House Of Commons
Wednesday, 24th March, 1943
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Greece (Bulgarian Brutality)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the fact that Greece is fighting on our side, any steps can be taken in regard to the policy being pursued by the Bulgarian Government in the Greek territory occupied by their forces?
The information in the possession of His Majesty's Government shows that the Greek inhabitants in the territory in Bulgarian occupation are being treated with great brutality. The Bulgarian Government are also making a systematic attempt to denationalise this Greek territory, and many of its present inhabitants are being expelled in order to make room for Bulgarian immigrants. His Majesty's Government regard as null and void any legislation or other acts by the Bulgarian Government which are aimed at Bulgarising the Greek territory which they covet. All these measures of expropriation and expulsion, for which the Bulgarian Government must be held responsible, will have to be undone at the end of the war.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his assurance will give great satisfaction to our gallant Allies, who are putting up a magnificent fight, not only with their forces outside Greece, but the population inside as well?
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the United States of America was invited to send representatives to take part in the discussions which took place prior to this country entering into a 20 years' Treaty of Alliance with Russia?
No, Sir. But the United States Government was kept fully informed of the discussions which led to the conclusion of the Anglo-Soviet Treaty.
Is it not in the view of the Government essential that America, Russia and the British Commonwealth of Nations should be in complete agreement on post-war economic and monetary matters?
Hong Kong (Stanley Camp)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that private reports received regarding the Stanley Camp, Hong Kong, indicate unsatisfactory conditions in regard to overcrowding, rations, shortage of drugs and instruments, books, bedding and clothing; and whether he will state the date of the latest report he has on the camp and the conditions as shown in it?
I am aware that very disquieting reports have been received in the past about conditions at Stanley Camp, Hong Kong. Nevertheless, according to the most recent report of the delegate at Hong Kong of the International Red Cross Committee, which is dated 25th January, the conditions in this camp showed steady improvement.
Have further reports been received from the Red Cross authorities? Are they sent regularly?
I have no doubt that we shall receive further reports. The International Red Cross makes periodical visits to the camp.
Prisoners Of War And Nationals (Exchange)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to the desire of the Japanese Government to arrange the exchange of two more batches of Japanese against Allied nationals held in Japan; and whether any negotiations are taking place on the subject?
As I informed my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) on 24th February, the Swiss Government, as the Protecting Power, have intimated to the Japanese Government the desire of His Majesty's Government to arrange further exchanges of British nationals in Japan and Japanese-occupied territories against Japanese held in the British Empire, but no reply has been received from the Japanese Government. The position has not changed since then, and His Majesty's Government are still hoping to hear that the Japanese Government reciprocate their desire to arrange further exchanges.
Will the right hon. Gentleman call for a copy of Reuter's message of 26th or 27th February, which states that it was announced in Tokyo that the Japanese Government desire to carry out the exchange as stated in the Question?
There is no need to call for a copy of the statement, because I have already seen it. The statement was certainly made in Tokyo, but no approach has been made to us by the Japanese, and, as I say, so far they have not replied to the representations that we have made to them through the Protecting Power.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in the arrangements made to exchange Royal Navy prisoners of war in Germany and Italy, the men who had been prisoners longest got priority; and whether a similar number will be taken from the Army prisoners of war in Germany and Italy?
The exchange to which my hon. Friend refers arose out of quite exceptional circumstances which are not likely to be repeated, and there is therefore no likelihood of any further exchange on these lines. Last summer His Majesty King Ibn Saud requested the Turkish Government to intervene with His Majesty's Government and the Italian Government in order to arrange by agreement the removal of some 800 Italian sailors who had been interned at Jedda, together with a small number of civilians by means of an exchange. We agreed to consider an exchange against a suitable number of British naval prisoners of war in Italian hands and to provide transport from Jedda. At that time it was understood that the total number of British naval personnel in Italian hands was less than the number of Italian naval refugees at Jedda. No question, therefore, arose of the length of captivity. When, subsequently, more British naval personnel were captured by the Italians it was felt to be inadvisable to make fresh conditions in order not to risk delay in reaching an agreement. It was also decided, in order to facilitate agreement, to offer to include some 40 Italian civilians, and also a smaller number of German civilians, mostly merchant seamen, who were also interned at Jedda, in exchange for an equivalent number of British. I am glad to be able to confirm that the exchange was completed at the Turkish port of Mersin on 21st March and to take this opportunity of publicly thanking the Turkish Government for the valuable help which they have given in this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered one part of my Question. I asked whether the men who had been prisoners longest got priority.
I think I answered that. I explained that no question of priority arises in the circumstances.
Sweden (German Troop-Carrying- Aircraft)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has received any explanation from the Swedish Government regarding the German aircraft carrying 19 German soldiers which made a forced landing in Sweden?
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is now satisfied that German transport aircraft carrying troops and unmounted machine guns have been passing over Swedish territory; and, if so, whether he will make it clear to the Swedish Government that these breaches of neutrality on the part of Sweden must inevitably react to her disadvantage in connection with any post-war settlement of political and economic problems?
My right hon. Friend has already communicated with His Majesty's Minister in Stockholm, who has been instructed to establish the facts of this case and to ascertain what is the Swedish Government's explanation of the incident. But I am not yet in a position to make a definite statement.
Surely the Government have power to do something to bring Sweden more into line. Her attitude ever since the beginning of the war has been pro-Axis. She allowed Norwegian and German troops to go through and refused permission for our troops to go through to Finland.
The first thing to do is to establish the facts, and that is being done.
Foreign Service (Reform)
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what will happen to candidates who pass the first part of the examination envisaged in his proposals for the Reform of the Foreign Service but fail to qualify in the second part?
Candidates who fail to qualify at the second part of the examination will not become members of the Foreign Service. If still qualified as to age, they will be able to compete for the Home and Indian Civil Services. Those who are not so qualified or do not wish to compete will have had the advantage of 18 months' training abroad at the public expense, in seeking positions outside the public service.
As that may deter candidates from entering, would it not be better to admit them as members of the Home Civil Service as the result of the first part of the examination?
I do not think it would necessarily deter candidates from entering, and certainly we do not want to encourage into the Foreign Service particularly those who play for safety first.
Royal Air Force (Compassionate Leave)
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he has yet received the application of Corporal Ward for compassionate leave; and whether this application has been granted?
This airman's application for compassionate leave has been carefully considered. A sufficiently strong case has not been made out and in the circumstances the application has been refused.
Has this airman been told that if he makes a further application in the future for compassionate leave it will be refused? Will there be an opportunity for him to make a further application?
If there is any change in the circumstances, but I understand that the application is on the same ground.
Has he been told that if he makes an application for compassionate leave in the future, it will be refused?
Certainly, on the same ground, but if there is a change in the ground, the fresh ground will be considered.
British Overseas Airways Corporation
asked the Secretary of State for Air the individual emoluments fixed by him for the members of the British Overseas Airways Corporation; and whether any such members are receiving additional remuneration under Section 1 (5) and (6) of the British Overseas Airways Act, 1939?
With the exception of the Chief Executive Member, the members of the Corporation have, from the beginning, given their services without remuneration. In accordance with Section 1 (6) of the British Overseas Airways Act, 1939, the remuneration paid to the Chief Executive Member is a matter for the Corporation to determine.
Has the Corporation in fact so determined, and, if so, what was the amount?
That is not what I am asked in the Question. Perhaps the hon. Member will put that down. I am asked for the individual emoluments fixed by me, and I have answered that Question.
Lord Hailey's Proposals
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has considered Lord Hailey's proposals for regional international advisory councils for colonial territories in different parts of the world; and whether he has any statement to make?
Lord Hailey's views on policy in this field have naturally received my close attention. I regret however that I have no statement to make at present.
Civil Service (Cost-Of-Living Bonus)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why a cost-of-living bonus has been granted to European and Asian civil servants in the Colonial Civil Service but not to Africans?
I know of no Colony in which a cost-of-living bonus has been granted to European and Asian Civil Servants but not to Africans.
Kenya (Food Supplies)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware of the serious food shortage in Kenya; and whether there is any system of rationing or price control?
Yes, Sir, I would invite the hon. Member's attention to my reply to a Question by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) on 3rd March. A system of rationing for maize, rice and flour has been introduced and distribution boards have been set up throughout Kenya to control the issue of vital foodstuffs in accordance with minimum essential requirements. A controller of prices was appointed last year with power to fix maximum prices for all goods.
Has not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman seen the reports that are coming through as to the very unequal distribution that is taking place?
There are bound, of course, to be inequalities when there is such a short supply, but, within the limits that are possible to the Colonial Government, I am sure they are doing all that is possible.
Palestine (Retail Prices)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what has been the increase in retail prices in Palestine since the outbreak of war; and what measures have been taken by the Administration to prevent an undue increase in the cost of living and to meet such increase as has already arisen?
The general economic problem in Palestine is inseparable from that of the Middle East area as a whole, which was dealt with in an answer given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) on 17th March. The retail price of essential foodstuffs in Palestine has risen some 150 per cent. above pre-war levels, wages of the lowest paid classes of workers having risen accordingly. Steps taken and in contemplation by the Government of Palestine include the subsidisation of the cost of essential foodstuffs, the improvement of distribution by bulk purchase and rationing measures, extension of communal feeding, and, as in this country, the increase of taxation on those able to bear it, in order to absorb some of the excess purchasing power which is one of the aggravating factors in the situation.
Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that frequently rationed foods are not obtainable at the prices fixed and that the real earnings of workers are something like 25 per cent. less than pre-war? Will he ask the Administration to take measures to prevent that sort of thing?
I will certainly convey that. The Government there have had this matter under close review, and steps have been taken to raise the wages of the lower-paid workers.
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware of the allegations that at Tel-Aviv prices are higher than elsewhere in Palestine, and will he inquire why prices should go up in that particular area?
If there is a shortage in Palestine, is it not desirable that wages and other costs should not be increased any further, otherwise there will be inflation?
Trinidad And British Guiana (Constitutions)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether it is the intention of the Government to offer to the Colonies of Trinidad and British Guiana similar changes in the Constitutions of those Colonies as are now being offered to Jamaica?
The Constitution of Trinidad has only recently been amended and the necessary legal instruments amending the Constitution of British Guiana will be ready very shortly. In both cases the changes in the Constitution are in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission and in both Colonies the question of the franchise is being examined by local committees. No further changes are at present contemplated.
Will copies of the changes in the Constitutions be placed in the Library?
I think that will be so with regard to British Guiana. With regard to Trinidad, I can give the hon. Member any information he desires.
Jamaica (Land Settlement)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the approximate acreage of land which is provided under the schemes already approved for additional land settlement in Jamaica under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act?
Except for one training scheme, no land settlement schemes as such have been made for Jamaica under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act.
In view of the large number of unemployed in Jamaica, is it not desirable that special attention should be given to land settlement?
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman consider the advisability of insisting that subsistence crops must be grown on land provided for settlement so as to provide food supplies for the island?
We discussed the whole agricultural policy in the West Indies at great length last week.
Is not the Governor considering this matter, in view of the fact that undoubtedly there is a certain demand for land in this district? On inquiry it may be found that some arrangements are being made.
Malta (Post-War Reconstruction)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether any consideration has been given, not only to the question of reconstruction in Malta after the war, but also to its future political status and industrial economy, in view of increasing population and its poverty; and whether the money to be set at its disposal by the British Government is available both for reconstruction and new industrial development?
As regards the first part of the Question, the hon. Member will realise that the attention which can be given to these matters while the Colony is engaged in active warfare is necessarily restricted. As regards the second part of the Question, the gift of £10,000,000 which has recently been voted for the Malta Government is intended primarily to meet the expenses of compensation for war damage and of rebuilding. But any balance which may be left after paying these expenses will be available for other purposes beneficial to the Colony, including industrial development, and the Malta Government will also be eligible to participate in the funds provided by Parliament under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act.
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman appreciate that in view of the ever-expanding population and the appalling poverty, something must be done to secure for the Maltese after the war a more reasonable standard of life?
I entirely appreciate that, but the hon. Member will also appreciate that Malta is still in the front line of the battle and that the amount of time the Government can give to the consideration of this question is necessarily limited.
I appreciate that as everybody does, but my Question does not relate to anything being done now but to future developments similar to what we are doing in this country.
Nigerian Tin Mines (Compulsory Service)
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the approximate number conscripted into the Nigerian tin mines; whether he is satisfied with the conditions of labour therein; and whether wages have risen proportionately to the cost of living?
At the end of December the number of workers employed on the tin mines in Nigeria under the Regulations for compulsory service in essential industries was 14,098, out of a total mines-field labour force of 70,802. As regards the second part of the Question, while conditions cannot be regarded as entirely satisfactory due to the attempt to attain the maximum production of tin in the shortest possible time, I am satisfied that every effort is being made to improve those conditions with the least possible delay. As regards the last part of the Question, the scales of wages compare favourably with those paid in the case of voluntary labour and it has recently been decided to award a bonus of 4s. a month to all mine workers who satisfactorily complete their four months term of service under the Regulations.
Will the wages with this bonus rise proportionately to the cost of living?
I think they will.
West Africa (Education)
The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. SORENSEN:
24. To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any information respecting Churt High School and further information respecting Fornah Bay and Yata colleges?
May I explain with apologies that, owing no doubt to my very bad writing, the word "Churt" in this Question should be "Christ," "Fornah" should be "Fourah," and "Yata" should be "Yaba"?
In the circumstances my hon. Friend will not be surprised that I am not clear to what institution he is referring in the first part of the Question; Fourah Bay College is still housed in the alternative accommodation which has been provided, but I am glad to say that the application for financial assistance to which my hon. Friend referred in his Question on 27th January, has now been approved. The return of the Yaba Higher College to its own buildings is at present under consideration, but I regret I am not at present in a position to make any statement on the matter.
While expressing my appreciation of the announcement about these two colleges, may I take it that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will look into the other matter now that he knows the right description?
Motor Vehicles (Warning Bells)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether he will consider allowing the owners of motor-vehicles to fix a small bell to the front of their motorcar, in order to give a warning of the approach of the vehicle to pedestrians and cyclists and thus help to decrease the large number of road accidents that occur during black-out hours and repealing any regulations that would prevent this?
I am afraid that my hon. Friend's proposal would not achieve the purpose which he has in view. It would add seriously to the noises in the streets, and would tend to diminish the efficacy of the warning bells required on ambulances, fire engines, and certain other vehicles for which the right of Way is essential. For these reasons, I regret that I do not think it would be wise to adopt it.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the proposal is not for noisy bells like fire bells, but for bells that would not be heard more than 25 yards away?
In that case I am doubtful whether they would achieve their purpose.
Independent Labour Party (Banned Poster)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether he is aware that the London Passenger Transport Board has recently refused to display an advertisement for a meeting to be held under the auspices of the Independent Labour Party; and whether he will take steps to see that the advertising facilities of this statutory company are made available to all sections of the community without political prejudice?
I am informed by the Board that they rejected this poster on the ground that, in addition to announcing a meeting, it advocated a definite course of political action, and that it is contrary to their rule to exhibit posters of a political and controversial nature. They assure me that this rule is applied impartially to all political parties and other bodies?
Is the hon. Member aware that this was a meeting to be addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), and that on the poster there was nothing except the place, time and subject? Surely it is not right that the activities of a political party should be at the mercy of the L.P.T.B.?
In the view of those who made this decision, the poster, in addition to announcing the meeting, contained two political slogans of a definitely controversial character.
In a democracy ought not an advertisement for a meeting to be freely allowed, and ought not the test to be, not one of political controversy, but whether the poster contains any seditious matter against the country? If they are free from that, should not the Passenger Board post bills in the ordinary way?
The Passenger Board have applied this policy ever since they were first established. They affirm with great conviction that they have applied it impartially to all parties, and I believe that in a dozen years this is the first difficulty that has ever arisen.
In view of the fact that the Prime Minister destroyed the electoral truce on Sunday, is there anything wrong in the London Passenger Transport Board being allowed to conform to that situation?
Is the Minister aware that a responsible official of the Board who was interviewed on this subject gave it as the reason that the poster contained a semi-attack on the Government, and are we becoming so totalitarian now that even a semi-attack on the Government is something that cannot be tolerated?
If that was said—and of course I accept my hon. Friend's assertion—I should myself regard it as a very unhappy way of defending the policy which the Board have followed, but I do not as at present advised feel at all disposed, and I do not think it would be right for me, to upset a practice which has been followed with success for so long a period of time.
Is the Minister aware that posters frequently appear in the London tubes bearing contentious matter?
I beg to give notice that, owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I intend to raise this matter on the Adjournment.
Regional Transport Commis- Sioner, Edinburgh (Letters To Members)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport why the regional transport commissioner in Edinburgh does not follow the practice of Ministers and himself answer the letters addressed to him by hon. Members of the House dealing with matters concerning his office?
The Regional Transport Commissioner assures me that it is his practice to reply personally to letters addressed to him by any hon. Member of the House. Sometimes, however, he is unavoidably absent from his office, and it may then happen that in order to avoid delay, letters are signed for him by someone else.
Is my hon. Friend aware that this is the second occasion on which I have addressed this officer and a reply has been sent by an assistant, and if my hon. Friend and his Noble Friend can find the time and the courtesy to reply to hon. Members surely this officer can do the same?
I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will realise that the Commissioner had no intention whatever of being discourteous to him, but his duties require that he must travel a great deal and cannot always know when it will be possible for him to get back to the office, and, that being so, he does ask assistants to sign for him in matters which he regards as perhaps rather urgent.
Ministry Of Information
War Correspondents' Despatches, North Africa
asked the Minister of Information whether despatches from British war correspondents in North Africa have to pass through Tangier; and whether the post office there is now under international or Spanish control?
According to my information, the present arrangements for the despatches of British war correspondents in North Africa do not require them to pass through Tangier. In answer to the second part of the Question, the British Post Office at Tangier remains under British control.
Broadcast Talks To Europe
asked the Minister of Information whether, in view of the fact that Colonel Britton has not broadcast for 10 months his series of talks to France on revolt against Nazi oppression, it is intended to commence similar talks in the near future as a prelude to the coming United Nations offensive against Hitler-held Europe as outlined in the Casablanca communiqué?
Talks on resistance are a standing feature of our broadcasts to Europe, and they are related to military needs. Colonel Britton's talks were not addressed specifically to France.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any co-operation between these talks to which he has referred and talks made to Metropolitan France from Algiers?
asked the Minister of Information whether he will make arrangements for speakers on the subject of the provisions of the Beveridge Report to be available to address meetings when so requested?
My hon. Friend's suggestion comes at a time when I am engaged in trying to reduce the activities of the Ministry of Information in providing speakers. The number of meetings addressed by Ministry speakers annually has reached the astonishing figure of 40,000. These meetings are not sought by the Ministry. They are thrust upon us. And we find it very hard to provide suitable speakers. Though I do not suggest that oratory should be rationed, I believe we must show a certain austerity in dealing with suggestions which may add to the labours of our overworked speakers' department.
Is there not a great demand throughout the country for factual information about the Beveridge Report, and would it not be desirable to supply some speakers for this purpose even if the Ministry had to cut out others?
We study demands very carefully, and all I can say is that so far we have not had any great demands addressed to the Ministry, though they may have been made to outside bodies.
Could not those who want factual information obtain it from the Report itself?
That seems a reasonable suggestion, but the passion of the British public for oratory is growing to most monstrous proportions.
asked the Minister of Information whether he will endeavour to make available in this country copies of the plans on social security recently sent to Congress by President Roosevelt in order that they may be compared with the proposals in the Beveridge Report?
I will bring the request to the attention of the United States Office of War Information, whose office in this country is concerned with the distribution of American official publications.
Will the right hon. Gentleman place a copy in the Library?
Talks To Farmers (Broadcasting Times)
asked the Minister of Information whether, as the daylight hours are drawing out, he will consult with the British Broadcasting Corporation with a view to arranging that agricultural announcements and talks in the series "Farming To-day" should be broadcast after the 9 o'clock news instead of after the 6 o'clock news and at 6.45 p.m., as at present, owing to the fact that at these latter times farmers are still occupied out-of-doors?
The B.B.C. assure me that they try to place talks to farmers at a time when farmers can hear them. I cannot hold out any hope, however, that the B.B.C. will be able to set aside a time for these announcements and talks after the 9 o'clock news, when the listening audience is at its peak and covers all sections of the community.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that after 9 o'clock in the evening there are generally war commentaries or similar talks, and is not the production of food by the agricultural industry more important for the war effort of this nation than war commentaries?
Of course, the production of food is most important, but there are all sorts of important activities to which the B.B.C. have to have regard. I must point out that the B.B.C. are already overloaded with news and features, and much as I should like to accept his suggestion I am afraid that it is impossible.
Final Letter Collection, London
asked the Postmaster-General whether, with the advent of double summer-time, he will consider making the final hour of the collection of letters at branch post offices and post-boxes in the London area somewhat later than 4.30 p.m.?
As has already been publicly announced, in accordance with our usual practice, summer postal services will come into operation in London on and from Monday, 29th March. As from that date the final collection will be made between 6 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. from posting points in the London sub-districts, at about 6.30 p.m. in the head district areas, and at 7 p.m. at the head district offices.
I am much obliged to my right hon. and gallant Friend.
Cheap Night Telephone Calls
asked the Postmaster-General whether he will minimise the hardship certain to be caused by his decision to impose restrictions of time upon cheap night telephone calls by arranging that calls placed not later than 9 p.m. shall get the advantage of the reduced rate even though they are not completed before the end of the period within which cheap calls may be made?
Adoption of my hon. Friend's proposal would result in a heavy concentration of "last-minute" calls, which would be very difficult to handle promptly, and would result in the treatment of the calls being extended, as now, late into the night. I am sorry therefore that I cannot accept his suggestion which would in large measure defeat the object in view.
As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not able to accept my suggestion, what does he propose to do to ensure reasonable facilities for cheap telephone calls? Is he aware of the fact that sometimes there is such delay with these calls as to cover the whole of the three hours in which subscribers are to be allowed the opportunity of making these calls?
I should think it would be very unusual if there were such delay as that. What is going to be done is to reduce the existing hours to the hours which I gave in my reply last week, and that is being done partly in order to facilitate the staff getting home and partly as a contribution to the man-power problem, of which I gave figures last week.
But does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman recognise that the long delays on these calls must be accepted as some part of his responsibility, and that it is futile to advertise a cheap period if advantage cannot be taken of it?
If the hon. Member would have a word with me about the subject, it might clear up some of his difficulties.
May I ask whether the call must be effected within the period which is now prescribed? Can a call be put in an hour before the period expires and, if it does not come through until after the period has expired, can it be charged at the lower rate?
If the call is not completed by the time set, half-past nine, it is cancelled, or it can be completed at the full rates.
Flowers By Post
asked the Postmaster-General whether he can now make any relaxation of the Regulations so as to permit small parcels of cut flowers to be sent to hospitals by parcel post?
asked the Postmaster-General whether he is in a position to make a statement on the ban imposed on the transmission of flowers by post?
The ban on the transmission of flowers by post was imposed because it was found that, as a result of the prohibition by the Ministry of War Transport of their conveyance by rail, large quantities of flowers were being diverted to the postal service; and, as the mails are largely railborne, the result was systematic evasion of the Ministry of War Transport's Order. As the restrictions imposed by this Order are being suspended, I have decided to take similar action with regard to the ban on the transmission of flowers by post; it will not be re-imposed unless experience of the working of the new arrangements renders that necessary.
Is it not a fact that, only a week ago, when it must have been known to the Ministry of War Transport that the ban by railway was to be suspended, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman gave an answer in quite the reverse sense? Is not the whole matter rather footling?
If my hon. and gallant Friend will read the interchange of question and answer last week, he will see that my hon. Friend modified his first reply and indicated that I was considering this matter.
Mail, Cable And Airgraph Services, West Africa
asked the Postmaster-General whether he is aware of the delays that take place in the mail and cable services to West Africa; and whether he is taking steps to improve these services and to eliminate avoidable delays?
Until quite recently, owing to lack of aircraft capacity, the only means of transmission to West Africa was by surface transport which, as the hon. Member will appreciate, is subject to unavoidable delays incidental to war time conditions. I am happy however to say that since 5th March sufficient aircraft capacity has been made available to enable me to extend the air letter service to His Majesty's Forces serving in West Africa. I am informed that there is not normally delay in telegraphic transmission between this country and West Africa.
Has the attention of the Postmaster-General been called to the fact that letters to West Africa take sometimes from three to four months, air mail three weeks and the cable five days, while parcels do not seem to get there at all? Can he do anything about these matters?
I cannot accept all those figures offhand, but they sound like the sort of proportion of delay in the mails from West Africa in the past.
asked the Postmaster-General whether the Government have come to any decision regarding the establishment of an airgraph service to West Africa?
I have been advised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War that the provision of technical facilities necessary for an airgraph service in West Africa would not at present be justified since, owing to the distribution of the troops in West Africa over a wide area, an airgraph service would be slower than the air letter service now available.
Houses Of Parliament Stone (Red Cross Sale)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works how much of the profit from the sale of stone from the Houses of Parliament goes to the firm which is now circularising Members of Parliament and how much to the Red Cross?
I regret that the information required by the hon. Member is not available in my Department. The stone which has been damaged as a result of enemy action has been placed, free of charge, at the disposal of the Red Cross, who have made their own arrangements with the firm concerned for the manufacture of souvenirs and for their sale to the public on behalf of the funds of the Red Cross.
Post-War Building Construction
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works whether he intends that existing building Acts, by-laws and Regulations now in force shall apply to post-war construction, or to introduce substantial modifications to enable the new materials and processes evolved in recent years to be adopted?
My Noble Friend is aware of the desirability of taking all possible steps to make it possible throughout the country to adopt the best methods of construction and to make use of new materials and processes evolved in recent years. As soon as the present technical studies which my Ministry has in hand with the other Departments concerned are completed, consideration will be given to the need for action on the lines indicated by my hon. Friend.
While thanking my hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask him to be as speedy as possible in getting these Regulations issued to the public?
Railings Removal (Compensation)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works whether he is aware that the compensation payable for the loss of iron railings is insufficient to enable the owners to provide reasonable substitute protection; and whether he will arrange for such compensation to be dealt with through the war damage fund?
The compensation payable is governed by the provisions of the Com- pensation (Defence) Act, 1939, which does not provide for substitution. The answer to the second part of the Question is in the negative.
Is the Minister aware that it is not the intrinsic value of the railings which the owners have had to give up which concerns them, but the financial sacrifice imposed upon them for the good of all and which they alone have to discharge? Is there not some way of seeing that people as a whole provide compensation for something which is for their benefit?
The same point which the hon. Member is raising now has constantly been put up, but the Department is not in a position to say authoritatively what the amount of compensation payable may be. It is, of course, clear that the standard rate of 25s. per ton which is offered is inadequate to buy substitute protection. Defence Regulation 50B (8) makes it clear that substitution is not contemplated by the Regulations.
Does not a good deal of resentment still exist about this matter? Can we take it that the door is not closed against the possibility of the nation paying the reasonable cost of reinstatement after the war?
I am only able to interpret the law as it stands. I am not law-making.
Are not persons who are involved in heavy expenditure, by reason of the removal of their railings, entitled, quite apart from the value of the railings, to claim some compensation for the loss which they have incurred by reason of the removal of the railings?
That provision is already available to them, if they like to appeal to the tribunals.
Adviser On Industrial Publicity
asked the Minister of Production why a new appointment has recently been made of an officer in the Industrial Intelligence Division who has taken over the duties previously performed in an acting capacity by Mr. John D. Rodgers; what the age of the officer so appointed is; what post he held before he became a civil servant; and whether, in view of this appointment, the continued employment of Mr. John Rodgers in a capacity subordinate to that in which he has been operating for some time is any longer necessary having regard to his age?
As foreshadowed in my answer to the hon. Member on 9th December, 1942, I have since filled the post of adviser on industrial publicity, a post which, as I then indicated, I regard as one of considerable importance. The officer appointed is 38 years of age, and was joint public relations officer of the London Passenger Transport Board until October, 1941, when he was seconded to the Ministry of Supply for special duties in the offices of the Supply Council. I am satisfied that the continued employment of Mr. John Rodgers as deputy-adviser is necessary.
Manufacturing Firms (Production Methods)
asked the Minister of Production what powers he possesses to compel firms manufacturing for the Departments which come under his Ministry, and which are operating out-of-date or inferior systems or methods of production, to conform to the best systems or methods practised by other firms, and, in default thereof, to allocate their machinery to other more efficiently conducted plants, thereby increasing production and diminishing cost to the taxpayer?
It is the normal function of the Supply Departments to ensure that firms fulfil their contracts efficiently and employ the best manufacturing technique practicable with the equipment available or supplied to them. Supply Departments and my Ministry are in regular touch on such matters, and adjustments of equipment are made between factories wherever appropriate to ensure fullest overall efficiency within the limits of the national resources and the necessary measures of dispersal. Adequate powers exist for the fulfilment of these departmental responsibilities.
Bombing Restriction Committee (Paper For Booklet)
asked the Minister of Supply why paper has been made available for the publication by Bombing Restriction Committee, of 49, Parliament Hill, N.W. 3, of a 16-page protest against the danger caused to German civilians by British bombing methods; and whether he will stop this waste of paper?
No paper has been specially made available for this booklet. I am having full inquiries made into the circumstances of the publication and shall communicate with my hon. Friend as soon as possible.
Will the right hon. Gentleman examine how it so often happens that a few cranks can obtain a liberal supply of paper while responsible organs are kept extremely short?
Without accepting those designations, I would reply that that is part of the inquiry which I am making at the present time.
Can the Minister give an undertaking that any censorship imposed by the Government will be through the proper channels and not through restriction of paper by the right hon. Gentleman's Department?
No censorship will be imposed by the Ministry of Supply.
Is not the hon. Gentleman who put the Question one of the most notorious cranks in the country?
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the term "crank" as used by the hon. Member could therefore be applied to Sir Gilbert Murray, and others [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—that, of course, is the Tory mind—who agree with the purposes of this Committee? Can we have an assurance that Fascist methods will not be employed to suppress allegedly unpopular opinions?
I have already said that it is no part of the function of the Ministry of Supply either to suppress or to censor. Our business is to see that our conditions are complied with.
Fish Zoning Scheme
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether, as by the Fish Zoning Order merchants are tied to ports for supplies of fish and retailers are tied to wholesalers, he can state the reasons for failing to tie each consumer to one fishmonger; and whether he will now adopt a simple form of consumer registration for fish?
The suggestion of my hon. Friend has been carefully and sympathetically considered, but I regret that, in view of uncertain landings and the perishable nature of fish, it is not possible to assure a specific share of supplies to the individual consumer. Without such an assurance, registration would have only a restrictive effect and would not in itself secure more equitable distribution of supplies between individual consumers.
While arriving at those conclusions, has my hon. Friend taken into account the widespread complaint against fishmongers, especially on the ground of unfair distribution? Is he also aware of the experiment carried out by a very successful and enterprising firm of fishmongers in London, who have formed their own registration scheme and satisfied all their customers registered with them?
Yes, Sir, all these matters have been carefully taken into consideration. If all the fishmongers would act in the way chosen by the firm mentioned by my hon. Friend, I think that distribution would be a great deal better.
Why has there been absolute failure, especially in the Southern districts?
Bottled Beer (Long-Distance Trains)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Food whether he is aware of the shortage of bottled beer on long-distance trains; what steps are being taken to ensure adequate supplies; and whether this shortage is any way due to the diversion of barley suitable for brewing for mixing with flour?
I have no reason to believe that the availability of bottled beer in restaurant cars on long-distance trains differs from its availability generally. The reply to the last part of the Question is "No, Sir."
Will my hon. Friend make sure that there is an increased supply of bottled beer?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the difficulty of obtaining food on long-distance trains?
Cabbage Crop, Devonshire (Option Contract)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware of the option-purchase by his Department at Oxford, on 21st December, 1942, of some 95 acres of flatpole cabbage, then growing in Devonshire, for delivery as specified; for what reasons delivery was declined by letter from the Fruit and Vegetable Department, dated 4th March, 1943, though the growers were precluded from selling elsewhere during this period; is he aware that the whole crop has now become unfit for either human or cattle consumption; what is the total quantity and value involved in this wastage; whether any and what compensation for the loss will be offered; and what steps are proposed to prevent any such event occurring again?
While my hon. and gallant Friend does not, in his Question, give me precise particulars, I hope I have correctly identified the case he has in mind. In this case, as in others, my Department made no purchase of the crop but paid for an option to purchase. There was no obligation to take delivery. The contract provided for automatic and progressive releases of the crop during the period of its currency, and final release was given on 25th February. It appears, however, that the growers in question had in fact sold the crop to a third party, and it was to this third party that the subsequent letter of 4th March to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers, was addressed. I am unable to estimate the quantity or value of the crop, which I should emphasise was planted as a fodder crop. No question of compensation arises.
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether this option-purchase by his Department had the effect of precluding any other sale, and when it was, and to whom, any sub-contract was made; and is it not a fact that the whole of this crop is now lying rotten?
The option-contract provided for progressive releases of parts of the crop which growers could use as they pleased, and the fact that they did enter into a contract of sale shows in fact that they did not regard themselves as precluded from making any other sale. Of course, the option-contract does not preclude anyone from selling any interest outside the option.
Does the hon. Gentleman say that these crops were in fact sold, paid for and taken up by someone outside his Department?
No, I do not. I say that a contract of sale was entered into with a third party, and the third party, I think, has not taken up his contract.
Poultry And Rabbits (Distribution)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he will take steps to obviate the waste of transport and man-power now resulting from the lack of control and over-lapping in collection and distribution of poultry and rabbits; and whether he will examine the evidence and general causes of complaints arising from unsatisfactory distribution?
Steps have recently been taken by my Department, in conjunction with the Ministry of War Transport and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, to deal with overlapping of road transport engaged in collecting and distributing poultry and rabbits. This action should result also in the saving of man-power. As regards the last part of the Question, I am aware of the complaints referred to and certain measures for improving distribution are under examination.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain one simple fact—why it is that one can regularly obtain chicken as part of a meal at the Grosvenor Hotel but that when sick persons, say in towns or villages in Yorkshire, require one, they have difficulty in even buying one in a shop? Can he explain a fact like that or deal with it?
Not simply or shortly.
Winter Cabbage Crop (Ploughing-In)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that winter cabbages are being ploughed into the land owing to the impossibility of disposing of them at current prices; and whether immediate steps are to be taken to prevent this waste?
The winter cabbage crop has been exceptionally heavy, and I am aware that growers, as is the usual practice, are ploughing-in such surplus as cannot be sold or used as stock-feed. Demand throughout the country has been amply satisfied and there is no evidence to support the suggestion that the existence of a surplus is due to prices currently ruling rather than to crop conditions.
While thanking my hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask him whether the demand for all green-stuffs, cabbages in particular, has not been restricted by the high prices which his Department fixed for them, and that that is the reason for the reduced amount bought?
This Question relates to winter cabbages, but it is a fact that the maximum prices fixed by the Department have not been reached in the markets throughout the country and that the prices ruling have been considerably below the maximum prices fixed.
Does that not prove that the prices were fixed too high and that people have been held off buying because they saw these prices in the paper and thought that they had to pay them?
No, Sir, the prices in markets throughout the country have been considerably below the maximum prices fixed.
Did not the trade fix the prices for the Ministry?
British Restaurant Managers
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he has given his approval to the enrolment of British Restaurant managers and manageresses in the Industrial Catering Association; and whether it is his intention that any costs incurred shall be borne out of rates and/or taxes to which commercial caterers contribute, or shall be added to the price of meals served in British Restaurants?
British Restaurant managers are the employees of local authorities and the question of my Noble Friend's approval to their enrolment in an Association does not arise.
Merchant Seamen (Rationed Food)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that merchant seamen, when ashore, are unable to obtain an emergency ration card from a local food office; and, as this causes hardship, will he take steps to see that these men are enabled to obtain, without undue inconvenience, their fair share of rationed foods?
I have been asked to reply. Temporary ration documents for use ashore by merchant seamen are issued at Mercantile Marine offices under arrangements made by the Ministry of War Transport in conjunction with the Ministry of Food. These arrangements are comprehensive and it is only rarely that a merchant seamen should find it necessary to have recourse to a food office. In such a case the Food Office will issue a temporary card for one week, and tell the seaman to communicate with any convenient Mercantile Marine office. I shall be happy to inquire into any case in which difficulty has arisen.
Is there any reason why a merchant seaman should not be treated as an ordinary traveller and given an emergency ration card so as to enable him to get food in any area in which he finds himself?
I think that the arrangements are much more to the advantage of the merchant seamen. If we can improve them, we shall be glad to do so.
But what is the objection to giving the merchant seaman an emergency ration card to enable him to get food in any area in which he happens to be?
Because in our view these arrangements are much better.
Agricultural Workers' Cottages (Building Contracts)
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works whether he has considered the protest sent to him by the Gloucester and South Midlands Area of Building Industry Distributors that, in the contracts for the construction of houses for agricultural workers, it is specified that certain materials are to be supplied by named firms outside the area; and, as this is unfair to local firms who have these materials in stock, will he amend the contracts so as to give local builders' merchants the opportunity to supply materials required in their areas?
I received yesterday the protest to which my hon. Friend refers. I am making inquiries and will write to my hon. Friend in the course of the next few days.
Can the hon. Gentleman endeavour to ensure that local materials are used wherever possible? It will be very much appreciated all over the country.
While not anticipating the reply which I will give to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) I can assure the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) that local materials are being extensively used. I rather think this is a question of bulk purchases and of getting them into the locality and distributing them from the places of manufacture.
Royal Navy (Volunteers, Interviews)
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that volunteers for the Royal Navy are penalised in respect of the expenses incurred in connection with interviews for this purpose as compared to those who are called up; and whether he will modify the existing arrangements to treat volunteers as favourably as conscripts in this matter?
A man summoned under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act to attend at a combined recruiting centre for medical examination and interview is paid subsistence and loss of wages allowances, neither of which is payable to the man who voluntarily attends the centre for this purpose. The distinction arises from the fact that the former is not a free agent and cannot choose a time or place to suit his own convenience, and is common to all the Services.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the volunteers who anticipate the date of their calling up ought not to be penalised in this way, and that such petty financial restrictions are resented out of all proportion to the cost to the Treasury?
The volunteer has the advantage not only of stating his preference but is invariably posted into the unit of the Service which he prefers.
Schoolchildren (Mid-Day Meals)
asked the President of the Board of Education whether he is satisfied with the progress, so far made throughout the country, in the provision, with or without payment, of hot mid-day meals for elementary schoolchildren; whether the appropriate authorities are doing all they can to assist; how far progress is impeded by lack of suitable accommodation or equipment; and, having regard to the fact that many mothers are being required for part-time essential work, what steps he is taking to improve matters?
The progress made in the provision of midday meals for schoolchildren has been most encouraging, the numbers of meals provided daily having risen from 300,000 to over a million in the past two years. While a few authorities were rather slow in starting, the large majority have co-operated energetically and many have achieved remarkable expansion; shortage of labour and materials has inevitably caused delays here and there, but these difficulties are being considerably eased. In addition to progress already made, proposals providing for over half-a-million more children to receive meals are in hand. My right hon. Friend is continuing to exercise pressure where necessary, but generally speaking local educa- tion authorities are doing all in their power to expand and improve this service.
Do the figures which the hon. Gentleman has given include meals which are given with and without payment? Further, in view of the large numbers of mothers who are now coming into industry for part-time war work is he satisfied that that aspect is receiving proper consideration?
The answer to the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's Supplementary Question is in the affirmative. With regard to the second part we should not like to be satisfied with anything short of a complete cover, as was explained during the Debate on the Beveridge Report, but really the efforts of local education authorities in this matter are most praiseworthy and the number that have to be stimulated is refreshingly few.
Harvesting (Labour Supply)
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware of the widespread feeling of uncertainty as to the availability of the labour supply for harvesting the ever-increasing acreage of land under the plough; and whether he can reassure food producers that he has plans in hand to prevent wastage of food through a failure of the supply of labour at the right time?
My Department and county war agricultural executive committees, with the co-operation of the Ministry of Labour, are making plans to ensure provision of the supplementary workers needed for harvesting this year's crops. These plans depend, of course, on the co-operation of farmers, who should notify their probable requirements well in advance to their employment exchange or county war agricultural executive committee.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reason for the losses on the sugar beet crop last year was that the labour was not available at the right time? Is he not going to plan for that particular crop and for the potato crop this year?
I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that every step that can be taken to assure farmers of an adequate supply of labour for these very special crops is being made.
Requisitioned Houses, Gloucestershire
asked the Secretary of State for War when Arundel House, Stroud, was last used by the Army?
This house was last used by the War Department in June, 1942.
asked the Secretary of State for War how many houses he has requisitioned in the county of Gloucestershire; and how many have not been used by the Army since 1st January, 1943?
Five hundred and twenty-four houses are at present requisitioned in Gloucestershire, and 97 of these have not been used by the War Department since 1st January, 1943.
Will my hon. and learned Friend consider allowing the Air Training Corps to have 1 per cent. of these houses for training purposes?
So far as Arundel House, Stroud, is concerned, if the Air Training Corps would apply, sympathetic consideration would be given to their application, subject to seven days' notice. It will be appreciated that this house has to be held in reserve for certain eventualities, which it would not be in the public interest to disclose.
Could my hon. and learned Friend not release 1 per cent. of these 400 houses all over the country?
Application has been received from the Air Training Corps only for the house to which I have referred.
Has not one application been sent in for Arundel House, as well as applications for houses at Stow-on-theWold and Wotton-under-Edge?
I will look into that.
asked the Secretary of State for War the date of the abolition of pack drill as a form of Army punishment; in how many cases has such punishment been improperly imposed during the present war, including the awards by Lieut.-Colonel Gates; and what action has been taken in consequence?
Pack drill, which is a colloquial term for punishment drill, was abolished in 1930 except in detention barracks. As my right hon. Friend said yesterday, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. I. Thomas), pack drill in detention barracks was abolished in 1935. Certain complaints were received in March, 1942, that pack drill was being used as a form of punishment, but as no details were given, no investigation of the individual cases could be undertaken. A letter was, however, issued on 28th of that month reminding all Commands at home that pack drill had been abolished for some years. No further instances of this form of punishment were brought to the notice of the War Department until the case referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend. A further case has now been reported, and that is being investigated.
While thanking my hon. and learned Friend for that answer, might I ask whether, in view of the fact that no commanding officer has power to introduce any form of punishment that is not laid down by authority, he will consider circulating that fact to Commands and to officers commanding units?
I have already indicated to my hon. and gallant Friend that last year a letter was sent to Army Commands drawing attention to the fact that pack drill had been abolished. I do not think it necessary to repeat that circular. If any action is necessary in relation to the particular case to which our attention has been drawn, that action will be taken.
Is Lieut.-Colonel Gates the only officer who has received promotion for breaking that Regulation?
Is it not a fact that if a private soldier breaks King's Regulations he gets punishment? Should not an officer who breaks King's Regulations also be punished?
Is not this Regulation more honoured in the breach than in the observance? Will my hon. and learned Friend consider some examples I will give him? Is he making a distinction between pack drill as a punishment and pack drill as training in barracks?
I cannot accept the suggestion that the Regulation is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. If my hon. Friend gives me any information, that will be investigated. The difference between pack drill as a form of punishment and for other purposes does not depend on the carrying of the pack, because every soldier in operations or carrying out exercises may have to carry his pack. The object of the Regulation is to prevent the soldier being compelled to carry the full pack for punishment purposes.
Questions To Ministers
The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. TINKER:
74. To ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has considered the resolution sent to him by the Leigh Old Age Pensioners' Association asking for an increase of 5s. per week on the basic rate of all those old age pensioners who are not in employment; and will he make a statement.
May I call attention to Question 74? I put this Question down to the Prime Minister. It was accepted by the Clerk at the Table and appeared on the Order Paper addressed to the Prime Minister. Since then I have received word that the Prime Minister is not answering it and that it is to be put down for answer by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When a Member gets a Question past the Clerk at the Table—and it requires a little ingenuity to do that—and on the Order Paper, by whose authority is it addressed to another Minister? I believe that one of the Clerks or one of the secretaries of the Prime Minister has said that it should be addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that that is the reason for its being transferred. Has anybody authority to override the Clerk at the Table?
I understand that the Prime Minister delegates authority to other Ministers to answer Questions if they are not his immediate concern. That is usually the practice. No doubt on this occasion the Prime Minister has noticed the Question on the Order Paper, and therefore the hon. Member has achieved his object.
I was consulted on this Question, and it was decided between me and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it would be appropriate for him to take it.
In that case I withdraw my objection. I did not think that the right hon. Gentleman had seen the Question.
When a question which has been addressed to one Minister is transferred to another Minister, could it be put on the day on which Questions are properly answered by the Minister to whom it is transferred?
If a Member puts a Question down to the wrong Minister, he must stand the racket of having it put down for the wrong day.
There is a Private Notice Question which I propose to call, but I understand that the Prime Minister wishes to make a short statement before I do so. That is not regular, but if the House agrees, I have no objection.
Thank you for the latitude you have given me, Sir. In the interests of the House, I would like to ask the Prime Minister whether he can make any st