asked the Home Secretary who authorised the use of petrol by those attending meetings addressed by the Deputy Regional Commissioner at Bath, on 29th August and at Taunton, on 30th August; who was responsible for hiring the halls used and what was the rent paid; and whether he will forbid the extravagant use of motor-cars and halls for the purpose of such meetings in future?
These meetings were arranged by the Somerset and Bath Invasion Committees, at the request of the Regional Commissioner, for the purpose of informing members of Invasion Committees and officers of the Civil Defence services, Police and Home Guard of the arrangements made for meeting invasion and of exercises proposed to be held for the instruction of the public on this subject. Those attending from the county were authorised by the Somerset County Council as scheme-making authority to use motor transport where convenient public conveyance was not available. In both cases the halls were lent free of charge, and the only cost incurred was a sum of £4 19s. 2d. for lighting at Taunton, which is being defrayed by the Somerset County Council.
My hon. Friend has, I know, been reported as publicly expressing the view that these meetings were unnecessary and useless, but I have no reason to think that such a view is shared by the majority of those who attended the meetings. They were held in pursuance of the Government's policy for preparing the general public for invasion, and I cannot accept his suggestion that the use of motor transport in proper cases or attendance at such meetings is extravagant. I regret, and the Bath and Somerset authorities share my regret, that my hon. Friend should have seen fit to make ill-advised statements which are calculated to impede the difficult and important work undertaken by invasion committees.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reason for the complaints of my constituents, which caused me to put this Question on the Paper, is that although both they and I want to see these invasion committees working as efficiently as possible with the co-operation of the public, my constituents dislike being ordered to attend meetings and to burn petrol to get there, and being taken away from very important work such as harvesting; and will he not reconsider this question as to whether it is advisable to have such large meetings for these purposes?
The people were not ordered to burn petrol. All that happened was that they were asked to use public service vehicles wherever they could, but where they could not, they could get petrol, and I think that was reasonable for this special purpose. The only point I would put to my hon. Friend is that if he was dissatisfied with certain of the details of the meetings, I think it would have been better if he had communicated with me privately, rather than making statements which have given an impression that all this talk about invasion is unwise.