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Commons Chamber

Volume 437: debated on Monday 5 May 1947

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House Of Commons

Monday, 5th May, 1947

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Ministry Of Works

Building Trades (Operatives' Output)

1 and 5.

asked the Minister of Works (1) what is his estimate of the percentage of output of building trades operatives as compared with 1938;

(2) the average number of bricks laid at the present time and the average number laid in prewar years.

I regret that no reliable figures are available on which a comparison could be made.

Surely, the Minister is aware of the prewar formula of one house per person per year. How does that compare with the results so far achieved?

The accuracy of the prewar formula is something that has to be decided to start with, as I have no reliable information on what it was based.

How can the Minister reconcile his statement with that made by the men's leaders when the wage increase was granted in January, 1946, pledging themselves to increase output to what it was prewar?

That is not the Question I was asked. I was asked to say definitely what has been the percentage of increase. I cannot do that without the necessary information.

Will not the Minister agree that, on such figures as there are, the output at present is far lower than it was in 1938; and will he not further agree that this is primarily due to the Government's policy having got the building industry and the building materials industry out of date?

I do not accept that. First, there has been a great deal of talk about the decrease in what has been done, bet none of that has been proved. Secondly, conditions are different today from what they were before the war.

Will the Minister consult his noble Friend Lord Quibell on this matter?

Requisitioned Agricultural Land (Bbc Stations)


asked the Minister of Works how many acres of agricultural land have been requisitioned since 1939 for B.B.C. stations; and how many of these stations have been given up since VE-Day.

Approximately 1,368 acres of agricultural land have been requisitioned since 1939 for seven B.B.C. stations, of which none has been given up since VE-Day.

Is the Minister satisfied that there 'is no exaggeration in having all this land requisitioned for this purpose and none given back?

Although none has been given back, I am pleased to be able to say that quite a proportion of it is let under licence to graziers.

I have not the figures, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman cares to write to me, I will let him know.

Building Material Distribution (Information)


asked the Minister of Works whether he is satisfied that the value of the information obtained from the questionnaires on operating costs of building material distributors sent to all builders' merchants by the Independent Committee on Distribution of Building Materials, the appointment of which was announced by him on 24th June last, justifies the expense, time and labour necessarily involved in compiling the required information.

The Committee attached considerable importance to the information which they hope to obtain from this return for the purpose of their inquiry and I see no reason to intervene.

Is this the Committee which leaves the Minister in a state of complete and utter ignorance as to prewar and postwar comparisons?

This Committee has not yet reported, so that it is not responsible for any ignorance there may be on the part of the Minister.

When the Minister says "which they hope to obtain," has he no information as to whether the Committee have yet been able to place any value upon the information supplied to them in answer to these very detailed questionnaires?

I have had no report from the Committee as yet, and I have had no complaint from them as regards the information supplied.

Huts, Erith (Removal)


asked the Minister of Works when the huts on the site of the bungalows which were destroyed by enemy action at King Harolds Way, Erith, are to be removed.

The camp is being vacated today and the clearance of the site will begin immediately.

Requisitioned Dwellings (Use)


asked the Minister of Works in what circumstances his Department requisition domestic dwellings and flats for use as offices when the local authority represent to him that the premises which he proposes to requisition are urgently required for homeless people.

It is not the practice of my Department in the circumstances described to requisition domestic dwellings and flats for use as offices, but certain residential property requisitioned for other purposes is being retained for office use by agreement with the Ministry of Health.

Will the Minister give an assurance that housing accommodation will be first priority, instead of the housing of his staff?

As far as the release of requisitioned property is concerned, we are already giving first priority to the derequisitioning of housing accommodation.

Will the Minister, when these residences are not required further for specific office purposes, see they are used as domestic dwellings, and not handed on to another Department?

That must depend on the circumstances, but so far as premises consisting of less than 12 rooms are concerned, that is the practice at the present moment.

Trafalgar Square Memorials


asked the Minister of Works what progress has been made with the Jellicoe and Beatty memorials.

The House resolved in 1935 and 1936 that memorials should be erected to the late Admirals Lord Jellicoe and Lord Beatty, and my predecessors made considerable progress with a scheme incorporating busts of the Admirals as features of reconstructed fountains in Trafalgar Square. When work was suspended on the outbreak of war, new inner basins of Portland stone had already been erected to the designs of Sir Edwin Lutyens, and shortly after the sculptors, Messrs. Wheeler and McMillan, completed the bronze groups of statuary and the busts, which have since been shown at the Royal Academy. I now propose to carry the scheme to completion. I wish to make one alteration and to place the busts on pedestals against the North wall of the Square. To this the Royal Fine Art Commission have agreed.

Encouraged by the Minister's reply, may I ask him if, in the course of the work, it will be possible to improve the general appearance of Trafalgar Square?

Yes, Sir. In addition to dealing with the busts concerned, I am proposing to try to introduce some colour into the Square by flowering shrubs and plants at the foot of the North wall. I propose, in order to improve the setting of the memorials, and to give unity to the Square, to remove the pedestal of the Gordon statue which is at present there, and to find other accommodation for General Gordon. I am also taking this opportunity of wiring the fountains, so as to melt the possibility of eventual floodlighting, and of installing permanent connections in the Square for sound amplification to be used at public meetings.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he deserves very high marks for the way in which he has treated the gallant admirals, and for putting King Charles I back on his pedestal?

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that His Majesty's Government, having disbanded the Nelson pension, will dot remove the Nelson Column?

When re-arranging Trafalgar Square, will the right hon. "Gentleman give a pair of stirrups to King George IV, who has done without them for a very long time?


Secretary Of State's Services (Leave Pay)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he is now in a position to give a final decision as to pay due to members of the Indian Civil Service, Indian police and others, for periods of leave accumulated during the war, particulars of which have been sent to him.

I would refer the hon. Member to paragraph 6 of the statement made by the Prime Minister on 30th April.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that those British subjects who have served India so faithfully and so long will not have their position made worse by the surrender of India by the Socialist Government?

I think that if the hon. Gentleman cares to read very carefully the statement that the Prime Minister made on 30th April he will realise that that is the position.

But is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, since then, I have had a letter which is not at all satisfactory?

Andaman Islands (Aborigines)


asked the UnderSecretary of State for India whether any estimates have been made at any time of the numbers of the aboriginal tribes of the Andaman Islands such as the Jarawas, Onges and Sentineles, in view of the fact that it is known that there are 30 Chinese and 35 Europeans; and what steps he will take to obtain such estimates if they are not available.

According to the Administration Report for the year ending March, 1940, there were then 63 Andaman aborigines living on North Andaman. There were also some Onges living on Little Andaman and Rutland Islands, and two parties of Jarawas living on South and Middle Andaman. The numbers of these two communities were not, however, reported. I have no information about the Sentineles or as to the number of these communities subsequent to the Japanese occupation, but I am asking the Government of India for the latest detailed information available. I should like this answer to be taken as correcting the statement made in reply to a supplementary by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) on 10th March, that there are 5,000 aboriginals in these Islands.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, during the time the Andaman Islands were used as a penal settlement, they were almost entirely denuded of their aboriginal inhabitants, whereas those of the Nicobar Islands, a neighbouring group, have retained their identity? Is it too late to take active steps to preserve the aboriginal tribes, who have been there a long time?

That is an entirely different question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put it down.

Is it proposed to have any sort of plebiscite, to see if those people want to be handed over to India?

British Interests


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India what arrangements are being made to safeguard British trading and business interests in India after June, 1948.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us whether this question will be incorporated in a treaty, and if so, by whom it will be made, by one authority or a series of authorities?

No, Sir, I am not able to go beyond the terms of the statement I have just made.

Will the Under-Secretary of State see that no action is taken aimed directly at firms of this type?

I think the hon. Gentleman may take it that we shall seek to take the steps required to protect the legitimate interests of the trading community.

Will the different schemes of reconstruction now in progress in the Indian States receive the attention of His Majesty's Administration?

Disturbances, Bengal (Use Of British Troops)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India how many British troops were involved in the recent communal disturbances in Bengal; and what is now the position there.

There has been no occasion to employ British troops in aid of the civil power during the past month, except in Calcutta. The number so employed in Calcutta at the beginning of this month was 750. The present position in Calcutta is that, although sporadic acts of violence are still occurring, the situation has been kept in control, and there has been hardly any rioting. Curfew orders have been freely employed and found effective. In Howrah and Dacca considerable tension continues and some incidents have occurred. Elsewhere in the Province there have been no important communal incidents, though general mistrust and tension between the communities prevails in most parts, despite appeals for unity and peace from the leaders of all parties.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that the root cause of all this discontent and tension is Communist propaganda, and will he bear that in mind?

I have not that information, but my impression is that they have suffered no casualties.

Gurkhas (Future)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he is now in a position to report on the negotiations regarding the future of the Gurkha Brigade and of recruitment and use of Gurkhas in the armed forces of the Crown.

Discussions have been held in Delhi between representatives of His Majesty's Government and the Government of India. A visit to Katmondu is now being paid in this connection by representatives of His Majesty's Government and the Government of India. I am not in a position to make any further statement at present.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman particularly bear in mind that the Gurkha race owes its allegiance and friendship to the British Crown, and not to the Indian Government, and that the negotiations should, therefore, take place between those two authorities, and not the Indian Government?

I think it would be better to make no comment at the moment until we see the course of those discussions.

Indian Army (Pensions)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India what steps are being taken to bring the pension terms for officers and other ranks of corps of the Indian Army not governed by the Royal Warrant into line with the recent improvements granted to other corps which are so governed.

The Government of India with whom the decision rests, have under urgent consideration the question of applying the new British Pension Code to those officers of the Indian Army to whom it has not already been applied, and I hope to be able to make an announcement in the near future. The new code has already been applied to all British other ranks.

Could the Minister say whether this new pay code will be applied to the Royal Indian Navy?

That question is under consideration by the Government of India at the present time.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that a matter lies with the Indian Government, does he by that indicate that His Majesty's Government take no responsibility in the matter supposing that the decision proves to be what they would regard as inequitable?

Italy (Displaced Persons)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps are being taken to safeguard the safety of the displaced persons in Italy after the British troops are withdrawn.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to a similar Question asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) on 23rd April.


Russian-Born British Wives


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he proposes to instruct His Majesty's representative in Moscow to draw the attention of the Government there to the unprecedented nature of any general prohibition or effective frustration of marriages between the nationals of two friendly States.

I am not clear what the hon. Member has in mind. If he is referring to the recent Soviet enactment prohibiting marriages between Soviet citizens and other nationals, His Majesty's Government have not considered it proper or necessary to make any representations to the Soviet Government on this subject.

With apologies to the right hon. Gentleman for not being clear—although I might say that I put down the Question as nearly as I could in the terms which he himself indicated on a previous occasion—may I ask him whether His Majesty's Government do not consider that they ought to draw to the attention of a foreign Government that it is unprecedented, as between two friendly States, that marriages between the nationals of the two should be made either legally impossible or practically ineffectual?

If the hon. Gentleman says it is unprecedented, I am very unwilling to quarrel with him, because I know his reputation, but I must say I have not completely satisfied myself upon that point. Until there is some point concerned with the nationals of our own country, I cannot see that it would be proper for us to make representations.

Can my right hon. Friend say what is being done to reunite these families?

That is why I was very careful in saying that I was not clear what the hon. Gentleman opposite had in mind. His Majesty's Government will continue to bring pressure to bear on behalf of those British subjects who have been affected by the provisions of the enactment which has been referred to.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if the Soviet wives of British Servicemen are considered British subjects.

Yes, Sir; but in the eyes of Soviet law they remain Soviet citizens, with the result that under English law they are British subjects, and under Soviet law they are Soviet citizens.

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to say what nationality the children of such marriages acquire? Would he say, further, where they are, and what steps are being taken to bring them to this country, so that the families can be reunited?

So far as I am aware, there are no children. The question seems rather hypothetical.

Council Of Foreign Ministers (Press Conferences)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many informal Press conferences were held by the chief Press officer of the United Kingdom delegation during the period of the recently-ended Moscow conference of the four Foreign Ministers; to how many of these was Mr. F. Lesser, the "Daily Worker" correspondent, not invited; which other British newspaper correspondents were not invited; and on what basis invitations were sent out to the conferences.

Apart from the formal Press conferences held after each meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, which Mr. Lesser attended, no informal Press conferences were held during the Moscow Conference. But the special correspondents who accompanied the United Kingdom Delegation met the Press officer every clay informally for consultation and off the record discussion. Neither Mr. Lesser nor the resident correspondents of "The Times", "News Chronicle" or "Daily Express" were invited. No invitations were sent out to correspondents to attend these meetings, 'which were arranged informally between the Press officer and the correspondents concerned.

In view of the fact that Mr. Lesser was there in both capacities, being a representative in Moscow and also 'associated with the United Nations delegation, why was he, therefore, not invited, whereas in the case of other papers they had proper representation?

I should be extremely surprised to learn that Mr. Lesser was associated with the United Nations delegation.

I repeat, that I would be extremely surprised to learn that. There was, so far as I know, no United Nations delegation, but I suppose the hon. Gentleman is referring to the United Kingdom delegation.

I am sorry. There were, of course, other correspondents who could have been there in that dual capacity. These conferences, to which the Question refers, were primarily intended for the correspondents who had accompanied the United Kingdom delegation.

Is there any reason why this distinction should be drawn between these correspondents and the resident correspondents? Does it not put the resident correspondents at a disadvantage?

I should think not. I should have thought that a good resident correspondent, which I am sure Mr. Lesser is, would normally have a method of informing himself.

Will the Minister say for the information of the House whether that is the only common denominator alleged between these four newspapers to which he has referred?

I should think they have connections, similarities, and quite marked dissimilarities.


Control Commission (Personal Case)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why three months' delay has taken place in coming to a decision regarding the case of Mr. J. A. Thompson, late of the Control Commission, who was invalided from Germany suffering from tuberculosis.

As the hon. Member knows, a supplementary award has been granted in this case, payable from the last day on which salary was received from the Control Commission. I must apologise to the hon. Member for the delay in this case, but it has been necessary to collect detailed evidence from Germany and examine it closely in conjunction with the terms of the Injury Warrant.

Are the Government accepting responsibility in regard to the tuberculosis which this man contracted, or is his family just getting the award that anyone in this country receives under certain conditions when he contracts tuberculosis?

As I understand it, aggravation has been accepted, but I am informed that, as is normal in such cases, the case will be reviewed in conjunction with the available medical evidence at the appropriate period.

Can the Minister say what the Foreign Office mean when they write and say that they have given a personal grant to a man who contracted tuberculosis, and that the case will be reviewed later? Does it mean a pension or a lump-sum payment?

At great risk, I should say that that is not language which I personally have employed. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will bring such a letter to my notice, when I will be glad to look into it.

Berlin Conference (Protocol)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the text of the Protocol of the Proceedings of the Berlin Conference, published as Cmd. 7087, is the only official text; or what are the others of equal validity.

Command Paper No. 7087 embodies the only official text of the Protocol of the proceedings of the Berlin Conference. It is a slightly more detailed document than the Report which was issued by the Americans, Russians and ourselves as a communiqué immediately after the Berlin Conference.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there is no truth in the allegation of any omission either from this text or the American text?

Perhaps I may be excused from commenting on the American text, although I do not mean to infer that there is any omission there. I should prefer to say that our White Paper is an official and complete text.

United Nations Organisation

Anti-Slavery Measures


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will instruct the British representative on the United Nations Human Rights Commission to press for the establishment, within the framework of U.N.O., of a permanent committee to supervise the application of the Anti-slavery Convention, 1926, and to carry on the work of the expert committee on slavery which was established by the League of Nations in 1931.

His Majesty's Government are at present considering how the problem of slavery can best be dealt with inside the framework of the United Nations.

World Security Forces


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the preliminary plan to be submitted to U.N.O. by the Military Staffs Committee for the creation of a supra-national army.

I presume my hon. Friend is referring to the report on basic principles which are to govern the organisation of the United Nations forces. The Military Staff Committee submitted their report to the Security Council on 30th April in accordance with the latter's instructions. The report, as the House knows, was released to the Press yesterday. No date has yet been fixed for its consideration by the Security Council, as the Governments who are not represented on the Military Staff Committee will clearly require time to study it.

Can the Minister say whether the supra-national soldiers will be allowed to marry and live with supranational women, or will they be confined to members of their own nationality?

Does not my right hon. Friend think that the time has now come when His Majesty's Government should propose the creation of a small, integrated United Nations police force to be used in territories such as Trieste, which are under the jurisdicfion of the United Nations?

What His Majesty's Government might propose and what would be accepted are, clearly, two different things. Some proposals from the Government, not unconnected with the force which the hon. Member has in mind, have not been accepted by the Committee.

Would the right hon. Gentleman see that, in referring to this force in future, the word "supranational" is not used, as it might cause some unfortunate confusion?

Would my right hon. Friend consider publication of this report in the form of a White Paper?

Certainly, I will consider it, but it might be better to wait until after the Security Council has decided, as it is within their province.

Egypt (Mufti Of Jerusalem)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what representations he has recently made to the Egyptian Government concerning the ex-Mufti's political activities in Cairo; and what is the nature of the activities to which exception has been taken.

His Majesty's Government have made frequent representations to the Egyptian Government, since the Mufti's arrival in Egypt, on account of the political activities in which he has been engaged.

In order to limit the area of activity of the ex-Mufti, will my right hon. Friend confirm that in no circumstances will he be allowed to go to Palestine?

Can the Minister say what political activities have led to the complete disruption of the Anglo-Egyptian union in Egypt?

Palestine (Illegal Jewish Immigration)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what arrangements have been made to counter Zionist plans for the illegal emigration of Jews from Europe to Palestine; which countries have been asked to co-operate in these arrangements; which countries have agreed to co-operate fully; and which countries have either refused to co-operate, or offered only partial co-operation.

It would clearly lessen the efficiency of the measures taken against illegal immigration of Jews into Palestine if these measures were made public, but I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will accept my assurance that the measures are vigorous, extensive and varied in character.

Can the Minister say what is the use of asking Governments, such as has been done in the case of Italy, to stop the emigration of Jews to Palestine while taking no steps, or, at least, very few steps, to see that organisations such as U.N.R.R.A. do not encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine through such countries?

I could not accept the assumption made by the hon. Gentleman, but he may be quite sure that we are in close contact with the Italian Government in connection with the many difficulties involved.

Obviously, the Italians do not want these Jews in Italy, and if they are dumped on them, surely the Minister must realise that they are only too anxious to get them out.

Bulgaria (General Stanchev)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what representations have been made to the Bulgarian Government by His Majesty's Government's representative in Sofia regarding the continued imprisonment of General Stanchev, formerly Commander of the 2nd Bulgarian Army, who was arrested in June, 1946; and, in view of the fact that no charges appear to have been substantiated against him and he has not yet been brought to trial, if he will call upon the Bulgarian Government to implement Articles 2 and 3 of the Peace Treaty.

The United Kingdom Political Representative in Bulgaria reports that inquiries of the Bulgarian authorities have elicited the reply that General Stanchev is in preventive imprisonment in connection with the discovery last year of an army conspiracy; that he has not hitherto appeared before any court because investigation of the case has not been completed and that the case against General Stanchev and others concerned in the conspiracy is in process of preparation and the date of the examination of the case remains to be fixed. We believe that this distinguished officer has been in custody for many months and we are not satisfied that he is being well treated. His Majesty's Government will continue to watch the situation carefully and should there appear at the appropriate time to be any breach of the terms of the Peace Treaty, will take consequent action.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that imprisonment without trial since June, 1946, is a curious reward for a man who fought with distinction against the Germans in Yugoslavia, who was extolled for his action by the B.B.C., and who received a high military decoration from the U.S.S.R. for the capture of Nish by the 2nd Bulgarian Army, which he commanded?

Will not the right hon. Gentleman consider refusing the ratification of this treaty if those essential Articles, Nos. 2 and 3, are not going to be observed?

Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to press this matter because of the really remarkable record of General Stanchev, who captured Sofia and won the victory against the Germans, and will he do everything in his power to make the Bulgarian Government realise how deeply we feel about this matter?

Food Supplies

Cocoa Beans (Allocation)


asked the Minister of Food why the allocation of cocoa beans to British confectionery manufacturers has been reduced, as compared with 1946, in spite of the fact that a larger tonnage has been allotted to Great Britain this year by the International Food Board.

During the past three years, we have been able to use more cocoa than we have received by drawing on stocks accumulated during the early part of the war. In future, consumption will have to be limited to the quantities which we actually receive. The rates of allocation to chocolate and confectionery manufacturers have had to be reduced accordingly.

International Wheat Conference

asked the Minister of Food if he will make a full statement of the reasons why His Majesty's Government have rejected the wheat agreement proposals at the final plenary session of the International Wheat Conference on 23rd April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement made on behalf of His Majesty's Government by the leader of the United Kingdom delegation at the final meeting of the Conference which was fully reported in the Press. I am circulating this statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is not the hon. Lady aware that the consumers in this country will be delighted to hear that her right hon. Friend is beginning to learn the lesson which I have tried to teach him, and has been compelled to call a halt to the disastrous policy of Government purchase and Government sales?

My right hon. Friend is just as concerned that the producers should have a fair price as that the consumers should not be exploited.

Following is the statement:

"SIR HERBERT BROADLEY (U.K.): Mr. President, I am sorry to have to announce that the United Kingdom Delegation is unable to associate itself with this Wheat Agreement. With its general plan we are in complete agreement, and the United Kingdom Delegation took a substantial part in shaping it. In fact, in many ways we regard it as a model for future commodity arrangements. It preserves the opportunity for freedom of trade so that the price finds its own level, and, at the same time, it provides maximum and minimum wheat points, rather like gold points, so that the consumer is protected against too high prices, and the producer against too sudden and too deep a fall.
"It is the prices themselves, Mr. President, with which the United Kingdom Delegation are unable to agree. We regard certain of these prices as excessive. We do not admit that the present and future wheat prices quoted on particular markets are any indication of what should be a reasonable price for wheat, either now or in the coming years. At the same time, we agree that some of the low prices that ruled before the war were equally unjustifiable. What the United Kingdom seeks is a price which is fair to the producer and the consumer alike. The world must face much lower prices for wheat than those which rule at present, and we want to see those lower prices achieved in a manner which protects the producer against hardship, and enables such arrangements as are necessary for every form of Agriculture to be made without serious dislocation and disaster.
"But, having said that, and being prepared to recognise the system which contains these safeguards, 'the United Kingdom delegation must place on record its feeling that the price scheme proposed in the Agreement in Article VI does not enable the price to come down to a reasonable figure sufficiently quickly. The United Kingdom cannot afford to pay excessive prices for its imports, and the reduction of the cost of our imports is a corollary to the expansion of the volume of our exports."

North-East Area (Supplies)


asked the Minister of Food what is the percentage increase in the following foodstuffs supplied during April to the North-East: fat, sugar, oil for fish frying and meat for cooked meats.

Increased allocations of fats, sugar and meat for manufacturing purposes were made to certain areas in North-East England in 1945, and the recent increase varies between 4 per cent. and 14 per cent., according to whether the area concerned benefited in 1945. For fish-frying oil the increase is between 10 per cent, and 14 per cent.

Fish (Air Transport)


asked the Minister of Food if the committee set up by him to expedite transport of fish to Billingsgate considered the transport by air of fish from Aberdeen, and with what result; or if he will direct them so to do.

Air transport is outside the scope of the committee, and my right hon. Friend does not propose to ask them to examine it because, at the present time, its use for fish would be impracticable and prohibitive in cost.

I would remind my hon. and learned Friend that about 100 to 150 tons of fish come from Aberdeen to Billingsgate every day. That would necessitate 17 aeroplanes, at a cost of £66 per ton.

New Potatoes


asked the Minister of Food to explain why, since the price of new potatoes has been controlled at 9d. per lb., they are no longer to be obtained in greengrocers' shops.

The maximum prices prescribed were agreed with the trade as being a reasonable level for this period of the year. Owing to the season being late in the supplying countries, the supplies available are at present very small.

Is the House to understand from the hon. Lady's reply that the Minister is satisfied that there is no under-the-counter trading going on?

My right hon. Friend is never satisfied, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the supply of these potatoes is very limited, and the demand very great.

Is the hon. Lady aware that, while a shortage exists in this country, thousands of tons of potatoes are being destroyed in the United States?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that many of those potatoes are in such a condition that we would not be prepared to import them into this country.



asked the Minister of Food the total amount of tea imported and consumed in this country, respectively, from 1st January, 1946, to 31st March, 1947.

Figures for the precise period mentioned are not available, so I will give those for the nearest comparable dates. Between 29th December, 1945, and 28th March, 1947, 485.4 million lb. of tea arrived in this country, and 531 million lb. were allocated for home consumption.

In view of the facts given by the hon. Lady, which show a diminution in stocks, would she tear down a few more of the veils existing between the public and the Government about tea and tell us the real position, whether a ration is going to be imposed, and if the price increase is going to be passed on to the public, or carried in other ways?

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that negotiations are going on at the present moment. Therefore, it would be inadvisable to give all the information for which he asks.


asked the Minister of Food if he will now give details of the tea stocks in this country; what are the prospects of maintaining the tea ration; and if he will give an assurance that, in any event, the ration to old age pensioners will be maintained.

It would not be in the public interests to disclose the quantity of tea held in stock in this country. Until the negotiations now in progress are completed, it is impossible to assess fully the prospects of maintaining the existing tea ration or to give the assurance asked for. It is my right hon. Friend's intention, however, to maintain the ration to old age pensioners if at all possible.

Sweet Ration


asked the Minister of Food if he is yet in a position to make an announcement regarding an increase in the sweet ration.

Would the hon. Lady bear in mind that, if she could increase the sweet ration, it would encourage people to cut down their smoking, and would be popular with the Chancellor of the Exchequer?



asked the Minister of Food what is the reason for the present shortage of sardines in this country.

A substantial quantity of sardines was recently released and will be in the shops during the present rationing period. This will relieve the temporary shortage.



asked the Minister of Food what is the amount of horseradish imported into the United Kingdom during 1947.

Imports of horseradish are not identifiable as a separate item in the official import statistics. The best information I can get indicates that the quantity so far imported this year is 36 tons.

Does the Minister really think it necessary to import horseradish, and is she not aware that we grow it in this country?

The hon. Gentleman may not have a taste for horseradish, hut other people have.

West Indian Sugar (Subsidy Cost)


asked the Minister of Food what is the cost by subsidy on the importation of British West Indian raw sugar during 1947; what is the estimated cost for the financial year 1947; and what would be the cost of the sugar per pound without subsidy.

It is not possible to calculate accurately the subsidy on sugar imported from one particular source. The average subsidy on raw sugar in the financial year 1947–48 on present price levels would be about £15 7s. per ton. Imports of raw sugar from the British West Indies into the United Kingdom in 1947, are estimated at some 370,000 tons, on which the subsidy would be about £5,800,000. There is no reason to expect that the figure would be materially different in respect of the financial year 1947-48. Without subsidy, the retail price of sugar would be about 7d. per lb.

Diabetic Bread (Price)


asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware of the hardship occasioned to diabetic patients by the price of 1s. per 1 lb. loaf of Procea diabetic bread; and if he will effect a reduction in the price.

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend has been advised that bread sold under proprietary names is not essential for the treatment of diabetes, and does not, therefore, consider it necessary to control the price of such bread.

Does not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that this particular form of bread is extensively used by diabetic subjects, and that the disproportionate price of this bread compared with the price of other bread is unfair to such people?

The most distinguished physicians in this country have considered the needs of diabetics, and although we give them no ration of sugar, they get two extra rations of meat, two extra rations of butter and margarine, 12 ounces of cheese instead of two ounces, and seven pints of milk a week.

Hides (Warble Fly Damage)


asked the Minister of Food how many hides were damaged or rendered unfit for tanning due to the warble fly for the quarter ended 31st March, 1947.

Of the 255,000 hides produced in the Ministry's slaughterhouses in Great Britain during the 13 weeks ended 28th March, 1947, about 53,000 had been damaged by the warble fly. None of these hides was unfit for tanning, but the leather produced from them would be reduced in value by the presence of warble holes.

In view of the great loss in beef and, of course, of leather, does riot the hon. Lady agree that something should be done very quickly to counteract the effect of this pest?

I am advised that there is no loss in beef. The only trouble is the deterioration of the hide, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who is very concerned in this matter, is giving it his careful attention.

Coffee (Preparation)


asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that nearly three times as much coffee is drunk annually in Britain now as before the war, and that a number of tourists are expected to come to Britain from countries in which coffee is a favourite drink; and if he will take steps, by advice in his Department's advertisements or otherwise, to educate housewives, hotel keepers and others in the preparation of tolerable coffee.

I fully appreciate that coffee as prepared in this country is not to the liking of most overseas visitors. My Department has already given advice on the proper preparation of coffee in a. booklet entitled, "The A.B.C. of Cookery," and I shall be glad to take such measures as I can to circulate this advice more widely in the appropriate quarters.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the average English housewife, however admirable her other qualities, and the average English hotel are quite incapable of preparing a cup of coffee which any Frenchman or American could drink without choking, and will she intensify her educational campaign which does not seem to have been very effective so far?

Is the hon. Lady aware that recently in a British restaurant, some tea sold as coffee was thought by a customer to be cocoa?

Imported Poultry (Fowl Pest)


asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the recent serious outbreak of fowl pest in the United Kingdom, he will arrange with the exporting countries of dead poultry to the United Kingdom to export in future dressed and not undressed fowls, so as to prevent the further infection of home poultry stock.


asked the Minister of Food what is the total of undressed poultry imported from the United States since the New Year; and what precautions are taken against these dead birds bringing in poultry pest.

About 1,500 tons of undressed poultry have been imported from the United States this year. Officers of my Department and of the Ministry of Agriculture are examining measures to minimise the risk of fowl pest being brought into the country through the medium of imported poultry and the noble Lord's suggestion will certainly be taken into account.

In view of the serious figures given by the Minister of Agriculture about these recent outbreaks, will the hon. Lady see that not only do we prevent undressed fowls from coming into the country, but also that their heads are cut off before they come into the country?

No, Sir, I cannot promise that. We do not want to prohibit poultry from being imported into this country. I think the noble Lord is wrong about the heads, and that infection is due to the fact that the poultry offal is unsterilised and is then used as swill.

Is the hon. Lady aware that if drastic action is not taken, and the pest is allowed to continue, there will be few eggs and poultry from home producers?

Does the hon. Lady realise that in one instance the infection has been definitely traced to a head having been thrown down and a fowl having picked it up and contracted this disease? In view of the fact that 10,000 home birds have had to be slaughtered as a result of this pest, does not the hon. Lady think it better not to import fowls in the numbers in which they are being imported?

Is the hon. Lady aware that this disease is prevalent also in countries in Eastern Europe from which we are increasing our poultry imports?

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies of the Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food on this question, I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment. It is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Sugar (Fruit Bottling)


asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the favourable position of sugar stocks, he will consider making a special allocation this summer for the bottling of fruit.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend on 31st March to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson).

If we cannot have any more sugar for fruit bottling or sweets, can we have any more for jam?

The hon. and gallant Member should be aware that the first extra allocation is to be made very soon, and that last year there were five allocations for that purpose.

Meat Consumption


asked the Minister of Food by what amount the consumption of meat, including home-produced, imported and canned, exceeded supply during the months February, March and April, respectively.

Consumption exceeded supply by about 59,000 tons in February and about 27,000 tons in March. Provisional figures indicate that in April consumption and supply were practically equal.

Is the hon. Lady aware that this reveals a grave position, showing a run-down in stocks of well over 100,000 tons in the last six months? In view of that fact would she consider the necessity of cutting the meat ration to avoid a breakdown?

I will certainly not commit myself to that. I think the hon. Member knows that my right hon. Friend is discussing the whole question of meat shortage with the trade.

West African Groundnuts


asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that there were 300,000 tons of groundnuts recently in Nigeria which the 'growers were unable to sell or ship for use in this country; and what action he is taking to secure these supplies.

West African groundnuts are bought on my right hon. Friend's behalf as soon as they are offered by the growers. The stocks to which the hon. Member refers are the Ministry's property and are being shipped for use in this country.

In view of the disquieting information revealed in the report of the Oil Seeds Commission about the shortages of spares for the Nigerian railway, which has to move these crops, will the Minister take all possible steps to speed up this matter?

Civil Service (Staff Reduction)


asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a further statement on the steps taken, or to be taken, for the reduction of the Civil Service.

I have been asked to reply. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes to make a statement shortly.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has not given permission for a song called, "Running round in circles and getting nowhere" to be dedicated to him?

Not so far as I know. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has sent it to No. 10.


Sugar Beet Crop, Huntingdonshire


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the Peterborough sugar beet factory was closed down this year before a considerable amount, namely, about 2 per cent. of the total crop of sugar beet, had been moved from farms in Huntingdonshire to the factory; what steps he is taking to enable farmers to recover losses incurred, through no fault of their own, by such sugar beet having been left on their farms; and whether he will take steps to ensure that such wastage does not occur again in the future.

No, Sir. At the time when the Peterborough factory closed, there was no appreciable amount of beet suitable and available for manufacture remaining undelivered. The small quantity still remaining on farms had been trapped either in or on the ground by frost and snow, and most of it would have been unfit for processing when the weather improved. The situation arising this year was created by the combination of a record beet crop and abnormal weather conditions. Notwithstanding these exceptional conditions, the great majority of farmers succeeded in complying with the contract terms and protecting their beet from frost damage. In the circumstances, no special steps on my part appear to be necessary.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that much of the sugar beet which was lost in this way was grown by farmers when it was not suited to their soil, that they, therefore, incurred losses which they were not willing to incur, and will he take steps to try to mitigate that hardship in future?

I have already informed the hon. Member that I do not see any need for taking special steps in this case, since so very little sugar beet was actually lost, and that was not due to bad arrangements but to the unfortunate state of the weather.

Smallholdings, Moulton (Rent)


asked the Minister of Agriculture what rent is now being charged for the Crown lands let to the Moulton Parish Council and re-let by them as smallholdings; what rent will be payable after Michaelmas; and what is the percentage of increase.

The present rent is £2,156 per annum, and this is being raised to £3,000, an increase of 39 per cent.

Does the right hon. Gentleman desire private landlords to follow his example?

If private landlords do follow that example, they will be letting land at a rent less than that charged for similar land in the same area.

Prisoners Of War (Civilian Drivers)


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the drivers of A.E.C. lorries carrying German prisoners of war to and from their work remain with the stationary lorries all day; that other than the actual driving to and from the camp they do no work at all; and whether, in view of the shortage of labour in the countryside, he will issue instructions to the A.E.Cs. to ensure that these drivers take some active part in food production.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that civilian drivers conveying prisoners of war to and from work often perform no useful work whatever between the morning and evening journeys; and whether he will take immediate steps to review their conditions of work so as to avoid this waste of manpower.

With the co-operation of the appropriate trade union, arrangements are already in operation in most cases for drivers conveying prisoners of war to be suitably employed during intervals between morning and evening journeys. The relatively few outstanding cases of difficulty are under examination.

Is the Minister aware that this undertaking has not been carried out in Kent, and that many of these men are standing idle all day?

I understand that there have been difficulties in Kent, but arrangements have now been made with the trade union organisation there, and these men are doing agricultural work in the inter-driving periods.

Fowl Pest


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many cases of fowl pest have been notified to his Department; how many fowls have been ordered to be slaughtered; how much has been paid out by way of compensation; and what steps are being taken to prevent the further spread of this disease.


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many cases of fowl pest there have been recently; how many suspected cases; and what steps he is taking to prevent further outbreaks.

The number of outbreaks of fowl pest confirmed up to 2nd May is 147. In addition, 160 suspected cases have, on investigation, proved to be negative. About 16,000 birds have been slaughtered at an approximate cost in compensation of £12,000. Since the most likely source of infection is the feeding of uncooked poultry waste, I am making it obligatory for all poultry keepers to boil such materials before allowing their birds to have access to them. The importation of live birds and hatching eggs from countries in which fowl pest is prevalent is not being permitted, and officers of my Department and of the Ministry of Food are examining the possibilities of minimising the risk arising through the importation of dead poultry.

In view of the very big and serious increase since I asked a Question last week, in that there are some 47 new outbreaks, and in view of the fact that one of these new outbreaks is in Prescot, Lancashire, where there are possibly more poultry than in any other part of the country, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the moment has arrived for some drastic action to be taken, and will he bring some pressure to bear on the Minister of Food to stop the importation of dead fowl as well as of live fowl?

I understand that there is a Question to my right hon. Friend later on the Order Paper.

Linseed Crop


asked the Minister of Agriculture what type of machine it is proposed to use for reaping the linseed crop when grown in the Fenlands this year; what plant is available for drying the crop after harvesting; and what steps are being taken to prevent this linseed becoming mixed with the pedigree flaxseed selected for fibre production.

It will be for farmers who grow linseed themselves to decide how they propose to harvest and dry the crop; but I am advised that linseed can be reaped with an ordinary binder or cut by combine harvester if sufficiently dry. and the seed can be dried with an ordinary grain drier. Flax grown for fibre production is delivered unthreshed to the factory where the separation of seed is undertaken, and there appears to be no danger of this seed being mixed with linseed for oil production.

Is the Minister aware that the flax seed is indistinguishable by experts, and that the tens of thousands of pounds which have been spent on the selection of seed for fibre production is in grave danger, and that this matter concerns the feeding of livestock, the linoleum trade and also the textile trade?

I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that since his Questions on Monday of last week, I have made careful inquiries, and I gather that the fears he harbours really do not exist.


asked the Minister of Agriculture how many tons of linseed have been purchased in the U.S.A. for sowing in Great Britain this season; what will the seed cost per cwt. delivered at or near Kings Lynn; and how many acres are likely to be available for this crop this year.

One hundred and eighty-five tons, Sir. The maximum retail price of this seed will be 120s. per cwt. As regards the last part of the Question I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply I gave to a Question by the hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wadsworth) on 28th April.

Is the Minister aware that the price that is being paid for this seed is out of all proportion to the price being paid for seed for the textile trade, on which thousands of pounds have been spent? Is he further aware that despite what he has said, this problem is causing the gravest alarm amongst all the seed merchants in Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

I am not aware of that. As a matter of fact, I understand that the price being paid for the seed is less than the cost price of the seed, and actually the public are helping the farmers in this particular matter.

Is the Minister prepared to consider all the papers and documents and the facts and figures which I have in my hand, and which I will send to him?

Certainly, any information which the hon. and gallant Member cares to send along we shall be glad to look at, but I can assure him that we have a few experts in the Department.

Forestry Workers' Wages


asked the Minister of Agriculture why it is that skilled forestry workers receive a wage of 4 a week whereas, when heavy snow prevented them from doing their normal work, they were able to earn £4 10s. a week doing casual labour as snow-cutters.

Under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Acts, Forestry is classed as agricultural work. Minimum wages to forest workers, are, therefore, regulated by the agricultural wages boards.

Does not the Minister think that anomalies in wage payments between Government Departments and public boards are bad examples to industry?

The House quite recently passed the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act. That matter was not brought to our notice then.

Is this not evidence for the case for raising the wages of forestry workers and of other agricultural workers?

Flooded Land


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will make a statement at regular convenient intervals stating the total acreage of land still flooded; the number of acres from which the water is being pumped out and drained by gravity; the number of acres brought back into cultivation; the respective types of crop sown since in each area drained; and what is the situation under each of these headings today.

Some 325,000 acres of arable land were flooded during March and early April, of which over 85 per cent. has now been cleared. Some 40,000 acres which were deeply inundated remain under flood water, which is being dispersed as rapidly as possible by permanent and emergency pumps, and where practicable by gravitation. A high proportion of the areas cleared has been brought back into cultivation, but I would not feel justified in calling for periodic returns of the acreage and the crops sown, which will be disclosed in due course by 4th June returns.

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there are some areas which have begun to be drained by gravity, and where the level of the flood water has now gone down to the level of the river, and that unless pumps are brought in, the water will remain at the same level for many weeks to come? Will the Minister see that enough pumps are made available, and enough people to work them?