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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 441: debated on Monday 28 July 1947

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Roads

Selby Toll Bridge (Purchase)

1.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will now make a statement with regard to the negotiations for the purchase of Selby Toll Bridge.

Negotiations with the owners are still proceeding. Whilst they are in progress it would not be in the public interest for me to make any statement.

In view of the very grave inconvenience which this bridge causes to the inhabitants of Selby and to the whole of the district, can the right hon. Gentleman give me an assurance that negotiations are being pressed on at the fullest possible speed, and can he give any sort of indication when they will be concluded?

I can give the hon. and gallant Gentleman an assurance that the negotiations are being pressed on with speed, because his persistence has compelled me to devote some attention to it, but it is a very involved affair, and I really cannot give any date. I will keep the matter under review.

Cookham Toll Bridge (Transfer)

6.

asked the Minister of Transport what are the reasons for the continued delay in. the transfer of the Cookham Toll Bridge to the local authorities concerned.

This bridge will have to be strengthened to carry the increased traffic which will use it when it is freed from tolls. The county surveyor's proposals for strengthening it were received on 9th June and the county councils have now been informed that a Road Fund grant will be made towards the cost of acquiring and strengthening the bridge.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these negotiations with his Department have gone on for some months, and that it was only when I put a Question down to him that final action was taken?

No, I do not agree. I am always glad to encourage hon. Members to make representations, but in this case, in view of the date, it seems to me to be a fairly reasonable situation.

By-Pass, Redhill

13.

asked the Minister of Transport whether it is proposed to repair and reopen the Canadian By-pass, Red-hill, in view of the fact that this road links the two main roads out of Redhill, thus relieving traffic congestion in Redhill and in view of the fact that, during part of last winter, it was the only road to South Nuffield which was not snow- and ice-bound.

The road is not suitable for permanent use as part of a by-pass to Redhill. The future by-pass is planned to the north of the town.

Why is the road not suitable? Could it not be opened until the new by-pass is built?

I have looked into this matter, and there seems to be a good deal of technical support for this decision in the county as well as in my Ministry.

Masked Approaches (Guard Rails)

14.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware that casualties outside Osterley Station, on the Great West Road, where the approach of motor traffic is masked by a hump, have been reduced by erecting rails along the middle of the road to prevent pedestrians from crossing at that point; and whether he will have a complete survey made of the possibility of reducing by this means casualties at other points where the approach of motor traffic is masked by a hump or a corner.

Highway authorities generally fully appreciate the contribution to road safety which the use of guard rails can make, and I do not think that a survey on the lines suggested is required.

How does the Minister reconcile that answer with his statement that he is always willing to receive suggestions?

I am. In this case, as the hon. Member knows, this matter is, not continuously, but off and on, under the supervision and examination of the Road Safety Committee.

Improvement Works, Whitworth

17.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware that, owing to the reduction of road maintenance grants, two important road improvements at Healey and Leavengreave, near Whitworth, have been held up; and whether, in view of the number of accidents which have occurred at these places, he will arrange for the necessary improvements to be facilitated without further delay.

This is a matter primarily for the responsible highway authority, and they have not applied to me for any assistance towards the carrying out of the schemes to which the hon. Member refers.

Bus Shelters (Factory Gates)

18.

asked the Minister of Transport what is the policy of his Department as regards the provision of omnibus shelters at factory gates.

There are no powers under the general law to require omnibus shelters to be provided, but my Department encourages their provision where they are needed. If the hon. Member has any particular case in mind, I shall be happy to look into it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman urge the Traffic Commissioners to adopt a more progressive attitude in this matter? At present I believe a census is taken, and only the places where there is the longest waiting are dealt with. Surely, there should be a shelter outside every factory, especially in the North-West where there is a lot of rain?

Temporary Thames Bridges (Removal)

21.

asked the Minister of Transport when it is proposed to remove the temporary bridges over the Thames in the London area.

I understand that the London County Council, who are responsible for these bridges, are at present considering the tenders which they have received for the work.

Would my right hon. Friend do his utmost to speed the removal of these bridges, because not only are they unsightly and dangerous to children who play on them, but also they would yield much valuable material which could be used elsewhere?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he told me two years ago that the matter was then under consideration.

Yes, Sir. I have repeatedly drawn the attention of the London County Council to this matter. They now have the tenders, and I am hopeful that before long some action will be taken.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the recent breakdown due to the non-use of footbridge, one of these bridges was a godsend to pedestrians?

Railways

Wagons

2.

asked the Minister of Transport what special steps are being taken to speed up the repair of crippled wagons loaded en route and at wagon works.

Capacity for repairs of wagons has been reinforced by the use of Royal Ordnance Factories and other premises not normally engaged on this work,' and this process is continuing wherever suitable works can be made available. The output of repairs is now some 2,000 to 3,000 a week in excess of corresponding output last year, in spite of shortage of materials, especially steel and timber. Priority of supply has been granted, and as it becomes effective in increased deliveries, output of repairs should improve still more.

3.

asked the Minister of Transport how many and what types of new railway wagons have been put into service so far this year; and what is the target for 1947.

Fourteen thousand, six hundred and forty goods and mineral wagons, and 1,540 of other types so far. The target figure for all types is 47,000.

4.

asked the Minister of Transport what special action is being taken to improve the turn-round of railway wagons at terminal depots, in view of the urgent need for rolling stock.

Reduction of turn-round depends on two factors, reduced time in transit, and quicker loading and unloading at terminal points. The railway companies are paying close attention to both, but, in the case of delays at terminals, require the active co-operation of employers and workpeople. Instructions have been issued to all Government Departments, and the active assistance of the Regional Board, the National Production Advisory Council for Industry and the National Coal Board has been enlisted. The National Joint Advisory Council have also agreed to co-operate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me this opportunity of impressing on all concerned the importance of speeding up the loading and release of wagons and other means of transport, in particular on Saturdays in establishments conditioned to a five-day week. Saving one day in turn-round on each journey would give us 50,000 extra wagons.

Would my right hon. Friend consider whether it would be helping to increase demurrage charges so as to penalise the people who are delinquents in regard to railway wagons; and would he take account of the fact that wagons are sometimes scrapped merely because they are somewhat old, but which have, in fact, been rebuilt in the course of their running on the railways?

The question of the increase in demurrage charges has been very carefully considered, but the opposition to it from traders generally is very strong, and, so far, it has not been felt necessary to impose that additional charge on industry. I hope that co-operation may give us better results. With regard to the point about more wagons, I could not, of course, give any assurance that an occasional mistake has not been made in the examination dealing with over one million wagons, but I think that, on the whole, care is taken to sort out the good ones.

Is not the statement which my right hon. Friend has just delivered to the House very similar to the arrangements which were in operation last winter when we lost 232,000 tons of coal due to the shortage of wagons and locomotives; and can he tell us whether anything besides persuasion is going to be put into operation this winter? Will there not be some form of punishment for those who do not help the nation to see that wagons get a quicker turn-round?

I would not say that the position this year is exactly the same as last——

Not at all. The priority being accorded to locomotives and wagons should make a very substantial addition to the output. With regard to the point about the loss of coal, my hon. Friend should realise that coal is lost every winter in peacetime in this country through dislocation, from time to time, in transit facilities.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what percentage of wagon repairs has been lost by the reduction in working hours?

I could not give a reply without notice, but, obviously, it is fairly substantial.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there is adequate equipment for loading and unloading at railway terminal points?

9.

asked the Minister of Transport what instructions have been given by his Department about the scrapping of old wooden railway wagons.

In August, 1946, I issued instructions that requisitioned wagons built prior to 1901 should be withdrawn from traffic when they required certain uneconomic repairs. The majority of these wagons are being broken up to provide material for repairs to other stock, and a number are being employed for internal user purposes.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a good many of the big wagon repairing firms consider that old but repairable wagons are being broken up under Government instructions much faster than new ones are being provided, and that this fact is likely to add to the gravity of the severe transport crisis which will soon be upon us?

Sometimes there is truth in a general observation, but it is much more helpful if the facts can be submitted so that they can be examined.

30.

asked the Minister of Supply what is the present monthly production rate of the 50,000 16-ton coal waggons ordered; and what monthly production rate was anticipated at the time of the order.

Production is running at a rate of about 1,500 a month. It was originally intended to complete the order in five years, which would have meant an overall average output of rather less than 1,000 a month.

Cross-Channel Sailings (Northern Ireland)

5.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is satisfied that the number of sailings of cross-channel vessels now permitted from Great Britain to Northern Ireland can meet all reasonable demands during the holiday season.

While it cannot be guaranteed that every intending traveller to or from Northern Ireland will be able to get a passage on certain days during the peak holiday period, I am advised that, with the additional sailings recently authorised, the services will be reasonably adequate in all the present circumstances.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how far ahead it is necessary to book passages to Northern Ireland from Liverpool or Heysham? How many days does it take?

Can the Minister assure the House that travelling facilities are adequate for those who seek the carefree and democratic atmosphere of Southern Ireland?

I cannot give an assurance that facilities are adequate for anybody to go anywhere just now.

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider whether the "Princess Margaret," now lying up at Stranraer, which is only used on Fridays and Saturdays, could not run a daylight service as she used to do before the war?

I would remind hon. Members that the problem is not so much one of providing adequate capacities, but of ensuring that the shipping services make their contribution to the saving of coal during the summer.

Is the Minister aware that Northern Ireland is a very popular and desirable place for holidays, as distinct from permanent residence, and would he see that everything is done to meet the great demand for shipping holiday-makers to Northern Ireland?

Lptb (Road And Rail Services)

11.

asked the Minister of Transport the number of tickets of each denomination issued on the L.P.T.B. for any typically average day, at the nearest convenient date, showing road and rail services, separately; and, if possible, indicate to what extent they have varied for a similar day in 1939.

12.

asked the Minister of Transport the percentage increases in passenger journeys, average distance travelled and passenger miles run on the L.P.T.B. system in 1946 as compared with 1938–39.

In view of this increase in the mileage, can the Minister explain why he is not able to reduce fares?

Ministry Of Supply

Reconditioned Motor Cars (Ex-Servicemen)

22.

asked the Minister of Supply if he will undertake that all surplus Government motor cars of a size suitable for reconditioning for disabled ex-Service men will be made available for them and will not be sold to Government Departments, Government corporations or to the general public.

Government owned cars cannot be made available to other users if they are required by Government Departments. Apart from this, all suitable cars are allocated to disabled ex-Service men, who are given priority over Government Corporations and the general public.

Why will the Minister not make available to disabled ex-Service men all cars which come from the Services and which are surplus to requirements? Why does he allow them to be sent on to Government Departments and Government corporations?

I have said they do not go to Government corporations. They are not surplus to Government requirements if they are required by Government Departments. Unless I am able to use secondhand cars to meet these urgent Government demands I should have to buy new cars, which I am sure would be wrong at this time.

In view of the fact that the Minister of Transport informed me a week ago in this House that there were only 966 disabled ex-Service men on the waiting list, could my right hon. Friend give some indication when he expects the requirements of those men will be met?

Very few cars suitable for this purpose are coming forward. Of the 2,800 cars that have come forward only 223 have been used by other Government Departments, so that nine out of every 10 have gone to ex-Service men. I will do my utmost to reduce that list as soon as I can.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be much more desirable to give these cars to ex-Service men than to high officials of the Government?

I have said twice today already—and it is perfectly true—that the Coal Board is not given priority over ex-Service men. Nor will it be.

Is it not a fact that the Minister answered me only a few weeks ago saying that over 2,000 of these cars, suitable in size for ex-Service men—that is of 14 h.p. and under—had, in fact, been sent to Government Departments or Government corporations?

When the right hon. Gentleman is considering this matter will he take into account the number of cases of 100 per cent. ex-Service men, where the Minister of Transport has refused even to accept their names? Consequently, the figure of 966 is not the full figure.

I am aware that there is a considerable demand, but the fact is there are not the cars to meet it.

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

"Royal Ordnance Factory News" (Paper)

23.

asked the Minister of Supply why it is intended to introduce a magazine covering the royal ordnance factories; and the weight of paper which will be involved per annum in this publication, together with the weight in the datum period.

The object of the "Royal Ordnance Factory News" is to assist co-operation between workers and management and so to improve production. The circulation is at present 10,000 copies, and publication is fortnightly. Each issue involves 3 cwt. of paper.

Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to answer the last and most important part of my Question?

I am afraid I am not clear to what the hon. Gentleman refers when he speaks of "the datum period."

I thought it was a Government expression. What I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is, how much of this paper was used for this purpose before the war?

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind the great need for some publication of this kind to explain the Ministry's policy to the workers in the Royal Ordnance Factories?

Yes, Sir. We have ample evidence that the house journal which has been started is doing very good work.

Aluminium Houses

25 and 26.

asked the Minister of Supply (1) if it is intended, when all United Kingdom requirements have been met, to use the five factories, now operating, for the production of aluminium houses for export, especially to the U.S.A.;

(2) if, when Government quotas for aluminium houses are completed, it is intended to use the five factories, now operating, for the production of prefabricated school classrooms and hospital wards.

The future use of these five factories is at present being considered by the Departments concerned, and the suggestions made by my hon. Friend will be borne in mind.

Surplus Motor Cycle Tyres (Disposal)

27.

asked the Minister of Supply what the procedure is for the disposal of ex-W.D. motorcycle tyres; whether distribution of these tyres is confined to recognised tyre dealers; whether all dealers can get an allocation if they wish; and whether the selling price to the public is controlled.

These tyres are sold by competitive tender, and any recognised dealer may apply to be included in the list of firms invited to tender. The prices charged to the public are subject to the provisions of the Board of Trade Secondhand Goods Order.

Could my right hon. Friend assure the House that only registered, recognised hire dealers are permitted to tender for those supplies?

Dairy Byre Fittings (Steel Tubing)

28.

asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware of the shortage of steel tubing for dairy byre fittings; and if he will arrange a special immediate allocation of steel.

No, Sir; but I will have inquiries made if the hon. Member will be good enough to let me have details.

Could the right hon. Gentleman state, in view of the vital importance of food production, whether the dairy farmers have any priority in obtaining steel tubing?

Are we to understand that my right hon. Friend is prepared to allocate steel tubing, which is very short at the moment and is required for essential industries, for the purpose indicated in the Question, when there are substitute materials for that purpose?

We would allocate it if advised by the Ministry of Agriculture that it was necessary for full production.

Could the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether any of the essential steel tubing has been diverted to the weird rail contraption newly erected in front of the rearmost benches of the House?

Will the Minister say how much of this steel tubing is being allocated to the shipyards?

Ministry Of Works

Cement Supplies (South-West Area)

33.

asked the Minister of Works when the various concrete product manufacturers in south Devon may expect to receive an adequate and regular supply of cement.

39.

asked the Minister of Works whether, as shortage of cement deliveries is still holding up housing and other urgent building works in the county of Devon, he will take prompt action to increase supplies in that area.

63.

asked the Minister of Works when he expects sufficient cement will be available in the county of Cornwall in order to proceed with urgent work.

The arrangements for the supply of cement in Cornwall and Devon have been recently discussed with the distributors, and I hope that the changes now being made will accelerate progress in housing and other urgent work.

Does the Minister realise that the situation as regards cement in the south-western counties has been very serious for a long time, that the concrete manufacturers have closed down three times this year, and that if they have no proper priority they cannot play their proper part in the building programme?

The fact that some of these factories were closed down was the reason why we took up the matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the impression in the south-west is that they are not getting a fair share of what supplies there are of cement? Will he look into it, and, if he finds that that impression is right, take action in the matter?

I have been looking into the supply to the south-west because of the number of inquiries I have had. I am assured the proportion of cement that goes there is correct, and that the industry is distributing it fairly and squarely.

Could inquiry be made into the use of lime for building? It is very satisfactory, indeed. Cement then could be kept more for the harder jobs for which it is more suitable.

I think it is quite likely that if that were done the available supplies of cement would serve a wider purpose.

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that there is now cement available in Cornwall for the purpose of building houses for the people?

I cannot guarantee that the amount of cement which goes to Cornwall or anywhere else is going to be sufficient to meet the housing needs of the particular area.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Glasgow is getting only a fragmentary portion of cement——

is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are bitter complaints by housing authorities that their housing is being held up on this account, and that the supply of cement has been for a very long while far worse in Devon and Cornwall than anywhere else?

As to whether it is worse in Devon or Cornwall than anywhere else, it is a little difficult to say. Housing has been held up, it is true, because of shortage of supplies of materials.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how much cement is being exported, and to where?

I gave the answer to that question I think, a few days ago. The export of cement is, roughly, about 50,000 tons per month, going mainly to our Colonies for purposes being sponsored by the Colonial Department.

44.

asked the Minister of Works if he will consider the importation of cement into Cornwall from Belgium.

Cement may be imported into the United Kingdom under open general licence, and firms requiring cement can avail themselves of this facility.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make these facilities available and much more widely known, and with much less restriction than at present?

I do not know what facilities I have to make available. The open general licence is there if applied for, and I think my reply will give publicity to it for those concerned.

64.

asked the Minister of Works how much cement has been supplied to the Culdrose Aerodrome within the last month.

During the month of June, 101 tons of cement were supplied to Culdrose Aerodrome.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that more cement is being supplied to this aerodrome than is being supplied for the building of 72 council houses in the same area? Is not the building of houses more important, and cannot they have priority over the aerodrome?

I do not know that I am aware of the fact. It is not a matter of according priorities. We try to serve the needs.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in one week 36 tons of cement went to the aerodrome and only 10 tons of cement for the building of these 72 houses?

Richard Cœur De Lion Statue (Repair)

34.

asked the Minister of Works when it is proposed to repair the bomb damage to the Richard Cœur de Lion statue outside the Palace of Westminster.

The repairs will be started early in August and should be completed by the end of the year.

Westminster Hall (Roof Repairs)

36.

asked the Minister of Works how many workmen are employed in repairing the roof of Westminster Hall; and how long it will take to complete the job.

32.

asked the Minister of Works how soon the scaffolding will be removed from Westminster Hall.

Four carpenters, two scaffolders and two labourers are employed in repairing the roof of Westminster Hall. The work should be finished by about the middle of 1949, and the scaffolding will then be removed.

In view of the fact that the beauty and dignity of this great historic hall are destroyed by this clutter of scaffolding and corrugated iron, would the right hon. Gentleman not consider increasing the labour force, which is totally inadequate, so as to release the hall?

There are in the hall a number of temporary erections which will have to stop there until the completion of the new building for the accommodation of this House. Because of that, I felt it would be a wrong thing to send labour unnecessarily to complete the roof before the other part of the hall could be completed.

The corrugated iron was installed because of complaints I received from hon. Members that, as a result of some of the activities in the roof, things fell upon their heads.

Temporary Office Buildings, Chessington

37.

asked the Minister of Works whether he has consulted the Ministry of Town and Country Planning on the representations made to him by the Surbiton Borough Council in connection with his Department's declared intention to erect temporary office buildings on the Barwell Court Estate, Chessington, inside a green belt area.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this building of Government offices is taking place in an area scheduled as a green belt under the Greater London Plan; is he further aware that it has been opposed by the local authority concerned; and does he not regard it as part of the duty of his Department to set a good and not a bad example in the planned use of land?

Certainly we should set a good example in the planned use of land. The arrangements we have made are temporary; they have been made with the approval of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and they are being applied for the purpose of setting free other accommodation—housing accommodation in particular—to be used for the purposes for which it was intended.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that the local authority has not been allowed to use this area for housing, and that apparently it is the policy of his Department to give priority for the building of Government offices?

I would point out that these are temporary buildings, whereas houses should be permanent.

Could the right hon. Gentleman say how many years he expects these offices which he designates as "temporary" to stand?

No, Sir, I could not give an exact answer to that, but I should think 10 years, or something of that sort.

Factory Construction (Barrel Vault Roofing)

38.

asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware that if the system of barrel vault roofing is employed in factory construction about two-fifths of the steel required for a steel-frame roof can be saved; and whether, in view of the present shortage of steel, arrangements will be made to use this type of roofing.

I am aware that barrel vault roofing would effect a saving of steel. There are, however, certain drawbacks to this form of construction for factory buildings, such as the difficulty of providing adequate roof lighting and the need for very extensive shuttering, involving a heavy call on timber. Only a few firms are competent to undertake the work, and I cannot hold out any expectation of a widespread adoption of this method in the near future.

Will my right hon. Friend consider taking the opinions of certain architects who have found this system of considerable value; and would he, if possible, save steel by utilising their experience in this regard?

There is little purpose in saving steel if, as a result of it, we use more timber, which is in equally short supply.

Welsh Slate Inquiry (Recommendations)

40.

asked the Minister of Works what steps are being taken to implement the recommendations of the Welsh Slate Inquiry Report

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to him on 3rd March. Since that date my officials have had full discussions with representatives of both sides of the industry. At the same time, I have arranged for an investigation of the plant requirements of the industry by a well-known authority, who is also examining the technical and economic possibilities of amalgamation within the industry.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some concern is felt on both sides of the industry at the rather long delay in getting to grips with the proper mechanisation and new finance; and can he give an indication how soon a real start will be made in reorganising this very useful industry?

I believe the inquiries of the technical expert are now completed, and I shall be getting a report within a short period.

Slate Supplies, Birmingham

42.

asked the Minister of Works if he is aware that, whilst there are thousands of houses in Birmingham requiring repairs to roofs, slating firms ordering slates from quarries in North Wales are told that orders for 24-inch by 12-inch slates cannot be executed as his Department are directing all slates of this size to Northern Ireland; and if he will remedy this and direct some of these slates to Birmingham.

There has been no such direction of slates to Northern Ireland. There are special arrangements for meeting priority requirements whenever they arise, and my regional materials officers are prepared to give assistance in any urgent case.

Abinger Hill School (Alterations)

43.

asked the Minister of Works if he will state the expenditure which has been licensed for alteration and decorations at Pasturewood House, Abinger Common; what is the purpose of these alterations; and how many men have been employed there during the present month.

Licences involving a total expenditure of £4,000 have been granted for the partial reinstatement of Abinger Hill School, Pasture Wood, following derequisitioning after occupation by the military. Forty-five men are at present engaged on the work.

In view of the housing shortage does not the right hon. Gentleman think that an undue amount of labour and material is being used in the establishment of this Socialist rest home?

So far as I know, the main purpose of these alterations is not necessarily the provision of a Socialist rest home. But if it were, that is of equal importance from the housing point of view, with other housing accommodation.

Is this building to be the "Sidney Webb Memorial Home for Fatigued Fabians"?

I do not know whether it is for fatigued Fabians, but if so it is for people who have earned their rest. Of that I am sure.

Agriculture

Fen Banks (Flood Damage Repairs)

45.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what progress has been made in repairing the damage to Fen banks during the past two months; and when repair work will begin in the Lakenheath Great Fen area.

I assume that the hon. and gallant Member is referring to embankments in the River Great Ouse Catching Area. The Catchment Board has let contracts amounting to over £150,000 for the restoration and, in some cases, improvement of damaged embankments. In addition, they are employing directly some 500 men, 40 dragline excavators and ancillary plant on other rehabilitation works. The assembly of plant began in the Lakenheath Fen last month, and rehabilitation work started early this month.

How quickly does the right hon. Gentleman expect that progress to be made in the Lakenheath area? The months ahead of us in which work can be done are very few, and by last week there were no machines working in that area at all.

I understand work was started on this in the early part of this month.

Is the Minister aware that the contractors working on the 100 ft. river are finding difficulty in getting their barges afloat; and will he look into the possibility of getting floating dredgers in order to ensure that the barges can be used?

As the hon. and gallant Member must know, we are very willing to give all the assistance we can, by equipment or, indeed, anything else. If any shortcoming is made known to us we will certainly try to help.

Tractors

46.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the present period in delay of delivery of new farm tractors in the South Buckinghamshire area.

This varies considerably, according to the make and type of tractor and the distribution arrangements. I am not aware of any exceptional delays in the South Buckinghamshire area.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that some farmers in my constituency have found that the delay is as long as a year; and will he take steps to see if it cannot be speeded up?

There is a shortage, of course, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we are doing our best to meet the need where the need is greatest. If any case in the county of Buckinghamshire, or anywhere else, is brought to our notice we will certainly try to help, consistent with available supplies.

49.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what arrangements he has made for maintaining in full agricultural use Casetractors, which are now standing idle owing to lack of tyres.

My Department have taken up with the Board of Trade the problem of increasing the supply of tyres for replacement purposes. In the meantime, special steps are taken to assist in the provision of tyres wherever it is brought to the notice of my Department that tractors are immobilised, or likely to be immobilised in the near future, for lack of tyres.

If I bring a case to the notice of the Minister, will he see that the spare tyres are supplied now, when the harvest is getting under way?

We are always willing to look at any case which is brought to our notice.

Wages And Prices

51.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if, in the special review of farm produce prices now required to meet prospective increases in farm wages, full weight will be given in fixing new prices for each product to the increased costs that will be borne by that product.

If the Agricultural Wages Board confirm the proposed increase in wages, the procedure for a special review will be that described in the statement accompanying my reply to the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) on 21st November last.

Does the Minister's reply mean that every farmer, large and small, will be recompensed fully for the increased wages he will be required to pay?

No, Sir, I did not say anything of the kind, but referred to the statement made on 21st November.

Is the Minister aware that the uncertainty being created in the minds of all producers, pending the result of the special review, is having a very bad effect on the industry as a whole? Is the Minister satisfied that there will not be a large drop in production as a result of this adjustment in the middle of the cropping year?

I should have thought that the sympathy and practical help the Government have given to the industry, during the past seven or eight months, ought to satisfy them that there is no need for anxiety on their part. I can assure the House, as and when the time comes, that the same beneficent treatment will be meted out.

Calves (Slaughter)

52.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he has taken note of the increase in the number of calves slaughtered from 1,004,384 in 1941–42, to 1,441,889, in 1946–47; and if he intends to take any action to encourage the rearing of more calves for beef production

I am aware of the increase in the numbers of calves slaughtered, although this is not inconsistent with the increase during the same period in the total cattle population. Various measures are already in operation to encourage farmers to rear more calves, but I am examining the question. afresh, in consultation with the farmers organisations, to see what further steps are practicable and desirable.

Grass-Drying Equipment (Manufacture)

53.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if, in view of the success of the grass-drying scheme sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board in Gloucestershire, which is providing local dairy farmers with a valuable concentrated feedingstuff at economical cost, he has secured an increased allocation of steel for the manufacture of more grass-drying equipment in time for operation next summer.

I am watching this valuable experiment with the greatest interest, but it has not been in operation long enough for any definite conclusions to be drawn. Meanwhile, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply is aware of the demand for grass driers, and is giving as generous allocations as the steel shortage will allow.

Can the Minister say whether "generous allocations" means that there will be more or less steel allocated for this purpose?

Working Capital (Borrowing)

54.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, since 87 per cent. of the farms throughout this country are of 150 acres, or less, and many of these farms urgently need additional working capital to enable them to increase their output from the land, he will consider the formation of some organisation or provide some machinery by which it would be possible for them to borrow at interest rate of 2 per cent.

Is not the real trouble, as the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well, the shortage of working capital for farmers? He does not like this Question and cannot think of a suitable answer. Will he not do something? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that agricultural production has gone down steadily during the last two years under this Government, which is a very serious matter?

Winter Losses (Loans)

55.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in connection with the compensation paid to farmers for their losses due to blizzards and floods in the worst affected areas in this country, and the reluctance many farmers have in taking charity from their fellow farmers in other parts of the country who also suffered losses last winter, he will consider making an interest-free loan to enable these farmers to restore their stocks.

No, Sir. I have already reduced the interest charge from 5 per cent. to 2½ per cent. under the Goods and Services Scheme, for the replacement of livestock lost through blizzards and floods, and I do not propose to make any further reduction.

May we know when the Government do intend to make a real all-out drive for production? Has not the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that agricultural production is the biggest dollar saver, and does not agriculture therefore take priority over everything else? It is not a laughing matter.

Horses (Slaughter)

57.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the exceptional slaughter of horses throughout this country which is taking place, he will now give the official figure of horses used for agricultural purposes at 30th June, 1947; and whether, as this slaughter is having an adverse effect on horse-breeding, he will take suitable steps to ensure that this slaughtering is curtailed.

The number of horses used for agricultural purposes in England and Wales at 30th June, 1947, is not available, but the number at 4th March, 1947, was 434,000. I have no evidence that the slaughter of horses is having any detrimental effect upon horse-breeding in this country, and therefore, I do not propose to take any special steps to ensure that it is curtailed.

As the right hon. Gentleman has not the figures I have asked for, how can he tell what has been going on during the last few months? Surely, the Ministry ought to have a check to ensure that horses are being maintained, as they are of such great value to agriculture?

The hon. Member must know that the Ministry asked for returns only on specified dates. Apparently the hon. Member wants us to have weekly returns.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that experts say that there are something like 700 racehorses which will never win a race even if they compete with cart horses? Will he ask these horse slaughterers, and other gamblers and speculators, to turn their attention to these animals instead of to cobs and van horses?

Vacuum Flasks, Cornwall

60.

asked the Minister of Agriculture why the agricultural workers in Cornwall, who require a minimum of 1,500 permits a week for vacuum flasks, have been granted only between 150 and 200 permits; if he is aware that this will inflict hardship upon these vital food workers who are unable to obtain hot meals and have no canteen facilities; and if he will increase the allocation.

My Department's allocation is only 14,000 permits a month for the whole of England and Wales. The distribution of the permits is undertaken by the farmers' and farm workers' organisations, which consider the relative needs of each county. I regret that the total allocation cannot be increased at present. Agriculture already has a larger share than any other industry.

That is not a satisfactory reply. The agricultural community in Cornwall are not at all satisfied. Is the Minister aware that a Question was asked on 21st April with regard to importation; and that the import licence was refused? Will the Minister review that matter and press his right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade to get something done?

I regret that there is a shortage, but the hon. Member's figures vary from time to time. When he put down his last Question, he suggested that only 1,000 flasks were required. He now suggests that 1,500 are required.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there are 16,000 farmworkers in Cornwall and about 16,000 farmers, not including their families, and that these flasks are essential to production?

I have already informed the hon. Member that distribution is determined by the National Farmers Union and the Agricultural Workers' Union, who try to meet the needs of each county according to the number of employees.

Arising out of the Minister's answer to my supplementary question, in regard to the 1,500 and the 1,000, I am perfectly well aware of this fact, but is the Minister aware that the demand has increased, and that this is supported by the National Farmers' Union of Cornwall?

Is the Minister aware that these flasks are available in big stores, provided one buys all the picnic equipment which goes with them?

White Fish Commission (Reconstitution)

50.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will now make a statement with regard to the reconstitution of the White Fish Commission.

Proposals for dealing with the fishing industry which may well involve fresh legislation, are under consideration, but I am not at present in a position to make a statement on this subject.

Forestry Commission (Utilisation Officers)

58.

asked the Minister of Agriculture how many utilisation officers are being appointed by the Forestry Commission; what are the duties of such officers; and whether their services will be available to provide woodland owners with help and advice in the same way as the services of the W.A.A.S. are available to farmers.

The Forestry Commission have only two utilisation officers at present. These are specialist officers whose duties are to organise, and to advise forest officers upon, the utilisation and disposal of all forest produce. The Commission's forest officers are available to give free advice to woodland owners on all matters of forest management (including utilisation and marketing) in much the same way as the N.A.A.S. advise farmers.

In view of the great use made of the agricultural advisory services, is the Minister satisfied that every area concerned with forestry will be covered by an officer capable of giving advice?

We havé at this moment 129 forestry officers, and I presume that if private woodland owners seek their assistance, they will be given advice readily.

House Of Commons Catering (Missing Table Ware)

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Sir WALDRON SMITHERS:

62. "To ask the hon. Member for Waltham-stow. West, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, how much Kitchen and Refreshment Rooms' equipment, such as knives and forks, is missing from the House of Commons for the two years ending July, 1947."

Is it in Order, Mr. Speaker, for an hon. Member to raise a point of Order on a Question which has not been called?

I am afraid not. If the Question has not been called, there-can be no point of Order.

In view of the wide importance of this Question, can we not have an answer to it?

Savoy Hotel (Building Licences)

65, 66 and 67.

asked the Minister of Works (1) the numbers and financial amounts of building licences granted to the Savoy Hotel, Limited, Strand, for the past 12 months;

(2) if he will give an assurance that all building work carried out at the Savoy Hotel, Strand, during the past 12 months was of an urgent character; and whether building licences were obtained in each case where the regulations so applied;

(3) The amounts of materials, &c., in itemised form, issued under licence to the Savoy Hotel, Limited, during the past 12 months.

Six building licences, involving a total expenditure of £5,891, have been issued by my Ministry and by the local authority during the last 12 months. The work licensed was all necessary, and the requirements of the Regulation have been observed. The only material for which a licence was required was three tons of steel. In addition to the licences for specific building work, a maintenance licence has been granted authorising the annual expenditure of £20,000 on the complete block of buildings of which the Savoy Hotel forms part, including Government offices, shop and business premises, and the Savoy Theatre. A licence for 4 tons 6 cwts. of steel has been issued in this connection.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while we want to encourage the tourist traffic, his statement will cause grave consternation among many hundreds of thousands of workers who cannot find homes in this country?

I should be very surprised if that was the case, especially when I inform my hon. Friend that by far the largest item was for dismantling and refitting lavatory accommodation to meet the requirements of the medical officer of health for the district.

As the Savoy Hotel receives thousands of American visitors, and earns millions of dollars for this country, are not these Questions misconceived?

Cannot this private vendetta against the Savoy Hotel be carried on elsewhere?

Is the Minister aware that his information about essential work is to some extent incorrect? I myself have seen that some of this work is far from being essential?

Germany

Coal Production (Conference)

68.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Deputy Military Governor in Germany asked for instructions from his Department before accepting the invitation of the U.S. Government to attend a conference in Washington on the output of the Ruhr; and what instructions were given to him.

His Majesty's Government have accepted in principle an invitation from the United States Government to a discussion of tcehnical questions concerning coal production in Germany. The invitation was addressed to His Majesty's Government, and not to the Deputy Military Governor. The discussions wil be carried out by officials. The exact agenda is under discussion.

Is my hon. Friend aware that before His Majesty's Government issued a statement about this conference, and when there was some doubt whether it would be held, a statement was issued from Berlin saying that General Robertson would attend?

I do not think that, "statement," is the right description. There was an inaccurate leak.

Can my hon. Friend say how an invitation to a discussion can be accepted "in principle"?

It is possible to agree to discuss, before agreeing to what exactly is to be discussed.

Agricultural Machinery (Spare Parts)

69.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the amount, by weight, of spare parts for agricultural machinery still remaining at the firm of P. D. Rasspe, Sohne, Solingen, see B.I.O.S. Final Report No. 829, Item No. 31, page 27; how many Bamford and Banslett mower fingers are still there; and what quantity of these spare parts could be used in British or U.S. agricultural machinery.

This firm had 800 tons of spare parts for agricultural machinery in stock on 22nd July. No Bamford and Banslett mower fingers are among them. About 240 tons of these spare parts are only suitable for old and obsolete machines, and have been in stock for 20 years; 35 tons of these might be suitable for use in British agricultural machinery, and about 130 tons in American made machinery.

Can the hon. Gentleman say what steps the Government are taking to get these spare parts here, bearing in mind that a year ago we were told that a large number of spare parts then in the factory were required in Germany? Cannot we have the remaining parts over here, instead of having to wait another year?

We have sent inspectors to examine these stocks, but Germany also has her needs, and these stocks may be even more useful there.

De-Nazification

74.