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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 462: debated on Monday 7 March 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Ministry Of Supply

Official Car Service

1.

asked the Minister of Supply how many cars of the official car service visited South Hammersmith during the period of the by-election; and how many visits were on repayment journeys.

Can my right hon. Friend say how many cars were used by the Leader of the Opposition and how much expense was incurred during the 1945 General Election?

Motor Cars (Home Market)

2.

asked the Minister of Supply whether, in view of difficulties now being experienced by the motor industry as a result of certain foreign countries restricting, for currency reasons, the import of motor cars, he will temporarily reduce the export quota and allow orders for the home market to be fulfilled, thus enabling full employment to be maintained in the industry.

This matter is being considered in the light of representation made to me by the National Advisory Council for the motor manufacturing industry.

In the course of the discussions, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that unless the flow of production is maintained the cost of cars will rise, and damage will be done to the industry both in the home and export markets?

Surely in view of the circumstances of the motor car industry at the moment, and the restrictions imposed upon it in foreign markets, the Minister will give a slightly greater release of cars to the home market at the present time?

I appreciate the points which have been put to me, but we have to be careful how much of our export production is devoted to home purposes instead of being sent abroad.

Will my right hon. Friend be prepared to extend his investigation beyond the scope of the motor car industry, as this is a problem which is beginning to affect other branches of light engineering?

Ministry Of Works

New House Of Commons (Oak Panels)

5.

asked the Minister of Works if he will provide for the inspection of Members two or three panels of oak similar to that which it is suggested shall be used in the new Chamber, which were treated five or ten years ago with the same grey stain now proposed to be used in the House.

There are no panels of oak which were treated five to ten years ago with the grey stain now proposed to be used in the House. Samples of oak recently treated have already been exhibited but I will arrange with the authorities concerned for them to be shown again. I am assured by experts that no appreciable change of colour is to be expected other than that which would be normal to the wood.

Is not the Minister aware that treatment similar to this was applied many years ago, that the oak today looks entirely different and cannot be cleaned, and that it becomes spotted if that is attempted? We do not want to make the Chamber look like a Hollywood cathedral.

The scientists who have been dealing with this matter assure me that that will not take place with this particular oak.

Council Hall, Caister-On-Sea

6.

asked the Minister of Works if he is aware that the parish council of Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk, have been endeavouring for two years to reconstruct the platiform and stage of the council hall, which is the only large building available for public meetings, entertainments and other communal activities in this parish of 4,000 inhabitants; that, meanwhile, a temporary platform has had to be constructed of fish boxes; that the state of the building is discouraging to local civic activity; and if he will now give further consideration to the granting of the necessary licence.

This application was originally refused because of the quantity of softwood required. My licensing officer suggested the use of hardwood, which is less scarce, for part of the work. This has been accepted and a licence has now been issued.

Middleton Hall

8.

asked the Minister of Works whether, in view of the acute housing shortage in the Morecambe and Lancaster district and of the fact that the house in question is no longer required by the Minister of Supply, he will de-requisition Middleton Hall, Middleton, Lancashire.

Middleton Hall is not held on requisition but is Crown freehold. The question of its future use, including the possibility of using it for housing, is now being considered.

Kington Camp

10.

asked the Minister of Works whether, in view of the release by the War Office of the Kington Camp, Herefordshire, he will now release a portion of this camp for the relief of the housing shortage in the district.

I am consulting the Ministry of Health and other Government Departments so that the future use of the camp can be settled as soon as possible.

When are the various Ministries going to make up their minds what they want to do with this camp? Squatters are already taking possession of some of it, and if the right hon. Gentleman does not make a quick decision they will take possession of the lot.

This camp has only recently been declared by the Department concerned to be redundant. I am asking the Ministry of Health and other Departments concerned to let me have a quick reply.

Finsbury Park

11.

asked the Minister of Works if he is aware of the large area still held under requisition by different Government Departments in Finsbury Park; and if, in view of the shortage of open spaces in North London, he will take steps to restore this part to its former condition.

I understand that only the War Department holds land under requisition in Finsbury Park, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will deal with this matter in reply to the further Question which has been placed on the Order Paper by the hon. Member.

Frensham Little Pond

12.

asked the Minister of Works whether he will take early steps to secure the restoration of Frensham Little Pond to its pre-war condition.

The owner's proposals are now being considered in detail. It is hoped to give him authority very shortly to put the necessary works in hand.

Germany

Local Defence Units

14 and 15.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) what military training it is proposed shall be undertaken by Control Commission civilian personnel recruited into the armed local defence units about to be set up in the British zone of Germany;

(2) why there is being set up in Germany a force of armed local defence units composed of Control Commission civilian personnel; whether he is aware of the widespread feeling that the force is in fact intended to be a strike-breaking organisation in the event of political or industrial unrest in the British zone; and whether he will give orders for the scheme to be abandoned forthwith.

Proposals are under consideration to organise British civilian members of the Control Commission for the temporary protection of British lives and premises in the event of civil disturbance until the Armed Forces of Occupation can take over. My right hon. Friend is not prepared to order the abandonment of this commonsense security precaution. The duties involved would be of a static nature, small arms only would be carried and training would be confined to the use of such weapons. There is no question of the volunteers being used for strike breaking and my right hon. Friend wishes to take this opportunity of dispelling ill-founded beliefs and maliciously circulated rumours which may exist to this effect.

As what was suggested to be a rumour has been stated most openly as being the fear of the Staff Side of the Whitley Council for the C.C.G., would my right hon. Friend like to reconsider his description of it; and as this whole policy contemplates the breakdown of sensible relationships between the German people and the Western zone and the occupying Forces, would it not be better to give up this business of trying to divide Germany, which is bound to lead to breakdown?

This does not contemplate the breakdown of these relationships, and if it is left to the British Occupation Forces and the German people, such a breakdown will not occur. This is an ordinary security precaution which ought to be taken against a contingency which none of us believe will arise.

Is it not the case that these voluntary units have been in operation for at least two years and that there has never been any question of their being used for strike breaking?

British Relations Board

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if the British Relations Board in the British zone of Germany will receive the full support of His Majesty's Government in the development of cultural relations between Great Britain and Germany; and if reports on its activities will he presented to the House.

The answer to the first part of the Question is, "Yes, Sir." The activities of the British Relations Board will be covered in the Monthly Report on the work of the Control Commission for Germany which is placed in the Library of the House of Commons

Will the right hon. Gentleman make use of the British Council in the development of these relations in Germany? Is the Commanderin-Chief in the British zone in touch with the British Council in that zone?

Berlin

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will publish as a White Paper the proposals submitted by His Majesty's Government to the Committee of Experts of the Security Council of the United Nations on the Berlin Dispute.

No, Sir. While the United Kingdom expert, like the other experts, explained his point of view to the Committee, he did not submit proposals to it.

Would the Minister of State elaborate his view about the publication of the report of the Committee, and would he care to correct the impression which he gave last week that the Government are against the publication of the report of this Committee, which was completed a month ago?

If I gave a wrong impression about the attitude of the Government in relation to the report itself, I would gladly correct it. We are in consultation with other Governments affected, and, subject to what may be said in the course of these consultations, our inclination is rather in favour of publication. That, of course, is a decision for the President of the Security Council, but the report of the observations of the representative of this Government is quite a different matter. In relation to the full report, however, subject to the views of the other interested Governments, we are rather inclined, if our opinion is sought, towards recommending that the President of the Security Council should publish it.

Palestine (Holy Places)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will direct inquiry to be made through the United Nations organisation on the present conditions of the Holy Places in Jerusalem and at Nazareth and Bethlehem and convey the result to the House.

His Majesty's ConsulGeneral at Jerusalem has been instructed to ask the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine for a report.

When does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate that he will get that report, and will he do all that he can to accelerate its presentation?

Most certainly, but of course the Commission has other work than this, although I agree that this is work of great importance.

Hungary And Bulgaria (Trials)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the fact that recent trials in Hungary and Bulgaria have been characterised by the starving of prisoners and the administering to them of drugs, especially acreton, he will instruct His Majesty's Government's representative at the United Nations to propose a resolution to condemn these practices.

If the hon. Member has concrete evidence to support the allegations he makes and will supply me with it, my right hon. Friend will consider whether action is possible.

In any case, will the Government give an undertaking that they will do all in their power to expose and to prevent the further use of these diabolical Communist methods?

Of course, I do not want to appear unsympathetic. Our disapproval of these methods has already been displayed, but we have no concrete evidence relating to this accusation. It may be true, but we have no evidence.

In view of the widespread disgust with the treatment meted out to the cardinal in question and to the Protestant pastors in Bulgaria, and in view of it having been admitted to be in conflict with the Charter of Human Rights, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to bring any pressure to bear or to apply any sanctions in connection with the Governments of the countries concerned?

The question of sanctions is quite a different matter which I am sure I shall not be expected to answer off-hand. It is rather loose, in relation to the first part of the Question, to talk about the Charter of Human Rights. There is a Declaration. It is the anxiety of His Majesty's Government that there should be a convenant upon that subject, but there is not yet such an instrument.

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I draw your attention to the wording of this Question which has evidently passed the Clerk at the Table? Normally when one wants to put a Question, if there is any point which appears to be without evidence, the Clerk asks the Member concerned to support it or to declare that he is able to support it. Very often Questions of mine, and I have no doubt Questions of other hon. Members, have been refused because they have been based only on newspaper reports. In this case, may I ask for your Ruling as to how it was that the Clerk at the Table was able to accept this Question from the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) in view of the fact that there is no evidence whatever for these statements, As the Minister of State himself has just admitted?

As the House knows, the hon. Member putting a Question takes responsibility for the statements included therein. It is generally no part of thé duties of the Table to decide whether or not those statements are true. That is the responsibility of the hon. Member.

In that case, are we to take it that in future, when hon. Members have their Questions, or proposed Questions, refused at the Table on the grounds of factual ambiguity, we may cite this instance and say that we are prepared to take responsibility?

I do not think that I can take the responsibility of giving the hon. Member general guidance to that extent.

May I take it that Questions submitted by me which have been refused on this ground as recently as last week may now be submitted once again to the Table, and that I may have hopes that they will get on to the Order Paper?

Obviously each Question must be decided on its merits. I cannot give a general Ruling on that point.

Can we take it, after your Ruling, that the Rule is now perfectly clear that a Question will not be refused by Mr. Speaker where the Member who seeks to put it down undertakes to accept responsibility for the facts contained in it?

As I have said, I cannot give a general Ruling. There are cases where it is obvious that because the facts are not clear, or for other good reasons, the Table may think it right to refuse to admit a Question.

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what report he has now received of the trial in Bulgaria of the 15 Protestant pastors; and whether he is satisfied that the provisions of Article 2 of the Peace Treaty have been observed.

My right hon. Friend has received many reports of the proceedings, which have been closely followed by His Majesty's Legation in Sofia. These reports show that most of the witnesses for the prosecution were themselves persons already under arrest, and that their testimony dealt largely with the pastors' association with the former opposition parties. In democratic countries this is not, of course, a crime. His Majesty's Government are satisfied that there is not the slightest foundation for any of the allegations made concerning past or present members of the Legation staff.

As regards the second part of the Question, it is not possible to say whether or not the provisions of Article 2 of the Peace Treaty have been observed, until the trial ends.

In view of the secret instructions to the Communist Party, which have now been published in this country, is it not clear that these so-called trials are part of a deliberate campaign of persecution of this small evangelical minority in Bulgaria on religious grounds, and will the Minister take all steps, whether by protest or otherwise, that are open to him under the Peace Treaty?

Of course, the falsity of part of the confessions must lead everyone to doubt the rest of the confessions, and there are, surely, strong grounds for believing that these trials, not only in that country but in comparable countries, are part of a propaganda campaign rather than a judicial process. His Majesty's Government will continue to see that such rights as we have are observed in relation to these trials.

Burma (New Delhi Meeting)

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the conference at New Delhi to discuss the situation in Burma.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement with regard to the Commonwealth Conference recently held in New Delhi to discuss the Burmese situation; and if he will state what decisions were taken to help the Burmese Government.

As the reply is necessarily long, I propose, with permission, to circulate it in HANSARD.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, in view of the fact that we have been told by the Government of Burma that our good offices apparently are not required, no further loans will be given to Burma?

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the Commonwealth the possibility of giving loans to the Burmese Government to rehabilitate the country so that we can feed South-East Asia and limit the disturbances arising from food shortages there?

As my hon. Friend knows, this was one of the subjects discussed at Delhi, and consideration of the same subject will be continued with the Commonwealth Governments affected and interested.

Is it not a fact that, as part of the Treaty, Burma has already received large loans, and is there not a point where it may become unwise to throw good money after bad?

Will the right hon. Gentleman take cognizance of the fact that, whilst the administration of Burma is a matter for the Government of Burma, the reactions throughout the whole of the Middle East of any failure of that Government may be of incomparable consequence to other populations owing to the closure of this great reservoir of food of which these people are in great need?

That is one of the main points in the anxiety of the Government and one of the main considerations forwarded at the Delhi informal conversations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman read his answer after Questions instead of merely having it printed in HANSARD, because this is a matter of urgent importance?

I would have no objection at all. However, it is a subject upon which I should like guidance from you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

It may be that we shall finish Questions early and that there will be time for that to be done by agreement.

At the end of Questions

Would you grant permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the Minister of State to answer verbally Question 19, in view of its importance?

Is that the wish of the House? If there is any objection it cannot be done. Is there any objection?

Then it cannot be done.

Following is the reply:

During January the Burmese Government made a request to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom for financial assistance principally in order to meet the anticipated budget deficit for the year 1948–49 and to finance the purchase of the rice crop.

His Majesty's Government considered that the situation concerned other Commonwealth Governments with interests and responsibilities in South-East Asia and accordingly consulted the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Ceylon with a view to joint discussions, to which the Government of Burma raised no objection. It proved possible to hold an informal meeting at New Delhi on 28th February at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India: my hon. Friend, the Secretary for Overseas Trade, represented the United Kingdom, and representatives of Australia, India and Ceylon were present. Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, Commissioner-General in Singapore, also attended.

The meeting unanimously agreed that the surest and quickest way of restoring prosperity in Burma was to end the present communal strife through conciliation. Pandit Nehru, as the Chairman of the meeting, accordingly sent a message in these terms to Thakin Nu, Burmese Prime Minister, to which, I regret to state, the Burmese Government have returned a negative reply.

I should like to emphasise that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, like the other Commonwealth Governments concerned, are animated by a spirit of friendship towards the new Burma and a desire to assist in maintaining her unity and integrity.

Argentine Railways (British Employees)

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to attempts that have been made by the Argentine Government to force British personnel employed on the Argentine railways to give up employment guaranteed to them under the terms of the agreement between His Majesty's Government and the Argentine Government; and what representations he has made to ensure that the Clauses of the sales agreement relating to the employment of British personnel are properly carried out.

I am not aware of any instance in which a British employee of the Argentine railways has been forced out of employment. On the other hand, the provisions relating to the employees, as set out in the agreement of sale concluded between the former British-owned railways and the Argentine authorities, have not been fulfilled. My right hon. Friend took this subject up with Dr. Bramuglia during his visit to London in November, and His Majesty's Ambassador in Buenos Aires has since made representations to the Argentine Government upon this subject.

Is it not part of the agreement that the employment and pensions rights of the European employees of these railways were guaranteed under the agreement, and what steps have been taken to see that the agreement is carried out?

It is true that the agreement covered pensions rights and their positions, but I am unaware that their pension rights have been threatened or jeopardised. I want to make it plain that we have no knowledge of dismissals, though it is true that men have been shifted from responsible posts in a fashion which does not seem to us to be consistent with the agreement.

Eastern Europe (British Broadcasts)

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will in future arrange for his Department to limit the material supplied to the British Broadcasting Corporation for the purpose of broadcasts to the countries of Eastern Europe to information dealing only with current affairs in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Member to Clause (5) of the Licence and Agreement of 29th November, 1946, between His Majesty's Postmaster - General and the British Broadcasting Corporation. This clause provides that the British Broadcasting Corporation shall obtain and accept from Government Departments such information regarding conditions in and the policies of His Majesty's Government towards the countries to which broadcasts are addressed as will enable the Corporation to plan and prepare its programmes in the national interest.

As there are so many things that are happening in Britain of which the Government are proud but which need explaining in Europe, such as frozen wages, profits reaching an all-time high, nationalisation—

The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to go into a catalogue of that sort, but should ask a question.

May I limit the catalogue and finish the question by asking whether it is not most desirable that we should limit ourselves to an explanation of what is happening in our own country, which, no doubt, many people in Europe would like to hear?

No, Sir. Where the British Broadcasting Corporation is prevented from obtaining the facts about areas to which it broadcasts, it is not only provided for in the Charter but is also essential that the Government should give them such help as they can.

Would it not save a great many Questions and a great waste of time if the Minister could give a comprehensive answer to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) that he will never do anything of which either the British Communist Party or Moscow would disapprove?

Japanese Trade Mission (Central And South America)

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Japanese trade delegation to South America has gone there on the instructions of General MacArthur or of the Far Eastern Commission; and whether the British delegate approved or was consulted.

I understand that although General MacArthur is considering sending a trade mission to Central and South America no final decision has yet been taken.

Can the right hen. Gentleman give us any information about this mission? Is it likely to take part in agreements that may be damaging to the export trade of this country, for instance?

I could not do so, because this is at the planning level so far, although, to be frank, I understand it is contemplated that the mission should survey trade relationships between Japan and the countries of Central and South America.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is the gravest anxiety in Lancashire, not about the development of Japanese trade, because they know they can meet any fair competition, but about the conditions of sale, and, in particular, allowing prices to fall below the level of world prices, which would be unfair competition which Lancashire could not be expected to stand?

The Government are aware of that, and will continue to keep that point of view in mind. Perhaps if my hon. Friend has any detailed information, he would address it to another Minister?

Food Supplies

Enforcement Officer, Barking

27.

asked the Minister of Food what action he proposes to take in regard to Samuel Groves, food enforcement officer for Barking, who was rebuked on 23rd February by the chairman of Stratford magistrates for improperly compelling a housewife to disclose the contents of her shopping bag.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) on Monday, 28th February.

While the right hon. Lady will no doubt appreciate that I put this Question down before she gave her answer to the previous Question, may I ask her to see that this man's activities in future will not bring him in direct contact with the public, in view of his previous activities?

Can the right hon. Lady tell the House where the housewife can be informed what are the duties and privileges of these enforcement officers?

I think that if the housewife goes to the local food office, she will be able to obtain that information.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in my division the local food officer has been asked to give that information and to address a public meeting on his duties, and has refused?

Tea

28.

asked the Minister of Food what prospects there are of securing more tea from the Dutch East Indies, with a view to the abolition of tea rationing.

We hope to obtain increased supplies of tea from the Netherlands East Indies this year, but not, I fear, on a scale which will enable us to abolish tea rationing.

Imported Grain (Storage)

29.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the fact that there are at present over 50 aerodromes being used for the storage of imported grain, he will give an assurance that there will be no further aerodromes used for this purpose, and that every endeavour will be made to reduce the numbers during the present year.

I can give the assurance asked for in the second, but not in the first, part of the Question.

I am not quite clear what that means. Could the right hon. Lady be a little more lucid?

If the hon. Gentleman cares to look at his Question, he will see what the answer means.

Eire Salmon

30.

asked the Minister of Food how much fresh salmon has been brought from Eire in the past three months; and what is the average price per pound paid by his Department.

Thirty-eight tons of fresh salmon were bought from Eire for delivery in the three months ended 26th February, at an average price of 4s. 6½d. per pound.

If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Maximum Price Order, he will find that these prices are graduated according to the season. I think the first-hand sale price per pound, from January to June, 1948, was 6s. and then 5s.

Blood Donors

31.

asked the Minister of Food whether he will give an extra food ration periodically to blood donors.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Silvertown (Dr. Comyns) on 22nd September last.

Fishermen, Annan

32.

asked the Minister of Food why Annan trawl fishermen do not receive seamen's ration books in the same way as fishermen from Cumberland ports; and whether he will take steps to ensure that the practice in Dumfriesshire is brought into line with that in Cumberland in this respect.

I am advised that there are no fishermen who can properly be classified as trawl fishermen operating from Annan: nor have any weekly seamen's ration books been issued to any such fishermen at Cumberland ports.

Would the right hon. Lady look into this again? According to my information the Annan trawl fishermen fish in exactly the same waters as the Cumberland trawl fishermen and are actually out longer than they are.

If the hon. Member would like the Port Arbitration Committee to look into it, I am prepared to make the necessary arrangements.

Ice Cream (Sugar Allocation)

33.

asked the Minister of Food what conditions as to the fat content of ice cream are made when allocations of sugar are made to the manufacturers.

No such conditions are attached to normal allocations of sugar; but an extra allowance of 15 per cent. is granted to manufacturers who undertake to maintain a minimum fat content of 2½ per cent.

Does the right hon. Lady realise what dreadful stuff is now being sold as ice cream and how small is the fat content in a great deal of it?

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend knows that I would like to prescribe a standard, but he must realise that the shortage of milk and milk powder makes it impossible for us to prescribe a satisfactory product, and that is why we have hesitated to do it.

Would it not be possible to let the public know when a satisfactory product is being sold and when one is not?

I think that my hon. Friend will agree with me that this is a small advance towards solving the problem.

South African Oranges

35.

asked the Minister of Food what profit his Department are making from the sale of South African oranges in this country.

Domestic Preserving (Sugar)

36.

asked the Minister of Food if he will permit the increased allocation of sugar forthwith so that existing supplies of oranges may be used for marmalade making.

No, Sir. I have already announced the release of seven bonus issues of 1 lb. each for domestic preserving, and regret it is not possible to commence this increased distribution before the four-week period commencing 24th April.

Is not the information of the right hon. Lady that there are large stocks of these oranges now available, many of which are being wasted because there is no sugar available, and cannot her Department, not give more sugar, but expedite the allocation of that which is coming?

I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong. There were large stocks, but there is only a small amount left now.

Bakers (Profit Margin)

37.

asked the Minister of Food what is the bakers' margin of profit for the last convenient year and for 1938; and what is the relative gross turnover for the same two years.

My Department only has information about the profit margin on bread: we hold the net profit per sack of flour at about the pre-war figure of 5s. But bakers make many other things besides bread, so I am afraid I cannot estimate their gross turnover.

French Pork

38.

asked the Minister of Food what quantity of pork he expects to import from France this year

Discussions are to begin soon between officers of my Department and of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries with a French delegation. It is hoped that these talks will result in agreement on health regulations which will make it possible to negotiate for the purchase of pork.

Will the Minister bear in mind, in regard to the importing of pork, whether at the same time we can get any from East Africa?

Potatoes

39.

asked the Minister of Food how the monthly consumption of potatoes for human consumption and for stock-feed, respectively, in 1947–48 compared with that of 1946–47 month by month; and what are the corresponding figures to date this year.

As the reply is a table of figures, I will, with the hon. and gallant Member's permission, circulate the information in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Will the right hon. Lady say whether the 1947–48 ration has resulted in a reduced consumption this year and, if so, whether the estimate, which is for a surplus of five million tons, is correct?

Does the hon. and gallant Member mean consumption by humans or by animals?

The overall consumption. Is the right hon. Lady aware that the overall consumption will obviously be affected if the human consumption is cut down?

As I have already explained to the House last year's crop was so great that human consumption, while it has been heavy, has not been sufficient to take up the surplus this crop year. Animal consumption is much higher.

And the surplus of five million tons which is estimated is in fact correct?

Following is the information:

Thousand tons
CalendarMonthSales for human consumption in Great Britain Sales for stockfeeding (raw and processed) in Great Britain
1946–471947–48From 1.7.48 to 31.1.491946–471947–48From 1.7.48 to 31.1.49
July428423402452
August41135937624
September5875605012161
October549661431883
November5345134678189
December5634114624107
January605387512*3148*
February380459
March52341611
April64337426
May488296530
June396343219
Total6,1075,2023,1513963514

* Provisional figures.

40.

asked the Minister of Food how many factories are now processing potatoes; what is the total weekly output; how many tons of potatoes have so far been processed; how many additional factories will be in operation before this season's crop has been processed; how many weeks processing will be necessary in all; and what is the total tonnage likely to be processed.

There are 26 processing factories in the United Kingdom which are converting each week approximately 17,000 tons of raw potatoes into 3,500 tons of dried potatoes. Up to 19th February this year 94,000 tons of raw potatoes had been processed into 15,566 tons of dried potato. Two further small drying plants may become available to deal with this season's crop. Processing will continue so long as there are potatoes to be disposed of. I cannot say therefore for how many weeks the factories will be needed. The present estimate is that the total quantity likely to be processed will be about 300,000 tons.

Would the right hon. Lady say whether these factories are now working seven days a week or only five?

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman would put that Question on the Order Paper.

Dried Bananas

41.

asked the Minister of Food what imports of dried bananas he is now arranging for.

Arrangements have been made to allow the import under licence of 500 tons of dried bananas from the British Cameroons during the first six months of this year. I am prepared to ask my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to license further supplies, if available, from the British Cameroons or other easy currency areas if the prices asked are reasonable.

Flour Deliveries

42.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that, in Eastleigh, Hants, a flour restriction scheme is being operated which results in a reduction of 50 per cent. in the supply of bread to retail shops; and whether he will increase the flour allocation to bakers there.

No, Sir. Flour deliveries in all parts of the United Kingdom, including Eastleigh, are in general limited to the quantity delivered in the year ended 26th June, 1948. My inquiries have not revealed that there is any shortage of bread at Eastleigh, but if my hon. Friend will send me details of any case he has in mind I will be willing to look into it.

Meat (Illegal Sales)

43.

asked the Minister of Food to what extent his officers check farmer-dealers' stock sheets; whether they try to trace beasts taken to the grading centre and brought away again; what checks are made on pig clubs, when excessive numbers of pigs are killed, to ascertain if they actually feed all their stock, and on butchers' buying permits, when such permits have increased to a considerable extent over short periods; and how far these efforts have been successful in stopping illegal sales of meat.

As this Question calls for a very long answer, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the statement:

I will answer this Question point by point. First, local authorities are responsible for enforcing and checking the registers which farmers are required to keep under the Ministry of Agriculture's Movement of Animals (Records) Order, 1925, but our officers consult them where necessary. Secondly, inquiries are made about the disposal of animals withdrawn from grading if it is suspected that they are to be sold for slaughter illegally for human consumption. Thirdly, pig clubs are subject to the same regulations about registration and slaughter as other self-suppliers, and the same procedure is followed in both cases to see that the conditions of the scheme are observed. Fourthly, meat authorisations to butchers are completed weekly or on the basis of registrations and other requirements, and are drawn up by our local officers who, with their local knowledge, report any irregularities. Fifthly, I am satisfied that these and the other measures which we take help to curb illegal sales of meat.

Agriculture

Horse Population

45.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the present population of horses and what was it in 1938; and at the same rate of decrease when will horses be extinct in this country.

The total number of horses on agricultural holdings in the United Kingdom in 1948 was 703,000, that in 1938 was 1,101,000. I see little risk of the horse becoming extinct in this country in the foreseeable future. For certain purposes horses have an advantage over mechanical power.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman consult with his right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, before she leaves the Chamber, with a view to her Department supplying us with some more stringy Argentine beef, rather than that we should see the horse population continue to be lessened in this way?

I should not have thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was worried by a lot of horse meat.

Broccoli Seed

48.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the poor average quality of broccoli produced, he will take steps to improve the quality of the seed available to West of England growers.

My reports are that the broccoli crop is early but of good quality. As regards the seed, I am aware that there is evidence that the seed of the Roscoff strains deteriorated during the war when the customary arrangements for growing on were impossible. But every effort is being made to restore pre-war standards, though not necessarily by reverting wholly to pre-war arrangements.

In his effort to assist in the restoration of pre-war standards, will my right hon. Friend consider supplementing the work of the Gulval experimental station and, if necessary, consider acquiring land for this purpose under Section 83 of the relevant Agriculture Act?

The National Agricultural Advisory Service are trying out a number of samples on the experimental plot at Gulval in Cornwall, and we are hopeful that the results will be fruitful.

While agreeing with the Minister that the crop is not only abundant but of splendid quality, and while I also agree that the experiments at Gulval have proved very useful, would he consider what can be done in the Empire, in place like Cyprus, to breed seed, because there is no doubt that there are certain places which are of great advantage both as regards the property of the soil and the climate?

I hope that the leading seed firms are aware of the possibilities of Cyprus and, indeed, of any other country, and I hope they will meet the needs of our growers with the right seeds.

Institute, Usk (Students)

49.

asked the Minister of Agriculture how many pupils completed the 1947–48 training course at the Agricultural Institute at Usk, Monmouthshire; what records are kept as to their subsequent employment; and how many are engaged in the work of agricultural production.

One hundred and nine pupils, including 32 trainees under the Vocational Training Scheme, completed the one-year course at the Agricultural Institute, Usk, in 1947–48. The Institute tries to keep records of the subsequent employment of former students, and those records show that, of the 101 students whose present employment is known, 80 are engaged in work of agricultural production.

Would the right hon. Gentleman see that other institutes maintain the same record, or attempt to do so, as in the case of the Usk Institute? It is obviously desirable that we should have some trace of what happens to the men who are trained at considerable expense in these institutes.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in every one of these institutes which I have personally visited I have made a point of putting that to the principal.

Pests Officers

51.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the total annual cost to the taxpayer of county pest officers, fox control officers, assistant fox control officers and rodent operatives; and what is the approximate number of animals destroyed by them to the latest convenient date.

The net cost in the year ended 31st March, 1948, of the pests staff in counties, including those on fox control, was approximately £349,000. The number of animals destroyed is unknown. Most of them are killed in their holes

Is it not obvious to the Minister that this is an awful waste of money when compared with the results? Is he not also aware that if he would give say, Is. per rat's tail, and do away with all these officers, he would get more animals killed at a cheaper price?

The hon. Member must be aware that it would cost infinitely more to dig out foxes and so on, in order to provide statistics, than it costs actually to destroy them.

asked the Minister of Agriculture how many vehicles are used by pest and assistant pest officers of county agricultural executive committees, by rodent officers of local authorities and by rodent officers on his headquarters staff, respectively.

Pests officers and assistant pests officers who do not possess their own vehicles, use where necessary, vehicles supplied to the C.A.E.Cs. for general purposes. I am unable to say how many vehicles are used by these officers in the course of a year. I have no information about, nor responsibility for the vehicles used by officials of local authorities, and there are no rodent officers on my headquarters' staff.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be much more economical if there were one comprehensive service to deal with these pests instead of having different organisations dealing with the matter?

That is just what the prevention of Damage by Pests Bill is trying to do.

Poultry

53.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what percentage changes in poultry numbers since 1938 have occurred in England and Wales compared with Scotland and Northern Ireland; and if feedingstuffs for poultry are rationed on the same basis in each country.

The numbers of poultry on agricultural holdings in June, 1948, were eight per cent. lower in England and Wales, 19 per cent. higher in Scotland, and 138 per cent. higher in Northern Ireland.

Will the Minister bear these figures in mind when he is taking credit for the expansion of the poultry industry?

Is the Minister aware that although Northern Ireland has the same rationing as we have, it supplies the entire quota of eggs for Greater London?

I am not at all sure about the rations for poultry in Northern Ireland. Any Question on that subject would have to be put to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

New Town, Bracknell (Site)

54.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what is the acreage of land used for food production included in each of the areas marked 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the map provided by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and displayed in the Library.

As I have previously informed the hon. Member, the six alternative sites suggested by the National Farmers' Union for a new town in the neighbourhood of Bracknell were not defined. The map referred to was supplied in order to give hon. Members a general picture of the position, but neither the location nor the boundaries of the areas can be taken as more than rough indications of what appears to have been intended by the Union. For example, Area No. 1 was merely described as "on the Crown Lands between Easthampstead, Crowthorne, Bagshot, and Ascot," while No. 5 was described as "Swinley Forest, south of Ascot." It would be of little use to attempt to obtain precise figures of parts of areas which are themselves so imprecise as this.

Is it not a fact that the Minister was asked to advise on the suitability of the rough areas intimated, and, if that was so, surely it was his duty to have a rough approximation made of the amount of food-producing land in those vicinities?

That is exactly what the Ministry gave. They gave the Ministry of Town and Country Planning what guidance they could as to good quality and less good quality agricultural land.

If the Minister was asked for and gave that advice, could he not let the House know what that advice was? There must have been some amount of acreage mentioned?

Poles (Farm Purchase)

56.

asked the Minister of Agriculture for what reason it is intended to settle 40 Poles on a farm at Conington Fen, Huntingdonshire, at the taxpayers' expense; and whether he will make a statement.

These Poles have not been settled on the farm at Conington Fen at the taxpayers' expense, but have purchased it on their own account.

Is the Minister aware that there are a great many British workers, including ex-Service men, who are keen to put their savings into smallholdings, and will he bear that in mind before he too readily grants, even at their own expense, the small amount of land available for settlement by Poles?

I have already explained that they were not settled on this land at the taxpayers' expense, and I have no power to prevent people from buying or selling land. With regard to the former part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the situation of this land and the poor quality of the soil are such that I would not attempt to place one British skilled agricultural worker upon it.

If I gave the right hon. Gentleman the names of British workers who are keen to settle on any land that they can get hold of, would he please reconsider this matter?

I have already had the area of land investigated by the county agricultural executive committee, and on their advice, I repeat, I would not place any British skilled agricultural worker on that particular area.

Soil Fertility

57.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the need to replenish the fertility of the soil in many parts of the country as a result of the exhaustion caused by seven years over-cropping, he will now make a further announcement of how he proposes to restore soil fertility.

Although certain fields suffered a decline in soil fertility due to over-cropping during the war, the general level of fertility of our land is higher today than it was in 1939. One of the main objects of my Department is to raise the general level of soil fertility still further. Means to this end include the keeping of many more livestock, which will increase the supply of natural manure; improved drainage and tillage; the increased use of lime and phosphates; the substitution of good leys for poor grass, and the more efficient control of weeds and pests.

Is the Minister aware that if he wants to increase the number of livestock, the best way to do so is to import more feedingstuffs? Why do we not have more feedingstuffs? Look at the Ministry of Food not very far away.

Potash Fertilisers

58.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware of the continuing shortage of fertilisers containing potash; and what steps he is taking to ensure that adequate supplies are available for spring sowing.

I am not aware of any serious shortage of potash fertilisers at present. During the first eight months of the current fertiliser year greater supplies than ever before have been made available and arrangements are being more for further imports in time for spring sowing.

If the Minister is not aware of the fact, will be make inquiries in the Southern Counties, where he will find to his satisfaction that potash is short of farmers' requirements?

I am equally satisfied that the supplies for the first eight months of this cropping year are 29 per cent. more than for the previous year.

Imported Grain (Storage)

60.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether Ministry of Food depots that are being used for the storage of imported grain have been made proof against rats and mice; and whether he will permit local authorities to send their rodent officers to inspect these stores.

So far as is practicable, the depots, are made proof against rats and mice. They are periodically inspected and structural defects remedied. It is not, however, possible to make all the structures rat proof, nor is it possible to prevent entry of rats and mice into buildings which are in regular use for receiving and delivering grain. The inspection of stocks in Ministry of Food depots is carried out by my officers, and it is not necessary to duplicate inspection by calling upon local authorities.

Is it not advisable, in certain cases, to allow local authorities to inspect these depots in their areas?

I do not see the need for duplication. The hon. Member will be aware that the president of the National Farmers' Union at Thirsk yesterday made an inspection and expressed himself as quite satisfied.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is no president of the local branch of the National Farmers' Union?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that his answer was a "verminological" inexactitude?

61.

asked the Minister of Agriculture what quantity of imported barley and maize stored by the Minister of Food in aerodromes and depots has in the last 12 months been treated by his infestation operators against infestation by weevil; and whether he is now satisfied that there is no weevil active in this imported grain.

During the 12 months ended 31st December, 1948, I arranged for the fumigation of over 105,000 tons of imported barley and 182,000 tons of imported maize, stored by the Ministry of Food. In addition, chemical spraying as a routine measure was carried out on stocks in many warehouses during the summer, but I am unable to give figures as to the volume of food so treated. I cannot guarantee that there is no weevil active in this imported grain, as complete elimination of insect life is rarely possible, even with the most efficient methods of control. The stocks are, however, under regular inspection, and are generally in good commercial condition.

Is the Minister ensuring that the weevil-infested grain is disposed of as soon as it is practicably possible?

Will the cost of this cleansing be charged to the Ministry of Food, because it is their fault?

Horses (Export And Slaughter)

46.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that a recent consignment of horses to Belgium left Goole at 4 p.m. on Saturday, 12th February,1949, and were not disembarked at Antwerp until the morning of Tuesday, 15th February, 1949, the ship having meanwhile travelled through the canal to Ghent; whether partitions were provided separately for each horse; and, in view of the cramped conditions of the sea journey, whether such delay can be avoided in the future.

According to my information, each horse on this vessel had a stall to itself, and every stall was separated from others by division boards in accordance with the requirements of the Exportation and Transit of Horses, Asses and Mules Order, 1921. It would not be practicable for me to control the routes taken by ships carrying livestock or the length of voyage, which may be effected by various factors, such as the weather.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that two inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. were present on the boat; that they were sure there were no divisions between the horses, and that there were a large number of them in one hold? Is he also aware that it took three days to get to Belgium, and very great harm was caused to the horses?

My information is that this boat was recently inspected by the Ministry's Marine Superintendent and was stated by him to be very suitable for the carrying of horses.

In view of this conflict of evidence, will the right hon. Gentleman make special inquiries, because it is quite clearly undesirable that officials of these bodies should be making statements in direct contradiction to those made by the responsible authorities?

I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman, and that is why the Ministry's Marine Superintendent did make an inspection of this particular boat.

Would my right hon. Friend extend such an inquiry to other ports, including Tilbury? Is he aware that similar allegations are being made about the export of horses from Tilbury, and that this is really a serious problem?

If my hon. Friend will provide me with any information about any particular boat at any specific dock, I shall be glad to look into the case.

47.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the majority of the 28 horses arriving at Antwerp on the s.s. "Aire" on 15th February, 1949, had to be supplied with new halters by the Belgian authorities; and if he will see that horses are furnished with serviceable halters on leaving this country.

I was not aware that the shippers did not provide the horses with serviceable halters, but halters are carried on the s.s. "Aire" to replace, for the boat journey, any unsuitable ones supplied by the shippers. Consequently, no question seems to arise of unnecessary suffering being caused on this account to the horses during the journey.

May I repeat what I said previously—that on this occasion an inadequate number of halters were provided and that a number of halters had to be supplied when the horses arrived on the other side?

My hon. Friend will be aware that I am in no way responsible for what happens after the horses have landed.

In view of the widespread worry in the country about this trade in old horses to the Continent, and in view also of the points which have been raised, would the right hon. Gentleman consider setting up some form of thorough inquiry to see what is really going on?

50.

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will appoint a commission of inquiry into the question of the unregulated slaughter and trade in horses.

55.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the public anxiety aroused by the large-scale slaughter of horses for human consumption, he will cause a public inquiry to be held at an early date.