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Commons Chamber

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 23 March 1943

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 23rd March, 1943

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Liverpool Hydraulic Power Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

British Army

Beer (Prices, Middle East)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for War the mean average charge for an American tin containing about half-a pint of beer to the troops in the Middle East; how this price compares with the price at which it is landed; and who pays for the cost of unloading it?

I have no information about the price of beer in the Middle East other than in N.A.A.F.I. canteens. American beer was at one time sold by them at 1s. 8d. a pint. The beer was bought through local agents who no doubt included the cost of unloading in their price. It is not known what was the price of the beer when it was landed. American beer has not been sold by N.A.A.F.I. for some time. All the beer now sold by them is brewed locally and is sold on the average for 8d. a pint.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the Egyptians are making between 200 and 300 per cent. profit on this beer sold to the troops, and cannot he persuade the Egyptian Government to ask Egyptians to be content with a more reasonable profit like 100 per cent.?

Verses, "Less Nonsense"

3.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that Lieut.- Colonel Parkinson ordered to be distributed, on 24th February, 1943, to units under his command over 200 copies of a piece of verse entitled "Less Nonsense," which is offensive to the Soviet Union and calculated to injure our friendship towards that country; that these copies were to be distributed on the scale of three copies for every unit down to batteries and companies, one copy for the officers' mess, one for the sergeants' mess and one where it could be seen by the men; and whether he will take immediate steps to put a stop to this political activity and arrange that lectures on the Soviet Union be given to the units involved to counteract the effects of this propaganda?

I am making inquiries into this matter. On the facts as stated, I do not think the action of the Divisional Commander was at all suitable. The troops in the area in question are already getting lectures on Soviet Russia from both military and non-military sources besides a good deal of other material on the subject, and I doubt if any special steps are necessary.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise an objection to the terms of this Question. I did not want to interfere with the putting of it. The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), having put this Question down, gave an interview to the Press in which he stated that I was the author of the verses named in this Question. I have no opportunity of knowing whether that is so, because he did not think fit to show me a copy of the verses and ask me to check them and say whether they were mine or not. I must, however, take his word for it, and, therefore, I must take exception to the description of the verses in the Question, to which he has committed himself as a statement of fact, which I say is false, foolish and offensive.

The hon. and learned Member who put the Question down was quite entitled to put it down in any terms he liked. He is responsible for it. It is not for me to deal with that matter.

Is it not true that this poem contains nothing offensive to Soviet Russia, and is it not British patriotism from a British point of view?

I have been careful to express no opinion on the merits of the verses.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these verses whatever their merits, were not directed against Russia at all, but against certain British citizens who are never happy unless they are running down their own country and the efforts of their own countrymen in the war?

Churchill Tanks

4.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that on the opening day of the German attack on the Eighth Army the enemy lost 33 tanks, whilst the British did not lose a single armoured unit; that in action with the First Army Churchill tanks have proved a match for the German Mark VI or Tiger; and whether he has any statement to make on the subject?

No detailed reports have yet been received about the performance of Churchill tanks in Tunisia, but such general accounts as have arrived speak favourably of them. Some Tigers were certainly destroyed in the recent actions in which Churchill tanks were engaged but it is not known whether the Churchills were responsible for this or our other weapons. General Montgomery has reported that during the recent attacks by Rommel against the Eighth Army positions, a total of 52 German tanks were damaged and afterwards blown up by our sappers. Many others must have been hit and damaged and some were seen being towed away. In this engagement no armoured battle took place.

Prisoners

5.

asked the Secretary of State for War why military prisoners, sentenced by military courts-martial, serve their sentences in His Majesty's civil prisons instead of under military detention; whether such prisoners receive remission from their sentences for good conduct; and whether they are liable for call up upon release?

In general imprisonment in a military prison is confined to soldiers convicted of purely military offences and serving sentences of less than two years. In the case of an officer a sentence of cashiering always accompanies a sentence of penal servitude or imprisonment. This makes him a civilian, and he usually serves his sentence in a civil prison. The answer to the last two parts of the Question is "Yes, Sir."

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there are any officer prisoners incarcerated in the Tower at the present time, or are they all in civilian prisons?

Do officer prisoners have their sentences reviewed every three months the same as other ranks, and will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the very hard case that I put before him recently, in which there was a very severe sentence?

I will answer the last part of the question first, and in that comprehend the other part. The matter has been reviewed, and reviewed with extreme care, by the Army Council. I regret that beyond the ordinary remission it is not possible to review the sentence or to reduce the sentence.

Casualties (Unofficial Telegrams)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the Order regarding communications to relatives from the Middle East has twice been altered at different dates; and whether he will ask the new Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, to consider the question in the light of the representations which have been made?

I am well aware that three General Orders have been issued by the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, on this subject. The second and third repeat word for word the original prohibition on cables and telegrams and give the same reason for it, although other points are added which were not in the original Order. In answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's Question I therefore have nothing to add to the answer I gave him on 10th March.

Is it not reasonable that, in view of the widespread interest of the families of troops in this question and the support this has received in the House, my right hon. Friend should at least ask the new Commander-in-Chief to look into the question again and see whether he can reconsider it?

No, Sir. Quite frankly, I think the Commander-in-Chief has other and much more important things to do.

Is it not treating the House with contempt if my right hon. Friend refuses to ask a perfectly reasonable question of the Commander-in-Chief on a point on which there is great interest in this country.

There is no evidence, apart from the hon. Member's persistence, of the great interest to which he refers, and, as I have said, I think the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East and the authorities in North Africa generally have much more urgent tasks to do at the moment.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the use by troops in the Middle East, during the time when it was permitted to them to communicate with relatives in this country, of their right to do so had the object and the effect of alleviating anxiety in this country and not increasing it?

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at an early opportunity.

Home Guard (Civil Defence Training)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for War the number or percentage of members of the Home Guard who have received training in matters appertaining to Civil Defence; and whether it is proposed to institute any measure of compulsion in this connection?

Instructions have already been issued for training in Civil Defence duties to be given in those places where it is necessary to do so, but I regret that the figures asked for by my hon. and gallant Friend are not available. This training is carried out as a military duty and a member of the Home Guard can, therefore, be ordered to undertake it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the amount of work called for from the Home Guard is already having a serious effect on production throughout the country, and will he see to it that if the Home Guard are ordered to do Civil Defence duties, their duties with the Home Guard will be proportionately reduced?

That is another question than the one on the Paper, and I have already answered that on one or two occasions.

Manœuvres (Damage To Agricultural Property)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the enormous damage to fencing, hedges, ditches, roadways and gates occasioned by Army manœuvres upon agricultural land; and whether, since neither labour nor material is now available to landowners and farmers, he will arrange for Service personnel to carry out proper permanent repairs either shortly, or following temporary repairs, immediately after the war?

It is essential for war-time manœuvres to be realistic, and a certain amount of damage is unfortunately unavoidable. Bearing this in mind, I trust my hon. and gallant Friend will agree that the damage caused by these manœuvres is not unduly heavy. Land repair units are provided in connection with large-scale exercises to carry out the repair work essential for the working of the land. They clear ditches, repair roads and supply and fix fencing and gates. Gates are difficult to get, but a large number is being obtained, and a fair proportion of them is, I understand, already available. Where hedges have been destroyed chestnut paling or wire fencing on timber posts is fixed across the gaps. It is unfortunately impossible for the Army to undertake the replanting of hedges and other skilled and long-term repairs of this kind. The compensation paid to the farmer should enable him to carry out such work when circumstances permit.

Can I have an assurance that my right hon. Friend has not closed his mind to reconsideration of the matter as supplies become available?

I certainly have not. I left out the last sentence of my answer. May I finish it, though it does not add very much to what I have said? I should have added that I sincerely regret that manœuvres inevitably cause damage. The Army is, however, doing its best to reduce the inconvenience and make good the loss suffered by farmers, and I understand that these efforts are widely appreciated by the farmers themselves. That answers my hon. and gallant Friend's somewhat premature Supplementary Question. I shall be glad to arrange for him to visit the areas in question with the President of the Claims Commission if he would like to see what is going on and how claims are dealt with.

Surely my right hon. Friend is aware that a great deal of the damage has nothing to do with manœuvres? It is because people who drive Army vehicles are not taught how to reverse properly.

On the contrary, the experience of everyone who has been in the area in which these manœuvres were going on has been that the road discipline of the Army is exceedingly good. I have had letters from Members of the House to that effect.

Would my right hon. Friend like to see some of the damage done in the Noble Lord's constituency, which I shall be pleased to show him?

Lecture To Troops, Scotland

9.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that Miss May Findlay, lecturing to troops in Scotland on 16th February, made a strongly anti-Soviet speech, stating inter alia that Russian citizens are slaves of the State, that children are and have for the last four years been taken from their mothers at birth and, save by chance, are never seen by their parents again; that there is no public religious observance at all and that persons who grumble are shot; and whether he will put a stop to this sort of thing and provide the troops with lecturers that tell the truth about the Soviet Union?

I am investigating the hon. and learned Member's complaint about this lecture.

Neurosis (Discharged Soldiers)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many cases there are of soldiers being discharged from the Army unfit on account of neurosis?

I regret that it is not in the public interest to give the figures, but I can inform my hon. Friend that the proportion of men invalided from the Army suffering from neurosis was in 1942 about 17 per cent. of the number invalided out of the Army in that year on account of all diseases.

Is it not possible for the Army Medical Service completely to drop this term "neurosis," which is a vague and nebulous term used in order to deprive a large number of men of pensions?

I do not want to be misunderstood. In the matter of medical terminology the best motto is to observe the rule that "fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

Are these men treated by Army psychologists before their discharge?

Family Lodging Allowance (Officers)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for War what percentage of married officers are receiving family lodging allowance on the old inclusive rate for those over 30 years of age?

Based on information available in the Officers' Pay Office at Manchester, approximately 54 per cent. of all married officers in the Army are drawing family lodging allowance under the old code.

Officers' Clothing And Equipment

14.

asked the Secretary of State for War when it is proposed to dress cadets of the Army and the Auxiliary Territorial Service on taking up commissions in Priority A cloth as laid down in Priority A scheme issued by the Army Council and the Board of Trade in September, 1941, so that newly commissioned officers shall get the best cloth obtainable made to a strict schedule and at a maximum price as laid down in the Board of Trade Order, Goods and Services (Price Control) No. 2556?

Instructions about the scheme referred to by my hon. Friend were issued on 8th February. The scheme should ensure that tailor-made uniforms of a standard range of qualities are available for officers (including A.T.S. officers) at moderate prices. I understand that stocks of the cloths covered by the scheme are in the hands of military tailors who have been informed of the specifications of the garments and of the maximum prices laid down by the Board of Trade. Officers are, however, not compelled to buy these cloths. They buy them only if they wish to.

Why is it that the War Office has not shown the slightest desire to conform to its own Regulations? Is it because of the influence of the vested interests in the tailoring trade?

I find the hon. Member's question completely incomprehensible. He had better put down a Question saying in what respect they do not observe the Regulations.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware the tailoring trade follow by getting scores of licences to sell uniforms contrary to Army Regulations?

15.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is now in a position to issue details of the new scheme for extending the facilities for officers to obtain supplies of clothing and equipment through the quartermaster's stores?

I regret that all the details have not yet been settled, but I hope an announcement will be made before long.

Receiver Of Stolen Goods (Sentence)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can give any information in connection with the case made against William Edwin Higham, master shoe repairer, of Palmerston Avenue, Litherland, Liverpool, charged at the Manchester Assizes with stealing the property of the War Department; what were the things stolen; and what he intends doing to prevent a repetition?

I understand that the man referred to was a receiver of stolen goods and has been sentenced to four years' penal servitude. A case of razors and blades was the only War Department property traced to him. The circumstances of the theft are being looked into.

Chiropodists, Middle East

20.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many chiropodists are now attached to units in the Middle East?

The reorganisation of field medical units, which involves the appointment of chiropodists to field ambulances is now being carried out in this country. The Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, has postponed the consideration of this reorganisation in his Command in view of the active operations in progress. There are, however, a number of chiropodists in the R.A.M.C. in the Middle East who are practising chiropody.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that during active operations involving a great deal of marching the services of these men might be very necessary?

I have pointed out that there are a certain number available in the Middle East. All I have said was that during active operations a general reorganisation could not take place.

Sentence On Home Guard, Glasgow

21.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has considered the case, details of which have been sent to him, of Private Philip Samuels, 3rd City of Glasgow Home Guards, who has been sentenced to 56 days' detention for refusing to carry out an order relating to dress; and, as Private Samuels adopted this mistaken attitude in the belief that he would thereby be able to bring to the notice of his commanding officer a number of grievances at his trial and expressed regret, and although Grade 4 he enrolled voluntarily in the Home Guard, will he consider remitting the remainder of his sentence?

Power to remit all or part of sentences awarded by courts-martial is delegated to General Officers Commanding-in-Chief of Commands, and I do not think it advisable to interfere with this power. I have, however, asked for a report of this case.

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the sentence imposed on this man, who has a business to look after, is a fair sentence?

I am asking for a report, and I think I had better postpone answering the hon. Member's question until I get it.

Scotland

Housing (Agricultural Workers)

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will describe the procedure to be followed by local authorities in erecting houses for farm-workers under the latest scheme?

The houses will be built by the local authorities in accordance with the usual procedure under the Housing (Scotland) Acts. The sites of the houses will, however, be selected in consultation with the Agricultural Executive Committees. Model plans have been prepared by the Department of Health for Scotland in consultation with the Design Sub-Committee of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee and these plans have been issued to the local authorities for their guidance. The local authorities will obtain tenders for houses in the usual way.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no avoidable delay, through red tape or any other cause, in carrying out this scheme?

Agricultural Workers' Wages

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether it is his intention to review agricultural workers' wages in Scotland with a view to establish a £4 per week minimum?

The responsibility for fixing minimum rates of wages for agricultural workers in Scotland rests entirely with the District Committees and the Central Board which were set up with powers and duties detailed in the Agricultural Wages Acts, 1937 and 1940. These bodies are representative of both sides of the industry with independent members added, and so far as I am aware there are no proposals before any District Committee or the Board for a revision of existing minimum wage rates.

Is my right hon. Friend not aware of the strong resentment felt by agricultural workers at the rate of wages they are paid in comparison with the wages of other workers, and will he undertake to stir up this Board?

In response to the latter part of the question, I have no power whatever to intervene since the Act of 1940. It is a matter for negotiation between trade unions and employers. I agree, however, that there is resentment in some quarters at the disparity in wage rates.

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that if agricultural workers were paid proper rates, there would probably be no need to ask for school children to help in agricultural work?

Veterinary Colleges (Government Grants)

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland the number of veterinary students attending the Edinburgh and Glasgow Veterinary Colleges, respectively; and the total Government grants, both capital and annual, made to each of the above colleges since 1925?

The numbers of students attending the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College, Edinburgh, and the Glasgow Veterinary College during the academic year 1942–43 are 235 and 209 respectively. Government grants to the former College for the financial years 1925 to 1942 inclusive for capital and maintenance purposes amounted to £136,702. No grants from State funds were made during these years to the Glasgow Veterinary College.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great financial difficulties under which the Glasgow College is carrying on and that it is only able to do so because the professors and assistants are taking lower remuneration than they might expect? Will he consider the question of the Glasgow College in view of the grant given to Edinburgh?

My hon. and gallant Friend is aware that there is a long history behind this going back for 17 years, and that proposals were made to Glasgow Veterinary College that if they would reorganise and co-operate with Glasgow University, grants would be available. They did not see their way to accept the suggestion, and there the matter rests.

Was not the grant withdrawn from Glasgow Veterinary College 17 years ago in the hope that it would put it out of existence and that all the teaching would be conducted in Edinburgh? As the college still survives after 17 years, does not the right hon. Gentleman think it is time the grant was renewed?

I cannot say what purpose was in the minds of those who 17 years ago proposed that there should be only one veterinary college for Scotland. I agree that it involves a hardship to students who have to board in Edinburgh.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the matter again after this period of time and see what can be done?

It is difficult to deal with the matter by way of question and answer, but the Loveday Committee has been given an urgent recommendation to review the possibility again.

Fuel And Power

Petrol Allowance (Employees, Birmingham Region)

26.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power why petrol allowances for motor-cars of salaried employees in the Birmingham region are limited to 50 return journeys during a three-months period, whereas no similar restriction applies to motor-cars of weekly-paid employees?

It was considered that, as salaried classes came and went at more regular times, they could take greater advantage of public means of transport than wage-earners employed on a shift basis. I am, however, anxious to avoid any discrimination, and am quite prepared to have each case, where hardship is suggested, examined on its merits.

Is it not a fact that in other districts as well we have the ridiculous system prevailing by which any manual worker has a right to as much petrol as he likes to get home, whereas the manager, who is bearing a load 20 times as big as the worker and has to be there Sundays and week-ends as well, has to go on his hands and knees to beg sufficient petrol?

What evidence has my right hon. and gallant Friend obtained in order to make this discrimination?

It was considered at the time that for obvious reasons if you are going back to home at more regular times, you can make use of public transport more readily. That was the assumption, which is not an unreasonable one, but I am prepared, as I said, to consider all cases where there is hardship.

Will the Minister give an assurance of an equal right for those who are in responsible positions?

Coal Strippers, Scotland (Calling Up, Medical Examination)

27.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether his attention has been drawn to the resolution passed by the Regional Coal Control Board for Scotland condemning the action responsible for a number of Bowhill strippers being called up for medical examination; and, in view of this repudiation, will he state on whose recommendation this action was taken?

The resolution to which the hon. Member refers was passed on 12th March at a meeting of the Scottish Regional Coal Board, a body whose proceedings are understood to be confidential. As regards the second part of the Question, it is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service to summon persons for medical examination under the National Service Acts.

Is the Minister aware that the controller and the coal company have repudiated any responsibility for a recommendation of this kind, and are we to understand that the representative of the Ministry of Labour has taken this action without consulting anyone associated with the Ministry of Fuel or the industry?

My answer is perfectly clear. My attention has been drawn to the resolution to which my hon. Friend first referred, and I should be interested to know how his attention was drawn to it. With regard to the latter part of his supplementary, I have nothing to add to my answer.

Were not these men called up in order that a Second Front might be opened at once?

In reply to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), it is, as I have said, the responsibility of the Minister of Labour to summon persons for medical examination.

Colliery Canteens

29.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power at how many collieries out of the 1,028 employing more than 50 workers canteens have been established, and at how many of these are hot meals supplied?

Canteens have been established at 850 of these collieries, and 243 of the canteens supply full meals.

Do the figures show a considerable increase in the last three months, and, if so, does my right hon. and gallant Friend hope to get a similar increase in the next three months?

There has been a substantial increase. In fact, it has been a steady progress since it started, and I hope that it will continue.

In view of the need for these canteens, will the Minister see that materials and equipment are provided to complete canteens that are held up?

I will do everything I can, but my hon. Friend will appreciate that there are other demands. We are doing what we can with both labour and material.

Trade And Commerce

Trade Organisations

32.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will appoint a committee of the same kind that was appointed in February, 1918, for the purpose of considering the probable extension of trade organisations, combinations, trusts and cartels, to consider and report on what action should be taken to safeguard the public interest?

I do not propose to appoint such a committee at the present time, but I fully appreciate the importance of the questions to which my hon. Friend refers, and I will keep his suggestion in mind.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that monopoly control is the greatest menace to the future of the people, and, if he does, would he consult the Prime Minister in order to draw his attention to the fact that it is no use making statements in speeches unless concrete steps of the kind suggested in the Question are taken?

I think that the steps that are being taken to control prices and profits are more effective than setting up another committee. I do not regard the procedure in the last war as one to be copied. A committee was then set up, but it was late in the day-and was ineffective, and it was followed by very inadequate legislation. We are doing very much better.

Air-Raid Wardens (Uniforms)

33.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many clothing coupons air-raid wardens have to surrender in respect of their uniform; and why are they compelled to give up additional coupons from time to time whether they need any replacements of uniform or not?

Full time members of the wardens' service, whose uniform consists of battledress, overcoat and boots, obtain both the initial outfit and all subsequent replacements against an annual surrender of 18 coupons through their local authority. The uniform itself is worth 43 coupons. This surrender represents the annual saving which results from having coupon-free clothes to wear at work. A similar system applies to all wearers of essential civilian uniforms.

Does the Minister realise that this arrangement is leaving wardens, particularly women wardens, with very few coupons for their other needs, and it gives them no incentive to make their uniforms last as long as possible?

I do not think that that is really so. Full-time wardens who wear their uniforms while on duty have a great advantage over civilians who have not that facility, and it is in view of that that this arrangement, which I think is quite generous, was made.

Utility Furniture

34.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he proposes to remedy the shortage of utility furniture in Nuneaton and district, particulars of which have been supplied to him by the honourable Member for Nuneaton?

If my hon. Friend will send me particulars of any cases where holders of buying permits in Nuneaton and district have been unable to obtain utility furniture, I shall be pleased to look into them.

In view of what I think is the general belief that people will expect to see utility furniture in shop windows, will my right hon. Friend tell the House and the country what steps people should take who have been blitzed or who have got married to obtain this furniture?

Steps will be taken in the latter case before marriage has been regularised. It is only necessary for people falling within any of the classes of those who are entitled to utility furniture to obtain buying permits, which they do through the Assistance Board. These people order from a shop the articles of furniture they prefer on the list with which they are supplied. We do not want to immobilise large supplies of furniture for window displays, but to get it as quickly as possible in the possession of those people who are entitled to it. A number of exhibitions have been held in different parts of the country.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a general feeling of damping down supplies and not to make utility furniture known to the general public, and will he take steps, apart from displays of furniture in shop windows, to see that those who need a supply know the machinery for getting it?

I am anxious that it should be made widely known. It is not at all my wish to damp it down. Production is going well, and I am anxious that it should be taken up. In Glasgow there has been an exhibition, which was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it had only a very limited appeal, and will he take steps to see that there are other channels through which supplies are made available?

I should be glad to do anything on those lines if my hon. Friend would make some suggestions.

Wireless Sets (Valves And Components)

35.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the shortage of valves and spare parts for wireless sets; and, in view of the numerous instructions issued by Government Departments as to food, clothing coupons, National Service Regulations, etc., by wireless, will he make the spare parts more easily available?

As the House knows, the production of valves and other components for civilian wireless sets is limited by the heavy demands of the Fighting Services for wireless equipment of all kinds. Nevertheless, the production of valves in this country for civilian sets is very considerable, and, in addition, substantial quantities of American type valves have been imported from the United States. But there are still shortages of a few types of valves. As regards components, the principal difficulty has been with electrolytic condensers. As I informed my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale) on 19th January last, steps have already been taken to increase the production of these.

Maximum Price Orders

36.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the great difficulty experienced by small drapers, especially in cases where the husband has been called up, of understanding and complying with the complexity and multiplicity of Orders issued by his Department regarding the prices of goods; and whether he will take steps to reduce the number of such Orders and to increase the simplicity of their language?

I am anxious that, subject to fair treatment of all concerned, maximum price Orders should be as few, uniform and simple as possible. I have recently decided on uniformity in future in the method of expressing margins in relation to Purchase Tax, and I have asked the trade for suggestions for further simplification. My Department keep in close touch on all these matters with the trade associations concerned, and traders in difficulty can obtain advice from their organisations, and also from the Local Price Regulation Committee in their area.

Utility Goods

37.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what percentage of utility goods have been sold at maximum price?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the clothing trade in particular at least 80 per cent. of the clothing manufactured is sold at maximum prices, irrespective of the quality?

There is nothing illegal in selling at the ceiling price, or maximum price, but what is illegal is to sell above it. My hon. Friend will, I am sure, appreciate that I could not possibly check up on all the information he asks for in a manner which would allow me to answer his question adequately, as I have not the means at my disposal.

Concentration Of Industry

38.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, before any trade or industry is controlled and concentrated, he will publish, for the information of the public, an explanation of what is proposed and why it is necessary, especially as they have never been properly informed of the reasons for closing many small but important industries?

As my hon. and gallant Friend is aware, an explanation of the reasons for the policy of concentration of production was published in Command Paper No. 6258 of 1941. Before any particular industry is concentrated, the reasons are explained to representatives of the industry, and details discussed with them.

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered setting out for the information of the public the reasons for the concentration of industry, because in spite of what has been said many people do not know, and many of the individuals concerned do not understand why?

The general reasons for the concentration of industry were explained in a Command Paper issued by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production when he initiated this policy as President of the Board of Trade. The reasons are very simple; they are to release labour, to save materials and to enable factory buildings to be used for other purposes. In the particular instance of any trade we discuss the reasons not with the public generally but with the trade itself.

Are not the methods in force very arbitrary, and would it not be possible to give a little more enlightenment on this subject? The position is not very satisfactory.

Post-War Economic Policy

39.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can say in what manner he proposes after the war to continue manufacture in factories owned by the State in Swindon and district, in view of the special consideration to be given by the Government to factories now established in the former distressed areas?

49.

asked the Minister without Portfolio whether plans now being made for the period following the war include the disposal to private enterprise of factories acquired by the Government for war purposes?

I have been asked to reply to the Question addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio, and with my hon. Friends' permission, I will answer both together. I have at present nothing to add to what I said on this subject in the Debate on Economic Policy on 3rd February last. I then stated that I was most anxious that we should explore well in advance, before final decisions are taken, what are the best possibilities for these factories after the war, particularly for those which are situated in pre-war distressed areas, where it has been found that employment was not sufficiently diversified.

In order that private firms may prepare to co-operate with the Government in the transition period, will my right hon. Friend give them some guidance as to what the Government have in mind?

I think that in the first instance it is desirable that we should have preliminary discussions such as are now taking place between the various Departments in London, and reports as to possibilities submitted from the different areas. No decisions have yet been taken. We must get the materials first.

As I have already said, inquiries have been sent to a number of industrial organisations in the trades with which the Board of Trade is concerned, asking them to express their views to me upon all these post-war problems.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Swindon and district is not a distressed area, but that if plans are not made quickly unemployment and distress may occur there after this war?

The Government are committed, as has been announced, to full employment so far as it can be achieved in all areas. Swindon was very fortunate before the war in not being a distressed area. Other areas were not so fortunate. We will endeavour to see that misfortune befalls no area.

Will the right hon. Gentleman hold fast to the view that those areas which were distressed areas 10 years ago get better consideration than they got before the war?

Safety Razor Blades

40.

asked the President of the Board of Trade the percentage of safety razor blades released by wholesalers to the quantity purchased by the public, based on the period June, 1939, to June, 1940?

I regret that the particulars for which my hon. Friend asks are not available. The total production of blades in this country in 1937 was 562,000,000. Production last quarter, in spite of labour and raw material difficulties, was at the rate of 564,000,000 a year and was higher in the two previous quarters. I am giving close attention to this question.

No, Sir, but I am going into this matter very carefully, as I am not satisfied at present.

Surgical Lint (Misuse)

41.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that owing to the lack of washing flannels and gloves, some chemists are recommending the use of surgical lint for this purpose; and whether he will take steps to stop this practice?

To use surgical lint in place of washing flannels is very wrong, and I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for reporting to me the name and address of the chemist who recommended to him the use of lint for this purpose. I have arranged for one of my officers to visit and admonish this chemist. I am considering, in consultation with my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Health and Supply, what further steps may be expedient to check such misuse of this essential material.

May I ask whether the use of surgical lint has been prohibited by any Order?

No, Sir. Surgical lint is very necessary, but not for the purpose of washing one's face.

This man will be admonished for trying to persuade customers to misuse surgical lint.

Towels (Hairdressers)

42.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the provision of extra towel coupons for hairdressers?

I cannot at present add anything to the replies which I gave on 2nd March to my hon. Friends the Members for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and the Clayton division of Manchester (Mr. Thorneycroft).

May I ask that the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the difficulties that hairdressers are experiencing at the present time?

Yes, Sir. I stated in reply to a Supplementary Question on the date mentioned that I am most anxious to do whatever I can to assist hairdressers, but supplies are difficult to obtain.

Toilet Preparations Order

43.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the complete banning of petroleum products under the Toilet Preparations Order is causing hardship to hairdressers; and whether he will consider releasing some of these products on a quota basis?

The Order to which my hon. Friend refers does not affect the sale by hairdressers of hair preparations already made up on 31st December last. Further manufacture of hair preparations from petroleum products was probihited as from this date owing to the need to economise in shipping space and in materials essential to the war effort. But I am prepared to look into any case of special hardship, where a hairdresser already holds a considerable stock of petroleum products.

Perambulators

44.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many perambulators have been manufactured during the past month; and how many will be available for sale per week in the future?

The number of perambulators and folders produced in February is estimated at 26,330. I hope that this rate of production will be at least maintained.

Is the Minister aware that since he promised to look into this matter of perambulator supplies the allocation for Middlesbrough has been reduced and the allocation for Scotland has been considerably increased?

I undertook to try to see that justice was done. If my hon. Friend thinks that it has not been done, perhaps he will approach me on the matter.

Will the Minister take steps to see that these statements about Scotland are also looked into?

Equal Compensation (Select Committee's Report)

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether any decision has yet been reached with regard to compensation of war injured civilians after consideration by the Government of the Report of the Select Committee on Equal Compensation?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to her on 16th March last.

In view of the fact that this matter has been consistently discussed for two years, may I ask whether, if I put down a Question next week to the right hon. Gentleman, he will be in a position to give me a definite answer?

I am not prepared to enter into any precise engagement at this moment.

Would this recommendation of the Select Committee come within the scope of the right hon. Gentleman's Four Year Plan and be carried out within that period?

Enemy Powers (Peace Proposals)

46.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an undertaking that no answer will be given to any proposals made by the Axis Powers to His Majesty's Government for the termination of hostilities before the House of Commons has had an opportunity of expressing its opinions thereon?

An assurance of this kind would be contrary to constitutional usage, by which such issues are reserved to the Crown, acting on the advice of Ministers, who are themselves responsible to Parliament for their conduct.

Pamphlet, "Square Meals, And Square Deals"

47.

asked the Prime Minister whether the contents of the recently published pamphlet, entitled "Square Meals and Square Deals," by the Minister of Labour, represent the policy of His Majesty's Government?

This is a Labour Party publication of a highly polemical character, with which His Majesty's Government are in no way concerned. It is open to any person or organisation to publish an extract from Hansard with what comments they please.

Should it not first of all be an accurate extract from Hansard and not an inaccurate paraphrase? Is it not, further, something of an innovation for a Minister of the Crown, in the course of piloting a non-controversial Measure in this House, to make a violent attack outside the House on Members who fulfil their proper constitutional functions of opposing a Measure which they think is contrary to the public interest?

As to the accuracy of any quotation made from our Debates, that is a matter to which attention can always be drawn in the course of political controversy. As to the insinuation which the hon. and gallant Member has made against the Minister of Labour that he was connected with this publication, I can give the hon. and gallant Member the most complete denial.

Would not the best way 1:0 settle this Question be that which the right hon. Gentleman adopted the other day, namely, to circulate this pamphlet in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Has the Prime Minister seen the pamphlet, a copy of which I have here, and is he aware that it bears these words.

"Square Meals and Square Deals, by the right hon. Ernest Bevin, M.P."?

That is a most misleading and, in my opinion, most improper description, because it suggests that the Minister of Labour has written the offensive comments at the beginning and the end, whereas, of course, it refers literally to the quotations from the Minister's speech in Parliament.

May I ask the Prime Minister very seriously whether, in view of the great bitterness already engendered in connection with this particular Measure, he will consider whether it is in the national interest that it should proceed?

We shall certainly not be deterred from Measures which are necessary because they arouse heat or bitterness.

Are we of the Opposition to understand that there has been a little friction in the ranks of the Government?

Friction is healthy, and is widely and almost universally dispersed.

Forestry Commission (Report)

48.

asked the Prime Minister whether the Report recently drawn up for the Government by the Forestry Commission will be published; and, if so, can he say when?

I have been asked to reply. As I informed my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) on 18th March, this matter will form one of the topics for consideration in the Government's post-war plans, and the question of publication will be considered in due course.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that great attention has been called to this matter in many reports, including the Scott Report? Will he give favourable consideration, and, if necessary, discuss the matter with the Prime Minister, to a suggestion that there should be a discussion of this Report as soon as possible, in view of the fact that we have not had a Debate on forestry for many years?

I say that the question whether it can be published will be considered.

National Finance

Wage-Earners (Income Tax Returns)

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, with a view to the avoidance of absenteeism through attendance during work hours at the local tax office, he will ask the inspectors of taxes to send officers at regular intervals to factories employing over a certain number of employees to interview employees who need advice in connection with their Income Tax returns?

Arrangements of the sort suggested by my hon. Friend are already in force in a large number of cases, and it is the policy of the Board of Inland Revenue to extend them so far as circumstances permit.

Depreciated Properties (Deferred Repairs)

52.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been called to the position of concerns of which the main revenue, trading and otherwise, is derived from properties of various kinds which, owing to the war, are suffering heavy depreciation through lack of adequate repairs; and whether he will consider allowing certain reserves for deferred maintenance to be made and treated as an expense of the business for taxation purposes?

An allowance in respect of deferred repairs is given for the purpose of Excess Profits Tax, and for the purposes of the Income Tax the deferred expenditure on repairs will rank for allowance as and when it is incurred.

Furnished-House Letting (Income Tax Returns)

53.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the pressure exerted by the Ministry of Fuel and Power on applicants for home-to-work petrol allowances temporarily to change residence so as to reduce mileage, he will take steps to amend the law which disallows the expense of living elsewhere as a deduction from the profits of letting a furnished house assessable to Income Tax under Schedule D?

No, Sir. I cannot agree that the circumstances to which my hon. Friend refers would justify a departure from the general Income Tax rule.

How can the right hon. Gentleman expect people to change their residences if it involves higher taxation?

There are many other considerations which I have to bear in mind in this matter.

Post-War Economic Policy

54.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will give an assurance that the Government's financial and economic post-war policy will be formulated so as to maintain a stable price level in the home market by regulating the issue of credit; and whether the Government will introduce the necessary legislation to empower them to maintain an increased purchasing power whenever prices show a tendency to fall?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement which I made in the Debate on post-war economic policy on 2nd February, and in particular to what I then said about the price level and about the contribution which the Government could make towards securing active employment.

War Damage Payments (Death Duties)

56.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether agreed sums payable as war damage under the War Damage Act, either on account of property or chattels insurance, can be set off against the payment of Death Duties due on a deceased estate?

I assume that my hon. Friend refers to payments for war damage which are to be made, together with accrued interest, after the war. Such future payments cannot be regarded as available now for the discharge of Death Duties. The duty chargeable in respect of the war damage payment itself will not, however, be collected until the payment is received.

House Of Commons Official Report (Sales)

57.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he will arrange to have displayed in the Library a graph showing the daily sales of Hansard?

In present circumstances I am most reluctant to add to statistical work of this kind, and I do not think that the production of daily figures, whether in graph form or otherwise, would be justifiable.

Would the Minister be prepared to indicate the figures, perhaps upon a weekly basis, to any Member who is interested in this subject?

I do not want to add to work of this kind in the Department if it can be avoided.

Is the Minister really saying that any work is involved? The Stationery Office must know the figures.

If the hon. and gallant Member wants to have the figure for any particular week, I will do my best to supply it.

Ministry Of Information Speakers

59.

asked the Minister of Information whether, in connection with the panel of Ministry of Information speakers, he will take steps so as to ensure that the speeches they deliver in the various constituencies throughout the country were read and approved by his Department in so far as is possible, in view of some of the confusing and undesirable statements which have been made during the past few months?

To require every speaker to submit a script of his speech in advance for approval would be impracticable without a large addition to the Ministry's staff; but every opportunity is taken to discuss with speakers individually the general subject-matter on which they will be speaking.

As only a very limited number of the speeches are really good, would it not be desirable to limit the enormous number of those speeches so that more supervision could be exercised? The matter really is getting out of control.

The number of speeches is a different matter. We always offer our speakers good advice as to what they should and should not say. I think my hon. Friend will agree that we should allow a little scope for the inspiration of the moment.

Could not the Ministry of Information supply the speeches of Members of this House?

Air Mail (Middle East And North Africa)

60.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will take measures to expedite the air-mail to and from the Forces serving in the Middle East and North Africa?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the full explanation of the position which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office, during the Report stage of the Army Estimates on 17th March last. Airgraph and air letter services to the troops in North Africa were introduced on 5th March. In conjunction with the other Departments concerned, the Post Office will continue its endeavours to speed up all the services to and from our Forces in the Middle East and North Africa.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that land mails and small parcels have taken more than three months to arrive in the Middle East, and would he do his best to accelerate that service?

We are doing all we can, but my hon. Friend will realise that, owing to the diversion of shipping and re-route-ing and so on, the position is very difficult.

Would the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the establishment of the Royal Air Force Transport Command provides an opportunity of getting some speeding-up of these mails, and will he have that discussed with the officer commanding that Command?

Production Factories (Broadcast Music)

61.

asked the Minister of Production whether he has any estimate of the number of factories which receive broadcasting music on Fridays and Saturdays?

I regret that no estimate in the form asked for by my hon. Friend is available.

Will the decision given in the House of Lords the other week make any difference to the entertainment?

I prefer not to make a statement about that subject at the present time, as the matter which interests my hon. Friend is at present under discussion.

Is anybody in the hon. Gentleman's Department studying whether music in factories has the slightest effect at all on production?

Canteen Workers (Shortage)

62.

asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of the fact that evidence of shortage of staff seriously affecting the service of meals at essential works' canteens has been placed before his Department and before the Ministry of Food, he can announce any further action taken to alleviate a condition which is aggravated by prolonged delay in applying the Essential Work Order to canteens covered by a National Joint Industrial Council agreement?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the replies given to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) on 11th March and to the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Evelyn Walkden) on 18th March.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the reply to which he referred does not deal with the reasons for the Essential Work Order being held up, and can he explain why the Essential Work Order for the catering industry is held up?

The reply states that it is under consideration, and it is still there.

Workers (Deputations To Minister)

63.

asked the Minister of Labour the grounds for his refusal to receive deputations, even when accompanied by Members of this House, unless also accompanied by trade union officials?

I assume that my hon. Friends refers to cases where workers seek to make direct representations with regard to matters which are properly dealt with through the recognised negotiating machinery of the industry. This must necessarily have the effect of weakening the authority of the unions, and it is my right hon. Friend's practice not to receive such direct representations if made independently of the unions. My right hon. Friend would ask members to support him in keeping these matters within the proper agreed channels.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this has been the use and wont in this House to my personal knowledge for 20 years, and that this bar was never put up until the present Minister became Minister of Labour, and that it means abrogating the power of the House of Commons to the trade union movement? I want to know what the hon. Gentleman has to say in reply to that.

I would suggest that it is not abrogating the power of the House of Commons, and that where constituents of Members come seeking to see the Minister they have not been refused, but that when they have come making direct representations with regard to trade practices the recognised channel is the trade union.

Is it not unreasonable to expect the hon. Gentleman to answer a Supplementary Question of such great gravity, and ought not the Government to reconsider this whole question? Is it not a very serious matter indeed when Ministers can refuse to receive Members of this House?

Arising out of this Question and the replies given, has the Minister not in fact stated that a Member of this House wishing, for certain purposes, to take a deputation is to be refused unless he is accompanied by a trade union official? Is not that a complete innovation and against all the traditional usages of this House?