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Volume 154: debated on Monday 15 May 1922

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Soviet Government (Recognition)


asked the Prime Minister whether he and Signor Giolitti met at Lucerne and pledged themselves to give official recognition to the Soviet Government when the Bolshevist Armies occupied Warsaw; whether such an agreement is still in force; and whether he has any statement to make?


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, at the time when Poland seemed on the eve of being beaten by the Bolshevist Army, the Prime Minister pledged himself to Signor Giolitti to give official recognition to the Soviet Government as soon as the Bolshevist Armies occupied Warsaw; and whether he is in a position to make a statement on this matter?

I have had the notes of the conversations which took place between the Prime Minister and Signor Giolitti at Geneva in August, 1920, examined. They contain nothing that lends any support to this allegation, which is absolutely devoid of truth.

Reconstruction (British Assistance)


asked the Prime Minister whether, in the event of the British delegation at Genoa considering the reply of the Russian Government to the Memorandum of 3rd May, or as it may be subsequently modified, satisfactory, he will say what is the total sum which it is intended this country shall be pledged to advance to the Soviet Government under the Trade Facilities Act, under the scheme of an international corporation, under the exports credit scheme, or other financial scheme for the reconstruction of Russia?

It has been repeatedly stated that it is not proposed by His Majesty's Government to make any loan to the Soviet Government. As regards trade credits under the Trade Facilities Act or in connection with the International Corporation, I can make no statement in the present conditions at Genoa.

Will financial assistance be given to British merchants desirous of opening up trade with Russia or to the Russians themselves?

The proposals discussed were of the nature indicated in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question.

Armies (Frontier Concentration)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has now any information as to the preparations being made by the Bolshevist Government to attack Poland and Roumania, reports of these alleged preparations having been repeatedly produced recently, especially in the French Press?

I have nothing to add to the answer which I gave to the hon. and gallant Member for the Wrekin Division (Sir C. Townshend) on the 11th May.

British Ships (Outrages)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any reply has been received from the Soviet Government regarding the representations addressed to it recently with respect to the outrages committed against a number of British ships whilst navigating in the vicinity of the Russian coasts; and, if so, will he state the terms of such reply?

Yes, Sir, a reply has been received refusing to give the-satisfaction demanded. The matter is forming the subject of further representations.

Canadian Cattle Embargo


asked the Prime Minister whether any communications have been made to the Canadian Government, through the Canadian High Commissioner or otherwise, since the Imperial Conference of 1917, explaining or modifying the pledge then given by Lord Ernle as Minister of Agriculture for the removal of the embargo on Canadian cattle; and whether such communications will be placed before Parliament before the discussion of the question in this House?


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, at the time of the Armistice or afterwards, any communication was sent from his Department to the Government of the Dominion of Canada with regard to the position of our flocks and herds in relation to the meat supplies of the country, and the bearing of that position upon our policy in the matter of the importation of store cattle; and, if so, whether the letter will be published before the House discusses any motion in regard to the cattle embargo?

I must apologise for the length of my reply, but the question asked is a very important one. Lord Ernie, then President of the Board of Agriculture, stated in this House on 25th May, 1917 (within a month of the Imperial War Conference), in reply to a question put by the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, that at that time permission to import Canadian cattle, except for slaughter at the ports, was plainly impossible, that the prohibition rested rather on the agricultural policy of the United Kingdom than on the risk of disease, and that he could not say whether or under what conditions Canadian cattle might hereafter be permitted to enter this country except for slaughter at the ports. After the Armistice, on 3rd March, 1919, in the presence of the hon. Member for Sparkbrook, who was then Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lorn Ernle informed Mr. Robertson, representative of the Canadian Department of Agriculture, and Mr. Arkell, Live Stock Commissioner for Canada, who were making representations on behalf of the Canadian Government through unofficial channels, that in view of the unsettled state of British agriculture following war conditions, it would be quite inopportune to take any action toward the removal of the embargo at that time. This interview was mentioned by Lord Ernle in a speech in another place on 25th March, 1920. In November, 1919, and January, 1921, a correspondence took place on the subject between my predecessor, Lord Lee of Fareham, and Sir George Perley, then High Commissioner for Canada, which is published in Appendix II of the Proceedings before the Royal Commission on Canadian Store Cattle. Lord Lee there restated the views previously expressed by Lord Ernle.

Is it not the case that the Noble Lord, Lord Long, when in office, also gave a pledge, a very definite pledge, at the Imperial Conference to the Canadian Government in regard to this matter?

Whitsuntide Recess


asked the Prime Minister what arrangement is contemplated for Whitsuntide; when will the House rise; and for how long?

Will the right hon. Gentleman make the statement early in the week, and not at the end of it?

I cannot tell. I may be able to make it on Monday or I may not. If we do not make the progress with business I anticipate, perhaps it would be better for me to wait and see.

Can we have a statement which will dispose of the disquieting statement that the Government only intend to let the House have a long week-end?

The House and the Government are partners in this matter. Our interests are the same, and our duties are the same. Our interest is to get the longest holiday we can. Our duty is to do our business before we go on holiday.

Channel Tunnel


asked the Prime Minister whether there is any prospect of a decision upon the advisability of proceeding with the construction of the Channel tunnel in the near future?

National Expendituee


asked the Lord Privy Seal what decision has been come to by the Government to carry out their intention of accelerating the reduction of expenditure; and whether he will state precisely why this work could not be done by a Parliamentary Committee having the Geddes terms of reference?


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he intends to re-appoint the Geddes Committee for the purpose of reviewing and developing the recommendations which they made last year?

The Treasury has already taken up with the Departments the question as to what immediate and prospective reductions can be made on their Votes for the current year, and, as soon as answers are received, will be engaged in discussing with them all possible means of effecting economies. Committees are also being appointed to investigate (1) the practicability of a Ministry of Defence as recommended by the Geddes Committee, (2) the amalgamation and co-ordination of services common to the various fighting forces, and (3) the feasibility of introducing a system of making lump sum instead of percentage grants to local authorities. No advantage would be gained—at least at the present stage—by setting up any further Committee to deal with such matters.

Seeing that the Treasury have negotiated with the Admiralty and the Admiralty have said that they cannot reduce the expenditure, will the Government, in view of the complete divergence of opinion between the Geddes Committee and the Admiralty, have a special inquiry made into the case of Admiralty expenditure?

There is another question on the Paper as to Admiralty expenditure in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn). I think my hon. Friend is a little too pessimistic as to the result of the discussions.

Having regard to the failure of the Treasury last year to effect economies and the fact that the Geddes Committee had to be appointed because the Treasury could not control the Departments, will the right hon. Gentleman give the Treasury an assurance that they have the Cabinet behind them in dealing with this problem?

I cannot accept the premisses of my hon. Friend. I think they are really unfair alike to the Departments and to the Treasury. If my memory serves me aright, a saving of something like seventy millions had been made by the Departments and the Treasury in combination before any proposals were submitted by the Geddes Committee. But that is past history. I could not, however, entirely pass over what my hon. Friend said. He may rest assured that the Exchequer and the Treasury and the other Departments know that the Government are behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury efforts to reduce the expenditure of the country.

Why does the Lord Privy Seal consistently refuse to a Committee of this House the power of checking expenditure which he was willing to give, and did give with so much success, to an outside Committee?

I have offered more than once a Committee of this House, but every time I have done so my hon. and gallant Friend has put down a blocking Motion.

The right hon. Gentleman has never offered to a Committee of this House the terms of reference he gave to the Geddes Committee?


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, of the £21,000,000 reduction on the Navy Estimates proposed by the Geddes Committee, only £4,000,000 have been effectively made?

Of the reduction of £21,000,000 on the Navy Estimates proposed by the Geddes Committee, only fourteen millions were specified. Of this latter amount not all, even if accepted, could have been realised in the current, year owing to terminal charges, including compensation for discharges, and to the fact that when you are dealing with a service spread all over the globe delays must necessarily take place in effecting the necessary reductions. In the Esti mates of the current year the amount is less by sixteen millions than the Provisional Estimate which was before the Geddes Committee. Of this figure approximately eleven millions is directly due to the results of the Washington Conference, leaving a sum of five millions; but in order to assess the effective saving for the future this figure has to be increased by the amount represented by the terminal charges referred to above.

Then are we to take it that the statement by Sir Eric Geddes, an ex-First Lord of the Admiralty, which is repeated in this question, is inaccurate?

The hon. and gallant Member is very anxious to embroil me with my right hon. Friend Sir Eric Geddes, but if he will take my answer for what it states, and will not attempt to provoke a quarrel between Sir Eric Geddes and me, I shall be grateful.

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been called to any particular items in the Report of the Geddes Committee which have not been complied with, such, for example, as the reduction of Pembroke Dockyard, which is absolutely superfluous?

Would the right hon. Gentleman send a copy of this answer to his right hon. Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Mr. Bonar Law)?

My attention has been called to the case of Pembroke. It was my duty—my rather painful duty—to receive a deputation from Pembroke, who pointed out how entirely the development of the town had been the creation of the Government dockyard, and how disastrous to the town and the fortunes of people who had embarked their money in every kind of investment there owing to the Government dockyard, would be the closing of the dockyard. But I quite agree that, in these days of necessarily rigid economy, one must face even hardships of that kind, if it can be shown that the dockyard is not needed.

Mining Accidents (Shot-Firing)


asked the Secretary for Mines the number of accidents, fatal and non-fatal, that occurred in the mines of Great Britain during the year 1921 as a result of shot firing; whether safety appliances were used by the shot firers; if so, in how many cases; is he aware that the colliery firemen's association are strongly in favour of using these safety appliances; and will he take steps by legislation, if necessary, to enforce their adoption?

14 persons were killed and 167 suffered serious injury by accidents arising out of the use of explosives at mines during 1921. As regards the rest of the question, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Rhondda West (Mr. John) on 7th March.

Did not the Secretary for Mines promise a deputation that he would consider setting a colliery apart where these tests could be exclusively taken, and what steps have been taken to give effect to that promise?

I should like to consider it. Everything, of course, should be done to ensure that a satisfactory experiment should be made. I am quite ready to take any steps, and I have set up a technical committee to go into the question of safety appliances in general.

Oil Borings, Midlothian


asked the Secretary for Mines if oil has been struck in D'Arcy bore, Midlothian; what is the depth; whether the strata reached are oil bearing; and what is likely to be the quantity of oil delivered per hour?

Oil was met with on 6th May in the D'Arcy borehole at a depth of 1,810 feet, and the oil bearing formation was penetrated to a depth of 10 feet. By 9th May the oil had risen 170 feet in the borehole, the diameter of which is 8 inches. The oil is of excellent quality, with a high percentage of petrol, kerosene and lubricating oils. It will probably be necessary to instal a pump before an estimate of the yield can be arrived at.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at West Calder, although oil was struck, the quantities first issuing from the boring did not continue, and are the experts satisfied, when we have struck oil here, that it is likely to continue?

I should be very reluctant to say anything of the kind. The hon. Gentleman knows what a precarious thing it is.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if the force of the oil is sufficient without requiring a pump?

I have already said that it will probably require a pump to bring it to the surface.


asked the Secretary for Mines what has been the total cost of the bore at West Calder, now abandoned, and of the bore at D'Arcy, Midlothian, up to the present; and how much more money will require to be spent before operations cease?

It is difficult to furnish definite particulars of the actual cost of individual borings which form part of the general scheme to drill for oil undertaken by Messrs. S. Pearson and Son under their agreement with His Majesty's Government. The estimated cost of the boring at West Calder to 31st December, 1921, may be put at £50,202, and of the D'Arcy Well at £42,298. These sums include a proportion of all overhead charges. The West Calder boring has now been abandoned at a depth of 3,918 feet, and drilling has been suspended at D'Arcy owing to oil having been met with at a depth of 1,810 feet. The further expenditure necessary should be very small, and it is hoped that it may be found possible to turn the D'Arcy Well over to commercial interests on favourable terms.

Coal (Pbices)


asked the Secretary for Mines whether, in view of the high retail prices still charged for household coal despite the big reduction in production costs, the Government will consider as to appointing a committee to inquire into the question of coal costs and prices and to report, among other things, as to the various profits resulting from the handling of coal at the various stages before it reaches the consumer?

Such a committee would be ineffective without the reimposition of some form of control, and I think it would be better to give a longer trial to the policy of leaving these things to the ordinary play of economic forces.

Dons not the right hon. Gentleman think it would be advisable to communicate with these middlemen in order to ensure that cheaper coal shall be supplied to consumers in the future than at the present time?

There are so many different kinds of coal that it is very difficult—

There are many different kinds of household coal. The hon. and gallant Member might get some household coal at much less than the best price, but I am not sure whether he would keep his cook.