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Commons Chamber

Volume 322: debated on Tuesday 13 April 1937

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 13th April, 1937.

The House met at a Quarter before Three of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.

Private Business

Barnsley Corporation Bill [ Lords],

Burgess Hill Water Bill [ Lords],

Mansfield District Traction Bill [ Lords],

Read a Second time, and committed.

London Passenger Transport Board Bill (by Order),

Consideration, as amended, deferred till To-morrow.

London County Council (General Powers) [Money],

Committee to consider of authorising payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any additional expenses under the Education Act, 1921, which may be occasioned by any Act of the present Session extending the powers of the London County Council under Sections seventy and seventy-one of the Education Act, 1921, to include a power to provide, furnish, equip, maintain and carry on the business of an hotel in conjunction with, or as part of, their Westminster Technical Institute, situate in Vincent Square, in the city of Westminster, in connection with the supply in such hotel of education in all or any branches of the hotel industry ( King's Recommendation signified), To-morrow.—[ The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Private Bills (Petition for additional Provision) (Standing Orders not complied with),

Mr. SPEAKER laid upon the Table Report from one of the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills, That in the case of the Petition for additional Provision in the following Bill the Standing Orders have not been complied with, namely:

Dunstable Gas and Water Bill.

Report referred to the Select Committee on Standing Orders.

Private Bills [ Lords] (Petition for additional Provision) (Standing Orders not complied with),

Mr. SPEAKER laid upon the Table Report from one of the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills, That in the case of the Petition for additional Provision in the following Bill, originating in the Lords, the Standing Orders have not been complied with, namely:

Dartford Tunnel Bill [ Lords].

Report referred to the Select Committee on Standing Orders.

Private Bill Petitions [ Lords] (Standing Orders not complied with),

Mr. SPEAKER laid upon the Table Report from one of the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills, That in the case of the Petition for the following Bill, originating in the Lords, the Standing Orders have not been complied with, namely,

Hastings Pier [ Lords].

Report referred to the Select Committee on Standing Orders.

Oral Answers To Questions

Scotland

Horse-Breeding

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether any decision has now been reached as to the possibility of a contribution being made by the Racecourse Betting Control Board to assist the Scottish horse-breeding industry?

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, has given his approval under Section 3 (6) of the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, to a grant of £500 to the Clydesdale Horse Society for assistance to small farmers to enable them to obtain the services of high class stallions in accordance with a scheme which has been submitted by the society and approved by the Racecourse Betting Control Board.

Housing

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the threat of the Scottish National Federation of Building Trades Employers to lock out the 95,000 workers in the industry because of a decision of the Glasgow Corporation to organise continuous employment for operatives and labourers on housing schemes; and what action he intends to take to prevent the employers' opposition towards proposals for improved organisation intended to increase the output of houses to replace slums?

On the information at my disposal I have no reason to think that such action is contemplated as that to which the hon. Member refers. On the contrary, I am glad to say that the employers' and operatives' organisations, in association with my Department, are considering the means by which the output of houses can be increased.

Is it not the case that they threatened to lock out the men unless they obeyed their instructions?

I have no such information, but, in any case, they are now co-operating to increase the supply.

Do we gather from this question that the Glasgow Corporation are getting busy with building schemes?

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that between March, 1936, and March, 1937, the cost of materials required for Glasgow housing schemes has risen: timber, 45 per cent., flooring, 56 per cent., British sheet lead, 84 per cent., steel rods, 38 per cent., white lead for paint, 63 per cent., composition bricks, 20 per cent.; and what steps he proposes to take to ensure that house-building may proceed otherwise than at a cost of construction which involves local authorities in an expenditure which they will be unable to recover in increased rent?

I am aware that since March, 1936, and particularly within the last few months, there have been substantial increases in the cost of certain of the materials required for housing schemes in Glasgow, and in Scotland generally. Fluctuations in the prices of materials both upwards and downwards are an ordinary feature of the market and in general an increased price has the effect of producing more ample supplies, with a subsequent price reaction. I realise, however, the importance of the position to local authorities, and the whole question of the supply and cost of building materials is receiving my consideration.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the figures in the question are official figures taken from actual tender estimates in the possession of the Corporation of Glasgow?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman now see the lamentable want of foresight in not going on with building schemes when markets were low?

As far as I understand, these figures relate only to direct purchases of material by Glasgow Corporation, and not to the general market prices. In some cases the market prices are lower than these, as in the case of bricks, and in some cases they are higher, as in the case of timber, but it is generally agreed that there has been a rise in many important building materials in recent months.

Does the rise in these prices correspond with the normal in-crease generally, or is it excessive?

I would have a little difficulty in answering that question offhand. There is a general trend towards a higher rate for primary products of all kinds, as, for instance coal, wheat and timber.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress has been made since the passing of the Housing Act, 1935, in combating the problem of overcrowding in Scotland; and in how many places has the appointed day been fixed?

Since the passing of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, tenders have been approved for 36,012 houses and 24,377 houses have been completed. These houses are not specifically approved for subsidy purposes under either the Act of 1930 or the Act of 1935, but, under arrangements designed to secure that the most economical use is made of the new accommodation they are used for slum clearance or overcrowding purposes as local circumstances or needs may dictate. There is no record of the number of families actually removed from overcrowded houses prior to 1st April, 1936, but from that date to 28th February, 1937, 6,444 families living in overcrowded conditions were rehoused. The appointed day under the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, has so far been fixed for only one area, namely, the Dysart Ward of the Burgh of Kirkcaldy. The date fixed in this instance is 15th May, 1937.

No, I am not. I do not think anybody could be satisfied with the rate of construction of houses in Scotland to-day. That is why I am giving as much time as possible for methods for speeding up house building in Scotland.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the progress will be not speeded up, but slowed down, because of the increase in the price of materials required in house building, and is he taking any steps to check that or to give a higher subsidy?

Air Raid Precautions (Glasgow)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that the Glasgow Corporation estimate that the cost of preparing a scheme of air raid precautions for the city will involve an expenditure of over £40,000, exclusive of the cost of equipment and gas masks; and whether he has received any communication from the corporation asking for an assurance that the cost of air raid precautions, equipment and masks will be borne entirely by the Government?

I understand that the cost of preparing a scheme of air raid precautions had been under consideration by the corporation of Glasgow and that an estimate of £40,000 has been referred to in this connection. With regard to the second part of the question, I have received representations from the Association of Councils of Counties of Cities, on which the corporation of Glasgow is represented, and from the Convention of Royal Burghs, to the effect that the Government should bear the whole of the costs of local schemes of air raid precautions. The whole question of these costs together with that of the financial responsibility for their execution is at present under examination.

Food Supply

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further steps His Majesty's Government propose to take to increase the supply of home-grown food in Scotland; and whether the oats question is still under consideration?

I have nothing at present to add to the reply to a similar question by my hon. Friend given on 23rd February by my hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that a favourable opportunity may exist at the present time to devise some scheme to ensure against a fall in the price of oats below the cost of production in future, and will he look into the question from this aspect?

Prisoners (Labour)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that the hours of labour for prisoners in Scottish prisons have been increased in recent months; and what are the reasons for this step?

During the past two years the hours of labour of prisoners have been increased at Barlinnie prison from 5½ hours to 6 hours 5 minutes daily, and at Edinburgh prison from 6 hours to 7½ hours daily, thus making them 34 and 41 hours per week respectively. I understand that this was done in the interests of the prisoners themselves.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain in what way the interests of the prisoners are advanced by additional hours on very arduous and uninteresting labour?

If I were in prison, I must say that I would prefer to be engaged in something for at least 6 hours 5 minutes daily. Indeed, a little longer than that might well be in my own interest.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that that is not the case?

Are the extra hours in the morning, and, if so, is there someone to call the prisoners?

Coal Industry

Harworth Colliery Dispute

10.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he has any statement to make regarding the effect of the Harworth colliery dispute in the mining industry?

12.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he can make any statement with regard to the situation in the coal mines, particularly in the county of Nottingham?

14.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he has any statement to make regarding the position at the Harworth colliery?

Hon. Members will have seen that there are two questions involved in the ballot paper recently issued by the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain, namely, the local trouble at Harworth Colliery, and the wider issue of the rivalry of the two unions in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. Since the national stoppage of 1926 the only union recognised by the Nottinghamshire coal-owners for the purpose of wage and all other negotiations on behalf of the workmen has been the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union, more generally known as the Spencer Union. Alongside this Union, there has continued to exist the old Nottinghamshire Miners' Association, which is affiliated to the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain. It has been apparent for a long time that the existence of two rival unions has been a cause of difficulty, and the dispute at Hayworth Colliery appeared to offer an opportunity for attempting the solution of this problem. This colliery, which belongs to Messrs. Barber Walker and Company, employed rather over 2,000 men until last September since when a series of incidents occurred until on 17th November about 1,000 men struck work without notice in connection with a dispute about a sub-checkweighman. The President of the Mineworkers' Federation urged them to return and they agreed to do so: but the management made membership of the Spencer Union a condition of re-employment. This condition was withdrawn early in January. The management adhered to their refusal to negotiate with the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association or the Mineworkers' Federation with regard to the strikers' grievances, and these men remained out. On 20th January the delegate conference of the Mineworkers' Federation passed a resolution empowering their Executive Committee to take a ballot of the whole country

"upon the question of enforcing the principle of the freedom of organisation and Trades Union recognition for those so organised "
but no ballot was then taken. In the meantime, as the root cause of the local trouble was the existence of two separate unions, my Department had been exploring the possibilities of an accommodation between them, and on 3rd February I met representatives of the Nottinghamshire Coalowners and intimated to them that I proposed to invite Mr. Spencer and the officials of the Mineworkers' Federation to meet me, for the purpose of an informal discussion.

This joint meeting eventually took place on 25th February and was attended by the President, the Vice-President and the General Secretary of the Mineworkers' Federation, and by the President (Mr. Spencer) and the Secretary of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union. After a suggestion for direct affiliation with the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain had been made, a suggestion which was later repeated, the discussion turned on the question of amalgamating the unions and Mr. Spencer put forward certain guarantees which, he said, he would require. The meeting then adjourned for a week, when, after further discussion, the representatives of the two unions drew up and signed a statement of draft heads of agreement for an amalgamation. These were, of course, subject to ratification by the respective constituent bodies. I should like to add that the conversations between the parties were characterised by a most friendly and helpful spirit on both sides, and that it appeared that a final settlement of the inter-union trouble was in sight. On 12th March, however, the Executive of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain deferred considering the proposals for amalgamation, until a further effort had been made to settle the Harworth difficulty. The number of men at work at that colliery has gradually increased during recent months. The company state that they are employing approximately 1,100 men and that of the 900 now out of work they will, owing to their changed system of working, only require about 350, taking them on at the rate of 30 to 35 per week as and when required.

The crux of the problem at Harworth is that the company claim the right to choose for the vacancies the applicants whom they consider most suitable, whilst giving an assurance that discrimination shall not be made as to union membership. On the other hand, the men not yet back at work claim that re-instatement should be regulated by the procedure customary throughout the industry, the object of which is to secure that no man is victimised for the part he may have played in a dispute. The management, however, decline to meet any representatives of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association for this or any other purpose, at the present time, since the only union they recognise at present is the Spencer union. They have, however, informed me that if and when amalgamation of the two unions is an accomplished fact they will meet Mr. Spencer and Mr. Coleman (the Secretary of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association) or any two permanent officials of the new union whom they may respectively choose as their representatives to discuss any grievance that may arise out of the re-employment of men not now working at the colliery. A delegate conference of the Mineworkers' Federation met on 1st and 2nd April and decided to take a ballot of the coalfields this week.

I need hardly say that His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the seriousness of the situation, and I shall continue to do all in my power to find a solution to the problem.

Is the Secretary for Mines aware that the root cause of the trouble is primarily the reactionary attitude of the particular colliery company there? Is he also aware that if he can induce these owners to be a little more reasonable in their attitude this trouble at Harworth can be settled quickly and avoid the serious repercussions throughout the whole coalfield which are likely to arise if it is not settled quickly?

In view of the fact that there appears to be the possibility of an understanding between the two, would it not be advisable for the hon. and gallant Member to make representations to the employers?

I hesitate to go further than the final words I have just read—that I shall continue to do all in my power to try to find a solution.

Is the Secretary for Mines prepared to use his influence with the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association to recognise the Nottinghamshire Industrial Union? If he can use his influence to get that it would be a good way out of the trouble.

Irrespective of the proposed ballot, will the hon. and gallant Member make a further effort to meet the parties?

I really would prefer not to be pressed further about it now. The statement I have made is a historical one as to what has happened, and I think it would be a pity to press me further on the matter now.

Oil Extraction

11.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether, in view of the report issued by the owners of the hydrogenation plants at Billingham that it is possible to produce petrol at a profit by hydrogenation process, the Government are withdrawing the preference of 8d. per gallon?

No, Sir, and I may add that I am unaware of the issue of any such report.

Was the Secretary for Mines present the other day when an hon. Member who had paid a visit to that plant was told that they were making a profit out of it? That being the case, are not the Government going to take away the preference of 8d. per gallon on the oil they are producing?

Are we to take it that the statement made by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) has no foundation, that there is no truth in it and that he comes here with a fabrication? Surely the Minister ought to find out whether that statement is true.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ascertain from Imperial Chemical Industries whether they are, in fact, making a profit?

There are various questions on the Paper dealing with oil, and perhaps the hon. Member will await the answers.

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the answer, I give notice that on the first opportunity I will raise this question again.

18.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he can give any information to the House as to the relative suitability of the Bergius and Fisher-Trapsch processes of hydrogenation in Great Britain; and also as to the cost per gallon of producing petrol by these processes, respectively?

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave yester-day to the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams).

Is the hon. Member aware that in Germany the Bergius process has been scrapped and this new process adopted, and are his Department making any inquiries into the suitability of this new process for English coal in particular?

As this is the last question relating to oil, will the hon. and gallant Member now say whether he will ascertain from Imperial Chemical Industries whether they are in fact making a profit?

Did not the hon. and gallant Member tell my hon. Friend that he was going to give the information in answer to another question, and is this the information to which he refers?

Gas Undertakings (Northumberland And Cumberland)

13.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is aware that the price of gas coal for public utility under-takings in the Northumberland and Cumberland areas has been increased by 7s. per ton, as against the price ruling in November, 1935, an increase of 5o per cent. upon the previous pit-head price; and, seeing that this increase must raise the price of gas to all consumers, including hirers of slot meters, what measures does he propose to take to safeguard the interests of such consumers?

I have been informed that certain purchases made recently by gas undertakings in these areas have been at prices which represent increases up to 7s. per ton over the price in 1935. If those undertakings, or any consumer of gas affected, consider that the prices are unreasonable and that they are a result of the district selling schemes, the matter can be referred to the District Committee of Investigation set up under Section 5 of the Act of 1930.

Is there any reason to believe that the miners have derived a proportionate benefit?

Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that while Nottinghamshire miners receive 10 per cent. increase, Nottinghamshire coalowners received 80 per cent. in the same months?

Is the hon. and gallant Member not aware that there is a relationship between all the coal fields?

Miners' Hours Of Work

17.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether, in view of the fact that the production of coal in Great Britain in March of this year reached the level of production of March, 1929, and that the number of persons employed now to produce the same amount of coal is 161,000 less than were employed in 1929, he will introduce legislation to restore the seven-hour day and thus carry out the promise made to the miners to restore the seven-hour day when the circumstances of the industry warranted it?

There is no intention of introducing such legislation at present.

In view of the serious position revealed by those figures, have the Government any plans for dealing with a situation in which a coal field of the size of South Wales finds itself?

If this is not the occasion, when may we be told what the Government propose to do?

House Coal (Price)

19.

asked the Secretary for Mines the average price of household coal for the month of March, 1937, and the comparable figure for March of 1936 and 1935, respectively?

I have not the necessary data to calculate average prices, but the level of the retail price of house coal in Central London was generally Is. per ton higher in March, 1937, than in March, 1936, when it showed an increase of Is. per ton over the previous March.

Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that I am paying 4s. 6d. a ton extra for coal of the same quality since the beginning of this year?

I am very sorry to hear that, of course, but the hon. Member asked for average prices, and average prices include some which are above the average and some which are below.

As the hon. and gallant Member is so sorry for my position, will he not do something in the matter?

Supplies, Gloucestershire

21.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he has considered the complaints from firms in Gloucestershire relating to their difficulty in obtaining British coal; and what steps he proposes to take to remedy the situation?

The only complaint I have received from a firm in Gloucestershire with regard to supplies of coal is one sent to me by my hon. Friend at the end of last week. I am in communication with the Forest of Dean colliery owners in regard to that case, and I will let my hon. Friend know the result as soon as possible.

Bunker Coal

22.

asked the Secretary for Mines by how many tons Tyneside shipments of bunker coal were down in 1936, as compared with 1935, owing to the shortage of bunker coal available; and whether it is proposed to take steps to make larger supplies of bunker coal available on the Tyneside?

The total shipments of bunker coal from Newcastle (including North and South Shields) were 88,476 tons less in 1936 than in 1935, but I have no reason to believe that this was due to shortage of coal. My answer to the next question by my hon. Friend, deals with the second part of this, question.

23.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is aware that a shortage of coal available for bunkers in the United Kingdom has compelled vessels to bunker abroad; and whether he proposes to take steps to secure that larger supplies of bunker coal shall be made available at United Kingdom ports?

I am aware that earlier this year difficulties in obtaining supplies of bunker coals were experienced. To some extent this was due to the effects of the influenza epidemic among mine-workers. I am not aware of any recent cases where ships have been compelled to bunker abroad because supplies are not available in this country. I am continually impressing upon the colliery owners the need for taking every, step which would increase supplies of coal.

If there is difficulty in Northumberland and Durham in getting coal, will the Minister do anything to try to get the pits reopened?

Yes, Sir, that was what I referred to when I said that I was continually impressing upon colliery owners the need for taking every step to increase supplies.

Abandoned Tin Mines, Cornwall

20.

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he will conduct a survey of the abandoned tin mines in Cornwall so that they may be included in the catalogue of abandoned mines, to avoid danger to life from flooding into mines now working?

This has already been done. A comprehensive search, extending over several months, was made when the catalogue was first being prepared, and every fresh clue is followed up and any further information so obtained is included in the supplements to the catalogue which are published from time to time.

In view of the flooding of a mine in Southern Cornwall recently, and that not being included in the catalogue of abandoned mines, may we ask that greater energy shall be displayed in seeing that all these abandoned mines are included?

Every possible step is taken, but the hon. Member knows as well as I do that this is a very ancient industry in Cornwall, and that it is probably impossible to achieve a complete record. Any assistance we can get from any source, including himself, will be welcome.

Will the hon. and gallant Member communicate with the captains of the mines in Camborne and other parts, and then he will receive information?

Is the hon. Member aware that some of these mines are more than 2,000 years old, and does he really know to whom they belonged at the beginning?

Southern Rhodesia

Natives Registration Act

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, in view of the apprehensions expressed by the Minister of Justice, whether any steps will be taken to ensure that native constables, in enforcing the Southern Rhodesian Natives Registration Act, shall not abuse the wide powers vested in them and thus cause undue hardship to natives visiting townships or desirous of visiting townships?

I have been in communication with the Government of Southern Rhodesia with regard to this matter. The apprehensions to which the hon. Member refers were expressed by the Minister of justice before he was appointed to his present office. The police are now, of course, under his control, and he has, I understand, informed the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the native constables do not abuse their powers.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these apprehensions exist in the minds of many people, that the Bishop of Southern Rhodesia has made a statement on it, and that the Prime Minister admitted that the position might be most difficult if the provisions of the law were administered so as to cause extreme hardship to the natives concerned?

I hope that this answer and the assurances given by the Minister of Justice will do something to remove those apprehensions.

Native Law And Courts Bill

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether his attention has been called to the Native Law and Courts Bill to be introduced into the legislature of Southern Rhodesia, and which deprives natives of the benefit of the statute law of the Colony relating to the age of majority, the status of women, the effect of marriage on the property of the spouses, the guardianship of children, and the administration of deceased estates; and, seeing that this provision will be likely to cause hardship to civilised natives who prefer European law to native custom, whether the proposed legislation has the approval of the Government?

I think that the hon. Member is under a misapprehension in supposing that the Bill deprives natives in the Colony of existing benefits. The Bill does not do more than clarify the present position which is that, in civil cases between natives, courts in general apply native law so far as this is not repugnant to natural justice or morality. I understand that the great majority of natives prefer to have their civil cases dealt with under the provisions of native law. The position of educated natives is specifically safeguarded by the provision (which is new) in Section 13 of the Bill which enables the chief native commissioner to exempt individual natives, at their request, from the application of native law.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the position of educated natives will in no way be worsened by this Bill?

Will my right hon. Friend tell us exactly what he understands by the term "deceased estates"?

Does the hon. Member think it is in accord with British justice that natives should not be allowed to move about freely in their own country without getting a permit to do it?

Empire Settlement

28 and 29.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (1) whether his attention has been called to the resolutions passed at the Saskatchewan Convention on family and group settlement in Canada; and whether he has received any communication from the Federal Government of Canada concerning such resolutions;

(2) whether he is aware that the Provincial Government of Saskatchewan, Canada, has expressed its willingness to receive at least 5,000 British families for settlement in that Province during the five years commencing early in the year 1937; what are the terms of such proposal; whether they have been approved by the Federal Government; and whether they are such as to gain support from His Majesty's Government?

I have seen a sessional paper of the Canadian House of Commons regarding the resolutions referred to. It appears from this that whilst the Provincial Government of Saskatchewan approved the settlement of 5,000 families in principle, they did not feel that they should at this time give their approval to any specific plan or plans. I have received no communication from the Canadian Government in the matter; the question of support from His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom has not therefore arisen.

Will this matter be one of the subjects on the agenda paper at the Imperial Conference that meets in May?

As my hon. Friend knows, we hope to be able to discuss the question of migration with Dominion representatives while they are over here for the Imperial Conference.

Is the Minister aware that in Canada nobody is prepared to encourage migration at this time, seeing that one-tenth of the population of Canada is drawing public assistance?

We have certainly not had any indication that the responsible authorities in Canada are ready to encourage and finance schemes of migration at the present time.

Will the Minister go further into the matter and see what the Canadian Prime Minister knows about it before the Imperial Conference Agenda is discussed?

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether, in view of the lapse of time and altered circumstances, he will now consider, in consultation with Dominion Governments, the continuance or commutation of insurance benefits for selected emigrants from this country into an Empire Dominion?

Since the Maclean Committee Report in 1926, arrangements have been made whereby pensions under the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts of the United Kingdom are payable in any part of the Empire, and insured persons below pension age migrating to other parts of the Empire are afforded the opportunity of maintaining their pensions insurance by the continued payment of the appropriate contributions. The difficulties in the way of arranging for the continuance or commutation of other insurance benefits to United Kingdom migrants within the Empire have so far been found to be insuperable, but I am well aware of the importance of the matter in relation to migration, and am keeping the matter in mind.

When this matter is discussed generally at the forthcoming Imperial Conference, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in view of the fact that this suggestion has commended itself to Canadian representatives, it will be discussed from this angle and these possibilities explored?

If we have discussions about this subject at the time of the Imperial Conference, naturally any matter which is relevant at the time wi11 come under discussion.

Alberta (Financial Situation)

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether any order has been made by the Government of Alberta withdrawing from circulation any remaining prosperity notes; whether any additional financial benefits have been issued; and what is the present financial situation of the Province?

As regards the first part of the question, my information is that no order withdrawing from circulation outstanding balances of scrip money, also known as "prosperity certificates," has been made by the Government of Alberta, but that the Provincial Treasurer announced on 7th April that the plan to circulate these certificates had been abandoned. As regards the second part of the question, I understand that no additional benefits in the form of such certificates or of social credit dividends have been issued to the public in Alberta. As regards the last part, it appears from a report prepared by the Bank of Canada that it is estimated that for the year ending 31st March last, there will be a deficit of 1,000,000 dollars.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether it is a fact that the Government of Alberta have now refused to accept the remaining prosperity certificates in payment of their own taxation, and whether this is the failure and complete collapse of the promise of Social Credit?

I can only say that the Government of Alberta have already accepted a good many of their certificates in payment of taxation. Whether they have now reversed that policy I could not say without notice.

Does the Minister not think that the best way to improve the prosperity of all countries is a better distribution of wealth?

Irish Free State

Conditions Of Employment Act, 1936

32.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether the Conditions of Employment Act, 1936, has yet come into operation in the Irish Free State; and whether he will endeavour to obtain a report on the advantages or disadvantages which have so far been revealed by the 40-hour week for young persons with a view to the preparation of similar Measures by His Majesty's Government in this country?

I understand that the Act to which my hon. Friend refers came into force in the Irish Free State on 29th May, 1936. As regards the second part of his question, I am asking the Irish Free State Government whether there is any information which can conveniently be supplied regarding the operation of the provisions of the Act.

Trans-Atlantic Service (Airport)

33.

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he has any information as to the basis on which the new airport on the River Shannon, Irish Free State, is being paid for; whether the British Government are contributing towards the cost; and, if so, to what extent?

As was intimated in the reply given by the Under-Secretary of State for Air to a question on 30th July last, the cost of providing the airport in the Irish Free State for the trans-Atlantic service is being borne entirely by the Irish Free State Government.

Food Supply

35.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what is the total cold-storage capacity of this country for meat, butter, and eggs; and to how many days' supply this is equivalent?

I have received particulars of storage facilities for food available in this country, but it would not be in the public interest to publish them.

36.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether any arrangement for reserves of canned food supplies has been made; and how many days' supply the Government consider to be the irreducible minimum?

I cannot at present add to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) on 27th January.

Trade And Commerce

Iceland

39.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that Iceland prohibits the admission of certain classes of exports from this country, while at the same time permitting their admission from other countries; and what action he proposes to take to ensure that British exports shall be placed on an equal footing with those of other countries?

Yes, Sir. The restrictions on imports from the United Kingdom into Iceland have been discussed with the Government of Iceland, who explained that the necessity of disposing of Icelandic products in certain other countries made it impossible to relax the restrictions. The balance of trade remains in favour of the United Kingdom.

Cinematograph Film Negatives (Duties)

40.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what are the respective duties payable per foot on British film negatives and positives exported to the United States of America, and also the duties per foot on the United States of America film negatives and positives imported into this country?

The duty on film negatives, exposed and developed, on importation into the United States of America is three cents per linear foot; the corresponding duty on positives is one cent per linear foot. The duty on foreign negatives of the standard width imported into the United Kingdom is 5d. per linear foot and on positives 1d. per linear foot. Both in the United Kingdom and in the United States of America there are certain exceptions.

Poultry Industry (Trade Agreements)

41.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has yet given notice to terminate those trade agreements which prevent the Government from increasing the duties on foreign eggs in shell; and, if such notice has not been given, whether he has started negotiations to enable him to increase these duties?

No, Sir. As has been stated on previous occasions, the case of the poultry industry will receive consideration in connection with any negotiations which may take place for the revision of various trade agreements, and in the light of any report received from the Import Duties Advisory Committee on the application which, I understand, is now before them.

Is the Minister aware that while he is shillyshallying about with these trade agreements large numbers of poultry producers are being forced out of business and can he not at least give some indication as to when negotiations will be commenced?

Steel (Export Trade)

44.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that, owing to the increased home demand for finished and semi-finished steel products, producers are refusing orders from overseas markets; and whether, in view of the fact that the increased demand in the home market is of a partially temporary character, he will take steps to prevent the loss of the export trade in these products and thus retain the markets that will be of the utmost value when the home demand declines?

There is an abnormal demand for iron and steel in both home and overseas markets, but I have impressed on the British Iron and Steel Federation, as on other United Kingdom industrialists, when suitable opportunities offered, the necessity of maintaining our export trade. I am satisfied that the Federation are alive to this necessity. The available figures show that exports of iron and steel manufactures so far this year have been larger than in the two preceding years.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the experience of the coal industry during the War when export markets were lost with disastrous results?

I share the anxiety of the hon. Gentleman to maintain our foreign connections as much as we can.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some manufacturers are refusing to quote forward prices for steel?

If any case of that kind is brought to my notice, I will inquire into it.

Film Industry

53.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the fact that many of the principal cinemas in London and the provincial cities are owned, leased, or controlled by. companies having large foreign financial interests and are accordingly enabled to prejudice public opinion against British films by completing the quota provisions of the Cinematograph Films Act by showing inferior productions at times when the cinemas are poorly attended, he will consider this point when introducing the necessary amendments to the Cinematograph Films Act, 1927, so as better to protect the British film industry?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind the fact that in many of these cinemas British films are put on early in the programme, when hardly anyone is there, in order to comply with the quota?

Share-Pushing

42.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been drawn to the evidence given in a recent case against the Industrial Bank of Great Britain and Ireland, Limited, of South Place, London, E.C.; whether he is aware that this bank is not transacting any banking business; that a notorious share pusher called Maurice Singer is, or was, associated with the management of this bank; and whether there is any evidence arising out of the case which it is desirable to communicate to the Bodkin Committee on Share-Pushing?

I have seen a report of the case referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, and I understand that the attention of the Departmental Committee on Share-Pushing has been drawn to the activities of the company in question.

We have set up a committee which has carried its inquiry to a considerable distance, and we shall receive their recommendations, on which I hope to act.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when he expects to receive the report of the Bodkin Committee?

House Of Commons (Sittings)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will move to appoint a committee to take into consideration the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), and the frequency of the suspension of that Standing Order?

Will the Home Secretary explain why this Government should do what no previous Government has ever attempted to do, and suspend the Eleven o'Clock Rule almost every evening?

I think that, if the hon. Member will consult the records, he will not find that that is so. It is true that the Eleven o'Clock Rule has been often suspended, but, as he will observe, on many occasions it has not led to late sittings. Only last night, the Debate ran till just over Eleven o'Clock, and, therefore, time was saved.

If the right hon. Gentleman has consulted the records, will he tell us how many times this Government has suspended the Eleven o'Clock Rule?

Will not the right hon. Gentleman consider again the possibility of the House meeting at an earlier hour, so that business can be expedited?

Armaments Manufacture (Royal Commission's Report)

46.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to state when the White Paper relating to the report of the Royal Commission on the Private Manufacture of and Trading in Arms will be published?

47.

asked the Prime Minister when His Majesty's Government intend to inform the House of their decisions concerning the report of the Royal Commission on the Private Manufacture of Arms?

While it is not yet possible to give a definite date, it is hoped that the White Paper will be available by the end of the month.

Air Services

48.

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that British railway companies through their booking agents are encouraging British subjects to fly by foreign air-lines in preference to British air-lines; and whether he will allow the House an opportunity to discuss the matter?

I would remind my hon. Friend that this matter was debated on two occasions when the Air Estimates were before the House, the last occasion being so recent as 22nd March. I do not think there is any difference of opinion in the House on the subject, and I trust that it will be possible for the railway companies and the air line companies to reach a satisfactory settlement.

Brazil (British Bondholders)

49.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will request Lord Kennet's Committee on Overseas Loans to make an examination of the Brazilian exchange difficulty and then to report to His Majesty's Government upon the justification for the continued default by the Brazilian Government on its public loan obligations to British subjects?

As I stated in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for North Newcastle-on-Tyne (Sir N. Grattan-Doyle) on Tuesday last, it is understood to be the intention of the Brazilian Government to negotiate with the Council of Foreign Bondholders and to reach an agreed arrangement concerning the future service of the External Debt of Brazil, to take effect on the expiration of the present plan. This is the normal and proper course, and I think it is preferable to the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend.

Commodity Prices (Monetary Policy)

50.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, to allay public anxiety, he will give the House an assurance that His Majesty's Government have no intention of taking action to check the rise in commodities by raising the price of sterling in terms of gold, in view of the deflationary effect it would have; also that the maintenance of cheap money remains a fundamental objective of Government policy?

It is not at present part of the policy of the Government to maintain a fixed price for gold in terms of sterling, but the price of gold is, of course, one of the factors to be taken into account in determining their monetary policy from time to time. They are fully alive to the undesirability of interfering with the flow of business towards recovery. With regard to cheap money, I will refer my hon. Friend to the answers given to my hon. Friend the Member for the Evesham Division of Worcester (Mr. De la Bére) yesterday.

Is it not a fact that, taking into account the depreciation of the currencies, the present level of commodity prices is very much lower than it was in 1929; and can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that he does not intend to adopt a monetary policy in this country which would tend to lower commodity prices?

Would not a mild degree of deflation, to check a too rapid rise in prices, be more desirable than severe inflation, which would intensify the fall in prices during a slump?

Currency Agreement (Gold Value)

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is satisfied with the working of the tripartite currency agreement between the United States, France and this country; and whether this agreement precludes any alteration of the gold value of its currency by the Government of any of these countries without prior consultation with the other parties to it.

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. With regard to the second part, the purpose of the agreement is to maintain the greatest possible equilibrium in the system of international exchanges, and to avoid to the utmost extent any disturbance of that system by monetary action on the part of any of the Governments concerned. There is no express reference to the gold value of the several currencies.

Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate entering into negotiations with the United States and France for the conclusion of an economic agreement covering a rather wider field and of a more permanent nature?

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us who has the power to raise the selling price of gold every now and again?

Seeing that the Government said, when the currency agreement was entered into, that they did then contemplate an economic agreement of a wider character betweeen America, France and Britain, will he say when the Government ceased to contemplate such an agreement?

What I said was not at all inconsistent with that. We did say, at the time the agreement was made, that we hoped it might be followed by further measures with a view to lowering the restrictions in the way of international trade. The question I was asked to answer just now was whether I contemplated entering upon negotiations for that purpose to-day, and I replied in the negative.

How can the right hon. Gentleman possibly expect that his hopes will be fulfilled if he is not prepared to do anything?

I did not say that. I said that I was not contemplating it at the present moment. We shall have to consider it when circumstances are favourable.

Mercantile Marine (Crews' Welfare)

52.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the reports he has received from his surveyors show that they have been able to secure any of the improvements suggested in the recommendations of the Shipping Federation Committee for the welfare and comfort of the crews on merchant ships; and what progress has been made?

Yes, Sir. The recommendations referred to are now being generally adopted by shipbuilders and owners, and they are substantially incorporated in a revision of the Board of Trade Instructions to their surveyors which is now under consideration by the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee.

Is it not a fact that many ships have been constructed lately without proper consideration for the quarters of the crew, or their comfort or welfare?

Foodstuffs (Retail Prices)

54.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the attention of the Food Council has been directed to the increase in the retail price of foodstuffs; and whether it is proposed to take any action in the matter?

The retail prices of foodstuffs are under constant observation both by the Food Council and the Government, and, in so far as Government action to safeguard the interests of consumers is at any time necessary and practicable, it will be taken.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in recent weeks there has been a rapid increase, and does he propose to advise the Food Council to take prompt action in the matter?

The two most important items in the Food Council's returns are wheat and tea, and both of these are subject to world markets, over which we have no control.

As regards other commodities not so subject to world prices, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take any action?

If the hon. Member will state what articles he refers to beyond those I have mentioned, I will look into the subject again.

With regard to those two articles, is the right hon. Gentleman taking any action?

Gas Distribution, Durham County

55.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that in certain parts of the county of Durham, in particular the South-east area, no facilities are provided for the production and distribution of gas; and whether he will consider the possibility of a gas grid in the district?

The corporations of Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington, and the Hartlepool Gas and Water Company are authorised to supply gas in the South-east area of Durham. I am not aware that these undertakings have difficulty in meeting demands for gas, but I will, of course, consider any representations they wish to make to me.

War Risks (Insurance)

56.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether any progress, and, if so, what, has been made since 3rd February in the consideration of the insurance of property against war risks on land?

I have at present nothing to add to the answers given to the hon. Member on 3rd February and 2nd March.

British Army

Gifts (Customs Duty)

57.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that presents sent by relatives and friends to soldiers serving in His Majesty's Army in India and also presents sent home by soldiers there are liable to full duty, and that this tax is causing resentment; and whether he will make arrangements with the Customs authorities at both ends whereby these charges will cease to be made?

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. With regard to the second part, I am afraid I cannot undertake to make the arrangements suggested.

Civil Employment (Training)

58.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether there are any military trainees being trained in engineering works and motor-omnibus establishments in Scotland; and, if so, will he state how many men are being so trained and the conditions of pay, etc., under which they serve as trainees?

Eighteen soldiers due to leave the Army in the near future are undergoing courses of training with civilian firms in Scotland. These soldiers receive their normal Army emoluments and are attached to the nearest Army unit for accommodation, etc. They are not remunerated in any way by the training firm. The courses which are supplemental to those given in Army vocational training centres are designed to fit the men concerned for civil employment on leaving the Colours.

63.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many discharged soldiers desiring to re-enter civil life have been given direct assistance by means of vocational training centres or otherwise during the 12 months to the last convenient date; and how many were placed in civil employment on the completion of their training?

During the 12 months ending 3rst December, 1936, 3,495 soldiers passed through Army vocational training centres and of these 2,812 are known to have obtained employment.

What other assistance are the Government prepared to give to discharged soldiers besides placing them in vocational centres?

Milk

59.

asked the Secretary of State for War the amount of milk consumed in the Army for the last financial year; how much of it was liquid milk and how much condensed tinned milk; and what was the cost of liquid milk and the cost of condensed milk?

Milk for the Home Forces is purchased regimentally from the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute out of a daily cash allowance, and no particulars are available as to the quantities consumed or the cost, beyond the fact that approximately 92,000 gallons of fresh milk are consumed in Army hospitals and schools at a cost of £6,500. At stations abroad, approximately 2,000,000 lbs. of condensed milk were issued during the year at a cost of about £23,000.

Ex-Service Men (Employment, War Office Establishments)

60.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the shortage of skilled labour and the fact that the majority of ex-service men are now over 45 years of age, he will consider abrogating the rule prohibiting the employment of men over 45 years of age in War Office establishments; and whether he will revise the gratuity scale so as to make men with comparatively short periods of service eligible for proportionate gratuities?

Discretion to waive the rule in suitable cases is already given to heads of establishments, and at the present time widely exercised by them. As regards the second part of the question, the conditions for the award of gratuities are laid down in the Superannuation Acts and cannot be varied for the employés of an individual Department.

The Coronation

61.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider allowing the men who will be on duty at the Coronation to keep the uniforms that are being issued to them for the occasion?

The blue uniforms to be issued free for the Coronation will be retained by the men to whom they are issued.

62.

asked the Secretary of State for War what Dominion troops are being housed at Pirbright camp, and for how long?

As the answer is in tabular form I will, with my hon. and gallant Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the answer:

The following Dominion Contingents are being accommodated at Pirbright for the periods shown:

  • Canada: From 6th May to 26th May.
  • New Zealand: From 18th April to 27th May.
  • South Africa: From 28th April to 14th May.
  • Australia: From 15th April to 22nd May.
  • Southern Rhodesia: From 15th April to 28th May.

All contingents will, however, be housed at Olympia during the period 10th May to 13th May.

76.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the arrival at Spithead of the Mediterranean Fleet, which is at present due to arrive on 13th May, can be expedited to 11th May?

I fear that it would not be possible to adopt the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend.

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the "Hood" or any other ship in Spanish waters will be withdrawn, and can he give us a list of those that are to remain on duty?

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the permission of General Franco would be obtained?

Can my hon. Friend say why it should not be done, as it is only a matter of two days?

I very much sympathise with my hon. and gallant Friend, but I am afraid that it is quite impossible.

Naval And Military Pensions And Grants

67.

asked the Minister of Pensions the amounts spent on pensions during 1925, 1930 and 1935, respectively?

The expenditure of the Ministry in the years 1925, 1930 and 1935 was respectively £66,916,000, £51,765,000 and £42,460,000.

In view of this enormous decrease in expenditure, will the Minister consider adopting a more generous and sympathetic attitude to applicants for pensions, and to widows of ex-service men who apply for pensions?

It is natural that in the lapse of years the pension charge should decrease. It was never contemplated by this or any Government that the pension charge should be a fixed sum, and that the balances freed by the passing away of pensioners should be distributed among survivors or others.

68 and 69.

asked the Minister of Pensions (1) how many deputations he has received since his appointment complaining of the administration of the Ministry; whom did the deputations represent; and what action does he propose to take;

(2) whether he is now in a position to give an answer to the case presented to him by the deputation of hon. Members of this House on 3rd February, 1937?

Two groups of hon. Members, acting, I believe, on the representations of a small ex-service men's organisation, have put before me suggestions for fundamental changes in the established principles of disability pensions for ex-service men as laid down in the Royal Warrants, and have asked for a commission of inquiry into the matter. I informed them that I had no power to adopt their suggestions, nor had I any evidence which would justify them; but that the British Legion had, I understood, instituted inquiries, the result of which would, in due course, be communicated to the Minister or Ministers concerned. I am not, therefore, in a position to take, in the meantime, any further action.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one deputation that waited upon him was impressed by the sympathetic consideration that he gave? Is he aware of the deep feeling throughout the country that his sympathy is not being reflected in the administration of the Ministry, and will he consider the need for changing its policy in line with his own individual policy?

My sympathetic attitude remains, but I must have some evidence before I can consider any action.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the circular sent out by the British Legion will be seen by only a very small section of pensioners, and will not the Minister send out asking for information from those who have been in receipt of pensions?

I have not seen the circular but I am confident that the British Legion is competent to carry out such an inquiry as it thinks fit.

Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his attitude, because a very serious situation may arise in certain parts of the country unless a more sympathetic policy is adopted?

India (Books, Seizure)

70.

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether his attention has been called to the confiscation by the customs officers at Bombay of large numbers of books, including text books, which Indian students have brought with them from England at the conclusion of their studies; whether he is aware of the seriousness of the sense of grievance thus created; and whether any steps are being taken to remedy the situation?

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave yesterday to the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone).

Will the hon. Gentleman consider the wisdom of revising the existing regulations before they pass under the control of the Indian Government?

I think it would be impossible to make a comprehensive list of all books of a Communist character, but books of a Communist character are proscribed.

Presumably the Customs officials have a list to enable them to do their work. Surely a copy of that list could be placed in the Library?

I will certainly look into the right hon. Baronet's request, but it would be difficult to get a comprehensive list.