Oral Answers to Questions — Air-Raid Victims, Weston- Super-Mare (Funeral Charges).

– in the House of Commons on 30th July 1942.

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Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he is aware that, after the bombing of Weston-super-Mare, undertakers touted distressed relatives who had been called to the town to identify victims, secured orders for the provision of coffins, etc., and subsequently submitted to those relatives exorbitant bills for the work; and, as these prices are greatly in excess of those allowed by his Department, will he take the necessary steps to prevent any future exploitation of dependants of air-raid victims in this manner?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

My inquiries have not disclosed any foundation for the allegation in the first part of the Question, and I have no power to intervene between undertakers and relatives who elect to arrange private burials instead of taking advantage of the provision made by local health authorities.

Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

Is the Minister aware that distressed people were called from South Wales to go to Weston-super-Mare to identify their relatives, and that in the particular case referred to in the Question, the son identified his father and mother who had been killed in the blitz, and was touted by undertakers while in that distressed condition at the mortuary, and that ultimately a bill for £50 was sent to him? Why was there not some civil authority there to advise these people of their rights?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I have taken a great deal of trouble over this. I have had full inquiries made, and I can assure the hon. Member that he has been misinformed.

Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

Has not the Minister got documents in his Department, and has he not sent an acknowledgment that he has received those documents, and do they not disclose that over £50 was charged for putting two killed people into two coffins and sending them to South Wales?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

The information which I received, I repeat, proves beyond a shadow of doubt that there is no truth whatever in the hon. Member's allegations that touting took place. As to the price of the coffins, it was not £50; it was £20 odd—

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

—and if one reads the description of the coffins, a matter which was arranged between the relatives and the undertakers, they were the sort of coffins one would expect Hitler to have.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Weston-Super-Mare

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in the course of the inquiries made in connection with this Question, he found any proof that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) had taken any steps before putting down this Question, which contains a very sweeping slander, to verify the facts contained in the Question?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I am absolutely satisfied that the hon. Member for Caerphilly did not make any inquiry.

Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

Am I entitled to make a personal explanation on this matter, as an allegation of slander has been made?

Mr. Speaker:

If the Hon. Member wishes to make a statement, he must do so after Questions.

Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Aberdeen North

There are some points even more important than constituency points, strangely enough. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in order for a Minister to say, in answer to a Question, that a Member has not made any inquiries into the subject of the Question he has put down?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

Further to that point of Order. The hon. Member will recollect that I said it was evident he had not made inquiries.

Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

How does the right hon. Gentleman know?

Photo of Mr Frank Collindridge Mr Frank Collindridge , Barnsley

Is the Minister aware that his reply to this Question is calculated to allow this thing to go on?

Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

It will encourage it.