House Of Commons
Tuesday, 26th April, 1949
The House—after the Adjournment on 14th April, 1949, for the Easter Recess—met at Half-past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Swindon Corporation Bill
As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.
Grimsby Corporation Bill Lords
Read a Second time, and committed.
Oral Answers To Questions
Pay And Allowances, Malaya
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will now reconsider the local overseas allowances paid to troops in Malaya.
My right hon. Friend has no evidence from the local military authorities in the Far East which suggests that the local overseas allowance is inadequate for the purpose for which it is issued. He does not therefore consider that it needs to be reviewed at present.
Is the Minister aware that local prices bear no relation to the real rate of exchange—for example, a bottle of beer for a soldier out there costs about 5s. 6d.?
Yes, but these matters are considered in estimating the rate of allowance. On that we had considerable evidence, both written and verbal, when the amount of the allowance was determined.
Is the Minister aware that his point of view is quite wrong in this, that the troops are put into a much worse position than civilians of equal status, and that it is already causing a considerable amount of bad feeling?
I must repeat that this allowance was fixed in the light of evidence most carefully collected, and there has been no evidence from the troops since the time it was fixed, that there is any reason for reviewing it.
Forces, Transjordan (Cost)
asked the Secretary of State for War what has been the average weekly cost of maintaining our Forces at Aqaba during April.
Information is not available centrally from which the cost of keeping the force at Aqaba could be estimated.
Could the Minister give an approximate idea of our expenditure. whether this expenditure is to be continued, and what steps are to be taken to reduce it?
I think my hon. Friend is aware that it is not the practice to give figures which would throw light on the strength of the Army, other than the division between this country and B.A.O.R. and all other overseas theatres together. Even, therefore, if it were possible to make the estimate which my hon. Friend requests, I doubt if it would be in the public interest to give it.
Is there any reason to suppose that the cost would be any more if the troops were somewhere other than in Aqaba?
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the hardships suffered by individuals of all ranks as a result of the practice of deducting overpayments from subsequent pay; and whether he will now issue instructions that, in all cases where the over-issue was not the fault of the individual concerned, any overpayment is not to be recovered but to be charged against public funds.
The recipient of an overpayment of Army pay or allowances is normally liable, in principle, to meet in full the public claim which is created against him by the overpayment. In cases, however, where the overpayment has been received and spent in good faith and undue hardship would be inflicted by the enforcement of this principle, it is the practice to limit recovery to an amount which the recipient can repay within a reasonable period, and the balance is written off. My right hon. Friend regrets that he is unable to accept the suggestion that in all cases where the overissue was not the fault of the recipient, the public claim against him should be waived entirely.
Will the Minister bear in mind that in civil employment, when wages are overpaid as a result of an error of the management, it is quite exceptional for any attempt to be made to recover the overpayment, and will he also bear in mind that it is the experience of hon. Members who have to deal with these cases that great hardship results from recovering overpayment?
I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that the practice he describes is invariable, and it could not be made so in the public service. As to cases of hardship, we are always willing to look at each individual case on its merits.
Will the hon. Member be good enough to see that the earlier part of his answer is communicated to the officials of the Treasury and of the Inland Revenue because, so far as my own constituency is concerned, it is certainly not known and there are a number of cases of refusal on the part of the officials to make any allowance.
Can the hon. Gentleman look at the machinery—there are unquestionably certain hard cases arising—which is put into operation for testing whether they can repay or not, because that is where the fault takes place? Sometimes they take a generous point of view, sometimes they do not.
I should be willing to look at that, but I have myself had experience of a number of these hard cases, and my general experience is that they are reasonably and sympathetically treated.
Officers (Outfit Allowances)
asked the Secretary of State for War why arrangements have not yet been made to credit the accounts of officers commissioned between October, 1948, and mid-January, 1949, with the higher rate of outfit allowances.
These arrangements have been authorised in recent instructions for Army officers concerned except those of the Reserve Forces, the Territorial Army and the Cadet Forces, for whom appropriate instructions will be issued shortly.
Will the hon. Gentleman see that delay of this kind does not take place in future when new allowances are introduced, because it causes great hardship?
The delay in this case applied to the retrospective working of the concession that was made. There were a number of matters, such as definition of eligibility, that made it difficult to reach an earlier agreement.
asked the Secretary of State for War why Heinz Muhlmeyer, a German Signal Corps officer, has received no prisoner-of-war pay for the period he was in British custody, namely, 15th July, 1945, to 4th July, 1946, in spite of the fact that he was given prisoner-of-war status and eventually discharged from Prisoner-of-war Discharge Centre No. 2.
I am inquiring into the facts of this case; but owing to the dispersal of various prisoners-of-war records the inquiries are inevitably taking some considerable time. I will, however, write to my hon. Friend as soon as possible.
But is my hon. Friend aware that this is not a unique case, and is there any administrative reason why these matters should take so long?
The administrative reason is the one I have already given to my hon. Friend, the dispersal of the records some time ago, but I hope to give him an answer on this case before long.
That is just my point. If the matter had been dealt with promptly, the records would not have been dispersed.
Town And Country Planning
Cemetery Scheme, Goring-On-Thames
The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. SKEFFINGTON-LODGE:
7. To ask the Minister of Town and Country Planning whether he is aware of the proposal of the Henley Rural District Council and the Goring Parish Council to provide a new cemetery on a site in Croft Road in the village of Goring-on-Thames; and whether, as this offends against good planning and is protested by many local inhabitants, he will represent to the authorities that they should not proceed with the scheme in its present form.
I want to apologise for a piece of bad English, which, I think, is a hang-over from my recent visit to the United States. The words "protested by" should read "opposed by."
I understand that this proposal has not yet been referred to the Oxfordshire County Council, which is the Planning Authority for the area. Until I know their views I am unable to comment.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning for what reason his Department overruled the decision or the London County Council that Kensington Square was residential and permitted a development there which will destroy the character of the Square.
My right hon. Friend's decision on this case allows the construction of an unloading dock on land at the rear of houses on the north side of Kensington Square, with no direct access to the Square. It was based on an urgent need to relieve traffic congestion in the streets leading to the Square. The decision does not affect the residential use of any house in the Square nor will it, in my opinion, destroy the Present character of the Square.
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the London County Council scheme would equally have prevented the congestion of traffic in the neighbourhood without destroying the Square?
It would have had that effect, but there were other disadvantages attaching to the scheme.
Death Benefit Claim, Stafford
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in considering the claim for industrial death benefit of Mr. E. H. Gill, of 75 Stone Road, Stafford, in respect of his son's death from typhoid fever, it was decided that his son's death arose out of, and in the course of his employment.
Pensions (War Widows)
asked the Minister of National Insurance if lie will give an estimate of the cost of granting old age pensions in full to war widows of the 1914–18 war who, under the old insurance scheme, would have qualified for an unconditional pension of 10s. a week at age 70.
I regret that this information is not available and could not be obtained without special inquiry, which I do not think would be justified. These widows will in general be able to qualify for the new retirement pension: for those too old to contribute under the new scheme the right to a 10s. pension at 70 under the old arrangements has been preserved.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that, instead of the 10s., these people should qualify for 26s.?
That is an entirely different matter.
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is aware that considerable delays are taking place in the granting of assistance by the National Assistance Board; and whether be will take steps to deal with this position.
Inquiries do not show that the time taken to deal with two cases which my hon. Friend has sent was unreasonable but I will let him have further particulars by letter in due course.
Employment (Redundant Workers)
asked the Minister of Labour if he will take steps to require all employers desirous of declaring workers redundant and dismissing them, to consult with his Department and to notify his Department of the reasons for dismissals and redundancy, and to give reasonable time for negotiations and consultation with the trade unions concerned or the consultative machinery established in the industry.
No, Sir. Employers are encouraged to give employment exchanges early notice of prospective redundancies and workers are encouraged through their trade unions to register as long as possible before discharge so that efforts may be made to find other work for them with little or no interval of unemployment, but I am unable to agree that it would be desirable or practicable to institute the compulsory measures suggested by my hon. Friend.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in certain cases the workers allege that they are dismissed without proper consultation; and does he not think that this matter merits further consideration in view of the recent industrial disputes, especially in the Manchester area?
This matter of joint consultation is always the subject of negotiation with employers and trade unions and we are applying as much persuasive pressure as we can to avoid those things mentioned by my hon. Friend.
Aged People (Care)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what accommodation is being provided for the care of aged people, incapable of looking after themselves and who do not require the services of trained nurses.
Local authorities have a duty under Section 21 of the National Assistance Act to provide residential accommodation for aged people who require care and attention which they cannot get in any other way. The authorities are to carry out this duty in accordance with schemes approved by the Secretary of State. The schemes so far received show that local authorities are anxious to make headway; but present restrictions on building limit developments mainly to the adaptation of existing properties.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the widespread indignation in the City of Glasgow because of the delay in trying to solve this very serious problem?
The City of Glasgow, of course, has a great many problems of building. It has houses, hospitals and feeding centres to build, and this is just one of the many problems which are dependent upon the progress of the building trade.
Has the right hon. Gentleman received the reports, which he indicated would reach him by mid-April, from local authorities on this problem of accommodation for aged people, which I raised some time ago; and has he any evidence to show that the old people will, at a reasonably early date, get this accommodation, which they need so very much?
That is still being investigated. The problem which the hon. Gentleman raised was that of the sick aged people, who come under the regional hospital board. I am going to try to get together all the bodies responsible for the old people to see whether all the different agencies can be fitted in.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking, in view of the meat shortage, to increase the number of sheep in Scotland.
Encouragement is given to farmers in Scotland to improve and increase their breeding sheep stocks by means of the hill sheep subsidy, by increased prices for fat sheep and for wool, by the provision of rams to crofting townships and by offering grants of half the cost of carrying out schemes for the improvement of hill sheep farms under the Hill Farming Act. Since June, 1947, after the heavy losses of the storms, the number of sheep in Scotland has increased by over 705,000.
What steps is the Minister taking to stock the deer forests with sheep?
Steps have been taken during and since the war to put as many sheep in deer forests as the deer forests can carry, and that policy is being pursued steadily.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree, in view of the present serious meat position, that the time is ripe for a comprehensive review of the maximum use of all our marginal hill and deer forest lands?
I am quite sure that farmers in the Highlands would be very surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman ask that question, because they have been pressed for the last five years and have been doing their maximum.
While the increase of food production is welcomed, will the right hon. Gentleman see that it is not done at the expense of the human population in the Highlands?
One of the limiting factors in the Highlands is that we cannot have cattle without human beings to look after them, and we must re-populate the Highlands with human beings before we can re-populate them with cattle.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland the number of oversize classes in primary, first three years secondary and fourth year and beyond departments of Scottish schools at March, 1949; and what additional accommodation in each department will be available by September, 1949.
At December, 1948, there were 238 oversize classes in primary departments, 680 in the first three years of secondary departments, and 132 in the fourth and subsequent years. It is expected that about 250 primary and fully 300 secondary rooms under construction now will be available by September, 1949.
Building Apprentices (Instruction)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will state the education authorities presently providing day instruction facilities for building apprentices; how many apprentices are taking advantage of the facilities; and what is the estimated cost of these facilities to the Treasury for the current year.
Day instruction for a total of 1,048 building apprentices is provided by the Education Authorities of Dundee, Glasgow, Fife, Lanark and Stirling. Additional facilities will be provided by Edinburgh Education Authority next month, and it is hoped that provision will be made in Aberdeen next session. It is estimated that the grant from the Education (Scotland) Fund towards the cost of these facilities during the current year will amount to about £12,000.
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that he is getting the full co-operation of the building employers in this matter?
No, Sir, I am not satisfied. In many cases the building employers do not seem to appreciate the value of this work, and I think that they might do a little more to co-operate.
Prison Officers, Carstairs
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the serious delay which has occurred in dealing with representations from the Prison Officers' Association concerning the position of the staffs employed at Carstairs State Institution, including representations regarding official recognition and negotiating machinery; and whether he will take steps to expedite an immediate settlement of these outstanding matters.
Agreement has been reached over a large part of the field and steps are being taken to expedite a settlement on the matters still outstanding.
asked the Postmaster-General when he proposes to set up a television station in Scotland.
My right hon. Friend regrets there is nothing he can acid to the answer which he gave to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) on 6th April.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the weight of population in the central belt in Scotland justifies some plan being made for some such station?
It is a question of making manpower and raw materials available.
Council For Wales (Membership)
asked the Prime Minister whether he will now announce the name of the chairman and members of the Advisory Council for Wales; and when and where its first meeting will be held.
asked the Prime Minister whether he is now able to announce the names of the chairman and members of the National Council for Wales.
I am circulating the complete list of 27 members of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire in the OFFICIAL REPORT. In accordance with the statement made by my right hon. Friend, the Lord President of the Council on 24th November, the 12 local authority members have been chosen from a panel of persons nominated by Welsh local authorities; and there are also nominees from the Joint Education Committee, the University of Wales, the National Eisteddfod Council, and the Welsh Tourists and Holidays Board. As representatives of the management side of Welsh industry and agriculture, I have appointed Mr. G. E. Aeron-Thomas, Mr. G. B. Bailey, Mr. E. Gibby, and Mr. W. Clayton Russon; and to represent the workers' side, Councillor Huw T. Edwards, Mr. E. H. Hickery, Mr. Edward Jones, and Mr. R. Ll. Jones. To fill the three remaining places I have appointed Mr. A. R. Davies, Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards, and Mrs. Jennie Jenkins. Except in the case of the local authority representatives, the appointments will be for three years. In order to increase the opportunity for individual local authorities to have a representative on the Council, a third of the local authority members will retire each year under arrangements to be settled with the advice of the Council.I am also glad to be able to tell the House that Mr. Huw Edwards has accepted my invitation to be Chairman of the Council for its first year; subsequent appointments will be made by the Council itself, subject to the proviso that the chairmanship shall alternate between North and South Wales. It will be for the Chairman to make the arrangements for the first Meeting.
While thanking the Prime Minister for the assistance the Government has at last given to Wales, may I ask whether the Council will be able to meet when and where it likes?
I presume so. I have stated that this is a matter for the Chairman to make the arrangements for the first meeting and, presumably, for subsequent meetings.
Can the Prime Minister give an assurance to the House that the proceedings of this Council will be made available to the public, and will not be secret and confidential?
I cannot answer that question without notice.
Will the Prime Minister issue a directive to see that the proceedings of the Council will be available to the public?
I think the general view is that this should not be public, but that Press announcements should be made.
Following is the list:
COUNCIL FOR WALES AND MONMOUTHSHIRE
- Councillor Huw T. Edwards (one of the representatives of Industrial and Agricultural Workers).
Nominated by the Prime Minister
- Mr. A. R. Davies.
- Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards.
- Mrs. Jennie Jenkins.
Representatives of Local Authorities
- Alderman R. D. Briercliffe, J.P.
- Councillor G. F. Hamer, C.B.E., J.P.
- Alderman A. E. Harries.
- Councillor Llewellyn Heycock.
- Alderman W. D. Hughes, J.P.
- Councillor Lewis Lewis.
- Councillor Sidney Mitchell, J.P.
- Councillor Penry Morris.
- Councillor David Owen, M.B.E., J.P
- Councillor O. Gwyrfai Owen.
- Alderman J. J. Panes, O.B.E.
- Alderman George Williams, C.B.E.
Representatives of Industry and Agriculture (Management)
- Mr. G. E. Aeron-Thomas, O.B.E., D.L., J.P.
- Mr. G. B. Bailey.
- Mr. E. Gibby.
- Mr. W. Clayton Russon, M.B.E.
Representatives of Industry and Agriculture (Workers')
- Mr. E. H. Hickery.
- Mr. Edward Jones, J.P.
- Mr. R. LI. Jones, M.B.E.
- In addition to the Chairman.
- Alderman Joseph Jones, J.P., M.A. (nominated by Joint Education Committee).
- Professor Henry Lewis, M.A., D.Lit. (nominated by University of Wales).
Representative of National Eisteddfod Council
- Alderman W. Emyr Williams, LL.B.
Representative of Tourist and Holidays Board
- Mr. William Jones, C.B.E.
Coloured People (Discrimination)
asked the Prime Minister if he will discuss with the Dominions Prime Ministers during their visit to this country the question of discrimination against coloured people.
Is the Prime Minister aware that racial discrimination has become so bad in South Africa—
On a point of Order. It has been constantly laid down by your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, that no question may be asked reflecting on the policy of the Government of one of His Majesty's Dominions. May I call attention to the fact that the hon. Member is so doing by a supplementary question?
Is it not the case that any question covering British subjects abroad can be asked in this House?
A self-governing Dominion is a Dominion responsible to itself, and not to this House. The noble Lord is correct. One could not criticise the Government of a self-governing Dominion.
May I be allowed to continue my question?
I was wondering whether you would assist in the interpretation of that Ruling, Mr. Speaker? Does it mean that it would not be proper to put down a Question to the Prime Minister, or other appropriate Minister, about the protection of the rights of British subjects in British Dominions?
That is a purely hypothetical question and I would like to see it put down in writing at the Table before Riving an answer to it.
While appreciating the Prime Minister's difficulty in answering the Question on the Order Paper, might I ask if he will take the opportunity, if it arises, of making it known that the people of this country regard racial prejudice of any kind as abhorrent?
There is a young clergyman in this country who has been imprisoned in South Africa because of association with coloured people; is it in Order to ask the Prime Minister to raise that matter at the Dominion Conference?
There is no responsibility on the Prime Minister for that and Questions must be devoted to matters for which Ministers are responsible.
I understand that the Question on the Order paper addressed to the Prime Minister is a question about what he would discuss with Dominion Prime Ministers while they are in London and when my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) got an answer which he did not like, he put a supplementary question which was directed to elucidating the reasons why the answer was not as my hon. Friend would have liked it.
I did not think the supplementary question was directed in that way.
Tax Payment (Legal Decision)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has now come to any conclusion on the observations of Mr. Justice Vaisey on 16th March in Sebel Products Limited v. Commissioners of Customs and Excise; and if he will indicate his future policy with regard to the retention by the Crown of tax paid under mistake of law.
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) on Tuesday, 12th April.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been considering the matter for six weeks, is it not time he came to a conclusion on a matter of common honesty?
Income Tax Arrears
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much Income Tax of two or more years duration still remains unpaid; how many individuals or firms are concerned; between what amounts do the sums range; and why this failure to collect Income Tax is allowed, in view of the fact that it means higher taxation for those who do pay.
The hon. Member will find the latest available information in the Inland Revenue Appropriation Accounts for the accounting year 1947–48 which were published recently. I cannot accept the implication in the latter part of the hon. Member's Question. As pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor-General in paragraph 10 of his Report, the arrears due for collection show a marked fall between 1946 and 1947. The amount of tax due which is finally written off as irrecoverable is very small: in the year 1947, the total amount of Income Tax and other Inland Revenue duties remitted or written off as irrecoverable was only £1,500,000.
Is the Chancellor aware that concern is caused when publicity is given to the fact that certain individuals have been able to escape liability in this way? Is his Department able to take stronger measures to try to prevent these arrears accruing?
We take all the steps possible to prevent arrears accruing, but it is for the taxpayer to prevent the arrears accruing.
Tourist Traffic, Tangier (Currency)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware of the benefits which would accrue to our hard currency trade if British tourists were able to visit Tangier; and if he will extend the basic currency facilities to that territory.
No advantage to our hard currency trade would result from increased sterling earnings by Tangier; on the other hand, there would be disadvantages in the accumulation of sterling on this free currency market. I do not, therefore, propose to extend facilities for tourist travel to Tangier.
In view of the fact that the Chancellor's view entirely differs from mine, will he allow me to discuss the matter with him?
I have examined the matter to see what view is the correct one, and I have stated it.
Will the Chancellor be careful to distinguish between tourists and those who go there to test the hardness of the currency?
European Economic Co-Operation
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what conversations have taken place between Mr. Tasca of the Economic Co-operation Administration and the Organisation of European Economic Co-operation and His Majesty's Government, respectively.
So far as I am aware, none at all.
Can that answer be assumed to mean that Mr. Tasca has come over to discuss the devaluation of European currencies and that there is no question of sterling being devalued?
There is no question of sterling being devalued, but I do not know what that has to do with Mr. Tasca.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he has any further statement to make on the date by which Anglo-Portuguese trade will be fully restored.
As already announced in the Press, we have now made satisfactory arrangements with the Portuguese Government covering trade and payments during 1949, and the Portuguese authorities have resumed the grant of licences for United Kingdom goods. In view of internal measures taken by Portugal to improve her economic situation, Portugal could not agree to import United Kingdom goods in 1949 as freely as last year when our exports reached an exceptionally high level; imports of United Kingdom goods will now be regulated in accordance with quotas covering broad categories of goods.
Can the Chancellor of the Exchequer say by how much the overall figure of Anglo-Portuguese trade will he reduced by this modification?
It is difficult to say, but it is anticipated that it will be somewhere around £4 million, which means that it will be very much bigger than in 1947.
Can the Chancellor further say what steps he is taking to see that our favourable balance with Portugal is not offset by further sterling purchases?
I have taken no steps to try to defeat the objects of the sterling area.
Has not the Chancellor taken steps to see that in purchases in the sterling area Portugal is not to be paid by us in gold?
We have taken every step to see that we do not pay gold to Portugal.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the total of unfunded sterling balances at the latest convenient date.
The total of sterling liabilities to residents outside the United Kingdom, excluding liabilities blocked by agreement, amounted at the end of 1948 to about £1,750 million.
What steps is the Chancellor taking to see that these sums are blocked so that they cannot seep into the sterling area and become available to purchase unrequited exports?
We do not wish to block all the sterling balances; otherwise all the trade of this country would be stifled.
What steps is the Chancellor taking to see that these sums are not used for the purchase of unrequited exports from this country?
We allow the expenditure of these sums upon whatever goods the owners of the sums can purchase in these markets. They are not blocked liabilities; these are the unblocked liabilities.
Anglo-American Council On Productivity
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make available to the House the Report of the Second Session of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity recently concluded in the United States of America.
Yes, Sir. The Report in its printed form should be ready on Thursday, and I am arranging to have a copy placed in the Library.
Will the report of the meetings of this Council go to show that it is a great pity that such a council were not instituted very many years ago?
I entirely agree. I think that they are showing most useful results.
Petrol Tax (Tractors)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, with a view to avoiding penalising, by way of tax, farmers who have petrol-burning tractors, he will now consider removing the tax from agricultural petrol, or, alternatively, giving a rebate of 6d. per gallon on petrol used for agricultural purposes.
I am afraid the hon. Member's suggestions are not practicable.
Does the Chancellor realise that, generally speaking, the petrol-burning tractor is the most efficient, and why do the Government continue to handicap the increased production of food at home by putting a tax on the use of petrol for food and other agricultural purposes? Surely there is some sense somewhere?
I should not like to become a partisan between the merits of the Diesel and the petrol engine.
Will the Chancellor see me afterwards? I have a great deal to tell him.
Income And Expenditure
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will make a statement explaining the differences in Table 8 of Command Paper No. 7649 and Table 5 of Command Paper No. 7371, National Income and Expenditure of the United Kingdom, 1948 and 1947, respectively, which, among other things, gives the 1947 wages before Income Tax as 42 per cent. and 40 per cent., respectively, and the profits, interest and rent as 33 per cent. and 41 per cent., respectively.
The explanation lies in the titles of the two tables. Table 5 of Command Paper No. 7371 gives the allocation of private income from work and property: Table 8 of Command Paper No. 7649 deals with personal income only. The earlier table therefore includes (in interest, profits and rent) that part of the national income which is neither paid out to persons nor accrues to public authorities as net income from property. A minor cause of difference between the percentages is the inclusion of the pay of the Armed Forces in Table 8 of Command Paper No. 7649.
While I appreciate that reply, may I ask the Chancellor whether in this year's White Paper there is a table comparable with that of last year, which shows the figures?
If the hon. Member will put that question on the Order Paper, I will try to answer it.
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer in view of the great need for more playing fields in the industrial towns and cities and the great work done by the National Playing Fields Association in helping to buy and equip playing fields if he will now grant this association the sum of money promised to them by his predecessor.
The Minister of Education is empowered by statute to assist the purchase and equipment of playing-fields, and Parliament has provided funds which have enabled him to make considerable use of his powers. A direct Treasury grant for this purpose would not, therefore, be appropriate, and my predecessor was misunderstood if he was thought to be promising such a grant when he referred to the provision made for this purpose in the annual Estimates.
Inland Revenue Office, Llandudno
asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury what is the present position with regard to the move of the offices of the Charity and Foreign Section of the Chief Inspector's (Claims) Branch of the Inland Revenue from Llandudno to Liverpool.
A suitable building has now been found in Liverpool and it is hoped that it will be ready for occupation in the autumn.
Central Office Of Information (Lecturers)
asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether the Central Office of Information, in selecting applicants to lecture on their behalf, inquire of them their political views; and whether these are taken into consideration.
No, Sir. But applicants are asked whether they take an active part in party politics and, if so, they are not employed as lecturers.
Can the Minister say whether any political parties are invited to submit lists of lecturers?
No. not as such.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that almost invariably the person who has no politics is a Tory?
Will my right hon. Friend say whether the same scrutiny is made of the political opinions of journalists who are sent abroad to edit British papers?
I have made it quite clear in my original answer that the test is "an active part in party politics."
Trade And Commerce
Whisky (Exports To Tangier)
asked the President of the Board of Trade how much whisky was exported from Great Britain to Tangier in 1948.
I regret that this information is not available as exports to Tangier are not separately distinguished in the trade returns.
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that despite the fact that Tangier is prepared to buy large quantities of whisky for dollars he has no idea of how much dollar currency we can earn in this way?
The point is that the returns for Tangier are included with those for Morocco. The figures as a whole are 3,609 proof gallons valued at £8,092. I have not separate figures for Tangier.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that whisky can be sold in Tangier for dollars, which so far as I know does not apply to Morocco? Would it not be worth while for this country to earn dollars in that way?
The Question I was asked was not concerned with the earning of dollars but with actual export figures, which I am unable to give for the reasons I have stated.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary look into the matter, with special reference to the dollar earning possibilities?
Patents (Swan Committee)
asked the President of the Board of Trade how many engineers or inventors served on the Swan Committee, upon whose report the Patents Bill was founded.
Five of the nine members of the Swan Committee were engineers or technologists. I have no information whether any of the members were inventors in the sense of making inventions for which patents were granted.
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that painters and decorators in the Cheltenham area are unable to obtain the overalls they need; and if he will take steps to increase the supply.
There is a general scarcity of these overalls due to difficulties in the supply of the cloth. All practicable steps are being taken to increase production of this cloth, but the needs of the export drive, especially to the dollar areas, must take precedence.
Cannot more regard be had for the needs of workers in this country, and a little more allowed to the home market, as this is causing great hardship and inconvenience?
I appreciate that, and we are doing what we can to try to alleviate the position.
Barrier, Norfolk Broads (Timber)
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that a barrier of timber and steel was erected across Black Horse Dyke, leading from the River Bure to Hoveton Little Broad, on the Norfolk Broads, between 16th February and 11th March, 1949, particulars of which have been sent to him; how much timber was used in this operation; what kind of timber was used; where it was obtained; and whether a licence was issued for the use of this timber for the purpose of the erection of this barrier.
No timber licence has been issued in connection with the operation referred to; but I am making inquiries and will write to my hon. Friend when they are completed.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that we in Norfolk would like to have an opportunity of dealing with the Broads ourselves without quite so much assistance from Lowestoft?
That is an entirely different matter.
Imported Wool (Price)
asked the President of the Board of Trade what is the average price of wool per pound imported into the country.
The average value of raw sheeps' and lambs' wool imported into the United Kingdom during the month of March, 1949, as calculated, from the Official Trade and Navigation Accounts for that month, was 38.3 pence per lb.
Then can the Parliamentary Secretary explain why, in view of the figure of 3s. 2d. per lb., the price of the raw material in a suit is between 40s. and 45s. per lb., which amounts to about £15? Can the Parliamentary Secretary explain the difference between those figures?
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to remember that the average price which I have given him covers wool in all kinds of conditions. It is not easy to deduce, from the price I have given him, any straight argument as to the price of wool in the finished suit.
Telephone Apparatus (Exports)
asked the Minister of Supply what value of telephone exchange equipment was exported to hard and soft currency countries, respectively, in 1948; and what proportion of our total production did this represent.
Exports of telephone exchange equipment are not recorded separately. The figures for telephone apparatus of all kinds are: hard currency markets, £1,130,000; sterling area, £7,250,000; other countries, £3,630,000. These exports represent slightly more than half the total United Kingdom production in 1948.
In view of the comparatively trivial amount of benefit which is to be gained from these exports will not the hon. Gentleman divert supplies to the home market, which is urgently in need of them?
I do not agree that these amounts are trivial. Together they amount to about £12 million, which is substantial, but in view of the increased production of telephone apparatus there will be more for the home market this year.
Is the Minister aware that advertisements in telephone kiosks suggest to the public that 66 per cent of this equipment is being exported?
No, I am not aware of that. That is a question which should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. It depends on what type of equipment is being considered.
Surely the public should not be misguided like this. They wonder why they cannot get this equipment and they are told it is for export; 66 per cent., when the Minister's figures are not as much as that.
Attacks On Hm Ships China
(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether the Government will make a statement about the situation on the Yangtse River, and the circumstances in which His Majesty's ships were attacked and British sailors killed and wounded.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. In order to obtain your guidance for future occasions, may I draw your attention to the fact that there is a Question on the Order Paper today, No. 25, which, I understand, was withdrawn this morning. It must have been put down two days ago. Does not the fact that it is on the Order Paper preclude a Private Notice Question?
Actually there was an error made. I understood that the Question was withdrawn earlier. It is very difficult on the first day after the Adjournment—it is all very well when hon. Members are here—to get hold of hon. Members, when they are miles away, to ask them to withdraw. So I have used my discretion. If I have broken the practice, I have broken it. I thought it was only right that the Leader of the Opposition should ask an important Question of this kind.
I am afraid that this statement will necessarily be a long one. The House will wish to have a full account of the circumstances in which His Majesty's ships were fired upon in the Yangtse River with grievous casualties and damage.I will first explain what our position is with regard to the civil war in China. It has been repeatedly stated in this House that our policy has been governed by the Moscow Declaration of December, 1945, in which the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union declared a policy of non-intervention in China's internal affairs. In view of the considerable British interests in China and of the presence of large British communities, His Majesty's Government decided some months ago that His Majesty's Ambassador and His Majesty's Consular Officers in China should remain at their posts and this was announced to the House by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 9th December. We were not alone in the decision to remain at Nanking. Other Powers represented there, with the exception of the Soviet Union, reached the same decision, and there has since been full consultation between the members of the Diplomatic Corps at Nanking. In the disturbed conditions which have prevailed in recent months, warships of various Powers have been at Shanghai and Nanking so that in the event of a breakdown of law and order as the result of hostilities they would he able to assist in the evacuation of their nationals. When the Chinese Government decided to move to Canton, it is true that a warning was issued about warships in the Yangtse. Nevertheless it is a fact that since that time the movements of our warships in the Yangtse have taken place with the full knowledge and consent of the National Government of China. I want to make the point therefore that when the incident took place to which I am about to refer, H.M.S. "Amethyst" was proceeding on her lawful occasions and that there was no other properly constituted authority to whom His Majesty's Government were under an obligation to notify her movements even had they been in a position to do so. The House will wish to know whether any steps were taken by our authorities in China to make contact with the Communist authorities. Some time has lapsed since Communist forces overran Mukden, Peking and Tientsin where we have Consular posts. His Majesty's Consular Officers at these posts have been endeavouring for some time past to reach day-to-day working arrangements with the local authorities. Their approaches have, however, been rejected on every occasion without any reason being given for such a rejection. The same policy was followed in rejecting a letter from His Majesty's Consul in Peking about the "Amethyst" when the incident had occurred. In conformity with the decision to remain at Nanking, His Majesty's ships had been relieving one another at that port at regular intervals for some months past. On this occasion the object of the passage of H.M.S. "Amethyst" was to relieve H.M.S. "Consort" at Nanking. Opposing Chinese forces had been massed along the banks of the Yangtse for a considerable time and there were repeated rumours for some weeks that the Communists were about to cross the river. H.M.S. "Consort" was already due for relief, but this relief was postponed in view of a Communist ultimatum which was due to expire on 12th April and which might have been followed by the crossing of the Yangtse. On 12th April His Majesty's Ambassador learned that the ultimatum had been extended to 15th April. The relief had therefore still to be postponed. Only on 18th April was it learned that the final expiry of the ultimatum might lead to the crossing of the Yangtse by Communist forces on 21st April. The necessity for relieving H.M.S. "Consort" as early as possible remained. She was running short of supplies after a long stay at Nanking and in any case a frigate was considered more suitable than a destroyer to be stationed at that port. The Flag Officer therefore decided, with the agreement of His Majesty's Ambassador, that the passage should be timed to allow "Amethyst" to reach Nanking a clear twenty-four hours before the expiry of the latest Communist ultimatum. Had there been no incident, "Amethyst" should have reached Nanking on 20th April. It was in the light of these known facts that the decision was made for "Amethyst" to sail and this decision was in my opinion correct. Thus early on Tuesday, 19th April, the frigate H.M.S. "Amethyst" (Lieut.-Commander Skinner) sailed from Shanghai for Nanking, wearing the White Ensign and the Union Jack and with the Union Jack painted on her hull. When "Amethyst" had reached a point on the Yangtse River some 60 miles from Nanking, at about nine o'clock in the morning on the 20th, Chinese time, she came under heavy fire from batteries on the north bank, suffered considerable damage and casualties and eventually grounded on Rose Island. After this the Captain decided to land about sixty of her crew, including her wounded, who got ashore by swimming or in sampans, being shelled and machine-gunned as they did so; we know that a large proportion have, with Chinese help, arrived at Shanghai. Vice-Admiral Madden, the Flag Officer, second in command, Far Eastern Station, ordered the destroyer H.M.S. "Consort" (Commander Robertson) from Nanking to go to "Amethyst's" assistance, and the frigate H.M.S. "Black Swan" (Captain Jay) from Shanghai to Kiang Yin, 40 miles down river from the "Amethyst." "Consort" reached "Amethyst" at about three in the afternoon and was immediately heavily engaged. She found the fire too hot to approach "Amethyst" and therefore passed her at speed down river. She turned two miles below and again closed "Amethyst" to take her in tow. But she again came under such heavy fire that she was obliged to abandon the attempt, although she answered the shore batteries with her full armament and signalled that she had silenced most of the opposition. Half an hour later her signals ceased, though in fact she was making a second attempt to take "Amethyst" in tow, having turned downstream again. This attempt also failed and she sustained further damage and casualties during which her steering was affected. She therefore had to continue downstream out of the firing area. Meanwhile, the cruiser H.M.S. "London" (Captain Cazalet), wearing the flag of Flag Officer second in command was also proceeding up the Yangtse at best speed. The three ships "London," "Black Swan," and "Consort" met at Kiang Yin at about eight that evening. It was found that "Consort" was extensively damaged; she was ordered to proceed to Shanghai to land her dead and wounded and effect repairs. At about two o'clock in the morning of the 21st the "Amethyst" succeeded in refloating herself by her own efforts and anchored two miles above Rose Island. She could go no further as her chart was destroyed. Her hull was holed in several places, her Captain severely wounded, her First Lieutenant wounded, and her doctor killed. There were only four unwounded officers left, and one telegraphist to carry out all wireless communications. Later the same morning the "London" and the "Black Swan" endeavoured to close the "Amethyst," but met with heavy fire causing some casualties. The fire was of course returned, but the Flag Officer then decided that it would not be possible to bring the damaged "Amethyst" down river without further serious loss of life in all ships; he therefore ordered the "London" and "Black Swan" to return to Kiang Yin. At Kiang Yin they were fired upon by batteries, and suffered considerable casualties and damage. Both ships afterwards proceeded to Shanghai to land their dead and wounded and to effect repairs. That afternoon a naval and a R.A.F. doctor with medical supplies and charts were flown by a Sunderland aircraft of the Royal Air Force to the "Amethyst." Both the aircraft and the "Amethyst" were fired upon. The ship was hit, but the Sunderland managed to transfer the R.A.F. doctor and some medical supplies before being forced to take off. The "Amethyst" then took shelter in a creek. During the night of the 21st-22nd "Amethyst" succeeded in evacuating a further batch of her wounded to a nearby town. After doing so, she moved ten miles up river under cover of darkness, though under rifle fire from the banks, and again anchored; she then completed the landing of all her more seriously wounded, including her Captain. I am sorry to say that this very gallant officer, who had insisted on remaining with his ship up to this time, died of his wounds soon after. There remained on board three Royal Navy officers, one Royal Air Force doctor, 52 ratings and eight Chinese. At about this time Lieutenant-Commander Kerans, the Assistant Naval Attaché at Nanking, reached the ship and assumed command. Another courageous effort to reach "Amethyst" was made by the R.A.F. in a Sunderland on the afternoon of the 22nd, but the aircraft was driven off by artillery fire without succeeding in making contact. The "Amethyst" then moved a further four miles up river. She was in close touch with the Flag Officer, and after a number of courses had been considered, it was decided that she should remain where she was. Perhaps I may at this point anticipate two questions which may possibly be asked. First, how was it that H.M. ships suffered such extensive damage and casualties, and second, why they were not able to silence the opposing batteries and fight their way through. In answer to the first, I would only say that warships are not designed to operate in rivers against massed artillery and infantry sheltered by reeds and mudbanks. The Communist forces appear to have been concentrated in considerable strength and are reported as being lavishly equipped with howitzers, medium artillery and field guns. The above facts also provide much of the answer to the second question, only I would add this. The Flag Officer's policy throughout was designed only to rescue H.M.S. "Amethyst" and to avoid unnecessary casualties. There was no question of a punitive expedition and H.M. ships fired only to silence the forces firing against them. I will at this point briefly summarise the losses and damage which resulted.
- H.M.S. "London"; 13 killed. 15 wounded.
- H.M.S. "Consort"; 10 killed 4 seriously wounded.
- H.M.S. "Amethyst"; 19 killed. 27 wounded.
- H.M.S. "Black Swan"; 7 wounded.
May I be allowed to say that we all join with the Prime Minister in the expression of sympathy which he has made towards the relatives of those who were killed and. wounded, and also in the terms in which he has referred to the creditable behaviour of our officers and men in the difficult circumstances into which they were put?May I ask whether he does not think that there is a certain resemblance—a coincidental resemblance—between this episode, where a vessel goes on a routine cruise or journey up the river on the very eve of a battle—a civil war battle—and the sending out of aeroplanes some weeks ago in Egypt into a battle area within a few hours of a truce being declared? Does this not require very careful attention from the point of view of not putting our airmen and sailors into unnecessary dangers? Does it not require very careful attention from the Government and a further report on the details to the House? Is it not very unsatisfactory that the discharge of duties of routine should not be shown in all cases to have been done in full cognisance and comprehension of local circumstances, such as a large battle about to begin or a small quarrel about to be ended by a truce? May we have the Prime Minister's assurance that this matter will be the subject of a further statement from the Government to the House of Commons? The other question I should like to ask at this moment—and I have no doubt that other hon. Members wish to ask questions on this subject—is this: How is it that at this time we have not got in Chinese waters one aircraft carrier, if not two, capable of affording protection to our nationals who may be increasingly involved in peril and misfortune, and capable of affording that protection in the only way which is understood by those who are attacking us, murdering us and insulting us, namely, by effective power of retaliation? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will consider this matter? As regards the question of a Debate, I shall take that up a little later.
We shall, of course, give the fullest possible details. With regard to the first point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, we have to consider the position, as I stated, of the British communities and representatives in this disturbed area. Over a long period there has been civil war. It was decided that it was wise to keep a vessel at Nanking. It is therefore a matter for decision by those on the spot as to when relief should take place. If it is put off all the time, because of a possible danger—and it is very difficult when there are irregular forces on one side—we should never get that relief, and so I think a decision had to be come to. The right hon. Gentleman would notice that there was talk of an armistice, and the armistice expired but hostilities were not opened. A period of waiting then ensued to consider the position. Then, when there was an ultimatum, it was decided to relieve this ship in time before the ultimatum expired. In our view, the commanding officer there on the spot exercised a right judgment.
Whoever was responsible managed to send that ship up the river almost exactly at zero hour.
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman could not have followed what I said, because it was pointed out that the voyage would have been completed 24 hours before zero hour. That is the reply to that. With regard to the allocation of ships and the rest, I do not think I could make any further statement on that. It is a matter we could well debate.
Now that we have received this statement from the Government as to the facts, might we have an indication of what their reaction is upon them? We have suffered very serious injury and our prestige has been affected, except in regard to the valour of our men, and is this to be the end? What course do His Majesty's Government intend to pursue? I am not asking for a statement on this today, but it is obvious that a matter like this cannot be allowed to go away in default with a mere statement of the facts from the Prime Minister and with a passive acceptance of them by the House of Commons. Something more than that must be done. I am not pressing for an immediate statement, especially as one cannot say beforehand what it is necessary and right to do, but I should like to have an assurance from the Government that they will face this matter in a robust spirit and will make sure that the British flag is respected and that British lives are not flung away without Parliament pursuing the matter with vigour and attention.
The right hon. Gentleman, I think, clearly recognised, as he said just now, that he could not expect a statement on that matter to be made today. I have said that I shall give the fullest information. The situation is still fluid, but certainly we shall make a statement on the position.
And the aircraft carriers?
I have said I could not make a statement on that.
May I ask the Prime Minister two questions? He has referred to the warning which had been given by the Nationalist Government before they moved to Canton. Can he tell us exactly when that warning was given, the nature of it and to whom it was given, and why it was that His Majesty's Government came to the conclusion that they should not heed that warning whatever happened? Secondly, may I ask him what steps are now being taken, or can be taken even at this late stage, for the further protection of His Majesty's subjects in this danger zone?
On the first point, I have not got the exact date by me, but it was a considerable time ago. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that the Chinese Government moved to Canton, that various changes in the Government took place, and that they subsequently came back to Nanking. For a considerable period of weeks, indeed I think months, there has been the passage of our ships and the ships of other nations up the Yangtse. I think one would be entitled to say that it was notified on every occasion and there was no objection. As a matter of fact, this practice has been allowed.
If the right hon. Gentleman was disregarding that serious warning, in view of the steady advance made by the Communist armies, if no guarantee could be obtained from both sides before the ship was sent up, would it not have been better to withdraw our nationals and protect them at that particular moment?
The decision was announced in the House that we did not propose to withdraw our nationals, and that decision was taken in consultation with other nationals there. I think it is right that they should remain.
Is the Prime Minister aware that because this ship had previously gone up and down the Yangtse without being attacked, that does not in any way justify or excuse the fact that no steps were taken to have aircraft in the vicinity such as rocket firing planes which could, I understand, have been used even if an aircraft carrier was not available? The other question I wish to ask the Prime Minister is that, in view of the fact that the "Amethyst" was taking supplies to our Embassy in Nanking as well as being engaged on relief purposes, surely, although we may agree that there was no means of knowing that the attack was going to take place at that moment, it must have been so imminent that steps could have been taken so that it would not have been necessary to renew the supplies or to relieve the personnel until, at any rate, the immediate danger of the invasion was over?
I think I tried to point out to the House that there had been this question of additional tension over a great period—that had been going on for a very long time with rumours of imminent crossings—and, therefore, they did as a matter of fact delay the ordinary relief because of the alleged termination of an armistice. Then there came the extension of the armistice and the opportunity was taken of that extension to effect the relief. I think that was right.
Can the Prime Minister say what instructions had been given to our naval forces at present standing off Shanghai, in case Shanghai should fall?
The Prime Minister said just now that we must avoid continuing to postpone routine sailings because of dangers that might go on for some time, but, surely, having put it off until what was really the crucial moment, when the crossing of the Yangtse was imminent, it would have been sensible to put it off a little longer until the matter was clearer and a safe guarantee obtained from each side?
I did not say that this was a routine matter on the kind of lines that one could either do it or not; there had to be the supplies and there had to be the relief, and the commander on the spot had to consider what was the time to do it. I have been through the dates very often, but this was the time selected as, otherwise, he might not have been able to reach them at all. He considered—and I. think he was right in thinking that, in view of the evidence available and actions of the past—that the relief could be effected during this pause.
Can the Prime Minister say whether the Government have any indication of the general attitude of the Communist authorities in China towards the treaty rights of foreign Powers as a whole, because we ought to avoid further incidents of this kind?
We have had no answer from the Communist authorities.
Can the Prime Minister say whether any steps are being taken to establish relations, not at a consular level or with local commanders, but with a Government which is controlling a very large part of China because, unless such steps are taken, what is there to prevent further incidents of this sort occurring?
As I have already stated, we have made and are making every effort to get in touch with the Communist authorities, but so far we have not been able to get a letter through.
In view of the changed circumstances, do the Government still regard themselves as bound by the Moscow Declaration which means that, while we are doing our best to halt Communism in Europe, we are prepared to do nothing to check it in Asia? In view of the southward advance of the Communist forces, can the right hon. Gentleman give this House an assurance right here and now that Hong Kong is safe both from external aggression and fifth column activity from within?
I would prefer to have these detailed questions put on the Order Paper; they do not arise directly out of this incident.
The Prime Minister said that the Consulate at Nanking was short of supplies, but is he not aware that during the period of the truce both the road and rail were open and could have been used, had it been desired, for sending in supplies? In joining with the expression of sympathy with the friends of those who have been lost—[Interruption]—surely, I know what it is to suffer bereavement and I deplore this wanton sacrifice of British lives—may I ask the Prime Minister, in view of the fact that the authorities must have known that the Kuomintang authorities were not going to accept the terms of the truce, whether there will not be an independent inquiry into the responsibility for sending this ship up the Yangtse at a time when it was known that hostilities were going to start?
The hon. Member is, of course, quite wrong. I have no information as to what the Kuomintang authorities were likely to do. I have already told the House that our information was that hostilities would not begin until the time given on the 21st. Had this firing not taken place before the ending of that armistice, there would have been no question of the ship being hit.
Will the Prime Minister say, first, whether any other foreign Powers had warships in the vicinity of Nanking at the time of the incident, and, secondly, why there were not sufficient land-based aircraft at Hong Kong which could have given air cover to these warships at the time of the incident?
I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member quite understands that we were engaged on a peaceful mission. We were not engaged in staging a punitive war, and the vessels were going up and down the Yangtse on their lawful occasion.
On a point of Order. I have not had a reply to the second part of my question.
I have already pointed out that American ships based at Shanghai had been up and down the Yangtse quite recently.
Further to that point of Order. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he would refer to the question of land-based aircraft at Hong Kong, and I have had no answer.
I answered that we were not engaged in warfare; we were engaged in a peaceful mission.
With regard to the men remaining on the "Amethyst," is it not possible for the Admiralty to get greater information for their relatives here at home, many of whom are very much concerned? They have scanned the casualty lists to see if the names of their sons are included in them, but any further information which could be given would relieve their anxiety.
Every possible effort will be made to get the names, and the fullest possible information will be given as soon as the names come in.
With regard to the question of a Debate on these matters, I feel that there are several matters on which the Government will wish to make a statement later. I have indicated them and, therefore, I do not wish to press for an adjournment of the House today, but we shall accept the offer of the Prime Minister to discuss, through the usual channels, a Debate upon this issue in the near future. Because it has many aspects, I should like to make it absolutely clear that whatever criticism we may male of what I may call the unfortunate handling of a difficult situation, which has led our people to lose their lives, that in no wise detracts from our resentment at the atrocious outrage of which we have been the victims, or from our determination to press the Government to take effective steps to make sure that we are treated with respect in the future.
As I have told the right hon. Gentleman, we are perfectly willing to have a Debate. We want to take every possible step to protect the communities in China—our British community; that is one of the points we have to bear in mind in dealing with this matter.
Does the Prime Minister consider that the main reason for our subsequent inability to extricate the "Amethyst" was largely due to the absence of any air support whatever? Is that not very unusual in modern conditions of warfare—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—of warfare in a very disturbed area? Can the Prime Minister assure us that immediate steps have been taken to ensure that air cover will in future be given?
I am not prepared to state in advance any steps with regard to the movement of any forces in this area. I am quite well aware that aircraft are used in warfare, but this was not a matter of warfare at all. There was no suggestion of making an attack anywhere at all. We were engaged in the peaceful process of bringing supplies up the river and it would have been quite unusual to have provided a bomber force or anything like that in conjunction with peaceful operations of that kind.
If it is considered not provocative—and I agree that it is not provocative—to send these ships up the Yangtse, how would it have been any more provocative to give them adequate air cover?
I naturally leave this matter to be one for the commanders on the spot to deal with. I am not sheltering myself and I take full responsibility, but I am now being asked to answer detailed questions about how this operation of keeping a warship at Nanking should be conducted and how those reliefs should be done. I am repeating the point that we were engaged in a peaceful occupation. The suggestion seems to be that we were staging something like an operation. We were doing nothing of the kind.
Would the Prime Minister tell the House what steps are being taken to protect those who are still on the "Amethyst"?
I cannot make any further statement except that all possible steps are being taken.
Would the Prime Minister confirm or deny that an apology has been asked for from the Government by the Communist authorities; and, if it has, will he give this House an assurance that in no circumstances will he apologise for going to the aid of British lives?
I thought it was quite clear from my statement that we were unable to contact the Communist authorities. There could be no possible question of making any apology.
In view of the fact that Merseyside has had some casualties, I want to ask the Prime Minister what protection is to be afforded now to our British naval men there on the spot, so as to see that no further affront will take place on account of our having inadequate protection there to guard against it?
I have already stated—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford will agree—that whatever steps we are taking, we cannot make a public announcement of the exact steps that we are taking.
Is it not a fact that until 1947 there were two aircraft carriers on the China station? Could the right hon. Gentleman say why, in the face of the obviously deteriorating situation in China, His Majesty's Government reduced rather than reinforced this squadron?
I certainly could not answer that without notice.
In view of the fact that it was known that an ultimatum was about to expire and that a crossing of the Yangtse might then be contemplated, would it have been prudent or practicable to attempt to inform both sides before the operation was commenced of the nature of the operation and its peaceful purposes—the same sort of attempt as was made after the incident occurred?
I thought I had already made it clear to the House that we did every possible thing to contact the Communist forces and that we could not get any message through.
I thought my right hon. Friend's statement referred to an attempt made subsequently. I was asking whether an attempt could not have been made before the operation.
If my hon. Friend will study my statement he will see that that was an addition I made saying "afterwards"; we had already done it before.
When he was asked why air cover was not provided, the Prime Minister stated that the voyage of the "Amethyst" was not an operation of war, but surely it was clear that some thing like an operation of war was involved in the subsequent movement of the ships in support of the "Amethyst." I rather think the country will like to know why air cover was not provided at that juncture.
Could the Prime Minister tell us how on earth air cover could have assisted in preventing the "Amethyst" from being attacked from guns in forts on the banks?
The right hon. Gentleman has explained the absence of air cover by describing this as what he calls a peaceful operation. Will he assist the House in this matter? After this unjustified attack on a British ship had been made and it was considered right to send other warships to the assistance of the "Amethyst," why were not aircraft ordered up then? Furthermore, as this matter must have been considered, who took the decision that aircraft should not be brought into operation?
Any decisions for action in this matter were taken by the men on the spot at the time. I have given full information to the House; I cannot give more information of what occurred than that which I have given. We simply have this information.