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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 436: debated on Thursday 1 May 1947

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Electricity Supplies

Hydro-Electric Development, Wales

1.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps are being taken to investigate the possibilities of increased electricity from the water supply of the Welsh hills; who are the members of the committee concerned; and when he proposes to issue a report.

As a result of a full investigation by consulting engineers, several schemes have been put forward by the North Wales Power Company for hydroelectric development in the Welsh Hills. These schemes are being examined by the Electricity Commissioners and the Central Electricity Board. In these circumstances I see no need to appoint a committee.

In view of the fact that any schemes of this description would bring great relief to the coal industry without interfering with the domestic supplies of water, would my right hon. Friend give them every priority?

I would not like to say that I can give them every priority, but they are under consideration.

Statutory Obligations (Suspension)

10.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether it is intended to introduce a Bill of Indemnity to excuse electricity undertakings from penalties for suspending, at the request of the Government, the performance of their statutory obligations.

Would the Minister say whether the Government propose to give any protection to electricity authorities which open themselves to proceedings by cutting off electricity without any statutory authority?

Oil Fuel Conversion

20.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the number of chain grate fired boilers and the number of pulverised fuel fired boilers in selected and non-selected power stations that have been converted to oil fuel.

In view of the small amount of progress made in the conversion of water type boilers to oil fuel would the Minister reconsider his decision, which is against the advice of the Central Electricity Board and is taking labour away from the production of new boilers and boilers in course of erection which are urgently required and is saddling the electricity generating industry with heavy additional running costs?

I am not aware that this is against the advice of the Central Electricity Board. On the contrary, we have been in close consultation with them about it. These matters have been dealt with by the Heavy Electrical Plant Committee of the Ministry of Supply, and I think we are going along the right lines.

Is the Minister aware that at the present moment 18 boilers which are out of commission while this conversion is taking place are urgently needed to prevent the shedding of the load?

That is the first I have heard of it, but perhaps the hon. Member will give me the details.

New Turbo-Generators

21.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will state the number of turbo-generators in the course of erection in selected and non-selected power stations in England and Wales; arid their total kilowatt capacity.

Twenty-four turbo-generators, totalling 709,000 kilowatts of installed capacity are now in course of erection in selected and non-selected stations in England and Wales.

Copartnership Schemes

22, 23 and 24.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) if he is aware that Central London Electricity, Limited, have issued a notice to their employees stating that because of the Electricity Bill, on the advice of his Department, the directors have with reluctance been compelled to abandon their intention to reinstate the employees' copartnership scheme; why such advice was given; and what were the dates of the letters exchanged between his Department and Central London Electricity, Limited, on the matter;

(2) if he will give an assurance that company electricity undertakings governed by the provisions of the London Electricity Acts, 1925, are not debarred from making copartnership, bonus or special payments to their officers and workpeople for the current year if they so wish;

(3) if he will give an assurance that it is not intended by the legislation now before the House providing for the establishment of a British Electricity Authority and Area Boards to make illegal normal copartnership, bonus or special payments to officers and workpeople made before vesting date.

I am aware of the notice issued by Central London Electricity, Limited, which has now been withdrawn. It was not issued on the advice of my Department and no letters were exchanged. The Electricity Bill now before Parliament does not in any way affect rights which have been created by copartnership arrangements made in accordance with the London Electricity (No. 2) Act, 1925.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it would be wiser if directors of electricity undertakings were to take the trouble of ascertaining the facts before making alarming statements of this kind?

Coal Industry

Additional Food (Absentees)

2.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether the special foods, etc., which are now made available to miners, are still allocated to a miner who voluntary absents himself from duty during the course of any week.

Is the Minister asking the House to believe that a miner who works four days a week is entitled to more food than a man in another heavy industry working 5½ days a week?

It is very difficult to discriminate. This has been provided for miners in general. It is quite impossible to make exceptions.

Is the Minister aware that Members of Parliament get the same food on Saturday and Sunday when they are not working as they do on any other day of the week?

Can we ask that the Opposition should at least use the King's English in phrasing their Questions henceforward?

Electricity Undertakings (Coal Ash)

3.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the average increase during the period 1939–46 in ash content of coal supplied to electricity undertakings in the main areas of Great Britain.

I am advised by the Central Electricity Board that the average ash content of coal as received at generating stations under their control was 10.3 per cent in 1939 as compared with 13.3 per cent. in 1945. A figure for 1946 is not yet available.

Is the Minister aware that under the National Coal Board the dirt figures are definitely increasing, and will he see to it because, although it may look nice in our output figures, it does not help industry?

I do not agree at all that the dirt content is increasing under the National Coal Board. It was very bad under private enterprise during the last few years.

The Minister does not seem to be able to look forward; he always looks backwards.

11.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if his attention has been called to the Nineteenth Annual Report of the Central Electricity Board in which reference is made to the increasing ash content of the coal supplied, resulting in a financial burden of £2,000,000 and loss of 380,000 kilowatts; and what steps he is taking to remedy this matter.

13.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether his attention has been directed to the Annual Report of the Central Electricity Board and the statement that freight handling charges of inert material in coal, together with subsequent ash handling charges, resulted in an annual financial burden on the supply industry and consumers of over £2,000,000 and a loss in output capacity arising from the use of inferior coal of 380,000 kilowatts; and what steps he is taking to remedy this position.

I have received the report in question. The National Coal Board inform me that they are giving urgent consideration to the quality of coal marketed both as part of their long-term policy and as part of their shorter term arrangements.

Is the Minister aware that under free enterprise any manager who sends out bad stock would be dismissed, but under nationalisation there is no discipline which will prevent the consumers being exploited?

I should not care to enter into a discussion on the merits of private enterprise.

Is it not a scandal that the public should have this inefficiency put on them?

This so-called inefficiency, if it is inefficiency at all, is a spill-over from private enterprise.

Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing the electricity undertakings to buy coal according to its calorific value, as they did before, because it would prevent this gross wastage?

Shortly I shall set up an industrial consumers' council, as provided for in the Act of Parliament, and they can deal with these matters.

South African Offer

4.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power why an offer of coal made by the South African Government to this country during the last 12 months was not accepted.

Apart from a proposal to exchange South African coal for United Kingdom cement made last December, which on investigation was then found to be impracticable, I am not aware that any offer of coal from South Africa has been rejected.

Is the Minister aware that an offer was made? Is he further aware that it was made not so much on the question of cement as on the question of wagons, and are we to assume from his reply that the matter is still under consideration?

Colliery Consumption

5.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the percentage of total output which is consumed by coalmines; and what steps are being taken to reduce this consumption.

Six per cent. of the output of coal mines is consumed by the collieries. The National Coal Board inform me that it is their intention to intensify and extend the work done hitherto to improve the efficiency of utilisation of coal at collieries.

Durham (Employment)

6.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the number of persons now employed at each pit sunk and each drift driven in the county of Durham covering the last 25 years, in accordance with his letter to the hon. Member for Spennymoor, dated 18th April, 1947; the number of pits closed in the county of Durham over the same period; and the total number of persons affected.

I am sending my hon. Friend a list showing the number of wage earners now on the books of each of the 17 coalmines in the county of Durham which have started operations during the last 25 years. During the same period operations ceased at 41 mines in the county. At each of these mines 100 or more wage earners were employed in 1921. At that date the total number of wage earners so employed was 18,798.

Is the Minister aware that the information given on the last occasion was rather conflicting, that in one case I know 700 to 800 men were thrown out of work and, where a drift has been started, only 150 men have been reinstated who had lost their jobs?

Underground Gasification

7.

asked the Minister at Fuel and Power if he will consider experimenting on gasification of coal seams that have been abandoned as unprofitable for mining.

The desirability of gasifying abandoned coal seams has been considered by an inter-Departmental working group which was appointed to advise on the general question of developing underground gasification in this country. The report of this group is at present under consideration, and I hope to announce a decision shortly. It is also hoped that representatives of the Fuel Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the National Coal Board will have an opportunity of observing experiments in underground gasification which are expected to take place shortly in Belgium.

Is there any chance of these experiments being held up for lack of finance, because if we expend finance on this, there must be available in the country in the abandoned coal seams, millions and millions of tons of coal which could be utilised to the advantage of industry?

Of course there are financial considerations which are not lightly to be ignored. because experiments of this kind are likely to be expensive, but there are also very serious practical considerations.

We cannot decide whether it is going to be worth doing it until it has been investigated.

Coal Board Staff

8.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the total number of the staff employed at the London headquarters of the National Coal Board.

Staffing is a matter of management for which the National Coal Board are responsible. In view, however, of the recent statement in the Press that the headquarters staff of the Board had reached the alarming total of 11,000, the Board have asked me to let the House know the truth. The total of the clerical, administrative and professional staff employed in London is about 850, and this includes London staffs formerly engaged in coal industry activities of one kind or another now transferred to the Board, and the transferred staff of the Coal Commission.

Will the Minister name the newspaper which has made these fantastic misrepresentations?

Will the Minister take the opportunity to express—[HON. MEMBERS: "Express' is right."]—to the National Coal Board the deep satisfaction of the House at being allowed to know something of what is happening?

The trouble with certain hon. Members on the other side of the House is that when the truth is exposed they cannot stand it.

May we take it that the right hon. Gentleman is able to get information from the Coal Board when it is favourable to him, but that he is unable to get it when it is unfavourable?

Not at all. The hon. and learned Member is quite wrong. But when there is gross misrepresentation it is desirable to state the facts.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of any reason to suppose that the newspaper in question, if it had gone to the Coal Board for information before printing its sensational misrepresentations, would have been denied the facts?

Of course that is a matter for the newspaper in question. If newspapers insist on obtaining information before they make themselves responsible for publication, it may affect their circulation.

Arising out of the original answer, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that information as to Coal Board staffs will in future be available, provided it is asked for from his own side of the House?

Oh, no. I am responsible to the requirements of the House in general; indeed, I must be, but it depends on the merits of the Question that is put to me.

On a point of Order. The Minister says he will select the sort of Questions he will answer—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—according to his own choice. Are we not justified, Mr. Speaker, in asking for your protection in this matter?

The Minister is responsible for Questions about the Coal Board and if he answers, he answers for a particular reason, I presume. It is not within my power to insist that he shall answer. I cannot interfere with his power.

Is there not something wrong—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes.'']—after all, the Minister is a servant of the House—that he should be so selective in the sort of Questions he chooses to answer? It is quite understandable if he answers no Questions, or if he answers every Question, but it is not understandable that he should answer only those which are suitable to himself.

It is not in my power to tell the Minister what Questions he should answer; that is not within my province.

I appeal to you, Sir, as guardian of the rights of Private Members. It is for the Government or the House to decide whether a Minister shall be entitled to answer Questions in regard to a certain body, but it is surely for you to protect us?

It is for the House to say if a Minister is not efficient—[HON. MEMBERS: "We know that."]—it is entirely for the House, and not for me. If the House decide, they can deal with the Minister, but I cannot direct the Minister as to what Questions he should or should not answer, and the Minister is always entitled to refuse to answer.

26.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what instructions he has given to the National Coal Board in connection with the number of persons they employ on clerical and administrative duties.

I have given no instructions to the National Coal Board on the subject referred to.

Does the Minister intend to take any steps to limit the numbers involved in view of the great shortage of manpower?

I gave an answer earlier which corrected some of these gross misrepresentations on the subject of the number of persons employed in the National Coal Board.

That was not the question I asked. I asked whether the Minister was taking any steps to avert the danger.

I do not think there is any danger at all. I must leave these matters to the people on the National Coal Board.

Cotton Mills Allocation

12.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether deliveries of coal will be able to be made to Lancashire cotton mills to conform with the present allocation of 75 per cent.

Every effort will be made to ensure that deliveries of coal to Lancashire cotton mills are maintained at the amount allocated to them.

Can the Minister hold out any hope when the allocation might be increased to 100 per cent.?

I believe a statement will be made on the subject of allocations by my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon.

Will the Minister give the same guarantee in regard to the textile industry in Yorkshire, and will he also assure me that they will not get any less favourable treatment than the cotton industry in Lancashire?

Can the Minister state when it is expected that industry will receive the amount of coal required?

I have already said that my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade will make a statement on the subject this afternoon.

Householders' Registration

16.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is now in a position to allow domestic coal consumers to change their coal retailers, particularly in those cases where hardship can be proved.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the replies I gave on 6th and 13th March to Questions on this subject from the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) and the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay).

Where the consumer can prove that he has been unfairly treated by a merchant, would my right hon. Friend consider allowing him to change his dealer?

Is the Minister aware that there are about 500 householders in Newcastle who do not use coal, and is there any likelihood of any arrangement being made for them to be able to get heat to the same extent as coal consumers?

This Question relates to a change of registration. It has nothing to do with heating in general.

There are very many cases where consumers are very badly treated by their merchants. The present procedure is not satisfactory, and will the right hon. Gentleman consider altering it?

We do receive complaints from consumers about the attitude of coal merchants and we try to deal with those complaints to the best of our ability.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable dissatisfaction over this in the city of Birmingham and that in some cases people have been compelled to trade with coal merchants who live five miles away in preference to those living 10o yards away? There seems to be no sensible arrangement in this at all.

If we are to have registration with coal merchants in order to provide the domestic consumer with coal, obviously some anomalies must emerge, but, as I say, the local fuel overseers are available to enable consumers to have these matters rectified.

Why is it that some dealers are able to supply the full allocation while a dealer supplying the person next door is only able to supply something like 5 cwts. less?

That may depend on the circumstances of the household. If my hon. Friend is aggrieved about these matters, perhaps he might let me have detailed cases.

Trade Union Dues (Collection)

17.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that the National Coal Board are asking their officials and colliery clerks to do work in the National Coal Board's time with regard to stoppages from men's pay on behalf of the contribution to the funds of the National Union of Mineworkers and, particularly, with regard to payments of the union political levy; and what steps he is taking to see that his political activity by the National Coal Board is stopped.

Before nationalisation, it was the practice in some areas for trade union dues to be deducted from miners' pay. This was done under agreements entered into by the former owners of the mines. No doubt, the National Coal Board are continuing the practice. I do not think that any question of political activity arises.

The practice is continuing on a large scale. Is the Minister aware that the Coal Board is called the National Coal Board and that there are a large number of people in this nation who do not like to have anything to do with a Socialist political levy? Will he see either that it is the National Coal Board or else change it to the Socialist Coal Board?

As I pointed out, this practice was in operation under private ownership. All that we have done is to continue the practice. So far as I know, the miners are not complaining and I do not see why the hon. and gallant Member should.

The taxpayers of this country are going to pay something like 200 million for these rights, and ought they not to have some say in the matter?

The mineworkers are the only persons concerned in this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The contributions are deducted from their pay and obviously they are the persons concerned. Ought it not to be left to them to state a grievance if they have one?

Is the Minister aware that the taxpayer will benefit from contented miners?

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that in these cases where trade union contributions are deducted through the colliery office, the miners themselves pay a percentage out of the contributions for the services rendered?

Is the Minister aware that the people who are objecting are the clerks of the National Coal Board who do not like to have to do this work?

If the clerks have a complaint to make, they have a recognised trade union, and perhaps they would prefer to make their complaints through that union rather than through the hon. and gallant Member.

Disabled Ex-Miners

19.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will discuss with the National Coal Board the employment in the mining industry of unemployed exminers suffering from some slight physical disability, but fit and capable of performing useful work underground or on the surface, submitted by respective local employment exchanges for notified vacancies.

I am informed by the National Coal Board that every consideration will be given to cases of disabled exminers who apply for employment, and an effort made to find work for them of a character suitable to their conditions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are thousands of ex- miners suffering from slight disability who are signing on at the employment exchange and who, in some cases, have been submitted to the local collieries for employment and have been rejected on medical grounds?

There is considerable difficulty about this matter because, in the main, these persons are suitable only for work on the surface and, as we are not in need of more workpeople for surface work, it is not easy to re-employ them. The matter is under review and we are doing the best we can.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these ex-miners who received their injuries at the collieries are unable to obtain employment in other industries because of their injuries and that work underground or on the surface is their only access to employment?

I am well aware of that, and I am fully in accord with my hon. Friend in trying to secure employment for these men. I understand that the National Coal Board are doing their best to absorb them.

Standards Of Quality

27.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will issue directions to the National Coal Board that, in all cases where non-combustible substances of mineral origin are supplied by that Board to coal merchants and by coal merchants to domestic consumers, such material shall be replaced by coal without further payment and without counting against fuel allocations.

No, Sir. Replacement on the lines suggested by the hon. Member would be impracticable, but the National Coal Board are giving close attention to the improvement in standards of quality.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what possible justification there can be for selling as coal pieces of stone such as has been sold to my constituents?

It is not a question of justification; it is because of physical difficulties which for the moment are insurmountable. If private ownership found there were great difficulties before the transfer of the pits to national ownership, those difficulties still obtain, but the National Coal Board is doing its best.

Is there any chance of poor persons getting their money back after they have bought stones?

"Coal"

30.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the object with which the publication "Coal" is being produced by the National Coal Board; and what is the anticipated circulation.

I understand that the general object is to provide miners all over the country with a specialised organ of information which will enable them to keep abreast of developments in their industry under national ownership, and will also make such information available to the general public. I am informed that the circulation will be 100,000 copies.

What is the relevance, in a journal devoted to coal, of an article on a gentleman called Wragg, who seems to have something to do with horses?

I believe that there are even very refined cultural and intellectual organs that sometimes descend into the depths.

Consumer Fuel Restrictions

18.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will state the names of the women's organisations with whom he has now had discussions on the subject of domestic fuel cuts.

Discussions with women's organisations took place at a meeting in my Department at which 17 organisations were represented. As the list is a long one, I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Invitations are being issued to a much larger number of organisations to attend a meeting next week.

Can the right hon. Gentleman state in what capacity Miss Mary Sutherland, the chief woman officer of the Labour Party, was present, and whether similar invitations were issued to this lady's opposite numbers in the Conservative and Liberal Parties?

I imagine that Miss Mary Sutherland would represent the Women's Co-operative Guild.

She was present in consequence of her membership of the Standing Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations. As regards the other organisations, while I say nothing about them, I have no doubt that they have all got their political views.

Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the list excludes the Tory controlled British Housewives League?

is the Minister aware that the organisation to which he referred—the Standing Joint Committee—consists only of representatives of the "Co-op.", the trade unions and the Labour Party?

I am well aware of that. Why should they not be permitted to represent them?

Is the Minister aware that the female of the species is more deadly than the male?

If it is any satisfaction or consolation to the hon. Member, I can tell him that among the organisations which advised us was the Good- Housekeeping Institute.

The following is the list:

  • Association of Teachers of Domestic Subjects.
  • Church Army Women's Section.
  • Citizens' Advice Bureaux.
  • Electrical Association for Women.
  • Good Housekeeping Institute.
  • National Council of Women.
  • National Federation of Women's Institutions.
  • National Union of Townswomen's Guilds.
  • National Union of Women Teachers.
  • Scottish Women's Rural Institutes.
  • Standing Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations.
  • Women's Advisory Committee on Solid Fuel.
  • Women's Advisory Housing Council.
  • Women's Co-operative Guild.
  • Women's Gas Council.
  • Women's Group on Public Welfare.
  • Women's Voluntary Services.

(A number of other organisations were invited but did not send representatives to the meeting.)

Petrol Pumps (Trade Mark Signs)

9.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether it is by understanding with the Petroleum Board that petrol stations are removing pool petrol signs and replacing former trade-mark signs, such as B.P., etc.

No, Sir, there is no such understanding. Dealers should continue to affix "Pool" labels on petrol pumps in use, as hitherto. The labels are however of paper, and liable to come off in wet weather.

Has not the Minister received such information from some of the workers employed at these stations, and has he not looked into the matter?

I am not aware of any such information being conveyed to me, but I will look into the matter.

Summer Fuel Restrictions

25.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will state the names of the organisations and authorities consulted in Scotland prior to deciding that space-heating would not be permitted in industrial and commercial establishments during May to October, inclusive; and if he is aware that climatic conditions in Scotland are all against maximum production unless space-heating is permitted in October and that this was admitted during war years when, notwithstanding the full restrictions, space-heating was allowed in Scotland as from the end of September.

As I explained in the statement which I made to the House on 24th April, we consulted representatives of the two sides of industry through the National Production Advisory Council on Industry, the membership of which includes the Chairman of all the Regional Boards for Industry. The employers' and workpeople's organisations concerned, namely, the British Employers' Confederation, the Federation of British Industries and the Trades Union Congress, are also representative of the country as a whole, including Scotland. I am well aware that parts of Scotland, and indeed of England and Wales, are liable to exceptionally severe climatic conditions, and not only during October. The Order makes it possible to deal with such conditions, if they arise, by the issue of licences.

28, 29 and 32.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) if he will except householders who have one or more children under the age of four years from the provisions of the Order dealing with the prohibition of the space-heating of residential premises;

(2) if he will except householders who are 70 years of age or older from the provisions of the Order dealing with the prohibition of the space-heating of residential premises and

(3) if he will state the meteorological evidence upon which he justifies the application of the Order prohibiting the space-heating of residential premises in Scotland without modification.

A statement will be made in the course of the Debate this afternoon, which will cover the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member in these questions.

Is the Minister aware that under paragraph 5 of the Order a concession is made in the case of institutions for aged people, and can he not extend that concession to those living in their own homes?

That is precisely one of the questions which will be dealt with in the course of the statement.

Police

Domestic Work, London

36.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that many police constables of the Metropolitan Police Force are called upon to scrub floors, clean windows and other forms of domestic work at police stations; and, in view of the important and increasing duties that the police have to perform, if he will take steps to relieve them of such domestic work.

I am informed by the Commissioner of Police that no constables of the Metropolitan Police Force are called upon to scrub floors, clean windows or carry out other domestic work at police stations.

Could my right hon. Friend inform the chief constables of all provincial stations accordingly so that all police officers throughout the country shall be relieved of these domestic duties?

In answer to a Question some weeks ago, I intimated that it was against my wish that constables should be called on to perform any such duties, and if any hon. Member can give me further information as to cases where this duty is being required, I will look into the matter.

Authorised Establishments

65.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will give an estimate of the establishment of the police forces of Great Britain in 1938 and 1946, and what increase or decrease is anticipated by 1st January, 1949.

The authorised establishments of the police forces in England and Wales on 29th September, 1938, and 29th September, 1946, were 61,612 and 63,209 men, and 224 and 1,091 women respectively. I cannot forecast the level at which police establishments will stand on 1st January 1949, but, in view of the burdens falling on the police forces, the aggregate figure is likely to show some further increase.

Does the estimate of the future take into account the heavy burden which the Transport Bill will place upon the police, or are the Government going to have snoopers, like the Ministry of Food?

I have not given any prophecy as to the size of the forces in the future. All relevant considerations will be taken into account.

Lenin's Statue

37.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department the number of policemen per 24 hours now engaged in guarding Lenin's statue in Holford Square, Finsbury; and why, and for how long, he intends to continue this service.

The statue was removed on 18th April and the question of protection no longer arises.

Parliamentary Boundary Commission

40.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to receive the report of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission.

The Commission are now actively engaged on their task and their report will be submitted as soon as possible, but it is not yet possible to say when.

Contraceptives (Sale)

42.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will investigate the extent of the public sale of contraceptives, with a view to introducing legislation to make such sales to young persons under 18 years of age illegal.

Proposals to prohibit the sale of contraceptives to young unmarried persons have been considered in the past but have been found impracticable, largely because of the difficulty of enforcement.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people of both sexes of the ages of 16 or 17 can go into chemists' shops and buy these contraceptives, and why is it not possible to adopt the same kind of restrictions on this kind of sale as is adopted in the case of young people going into public houses to buy liquor?

I think the answer is that substances bought in public houses in a form ready for immediate consumption cannot be taken away and handed over to another person, whereas there is no such difficulty with these particular articles.

Nationalised Under Takings' Staffs (Political Activities)

45 and 46.

asked the Prime Minister (1) whether any guidance has now been given by the Government to nationalised undertakings with regard to the political freedom of their staffs; and, in particular, to the right of their staff to hold office in a political party;

(2) what restrictions are imposed on the staff of nationalised undertakings with regard to standing for election to local authorities or to Parliament; and whether any guidance has been given by the Government on this matter to nationalised undertakings.

The Government have informed the boards of the general principles which in their view should govern the development of a code of practice in this matter. The broad effect of these is that the vast majority of those employed in our nationalised industries will be as free as those employed in other industries to participate without restriction in political activities, whether national or local. There is, however, one qualification affecting only a small number of employees which does not always apply in other industries. It is desirable that the senior staffs of the boards should establish a tradition of public service irrespective of party allegiances, and it follows that they must exercise a measure of discretion in political matters which will prevent them from engaging in the more controversial forms of political activity.

In view of that statement, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he will undertake that in all nationalised industries the policy of the closed shop shall be done away with?

Electronic Calculator

47.

asked the Lord President of the Council, whether, in view of the intricate calculations involved in modern planning and the difficulties of evaluating all the relevant factors, any giant electronic calculating machines are being constructed for use in Great Britain similar to the Mark I operating at Harvard University in the U.S.A. or the Mark II which is under construction for the U.S. Navy.

The two machines referred to are, in fact, not electronic, but are operated by relays, and no similar calculator is contemplated for this coun- try. An electronic calculator, which will operate at one thousand times the speed of these machines, is being planned now at the National Physical Laboratory. When completed, its services will be available to Government Departments, research establishments and industry for calculations to which it may suitably be applied.

Employment

Building Trainees

48.

asked the Minister of Labour how many building ex-Service trainees are still receiving instruction, and how many are waiting to enter centres.

On 8th April last, 20,702 ex-Servicemen were receiving training in the building trades, and 12,399 had been accepted and were awaiting allocation to training.

Can the Minister say when these 12,000-odd are likely to be accepted, and whether the position is improving, compared with what it was 12 months ago?

The training has to be phased with the opportunity for employment when the training is completed. We are in consultation with the industry, and so can phase it up or down, as the industry may demand, at the time that the training ceases.

49.

asked the Minister of Labour how many building ex-Service trainees were registered as unemployed at the latest convenient date.

This information is not readily available, and its extraction would involve a disproportionate expenditure of time, which would not be justified.

In view of the serious situation in the building industry, will the Minister make an effort to get this information, because it is important that the House should have it?

We could get the information, but it would mean searching the records of every individual ex-Serviceman who has been undergoing training, finding out where he has gone to work and whether he has left one job to go to another, and where he is now. Anything can be done by the Ministry of Labour, but this would take such a long time, and would involve so much labour, that we. do not think it would be practicable.

Without going to all that trouble, will the Minister say whether he or his Department has any idea of what the position is?

Prisoners Of War (Civilian Status)

50.

asked the Minister of Labour if arrangements are now in force for farmers to apply to county A.E.Cs. for German prisoners of war to remain in employment here with civilian status where they are willing to do so; and whether prisoners have been informed of this.

I hope to bring the arrangements into force very shortly, when they will be communicated to all concerned.

In view of the Minister's statement that anything can be done by the Ministry of Labour, with which I agree, does he not think that there is a case for extending this sensible arrangement to other essential industries, such as brickworks?

I would not like to express an opinion apart from the actual industry with which we are dealing at the moment, but the possibility of extension is not ruled out.

Would the Minister say what arrangements are made for paying these people if they are allowed to stay, and whether they will still be restricted?

If these people stay on as civilians, they will be employed at trade union rates, and will, I hope, take advantage of the opportunity to become trade union members.

Will there be any provision in the scheme for allowing the wives and families of those who remain to join them subsequently?

I do not know whether that is one of the provisions in the scheme, but I can say quite definitely that we are most anxious, where a family has been parted for many years by the cruelty of the enemy, to give them the opportunity to be reunited here. If we can, we shall certainly do that.

Will the Minister bear in mind the undesirability of the prisoners hearing of these arrangements by rumour, through the B.B.C. and the Press, rather than through the official announcements made to them by their commanding officers, which should be prompt and should be made before they hear this information in these other ways?

Will the Minister have a word with the Home Secretary who, at the present time, is separating mothers and children coming from Austria?

Not in this connection. I stand by my answer that if we can reunite families by bringing them here to work. we shall do so.

Will the Minister ensure that, once the scheme comes into operation, if a man makes application to stay, he will not be sent back to Germany, and thus create the difficulty in bringing him back to this country which was experienced in the case of the Italians?

It must be borne in mind that it is not a matter of application by the man concerned, but whether the farmer or the employer can guarantee him employment, and can find him suitable accommodation. It is not the need of the prisoner, but the need of the employer which is the deciding factor.

National Service Call-Up

53.

asked the Minister of Labour how many military Service personnel were dealt with by his Department for the first three months of 1947; and what were the comparable figures for the first three months of 1940 and 1941.

The number called up in the first three months of 1947 was 51,000. The corresponding figures for 1940 and 1941 were 180,000 and 195,000.

Can the Minister say whether, in view of the figures he has given, he is taking steps to reduce the staff of his Ministry, which appears to be unduly large?

Yes, Sir. The staffs engaged on this work have been reduced, but, of course, they have been absorbed by being transferred to other Departments, where men have stayed on after reaching the retiring age.

National Finance

Imported Gifts (Purchase Tax)

54.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why, in addition to Customs Duty, Purchase Tax is levied on the contents of parcels arriving in the United Kingdom as unsolicited gifts to the addressees from friends and relatives resident in other countries, having regard to the fact that the articles on which the tax is levied have not been purchased in the United Kingdom by the recipients; and whether he is aware that this demand is causing great dissatisfaction, both to the senders of these gifts and to those receiving them.

Purchase Tax is levied because the law so requires. As I have often explained, a general exemption from Purchase Tax for imported gifts would be open to grave abuse, and would be unfair as between individuals.

Postwar Credits (Deceased Persons)

57.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if postwar credits will be paid to dependants of deceased persons who were 65 years of age or over at the time of their death.

No, Sir, except where the beneficiaries are themselves over the age of 65, if men, and 60, if women

Is it quite fair for the Treasury to take advantage of the fact that these persons have died, because, had they been alive, they would have had it, and their dependants would have benefited?

It was made quite clear by my right hon. Friend when this concession was made, and when this section of the community came before the House, that it was being made in order to give old people a chance to enjoy the money before they died.

Should it not be regarded as part of the estate of the deceased persons who may wish to pass it on to someone dependent on them?

It is so regarded; it goes into the estate of the person who dies, and is passed on to the beneficiary.

Is not the Financial Secretary wrong in the short statement he has made, and is not the position that, if the right has accrued before death, it passes to the beneficiary under the will?

The position is that, although the right might have accrued, unless the money has actually been paid over before death, it falls to whomsoever benefits under the will, and will go to that person as and when that person is reached at the time of the general distribution of postwar credits.

In view of the fact that there is not a great deal of money involved, will the right hon. Gentleman look at this matter again?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people will agree with him in the attitude he has taken up, and would regard it as highly inequitable that people of 20 or 30 years of age should enjoy spending postwar credits when people of 50and 60 years of age cannot do so?

Sterling Balances

59.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the agreements for the convertibility of sterling now signed by His Majesty's Government had the prior agreement of all other members of the sterling area.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether other members of the sterling area are satisfied with the terms of this agreement?

Does it matter in this case? I am answering the Question on the Order Paper, and I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has two other Questions down. It is for us, whose currency it is, to decide, and not for another country to interfere.

60 and 61.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what arrangements have been made by His Majesty's Government for the convertibility of current balances of sterling acquired after 15th July, 1947, by countries outside the sterling area, other than those with whom His Majesty's Government has signed financial agreements;

(2) if he will state the arrangements made by His Majesty's Government with countries, other than those with whom a funding agreement has been already made, for the convertibility of sterling balances acquired by the countries concerned before 15th July, 1947.

It would not be desirable for me to go into details regarding the future arrangements now under discussion, or negotiation with various countries. My right hon. Friend is not yet able to make any additions to the list already given in his answer to the hon. and gallant Member on 24th April.

Civil Servants, Armed Forces (Pay)

62.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what extent civil servants and Government employees are being paid part or all of their salaries or wages whilst they are serving in the Armed Forces under the National Service Acts; how many are being so paid; what was the total cost of this during 1946–47; and what is the estimated cost for 1947–48.

As a wartime arrangement, established civil servants and un-established staffs, both industrial and non-industrial, with the necessary qualifying service, called up for service with H.M. Forces or allowed to serve therein on temporary arrangements, whose civil pay exceeds their service emoluments, are eligible to receive the balance of their civil pay to bring up their total emoluments, Service and civil, to the level of their civil pay. The question of terminating this arrangement is under consideration. Whilst no detailed record is held centrally, it is estimated that about 16,000 non- industrial civil servants were receiving balance of civil pay at 1st January, 1947. No information is readily available in the case of industrial staff. The total cost involved in 1946–47 was of the order of £2 million, whilst the corresponding cost for 1947–48 is estimated at approximately £400,000.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a further statement about the future when he has considered this matter?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any regulation governing this practice, or whether it is simply an arrangement?

It is an arrangement of some long standing and, without notice, I could not commit myself to whether it is an arrangement within the Treasury or whether there is some Act of Parliament which deals with it. I will ascertain and communicate with the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Espionage Commission, Canada (Report)

63.

asked the Secretary to the Treasury if, in view of the demand for copies of the report of the Canadian Royal Commission on the Gouzenko case and the cost of purchasing copies, he will arrange for abridged copies of this report, provided that the consent of the Canadian Government be obtained, to be printed here and placed on sale to the public.

No, Sir. I would add that additional copies are now on the way from Canada, and should be available shortly.

In view of the great interest taken in this matter, and the fact that it involves a plot against a sister State of the Empire, in which a Member of Parliament of that country and members of the Soviet Embassy, one of whom is in this country, are concerned, will the right hon. Gentleman see that the widest possible circulation is given to this document, especially as there was nearly a similar case in this country in the case of Mr. Trebistch Lincoln, M.P.?

We are, of course, anxious to meet the demand for copies of this book, but the Question asked whether the Government would issue an abridged edition. It is our view that it would be very difficult for the Government to issue a "potted" version of a publication issued by another Government. It is more for a private firm to undertake.

Do I understand that there is to be a further distribution of copies of this highly important State document?

Could the right hon. Gentleman say when the further distribution is likely to take place?

We have ordered over 1,000 further copies. Seven hundred of them are now on the way. I do not like to commit the Stationery Office to an exact date, but it is our hope that they will be on sale and available within a fortnight.

Housing

Barnstaple

70.

asked the Minister of Health whether he will consider making an increase in the present allocation of 65 permanent houses for the current year in the Barnstaple rural district, an area of 130,000 acres with a population of 21,500, about 600 of whom are waiting for houses.

The programme of new construction in the rural district for the current year was for 144, and not 65, houses. This total represented a fair share of the building resources in the zone as estimated at the time of the zonal conference, and an increase now would only delay the completion of houses by the authority and their neighbours.

Is the Minister aware that the figure of 144 is not in accordance with a letter written to me by the council as a result of the zonal conference?

I am afraid that as there is a conflict of fact, the hon. and gallant Gentleman and I had better have another meeting about it.

Repair Notices, Manchester

72.

asked the Minister of Health in how many cases has statutory notice to carry out essential repairs been served by the local authority on house-property-owning landlords in the city of Manchester during 1946 and the three months of 1947 ended 31st March; in how many cases has the notice been complied with; and in how many cases of non-compliance have legal proceedings been instituted.

The answers to the first two parts of the Question are, as I am informed, 8,064 and 5,618 respectively; legal proceedings were instituted in 177 cases; in the majority of the remaining cases of non-compliance warning letters were effective.

Building Licences

73.

asked the Minister of Health if local authorities have power to issue licences for new buildings before plans have been submitted to and approved by the appropriate interim development authority.

Yes, Sir. But this does not absolve the applicant from the necessity of seeking and obtaining planning consent.

Surely my right hon. Friend must be aware that it is impossible to assess the value of a house unless the plans are settled? How can a local authority grant a licence until all details about the development of the property have been settled?

I quite agree, and that is the reason why I should have thought it was necessary to get the consent of the planning authority first.

Birmingham

76 and 79.