Skip to main content

National Finance

Volume 415: debated on Tuesday 30 October 1945

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Bank Of England (Building And Site Value)

49.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he can state the market value of the site of the Bank of England and the estimated cost of replacing the buildings with its equipment.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is the most valuable commercial site in the world and the building is one of the most modern and valuable; and what does he propose to give to the Bank in exchange for this most valuable asset?

War Gratuities (Payments)

51.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in order to give the maximum of opportunity for investment in Savings Certificates, Defence Bonds and other Government loans before the end of November and forother reasons, he will expedite the payment of gratuities to demobilised members of the Forces.

:Gratuities are credited to Post Office Savings Bank accounts at the end of release leave and I think it will be best to continue this arrangement.

:Is there any reason why, in view of the fact that all the information necessary for assessing the amounts of gratuities is available not later than the date of demobilisation, the gratuities should not be credited earlier?

:There are various administrative reasons which I think are in favour of continuing the plan which has already been working for some considerable time without any complaints.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I got my gratuity on the day of my release?

Income Tax (Paye System)

52.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, approximately, the number of employers operating pay as you earn; and to indicate any plans he may have for relieving them of this unpaid duty.

:About three-quarters of a million. I am now considering whether the undoubted advantages of P.A.Y.E. can be secured with less administrative effort.

Questions To Ministers

On a point of Order. I wish to raise a point of Order which I think affects practically every Member in every quarter of this House. Yesterday I received a letter from the War Office pointing out that Questions that I had put to that Department and which were down for an oral answer to-day could not be answered by that Department but would be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Secretary of State for India on this date. The Questions were not put down for oral answer, but for written answer. That was no doubt done by the gentlemen at the Tableto save me disappointment, and I am not complaining of that, indeed I thank them for it, but what I want to ask about is this: If a Department feels compelled to refer the answering of a Question to another Department, could they not either consult the Member concerned so as to suit his convenience, or else select a day on which the Minister for the Department will be likely to answer?

A Department always has the right to have a Question transferred to another, and very often there may not be time to inform the hon. Member that this has been done. Perhaps if the hon. Member had given me a little more notice of this question I could have given him a more considered answer. He sprang it on me at the last minute.

:May I rise to a further point of Order? You have no doubt noticed, Mr. Speaker, that to-day we have only reached Question 51. Can anything be done to enable the many important Questions which are put on the Order Paper to receive theirtreatment? The addition of another quarter of an hour to Question Time would be greatly welcomed by Parliament and, I think, would add to the liveliness of the proceedings.

On the point which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has raised, may I say I have been watching this very closely? Yesterday we reached a total of 80; to-day it is only 50. It seems to me that the War Office answers, as distinct from others, contain an excessive number of words. Will the Minister concerned see whether those assistants in his Department who are responsible for the final form of his answers can do a little compression?

Further to that point of Order, may I ask you, with respect, Mr. Speaker, if hon. Members will have an opportunity before the Christmas Recess of expressing an opinion about the working of the new rota for Question Time, or are you, Sir, going to consider it yourself, because in some respects it does not seem to work as satisfactorily as the old rota?

Did it not strike you, Mr. Speaker, that there were extra supplementary questions to-day which used up the time?

The question whether the House wants an extra quarter of an hour for Questions or not is a matter for the House. Even in thelast Parliament I often pointed out that we could have many Questions and few supplementaries, or few Questions and many supplementaries. We cannot have both. Many supplementaries are getting to be short speeches. They really should be asking for information and not putting arguments. In that way we should get in a great many more Questions.

British Army And Royal Air Force (Numbers)

(by Private Notice)asked the Prime Minister whether he will now give the total numbers of United Kingdom personnel of the Army and the Royal Air Force respectively under the following five heads:

  • (a) In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;
  • (b) In North-West Europe, including Germany, the Low Countries, France and Norway;
  • (c) In Austria, Italy and the Mediterranean Theatre (including Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Persia and Iraq);
  • (d) In India and Burma, and
  • (e) In the Far East.
  • I regret that it is not in the public interest to give this information.

    I am astounded at the answer by the Prime Minister, and I do not for one moment accept the validity of the arguments behind it. I am not ill-acquainted with what is the situation in the world. If (b) and (c) in my Question were linked together, and (d) and (e) werelinked together, making only three categories, namely, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in everything West of the Suez Canal, and in everything East of the Suez Canal, if there were these three main global totals, would any objection be alleged against giving the figures?

    :I had the privilege of sitting under my right hon. Friend for a number of years when this kind of question had to be considered. No one knows more than the right hon. Gentleman about these things. I want to meet him as far as I possibly can. I would like to discuss with him the possibility of what figures could be given, but it is not very easy.

    On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Can you tell me why this question is taken as a Private Notice Question? What urgency is there? I understand that Private Notice Questions can be asked only as a matter of urgency.

    It is not the custom for the Leader of the Opposition to put Questions on the Order Paper. The only way in which he can put a Question is by Private Notice.

    I gladly accept the Prime Minister's suggestion that we should have a few interchanges on the subject. I should be very ready to put the question down in a different form, possibly asking for three totals. All we want to know is how many men are being kept here and in the Far East. That is the main fact. One must see where the greatest numbers lie. That is all I am anxious to adduce. I should be very glad to have a talk with my right hon. Friend afterwards, and to put another Question to him. [Interruption.] An hon. Member asks why I want to know. It is because I want to get the largest number of men out of the Army as soon as possible.

    Atomic Energy (Discussions With United States And Canada)

    :I wish to ask the Prime Minister a further Question of which I have given him Private Notice. This is on quite a different topic which should give no cause for heat of any kind, except the most intense heat of which the universe is capable. I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make regarding his discussions with the President of the United States on the problems arising from the discovery of atomic energy?

    Yes, Sir. I am visiting President Truman shortly in Washington in order to discuss with him and the Prime Minister of Canada the problems to which the discovery of atomic energy has given rise. I have invited the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), who is Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Atomic Energy, to accompany me in an advisory capacity, and he has been good enough to accept.

    I am sure the House will wish the Prime Minister all possible success in his mission. I hope it will take place under those easy and informal conditions which have characterised other relationships between the head of the British Government and the President of the United States, and I trust it will not be limited to any particular topic and that conversation will range freely over everything that can conduce to the closer amity, intimacy and understanding between the two great English-speaking countries.

    May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, at an early stage, Russia will be invited to these discussions?

    :Will the Prime Minister endeavour to make a full statement on this important subject as soon as he returns and give the House an opportunity for a Debate?

    I hope there may be a discussion in due course, but at the present moment I think we had better have conversations first.

    I hope the Prime Minister will not prejudge the question of a Debate on foreign affairs before he goes. Hithertowe have not pressed the matter, but I think it may be necessary for us to ask him to consider the matter before he leaves this country, as various views should be set forth, so that they will be published to the world. Naturally, the House will exercise the utmost discretion.

    :Is it not time, now that my right hon. Friend is going to have conversations with the President of the United States, to call in Russia at the same time?

    Dock Strikes

    :I have to put a Question to the Minister of Labour, of which I have given Private Notice. May I say that at the request of the Minister of Labour I have put this Question off from day to day for some time, but I gather that now it is not inopportune for* me to put the Question to the right hon. Gentleman. Has the Minister of Labour any statement to make with regard to the position at the docks?

    I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for having postponed this Question for a few days.

    There is little material change to report on the situation this morning. Reports from the various localities indicate that there is a growing desire amongst the men for a resumption of work. This is an unofficial strike. It is in breach of agreements and of a constitution which has brought great benefits in the past, and will, I am confident, be of inestimable value in the future. The negotiations on the trade union claim for improved wages and conditions are being held up. The only reason for this delay is of the men's own making. Under the constitution negotiations cannot be resumed until work is resumed.

    To avoid any misunderstanding I feel it necessary to make the Government's position clear. Certainprinciples are involved, the preservation of which is of vital importance, not only to industry but to the trade union, movement generally. The Government policy is to do nothing that will injure the constitutional machinery set up by collective bargaining. Any Government intervention at the present stage would be contrary to this policy and it would be harmful to the whole system of collective bargaining. If there is any expectation that the Government will change this view, I must make it clear that it will not do so. I can, however, give an assurance that negotiations can be resumed within 24 hours of a resumption of work, and that when negotiations are resumed under constitutional procedure, the Government will keep in close touch with the proceedings.The parties have assured me that negotiations will proceed with all possible speed, and they have undertaken to keep me informed of all developments.

    In the meantime the Government are taking all necessary steps to deal with cargoes required for vital purposes. On this understanding I trust the trouble will be ended and normal procedure become operative.

    How can the Minister say that the Government are taking all necessary steps to deal with vital cargoes in view of the statement of the Ministerof Education that the hold-up of food supplies is endangering the bread ration; and can he explain why sufficient numbers of the Forces are not being used, if they are available, to see that the necessary supplies are unloaded?

    The question ofthe use of the military in this dispute rests upon the Minister of Labour—that is, whether they shall be used or not. Once their use has been approved then they are allocated to various duties by the Ministry of War Transport. It is true that in some circumstances apparently some ships are left unloaded, but in the light of the conditions prevailing priorities have to be given to certain ships, leaving others standing for the time being. I can assure the House that every possible step is being taken to give priority in the use of this labour where it is most necessary.

    :As the Member for the constituency which includes Tilbury Docks and Tilbury and who has had some contact with the Tilbury dock strikers, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in addition to his statement that negotiations will be resumed within 24 hours of a return to work, a statement which I think will meet with great satisfaction among the dock strikers, he would also assure them that the Government will send an observer, with some sort of official status, to the negotiations, because I feel that if that were done it might assist the proceedings?

    Government intervention will be made use of when the normal procedure has been exhausted.

    Will the Minister give a direct assurance that sufficient military labour will be used to prevent bread rationing?

    I am happy to have the authority of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food to say that there is no intention to ration bread.

    :I desire to give the right hon. Gentleman notice that, having regard to a precedent set by the Undersecretary of State for India when he attacked me for a speech which I made as a member of the Cabinet, I propose to raise on the Adjournment aspeech made by the Minister of Education which is in direct conflict with the statement just made.

    :Will the Minister of Labour not reconsider the decision he has made that the Government will not make any approach to the strikers? The workers are out on strike all over the place; they are striking all over the country simultaneously. There is something seriously wrong, and I want to appeal to the Minister of Labour—and he is not the first Labour Minister that I have appealed to—and tell him that if he himself goes and speaks to the strikers in London the strike will be finished. [Interruption.] Why should not Ministers come off their pedestals when it is a question of dealing with the working class? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] This has been the lot of the workers right down the ages. Why cannot he do this thing? [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, I would like a reply from the Minister. I am sorry to put him up against it, and I know that he is up against it, but I am making my suggestion for the benefit of the whole of the country. All I ask the Government—[Hon. Members: "Order."] What are you rowing at me for? You do not know what it is to be out on strike but I do.

    Are we right in assuming that all necessary military labour will be used to avert a food catastrophe through the non-arrival of essential and perishable supplies?

    I think all I need do is to to repeat one sentence from the statement I made, which I think answers the right hon. Gentleman:

    "In the meantime the Government are taking all necessary steps to deal with cargoes required for vital purposes."