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Written Answers

Volume 149: debated on Friday 16 December 1921

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Written Answers

Unemployment

Barrow-In-Furness (Government Work)

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the serious reduction in work resulting from the limitation of armaments as proposed by the Washington Conference, he will make special provision for supplementing that work in places like Barrow-in-Furness by a special effort to send as much Government work as possible to such places, or by making any other arrangements that are possible?

My hon. Friend's question is, I think, premature, and I shall not be in a position to answer it until we can see what is the effect of any agreement reached at Washington on employment in such towns as Barrow-in-Furness. But his suggestion will be borne in mind.

Electrical Industry

asked the Prime Minister if his attention has been called to the resolution passed by the Joint Industrial Council and other bodies in the electrical industry, in which attention was called to the grave state of unemployment in the electrical industry arising largely from the uncertainty of the future of the industry; if he is aware that the conference viewed with alarm the proposals put forward in certain centres to carry out the construction of certain electric generating stations and the electrification of railways by placing the work in German hands and acccepting the constructions as part of the reparation payments, and that the Minister of Health gave the deputation assurance that the Government were very desirous to allay such uncertainty and to assist as far as possible the reopening of activity in electrical work; and if he intends taking any action in the matter?

The answers to all but the last part of the question are in the affirmative. No action by His Majesty's Government is at present in contemplation of the kind to which the Joint Industrial Council and other bodies have been objecting.

Allied Debts (Cancellation)

asked the Prime Minister whether this House will be consulted before any decision to cancel the debts owing to us by the French or other Allied Governments, so that the conditions of such cancellation may be subject to discussion and approval?

The question is entirely hypothetical, but I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that, should it become of practical importance, a full opportunity would be given for Parliamentary discussion and approval of the action of the Executive.

Sir Edgar Speyer

asked the Prime Minister whether he will lay upon the Table and publish the Report of the Committee upon whose recommendation the certificate of naturalisation of Sir Edgar Speyer has been revoked?

I propose to lay this Report on the Table as soon as I have heard from the Committee on a point as to which I am in communication with them.

Naval And Military Pensions And Grants

Mother's Pension (Mrs Jane Williams)

asked the Minister of Pensions, respecting his answer on 10th November last, if the Special Grants Committee have considered the case of a widow, Mrs. Jane Williams, 6, Mitre Street, Abertillery, who lost three sons in the late War and is entirely dependent upon the pension of 12s. per week; and, if the committee have not considered this case, will he see that it is dealt with as speedily as possible, in view of the exceptional distress existing at the present time?

The Special Grants Committee have carefully reconsidered this case, but are not prepared to increase the supplementary allowance of 5s. a week, as the total income of the household of three persons was found to be 78s. per week. The pension of 12s. represents the total extent of the applicant's dependence upon her late sons, with an addition in respect of the increased cost of living; and inquiries which have been made into the circumstances of the case do not show that there is exceptional distress in the household.

Treatment Allowances

asked the Minister of Pensions how many men have been struck off treatment allowances in consequence of the circular of the Ministry dealing with the supervision of out-patient treatment; how many of those struck off allowances were certified by the Ministry of Pensions fit for any work; how many were ordered to continue treatment without allowances; and whether, in view of the posters issued by the Minister of Pensions in 1919 intimating to disabled men that during treatment, while unable to earn, they would be given adequate allowances for the support of themselves and their families, this practice will be reconsidered?

I regret that the figures for which my hon. Friend asks are not available. I would, however, point out that it is not the duty of the medical officers of the Ministry to certify men as fit for work, and that treatment allowances can only be authorised under the terms of the Royal Warrant when, in consequence of the treatment provided, the man is rendered unable to provide for his own support and that of his family. This is not a new principle, and I am not prepared to recommend any amendment of the Warrant in this respect.

Post Office

Sub-Offices, Bristol

asked the Post-master-General whether he has considered the possibility of securing important economies, with many practical advantages, by the abolition of certain sub-offices under the control of the postmaster of Bristol: whether he is aware that in the Bedminster area three of the five town sub-offices could be abolished without inconvenience; and whether he will consider the closing of the offices at Bedminster, St. John's, the Chessels, and Raleigh Road, leaving Bedminster, West Street, to be improved, and replacing Bedminster, North Street, by a modern office, higher up the thoroughfare, which should be more suitable to modern requirements?

Lydney Post Office

asked the Postmaster-General whether he is aware of the medical reports on the insanitary condition of the post office at Lydney; whether he will state the wording of the Report made in January last; whether he is able to fix the date when the repairs alleged by him to be necessary will commence; and the reason for the neglect to consider the health of the staff and the convenience of the public?

I am aware of the conditions prevailing at the Lydney Post Office and of the medical reports on the subject. The question of remedying the defects to which the medical officer drew attention has been in hand for some time. The plans are now ready, and an effective start will be made with the building work early in the new year.

Prosecution, West Ham (Mr W Gott)

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that Mr. W. Gott was sentenced at the Central Criminal Court on a charge of blasphemy, and that his trial took place on Wednesday, 7th December; that the jury disagreed and were discharged, and a new trial ordered two days later, namely, Friday, 9th December; and that after a long consultation the jury brought in a verdict of guilty and recommended clemency, and the man in question was sentenced to nine months' hard labour; who was responsible for the prosecution and who will pay expenses; if the man in question was ordered out of the borough of West Ham, and under what order or regulation the police had power to do so; and whether he will take action so that in the future any offences against public decency should be dealt with by the ordinary law?

The facts are as stated in the earlier part of the question. The Commissioner of Police instituted the proceedings on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the expenses will fall on the Metropolitan Police Fund. About a month before the arrest of Gott, he was causing an obstruction in the West Ham district, and a police officer, in accordance with his duty, cautioned him, and caused him to move on. The prosecution was conducted under the ordinary law applicable to such cases. Gott had previously been convicted six times of similar offences.

Dangerous Driving, Whitehall

asked the Home Secretary whether the attention of the police was drawn to an exceptionally flagrant case of furious driving of a car bearing a general identification mark in Whitehall on the afternoon of the 19th October; and what steps have been taken to deal with the offender?

In the absence of further particulars, the case referred to in the question cannot be identified with certainty, but I have ascertained that a complaint was made to the police by two persons of a case of dangerous driving at the date and place referred to. No police officer witnessed the incident, but the police traced the owner of the car, and offered assistance to the complainants to prosecute the driver. They declined to appear, however, and no other evidence being available, it was impossible to take any proceedings.

Excess Profits Duty

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the public announcement that payment of Excess Profits Duty may, in approved cases, be made over a term of years, he will consider the advisability of making the principle retrospective so that some firms who would have come under this arrangement, but have already paid, and thereby seriously embarrassed the proper carrying on of their business, may be allowed to apply for a consideration of their case under the above scheme?

British Army (Deserters)

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the release of Irish prisoners under an amnesty, an amnesty will be declared for those soldiers who deserted and whose names still appear on the regimental lists as deserters?

I can only refer the hon. Member to the answer which was given to him on 13th June. I do not think the situation in regard to deserters from the British Army is in any way affected by the release of Irish prisoners, to which the hon. Member refers. The case of any deserter surrendering himself will be dealt with on its merits.

Temporary Admiralty Clerks (Compassionate Gratuity)

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury if he is aware that under the Act of 1887 the Treasury may grant a compassionate gratuity of £1 or one week's pay, whichever is greater, for each year of service to any person holding a hired situation and therefore not entitled to superannuation under the Act of 1857 on his retirement or removal from employment in a public department to which he was required to give his whole time, and for which he was paid entirely out of money voted by Parliament; that such gratuities are only granted after seven years' service, when the employé is removed on reorganisation of offices or abolition of appointment or after 15 years' service when the retirement is in consequence of a medical certificate of permanent incapacity; that a number of Admiralty clerks who have completed their seven years' service, and whom the Admiralty is willing and anxious to pay, were told by the responsible officials that they would receive the money and would be allowed to participate, as in the case of dockyard workers; if he can give any reasons why the clerks in question have been deprived of their compassionate gratuity; and if he will take action in the matter?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer which I gave to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) on the 17th August last, of which I am sending him a copy. No person is entitled to a compassionate gratuity under Section 4 of the Superannuation Act, 1887, and it is not considered that temporary clerks engaged in connection with the War, who happen to have been retained so long as seven years, can properly be regarded as coming within the category of non-pensionable employment to which the Act was intended to apply. On the other hand, the expectation of a gratuity after seven years' service on discharge, in consequence of reductions in staff due to fluctuations in the work, is one of the recognised conditions of dockyard employment.

Safeguarding Of Industries Act

asked the President of the Board of Trade where his Department obtained the menthol which they state is purer than the ordinary imported menthol and which is the basis of the addition of the letter R in the Board of Trade list which defines the Key Industries Schedule; whether this menthol so obtained was a commercial article before objection was lodged to the inclusion of menthol in the list; and whether, in fact, it is a commercial article at all?

A re-crystallised menthol of substantially better quality than the Japanese menthol ordinarily imported has been prepared in Germany by a well-known firm, and was listed as "Menthol pure in crystals" in their English catalogue as long ago as 1911. I am informed that during recent years at least one English firm has been re-crystallising menthol, and selling small quantities.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the decision given by the Lord Chancellor's referee on 10th December in respect of santonine and of the grounds given for that decision which affect by implication a large number of commodities contained in the list published by the Board of Trade under the Key Industries Schedule of the Safeguarding of Industries Act, he will be prepared to extend beyond 7th January, 1922, the date up to which objections to the list may be lodged, at any rate, until he has officially announced the scope of the action which he intends to take as a result of the decision given, especially as regards all those natural substances which are so closely related to santonine as to be governed by exactly the same principles, e.g., salicin, menthol, mannite, lactose, eserine, etc.?

No, Sir. I am not prepared at present to undertake to extend the period during which complaints may be lodged which the Board must refer to the referee; but should the principles on which the decision mentioned was based be maintained, the list will, of course, be revised accordingly, and I shall be prepared to consider at any time any representations which may be made to me in that regard.

Building Materials (Prices)

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has information showing that the prices of building materials are being raised by trusts; and, if so, what steps he proposes to take in the matter?

A large amount of information on the subject of combinations in respect of building materials is contained in the Reports of the Central Committee under the Profiteering Acts on slates [Cmd. 1338], the brick trade [Cmd. 959], the stone, brick and clayware trades [Cmd. 1209], pipes and castings [Cmd. 1217], and light castings [Cmd. 1200], and in the Report on Combinations in Building Material Trades appended to the Report of the Committee on Trust [Cd. 9236]. It appears from these that any generalisation as to the effect of such combinations is impracticable. As regards the second part of the question, I can only refer the hon. and gallant Member to the statements which have been made from time to time in this House as to the consideration which the Government is giving to this very difficult matter.

Coal Smoke

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the injury to health and the damage to property and goods in the Metropolitan area, estimated at some millions of pounds, due to the recent fogs, any steps have been taken by the Government towards the abatement of coal smoke; and whether the recent developments in the manufacture of a smokeless fuel for household and industrial use at works near Barnsley have come to the knowledge of the Board of Trade?

The question of the abatement of coal smoke has been engaging the active attention of the Government since 1917, and research into this problem has been continuously undertaken by the Fuel Research Board under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The Board is fully informed of the work on this problem being done by other organisations, not only at Barnsley, but elsewhere.

Boycotting, Burma

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the political leaders in Burma have been arrested and imprisoned under the Indian Defence of the Realm Act instead of, as elsewhere in India, under the ordinary laws; and, if so, why was such extraordinary action taken?

The means of meeting a systematic boycott of loyal people affected by the ordinary law in India is to proclaim as unlawful the associations which are responsible. I understand that in Burma the boycotting of loyal Burmese is the work of individual extremists who belong to a perfectly respectable association, which it would be unjust to proclaim. Special legislation is being prepared, but in the meantime the Lieutenant-Governor has, as an emergency measure, temporarily interned a few mischief-makers under the Defence of India Act.

Mexico

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government have yet recognised the Mexican Government; and, if not, the reasons for non-recognition?

The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. The reasons for the policy of His Majesty's Government have been frequently stated, and any change that has since taken place in the situation has not been for the better.

M Krassin

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the diplomatic status in this country of M. Krassin; and whether he has been consulted or received by His Majesty's Ministers in regard to any matters other than those comprised in the trade agreement?

M. Krassin has no "diplomatic" status. He is the chief official agent of the Soviet Government, appointed under Article 5 of the Agreement of 16th March, and has been received at the Foreign Office solely in that capacity. Advantage has been taken on one or two occasions of M. Krassin's presence in London to discuss with him questions arising out of the existence of famine in Russia, and in connection with the question of the repatriation of prisoners.

Intermediate School, Brain- Tree (Appointment)

asked the President of the Board of Education whether his attention has been called to the recent appointment made by the Essex education authorities to the position of caretaker to the intermediate school at Bocking, Braintree, and that the public announcement of the vacancy stated that special consideration would be given to the applications of ex-service men; how many of such men applied; whether four ex-service men were selected to appear before the committee; whether the appointment was ultimately made outside the ranks of the ex-service men; and whether he will cause the transaction to be reconsidered in accordance with the original announcement?

I have no knowledge of this matter. The appointment of care- takers of Provided Schools is within the discretion of the local education authority, and I have no authority to intervene in the matter.

Tanganyika Territory

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the importance not only to the natives but to our reputation, and in view of the complex and diverse systems of land tenure of the mandated territory of Tanganyika, he will consider the advisability of setting up a small committee to report on the land system that it is most desirable to introduce or prefer, having regard to our special responsibility to all races and classes in that territory?

The Governor of the territory, Sir Horace Byatt, is expected to return to England in February. The matter will be discussed with him, and the advisability of referring it to a committee can then be considered.

Iron And Steel Trades (Railway Charges)

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport if he is aware that during the present year a number of workmen in the iron and steel trades in different parts of the country have had their wages reduced about 50 per cent.; that the managers of the various steel and iron works and the blast-furnace managers in the different parts of the country have energetically protested against the high railway freightage charged for their coal and other raw material that is used for the purpose of making their products; that Sir Hugh Bell, at Middlesbrough, on Tuesday, 13th December, stated to his board of directors that if the present railway rates were maintained it would ultimately lead to a stoppage of the iron and steel trades; and if he will take any action in the matter?

I understand that substantial reductions have taken place in the wages of workmen in the iron and steel trades. I am aware that representations have been made by the iron and steel manufacturers to the railway companies and understand that these representations are under the consideration of the companies. In view of the importance of the subject, I hope that their decision may be announced very shortly. As I stated in my reply to the hon. Member on the 9th November, the reduction of these rates can now be effected by the railway companies themselves. It is also open to any trader or representative body of traders under Sections 60 and 78 of the Railways Act, 1921, to apply to the Railway Rates Tribunal to reduce the rates.

Trade Boards Inquiry (Evidence)

asked the Minister of Labour what is the reason for the delay in placing on sale to the public each day's evidence before the Trade Board Inquiry Committee as the inquiry proceeds, seeing that there is a very large public demand for this evidence daily which would more than repay the Stationery Office the expense of printing; and will the Minister see that such evidence as has already been given is at once placed on sale, each day's evidence separately, as unless the evidence is available to the public it will not be possible to correct any inaccurate statements made to the Inquiry Committee either by officials, employers, or workers?

It is not proposed to issue the evidence given before the Trade Boards Committee from day to day. It is not the general practice in the case of either a Commission or a Committee to follow this course, and it does not appear that there is any ground for making an innovation in respect of this Committee. I should add that the enquiry is public, and interested parties can therefore hear any evidence with which they are concerned.