, in future. Therefore, the problem will well repay attention by this House; and we hope that, as a result of this discussion, some much-needed improvement will be secured.
There are now five clearly defined movements of population which can be summed up as evacuation. There is, first, the official movement of certain classes by the Government, for which the Minister of Health is responsible. That is the Government's official evacuation scheme, for children of school age and for mothers and children who are under school age, from vulnerable to reception areas. Secondly, there is the unofficial evacuation from vulnerable to less vulnerable areas, which has become a very big problem. Thirdly, for the first time, I think, we have a very large army, amounting to millions, in this country, providing its own problems of reception and billeting. Fourthly, there is the movement of war workers from areas where industries either have closed down themselves or have been deliberately closed down by Government policy to places where the war industries are situated. Then there are at certain periods—I do not want to refer to places by name—emergency evacuations from certain places to other places. These are the kinds of evacuation, all of which, in a sense, if they are not interwoven, at least overlap one another and very often create very serious problems indeed.
There are now about 10 Government Departments which are concerned with the movements of various sections of the population for the reasons I have mentioned. It has become essential that there shall be the closest—I hesitate to use the word "co-ordination"in this House, as it is a very much overworked word, and has not a very good history, having regard to some of the coordinators we have seen on the opposite side of the House, and I would rather prefer to use a word which I think was popularised in this country by a very distinguished fellow-countryman of my own, Robert Owen—co-operation It is a much better word than co-ordination. I therefore want, first of all, to press upon the Minister, and to ask him, Are complete steps being taken to secure that the Government Departments which are concerned with the movement of population and all the problems that arise out of that movement have the closest possible co-operation, and do they plan this job out together? There is evidence—we see it, certainly, in the reception areas—that there is not that close co-operation. There is a great deal of competition for available accommodation and for billets, which is very undesirable indeed, and is leading, oftentimes, to very undesirable complications. I therefore begin by asking, What is the co-operation that exists among Ministers? Is there a common plan? It is very desirable that there should be, and I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us on that point.
Before the war broke out, using the information which was then available to them— and I make no complaint about this, as we are all victims of circumstances, in a sense—the Government divided this country into three kinds of areas. One kind was described as "vulnerable" areas, which, in the opinion of the Government, acting upon the information they had, were likely to be the subject of enemy attack. The second kind of area was described as "neutral" areas, which might become secondary targets, but were not very likely to suffer much from enemy action, and were therefore areas to which populations would not be moved and from which there would be no evacuation. There were, thirdly, "reception" areas, which were regarded as being safe and to which evacuation could take place, particularly the evacuation of the priority classes. As far as I know, that classification still exists, though the circumstances of the war have been changed. It is now over 12 months since the fall of France, which had a very profound influence indeed upon this classification, and very early after that we urged upon the Government that this classification should be abolished because it did not then meet the circumstances at all.
There are towns which have been very badly affected and have been blitzed continuously but which until quite recently, almost until a few days ago, were still regarded by the Government as being neutral areas. I urge that the time has come for a new classification, as now we are in a better position to estimate; or to judge what areas should be called. I suggest that the term "neutral" should be cut out altogether. It is meaningless and pointless; it serves no purpose at all, and we ought to abolish it. The two areas which remain to be classified are those areas which are vulnerable and those which are reception areas, and I think it is possible to do that now with a good deal more knowledge than when we did it in the early days, even before the war. Which are the areas which can be regarded as reasonably safe for the whole period of the war? I think that that can be decided. The technique of German bombing, the kind of targets for which they go, all these things, are now very much better known to us than at any previous period in the war, and I think that we can lay it down reasonably that there are towns, villages, areas and counties in this country which can now be regarded as safe.
I suggest that these areas, having been denned as reception areas No. 1, should be the areas to which the priority classes — mothers, children under five, and school children— should be evacuated. Many of them have not been evacuated to these areas, but are in areas which, if not vulnerable, are in dangerous proximity to areas which are very vulnerable indeed. That is the first suggestion that I make to the Minister, and I hope that he will consider it now, during the summer months. There has been more than one evacuation from London to a certain part of the country, and then a re-evacuation, and I think it will be agreed that the re-evacuation of school children creates almost more problems than the original evacuation. It is very desirable, now that we have the knowledge fixed firmly in our minds, to define the places to which we can evacuate school children, mothers, and children of five, where we can reasonably expect them to be left for the whole duration of the war. I make that suggestion to begin with.
I believe it has become essential—and I put this forward as a suggestion to meet the very difficult problem of the Minister —to have a zone around all the places in the country which have already become vulnerable or are likely to become vulnerable. That is essential to meet the problem I have already indicated in trying to classify the kinds of evacuation. I put forward the suggestion. —it has been put forward elsewhere—to the Minister, as one which deserves every consideration, and it is, that around the vulnerable areas there should be a zone or a belt 25 or 30 miles deep, away from the area—if on the coast, inland, and if in the centre of the country, around it. These areas should be cleared of evacuees, if there are already evacuees there, who should be moved to other areas where they can live, in order that we may create around those areas places where there can be the reception of emergency evacuation. That, I think, has become very necessary. Everyone who knows these blitzed towns and their problems knows perfectly well that these problems are among the most difficult of all. Oftentimes you get it now. I know from my own experience, in an area that I know very well, that already the accommodation is taxed to its utmost capacity by evacuees who have come very long distances. They are there — mothers and children. Secondly, we meet the problem— and it is a tremendous problem— that in addition to this, with our accommodation already taxed almost to the utmost, suddenly we get this emergency evacuation. It has to be met; it is a problem. I am putting forward the suggestion to the Minister that the way to meet it is to clear a belt of 25 or 30 miles around these vulnerable areas in order to keep it for emergency evacuation.
The Minister knows perfectly well that this creates some of the biggest problems with which we have to deal in this country. So much for classification.
Let me come to the reception side of the question. I wish to refer to one or two of the administrative problems which arise in this connection. First, there is the question of the reception units. In the original scheme, and in the scheme which is now being operated, the Government decided that the appropriate authority to act as the reception unit was the smaller authority— the rural or urban district council as the case might be. I have held the view from the beginning, and all that I have seen of this problem at the reception end has confirmed that view, that the smaller local authorities are not the best authorities to handle this question. They have not the staffs. Few of them have any full-time officials at all. Many of them have only a part-time clerk, or even a part-time surveyor, or a part-time medical officer of health. I think the country ought to be profoundly grateful to these smaller local authorities for the way in which they have set about tackling this large problem, but it imposes too heavy a burden upon them and they are not, as I say, the authorities best equipped to deal with this matter.
I may add a second consideration. Apart from the question of the authority it self being too small and its staff inadequate to deal with the problem, its area is not large enough. It does not offer the kind of reception scope which is required in order to meet the situation in the most satisfactory way. Therefore, I urge a reconsideration of that aspect of the matter, and that throws upon me the responsibility of offering certain suggestions. There is a question to which I do not wish to refer at length to-day because, I believe, it is to be debated fully on another occasion, namely, the question of the regions. I would only say this about the regions. Some time or other, this House will have to make up its mind on the subject of regional organisation. I am not much enamoured of it myself. It is a piece of bureaucracy of which I sometimes become rather frightened. No body knows how much power the Regional Commissioners have, and there is a good deal of "hush-hush" about it, and many things which I do not like. The suggestion has been made, however, that all this matter with which I have been dealing should be handed over to the regions, and I leave that question for the fuller Debate which we are to have on a later occasion. But, speaking for my own area, I would express the opinion that it is not the urban or rural district council or the town council which ought to be the reception unit; it is the county council. The county councils have developed enormously in the last two years. Their personnel has developed, their experience has developed, and they have wide services of every kind. I would urge, therefore, speaking as I say for my own county, and, I think, for every county in the area which I know best, that the Minister should consider the suggestion that the best authority to handle this problem is the county authority.
I come to the next problem of importance in the reception areas, and that is the problem of accommodation. If the Minister and the Government take what I think is the general view among most of those who have studied this matter, including local-government workers, that the county and not the smaller body, should be the unit, certain further considerations arise. I have already indicated that in my view official evacuation, movements of war workers, movements of men in the Services, unofficial evacuation and so forth, are all likely to increase. Therefore, the problem of accommodation in the reception areas becomes of great importance. I do not know whether the Government have made a real, thorough survey of the accommodation available in the reception areas, but I have grave doubts whether such a survey has yet been made. It is true that questions have been asked in these areas as to who can take evacuees and so forth, but I think it important that there should be at the earliest opportunity—now, during the summer months—a complete survey of accommodation in the reception areas. It has been suggested that this accommodation should be classified, that there should be a survey, first, of all large buildings which could be taken over for hospitals, or used for other emergency purposes, a survey of all halls, all cinemas, all big houses and their accommodation facilities. All that is very desirable. It is a very bad thing to bring 200 or 300 people to a district and find that no facilities to house them are available for 48 hours or perhaps three or four days. Secondly, it is suggested that a survey should be made of all empty houses and shops and finally of all private dwellings, not only as to the accommodation available in them, but, what is equally important, as to what kind of evacuees would be best fitted into the circumstances of the particular home. I urge on the Minister a survey of this kind should be undertaken at once.
Having by this survey discovered what accommodation is available, the Government ought to use their powers and to say, "This accommodation belongs to the nation" There is going on in these reception areas, and I speak frankly about it, an awful rent ramp. I know that very often one cannot blame the people themselves. They get offers of high rents, and, acting on the capitalist morality, they take the most they can get. This is the example which they have had from very much higher quarters. On the other hand, there are people—and I do not blame them either—who feel that they simply cannot stand the blitz any longer and who go 20 or 30 miles out from the towns and offer fabulous sums for furnished rooms. They get there first and take all the accommodation available, and when much more deserving cases arrive there is no room for them. I think, therefore, that having made a survey such as I suggest, the Government should say: "All this accommodation belongs to us and we shall need rationing of accommodation in order that it may be used to the best advantage for the purposes of the nation."
Those are some of the administrative problems which need attention, and I turn now to the question of evacuation it self. The decision on whether evacuation, particularly of the priority classes, should be compulsory or not, is a very difficult one. I note with some interest, according to a statement in the Press, that even the Nazis, who are past-masters in the art of compelling everybody, who live upon ruthless compulsion, have hesitated—I think it is in Hamburg—to introduce compulsory evacuation. If anything were required to show the difficulty of this problem, that fact does so. But while I appreciate its great difficulty for the Government, I have always felt that it is an even more difficult problem for the woman who has to decide whether she will evacuate her own children or not. I sometimes ask myself whether it is quite fair to place the responsibility upon her. Sometimes I am inclined to veer round to the view that we ought to take full compulsory powers ourselves. As it is, we let the woman herself decide whether she and her family will go away or not. Everyone knows how deeply-rooted is family life in this country. It is more deeply rooted among working-class people than among others, because the families of the working class live together so much more, and in their case it is placing a tremendous responsibility on a woman to ask her to decide whether her family is to go or not. Sometimes, as I say, I am worried about whether we are doing the right thing in refusing to decide the matter ourselves. I gather that in certain circumstances, in the case of invasion, for example, we shall decide this matter ourselves. Candidly, I see little difference between what is termed- invasion and what is termed the blitz. After all, the blitz is a kind of invasion. I cannot urge the Government to reconsider the matter now, but I do urge them to prepare for the time when they may have to make up their minds about compulsory evacuation.
Therefore, we must assume that evacuation will go on for the time being on the voluntary basis, and I now come to the two classes for which the Ministry of Health is definitely responsible—mothers and their young children and school children between the ages of five and 16. With regard to the children of school-leaving age, I think they have fitted in reasonably well, and I know my hon. Friends from evacuation areas will not object to my paying a tribute to the fathers and mothers in their areas who have done their part. When the history of this war comes to be written, this will be one of its finest chapters. It is a grand thing to see an evacuee as one of a family, cared for with all the delicacy with which a father and mother care for their own children, but sometimes those responsible have not Shown all the social imagination that they might have shown; sometimes there is a complete lack of imagination in deciding where certain children should be sent. The Minister knows what I am referring to, but, in spite of that, I think the evacuation of the normal, healthy children has been successful. At the same time it is true to say that the evacuation of mothers and their young children to billets in private houses has been a failure—a complete failure. I remember that an old Welsh collier used to say, "One hearth and two women equal a"—well, the word is one which I will not use in this House. The provision of hostels is the only way in which this problem can be met, because, as I have said, the fitting of mothers and young children into private homes does not work.
May I urge upon the Minister that it is very desirable to see that steps are taken during the summer months to ensure that everything that can be done will be done for the care and welfare of evacuees in reception areas? There should be a much larger provision of communal meals for the children in schools. A big burden is taken off the mother who cares for the child if the child can get a mid-day meal at school. I also think it is desirable that there should be communal centres for the children in reception areas. In some reception areas there is little in the way of social amenities. The children come from the towns to the country, and we must try to provide some of the things that they miss. One of my hon. Friends has said that one of the things that they miss most is fish and chips. I do not know whether fish and chips can be elevated to a place among the social services—[An hon. Member: "Why not?"]—Yes, why not? But I suggest that the question of these communal centres and other things to ease the problem should be carefully looked into.
We all deplore the cause of this great movement of population. It is a tragic sight to see mothers and young children having to leave their homes and go far away, but it has its good side. It is breaking down the barriers between the town and the country, which I think will be of inestimable value to the nation in the end. The other day at a village in the heart of my county I saw coming from a field a team of horses with boys astride their backs, as we used to do. I talked to these boys, and they told me that they were from Bermondsey. Here they were in the heart of the country, tasting the real joys of country life for the first time. I think the joys of childhood are half missed if a child never sees the joys of the country. While the barriers between town and country are being broken down, the barriers between people are being broken down. I give notice to my hon. Friends representing London constituencies that the many children who will comeback to a new and better London will be very much enriched by being able to speak to them in the best language in the world. It is, I think, a great social experiment, which in the end will redound to the credit of the whole nation. A collier in a Welsh village who was acting as host to two London boys told me that when they reached the village square and saw the beautiful landscape of the valley and the glorious hills of Wales, one of them said, "Haven't they got a big sky here?" It was the first time he had seen the glories of God's sky. If evacuation has done nothing else, it has widened horizons. I am sure the Minister will consider the points which I have raised, because he knows we are all anxious that this great service and the problems of evacuation shall be properly handled. What I have said to-day has been with the one desire of making evacuation the real success it deserves to be.
I am sure the whole House has listened with great interest to the speech we have just heard, and with a considerable measure of agreement. I would like to comment on some of the remarks by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). One point he raised, which was of immense importance, was that we should provide now, before the coming of winter, for the towns which have suffered severely from aerial bombardment. Especially should we provide for the port areas where many working-class houses and other kinds of property have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair. He put forward the suggestion that areas 25 to 30 miles behind the blitzed towns or ports should be cleared of all evacuees and reserved for the families of those who are homeless or become homeless in the blitzed towns. There is a certain port—not in my constituency— where there has been heavy devastation of factories and industrial premises. Working-class houses and such like property is situated close to the dock area, and when the docks have been attacked this property, which was built many years ago, has been greatly damaged. Many working there have been rendered homeless. We have to make provision for them during the coming winter. Many of the houses are beyond repair, and probably it would be much better to repair better-class property further back, to be utilised for these people who have been blasted out of their homes, rather than to waste the limited man power and material available on repairing property which clearly is not worth repairing and which may be knocked down in the next attack.
There is another problem. We have to find shelter for the workers at the docks and in the factories, but what about their wives and families? The buildings in the very vulnerable area are not suitable. Furthermore, I feel that the ordinary workman will not, after recent experiences in some places, leave his wife and family in those houses while he is perhaps a mile away working at the docks or in the factory. We have to provide for the wives and children. I suggest that there are only two methods of doing this. One of them is the method proposed by the hon. Member for Llanelly, of taking from a 25 miles or 30 miles zone all evacuees and all the people whom it is not essential should continue to live there—we want every bit of available housing accommodation—andputting the wives and families from the working-class area which has been largely destroyed, or which is liable to be destroyed, into those houses. That is one solution.
But what about the workmen themselves? If they lived 25 miles or 30 miles away from their work, there would be grave problems of transport. I suggest that there is an alternative which I commend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. Why not build hutment camps now, four or five miles away from the docks and the factories, which would provide in the coming winter shelter, warmth, one hot meal a day, baths, sanitation, and above all adequate transport facilities that would not over-tire the workers going to and from their very hard and occasionally dangerous work? I would like my right hon. Friend's Department to-day to be planning these camps three or four or five miles out and moving the dockers and factory workers into them, if possible with their families. If the families cannot be put into the camps, because there is not enough accommodation, they should be moved further back, but it would be better for the families to be with the men. There would have to be transport. Arrangements would have to be made now for roads adequate to take the people to and from the new camps. If the roads were not adequate, new roads would have to be constructed.
Frankly, this is what I fear. Our people's endurance has been magnificent, especially during last winter. I think it would be impertinent for anybody to attempt to praise them, for their endurance has been beyond praise. But we must not try their endurance too high during the coming winter. Therefore, the fear which I have is that next October the authorities will suddenly wake up to the fact that the dock labourers and factory workers have had their homes destroyed, that there is inadequate shelter and not enough warmth, that they cannot get hot meals—that something must be done about the position. Then it will be too late. We ought to have an army of workers organising and preparing the camps, transport, and roads now. If I am told that we cannot get the men to do this work, because they are in the Army, I reply, "Take them out of the Army" It is of vital importance that we should maintain the morale of the people. I do not fear their spirit declining, for their spirit is magnificent, but we must keep up their physical fitness and physical condition, which is the basis of their spirit.
Incidentally, may I throw out one suggestion, although it is hardly relevant to this Debate? Might it not help matters if some of the working-class areas near the docks which have been practically abolished were converted now into shuntings and railway sidings? This would enormously facilitate the rapid handling of goods unloaded at the docks. I think that suggestion is worthy of consideration.
To turn to other problems—those associated more with the district where I live—there is the great problem of the children whose parents keep them in towns that are liable to attack. There seems to me to be a conflict in the policy of two Government Departments. The Regional Commissioner, no doubt acting on the instructions of the Ministry of Home Security and the Ministry of Health, issues posters urging people to evacuate from these towns, and occasionally loudspeaker vans try to stir up the people. Then the President of the Board of Education writes urging that the schools should be opened in order that the children shall not lack education. I know of a case in one town where the President of the Board of Education wrote suggesting that a certain school should be opened. The day after the letter was received, at eleven o'clock in the morning, the roof of the school was blown off. It was lucky that the local authority had not opened it.
Does my hon. Friend suggest that when parents say they will not send their children away— and at present they have a right to refuse —the Board of Education are to punish the children, because of the decision of the parents, by depriving them of education, and injure the State by allowing the children to run wild and perhaps grow up to be a menace to the community?
I was about to put the problem, which is an extraordinarily difficult one for parents and local authorities. The position is that the Board of Education wish the schools to be opened, but the parents say they will not allow their children to go to school in places where attacks come, not in the night, but at any time during the day several times a week. The parents say they will not send their children to school Under the law,' the parents should be prosecuted. Does the Government Department concerned advise that they should be prosecuted? I do not think so, from what I know. The position is very difficult and utterly illogical.
Before concluding my remarks, I want to deal with a minor point, but one which affects a great many people. In the case of evacuation areas, where there is practically compulsory evacuation or semi-compulsory evacuation, people leave their houses, lock up the houses, and leave the furniture in them. But let it be remembered that a great many people have put all their savings into house buying. Many of them are elderly people -of small means, who are dependent for the whole of their income on the rents received from the houses. As these areas are moratorium areas, they get no rents whatever, as the furniture is left in the house, they cannot let it, and therefore they are deprived of their income. It is a cause of hardship which I suggest merits special consideration. I think that is all I wish to say on this huge and terribly important subject, but, in conclusion, I will return to my main point. Do let us now, during these summer months, so organise our system that when winter comes people working in docks and factories have adequate shelter and warmth, and at least one hot meal in the evening, together with transport facilities, which will not try their physical endurance too much.
I do not want to deal with the details which have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), nor do I wish to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), in the very admirable survey he made. I wish to confine myself to reminding the House what the evacuation policy was when it was originally accepted by Parliament. It was not a policy of evacuating school children and mothers, but it was a policy, deliberately conceived as a military measure, to minimise casualties by spreading the population more widely. People were to be dispersed instead of being congregated together. This policy was limited—and I refer anyone who is interested in this matter to the original report, which lays down this principle very clearly—to the necessity of carrying on production urgently required for national needs. I think we ought to get back to that conception. One of the most important things is to minimise casualties, but it is equally important to clear the areas where urgent production is being carried on of those who do not need to live there for military reasons. I will not state the reasons to-day, because I understand we are to have an opportunity of an extensive Debate on all aspects of this problem at a later date. It is quite true that the basis of the evacuation policy, as laid down in the original report, was voluntary, and there is no doubt whatever that that is the best and wisest course to take as far as it will go, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly said, when a woman is faced with the very difficult choice of saying whether she will be evacuated for the sake of her child, which means leaving her husband to his own devices and to look after himself, it is, in certain circumstances, an unfair choice for her to have to make, especially when the authorities know, as they do, and which no private citizen could be expected to know, which places are more dangerous than others. Under those circumstances, the Government should make evacuation compulsory in certain areas.
In the report to which the hon. Member has referred was it not laid down that in certain circumstances there should be compulsory evacuation?
My hon. Friend was a member of that Committee, and I see the right hon. Gentleman who was our chairman, sitting on the Front Bench. We all remember there was a definite proposal in that report, that under certain circumstances the power of compulsion might be used. I think that under certain circumstances when it is within the knowledge of the Government that a certain area is dangerous—and these areas vary in that respect from time to time—compulsion might very well be exercised. I believe it would be welcomed by many people. I understand that the London County Council, which originally was definitely against compulsory evacuation, is now very largely in favour of it. That shows the lesson of experience. I ventured to draw attention to this wider aspect of evacuation, because I wanted to say, quite definitely, that the policy of evacuation has never been applied in its entirety. We have made proposals to evacuate mothers and children and so forth, and, as has been said, it has been a wonderful social experience, reflecting credit on all concerned, and, looking at it from every way, there have been very few casualties on either side. [Interruption] —Possibly my experience of this problem is as wide as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), even if it has been in a different area. My own experience is that the number of cases of maladjustments is very small in comparison with the total. We all know it is a very difficult problem indeed. The scandal of social conditions revealed by our early experience in evacuation was, of course, a great shock to the nation, but it was a healthy shock, because it showed the conditions which existed to a great number of people who were ignorant of the facts. Most of the difficulties were got over by good feeling and kindliness.
I cordially agree that there is a necessity for a more intensive survey than has hitherto been undertaken. However, I know, as no doubt the Minister of Health will tell the House, that a very elaborate and extensive survey has been made, and is at this moment in process of being made. People are being asked exactly what class of evacuees they will take—. whether they will take children, industrial workers and so forth. There are certain people, not, I hope, very many, who manage to wangle themselves out of the acceptance of responsibility, not only in regard to taking evacuees, but in regard to having their houses used for any other purpose than their own personal enjoyment. I think the Government ought to regard that very sternly. I heard the other day, on excellent authority, of a house which contained 80 rooms, desired for a certain purpose, which I will not specify. The owner refused, and it was requisitioned, but the owner managed to pull wires, and it was de-requisitioned. That owner has not, up to the present, had any inconvenience whatsoever placed on his shoulders, and, with every sympathy which I certainly feel for a man who desires to live in his own house, I venture to suggest that a house of 80 rooms ought to be used by more than one family and a few occasional visitors. I know it is very hard for people who may be living in houses of historic value, and who have art treasures, to have their houses requisitioned for the Army or some other purpose, but at the same time it is not right and proper that accommodation of that kind should be empty when it is urgently required. I suggest that the Minister when making his survey should take careful note of exceptions of that kind, and that reasonable steps should be taken to see that such accommodation is made available. The particular house which I have mentioned would make an admirable hostel for mothers or hospital for children. At any rate, it should be used for some such purpose instead of serving private needs.
I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Scotland in his place. I hope he will be able to reply to the points which I wish to raise, and that he will not only inform the House, but, through the House, the people of Scotland, that better provision will be made in the event of further blitzes coming to our part of the country. In a part of the country which was badly blitzed absolutely no provision had been made for anything of that kind. People were treated, not with respect, but as if they were an army of criminals. The Secretary of State for Scotland shakes his head, but he knows of a case which I have brought to his particular notice. I have refrained systematically since the outbreak of war from making speeches or putting questions in case it might be said that I was not in favour of the war and that I have let my country down. I wish to make it clear that that is not the case, but I am not going to stand by and see my folk treated in the manner in which they are being treated.
Not 300 yards from where I live—and I live in a decent place which the Secretary of State for Scotland informs me is not an evacuation area—people were evacuated, not into decent homes—no fear, though there are hundreds of them —butinto a hut on a railway siding. There are husband and wife and 13 members of their family living under conditions that are a disgrace. I invited the Secretary of State for Scotland, I invited the Under-Secretary, I invited the District Commissioner to come and see the conditions for themselves. Not one of them did so. The Secretary of State for Scotland sent representatives to make a report about this hut, and they made a report which was a fallacy. I ask him to go and see for himself, so that he will not be let down by individuals who make such a false report. Part of this hut, measuring 30 feet by 16 feet, is reserved for these people. The other part of the hut is still occupied by Boy Scouts. There is nothing but one lavatory and a gas fire. When the people went into it they had to repair a leak in the roof. There are two beds, and the rest of the folk had to sleep on the floor. Is that in the backwoods of Canada? No, it is in my constituency.
Can anyone wonder at the discontent that is abroad and that Communists are running a candidate in Greenock because of these things that are happening all over the place? There is another place in Scotland—the Secretary of State knows my country as well as I do—which was asked to make provision for 200 more people. How many people do you think that place did take? It took 1,500. I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland is seeing to it that arrangements are made so that that does not happen again. I could give many other instances of people who have been evacuated. Were they evacuated into decent homes? No fear, they were sent into apartments which were already over-crowded, and then we have to listen to talk about the provision that is made for these people and their humane treatment. My folk have not been humanely treated, and so discontent is rampant. They could not be treated worse than they are. I have made many attempts to get this thing put right, and it is not an easy job because I am not being supported by those who could support me in trying to put these things right. No longer will I sit quiet here.
Take the case of what happens to 22 key-men employed in a shipyard. They have to travel 20 miles by bus, and then they have to walk three miles away into the wilds. In a terrible fortnight of bad weather—rainy, cold, miserable weather —they had to walk these three miles away into the wilds and walk back again after work to get the bus. I have raised this matter with everybody I could, and now I raise it in this House because I am right up against it. This bus does not take the men right up to the shipyard. They have to change and wait until they get another bus. That is the way my folk are being treated. That is how the workers are being treated, and discontent is rampant as a result of it. I have had a vote of censure passed on me by a town council because I drew attention to the conditions which followed on a blitz. I want the Secretary of State for Scotland to go and see for himself the conditions in which my folk have to live. It is worse than I stated.
I went to the town clerk and reported the matter. It is hardly believable. I tried to get in touch with the Secretary of State for Scotland. The town clerk said he would have engineers on it and see what could be done. I went back a few days later and took the editor of the "Scottish Express" with me to see what was going on, but nothing had been done. Since then I have approached the Deputy-Commissioner and asked him if he would see to this business. He said he would certainly go down, but he has not been down yet. Then they appealed to me in regard to air-raid shelters. Again I took the editor of the "Scottish Express" to see what was going on, and in order to have witnesses other than a revolutionary Socialist, as they dub me when it suits them. I am not blaming the Secretary of State, but I want him to get a move on. I know he has inherited this, and so have I. We have all inherited this business. We are not responsible for it, but that is no reason why we should sit under it. It is our duty to do what we can to change it now and not just push it off and make excuses. It is quite easy for a cultivated mind to make excuses, but here we are faced with stem reality. The House knows that although I have been here at all times I have refrained from taking part in Debate. I have done so hoping against hope that something would be done. I do not mean a little "tuppenny ha'penny "action, but something that would foot the bill. We are spending millions, and I want to know what provision is being made for the folk who are blitzed and for those who may be blitzed.
People in England do not know anything about the housing conditions in my country. I have been fighting against them for 40 years. No attempt is being made by the Scottish Office to overhaul those conditions on a gigantic scale. We are talking in millions and are asking our young men to give up their lives. Surely I am not asking too much for those who are prepared to do and die. Whether or not this House or the country plays the game by them, they will play the game by Scotland. Dozens of families prefer to live in a school because it is nice and clean and because it gives them the chance of a quiet room where they can sleep before they go to work to produce what is essential for the defence of the country. These are the conditions, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest), who is now an officer in the British Army, will appreciate why I said that all was not being done that might be done for the folk who are blitzed. I hope that I have said enough—it has been pulled out of me—to ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland will tackle the question of evacuation in a method and with a system that will fit the situation. The situation is abnormal, and I assert that up to date that has not been done.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) will forgive me if I do not follow him in dealing with the local problems to which he has properly drawn attention. I can assure him, however, that what he has said has won the sympathy of the House. We are proud that we live in a country where these things can be said in the House of the representatives of the people. It has been suggested—although my hon. Friend was careful to say that he did not associate himself with that point of view— that conditions could not be worse under Hitler. I do not subscribe to that view, but if these conditions existed in Germany —and, believe me, they do—the people of Germany are not allowed to be told about them during war-time. Now that attention has been drawn to it the House has sufficient confidence in the Secretary of State to believe that it will be dealt with.
May I come back to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths)? I always listen to him with great pleasure. The House is grateful to him for having introduced the subject of evacuation to-day, for the matter of his speech and for the manner in which he dealt with this important problem. He showed a sympathetic understanding and knowledge of this problem which are generally appreciated. In particular, I want to associate myself with his plea that the county councils rather than the smaller rural and urban district councils should be made the billeting authorities. It is argued that the reason why the smaller authorities should deal with it is that they have the special local knowledge, but the officers of the county council also have that knowledge. They also have the advantage over the clerks to the smaller authorities that they are freer to take the appropriate action which the situation demands, because they are not under any obligation, financial or otherwise, to some of the people with whom they would have to deal. It is difficult for the clerk of a small district council to take strong action against some of the people in the district when his living may be dependent upon them and when in another capacity he may be their family solicitor. Therefore, I suggest that consideration should be given to the county councils being made billeting authorities, particularly as the county councils have the officers and staff to deal with this difficult problem.
With regard to such evacuation as has taken place, I think that in a large measure it has been a great success. I am sorry that the evacuation and billeting of the school children were not given over to the Board of Education- Even at this stage it is worth while, I think, to consider whether the education authorities are not the proper people to deal with the billeting of school children. They know the children, and they are able better to decide the type of home into which particular children would best fit. The best argument for further evacuation is that those already evacuated are comfortable and happy in their new surroundings, and the more widely those conditions prevail the less necessity there will be to resort to compulsory evacuation. I do not envy a Minister who has to decide whether to impose compulsory evacuation or not. I think we all agree that compulsion is something which must be held in reserve. Situations may arise which may make it necessary to impose compulsory evacuation in certain areas, but the Minister is wise in not taking that drastic step before he is convinced that the voluntary principle has failed.
I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about the kindness which has been shown in many instances by people in the reception areas to the children under their care, and perhaps I may be allowed to mention a particular form of kindness to a section of the evacuees with whom I can very properly deal. Evacuation has created problems for all who have been evacuated, but perhaps there is no section of the community for whom it has created greater problems than for the Jewish people. They have had to go to areas where no Jews, or very few Jews, had lived before and where there were no facilities for their religious instruction or for the observances of their religious life, and all Jews appreciate what has been done by non-Jews to assist Jewish children, in particular, to be faithful to their religious observances and to live their own religious life. In some instances clergymen of the Church of England and the ministers of the other Christian communities, haying found that it was not possible to arrange for the teaching of Hebrew to the Jewish children, have done it themselves, and that at a time when they had many other calls upon them. I know one lady, the mother of an hon. Member of this House, who lives not very far from my constituency who every Sunday afternoon has a small number of Jewish children at her house to read to them the Old Testament. That sort of thing is going on up and down the country and it is tremendously appreciated by the Jewish community. Speaking as a Jew, I can say that we hope that what has been done will result in a better understanding between Jews and non-Jews. Having shared a common danger and helped one another in this way, we hope that all may understand one another better.
Many local authorities have done excellent work, either by themselves or through voluntary associations, in providing certain amenities to make the evacuees happier in their new conditions. On the other hand, there are local authorities which have been content simply to arrange billets and then leave the evacuees to their own resources. I ask the Minister to get particulars showing which authorities have not provided communal centres or made communal feeding arrangements such as the more public-spirited authorities have provided, and to urge on them the importance of taking action in the matter. Very properly, attention has been drawn to the fact that many of the reception areas are already full, and that it is necessary to have a survey to find out where there is any reserve accommodation. In my own area a survey was recently made. Forms were sent out to all householders in which they had to answer certain questions. I should like to know whether that action was followed up. Many people have been most helpful in receiving evacuees into their homes, but there are still a great many people who do not realise the magnitude of the problem or the sacrifices which those who live in the more fortunate areas must be called upon to make.
If the problem is looked at from that point of view I believe it will be found that there is still a considerable reserve of accommodation available in reception areas. It is a great thing in these days to live in a safe area, and those who live there should realise their advantages and also, their responsibilities to those living under less fortunate conditions. If they would try to put themselves in the place of those whom they are called upon to receive into their homes, I think they would estimate their ability to take in more people much more generously than they have done in the past. I hope that the Minister will not assume that the reception areas are full and cannot take any more people, and that every practical step will be taken to see that the capacity of reception areas is utilised to the full.
In many areas a difficulty has been created by reason of the fact that certain buildings and houses which were requisitioned by Government Departments are still not being used. They were taken over at the outset of the war because of a Cabinet decision to be ready for use in certain contingencies, but those contingencies have not arisen, and yet those places, many of which would house a large number of people, remain unoccupied. It is difficult to convince people that they must give up some of their scanty accommodation when they know that this other accommodation is not being used. Those who are responsible for reserving so many of these buildings ought now to ask themselves, in the light of present conditions, whether they cannot release at least some of them. Further, it is difficult to persuade private people to take in more evacuees when it is known that there are still more than 700 vacant places in the school camps which have been built. School camps are surely the best places to which to send evacuated children, because there we could provide that communal life from which they derive the greatest possible benefit. Where children are together in large numbers they are likely to be much happier than when they are with families in which there are no other children of their own age's. I urge the Board of Education to see that all the accommodation in school camps is used to the full.
I think this Debate has been extremely useful. It was necessary that the evacuation problem should be reviewed in the light of present conditions. I will conclude by drawing attention to one problem which I think will interest the Minister of Labour. At present the local authority have power to requisition houses for evacuees, but I know of a town, about which particulars have been sent to my right hon. Friend, to which men went to work in aircraft and other fac- tories and had difficulty in obtaining accommodation. In one case, 14 people live in a small council house. They discovered for themselves three houses not occupied by their owners, and they went to the local billeting officer and asked him to use his requisitioning powers to give them one of the houses which would suit their needs. He answered that he had not the power to requisition houses for workers, but that if they had been official evacuees, he could have requisitioned a house. I hope that such powers will be taken. It is every bit as necessary to house workers from the factories as to house evacuees or anybody else. Those who come to such areas to work in the war-effort factories have every right to be given satisfactory accommodation, and it is wrong to be able to point to three houses standing empty, at a time when people are crying out for accommodation. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this subject and for the way in which he dealt with its problems.
I am sure that the House has listened with interest to the speeches made during this Debate by English and Welsh Members on the problem of evacuation. I leave aside the points raised by those who spoke for Scotland to be dealt with later by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I venture to rise now because I have made arrangements to go to a Northern blitzed area for a conference to-night and to-morrow. I do not intend discourtesy to any hon. Member for England and Wales in rising at this stage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will take note of any other points that axe made.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) for his speech and for its constructive tone and the perfect understanding he showed of many of the problems of the reception areas.
I have been singularly fortunate during the time I have been at the Ministry of Health because of the intense efforts made by my predecessor in dealing with London problems, especially problems affecting shelters. Problems arising inside the shelters were not under his supervision until 3rd January, but I can inform the House that no night was too dark or too dangerous for my predecessor to be going about last winter, looking into things for himself, so that he might be quite sure that everything was done to carry out positive policies for maintaining the health of the people. His work gave me a great advantage from the beginning. Day after day, when in London, I have had to give attention to London's problems, and I shall do so regularly, but it has been possible for me to spend all but two weekends since becoming Minister of Health in the Regions. Up to now I have personally visited 10 of the n Regions, and before Whitsuntide is out I shall have visited all the Regions. I have not only had the advantage of discussion with the Regional Commissioners, but of contact with my own staffs, and with the local authorities who are carrying out so much of the work. I have given half my time in every Region to the problems of the reception areas, and I have visited all the numerous kinds of institutions there—and they now make a very long list, especially those concerned with the well-being and welfare of mothers and children in those areas. The work done by my predecessor has been of great advantage to me, and I think it right to him to say so now. The House will, therefore, see that I do not speak merely from a Departmental point of view or, as a Minister who has been reading papers. Of course, I have had the advantage of papers as all Ministers have, but I have done my best to look at these questions on the spot, and I shall continue to do so.
Let me say one or two things about them. I welcomed the tributes paid by the hon. Member for Llanelly to the people in the reception areas. I agree with him, but all generalisations must be approximate. They cannot be more, but if you were to ask me for a loose generalisation, I would say that a great social revolution has taken place. My task and that of my colleagues and that of the Members of this House who, by their contributions are co-operating with us, is to turn that revolution into an evolutionary movement so that it may be of a permanent value to the nation. I would say also that, in my judgment, it is putting it rather low to say that 80 per cent. of the reception of evacuees has been a success against all odds, for hon. Members must realise that there has been a fundamental break with the strongest things in human nature, love of husband, of wife and of home. That is what I meant when I spoke of the odds, and I repeat that, notwithstanding, 80 per cent. of the movement on the reception side has been a success.
In answer to the constructive criticisms that have been made, I would say at once that our task in the future is to make sure that the problems preventing full success, and producing sometimes partial success and sometimes failure in the remaining 20 per cent., are sought out, tackled and solved, and that the word "impossible" is replaced by the word "nevertheless." However hard the problem, we all say together, "Nevertheless, if human capacity, skill and good will can solve it, it shall be solved." That is not only my view; it is the view of all my colleagues and of the Regional Commissioners of the regions in England and Wales. I have not had contact with the successor to my right hon. Friend as Scottish Regional Commissioner in that capacity, but I know they hold similar views. It is our view, and the view of those co-operating with the Regional Commissioners who have general oversight in the regions, that the maximum use must be made of the local machinery in order that, in coping with the terrible experiences that modern war is bound to bring, the maximum value is derived from constructive suggestions. I have said many times during the last few months that we want to do everything we can before the summer ends to tie up loose ends, to improvise or plan in order to carry out the new proposals and, more than that, to take as a whole this machine, which has worked remarkably well, and tune it up, so that, when the winter comes, we can make sure that we can help our people to stand firm, as they will in any case, by producing the maximum amount of health and happiness. When I use the word "happiness" I think of education in the main.
I would say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), that we shall do the utmost possible in the times through which we are passing. I thought it right to say these few general words to show what my attitude of mind is. Let us now take the broad problem that my hon. Friend raised. He first of all inquired about coordination. As he said, it is a queer word and much misused. I remember an acquaintance of mine who always used to say that whenever he heard a man use the word "co-ordination" he knew there was some roguery about. I find myself in a measure of agreement with that, and therefore I will gladly fall in with the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, who said that we wanted co-operation. I do not wish to say one word which would prejudice a really balanced discussion on the big issues of machinery which will take place shortly, and if I do not deal with one or two of the issues that have been raised, I hope the House will understand that, in view of the forthcoming two days' Debate, it is important that I should say nothing to prevent the House as a whole taking a well-balanced and detailed view on that occasion. As the House knows, there is, of course, co-operation at the top by all the Departments concerned. At least three mornings a week, and frequently more often, all the Departments meet in a certain Committee to discuss both day-by-day happenings and any alterations of policy which may be required. There is also thoroughgoing co-operation in the Regional machine.
When we come to the question of accommodation there are two problems. It is in regard to accommodation that we have the agreement to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) referred, namely, an arrangement through the Ministry of Works and Buildings whereby, in case of emergency, the Civil Departments do not impinge on the Service Departments and vice versa. That, of course, may not prevent a particular request about a particular place, and I often find that when I have persuaded, say, a rural district council to equip a building as a children's hostel some development on the Service side may cause the Service Minister to come along and say he wants it for his own purposes, and in such a case we have to prove our claim before the appropriate tribunal.
The appropriate tribunal is the Ministerial Committee which settles the priority in these matters, or, in the last resort, if two Ministers disagree, there is only one tribunal, namely, the War Cabinet. I do not want to be drawn into a discussion on questions of machinery for the reason I have mentioned, and will do my best to answer points which have been raised without infringing on the forthcoming general Debate. The extension of the demand for accommodation by the expanding Forces—not only the Army— and the great developments in the movement of war workers have raised new problems in the matter of accommodation. At the moment I cannot say that we have any cut-and-dried plan. For weeks we have been discussing inter-departmentally in what way we can best arrange the pool of accommodation in order to obtain the maximum co-ordination on the spot and to avoid the local difficulties which, as my hon. Friend knows, often occur.
On the issue of vulnerable, neutral, and evacuation areas, I find myself in disagreement with my hon. Friend about neutral areas. It has been of very great advantage that that first distinction was made. It is an advantage to have certain areas—which may become target areas—into which we do not send children from evacuated towns. I must make this broad statement as the basis of present and potential evacuation policy: since there must be a reception area for every evacuation area, and since this is a small country, it is quite impossible to have any evacuation policy which will make every target area an evacuation area. It just cannot be done. The accommodation is not there, and all those who discuss alterations must have that in their minds. There are certain parts of the country where the problem of density is more difficult than in others.
The situation has never been static, and, as the House knows, we have made many alterations. I will not mention places, because in my judgment the mentioning of localities in this connection is fraught with great danger to those localities. Certain alterations have been made in the light of post-blitz experience, and as far as is possible I do not intend that the German air staff shall obtain the advantage, by statements made here, of knowledge that our own Air Staff would give a great deal to get. But alterations have been made and can be made, although it is not easy.
Since this problem is rooted in the conditions of family life, however you solve it, even if by a compulsory scheme, the feelings are there.
I agree, and it is an understanding of that that has made the Government decide that a voluntary scheme was the right one. I will, however, say this one sentence to my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest). He should not press too far his remarks about the report to which he referred. If he looks at the shading on the map attached to it he will see that if he or I were drawing that map now, the shading would be entirely different. There would be no distinction between East and West. It will perhaps ease his mind a little if I say that we have not overlooked the possibility of certain areas receiving more than mere bombing, and I mean that in a particular as well as a general way.
I have said nothing about that. It is marvellous how accurate and far-seeing that report was. That is why the main bases of evacuation policy have not now to be changed and, in my judgment, will not need to be changed.
And now about zones. I have, of course, heard this proposition put in various forms, such, for instance, as a belt round the coast, although I gather that that is not my hon. Friend's proposal. His proposal is that we should have what might be called a "cushion" area, although, since he mentioned a width of 25 or 30 miles, I would like to ask him to do a little map work and see what this suggestion would mean in terms of billeting in the areas concerned.
My hon. Friend, and the House, must understand that we are not working to a plan, and carrying out a plan- merely because we have got one. I am sick of those people who mention the word "plan"and think they have solved the problem, who mention the word ''region" and think they have solved the problem, who mention "compulsion" or "co-ordination"and think they have solved the problem. There are many of them, and some of them write what are thought by the uninformed to be learned letters about the matter, but they have not solved the problem. We are not in any mild mood about this; great things have been done.
Thank you very much, We are not operating a plan merely because there was a plan drawn up by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and his colleagues. Alterations have been and will be made, and ought and must be made to meet real needs. As to the essence of the problem which my hon. Friend raises, I would say that we have always kept a certain reserve of billets under the original plan. But when my hon. Friend called for a survey, he was not without knowledge that we have been acting. We have had a general survey; and in areas which have particular features—for problems arise in areas which have no large scale urban hinterland, and not always in regions which have a number of large towns to give support easily—we have instituted not merely a general survey, but special and intensive surveys; and we shall go further. First, we want to see what reserve we have. Now I could not agree more than I do with those who say that if there are large houses in districts which can be used, they should, and must, be used. But I do not think that the House recognises how far we have gone. We have requisitioned 27,402 houses. Hon. Members will see that the requisitioning powers have been used to a great degree. [Interruption] Yes, that is for England and Wales.
What proportion of those requisitioned houses are actually in use? Is that the total requisitioned for evacuation purposes, or for all public purposes?
I am talking about my own Departmental problems. I could, if I had time, give an analysis of how those houses are being used, and for what purposes. Perhaps I will do so in the next Debate. There has been a very considerable move. I will say two things about large houses. They can be very deceptive. I know of large houses—I am thinking of one with 80 rooms—which have been requisitioned, and it was then found that the sanitary and water accommodation were not unimpeachable. It may be that, for that reason, a requisitioned house has been released from requisitioning—I do not know the case referred to by the hon. Member. I will take the simplest case, of a war-time nursery for 40 children. That needs a good house. I cannot allow 40 children to go into the house without being sure that the sanitary and water arrangements are as nearly perfect as they can be got. There is nothing more dangerous than getting large numbers of young children together under one roof. I must have 10 nurses, for it is a day-and-night job; three or four domestic staff; and equipment, consisting of over 4,000 articles in several hundred categories. That is what is required for one of those hostels, of which we have hundreds in use. It is not enough to requisition the house; you have to equip it and run it; and the problem of domestic staff is rapidly becoming a problem of essential work. When you are dealing with hostels and hospitals the problem is indeed formidable. But this is my intention. If, in the course of collating the information I have received in my personal investigations, I come to the conclusion that I want in any region a man or men, or a woman or women, equipped with powers to go into a small district where, perhaps, the local billeting officer does not feel that he can tackle certain people, I shall see that it is done. I can imagine no worse feeling than the feeling of inequality if working-class people are giving up their little homes and large houses are not being taken. I am glad that this matter has been raised to-day.
I cannot agree that the small reception unit is necessarily inefficient. Some of the most efficient units that I have met with have been in district rural councils. From the beginning, the intention was to use the local councils, because they have housing powers and authority, such as no other body has, to carry out the arrangements. But the county councils were requested to act as co-ordinating authorities so that if a small council wanted aid they got it. I will go further.
In the light of our experience, a very interesting movement has begun in one area—and we shall follow it up—to obtain mutual support through a joint committee of small councils which may be faced, as the hinterland of a blitzed town, with common problems, and may need to work them out on a common basis.
I will take one county, Yorkshire. In two days there I went to two kinds of reception area. One consisted of a couple of very small flourishing manufacturing towns, the pride of Yorkshire, well equipped towns, with not a wholly working-class population, but that fine sturdy mixture of people that one finds in Yorkshire towns. I found experiments going on to deal with problems of mothers and children and of difficult children. One of our greatest problems is the child who cannot be billeted because he is a difficult, or problem, child, or because he is what is known in the language of the films as a tough guy. The next day I went down to a rural community of mining villages, where there are no varieties of social status, where all the houses, except for perhaps a couple, are similar. I found there a lady worker, who had been chairman of the district council and who was also the leader of the local Women's Voluntary Services. I cannot pay too high a tribute to the work done all over this country by the women of that great organisation. They have over 100,000 workers engaged on this job to-day over and above the other categories engaged in it.
That gives an idea of the magnitude of the problem. When I talked about our problem to that lady, together with the local district council, it left me with the feeling that, however large the city or the county is, it would be a shame to take away the responsibility from that rural council. It is not the case that the large organisation is always the most efficient for any purpose. While I am in sympathy with the desire of my hon. Friend to get aid to those smaller districts which perhaps are not so efficient as others, I do not think that he is on good ground in generalising that the small rural district council is necessarily not efficient. Some of the most efficient organisations in this country are small, and I pay that tribute with all my heart, as a result of my own observation.
The problem of mothers and children, of course, is not easy. I have the figures here for which the hon. Lady was asking. The number of houses requisitioned is 27,402. That number includes the number used for the housing of London mothers and children, 2,906; for the homeless, 21,726; for unorganised refugees, 233; for difficult children, 344; for schoolchildren—that is, educational hostels—132, in addition to the 30 camps under the National Camps Corporation; for maternity homes, 166; and for sick bays and infectious hospitals, 209. The House will see that this statement is worth while, because we have had this thing more before us than some people who have discussed the question from the central or evacuation area point of view sometimes realise.
I am talking about premises requisitioned and in use. The movement is going on rapidly. For instance, I and my colleague, the President of the Board of Education, have been very busy in recent weeks seeing what we can do to organise more effectively the welfare and care of little children under five. And not only that, we are urging the authorities to appoint welfare officers, trained, skilled, sympathetic and understanding women, to follow up the problem of welfare not merely for children and mothers, but for the mothers themselves. There are 483 communal feeding centres, including 114 schools, at the moment, and the movement is extending rapidly. But, I would charge the public with one word of warning. The communal feeding centre may not be the appropriate instrument in some particular place, and I hope that people will not make a fetish of this thing. One thing may suit one district and one another, but the movement, as the House will see from these figures, is going along rapidly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft raised an issue with which I am not going to deal to-day except in a sentence or two. My responsibility in the Government plan is to find accommodation at all times and in all circumstances for those who are in the priority classes under the Government Scheme, and for the homeless. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft is going further and considering the "in-and-out" movement of people who have still homes. I would only make this remark about that. We are asked to organise that sort of thing, but I would ask Members to think of the security end as well as of the effect upon morale. I will say no more about that matter.
The suggestion that I put forward—though probably I did not make myself sufficiently clear—was that in areas —I am thinking of certain areas where the working-class live close to docks, where 20 per cent. of the homes have been destroyed and others are liable to destruction—provision should be made to house these people in adequate circumstances during the coming winter so that they can go to and from their work.
I am pointing out that that is the aim implied by the surveys that we are making and the arrangements we; are going to make. I understand that the hon. Member referred to certain big places, and I was not referring to them alone. Perhaps it is his fault or mine. I do not know. I understood him to be asking me to accept responsibility for those who still have homes. If he did not do that, the point does not arise and I will say no more about it.
This is a very important subject, and I will give the name of the city to my right hon. Friend if he desires it. The 80 per cent are damaged houses, at any rate, many of them, probably half of them, or are liable to damage before the winter, and what preparations for that contingency are being made within a distance of two, three or four miles for the accommodation of the people?
Then, I did understand what my hon. Friend said. If he asks me what preparation is being made for them, if and when they become homeless, my answer is, that we shall not fail, in weighing up the lessons of the new concentrated technique, to see that no homeless person goes without accommodation.
It is for the very purpose I have mentioned that we are making the survey and I said I would not discuss the other issue now because I understand that it is to be one of the major issues in the Debate.
My lion. Friend agrees that it is a vital issue, but he must understand that the Government, equally with him or any other hon. Member, know that it is a vital issue, and for this reason we want it to be dealt with in the major forthcoming Debate and not to-day. He asked about the use of house property, and what he said will be considered.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Cheltenham paid his tribute to the reception areas because it is true. There has been wonderful understanding on the whole, although, as every Member from an evacuation area knows, some of the problems that reception areas have had to meet in individual cases have been very trying indeed.
I have one other word to say, and it is this: When my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly talks about the feelings of people going down to lovely Wales, it is not only lovely Wales about which they have feelings. I was in a certain mining district which has not many claims to loveliness, but it has one advantage, a number of streams. I was discussing matters in a communal centre there where there were about 100 evacuated mothers from London, and I asked them, "Will you tell me your outstanding impression since you have been down in this district?" I got this reply from everyone of them. They all agreed that it was "running water." It was a very interesting and indeed profound comment—running water, streams. That is what the women said, at any rate-that was their outstanding feeling. I am sure that, working together, we can make what has been, in my judgment in the great majority of cases a great success, even more successful by the constructive arrangements that we shall make during this summer for next winter, and can secure that some of the problems with which my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft is concerned are solved, so that no homeless person in any circumstances does not get adequate and proper accommodation.
The right hon. Gentleman has just used the words "running water," and they were very appropriate words. I could indeed have told him how much they mean to a great many of the women in this country who have lived in districts where there should have been an ample supply of water but where, every summer, year after year, the water supply has entirely run out. The right hon. Gentleman knows, because I have written to him, that in many villages in my Division, we have had these conditions every year where the water supply has been so inadequate that there has not been enough water laid on to the schools to allow the teachers to draw water to drink. Into these districts, always denuded in summer-time of water, you have evacuated hundreds and in some cases thousands of additional women and children, but nothing, in the district in which I am interested at any rate, has been done to increase the water supply. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has no responsibility whatever for this; he has inherited this extraordinarily difficult problem. The evacuation has had to be arranged in very rapid circumstances, but I urge that in these exceptional circumstances we should take exceptional and unconventional steps. I feel that it is time to use every sort of information and that, if necessary, we should employ expert dowsers to locate wells, which could easily be put into order so that there might be additional water supplies in these villages.
In one case—I sent particulars to the right hon. Gentleman the other day—an enormous military camp was set up in my division on the top of the watershed. That village has always been liable to be short of water in summer, and when that camp was set up no arrangements whatever were made for additional water supplies to it. Members do not need to be told by me that sewage rapidly percolates through the surface of a watershed and pollutes the water. In this village there is already a grave water shortage, and such water as there is, is, I fear, liable to be very seriously contaminated. We have a sufficiently large number of problems connected with the health services of the nation, and a sufficiently heavy strain on them, without having epidemics break out in rural areas due to contaminated water, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give me some assurance that, no matter how unconventional or exceptional the steps might be, something will be done to see that these water supplies are rendered more adequate before we are many months older.
We are asking farmers to produce extra food; it is absolutely imperative that extra food should be produced, yet if there is a water shortage, beasts are liable to rush from one end of a field to another bellowing because they have nothing to drink. That happened last summer, and this year conditions are far more serious. After six weeks' drought we had, thank God—and I say "thank God" in all reverence—some rain during the last few days. Financially, this has been worth many thousands of pounds to many farmers, but it has been worth far more to the food supplies of this country. But that will not avoid the difficulties of the coming summer. Only this morning I had a letter from a teacher in Wales, who said that doubtless I knew that many children from a part of my division, on the outskirts of Bristol, had been evacuated to a certain Welsh village. She asked if I could do anything to help them, because the water shortage there was already so great that for many hours each day the supply had to be entirely cut off. Many small children are, perhaps, only too glad that they do not have to wash too much, but it is not a case of having to wash. It is absolutely vital, if you are to maintain the health of a child, that it should be taught to drink plenty of fresh cold water. If a child gets into the habit of drinking too little water, apart from any danger of a contaminated supply, you may affect its health throughout its life. Both drinking and eating can be very largely matters of habit, and it is a vital thing that children should be encouraged to drink a proper amount of water.
I do not wish to deal with the many aspects of this problem, because we shall have a full day's Debate in the near future, but I considered that this question of water supply was so urgent and vital that I must voice it now. We have no excuse for the way in which we have left our rural communities without water. I represent a division in Somerset which is not a county where there is any lack of rainfall. You can walk about in the middle of summer on large areas of swampy ground, and yet in villages a mile or two away you cannot get in a reasonable supply of water. It is disgraceful how we have neglected this matter in the past; we must take steps to deal with it now by making reservoirs in fields for beasts and by sinking wells for human beings. We must be sure that there is enough water for everybody, so that health and morale can be maintained. The Minister said that in the main evacuation had been a great success, and I heartily subscribe to that view. I know the intense dislike which many housewives have at sharing, not so much her home as her kitchen with another woman. An extraordinarily difficult problem is created when two women have to share one kitchen. All praise to them, then, for what they have done so far. It is difficult for a housewife who takes an infinite pride in her kitchen to have to share it with a stranger who, perhaps, does not manage things quite so well as herself. It places a great strain on friendship and good fellowship. Nevertheless, in the main evacuation has been a success. It has taught hundreds of thousands of people to appreciate country life and given them opportunities which they otherwise would not have had, but if we allow the water shortage to continue, far from placing happy memories of the country in, the minds of mothers, we shall drive them to one desire—to get back to the towns where, at least, there are the ordinary amenities of life.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) has raised this question of water supply, because it is one which vitally affects rural areas. I had the honour of representing for four or five years the constituency she now represents, and I know the problem is urgent. However, we must put the blame on the right shoulders. When the matter was first raised we did manage to get a certain amount of co-operation from the Treasury, and the rural district councils and other local authorities started to prepare large-scale schemes for large areas of the country. If those schemes had been carried through, they would have gone a long way towards solving the problem. But what happened? After a limited figure was reached, the Treasury came down with a heavy hand and stopped grants, with the consequence that the schemes had to be scrapped. The Rural District Councils' Association and those concerned made urgent representation to the Treasury and others to deal with this problem and the sewerage problem, which is closely associated with it. Unless the two are linked together, in the mind of the Treasury as well as the local authorities, you cannot solve this water problem, and I hope that the Minister—although it is not within his particular sphere—in considering the immediate policy as well as the ultimate long-term policy will face these two problems and see to it that sufficient money is obtained to put through schemes that are already in existence to a large degree, and which would be the effective means of helping to solve this problem. I am sure that I speak for most Members of the House when I say that we listened with satisfaction to the speech of the Minister. It was both vigorous and practical. My right hon. Friend has had the good sense to visit various typical areas of the country, and he- has told us of his impressions.
The hon. Member lives in a distant region which I have often visited and enjoyed, but I am speaking about the position in England. The Minister has said that the big question of the machinery of local government will be discussed in detail on a later occasion, but I am glad that he took the immediate opportunity of giving us the results of his inquiries as to the machinery that now exists. He spoke of the splendid work in connection with evacuation and other problems that has been done by the rural district councils. There is a feeling in some quarters of the House that the rural district councils are a sort of backwater remnant and do not count. That is a most mischievous and fallacious idea. One has only to attend the annual conferences of rural district councils from all parts of England and Wales to realise what effective work those councils are doing, giving infinite time and labour, for the most part unpaid, and with a zeal and devotion that are worthy of our admiration. I am glad that the Minister said that, considering the local experience that they bring to bear on local problems with such enthusiasm and efficiency, it would be a shame if in any future rearrangement of local administration we were to neglect that local knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm. I am sure that when the matter is examined at close quarters, the Minister's statement will be appreciated by far more hon. Members than at present.
Briefly, the basic problem—if I may use the word "basic" after what the Prime Minister said yesterday—is the financial resources. What has happened concerning water and sewage is happening in the case of other vital matters affecting rural areas. They are not given sufficient financial resources to enable them to make full use of their local experience, knowledge, and contacts. If the question of rural administration is to be properly handled, the aid which is to be available to the local authorities must be faced far more boldly than at present. I am glad the Minister has spoken as he has done about rural administration, because, if we are really earnest in our belief in representative institutions, we must realise that the principle of representation must go from the centre right down to the local areas. We cannot hope to have an effective democracy in this country unless people in the rural areas feel that they have an active and vital part in the administration of the districts in which they reside.
It is no good going into the rural parts of my county, Wiltshire, and talking to people about Whitehall, telling them that there is to be some supreme authority in Whitehall and that, through a Regional Commissioner or otherwise that authority is going to do this, that and the other thing, turning their lives upside down. They will say, "Thank you for nothing" They want to have their share in, and to use their experience in, the administration of those things which so closely affect their locality. Nor is it any good telling many people in my constituency, for instance, to go to Trowbridge; they do not want to go to the county authority about matters immediately concerning their homes and daily lives. They want to go to the rural district council; they want to see their local representative on the rural district council and ask what is to be done about a certain road, or a certain water supply, or housing or some other matter closely affecting them in their homes and their daily lives. They want to be able to tackle their representative, and if they are not satisfied with him, to vote against him at the next local election. It is the local element in our administration which has to be nurtured. Of course, I realise that we live in times in which we must have—a word which the Minister deplored —concentration, co-ordination, joint effort; but as the Minister wisely said, there are many cases in which joint effort can take place without damaging or abolishing local pride, patriotism, enthusiasm and co-operation. I sincerely hope that in any future arrangements the local aspect will be kept in view.
I want now to refer to the difficulties in rural areas that are caused by evacuation. I am concerned with a reception area, and one that is, unfortunately, also a favourite reception area for the military, the Air Ministry, and the central authorities concerned with our defence. The consequence is that in some districts in my constituency there is a very difficult problem of overcrowding. There is overcrowding in the homes because of billeting, there is overcrowding in the shops, a shortage of supplies to local residents because of the priority claims which are granted to those in uniform in regard to many commodities, and the problem of education is greatly intensified by the incursion of people from the evacuation areas. I know that the Minister recognises the difficulty which he has seen at first hand in his visits to rural areas, but I think hon. Members ought to realise that in certain areas, such as my own area, there comes a saturation point. These enormous problems are being faced resolutely and, on the whole, with much success by the local authorities, and I hope that they are being faced with the same resolution at headquarters in London.
I should like to pay a tribute to the way in which the evacuees have been received into the country homes. I do not know of anything to match the consideration with which householders and cottagers are putting up with all sorts of inconveniences in having women and children brought into their homes from town areas, disturbing the whole course and character of their own home life. In putting up with these inconveniences, they have shown a remarkable amount of restraint, kindness and consideration, and in doing so have helped part of the evacuation scheme to be a success. However, I think a point is being reached where the matter must be considered anew. There must be other areas in England besides my own area where far more could be done in the way of relieving those villages which are becoming overcrowded. Last week, at a railway station in my constituency, I had a chat with a London railwayman. He told me that he worked on the London Underground, and that after having a train every three minutes, it was quite an experience to wait for hours for a train. He told me that he had come down to see his children who were billeted in the district; he said they were getting on fine; there had been a great change in their health and happiness and outlook through living in the countryside. But he said that his wife was desperately anxious to come down, bringing her sister with her, to live with the children.
He had been trying to find accommodation, but there was nothing to be obtained; he had been to the town council and the rural district council, but there was not a corner anywhere. I do not know whether the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), and referred to sympathetically by the Minister, would help to meet that problem; but it seems to me that such a method might be a means of providing for a partial resumption of home life for such people. If something could be done in this way, it would be a great relief for those who are feeling rather oppressed by the separation of parents and children, by the partial breaking up of their home life, and the general disturbance of the whole of their ordinary routine. After all, the future of this country at this critical time depends upon the maintenance of the morale of the people. You cannot maintain the morale of the people unless you also take care of their physical health. There is nothing more detrimental to the maintenance of that morale than the breaking-up of homes, and that should be prevented as far as is possible in our plans for now and the future.
I should like at the outset to draw attention to the fact that the first Bill which dealt with defence was introduced in 1937. The then Home Secretary brushed aside the question of evacuation as being of little consequence, and I took occasion at that time to state that one of the most outstanding problems was preparation for the evacuation of people from crowded areas which were bound to be a mark for enemy aeroplanes. I added, that if the military and the A.R.P. Department did not understand this question, then they were incapable of doing their job. That was in 1937, and they have had all this time to make preparations and ensure that if any trouble came, there would be the minimum of suffering and disorganisation so far as the masses of the people in these areas were concerned. Quite a lot has been said about the situation in various parts of Scotland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) made a very striking speech on the question of the preparations which have been made for dealing with evacuation in Scotland.
A sort of experimental evacuation was carried out in the winter of 1939–1940, but it was the most farcical thing I have ever known. Women were encouraged to go with their children to various small villages or seaside resorts. In the spring of last year I went to one of these seaside resorts, situated on the West of Scotland, where a number of women and children had been billeted during the winter. The landladies of the boarding-houses had been quite willing to take them during the winter for so much per billet, but when the spring came they wanted the room for summer boarders and made life like hell for the evacuees. They turned them out in the morning, and these people had to remain outside the whole day; this was at Easter, when the weather was very cold in this particular part. We used to meet these people with their children in the streets, and they told us that all kinds of insulting references were made to them by the boarding-house keepers. They were called "vacs" and "tinks" and (hat sort of thing. The women and children were simply driven back to the cities, and as a result they had a natural horror for anything which suggested evacuation. Time and again I have seen these unfortunate people who have been bombed out of their homes walking about the streets. You can always tell, and you can hear people saying as you pass them in the street, "That is a crowd of evacuees' Often they "cock a snook" at them. There should be no need for anything like that, because in many parts of Scotland there is adequate housing accommodation.
I remember having my attention drawn to a case of a mother and two children who were put into a cottage with the people who were living there because that cottage happened to come within an evacuation area, whereas on the other side of the road, because that part happened to be in a neutral area, there was a small mansion or large villa in which only two people were living. It was just a step across from the cottage to the other house, which contained only two people. That sort of thing has been going on. There are whole hosts of houses in the country. districts and in the Highlands which have been left unoccupied, and the situation has become so serious that it is obvious that some action will have to be taken. I was speaking the other day to some of the responsible people in Dumbartonshire. They have had a very big job to do, and I must confess that they were very enthusiastic about the Secretary of State for Scotland. He had attended a meeting and had told them that there would be no limit in expenditure or in the taking over of houses in the country and in the Highlands. That, roughly, was the idea they gave to me, but I must say that they were very high in their praise for the Secretary of State for Scotland—I only wish I could be as high in my praise.
The question of billeting ought to have been put into operation long ago, and there should be no question of putting mothers and children into boarding-houses where they become a handicap to the boarding-house keeper who looks upon paying guests as her livelihood. These boarding-houses should have been taken over, with fair consideration given to the boarding-house keepers, as well as country houses, big mansions, and palaces. People could then be given accommodation under conditions which would develop all that is best and all that is homelike. I am certain that if action had been taken from the beginning, even before the war, much of the difficulty which has been experienced and much of the suffering which has been endured could have been avoided.
I represent an evacuation area, and it is only fair to say that at the moment there is, on the whole, general satisfaction felt by "the people and the authorities in that area with the way in which evacuation is being handled. In the early days there were numerous complaints, most of which were fully justified, because the arrangements were chaotic and the whole scheme worked out extremely badly. I expressed my views very forcibly, both inside and outside this House, especially on the arrangements for the reception of mothers and children in the reception areas. It therefore gives me all the more pleasure to be able to say now, that most of these difficulties have been smoothed out, and that there is general satisfaction with the present position, particularly in respect of children.
One of the few good things which have come out of the war is the fact that London children are being able to live for so long, and mostly under pleasant conditions, in the country. I find that parents of these children are delighted with the way they are treated, and I have had very few if any complaints about the treatment of the children. On the contrary, great gratitude is expressed on the part of the parents for the hospitality extended to the children. It is a hospitality not only on the part of the households in which the children are living, but very often also on the part of the community as a whole. In fact, one of the difficulties that arose during Christmas week was due to the community giving a treat to the evacuated children in which the local children did not participate. Very considerable friction, which lasted some time, followed because the evacuated children were getting a pleasure which children living normally in the area could not enjoy. The only difficulty—I cannot call it a complaint—which I have heard expressed by mothers comes from an anxiety that because those children are being treated so extremely well, and having such a good time in the country, it may not be easy when they return to London to get a happy family life resumed. That is an anxiety which is shared, I know, by many parents in London.
I would like to say one word about compulsion. I have never been one of those who advocate compulsory evacuation of children, but I am very disappointed that the compromise scheme proposed by the Government towards the end of last year has not been acted upon more fully. That scheme was that all children, or at any rate all those going to public shelters, should be examined by doctors and that any child who had suffered as a result of the blitz, or who in the opinion of the doctor was likely to suffer, should be sent out of London. The number sent out has been very small indeed. I asked a question about three months after the scheme started as to how many children had been sent away, and the answer, I think, was 20. I believe that the scheme is not being so carefully and fully pursued as it ought to be. There are many children in London who should be evacuated on the ground that they are either suffering already or have been so debilitated that they are very likely to suffer in any further blitz. When one comes to the evacuation of mothers, the problem is not so simple or so satisfactory. There are many complaints from London areas resulting from difficulties which have arisen. I do not want to deal with the matter at length, because it is extremely complex. In many cases I think the trouble is due to the fact that women have found it difficult to get on with other families, and in many cases no doubt mothers with several children have been billeted under quite unsuitable conditions in old condemned property with no proper conveniences. That, however, is a very wide subject, which I cannot deal with in the few minutes at my disposal.
The particular points I want to mention are three minor difficulties in the scheme, which may seem very small and petty but which cause a great deal of trouble. In the first place, there is a difficulty affecting expectant mothers and small children. A mother has registered at a hospital and an arrangement has been made about her assessment—that is, about the amount which she will have to pay— but when the time comes she is sent out to some hospital in the country and finds that the assessment arranged with the London hospital no longer stands and that she will have to pay much more. That causes annoyance and friction. An even greater difficulty occurs when the woman is a wife of a soldier receiving dependant's allowance. When she leaves London to go to a hospital in the country, where she will be for at least four weeks and sometimes five or six weeks, she loses the extra rent allowance which she is entitled to as a London resident. She still has to pay the rent of her house during that time, but she does not get the additional Army allowance. That also causes friction. It is a matter, I suppose, not for the Ministry of Health, but for the War Office or the Ministry of Pensions, but I would like to know that it is being inquired into.
The third difficulty refers to the evacuation of toddlers. That arises, I take it, because there is insufficient nursery school accommodation outside London. It constitutes a serious flaw in the evacuation scheme which should be attended to. It is particularly difficult for a woman who has a child one of say two years old and is going to have another baby. She wants to go out of London, but then the problem arises of what to do with the other child. She cannot take it with her, and she is in very great difficulty.
If the hon. Member will allow me to interrupt for a moment, I should like to say that in a great number of cases we have hostels to which mothers can go before they go into the maternity hospital. They can take their toddlers with them, and the toddlers can remain in the hostel while the mother is in hospital.
I am delighted to hear that, because in my area there has been great difficulty on that point, and we have not been able to arrange for toddlers to go away with the mother.
If the mother will go out before the actual date at which she is going into a maternity hospital that can be arranged. Of course, some mothers prefer to wait, but if she will go out beforehand, the matter can be dealt with.
There is another point I should like to deal with, and that is the case of the chronic sick in London hospitals. There are several hundred chronic sick patients in London, who require little medical attention, but who do require quite a considerable nursing staff to look after them. They lie in bed in hospital, many of them have no friends or relatives in London, they would not mind being moved out, but no arrangements have been made to take them out of London and so set free hospital accommodation and free the nurses looking after them for other more important work. The difficulty, I know, is usually one of finding accommodation for these people, but if accommodation can be found, the attention that they would require outside London would be very little. They would require a doctor to see them, maybe, once a week. It seems to me that hospital accommodation and nurses in London should not be unnecessarily occupied by people who ought to be outside London. I know the difficulties. I know that a very great many have already gone out, but I should like to see all these people go out as soon as possible. I admit that these are comparatively small points.
On the major problem, I am satisfied that evacuation as a whole is working very smoothly and is giving great satisfaction, particularly in respect of the children, to the people in London areas. I hope these minor points may be seen to, in which case I believe all the remaining difficulties will have been removed.
I hope my hon. Friend will not think that I am in the slightest degree discourteous to him if I suggest that some of the points he has raised will be more properly dealt with in the discussion which has been arranged on Civil Defence after our resumption. That also applies to some of the suggestions which have been made with regard to water supplies and sewage in rural areas, certainly most important matters without careful attention to which no large-scale or well organised evacuation policy can succeed.
I think it will be better if the hon. Gentleman gets a considered and detailed reply from the Minister who is responsible when it comes on. On the subject proper for the Debate to-day, the Minister of Health has already spoken, and I only rise to make a specific reply to one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirk-wood). The tribute paid to the Scottish Office by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) I hope rather relieved the strictures which the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs saw fit to level at the Scottish Office. [Interruption.] I did not interrupt the hon. Member, and I am making a perfectly fair point, that the hon. Member for West Fife gave an unsolicited testimonial to what the Scottish Office is attempting to do in the way of kindly and reasonable treatment of the evacuation problem, and I am entitled to draw attention to that fact. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, quite pro- perly, in my view, chose this opportunity to raise questions of detail about the evacuation of homeless persons in his constituency. I heard, with regret, one phrase that he used, and I hope on reflection he himself will regret having used it. He said that the homeless population in his constituency had been treated worse than criminals.
I think he said "worse than criminals," but I will take it as he says it now. I know something about this personally in the major town in the hon. Member's constituency, a sending area. I also know something about it in a receiving area. I was personally all through that very serious and lamentable episode. I want to pay this tribute to the people there, that the thousands of helpers who gave voluntary service, sometimes for two and three days at a time, gave of their best and kindest, and I think there can be no justification whatever for saying that the people who were afflicted by being bombed out were treated like criminals. In the reception areas, too, to my personal knowledge, the householders were kindness itself. I suppose the hon. Member may have received some of them in his own home. I have them in my home now. I know that in the reception towns-everything possible was done to make the afflicted people feel at home.
Certainly, and no one can do more. No narrow, rigid regulations were laid down, and none were insisted upon. Great kindness was given on all hands, and it was understood and welcomed by the people. I say that they were treated not as criminals but as friends. It may be that here and there there were misfits and people who did not rise to the occasion, I do not doubt it, but by and large I welcome this opportunity of paying a tribute to my folk, the receiving folk, who are the working and middle classes in the West of Scot land, as well as to the poor afflicted folk who were bombed out of their houses, for the great co-operation, the good will, and the magnificent spirit which both sides showed.
The hon. Member raised the case of a family in a certain town. He said quite truly that they were being billeted in a hut. He described the condition, the height and size, and so on, of the hut. This is a family of 13 children and two parents. My information is that repeated attempts were made to billet the family, provided that accommodation could be got for them. It is exceedingly difficult to get a single household able to take a family of 15. If the family had been prepared to divide themselves up, there would have been no difficulty, I am assured, in billeting them, but because they insisted upon being billeted as a unit, the only place available for them in that area was this hut, and they are still there. The hon. Member talked about people who were still in rest centres at certain schools. It is true that they are still in schools, despite the fact that we have done everything we can and moved every interest we can to provide suitable billets for them.
Will the hon. Member please allow me to proceed? I did not interrupt him. I am entitled to say what the defence is. We have not given them houses, because no houses are available.
I want to explain why these people are living in rest centres. They are living there because some of them, again, are big families—[Interruption]. If I am not to be allowed to give an answer to the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, I do not propose to state it, but I want to say this for the satisfaction of other hon. Members who listened with patience to the hon. Member. There is another side to the case. There is not only the case of large families in these centres, but the case of single men. There is the case of young men who were in billets and who returned to the centres, on the best information given to me, because they got free meals there. We have done everything we can. We have encouraged the county council, which is the requisitioning authority, to requisition four large houses, and these are being equipped as rapidly as it is possible to get materials. I personally went down there and had an interview with the authorities last Friday night. I was assured that within a fortnight's time these four large houses, requisitioned in different parts of the county, would be ready for occupation by the tenants of the rest centres. If there is any other place where accommodation can be got in houses that can be requisitioned, I want to say that it is not the Scottish Office that is standing in the way of requisitioning powers being used. We have encouraged their use in every possible way.
I did not say that; I say that I do not know of any. I have had two or three interviews with the county council on this matter and the council has come to me on a deputation about it. We have given every possible help that we can and told the council to. go ahead and get the job done. As far as these rest centres are concernd, probably in a week's time from now it will be possible to have some of the large families housed in the requisitioned mansions.
A statement was also made that the Scottish Office has done nothing in the way of rehousing these poor homeless people. Let me say what we have tried to do. In one town in the hon. Gentleman's constituency a first-class hostel has been opened, and another is in course of equipment. We have arranged for four hostel camps, north, south, east and west of the Clyde basin, for temporarily housing 500 people each. I know that these things are only temporary and only makeshift. I know that we can never cope otherwise with this problem.
Nobody can cope with this problem on peace-time standards. War is hell. There can be no drawing-room arrangements made for dealing with the effects of it.
I know that there are towns in Scotland where overcrowding existed in pre-war times to the extent of 45 per cent. of the people. We are not only short of housing in Scotland, but we have enormous overcrowding, and we have a very limited amount of available accommodation even by squeezing people in. All I can say is that whatever it is possible to do, we shall do. We cannot achieve impossibilities, and I do not want to give the impression that we can. The position is that with every destruction of houses by enemy aircraft the accommodation becomes less. With every change in industrial occupation, such as dockers coming up from England, the accommodation still becomes less. All we can do in the way of camps, hostels and so on will be done, but so long as the war lasts and there is a diminution in housing it will be unfair, unjust, unreasonable and foolish for any member of the Government to say that we can deal with this problem as we would like in other circumstances to.
Several speakers have said truthfully that there were people who had left areas, had turned the key in their doors, left their houses unoccupied and gone to receiving areas where they have taken up billeting accommodation. this rendered our problem still more difficult when we came to rind accommodation for homeless people. What is to be done with them? For my part, I say that in this time and under these conditions it is intolerable that anyone should be tenant of two homes, only one of which he occupies, and the other is kept vacant. No one at this time has any right to keep a house vacant. Therefore, we are taking whatever steps we can to draw the attention of the local authorities to the fact that they can requisition any houses that are left vacant by their tenants, and by that means we may secure that persons shall be the occupiers of only a single house, so that, as in matters of food rationing, wherever there is a shortage the shortage is shared. In my view there is no more reason why a man should have two houses, only one of which he is able to occupy, than that he should have two rations of bacon or two rations of butter or tea while his neighbour gets one or none. It may be that all these measures, taken co-operatively, are insufficient to deal adequately with the problem. All I can say is that, so far as I am concerned, and so far as the Scottish Office is concerned, we shall use every power we have and do everything we can to make conditions tolerable for the people during these awful times. We cannot do more than that, and it would be folly to pretend that it is within the power of anybody, Regional Commissioner, dictator, Fuührer, or whoever he may be, to do more.