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Commons Chamber

Volume 458: debated on Monday 22 November 1948

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House Of Commons

Monday, 22nd November, 1948

The House met at Half-past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Ministry Of Supply

Jet Engines (Foreign Sales)

1.

asked the Minister of Supply when the decision to sell the Rolls Royce Nene jet engine to the U.S.S.R. was taken; how many such engines have been sold to the U.S.S.R. and, separately, to Czechoslovakia or any other country under Soviet influence; at what price they were sold; and whether it is intended to make any further deliveries to these countries.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I wish to ask your guidance with regard to the expression

"to Czechoslovakia or any other country under Soviet influence,"
which is an imputation that that country is under Soviet influence. In view of the fact that we are constantly told by the Clerk at the Table that any statement contained in a Question must be a statement of fact, is the expression used in this Question in Order?

I should have thought it was a statement of fact, and is, therefore, in Order.

Further to that point of Order. Would it not have been much more accurate had the words "dominance and domination" been used instead of "influence"?

The next time I wish to put down a Question about Greece, a number of which have been rejected by the Clerk at the Table—will it be in Order if I use the expression: "Greece under the domination of Britain and America"?

This is not a point of Order but merely a political argument, which I think ought to stop.

Messrs. Rolls Royce were given permission in September, 1946, to sell 10 Nene engines to Russia and in March, 1947, to sell a further 15. None has been sold to Czechoslovakia or to any other country which could be described as under Soviet influence. No further sales are contemplated. The selling price of the engines was fixed under a commercial contract.

But does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the sale of this particular engine to Russia saved that country years of research; and how does he justify that sale?

As the hon. Member is probably aware, none of these engines was on the secret list.

In view of the rising tide of Communism, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that no more munitions of war of any kind will be sold, but all will be kept for defence purposes? Will he give that undertaking?

That is a very broad question. As I said in reply to the Question put down, no further sales of this engine are contemplated.

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that these engines were not on the secret list at the time of the sale?

7.

asked the Minister of Supply how many British jet engines have been supplied to the U.S.S.R.; and in which years.

Can the Minister say, in view of his statement that no further sales are contemplated the reason for this change of policy?

Will my right hon. Friend make it quite plain that, so long as the present cold war continues, we have no intention whatsoever of supplying any kind of warlike materials either to the Soviet Union or to any of her satellites?

This Question asks how many engines have been supplied, not about the cold war.

Iron And Steel Orders (Breaches)

4.

asked the Minister of Supply what were the total quantities of iron and steel involved in the 11 cases constituting breaches of the Iron and Steel Orders already investigated by his price investigations office since 1st January, 1946, and in the nine cases still under investigation, respectively.

In the 11 cases already investigated, 2,122 tons 4 cwts. of iron and steel were involved. In eight of the cases under investigation, 5,114 tons of iron and steel and an unknown quantity of steel tubing are involved. In the ninth case the quantity of material offered was not specified.

Could the Minister say whether the steel referred to in these offers did in all cases actually exist?

Gas Turbine Engines

5.

asked the Minister of Supply what expenditure has been incurred on the development of turbine engines for aircraft since 1st January, 1941; and what types of turbine engines are now in production as a result.

I regret that it would not be in the public interest to give the amount spent on the development of gas turbine engines. The engines at present in production are, in the turbo-jet class, the Derwent V, Nene II, Goblin II and Ghost I; and, in the propeller turbine class, the Python I.

Steel Bolts (Imports)

6.

asked the Minister of Supply in what quantity and for what purpose are steel bolts being imported from the U.S.A.

Seven hundred and twenty-six tons, for use in the manufacture of Ferguson tractors.

Is this permission to import steel bolts generally given, or has it only been given for the purposes the right hon. Gentleman named?

No, Sir. It is not generally given. It is only given if a very special case is made out.

Engineering Standardisation (Committee)

8.

asked the Minister of Supply if he will make a statement on arrangements for encouraging standardisation in the engineering industry.

Yes, Sir. I realise there are limits to the extent to which this process should be carried, but I am convinced—as are my colleagues in the Government responsible for industries which use engineering products—that reduction in variety of engineering products and components could with advantage be taken very much further; I believe this will bring about increases in productivity and a saving in spares and stocks, and will effect very considerable other economies of substantial and lasting benefit to the country.

This is a matter which needs expert investigation and I have therefore decided to appoint a Committee drawn from industry to advise me. The Committee, as well as consulting with the British Standards Institution, who have promised their support, will consult with the makers of the products which come under review, and with the users whose demands for special types of goods set the pace for the makers.

Sir Ernest Lemon has accepted an invitation to be Chairman of the Committee and Sir Ewart Smith, Deputy-Chairman. The names of the other members are:
  • Mr. Stanley Harley.
  • Mr. Jack Tanner.
  • Mr. T. H. Windibank.
I am anxious that this Committee's tasks will not duplicate those of the Committee of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity, set up to examine the development of specialisation in the production of parts and components in the United States and to see to what extent it is applicable in this country. I have accordingly consulted with the British Section of the Anglo-American Council to ensure that there is no overlap and that the two Committees keep in touch. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT the Committee's terms of reference.

Is it contemplated that the standardisation envisaged will be upon the basis of American measurements or British measurements and if it is upon American measurements, will he give an assurance, in view of the possible changes in industry in this country, that British industry will be represented on this Committee?

I do not think either is envisaged. What we have in mind is simplification of types and components and a reduction of the number at present being used.

Following are the terms of reference:

"To investigate, in consultation with the British Standards Institution, and appropriate organisations, the methods by which manufacturers and users of engineering products determine whether any reduction in the variety of products manufactured is desirable in the light of technical, commercial and other considerations; to report whether these methods are adequate and what, if any, further measures should be taken by industry or by the Government to ensure that such simplifications as are determined are put into effect."

Typewriter Supplies

9.

asked the Minister of Supply what are the present arrangements with regard to the supply of typewriters to the boards recently set up to operate nationalised industries; and to what extent these boards received more favourable treatment than private business undertakings.

Following the revocation in July, 1948, of the Supply of Typewriters (Restriction) (No. 2) Order, 1945, there is no control over the distribution of supplies of typewriters and boards of nationalised industries do not receive more favourable treatment than private business undertakings.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he anticipates larger supplies being made available in the near future, because there is still a great shortage?

How is the Minister able to say that the boards do not have more favourable treatment than other individuals?

Machine Tools (Sale)

10.

asked the Minister of Supply what reserve was placed on items to be sold by auction at the recent sales of machine tools.

Reserve prices were placed on certain tools to avoid uneconomic sales. Publication of these prices would prejudice sales at future auctions where similar machines were being offered.

If there were reserve prices, will the Minister explain why, for instance, 35 highly priced machines, costing £2,000 apiece, required for aeroplane grinding, were sold at Stormy Down at an average price of £50 each?

No, Sir—unless the hon. and gallant Member is prepared to give the details, and then I will look into it.

11.

asked the Minister of Supply if he is satisfied that the 9,900 machine tools sold to trade purchasers and holding contractors have not been to any great extent subsequently exported.

Practically all these machine tools were sold with a proviso that they should not be re-sold within 12 months, and, in the case of Lend-Lease tools, export was forbidden for a period of five years after the end of the war with Germany. I have no reason to believe that these conditions of sale have not been observed.

In view of previous answers Ministers have given that these tools have not been exported, and that the only regulation the Minister has deals with tools for small arms, can the right hon. Gentleman give any guarantee that these tools have not been exported?

I have no evidence that they have been exported, and I understand that there is practically no demand for them.

How can the right hon. Gentleman have any evidence, since he has no power whatever to see that these tools are not disposed of?

If the hon. and gallant Member has any evidence that the undertaking given by the purchasers of these tools has been broken, I will go into it, but in the absence of such information, I do not propose to take any steps.

Ministry Of Works

Ministry's Staff

12.

asked the Minister of Works what steps are being taken, in view of the recent elimination of controls on a number of building materials, to reduce to the utmost the number of officials in his Department and in the regional organisation who are responsible for handling these controls; and what is the number of officials who have already been released for absorption by productive industry since the announcement of the elimination of these controls on 1st November.

A careful review has been made of the number of staff who can be released as a result of the elimination on 1st November of the control over the distribution of building materials. Eighteen have already been released from the Ministry or transferred to vacancies on other work. More will be released shortly.

While appreciating that reply, is my right hon. Friend aware that building merchants and other firms, including at least one written report which my right hon. Friend has seen, complain of the apparently excessive amount of staff in his Department, and is he prepared to appoint some independent experts to advise him whether any reductions can be made?

Can the Minister say whether the reductions have taken place in the regions or at headquarters?

Have you noticed, Mr. Speaker, that common sense has at last dawned upon the mind of one Socialist?

War Works (Land Restoration)

13.

asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware that numerous sites of former British and U.S. hutted camps on good agricultural land are now covered with concrete and weeds; that the clearing and restoring of such sites is practicable only for large contractors equipped with modern implements; that costs involved require clearing on a national scale; and whether he will consider undertaking such action in the national interest rather than settling the matter by payment of compensation to individuals unable to undertake this work themselves.

I am aware that it has not yet been possible to restore considerable areas of land which have been used for camps and other war works, and I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Western Dorset (Mr. Digby) on 28th April, 1947. Where public interest is involved, and the compensation paid or payable is not enough for necessary restoration, application may be made for assistance under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act. This would take the form either of increased compensation or of actual reinstatement by the Government. It is for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to say whether land affected should be restored for agricultural purposes.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a considerable area of land is affected, and that we cannot continue to allow this land to produce neither food nor timber? Under these circumstances, why did he write to a constituent of mine saying that there are no grounds for removing temporary works at public expense?

If compensation has been paid, it is for those people to whom it has been paid to remove the works.

When the Minister is looking into this matter, will he also bear in mind the condition of the buildings on these sites, many of which seem to have been left completely unattended? This has exposed them to deterioration and damage, of which there is at least one example in Norfolk?

If I can be given examples, I will have them looked into, but it may be that they have already been transferred to the people who own the land in question and that therefore it is not my responsibility.

Germany

Refugee Association, Hanover

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what grounds permission has been given for the association of German exiles recently established at Hanover to include officials alleged to be representing German interests in Hungary, and other Balkan States.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given by my right hon. Friend on 15th November. It was stated then that the licensing and control of all German refugee associations in the British zone was now a German responsibility.

Does my hon. Friend not realise that to allow associations to be established, which have as one of their objectives revision of the existing arrangements for the frontiers of Germany, is highly unsatisfactory, and that they must be made to concentrate on the job of looking after refugee problems if the position is to be helped?

If my hon. Friend has any evidence of revisionist propaganda, I will look into it, but so long as these associations confine themselves to their proper aims, I think they can do a very useful job.

Are we to understand that, for whatever purpose these associations were licensed, the Allied authorities have no control over them?

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will give the names and political antecedents of those Germans representing the territories and populations in Eastern Europe comprised in the association for exiles recently established at Hanover.

As has already been explained, the licensing of these organisations is a matter for the German authorities. If my hon. Friend has information regarding the political antecedents or present activities of any of the persons concerned, which he thinks should be in the possession of the Foreign Office, I shall be glad to examine it.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the solution of the refugee problem in Western Germany is being seriously held up because this refugee organisation is bringing pressure to bear on the German Governments not to seek a solution, because they feel that that would jeopardise their propaganda that the only solution is to send these refugees back to Eastern Europe, where they came from?

I have no information to that effect, but I agree that it is an important subject and I should be very willing to consider any evidence which is sent to me.

Exit Permits

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what grounds exit permits have been refused to Inga Birgit and her father, Dr. Walter Zimmermann, of Kiel, who wish to rejoin the latter's wife now resident in Malmö.

Ruhr Industries

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will give the names of the trustees who will control the Ruhr coal, iron and steel industries.

I understand that no appointments have yet been made. The names of the trustees will be made public when they are appointed. To remove any misapprehensions I should perhaps explain that the trustees will not "control" the industries. Their function is to hold the physical and other assets (including any profits) in trust until a German Government has settled the question of future ownership. The control of the coal industry remains with the existing Anglo-American Coal Control Group. In the case of the steel industry, control is transferred from British hands to a new Anglo-American Steel Control Group.

Although the trustees have not yet been appointed can my hon. Friend now contradict headlines in the French Press to the effect that we are handing back the industries to the Krupps family?

As the French reservations and fears do seem to be well founded, will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that these ordinances will not be put into effect until sympathetic consideration has been given to their representations?

The general subject of the control of the Ruhr is under discussion with the French Government, among other subjects.

Arrests, Austria (Soviet Reply)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what reply has been received from the Soviet authorities by the British representative on the Control Commission of Austria to his protests against the repeated abduction of representatives of the Austrian Government.

The Soviet replies have been very unsatisfactory. The only assurance regarding the arrest of Police Inspector Marek in June which the Soviet High Commissioner would give, was that he would inform the Allied Council and the Austrian Government of the results of his investigation of the charges. When reminded of this undertaking on 10th September, apart from expressing surprise at our interest, he would only say that he had not forgotten his promise.

On 5th November, Frau Dr. Ottilinger, who is the official in charge of the Austrian Ministry of Planning, was arrested. In the Allied Council on 12th November, the British High Commissioner refused to admit the assertion of the Soviet High Commissioner that this was a matter solely within his competence, and declared that such irregular activities on the part of the Occupying Powers brought the whole Allied Administration in Austria into contempt. If any one element had cause to complain of the activities of an Austrian official, there was a perfectly simple remedy, namely, to place the matter in the hands of the Austrian authorities, and, if the action taken was not regarded as acceptable, to lay the matter before the Allied Council. General Galloway asked that Frau Dr. Ottilinger be handed over to the Austrian authorities, together with the accusations against her and any evidence supporting them.

The only reaction to this statement was a threat to continue to make such arrests, on the grounds that Austrian officials were being employed by the Western Powers for espionage against the Soviet.

Is it not possible to take effective steps, in conjunction with the American and French representatives, to put a stop to these continual deportations and arrests, which are making the functioning of the Austrian Government quite impossible?

We have always been supported, in the representations we have made, by the United States and French Governments. I cannot say more, however, than that we shall continue to use all the influence we have with the Soviet authorities to stop these arrests.

Does not my hon. Friend think that this continual kidnapping of people in this area is quite intolerable? Cannot they be given proper protection?

Could not the key members of the Austrian organisation, whose arrests have been in order to sabotage that organisation, be given protection by the other Powers?

Arab Refugees (Relief)

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what response he has had from other Governments to his offers that the British Government would advance £1 million for the relief of Palestinian Arabs if other Governments subscribed proportional sums.

The United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted on 19th November a resolution urging all Governments to contribute funds and supplies for the relief of Arab refugees. Before the adoption of this resolution the French Government announced that they would contribute in cash or in kind a sum of 500 million francs. So far as I am aware, no other specific commitments have been made. His Majesty's Government hope that all Governments will now announce their contributions at an early date.

Will my hon. Friend instruct our representatives at U.N.O. to urge all those Governments who voted for partition, which has caused all this misery, to subscribe?

We have taken the lead in urging all Governments to subscribe as much as they can to this appeal.

Will the hon. Gentleman do everything possible to bring relief to distressed Arabs in Palestine?

Yes, Sir; I gave an account in a recent Adjournment Debate of what His Majesty's Government have done.

Foreign Trials (British Intervention)

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the principles on which his Department acts in deciding whether or not to make representations to foreign Governments in relation to trials in their countries, seeing that, in October and November, 1922, the British Minister in Athens twice demanded that the Government should stop the court-martial trial of Gounaris and others, under threat of a rupture of diplomatic relations, Lord Curzon sent an officer to Athens to make the same demand, and ultimately relations were broken off, whilst in the recent case of Abatielos and others, he has refused to take any steps.

In general, His Majesty's Government refrain from intervening in foreign trials except where British interests or their treaty obligations are involved. My right hon. Friend cannot accept as a parallel the action by Lord Curzon in 1922 referred to by the hon. and learned Member, which was concerned with the execution of Ministers on grounds of incompetence by an unconstitutional military junta.

Is the only difference that those were Ministers and members of a particular class, whereas the people involved here are good trade unionists, and were good fighters for the Allied cause?

Another difference is that then a junta was involved, and that now there is a properly elected Government.

Does the hon. Gentleman say solemnly, and with a sense of responsibility, that the Government of Greece is anything but a puppet of two Great Powers?

United Nations (Soviet Disarmament Proposals)

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will instruct our representatives at U.N.O. to propose the abolition of conscription in all countries as a reply to the proposals on disarmament recently put forward by Mr. Vishinsky.

Does my hon. Friend realise that ordinary people in all countries, who are dragged into military machines against their will, would welcome such a proposal? Would he not consider it as useful counter-propaganda to the proposals of Mr. Vishinsky?

No, Sir, when one State makes a propaganda initiative of this kind, it does not mean that others must make propaganda initiatives in reply.

Transjordan (Aircraft)

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what assistance in the shape of planes, equipment and personnel has been given to the Transjordan Government in connection with the recent formation of a Transjordan Air Force, as announced by the Transjordan authorities on 1st November, 1948.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many planes and other aviation equipment have been sent to the Government of Transjordan from 29th May, 1948, to 15th July, 1948, and from 15th July, 1948, to date; and for what purpose.

The answer is "None, Sir." Permission was given to Arab Airways, before the embargo resolution, to export a number of small civil passenger aircraft and spare engines.

Does that mean that the statement that was officially made in Transjordan, that there is now an air force, is not correct?

I believe that the term "air arm" was used by King Abdullah, but to which aircraft it referred, I do not know.

Food Supplies

Milk (Old People)

32.

asked the Minister of Food if there is now a possibility of increasing the milk ration to old people.

I am sorry, but our milk supplies are not yet sufficient to permit us to allow extra milk to old people.

Does the hon. Lady appreciate that that answer is very unsatisfactory to old people? If she cannot grant an increase now, will she bear in mind this priority when milk supplies increase as a result of increased feeding-stuffs?

I realise that it is unsatisfactory, but the hon. Gentleman must remember that there are three million people in the country over 70 years of age, and that if we made this extra allocation it would mean reducing the ration of non-priority groups.

Fish Meal

33.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that the production of fish meal fell by 32 per cent. between 1937 and 1947; what is the reason for this decline; and, in view of the high protein content of fish meal and the need for increasing the numbers of pigs and poultry, if he will take steps to make a greater quantity of this food available to farmers.

Production of fish meal as a feedingstuff is now 75 per cent. of the estimated pre-war level. As to the second and third parts of the Question, I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd, on 17th November.

Will the hon. Lady tell us whether it is true that there are factories in Aberdeen, Grimsby and other places for dealing with cods' heads and other by-products of fish, and whether they are working anywhere near to capacity? Can the hon. Lady say how they could be made more useful?

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of fish waste. A practice has grown up of beheading fish at sea, and we are trying to devise some scheme to prevent this.

Fish Friers' Licences, Blackpool

35.

asked the Minister of Food how many new licences have been issued to fish friers in Blackpool since 1st September; and how many have been given allocations of fat up to 3 cwt. and how many have been given higher allocations.

No new fish friers' licences have been granted in Blackpool since 1st September. The second part of the hon. Member's Question does not, therefore, arise.

Sugar Ration

36.

asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the 1948–49 world record crop of sugar and the Marshall Aid appropriation of 25 million dollars for purchase of sugar by Britain, he will increase the sugar ration.

My right hon. Friend announced on 1st November that the weekly domestic sugar ration would be increased from eight to 10 ozs. from 5th December next, that from this date jam will be de-rationed, the sweets ration increased from three to four ozs. and that larger supplies of cakes, biscuits, syrup and other items will be available. No other increase is possible at present.

Maize Meal (Eire)

38.

asked the Minister of Food what additional quantities of maize meal he has arranged to have exported to Eire as pig food; and whether this involves any diminution of the supply to pig producers in the United Kingdom.

No arrangements have been made to export any maize meal to Eire, and none has been exported during recent years. The second part of the Question does not, therefore, arise.

Can the hon. Lady say whether we have made available to Eire any dollars for the purpose of buying maize in America?

The hon. Gentleman is probably thinking of the arrangement made with Eire to lend her some maize which is to be returned by February, 1949.

Danish Bacon (Price)

39.

asked the Minister of Food how the price of bacon bought from Denmark compares with that of United Kingdom bacon.

The cost of bacon produced in the United Kingdom is at present rather more than the current cost of Danish bacon which is 225s. 0d. per cwt. f.o.b. plus freight and landing charges.

Glucose

40.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will now decontrol the supply of glucose to manufacturers of confectionery.

Would the hon. Lady be prepared to issue a certain proportion of the sugar allocation to small manufacturers of confectionery in the form of glucose, which would greatly increase the variety that they could manufacture?

Certain manufacturers do have glucose, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the supply of glucose depends on the supply of maize and starch, which is in short supply.

Potatoes (Fish Friers)

41.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will now allow potatoes to be supplied to the fish friers throughout the country in order to expedite the utilisation of potato stocks which will not keep in good condition for very long.

Yes, Sir. There is no restriction on the quantity of potatoes fish friers may buy.

Is the hon. Lady aware that many of the fish friers throughout the country still have to go through licensing channels and cannot buy direct from the farms and that in all parts of the country many of the stocks of potatoes are deteriorating and going bad? Are we to understand from her reply that they can go to any farm where there are potatoes for sale and buy them direct from that farm?

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman knows full well there are 9,500 grower retailers. He is quite right when he says that many people have to buy through a merchant, but that is a pre-war practice which we are still following. He is quite wrong when he says that potatoes are deteriorating all over the place. He need not be afraid; we are keeping an eye on his own potatoes, and we shall have them removed very shortly.

Is the hon. Lady aware that I am not thinking of my own potatoes, but I am thinking of those potatoes throughout the country which are deteriorating every day? The Government must do something to clear up the muddle, which is getting like the fog—worse and worse.

Catering Establishments (Bacon)

42.

asked the Minister of Food what proportion of available supplies of bacon are allocated to catering establishments and canteens in the country; and if he will give an estimate of the extent to which the curtailment of such allocations would affect the domestic ration.

Four point nine per cent. of the total supply of bacon was allocated to catering establishments and canteens in 1947. The curtailment of such allocations would not significantly affect the weekly domestic ration.

While appreciating that answer, may I ask whether my hon. Friend is aware that there is a very strong feeling in the country on this matter, and would it be possible for the domestic ration to be improved in this way? Would it be possible for a person with a single ration book to get some consideration? May I also ask my hon. Friend whether she is satisfied that the black market is really wiped out in the city of Birmingham?

My hon. Friend must realise that the amount of bacon allocated to the catering establishments yearly is equivalent to a two weeks' domestic ration, so that if we did take it away from the catering establishments, it would make no appreciable difference to the ordinary domestic consumer.

Eggs

43.

asked the Minister of Food how many eggs are produced annually to the egg stations for distribution by the 458,700 persons who are registered for pig and poultry rations; what is the total number of hens in this country; what is the annual number of eggs imported; and whether he is satisfied that the maximum number of eggs produced by the holders of pig and poultry rations are passed to his Department's egg stations for distribution to the people of this country.

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

Is the Minister aware that there is a very widely held belief that a large number of hen eggs are finding their way to the black market, and what steps are the Department taking to try to stop that happening?

We realise that a number of eggs are not finding their way to the packing stations, and my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we are issuing a bonus ration of feeding-stuffs on the basis of the number of eggs which find their way to the stations.

In regard to the total number of hens in this country, can my hon. Friend tell me how many of these are old hens and have no more use in our national economy and will she consider turning this category of hens over to the care of the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers)?

I can give my hon. Friend one figure. There are 38 million hens over six months old.

Following is the statement:

One thousand seven hundred and six million eggs were handled by packing stations in Great Britain during the year to 30th September, 1948. Without a good deal of research which I do not think would be justified, I could not state the number of producers supplying these eggs or the extent to which they are registered for pig and poultry rations.

According to the 4th June, 1948, poultry census, there were then about 38 million fowls over six months old on holdings exceeding one acre in Great Britain.

The number of eggs imported into Great Britain in the year to 30th September, 1948, excluding supplies from Northern Ireland, was 1,820 million.

As regards the last part of the Question, I am certainly not satisfied that the potential maximum is being delivered to the packing stations. Every effort, however, is being made within the limits of the resources which can be spared for this work to enforce the regulations and I hope that the recent arrangement under which bonus issues of feedingstuffs will be given on the basis of the number of eggs sent in to the packing stations will have a good effect.

44.

asked the Minister of Food if he is making arrangements for the storage of eggs bought abroad during the season of highest home production next spring so as to ensure than consumers will have a regular supply through the year.

56.

asked the Minister of Food if he has considered the circular memorandum embodying the views of the Poultry Association of Great Britain with regard to the home egg-producing industry in relation to imports, a copy of which has been sent to him; and if he proposes to take appropriate action.

We are already trying to arrange for eggs to be stored for us in Denmark, Holland and Poland as suggested by the Poultry Association of Great Britain, Ltd., Memorandum. This is an extension of what has been taking place in Canada for some years, but it would be premature to indicate how far it may prove to be practicable.

Special Cheese Ration

54.

asked the Minister of Food in how many cases the extra cheese ration has been refused to self-employed workers in the building trade in rural areas who must necessarily take a packed midday meal to their work; and if he will devise some means of certifying genuine applications so that the self-employed worker may not be deprived of this necessity.

I regret that no information is available of the number of self-employed workers who have been refused extra cheese. We have already made considerable concessions in the matter of extra cheese to rural building workers and we cannot extend the grant to self-employed workers.

Is it not worth while making a further effort to remove this discrimination against the self-employed worker who is doing the job in exactly the same conditions as the man who has to have an employment card?

If we made this concession we should also have to make concessions to brickmakers, market-gardeners and smallholders. [HON. MEMBERS; "Why not? "] The reason why not—and the answer is simple—is that if we continue to make concessions, we shall jeopardise the domestic ration.

Allocations

55.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will consult the National Chamber of Trade and all other appropriate organisations which are representative of large sections of the retailers throughout the country in respect of all food allocation quotas.

59.

asked the Minister of Food why he has abandoned the principle of consultations with representatives of the trade regarding the allocation of food supplies; and how many of these consultations have taken place in the last six months.

My right hon. Friend cannot undertake to consult trade associations about every allocation of food; he will continue, as in the past to do so on all appropriate occasions. All commodity divisions of the Ministry are in frequent, sometimes daily, consultation with the trade, but it would be impossible to say on how many occasions the question of allocations has been discussed during the past six months.

Are we to understand that the Government are going to persist in their arbitrary methods of food allocation? Is the hon. Lady aware of the feeling over the allocation to the co-operative societies? Why not seek information from all sources where she will really gain something?

60.

asked the Minister of Food whether in view of his decision to increase certain allocations to co-operative societies, the former basis of allocation on a pre-war standard is no longer generally applicable to food manufacturers.

Recent decisions in respect of co-operative societies relate only to the additional supplies of sugar made available to certain of the food manufacturing industries. Basic quotas remain unaffected except where, as in the case of preserves, a new principle of allocation has been adopted.

Does not the hon. Lady appreciate that the basis of nearly nine years ago is becoming out of date? I sincerely hope that the hon. Lady will consider that point, in view of the decision taken lately in regard to co-operative societies, and that she may consider it worth while to reconsider the general system of the datum period.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very much concerned with the matter and that we are trying to devise another scheme.

Retailers' Licences

57.

asked the Minister of Food when he proposes to make an order to amend S.I., 1948, No. 2319, as promised on 10th November.

My right hon. Friend will in the next three or four days be amending this order.

Will the hon. Lady say whether the amending order will amend the Licensing of Retailers' Order, No. 2234, in the schedule of which are some objectionable provisions?

Imported Snoek

58.

asked the Minister of Food the cost of imported snoek, as compared with the cost of other imported fish and British herring, respectively.

We are negotiating for supplies of canned fish and therefore it would not be in the public interest to disclose these prices. Snoek can be bought cheaper than Group III salmon, but costs more than herring.

While acknowledging that under the persuasive influence of the hon. Lady's skilled cooks this substance can be made quite palatable—indeed very palatable—may I ask whether she is satisfied that the ordinary housewife, without the assistance or the gadgets which are necessary to make it palatable, can secure the same result? Furthermore, may I ask whether it is really to the advantage of the people as a whole that snoek should be taken in at the expense of the more succulent and vitamin-full herring?

I must congratulate the hon. and gallant Member upon his ability to discard his prejudices and to judge snoek on its merits. I think that if he reads our recipes and consults our excellent cooks, he will discover that the ordinary housewife can make snoek up into agreeable dishes. Herring is bought, but snoek does provide a further variety.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House that she proposes to stop her little game of "snoeker" and give us salmon at I lower points value?

My hon. Friend could not have been here when my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained quite clearly to the House that canned salmon costs dollars. What my hon. Friend calls my "little game" is my attempt to persuade the people of this country to cat food from soft currency countries rather than from hard currency countries.

Legitimacy Declarations (Petitions)

45.

asked the Attorney-General whether he will take steps to enable petitions for declaration of legitimacy to be heard in camera.

I have been asked to reply. Legislation would be required to give effect to the hon. and gallant Member's proposal. Whether the proposal is desirable is a matter of opinion, but I will consider the matter.

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Attorney-General to the remarks made by the judge in a recent case at Brenford County Court where an old lady of 73 had to give evidence about events of over 50 years ago, and whether it is not possible in those circumstances to allow the same privacy in legitimacy proceedings as is done in adoption proceedings?

Yes, Sir; that is one of the matters which the Attorney-General has in mind.

Agriculture

Linseed Production

46.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what evidence he has received of the difficulties in harvesting linseed this year; and whether he considers that the present price is giving sufficient encouragement to farmers to grow this crop.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture
(Mr. George Brown)

There is no doubt that linseed is not an easy crop to harvest. This year's experience appears to have varied somewhat widely: but the season was exceptional, favouring strong weed growths, and harvesting in general was difficult and prolonged. It is, I think, perhaps rather soon to conclude that the present price is not sufficiently encouraging to growers in less unfavourable circumstances.

Are the Government taking any steps to find out whether there is better machinery in the Argentine, the United States and other countries to make the harvesting of this crop an easier proposition?

I will not tie myself to any of the examples given by the hon. Member, but we are certainly taking a wide view of what should be done to help producers of this and other crops on which we are really depending.

Will the Minister bear in mind that if he wants to achieve the target of linseed next season, he should bring this matter up at the next February price review?

Land Commission

49.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what acreage of land is now administered by the Land Commission; what acreage of land they have taken over and re-let or re-sold; and how many people are there in their employment.

The Agricultural Land Commission and Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission have 52,059 acres of agricultural land under their control and the whole of the area is let. They employ a total staff of 35 on their management and other functions, including three land agents, an estate staff of 18 and the necessary office staff. Day-to-day management work in the field is carried out by members of the Ministry's Agricultural Land Service.

Seed Oats (Sale)

50.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will restore to farmers the right to receive coupons in exchange for oats they sell for seed.

A farmer who as a result of selling his oats for seed is short of feedingstuffs for his livestock is allowed coupons, according to his need, up to the limit of the quantity of seed oats he has sold.

Do the coupons allow the purchaser freedom to buy what feedingstuffs he likes, or is he now more limited than he was in former years as to the feedingstuffs with which he can replace his oats?

They cover the whole quantity that he is allowed, but they are valid only for home-produced feeding-stuffs.

Foxes (Preservation)

51.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will inquire into the extent to which foxes are preserved for purposes of hunting; the acreage devoted to artificial coverts for the harbouring of pests; and the practice of constructing artificial earths.

No, Sir. I have no reason to believe that foxes are preserved to any appreciable extent. Moreover, an inquiry of such a wide range and uncertain character would involve considerable expenditure of time and the results would almost certainly be inconclusive. Without strong evidence to the contrary, I am not satisfied that there is sufficient justification for diverting the pests staffs of C.A.E.Cs. from their normal duties for such a purpose.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Masters of Foxhounds Association and other foxhunting interests admit that foxes are preserved for purposes of sport? Is he further aware that leading poultry experts have alleged in poultry newspapers that British housewives are being robbed of millions of eggs because of this practice? Will the Government therefore take a courageous stand to deal with this fox-hunting fifth column on the food front?

There may be a good deal to be said for taking a courageous stand, but one has to be careful where one takes the courageous stand. I am not at all aware of the second allegation which my hon. Friend has made, but I would remind him that county executive committees have power under Section 98 of the 1947 Agriculture Act to require the destruction of foxes and there is no evidence that they are not in fact using that power.

Is the Minister aware that foxes kill a very great number of rats and rabbits which do far more than equivalent harm?

Is my hon. Friend aware also that, whatever happens in Northampton, large numbers of poultry have recently been destroyed in my constituency by foxes? Will the Minister therefore try to purge the agricultural executive committees of foxhunting interests?

Pig And Poultry Feedingstuffs

52.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will make a statement regarding the issue of bonus rations for pigs and poultry.

Full particulars of the bonus rationing scheme were announced to the Press on 16th November and I am sending the hon. Member a copy of the announcement. I will also, with permission, include a summary statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

What proportionate increase does this amount to for commercial producers of pigs and poultry? When does the Minister think he will be able to remove any remaining restraints on the production of eggs and pig meat?

I am not quite sure that I know what my hon. Friend means by "any remaining restraints on the production of eggs and pig meat." If he is asking when we shall be able to make further issues of feedingstuffs, the answer is "When we get them." With regard to the first part of his supplementary question, the answer is "About 10 per cent."

While welcoming this bonus, may I ask the Minister whether he will give active consideration to the possibility of a new scheme in which the keeping of pigs and poultry before the war will not be the only criterion?

The hon. and gallant Member will be aware that we have reopened again until the end of this month the scheme under which newcomers in this field who have not the 1939–40 basic qualification can, under certain conditions, get feedingstuffs. I hope that any constituent of the hon. and gallant Member who desires to do so will make application before 1st December.

Will the Minister try to make his statements to the House in the first instance, because owing to the present shortage of newsprint, it may be difficult for farmers to be quite sure about these matters?

I will think about that matter. I made the announcement at Welshpool on Saturday. I thought the interest in the announcement was so wide that it might well be made known in the country. We had already forecast its coming and the matter was widely canvassed in the Press. I am not aware that we made any breach of custom, but I will certainly think about the matter.

Following is the statement:

Issues of bonus rations for pigs and poultry will be made in January, 1949, and subsequently at intervals of four months. The January issues will be based upon deliveries of pig meat during the three calendar months ending 31st December, 1948, and of deliveries of eggs during the 13 weeks ending 29th December, 1948. Allowances will be at the rate of 1 cwt. per 160 lb. of pigmeat or 80 dozen grade-able eggs. For the two subsequent periods the allowance for eggs delivered will be at the rate of 1 cwt. per 160 dozen but the issues in respect of pigmeat will not be varied. The coupons issued will be special coupons valid for either a pig or poultry compound or for straight cereal feeding-stuffs and they will be so dated that purchases are spread over a period of four months beginning with the date of issue.

Producers will be required to make application for the bonus rations and to support their application by vouchers showing what their deliveries of eggs and pigmeat have been during the appropriate period. It has been possible to make arrangements with the egg packing stations under which the stations will furnish producers with a composite voucher showing the total deliveries of gradeable eggs during the period. Pigkeepers must attach the payment certificates they receive in respect of deliveries of pig meat.

The operation of the scheme will be reviewed at the end of the first year and may then be amended as experience dictates.

Milk And Dairies (1944 Act)

53.

asked the Minister of Agriculture when he intends to bring the Food and Drugs (Milk and Dairies) Act, 1944, into operation.

I have been asked to reply. Delay has been caused by certain legal difficulties which have come to light, but the order to bring the Act into operation will be made as soon as possible. I am sending the hon. Member a copy of a recent circular addressed to local authorities.

Roads

Speed Limits (Utility Cars)

61.

asked the Minister of Transport if, in view of the recent decision with reference to red or white petrol for utility cars, he will state whether these will now be classified as private vehicles for speed limit purposes, more especially where no C licence is held and they are licensed as private cars, and in view of the fact that Purchase Tax is payable on them as private vehicles, whereas commercial vehicles avoid this tax.

No, Sir. The considerations mentioned are not relevant to the speed limit.

Why should private cars, because they have a body suitable for luggage or shopping, be penalised as against saloon cars which may contain hangers for clothes and be used for commercial purposes? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many authorities refuse to enforce this archaic law?

It is difficult to determine the class of vehicle here according to the use to which it is put at any particular time.

Surely this relates only to licences for private use? It is not a commercial matter.

Since none of these utility vehicles observes the speed limit anyhow, why not abolish this archaic regulation?

I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Street Lighting, Hound

63.

asked the Minister of Transport why he is delaying his consent to the street lighting application of the Hound Parish Council.

I regret that there has been some delay in this case. I am arranging for the immediate issue of the necessary licence.

Jamaica

Illegitimate Births

64.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies approximately what percentage of all babies born in Jamaica are illegitimate.

Of the total births registered in Jamaica in 1946, 67.71 per cent. were illegitimate.

Hospital Accommodation

65.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies how many public hospital beds are available free in Jamaica; and to what extent this accommodation falls short of the estimated need.

There are at present 5,576 free beds available to meet the estimated need of 7,850.

Could my hon. Friend urge the Government of Jamaica to try to divert to hospital building and socially useful purposes some of the vast sums of money otherwise spent in building luxury hotels?

Housing (Rural Workers)

67.

asked the Minister of Health whether in view of the shortage of houses for agricultural workers, he is prepared to waive the present restrictions on the granting of licences to persons wishing to build houses for agricultural workers and who are prepared to make no claim for subsidy.

No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) on 11th November, of which I am sending him a copy.

Will the Minister say what reason there is for refusing a licence for the building of a house for a farm worker when there is such a shortage of rural houses and when the builder of the cottage wants no subsidy from the country and no subsidy from the ratepayers?

There is no advantage in adding to the number of houses on paper unless the men and the materials can be made available.

I am satisfied that this is much the best way in the interests of the agricultural community.

Trade And Commerce

Furniture Controls (Relaxation)

68.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is now in a position to announce a relaxation of controls affecting the furniture industry.

Yes, Sir. I propose to revoke the present statutory control over the manufacture and supply of furniture, and at the same time to make certain modifications in the utility furniture scheme. The necessary order has been made and will come into operation on 29th November.

Under the new scheme, manufacturers will still need a licence to apply the utility mark to furniture, and will be permitted to apply the mark only to furniture made in conformity with general specifications of quality and construction issued by the Board of Trade. These specifications are intended to maintain the standard of quality of utility furniture, but will give manufacturers freedom to make it to their own designs, and by the methods which they can most efficiently employ.

These changes do not affect the controls over acquisition and consumption of timber or steel for furniture.

Maximum prices for the various groups of new utility furniture will be fixed in a separate order which will be made shortly. Each group of articles will have its own maximum price but the highest prices will not, except in a few cases, exceed the highest now chargeable. In many instances they will be slightly lower.

As part of the new scheme, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a Treasury order reducing the rate of Purchase Tax on non-utility furniture now charged at 66⅔ per cent. to 33⅓ per cent. as from 29th November.

While I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, which will give very great satisfaction, particularly to the manufacturers of non-utility furniture, may I ask him to assure us that he will retain sufficient controls to guarantee that the interests of the consumers will be uppermost at all times?

We have had that matter very much in mind and I can assure my hon. Friend that, while giving freedom of design, we shall maintain the standard of quality and reliability of utility furniture.

In view of the innumerable occasions on which hon. Members on this side of the House have advocated the relaxation of controls, does the right hon. Gentleman realise how grateful we are that for once he has taken our advice?

In view of the large number of times on which we have announced relaxations of controls when they have been possible, I would like to remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we are still awaiting the long-promised advice from the other side on which controls to take off next.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that he has a sufficient number of inspectors to ensure that the specifications are properly carried out?

I think the main control on this must come from the consumers themselves. We are providing in the new scheme a code number which will be applied to the furniture so that the maker can be identified, and I hope the consumers will give us all the help they can.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether his Department are encouraging furniture manufacturers to use some of the lesser known Empire timbers which are in plentiful supply as distinct from the more popularly known, such as oak and mahogany?