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Commons Chamber

Volume 446: debated on Tuesday 27 January 1948

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 27th January, 1948

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

National Insurance

Pensions

1.

asked the Minister of National Insurance why, in view of the provisions of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1936, Mr. Thomas R. McMath, of Churchhouse, Auldgirth, Dumfries, who has been a contributor to an approved society for interrupted periods totalling some 30 years and has been registered as unemployed since 24th October, 1943, when he was discharged by the Air Ministry as redundant, has been refused a pension on attainment of his 65th birthday after having been instructed by the Assistance Board to apply for one.

As explained in my right hon. Friend's letter of 21st November last to the hon. Member, Mr. McMath's insurance under the Contributory Pensions Acts ended nearly two years before he reached the age of 65, and accordingly it was decided that he did not satisfy the principal condition for the award of a pension. This decision was confirmed by the independent referee who considered his case on appeal. Mr. McMath was advised by the Assistance Board to make a claim to pension in order that his position under the Statute could be formally tested.

As under the Act it is not necessary for a person to pay contributions when he is unemployed, would the Minister agree that as this man has been unemployed since 1943, he should now be entitled to a pension?

Of course, we have to administer the Act as laid down in 1936. In this case, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that due investigation was made, that it went before the independent referee, and that he decided that the applicant was not entitled to a pension under the 1936 Act, and that, of course is the final decision.

3.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether his regulations provided that all insured contributors who are in full benefit on reaching the age when they are qualified for the retirement pension of 26s., provided they retire from work, may draw the old rate of pension of 10s., even though they continue working.

Persons reaching pension age before next July will be able to claim old age pensions at the 10s. rate, irrespective of retirement. Persons reaching pension age on or after that date will become entitled to pensions only on retirement, but they will have the benefit of the full provisions of the National Insurance Act. They will be able to earn increments of pension rate for continuance at work beyond minimum pension age, and unemployment and sickness benefit as appropriate to their class will be available to them up to the date when retirement pension becomes payable.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the information given in the first part of his answer to be made available to those who are now considering making application for a retirement pension, and for it to be included in or attached to the retirement pension form?

Yes, we will do our very best to make these provisions known to everyone between now and next July.

Will the amount of the increment be received by those who are now receiving 10s. a week?

No, the increment provision applies only to those who reach pensionable age after 5th July next.

5.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether in view of the urgent need of productive effort, he will waive or modify the rule whereby old-age pensioners who undertake work have their pensions reduced by one shilling for each shilling earned in excess of 20 shillings, in view of the fact that the limitation of pensioner's earnings places an automatic stoppage to incentive and is therefore contrary to the national interest.

I have no power to modify the National Insurance Act, 1946, in this respect. As I have said on previous occasions, the relevant provisions, which will become fully operative in July next, were expressly framed so as to provide special inducements to old people to remain at work and postpone retirement beyond minimum pension age. I have good hopes that they will prove effective for this purpose.

In a case of this kind, would not such a concession be very helpful in keeping these old people employed in light industries?

As I have already indicated, we are much encouraged to find from our experience of the last six months that over 60 per cent. of the men who received pensions did not retire from work. After July next, those who postpone their retirement will earn an increment to the pension. We think that this increment is an inducement to them to stay at work.

Ministry's Staff

2.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if he is aware that former employees of approved societies who are now employed by his Ministry find that they are prevented from continuing their political party activities such as accepting nomination to office in political parties, or contesting local council elections; and if he will make a statement as to the rights of these employees in this respect.

The existing rules debar a member of the Civil Service from identifying himself prominently with a political party, and this would include accepting office of the kind referred to. As regards membership of local councils, I should wish to allow members of the staff to take part in such activities; so far as is consistent with these rules and with the requirements of their official duties. I should add that, as the Lord President of the Council said on 22nd January in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Peter Freeman), the question of modifying the present code governing the political and civic activities of civil servants has been raised by the Staff Side of the National Whitley Council, and discussions are pending.

Will civil servants be eligible to stand as party candidates at local elections?

I do not think I ought to add anything to the very careful words which I used in my answer. We shall have to await the results of the discussions now going on with the National Whitley Council before taking any other action.

Can the Minister assure us that, whatever the outcome of the discussions with the National Whitley Council may be, it is not his intention that servants of his Ministry should be differently or worse situated as compared with those of any other Ministry?

May I ask whether these former employees of approved societies had it made quite clear to them when they were transferred that they would have to forfeit certain political privileges?

They applied for transfer to my Ministry, and, therefore, to the Civil Service. The rules governing the Civil Service are well within the knowledge of the persons who applied.

Is it a fact that, in the case of these men who applied, they were given no instructions at all as regards political activities?

The question of political activities is dealt with under the code referred to, which is now under discussion by the National Whitley Council. As far as membership of local authorities is concerned, it is our desire that they should serve, so far as is consistent with their duties.

7.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in connection with the overtures being made to the staffs of friendly societies to enter the service of the Ministry of National Insurance suggesting that the future prospects of State employment offer advantages not available in private societies, he will issue instructions that staff recruitment shall have regard to the maintenance of the efficiency of institutions whose benevolent work has extended over a long period of time.

The terms on which these appointments are offered, including a statement of the rates of salary and other prospects in the Civil Service, were settled in accordance with the recommendations of a Committee on which the societies were fully represented. I have no evidence that the future efficiency of the societies is being prejudiced, and, in any event, I must carry out my pledge to entertain applications from all qualified candidates.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take care that the efficiency of the voluntary societies outside the National insurance Scheme will not be prejudiced by taking their servants away from them?

I hope they will not be prejudiced, but the hon. Member will realise that there is a definite undertaking in the Act that those members of approved societies employed mainly or wholly on this work are entitled to make application to come over to the Ministry.

Widows

4.

asked the Minister of National Insurance how his regulations under the new Act provide for a widow of 50 years, now drawing 10s. pension and in particular if she will have to pay insurance contributions in order to get the increased benefit at 60, not being an employed person.

Under the National Insurance (Transitional) Regulations which I have recently made, if such a widow has a child, or is incapacitated by some infirmity which is likely to be prolonged, she will, generally, be able to claim either a widowed mother's allowance of 33s. 6d. a week or a widow's pension of 26s. a week from next July. The position of other widows on reaching 60 will be dealt with in later regulations. I can say now that they will retain their existing pensions of 10s.; their entitlement to the full rate of retirement pension at 60 will be dependent on the payment of National Insurance contributions in their appropriate class from next July.

If neither of these conditions is fulfilled, can she get supplementation in any form?

It is our intention, subject to the will of Parliament, that the National Assistance Scheme shall begin to operate from July next.

Can my right hon. Friend say what will be the position of insured widows who at the present time are 50 years of age, and who are in receipt of a war pension?

Dentists' Fees

6.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if he will re-open negotiations with the Dental Benefit Council regarding the scale of fees payable to dentists under the National Health Insurance Scheme, having regard to the fact that many members of the profession are not satisfied with the present position and are still refusing to accept dental letters.

No, Sir. The settlement of the dispute about dentists' fees for National Health Insurance work, which I explained in a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Baird) on 3rd December, 1946, provides for retrospective payments to dentists if, in the light of the forthcoming report of the Spens Committee on Dental Remuneration, the present fees are found to have been inadequate. The Joint Advisory Dental Council have not suggested to me that they are in any way dissatisfied with the terms of the settlement, and the fact that the great majority of dental letters issued by approved societies are taken up by dentists is evidence that the settlement has been widely accepted.

What is a member of the public to do when the dentists in his or her locality refuse to accept a letter?

There is, and never was, any compulsion on the dentist to accept a dental letter. All we do is to arrange the terms upon which he will be paid if he accepts it. There was no compulsion under the old Act, and there is none at present, on the dentist to accept a dental letter.

Employment

Absenteeism

13.

asked the Minister of Labour the current rates of absenteeism in the 12 principal British industries.

The only industry in respect of which statistics as to the rate of absenteeism are available is coalmining, for which figures are regularly published by the Ministry of Fuel and Power.

Is it not a little hard on the miners that they should continually have their absenteeism exposed, however bad those figures may be, when everybody knows that the figures for other industries are worse? Will not the Minister provide information about the many other industries in the country, and cannot we have an assurance that, at least in nationalised industries, these figures will be available to the public?

The supplementary question went wider than the main Question. It is an unfortunate fact that the only industry for which there is authority to collect the figures is the mines, and this shows them up in a bad light as compared with other industries. I will bear in mind what the hon. and gallant Gentleman asks, but I have no authority to collect such figures at the moment.

Under nationalisation, the Minister will surely have such authority? Cannot we have an undertaking that he will get the authority to make the figures available?

I can give no other assurance except that I will bear in mind the hon. and gallant Gentleman's suggestion, and will consider it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the miners are not disturbed at the published figures of the percentage of absenteeism because the results of the last 12 months show that they are doing their bit?

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that washing our dirty linen in public does nobody any good?

Mining Volunteer

15.

asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any statement to make on the case, details of which have been supplied to him, of a man who volunteered for employment in the mines and whose services were refused.

I should make it clear that the responsibility for accepting or rejecting any applicant for employment in the coal mines rests, as in the case of any other employer, with the National Coal Board, who in this case were in some doubt as to the applicant's suitability.

Staggered Hours

16.

asked the Minister of Labour the date on which the staggering of industrial hours of work will end.

Is the Minister aware of the great discomfort inflicted, not only on the workers, but on their wives, through the staggering of hours, and will he keep the matter under constant review, and remove it as soon as possible?

I accept with thanks the hon. Gentleman's reference to the inconvenience suffered by the workers and their wives, and by transport and all other people. It is not intended to keep this burden upon them, but to remove it as quickly as possible, and to that end the Electricity Sub-Committee will be meeting within 10 days to come to a decision.

Unemployment, Development Areas

17.

asked the Minister of Labour the number of unemployed persons in the Development Areas; and how many of them have been unemployed for a period of more than six months.

The number at 8th December, 1947, was 102,897, of whom 33,788 had been continuously unemployed for more than six months.

In view of those figures, is the Minister satisfied that the progress with the building and re-equipping of the new factories in those areas is going ahead at full speed?

No, Sir, we are not satisfied that it is going ahead at full speed. The problem of the shortage of materials has affected it. It has not stopped, but it has slowed up a little, and is now being pressed forward. These people are to have every opportunity in spite of the disadvantages at the moment. In May, 1946, the number of unemployed rose to the very high figure of 172,000. It is now down to 102,000, so that the situation has eased very considerably.

Can my right hon. Friend give the separate figures of women unemployed for more than six months, as their problem is more serious?

I have not the figures at the moment, but if my hon. Friend will put down a Question, I will try to get them for him.

Economic Policy (Consultations)

18.

asked the Minister of Labour for what reason, after two months of negotiations, agreement was not reached with the T.U.C. Crisis Committee on a general wages policy; whether he proposes to continue these talks on wages; and whether he will make a statement on the present position.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to him by the Lord President of the Council on 4th November, and to the Prime Minister's reply to the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) on 23rd January.

Many things have happened since 4th November. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman get his colleagues in the trade union movement to see that increased supplies and lower prices are more important than increased paper wages? Can he not get them to see that?

I think that the pronouncements that my ex-colleagues on the General Council have made show they are very much alive to that fact.

Is it not a fact that the arrangements for fixing wages function more satisfactorily in this country than in all others? In view of that, is it not better to leave well alone?

I think hon. Members have heard me frequently boast of the good relationships in this country as compared with those in other countries. We do have our little outbreaks, but when we consider the whole period since the war, we can say we have been very successful indeed. It would be a great mistake to upset them.

Disabled Persons

20.

asked the Minister of Labour the number of disabled persons who have passed through the rehabilitation centres, set up under the 1944 Act, the number trained, the number who have been placed in the various industries for which they have been trained and the number who are still left unemployed after training.

Training for industries is not given at rehabilitation centres but under the Vocational Training Scheme. Since the scheme of training for the disabled started in 1941, 26,470 have been trained, of whom 23,854 were placed by my Department in the trade for which they had been trained. Of the balance of 2,886, many were placed in other trades or found employment for themselves, but precise records are not available.

Can my right hon. Friend say what are the reasons for these men going to other trades?

I think they are threefold. First, a man who has been trained for an industry finds there is no opening for him in the area where he lives, and because of domestic reasons or the difficulty of getting a house he does not want to move elsewhere. Secondly, some men find, having taken the training, that they do not like the industry in which they have been trained. Thirdly, others find there is a better rate of wages in another industry. We are disappointed when men have been trained and we are unable to place them in the industries for which they have been trained.

Are the numbers of men awaiting training in various trades decreasing or increasing?

I could not say without notice, but the general position, in the light of what I have just said, is that we do not, of course, accept anybody for training unless there is a reasonable prospect of placing him in the industry.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of increasing the rate at which men are absorbed from 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. to give an incentive to men to be trained?

I dealt with that matter very fully only last week. There are very considerable difficulties in the way, and we do not contemplate raising the percentage at the moment.

21.

asked the Minister of Labour whether, under his regulations, registration on the Disabled Persons Register is optional; what categories registration covers; and whether the 3 per cent. intake required of employers takes account of the unregistered disabled in their employ.

Yes, Sir. Registration is optional. It is open to disabled persons of all categories if the disablement is a substantial handicap to obtaining or keeping employment and it if is likely to last for at least six months. Only registered disabled persons count towards the 3 per cent. quota.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that he has a complete record of possible registrations, and that provision is being made in this time of crisis to find these men useful work?

I am satisfied that we have a very complete register as a result of the great drive made some little time back. I can assure my hon. Friend that, whenever we can find employment for these people, we do so, and that we do so on two grounds, first, that the work will be in the interest of the community, and secondly, that it will give a man an incentive to be happy and cheerful.

Will my right hon. Friend consider increasing the percentage for particular industries, because there are some which can afford an intake of more than 3 per cent.?

We have no power under the Act to make that differentiation, but there are many industries which are voluntarily taking more than the 3 per cent. Quite a number are doing that now.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that employers are fulfilling their obligations in this matter?

Yes. There may be a few isolated instances of those who are not, but I must in all sincerity say that I am most grateful to the employers throughout the country for what they are doing in this matter.

Workers, Birmingham (Dismissal Notices)

22.

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that a large number of workpeople employed by the Austin Co., Ltd., Longbridge, Birmingham, have been given notice of dismissal without any prior consultation with either the accredited trade union representatives or the joint production committee; and, as such actions are calculated to cause industrial friction at a time when the national interest demands industrial cooperation, will he take immediate steps to see that machinery is designed to avoid such incidents.

The answer to the first part of the Question is, "Yes, Sir." In reply to the second part of the Question, I would point out that there is well-established constitutional machinery in the engineering industry for the settlement of differences between employers and their workpeople.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the attitude of the chairman and managing director of the Austin Motor Company is one of sheer contempt of the workers, it having been recently stated that it is the directors and not the workers who run the factory? In the circumstances, and in view of the fact that there is no agreement on the issue, is the Minister prepared to call together the various industries, if necessary at the request of the trade unions, for the purpose of arriving at an agreement on this issue which would, at least, give the workers the same security against dismissal as they had during the war?

At the request of the trade unions, we should be most happy to call the industry together to discuss matters of this sort. I think it is unfortunate that a mass discharge should take place without at least some sort of consultation with those concerned. The constitutional machinery of the industry, however, must be used before I have power to intervene.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statement embodied in the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Yates) is entirely without foundation? Will machinery be set in motion to stop this unfortunate dispute in Birmingham?

I do not want to take sides as to the first part of the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon). As to the second part, the Minister of Labour can intervene only when the constitutional machinery in the industry has been exhausted. Were we to do otherwise, we should cause chaos all over the place. We are willing to intervene as soon as possible, but this industry has a most effective machinery for dealing with problems of this kind.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is felt in Birmingham that this is the thin edge of the wedge, because in the Singer and Rover Motor Works there is much discontent because of the possibility of a wholesale exodus of redundant workers? Something has got to be done.

I hope that what I have said may find a hearing somewhere, and that employers who find that, owing to circumstances, they must of necessity cut down their staffs will at least consult the works councils or their representatives before coming to a decision.

Will my right hon. Friend consider making it compulsory to set up joint production consultative committees, so that all these troubles can be avoided?

We think that committees of that sort are most valuable if they voluntarily work in that way, and that they are likely to be useless if they are compulsory.

Is it not possible for the Ministry to urge upon employers and employees generally that the machinery for conciliation should operate before there are dismissals instead of afterwards?

The hon. Gentleman has put into other words what I have tried to convey to the House.

Scotland

Hill Sheep Subsidies

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if the rate of the hill sheep breeding-ewe subsidy for the current year has now been settled; and if it is to be paid on the 1946 numbers.

I shall lay before the House shortly a statutory instrument fixing a rate of 16s. per breeding ewe. In terms of an order now before the House applicants may elect, subject to certain conditions, to have payment made to them on the basis of the number of eligible sheep maintained in the flock at 4th December, 1946.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if the hill sheep subsidies for the current year will be paid immediately the amount has been decided, as the number of breeding ewes, on which it is to be paid, is already known.

No, Sir. Claims cannot be dealt with until applicants have stated on the relative application form (which must be submitted by 30th April next) whether they choose to claim on the basis of the number of ewes entered in the quarterly agricultural return for 4th December, 1947, or for 4th December, 1946. Payments will thereafter be made as expeditiously as possible when claims have been checked.

Does the right hon. Gentleman happen to know if the answers to this and the last Question are applicable in the case of England?

Harbour, Ayrshire

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps are being taken for the repair of the harbour at The Maidens, Ayrshire.

Ayr County Council are considering a request from the local fishermen's association that they should take over the harbour, and to assist them in coming to a decision my Department have supplied them with a report Upon it. In the meantime the question of repairs must lie over.

In view of the fact that fishermen are suffering under a very serious handicap owing to the derelict state of the harbour, will my right hon. Friend give the matter his very sympathetic consideration when it comes his way?

National Dictionary

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress has been made in the compilation of the Scottish National Dictionary; and what contribution has been made from national funds for this work.

Volumes I and II and Part 1 of Volume III have been published. I am informed that the Dictionary Association hope to publish the next part at an early date, and that much additional preparatory work has been done. No contribution has been made from national funds.

In view of the importance of this work to culture and literature in Scotland, will the Secretary of State consider transferring to this purpose the £2,000 which is to be given to the Lord High Commissioner?

Buzzards (Preservation)

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that Government vermin trappers are destroying buzzards in Argyll at a rate of over 50 a year; and why these rare birds are not preserved.

According to my information there has been no destruction of buzzards by Government vermin trappers on anything approaching the scale suggested by the hon. Member. I shall, however, be glad to look into any particulars which he may wish to send me. As regards the second part of the Question, my information is that this bird is by no means rare in Argyll, but any representations by the county council that special protection should be given to it in the County Wild Birds Protection Order will receive careful consideration.

Whether my figure is strictly accurate or not, is my right hon. Friend aware that Argyll alone among the Highland counties fails to give protection to this interesting bird; and will he use his influence to see that Argyll comes into line with the other counties in Scotland, unless the bird is to be eliminated altogether in that part of Great Britain?

As this bird is considered to be a help to farmers, no doubt Argyll will take account of my hon, Friend's suggestion.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Argyll buzzards are very numerous; that if their number were reduced by 50 a year it would not be noticed in the buzzard population; and that in Argyll we shall not be persuaded to include buzzards in the protected category?

Tractor Service, Kintyre

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that the proposal to transfer the Department of Agriculture's tractor service for Kintyre from Campbeltown to Machrihanish and place it under a supervising engineer in Lochgilphead, will cause inconvenience and hardship to farmers in the district of Kintyre; and if he will reconsider this decision in the light of the representations which have been made by the National Farmers' Union on the subject.

The proposed changes in the organisation in Kintyre of the tractor service of the Department of Agriculture, which will take effect as from 30th March, 1948, are designed to effect more economic operation of the service in the area, and should be to the ultimate benefit of farmers in the district.

Is the Secretary of State aware that hitherto the farmers were able to go to a place in their own burgh for the tractors, whereas now the supervising engineer is to be 50 miles away to the north, and the depot for tractors is to be four miles away down a cul-de-sac, which will cause untold inconvenience and delay to farmers?

My information is contrary to that of the hon. and gallant Member. The supervising engineer will still be in the field in the same district, and although the depot has been changed they will still be able to communicate locally.

If I write to the right hon. Gentleman will he consider the matter again?

Allotments

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has considered the recent memorandum issued by the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society, a copy of which has been sent to him; and whether he is prepared to introduce legislation to increase the provision of allotments and to ensure security of tenure for allotment holders

I have received a copy of the memorandum to which the hon. and gallant Member refers. I intend to examine the matters raised in the memorandum in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that if the measures set out in the memorandum are adopted, it will assist the food production campaign?

I hope those who have allotments and gardens will not await any results from this consideration, but will do everything they can this year to produce the maximum amount of food from their own gardens and allotments.

Shop Premises Tenure

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make available to hon. Members the evidence submitted to the Taylor Committee on the Tenure of Shop Premises in Scotland.

The evidence submitted to the Committee of Inquiry into the tenure of shop premises in Scotland was given in confidence, and cannot, accordingly, be made available.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is very great interest, and also very great concern, about this particular report; and will he not consider making at least some of the evidence available?

I sympathise with the hard cases which have arisen under this selling of shops, but the report of the committee, which was a well-balanced committee in every way, showed that at least the evidence before it was not sufficient to justify legislation. If the matter is pursued by those who are interested to such an extent as to produce evidence, then, of course, the committee may sit again and consider it further.

Mauchline Road Church, Hurlford

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if the housing components and fitments built within the Mauchline Road Church, Hurlford, to accommodate the Women's Land Army during the war, were handed over to the Church of Scotland Trustees.

When possession of Mauchline Road Church and hall, Hurl-ford, Ayrshire, was given up on 11th November, 1945, the furnishings and fittings provided for the purpose of making the premises suitable for use as a Women's Land Army hostel passed into the ownership of the proprietors, the Mauchline Road Church of Scotland Congregation, Hurlford, in consideration of a suitable adjustment in the amount of compensation.

In the case of this building, if it ceases to be used for housing purposes, will the Secretary of State consider, in view of the shortage of housing material, the requisitioning and removal of that equipment?

That is a hypothetical question which had better be considered only should the situation arise.

32.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if an eviction order is being sought by the Church of Scotland Trustees against six families living in Mauchline Road Church, Hurlford; and if he will take action to prevent these families being rendered homeless and suitable housing accommodation being used for non-housing purposes.

I do not consider that I would be justified in requisitioning this property in order to give protection to persons in illegal occupation of it. In informing the county council to this effect I have, however, asked them to consider the possibility of alternative measures to avoid hardship.

Is the Secretary of State aware that this church, although it is rather a misnomer to call it a church—has been derelict for 16 years; that its sudden attractiveness to the Church of Scotland is due entirely to the expenditure of the State during the war; and will he reconsider his decision and save these six decent families from this un-Christian action?

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree it is rather difficult for the Secretary of State to interfere in what is a local dispute between two bodies. I have asked the county council to look at the matter from the point of view of their duty to provide housing accommodation for these families. I think myself that if houses or housing accomodation can be found, it will be much better than this unsatisfactory dwelling in a church.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the adjoining parish to this, in my constituency, there is a house in which 12 people live in one room; and that there is absolutely no hope of solving these problems until he goes ahead with the housing programme?

Hill Farming Act (Grants)

33.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many applications were received up to 31st December, 1947, for grants under the Hill Farming Act, 1947; and how many applications had been approved.

Up to 31st December, 1947, 459 outline proposals for improvement schemes under the Hill Farming Act had been received in Scotland. Out of 127 cases in which investigation had by that date been completed, 75 had been reported upon favourably and the promoters asked to submit details of the proposed works with estimates of cost so that formal approval might be given. Five detailed schemes had been received and will shortly be approved. Permission had, however been given in 55 cases for urgent works to be put in hand pending the submission of detailed schemes.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that sufficiently rapid progress is being made in the consideration of the applications, and that there is no bottleneck after the applications leave St. Andrew's House?

I am satisfied that no unavoidable delay takes place. If the hon. Member can point to anything which could be speeded up, I will certainly co-operate.

Could the right hon. Gentleman say how many of these schemes include the building of farm cottages which cannot be tied?

Ministry Of Pensions

Unemployable Persons (Earnings)

34.

asked the Minister of Pensions whether, having regard to the increased cost of living, he will now increase the permitted limit of private earnings from £1 to £2 for pensioners who are receiving the unemployability supplement.

The war pension provision under which a pensioner may earn up to 20s. a week, and nevertheless be regarded as unemployable, is the same as that laid down in similar and comparable circumstances under other social legislation. The existing arrangements do not seem to be unreasonable.

Is it not a fact that the war disabled are in a slightly different position, and that prices have gone up since this particular level was fixed in their case?

I have looked into this and find that when a man begins to earn over £1 a week it is usually a very substantial jump, and he earns almost full wages. There is really not much in it. The question is the first £1 where a small casual job is done.

In view of the ease with which this £1 limit can be and is being exceeded by casual labour, if the right hon. Gentleman has authority will not he increase the amount to £2, so that these men may keep within the law while at the same time improving their standards of living?

As I say, I have looked into it, and it has other repercussions. I do not see any great hardship, because when I looked into it very closely the curious thing was that once a man went over £1 the jump became very marked.

Disabled Officers

35.

asked the Minister of Pensions whether in view of the increasing cost of living, he will now review officers' disablement pensions of the 1914–18 war.

The standard rates of disablement pension for officers of the 1914 war are the same as those for the 1939 war, and will be considered in connection with any general review of the war-pensions provisions for both wars.

Will the Minister bear in mind that owing to the increased cost of living many of these officers are suffering grave hardship, through no fault of their own?

That may be so, but officers have a higher standard rate than men in the ranks, and therefore we could not reconsider them without even more seriously reconsidering the others.

Appeals

36.

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he is aware of the high percentage of cases which have concluded successfully for the appellant before the independent tribunals and, on points of law, before the High Court; and what steps he is taking to bring the administration of his Department more into line with the interpretation placed upon the Royal Warrant by the tribunals and, in regard to law, by the High Court.

I am aware that last year, following certain High Court decisions, an abnormally high percentage of the appeals, then with the tribunals for hearing, was successful, but I am glad to say that the figure has recently shown a marked decrease, and I hope it will continue to fall. I can assure my hon. Friend that my Department are fully alive to my desire that the provisions of the Royal Warrant shall be interpreted in the most sympathetic manner, with full regard to the decisions of the tribunals and of the High Court.

Gratuity (Mrs Rougghton)

37.

asked the Minister of Pensions, with reference to the letter sent him by the hon. Member for Bodmin on 8th January, 1948, with regard to a killed-in-action gratuity being paid to the widow of Brigadier F. A. G. Roughton, C.B.E., whether he will now reconsider this matter.

The ultimate decision as to any payment to Mrs. Roughton rests with the Government of Burma. I am reconsidering the advice given last year to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations on the question of Mrs. Roughton's entitlement to a gratuity in addition to a widow's pension.

While welcoming the Minister's reply, will he impress upon the Departments concerned to give sympathetic consideration to this case?

If I may say so, on reading the papers I thought that this was possibly the bravest man about whom I have ever read. If I personally had the power, I would do this at once. Unfortunately, I am bound by past Government decisions, and also by the fact that this is a Government of Burma decision. It partly put me to shame when I read the case.

Prisoners Of War

Civilian Workers

38.

asked the Secretary of State for War how many German prisoners of war have asked to remain here as civilian workers, and of these how many are domiciled in the Russian zone.

On 1st January, 19,700 German prisoners of war had applied. Separate records are not kept of those whose homes are in the Russian zone of Germany.

Can the Under-Secretary say whether a limit is being set to the total number which is being accepted, and if so, whether favourable consideration will be given to those who have good reasons for not going to the Soviet zone?

There will certainly be a limit. Applications are sorted out by boards which operate in each county.

Has any decision been reached with regard to those Germans who Wish to remain here being able to bring over their wives and families?

Does the Ministry of War get any information regarding the fate of repatriated German prisoners of war who happen to live in and go to areas which are the other side of the "Iron Curtain"?

How long does it take on an average for these cases to be accepted or refused?

It is a continuing process. A number have been accepted, but the process is going on continually.

44.

asked the Secretary of State for War what are the regulations applying to prisoners of war in the matter of clothing and other civilian necessities after they have been accepted as voluntary workers; and why many of them are still in the position of having to wear a prisoner's uniform.

97.

asked the Secretary of State for War, in view of the recognised valuable contribution prisoners of war are making, whether they will be supplied with one civilian patchless suit and overcoat, particularly if they have volunteered for a further period of work in this country.

I would refer my hon. Friends to the reply given on Tuesday last to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton).

Will the Under-Secretary bear in mind the case, about which he knows, of those prisoners who came from America in 1946, bringing with them clothing which was their personal property, but which was used in lieu of issued clothing until it was worn out; and since His Majesty's Government gained something from them at that time in this respect, will he reconsider this matter sympathetically now?

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that to issue clothing coupons without allowing any sterling with which to buy clothing, simply means that these men are obliged to parade themselves in their prisoner's uniform, which again puts them in an unpleasant position in the eyes of the public?

It should be borne in mind that it is not uncommon for these people to work in uniforms, and to use their coupons for clothing which they wear when not working.

Marriage (Expenses)

43.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in the case of P.O.Ws. marrying in this country, he will allow them to draw all, or at least, some of the money accumulated against the time of their repatriation, so as to enable them to make a reasonable contribution towards their wedding and other unavoidable expenses connected with it.

This suggestion presents certain difficulties. My right hon. Friend is, however, having the matter examined to see whether they can be overcome, though I cannot at the moment give any indication whether or not this will be possible.

Does not the Under-Secretary realise that to allow prisoners of war in this country to marry, and then to deny them the possibility of making some contribution towards their wedding expenses, is to put them in an entirely invidious position? Will he use his influence to see that the present state of affairs is altered?

British Army

Military Attachés

40.

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the equivalent rank in the Diplomatic Service for Military and Assistant Military Attachés; whether they receive the same pay and allowances; what is the present arrangement for dealing with local cost-of-living changes; whether such arrangements are retrospective; and whether an inspector has been sent out to inquire into their financial problems.

As the answer is long, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the Under-Secretary say whether, in a particular case such as France, where for many months the franc has obviously not been worth the equivalent of what should have been paid to these people, he is doing the same as the Foreign Office, and making a financial adjustment so that these people will not suffer?

The hon. Member will see from the answer that that matter is not overlooked.

Following is the answer:

There are no ranks in the Foreign Service strictly equivalent to Military Attaché and Assistant Military Attaché, but for purposes of precedence a Military Attaché normally ranks with, but after the Counsellor, and the Assistant Military Attaché with, but after the Second Secretary. Although Military Attachés and Assistant Military Attachés do not receive the same pay and allowances as any members of the Foreign Service staffs, the local allowances for Military Attachés are assessed in relation to those for Counsellors and the local allowances for Assistant Military Attachés in relation to those for Military Attaches. Where, as a result of changes in the local costs of living, the allowances for Counsellors are adjusted, proportionate adjustments are made in the allowances for Military Attachés and Assistant Military Attachés.

Where increases are made in local allowances for Military Attachés, they are given the same degree of retrospection as is applied to the allowances for Foreign Service staffs. The allowances for Foreign Service staffs are adjusted in the light of information obtained by visiting inspectors and, in view of the relationship maintained between those allowances and the allowances of Military Attachés and Assistant Military Attachés, no necessity for visits by other inspectors has been seen.

War Criminal Trials (Koreans)

41.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement concerning Koreans' defence in war criminal trials in Malaya and elsewhere.

The usual practice in these cases is that an accused is offered a Japanese lawyer to defend him at the trial, assisted by a Japanese-speaking British defence liaison officer. If the accused does not wish to be defended by a Japanese advocate, he may apply to be defended by a British officer, and in this case a Japanese advocate is made available to advise and assist the British defending officer. In the past, the accused had the further alternative of defence by an Indian officer, assisted by a Japanese lawyer. In the great majority of cases, the accused have elected to be defended by a Japanese advocate.

Does the Under-Secretary realise that Korea has been oppressed and occupied by the Japanese for many years? Does he not think it possible for Korean lawyers, of whom there are plenty, to defend Koreans? Have the Koreans been told there is a possibility of Korean lawyers defending them? Does he further realise that India is as far away from Korea as Russia is from England, and would he in these circumstances prefer Russians to defend Englishmen?

We have had no complaints about this, but if any cases are brought to our notice, we shall be glad to investigate them, and to see whether any alteration is necessary in the procedure.

Does the Under-Secretary realise that when our delegation was in Korea, a very large number of Korean journalists and officials approached us on this point? They said that they were disgusted and angry that no Korean was allowed to defend the Koreans, especially when they had spent their time trying to fight the Japanese internally.

This procedure has been going on for some considerable time and we have received no complaints. I have invited complaints in regard to any particular case where this procedure has not worked well, and if such cases are brought to our notice, we will investigate them with a view to making alterations in procedure.

Government Information Services

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement of the Government's policy as regards the Central Information Office and their activities connected with Press propaganda, television and broadcasting; and who is the appropriate Minister co-ordinating these activities.

I explained the arrangements in my statement to the House on 7th March, 1946. There has been no change since then in the machinery which I then described and which remains under the general supervision of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council on behalf of the Cabinet.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us where this Information Office really starts, where it ends, what is in the middle of it, and who is at the head of it? Is it not possible, with the vast number of public relations officers attached to the Departments, to cover all this work without duplicating it, in view of the needless expense which the taxpayers will have to pay?

That is a kind of omnibus question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will separate it into its different parts.

Are the numbers employed by the Central Office of Information the same as those who were employed by the Ministry of Information, or more?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman puts down the Question. Obviously I cannot answer it off-hand.

Is this Department responsible for the reports to the nation which appear in the newspapers, and is he aware that they contain statements which are highly controversial, and very doubtful economics; and is it not wrong to carry out Socialist propaganda with the taxpayers' money?

Economic Situation

46.

asked the Prime Minister if the Chancellor of the Exchequer's recent statement that food and clothing cuts would be inevitable unless exports for 1948 were 70 per cent. higher than for 1947 represents the policy of His Majesty's Government; and what new steps he proposes to take to make the nation aware of its desperate economic position.

I am not aware that my right hon. Friend made the statement attributed to him. He has, however, said recently that unless increased recruitment to the textile industries continues, and leads to greater production in those industries, the home clothing ration will be endangered, and that increased home agricultural production is essential to reduce our dependence upon imports from hard currency countries. The Government proposes to continue to take all necessary steps to put the economic situation plainly before the nation.

Is not the Prime Minister aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer also referred to the workers' rations and said that they were likely to be reduced, in his statement of 8th January? It is in the "Daily Telegraph." And is he not aware that a great many members of the public regard the economic crisis as phoney, and that he will not get his ten per cent. increased production until they realise the seriousness of the position?

National Finance

Pakistan And India (Negotiations)

47.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what progress has been made in the negotiations with the Governments of Pakistan and India regarding the financial arrangements between these two countries and Great Britain.

These negotiations are still in progress and I have at present no statement to make about them.

Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer bear in mind the importance of bringing these negotiations to an early conclusion, as this country's trade with both the Dominions is rapidly decreasing?

I am perfecly aware of the necessity of getting an early conclusion, but two sides have to agree in the negotiations.

Air Corporation's Losses

48.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what will be the cost to the individual Income Tax payer to make good the losses incurred by our nationalised air services during the first year of their trading operations.

The losses were equal to the yield of about 1d. in the £ of the standard rate of Income Tax.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider that result a justification for the extension of the nationalisation policy?

Pound Sterling (Purchasing Power)

49.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the value of the pound sterling in purchasing power in this country on 31st December, 1947, as compared with 31st December, 1937.

Taken over the whole field of consumers' expenditure the purchasing power of the pound sterling at 16th December, 1947, is provisionally estimated to be about 60 per cent. of its purchasing power in the year 1938.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman term that condition as inflation?

Purchase Tax

50.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what sum is represented at any given time by Purchase Tax paid to the Treasury and awaiting reimbursement to retailers by the public; and whether, where the rate of Purchase Tax is reduced, he will refund to retailers the amount which retailers have invested in the payment of tax.

The amount in question is not ascertainable. There is no legal authority for refunding it, and it would be impracticable to attempt to do so.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is a very substantial sum, running into many millions, involved, and is it beyond the ability of the Government to devise some scheme by which equity may be ensured?

I do not agree with the hon. Member's proposition. We made very careful inquiries into this, and we found that, in the vast majority of cases, the retailers recovered.

55.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is aware of the financial hardship imposed on officers of the Indian Army returning to this country by the imposition of Purchase Tax on household effects, which they bought for use in India before they knew that their services in India were likely to be terminated in the early future; and if he will grant free admission for such imports.

Household effects which are imported on a bona fide transfer of residence to this country by the owner are admitted free of duty and Purchase Tax provided that the articles are shown to the satisfaction of the Customs to have been in the owner's possession and use abroad for a reasonable period and that they are not intended to be disposed of in this country. In general, this concession should be adequate for the Indian Army cases referred to by the hon. Member. But the Customs are ready to give further consideration to any special case which may be brought their notice.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what is a "reasonable period"? I have a case of an officer who bought rugs about a year before he knew that he was leaving India, and he had to pay Purchase Tax on them.

It would be a question of being reasonable in the particular circumstances. If there is a special case, and the attention of the Customs is drawn to it, no doubt they will deal with it.

It was brought to the notice of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and I was told that there was no power to grant an exemption.

I am not suggesting that there is any power to grant an exemption. Under the existing system, the goods could be exempted if they qualified in the way I have stated.

Statistics, England And Scotland

51 and 52.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) if he will re-institute the practice of publishing Revenue and Expenditure Returns for Scotland and England, respectively;

(2) if he will consider the issue at early date of a national balance sheet of industry and trade, setting out clearly the contributions and receipts of Scotland and England, respectively.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether it is possible for you not to give that permission. The two Questions are entirely separate and require separate answers.

Perhaps, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will wait until he hears the answer, he will learn that it answers both the Questions. The answer is: I would ask the hon. and gallant Member to await a statement about Scottish affairs which is about to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Anglo-Argentine Negotiations

54.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is in a position to make a statement on the result of the negotiations between the Government of the Argentine and the British Mission now in Buenos Aires; and if the full text of the agreement will be presented to the House in a White Paper.

Negotiations are still proceeding, and I cannot make a statement at this stage. The answer to the second part of the Question is "Yes, Sir."

May we expect a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the earliest possible moment after the negotiations are completed?

British Transport Stock

56.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what measures were taken by public authority to support the price of railway stock at the time of the recent issue of Transport Stock.

I will refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) on 20th January.

Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the hope of gaining a reputation for fair treatment of railway stockholders, support the market in the Transport Stock?

What the Bank of England or other bodies will do, I cannot say. There is no reason why, in view of the fall which has taken place as a result of the devaluation of the franc, this or any other stock should be supported by the Government.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the holders of this stock have never been able to sell it at par, and that it has been at a discount ever since it was issued, which is unfair to railway stockholders.?

I was very glad to see that nearly the whole of the financial Press said that this was a very fair deal.

Wartime Sterling Debts

57.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer why His Majesty's Government have abandoned their policy of ensuring that sterling debts incurred by this country in the prosecution of the war should be scaled down before settlements, so that the creditor country concerned should make a proper contribution to the Allied war effort.

His Majesty's Government have not changed their policy in this matter.