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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 463: debated on Wednesday 13 April 1949

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Postal Service, Newbury—London

1.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will ensure that letters sent by the afternoon collection in the Newbury rural area reach addresses in central London by the first delivery on the following morning.

Letters for London posted in time for the afternoon collections in the Newbury rural area are due to be delivered by first post next week-day. If the hon. Member will let me have particulars and, if possible, the envelopes of any letters which appear to have been delayed, I shall be glad to have full inquiry made.

Will the Minister keep a particular watch upon this matter, as I have had a good number of complaints from constituents? I will gladly do what he suggests.

Royal Air Force

Ex-Service Personnel (Private Addresses)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will give instructions that wives shall be informed of the whereabouts of their ex-Service husbands when this is known in order that proceedings for maintenance or divorce may be instituted.

No, Sir, but the last recorded private address is disclosed to solicitors or officers of the court when it is required in connection with divorce or maintenance proceedings.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the situation which arose in a case which I drew to his notice recently where a warrant officer who has deserted his wife and is receiving a pension from the Air Ministry, cannot be reached by his wife owing to the attitude of the hon. Gentleman's Ministry?

We will always forward any letters to the addresses that we have for ex-airmen or ex-officers. It would be quite wrong to disclose to anybody facts which come to our knowledge through their service.

Bombing Range, Perranporth

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will reconsider the proposal to use the beach at Perranporth and Penhale Sands as a bombing and gunnery range in view of the representations which have been made as to the crippling effect upon the holiday resorts of Newquay and Perranporth.

My right hon. Friend is in consultation with other Ministers about this proposal. Full attention is being paid to these representations.

Building, South Ruislip

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Air to what use does he intend putting the building of 110,000 square feet in Victoria Road, South Ruislip; and what is the cost.

It will be used by the United States Air Force instead of the accomodation they now occupy in Bushy Park. The rent is being negotiated and it will be paid by the United States Air Force.

Can the Minister say what specific use will be made of the building; will it be used to house United States airmen? If that is the case, may I suggest that there are plenty of British citizens in Ruislip who are in need of rehousing.

So far as I know, the building will not be used to house or to rehouse airmen but to replace office accommodation in Bushy Park.

61 Maintenance Unit (Thefts)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Air the recorded loss through pilferage since the end of the war at No. 61 Maintenance Unit; and, in view of the recent criticism at the Chester Quarter Sessions, what special steps he is taking to improve security.

The loss is £3,760. The unit is guarded by Air Ministry constabulary and Service police with police dogs. All locks at the unit have been changed and in future they will be changed at frequent but irregular intervals.

Is not the Minister aware that the area concerned there is enormous and that obviously, as it is at present arranged, security is impossible? Does he intend to reduce the area, which he would agree is somewhat scattered?

I agree that it is a large area. I regret that there has been any pilfering at all, but I do not think the security is bad because £3,700 out of about £40 million worth of stores and equipment is not such a great loss.

Is the Minister aware that an officer giving evidence at Chester Quarter Sessions said he did not know what was there for the last 12 months and therefore did not know what the pilfering had been?

I am not surprised at that at all. The officer at the quarter sessions was an adjutant who went to give evidence of the character of three airmen. He was not in a position to know the value of the stores in question.

If there is £40 million worth of equipment which is inadequately protected, would the Minister take every precaution against sabotage of this Government property?

I am sorry if I misled the House. The figure of approximately £40 million is the rough total value of the stores there now and the stores handled since the war, which is the period covered by this Question. There would be about £20 million of stores there now, and on the whole I consider that the protection is good.

Aircraft Accident, Shoreham

7.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation whether his attention has been called to the inquest on two private aeroplane flyers killed while flying the Brookside Flying Group's only aeroplane from Shoreham aerodrome last February; and whether he proposes to hold a public inquiry.

Yes, Sir. The answer to the second part of the Question is "No, Sir."

Does the Minister realise that this aircraft might easily have come down over Brighton instead of into the sea, and that the matter is causing a lot of local concern because of the fact that the group now have another aircraft? Can no supervision be provided? Furthermore, is it not always the custom where there is an air accident that some inquiry is made and afterwards the results of the inquiry are made public?

Yes, Sir. If I may work backwards I would tell the House that there was an inquiry carried out by the Chief Inspector of Accidents. The report can be had by anyone who is interested in it. I am not quite certain whether it was published in the same way as other reports are published. So far as regulations are concerned, flying is difficult enough at the present time. We do not want to make it more difficult and to regulate it completely out of the sky.

Does the Minister feel that there should be further supervision? There are quite enough rules and regulations already, but there ought to be provision for the safety of the public.

The regulations are made under the Air Navigation Order, 1949, which came into force on 1st April this year. Responsibility is jointly on the operator of the aircraft and on the person in command of it. There is a regulation for the certificate of airworthiness, while the person who flies it must have a pilot's licence.

Transjordan (British Troops)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how long it is proposed that British troops should remain at Aqaba.

At the request of the Transjordan Government the British Force at Aqaba is being left there at its present strength for the present. It will remain there as long as the situation requires it.

Since the State of Israel has already established itself on the Gulf of Aqaba and proposes to build a proper modern port there, can my hon. Friend explain how we are helping the State of Transjordan or the interests of this country by keeping British troops in this muddy little village?

I think their presence there has been helpful and I do not think that the present situation calls for any change.

Will the hon. Gentleman make a contribution towards a general peace settlement in the Middle East by withdrawing the British troops in accordance with the terms of the recent Israeli-Transjordan armistice?

I cannot agree that their withdrawal would be such a contribution at the present time.

Germany

War Plants (Dismantling)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what agreement has been reached on the German war plants scheduled for dismantling.

I assume the hon. Member is referring to the result of the discussions on the Humphrey Committee's report, about which an announcement was made on 31st March. The dismantling of war plants was not under discussion and no new agreement was reached on this subject.

Does my hon. Friend remember that his right hon. Friend at Potsdam, and on a number of occasions in this House, gave the most solemn assurances that the countries which were ravaged by the Nazis would be assisted in their restoration and reconstruction by reparations from German capital equipment, and can my hon. Friend tell the House whether the change in attitude which is now shown by keeping this heavy capital equipment in Western Germany is due to pressure from Wall Street or the Conservative Central Office or from both?

I think the hon. Gentleman is confused. The recent agreement does not refer to war plants at all.

Milk Supply (Children)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if it is now possible for children in the British zone of Berlin to be given fresh liquid milk instead of the dried hitherto supplied.

The three Western sectors of Berlin are fed as one unit. Children up to one year of age in all three sectors receive fresh milk which is produced locally. Considerations of space in the airlift and of hygiene have prevented the supply of fresh milk to older children.

Have the Russians been asked whether they would be willing to relax the blockade for the provision of fresh milk for children, and if they have refused, can we do what the Americans are doing and bring fresh milk every day from Sweden in the interests of the health of the children?

I cannot recall if a formal request has been made to the Soviet Government, but the need for this has been made plain by us before.

In regard to considerations of air lift space, would it not be just as economical to take the same bulk of fresh milk powder rather than the skimmed milk powder?

In so far as fresh milk is obtained from the Russian zone, is it not the case that Berliners in Western Berlin can obtain fresh milk without hindrance in the Eastern sector of Berlin?

I know that we are prevented by the blockade from obtaining sufficient milk for children in the Western zone of Berlin.

Will the hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend and see if representations can now be made to the Russians to relax the blockade to allow the entry of fresh milk for children only?

Eritrea (Brigandage)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement concerning the interruption by local inhabitants of a senior military officer's journey in the Massawa district of Eritrea during the latter part of March, 1949.

Brigadier H. E. Creedon, the Commander Eritrea district, was travelling from Asmara to Massawa on the 23rd March when his car was held up by three brigands armed with rifles and hand grenades. Brigadier Creedon, who was robbed but uninjured, was travelling without escort and was not in uniform. These brigands, locally known as Shifta, are professional robbers, but Brigadier Creedon's assailants have not yet been identified.

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether these Shiftas have been making a habit of raiding and marauding, and, if so, what action is being taken to prevent this continuing?

I understand that this problem is not a new one in this rather remote district. I should like notice of the question about suppression.

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether adequate police arrangements have been made in Eritrea for dealing with cases of this kind and others?

We are doing what we can, but I do not think I can undertake that this will be suppressed altogether with the resources which we have available.

Colonial Empire (Imported Goods)

12.

asked the Secre-of State for the Colonies to what extent manufactured goods from Russian-controlled countries are being dumped in the British colonial territories.

My right hon. Friend is not aware that any such goods are being dumped in the Colonies.

Will the Under-Secretary make further inquiries and see to what extent Bata shoes from Czechoslovakia are being dumped in West Africa below the cost of production?

Tanganyika

Corporal Punishment

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies for what offences corporal punishment may be inflicted in Tanganyika.

As the reply is necessarily somewhat long I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the Minister tell the House whether the reply is long because of the number of offences or for other reasons?

It is long because I am giving my hon. Friend the information for which he asked.

Following is the reply:

Corporal punishment in Tanganyika is inflicted under the Penal Code for certain offences against morality, persons, animals and property. Offences against the persons include robbery with violence and aggravated assaults. Offences against property include burglary, house-breaking and similar offences where previous conviction exists in a similar offence. In addition corporal punishment is authorised for juveniles convicted of offences punishable under the Penal Code and other laws.

Prisons legislation permits corporal punishment of convicted criminal prisoners for

  • (a) Mutiny
  • (b) Incitement to mutiny
  • (c) Personal violence to Prison Officers.
  • Native courts may only inflict corporal punishment on adults for

  • (a) Indecent assaults
  • (b) Assaults aggravated by the age, sex or condition of the victim or particular savagery on the part of the offender.
  • (c) Stock theft.
  • and on juveniles convicted of offences punishable under any Laws which Native courts are empowered to enforce. All sentences of corporal punishment imposed by Native Courts whether on adults or juveniles are subject to confirmation by an administrative officer.

    Ex-German Estates (Allocation)

    14.

    asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what area of the ex-German estates in Tanganyika has been allocated to Europeans; and how much of this land is still unallocated.

    Eighty-seven thousand seven hundred and ninety acres have been allocated to Europeans and 264,230 acres remain unallocated.

    Malaya

    Police Action (Shooting)

    15.

    asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will now give details of the shooting of two Chinese women by the police in Malaya on 23rd February.

    I have already written to my hon. Friend, giving him all the available details of this incident.

    Is the Minister aware that in his reply to me he says that he admits that two women were shot down and that they were shot down after a half-mile chase? What kind of police were they that could not catch a woman in less than half-a-mile? Will the hon. Gentleman give instructions that unarmed women are not to be followed and shot by police in future?

    On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Before trying to catch your eye to ask a question of the Minister with regard to this affair and in view of a former Ruling of yours, I would like to ask you whether it would be in Order for me to refer to the shooting of these two women as a shocking case of foul and bloody murder? Would that be in order?

    I want to ask the Minister if in view of the statement that has been made by his own Department on the deliberate shooting of these two women, one of whom was killed and the other seriously injured, he will condemn this action in a statement to the authorities there and condemn it as an act of murder? Will he also bring the police to trial?

    Surely the Under-Secretary is not going to sit there quietly and let such an accusation be levelled without comment against an Administration for which his Department is responsible?

    These women were chased for half-a-mile, as has been stated. The police called upon them to halt and they refused to halt—

    In the very enclosed situation that we have in Malaya, they were getting away. The police then fired—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—and as a result one woman was killed and the other died later in hospital.

    As what we have received is a bare record of facts which to many of us are rather shocking on the face of it, can my hon. Friend say whether he condemns this happening or whether there are any other facts which would enable him to justify it?

    I always regret the death of any person, whether it is a policeman or a member of the public, but hon. Members must realise the intensely difficult situation in Malaya with which the police have to grapple. In these circumstances, the women dashed out of a house which was being searched and refused to stop, and in accordance with the police promulgation previously made, they were liable to be fired on, and were in fact fired on.

    Does the hon. Gentleman deny the half-mile chase that preceded the shooting?

    British Government Policy

    30.

    asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the representations received by His Majesty's Government from the Government of Malaya, he will give an assurance that His Majesty's Government have no intention of relinquishing their responsibilities there.

    Yes, Sir. His Majesty's Government have no intention of relinquishing their responsibilities in Malaya until their task is completed. The purpose of our policy is simple. We are working, in co-operation with the citizens of the Federation of Malaya and Singapore, to guide them to responsible self-government within the Commonwealth. We have no intention of jeopardising the security, well-being and liberty of these peoples, for whom Britain has responsibilities, by a premature withdrawal.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware of the satisfaction that will be felt, not only by the whole House, but in Malaya and in this country, at the nature of his answer?

    Cyprus (Suppressed Newspaper)

    16.

    asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what report he has had from Cyprus regarding the suppression of the newspaper "Demokratis," and the imprisonment of the editor; and if he will make a statement.

    Charges against this paper arose out of an article in it alleging that the Cyprus Government was attempting through its local officials and in collusion with a local Right Wing party, to falsify the municipal electoral rolls. The newspaper was suspended for three months and the managing director sentenced to imprisonment for the same period.

    I would like to ask the Minister how he justifies this action on the part of the authorities in the suppression of this paper for three months and in the imprisonment of the editor? Will he not take steps to put a stop to this sort of thing and provide ordinary opportunities for political expression on the part of the Press?

    It is not for me to comment upon the action of a court of law. This man and the newspaper have an appeal open to them if they so desire. I may point out that the managing director had four previous convictions, the last of which was for contempt of court.

    Will the Minister at least give an assurance that he will give the same freedom to this paper "Demokratis" as is given to the Opposition Press in Russia?

    West Africa

    X-Ray Apparatus

    17.

    asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the supply of X-ray apparatus for all the hospitals of West African Colonies has been or will be included in welfare and development plans; and how many hospitals now possess this apparatus.

    The Governors concerned have been asked to supply the information required and I shall communicate with my hon. Friend when this is received.

    Meanwhile, would the hon. Gentleman please take such steps as are possible to see that X-ray apparatus is supplied to all the hospitals in West Africa?

    A number of X-ray apparatuses have been sent out to West Africa in the last three years.

    Will the hon. Gentleman, when making his inquiries, also go into the hospital position in the territories in East Africa?

    Is my hon. Friend aware that until recently there was in the Gold Coast at least one hospital 350 miles away from the nearest X-ray apparatus? Can he explain what is the use of keeping a hospital open in these circumstances?

    Six X-ray apparatuses have been sent to the Gold Coast in the last three years. I hope in time all will be covered.

    Goldmining Industry

    20.

    asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies when and how was the invitation made to the West African goldmining industry to give the Government a review of the economic situation of the industry, accompanied by any suggestions which they might have to make; and if the invitation was given orally or in writing.

    The request was made orally by the Colonial Secretary of the Gold Coast at a meeting with representatives of the local Chamber of Mines in January.

    Why was not this invitation given officially and in writing to the London representatives of the industry? After all, they have invariably been consulted in the past by the Government in these matters, and in view of the fact that the London representatives are now getting out a scheme as a result of the discussion the other night in this House, will the hon. Gentleman make sure that that scheme, which will be ready by the end of this month, will be discussed immediately with the Colonial Office?

    It is assumed, and it is the fact, that the local representatives are closely in touch with the head offices in London.

    But why on this occasion, for the first time, is it that the Colonial Office have not consulted the London representatives first? They have always done that before and so have the Treasury.

    I take it that this is a new and not necessarily a bad innovation.

    Nigeria

    Oba Follulu Of Lagos

    18.

    asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what annual amount from Government sources is paid to the Oba Follulu of Lagos and for what purpose; and to what extent the Nigerian Government are responsible for the repair and maintenance of the Oba's palace.

    The Oba is paid £500 a year in recognition of his position as head of the House of Docemo. So far as my right hon. Friend is aware the Nigerian Government accept no responsibility for the upkeep of his house.

    But will the hon. Gentleman see whether this building, which is in a bad state of repair, cannot be recognised as an ancient monument of Nigeria and be, therefore, the responsibility of the Nigerian Government?

    The Nigerian Government lent this gentleman some money to renovate the house. He renovated it and repaid the money but, apart from that, we have no responsibility.

    Groundnut Production

    19.

    asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what consultations have taken place with the Emirs of the Northern region of Nigeria and other authorities in respect of improvements in the production of groundnuts in that area; and to what extent more modern methods have been successfully introduced.

    The Governor of Nigeria has been asked for information on this subject but has not yet replied. As soon as his reply is received a communication will be sent to my hon. Friend.

    But meanwhile, would the hon. Gentleman say whether any kind of consultations have taken place at any time with the authorities in Northern Nigeria in regard to this matter?

    Yes, I am sure they have. I had some myself, and I am sure the Governor has had some.

    Yes, but is not the question here not so much a matter of improving the production of groundnuts but of moving the groundnuts which have been produced already?

    Royal Navy

    Navy List (Publication)

    23.

    asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what information will be given in the editions of the Navy List which are to be published for public use.

    The edition of the Navy List which is to be placed on sale to the public will contain lists of officers of the Royal Navy and its Reserves, showing their seniority, and where they are serving, together with a list of His. Majesty's ships and the officers serving in them. Corresponding information on the Commonwealth Navies will also be given.

    Can the hon. Gentleman say whether any information at present given in the Navy List is to be excluded from the general edition?

    Yes; naturally, as I said last time, this will not contain quite as much information as has been contained in the restricted edition available for hon. Members.

    North Atlantic Treaty

    24.

    asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what degree of co-operation there is now to be between the navies of the countries signing the North Atlantic Treaty; and what effect he anticipates that the treaty will have on the naval expenditure of this country.

    Co-operation between the Royal Navy and the navies of other signatory powers, which is already close and friendly, will, of course, be further stimulated. As regards the second part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer given him on 7th April by my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

    In view of the strength of the American Navy and the co-operation that my hon. Friend has mentioned are we not entitled to look forward to a decrease in naval expenditure?

    Is not the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the great majority in this country are fully in favour of this increasing co-operation, and surely it is a fact that this co-operation means that expenditure will be less than if we were operating alone?

    Compassionate Leave (Application)

    25.

    asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he will make a further effort to secure compassionate leave for Leading Patrolman T. Ikin of 54, Silverdale Road, Newcastle-under Lyme, now stationed in Malta to visit his dying mother.

    No, Sir. I am afraid the circumstances do not justify this rating being brought home specially.

    Would it not be a more appropriate gesture for my hon. Friend to extend these regulations in this and similar cases, especially in peace-time, and does he not think that if his Department showed a little more compassion and imagination in matters of this kind it would encourage recruitment and discourage discontent in the Services?

    We are looking into this question to see whether it is possible for the regulations to be modified in any way, but I cannot say definitely yet what the decision will be.

    Is my hon. Friend telling the House that in a case where it is established to the satisfaction of his Department that a mother is dying, there are regulations which prohibit him from making arrangements for this man to be sent home immediately?

    Yes, the usual regulations are that if the mother has another son or a daughter present in the country, the rating will not be brought back if he is required for duty. If there is no other son or daughter present, he will be brought back in any circumstances.

    But in view of the fact that my hon. Friend is prepared to look into this matter, and that the mother is dying at the moment and may not last out that time, will he not take steps to try to help in this case?

    No, I said I was looking into the general question. If this rating were given special treatment before the general review takes place, it would be unfair to other ratings who have not had it up till now.

    In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

    Ratings (Civilian Clothes)

    28.

    asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty why, in the Navy, only petty officers and above are allowed to wear civilian clothes when off duty; and why the lower ranks cannot have the same privileges as the Army and the Air Force.

    All ratings on short leave except those under training and all ratings on leave over 24 hours may wear plain clothes outside the naval establishment in which they are employed. It is mainly in the wearing of civilian clothes inside naval establishments or when passing in and out of such establishments that a distinction is made between petty officers and above on the one hand, and the lower ratings, on the other hand. One reason for this is that naval ratings are always liable to be sent at short notice to sea-going appointments or to ships such as the Reserve Fleet where there are no facilities for keeping civilian clothing. A second reason is that in the barracks there is a quickly changing population which in general is not known to the guards at the entrances and, unless restrictions were placed on the freedom of passage of liberty men or extra security precautions were introduced, there would be difficulties if naval ratings in plain clothes were leaving and entering the barracks at different times, especially in the evening when the numbers are large.

    Does the hon. Gentleman realise the very strong feeling on this matter amongst ratings in the Navy, and why should they be in a different position from the equivalent ranks in the Army and the Air Force? This attitude is not helping recruitment, and does not the Parliamentary Secretary realise that his answer is an extremely feeble one?

    I am not aware that there is any strong feeling. In any case, these regulations have existed for a considerable time under previous Governments, of which the hon. Member was a supporter.

    Does the hon. Gentleman realise that although these regulations may have lasted for a very long time, so also did those for the Army and the Air Force, but those have been changed?

    Is it not the case that lower ratings find it very difficult to buy civilian clothes, and is not this a further reason for supplying them with the necessary clothing?

    Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when I have corresponded with him on this subject in the past he has said that the matter was still under consideration, and is the answer he has given now the final one, or is the matter still under consideration?

    No, Sir. It is the final one. My noble Friend considered the matter earlier this year and has made his decision.

    Analgesia (Research)

    31.

    asked the Lord President of the Council what research is at present being carried on by the Medical Research Council on the subject of the administration of analgesia in childbirth; whether research is going on upon the use of trilene for this object; how many types of trilene apparatus are at present being investigated; in which hospitals tests are being carried out; and what are the approximate numbers of research workers and amounts of money involved.

    The special committee on the subject has only just been set up, and its first task will be to survey the problem before deciding what new investigations are required. The question remitted to the committee is on the possibility of devising improved or new methods of analgesia, whether with trilene or some other substance, and any examination of types of apparatus already available will be incidental.

    Bbc Inquiry (Chairman)

    32.

    asked the Lord President of the Council why an independent person having no previous connection with the British Broadcasting Corporation was not appointed to act as chairman of the forthcoming committee of inquiry.

    Sir Cyril Radcliffe was chosen as being particularly well fitted for the chairmanship of this committee. Far from being a drawback, the knowledge of the British Broadcasting Corporation which he obtained as Director-General of the Ministry of Information and later as deputy-Chairman of the Corporation's General Advisory Council should be of great assistance to him in conducting the inquiry. Any suggestion that Sir Cyril is not independent of the Corporation is quite unfounded.

    Does not the Lord President think that a completely neutral person would have brought greater confidence to the public?

    Any suggestion that Sir Cyril Radcliffe is not neutral is unfounded and unkind. He is a perfectly neutral person and I have the utmost confidence in his impartiality as chairman of this committee.

    If the right hon. Gentleman believes in the impartiality of chairmen, why does that not apply to the London County Council?

    Armed Forces

    North Atlantic Treaty

    33.

    asked the Minister of Defence what release of manpower from the Services and of arma- ments industries for productive work he anticipates as a result of the measures to be taken under Articles 3 and 9 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

    It would be premature to attempt now to assess the effect of these Articles on the manpower requirements of the Services.

    Has not the Minister seen the circular from his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer urging upon him the need for economy and reduced expenditure, and cannot we expect some release of manpower as a result?

    I have most certainly had that circular, but I still get requests from hon. Members to increase my expenditure in certain respects. If it were not for the signing of the Pact this country might well be faced with heavily increased expenditure. We cannot assess any economies until we have considered the matter further.

    Officers (Transfer Allowance)

    34.

    asked the Minister of Defence whether he is aware that better allowances are payable to civil servants than to officers of the Fighting Forces on permanent change of station; and whether he will now introduce better allowances for officers of the Fighting Forces.

    The regulations governing the payment of expenses on transfer for Service officers have only recently been revised after full consideration by the Service Departments. The regulations are different from those for civil servants, since the general conditions of service for officers and civil servants are dissimilar.

    Is it not true that these allowances for civil servants are better than the allowances given to officers in the Fighting Forces, and, in view of the fact that officers in the Fighting Forces are more frequently called upon to change their station, should not the Minister have another look at this matter in the light of the facts, and particularly in the light of present-day costs of moving?

    This has all been taken into consideration in the previous review of the conditions attaching to the Services. The conditions for civil servants are, in fact, very different. They are not displaced so often. The general level of their rates of pay is lower compared with that of corresponding officer ranks, and all this has been taken into consideration. I have nothing to add, therefore, to my answer.

    Do the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman cover also the employees of British Overseas Airways, and, if not, will he look into that matter also, because it is certainly a case of discrepancy?

    I will certainly have a look at it, but I do not regard them as being in quite the same category.

    Does the Minister's answer mean that he has abandoned the idea of what I think he once referred to as a "disturbance allowance"?

    The general question of officers' expenses was taken into account when we fixed the increased marriage allowance.

    Food Supplies

    Potatoes (Resale)

    35.

    asked the Minister of Food how many tons of home-grown potatoes have been bought by his Department and resold to the producer at a cheaper price.

    Up to 26th March, 78,952 tons of potatoes bought from growers under the guarantee had been sold back to them at the cheaper stockfeed price.

    Can the right hon. Gentleman say what was the financial outcome of this transaction?

    We can hardly separate that from the general sale of surplus potatoes for stockfeed, of which I have already given the House the figures.

    Can my right hon. Friend say whether it is part of the guarantee given to the growers that the Ministry will purchase all their potatoes and leave none on their hands?

    Yes. Of course, it would be the most outrageous breach of the guarantee if we did not fulfil it by purchasing these potatoes.

    Can my right hon. Friend say whether the tonnage is less than 1 per cent. of the total crop?

    Investigation Methods

    36.

    asked the Minister of Food if he is now prepared to make a statement about the investigations carried out by his Department into black market operations in the Northern Region and on the kind of methods used in "operation Octopus" of which he did not approve.

    I would prefer to make this statement after the Easter Recess as I shall then be in a position to announce the measures which I am taking to prevent the recurrence of the methods of investigation of which I could not approve. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that this will be more satisfactory than making one statement now and then a further statement later.

    Allocations (Co-Operative Societies)

    37.

    asked the Minister of Food to what extent a bigger share of pointed and rationed goods are allocated to the Co-operative Wholesale Society's factories and co-operative retail shops.

    Rationed foods, dried fruit and imported canned foods directly controlled by my Department are allocated to co-operative and private traders on precisely the same basis. When last Autumn we were able to give some extra sugar to all manufacturers we departed from the previous method of distribution according to pre-war usage because this basis had become more and more unfair with each year that went by, since it made no allowance for the transfer of customers from one type of shop to another. For example, the number of customers dealing with Co-operative Societies had grown very markedly since the datum year of 1938. If we had reallotted the sugar in proportion to present registrations, as there is a strong case for doing, the Co-operatives would have got far more. The adjustment which we made still left the Co-operative Societies at a distinct disadvantage as compared with private traders.

    In view of that reply, may I ask if the Minister's attention has been drawn to the advertisement inserted in the popular Press by the Co-operative Wholesale Society in these terms:

    "Register all your ration books at the Co-op—you'll get a bigger share of scarcer goods that way!"
    [Interruption.]—and in view of the Minister's previous statement on policy will he stop this cruel deception for attracting the consuming public?

    No, Sir. I see no element of deception in the Co-operative Society's advertisements. They claim to distribute their products more equitably between customers. It is not for me either to endorse or to comment upon that claim.

    As there was a total increase of the membership of Co-operative Societies and the Minister admits that there was a case for an even further increase of sugar, which is not denied by anyone on the benches opposite, will the Minister take into account the necessity for that further increase?

    Certainly my only doubt in the steps we took at that time was whether they were adequate or not.

    Is it not a fact that private retailers have also increased the number of their customers in view of the great increase of the whole population?

    Is not the greater opportunity for getting a larger share in a Co-operative shop due to the fact that all the goods in those shops are above the counter?

    Imports From Yugoslavia

    38.

    asked the Minister of Food what items of foodstuffs specified in Schedule I of the Anglo-Yugoslav Trade Agreement have so far been purchased by his Department; and when delivery of these is expected.

    My Department has so far bought 560 tons of canned fish and 750 tons of white beans. The canned fish has already arrived in this country and the beans are due for shipment this month. We have also bought 75,000 tons of maize, but this is outside Schedule A.

    Fried Fish Licence (Application)

    39.

    asked the Minister of Food, why he has refused to grant an allocation of fats to an applicant for permission to open a fried-fish shop in Appleton-le-Moors; whether he is aware that this village and the surrounding area are seriously penalised by the absence of fish-frying facilities; and whether he will review his decision.

    Unfortunately, this application was received too late for the open season for new fried-fish licences which lasted from 1st October to 1st November. Therefore it had to be considered on strict grounds of consumer needs and the local food committee could not agree to it. After looking into the circumstances, I really cannot see good grounds for overruling their decision.

    Is the Minister aware that in this area one has to walk more than six miles to get any fried fish? Will he look into the matter again?

    No, Sir, my information is that Appleton-le-Moors is already served by a mobile fish and chips van, which visits it once a week.

    Imported Fruit (Allocations)

    40.

    asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that retailers allocations of imported fruits under the control of his Department were last reviewed in October, 1947, and if he will arrange for an early re-assessment.

    Overseas Food Corporation (Projects)

    41.

    asked the Minister of Food if he will make a statement on the projects now in hand, or under consideration, by the British Food Corporation.

    The Overseas Food Corporation, to which I take it the hon. Member refers, has in hand the East African Scheme for producing oilseeds and, in association with the Queensland Government, the Queensland Scheme for the production of sorghum and pigs. If the hon. Member wishes for information about projects under consideration, he should communicate with the Corporation direct.

    Herring (Landings, Lerwick)

    42.

    asked the Minister of Food what arrangements he has made to ensure that herring landed at Lerwick during the forthcoming season will be distributed throughout Great Britain in preference to sending them to Germany.

    Landings of herring during the Summer at the mainland ports are more than enough to meet the needs of the home market, and it would be uneconomic to use Lerwick herring for that purpose. I shall do all I can to encourage consumption of herring at home, but for the disposal of a part of the catch, especially the Lerwick catch, we must continue to rely on our traditional export market.

    Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there will be a much bigger demand for herring this year because of the great shortage of meat? Will he consider adopting a similar plan to that used by the original Ministry of Food when they put on a small cargo vessel service between Stornoway, Kyle, Oban and Mallaig?

    We will certainly consider that, if the home market shows signs of being able to absorb such quantities.

    Meat Ration (Butchers' Rebate)

    The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. DAVID RENTON:

    43. To ask the Minister of Food whether he is aware that, now that the total meat ration has been reduced to 10d. per person per week, butchers serving rural areas are unable to distribute the ration without financial loss in spite of the rebate of 4½ per cent. of the wholesale price; and whether he will increase that rebate and, if necessary, make differential rates of rebate as between butchers serving urban and rural areas.

    Since I put down this Question the rebate has been reduced, I understand, to 3¾ per cent.

    I am advised that the rebate on the wholesale price of meat has been calculated to give an adequate profit to the retail butchery trade. I cannot agree that the costs of rural butchers are on balance higher than those of butchers serving urban areas.

    Is the Minister quite ignorant of the fact that rural butchers endeavour to supply meat to their customers by means of a delivery service? Has that delivery service been borne in mind when fixing these so-called profit margins, or was there merely an average struck between town and country? Will he look into the matter further?

    I should not have thought that the delivery services were confined to rural butchers, nor that that was the only element in costs and that such costs as rent, would be smaller in the rural areas.

    Eire Cattle (Prices)

    44.

    asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that it is impossible for private enterprise buyers to obtain the 90 per cent. of Eire cattle to which this country is entitled in our agreement with Eire unless they are put in a position to pay prices which are competitive with those offered by Continental buyers; and whether he will amend his regulations so as to enable them to do so.

    No, Sir. I am satisfied that the price agreement which has now been reached is such that the Eire Government will have no difficulty in ensuring that we get the 90 per cent. of their cattle exports, which they have agreed to send us from next July onwards. In fact, the import of fat and store cattle from Eire into Great Britain during the last three months for which figures are available, namely, January, February and March, were 75,217 as compared to 61,698 in the corresponding months a year ago, an increase of 22 per cent.

    Is not the controlled price in this country 113s. a cwt. and has not the private buyer to calculate at what price he must buy in order to be able to sell at a small profit in this country after paying expenses? In view of the fact that there is not a controlled price for meat on the Continent, is it not too easy for Continental buyers to outbid the price which our buyers can afford to bid?

    That is why we made the recent agreement with the Eire Government. For this year their exports to other countries were restricted to 50,000 and for the future to 10 per cent. of their total exports. The Eire Government are adhering to this agreement most scrupulously.

    But do the Eire Government assist British private buyers in this matter? Are they not very much handicapped by the present arrangement?

    No, Sir. In this case I should be loath to take the matter out of private hands. I get a great deal of pressure from hon. Members opposite, but I think that would be carrying the principle of bulk buying too far.

    Railway Land (Allotments)

    45.

    asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps he is taking to arrange for the utilisation of the verges of railways for the production of food, especially for fruit and allotments for vegetables.

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

    At 1st April, 1948, there were 75,306 allotments on 4,321 acres of railway land. The railways have willingly co-operated with local authorities in the provision of additional allotments, subject of course to fencing the land from the railway where necessary in the interests of safety, and to reservation of the right to re-enter the land at short notice for railway purposes.

    In view of this large and extensive area of land now under the control of the Government, will my hon. Friend consult the Ministry of Transport as to what further use could be made of the land for the production of food, particularly for allotments?

    We do not think there is need for that, but if a local authority thinks there is land which can be made available they should get into touch with the estate manager and rating agent of the railway region concerned.

    Will the hon. Gentleman take into account the immense amounts of forage grass that goes to waste every year in this respect?

    Would it not be a bad thing to grow fruit trees by the side of railways, as that might prove a danger by attracting boys to the trees and so on to the railway lines?

    Strike, London Docks

    Mr.

    (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any further statement to make on the London Docks strike.

    Yes, Sir. The information this morning showed the total number of stevedores and dockers on strike as 15,030. The majority of the lightermen have accepted work in loyal observance of the decision which was taken last night but an unknown number absented themselves. At a meeting of the Transport and General Workers' Union this morning, a general decision was reached to resume work tomorrow at the normal starting time. Following agreement with the port employers, the Transport and General Workers' Union have also instructed their docks officers to assist in the building up of the gangs that are at present broken. The continuity rule will then apply to the newly constituted gangs of men available in the port for work. I should like to express my appreciation of the public spirited action of the union in these matters.

    I take it from the much better complexion of the news which the right hon. Gentleman has given us, and which we all welcome, that there still remains the position of the stevedores' union. Can the Minister assure us that meanwhile, in view of this development, he is satisfied about the position of perishable foodstuffs?

    The resumption of work by the workers of the Transport and General Workers' Union makes the situation much easier. We shall still be losing the services of the stevedores but the Government have every intention of taking every step open to them to ensure the proper flow of the necessary food supplies and other things.

    May I ask the Minister, as a trade unionist, whether this is not a somewhat mean and contemptible method of strike breaking?

    The hon. Member asks me that question "as a trade unionist." I would say that if one examines the motives in this matter one will find a good example of a mean and contemptible attempt to take advantage of other people.

    Commonwealth Prime Ministers (Reception)

    Mr.

    (by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he has been able to make arrangements for Members of Parliament to meet the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in an informal manner during the period of the forthcoming Conference.

    Yes, Sir. I am glad to be able to announce to the House that you, Mr. Speaker, have been kind enough to agree to act as host with the Lord Chancellor at a reception in your house from 5.0 p.m. to 7.0 p.m. on Tuesday, 26th April, to which all Members of both Houses of Parliament are invited and at which I very much hope that all the Prime Ministers and their principal Ministerial advisers attending the Conference will be present. Individual invitations will not be issued, but you, Sir, have asked me to say that you hope that as many hon. Members as possible will accept this general invitation.

    I hope that I shall not be thought to be presuming if, on behalf of all parties, I venture to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your impending hospitality; and I should like to thank the Prime Minister for acceding to the suggestion made to him.