House Of Commons
Thursday, 28th April, 1949
The House met at Half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Bolton Corporation Bill (By Order)
Consideration, as amended, deferred till Wednesday next, at Seven o'Clock.
Marriages Provisional Orders Bill
"to confirm certain Provisional Orders made by one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State under the Marriages Validity (Provisional Orders) Acts, 1905 and 1924," presented by Mr. Ede; read the First time; and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills, and to be printed. [Bill 117.]
Oral Answers To Questions
Disabled Persons (Registration)
asked the Minister of Labour why he requires a person who is in receipt of a disability pension from the Admiralty to be medically examined by a Ministry of Health Board before registration as a disabled person; and if he will take steps to eliminate this procedure.
Registration under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944, is open only to those whose disability causes a substantial handicap in getting or keeping employment. The receipt of a war disability pension does not necessarily show that there is a substantial employment handicap. It is therefore necessary in some cases to obtain a medical assessment directed to this specific point. For this reason the answer to the second part of the Question is in the negative.
Is it not a fact that there is no co-operation at all between the Departments in this matter and that all people who are in receipt of a disability pension, however disabled they may be, are automatically required to be examined by the Ministry of Health doctors? Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to ensure that this is not so?
I am afraid the hon. Member is misinformed; there is the most complete co-operation. Every man who applies to be registered as a disabled person can put in his pension documents as evidence and only where the handicap is not clearly visible is he referred to a tribunal.
If I send particulars of a case which denies his statement, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to look into it?
Teachers' Pensions (Regulations)
asked the Minister of Education what provision is made in his regulations for early rectification of a mistaken option by a teacher in favour of one of the alternative pensions schemes.
I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the National Insurance (Modification of Teachers' Pensions) Regulations. The answer is "None, Sir."
Does that answer mean that, where a perfectly genuine error is made by a teacher and is ascertained within the matter of weeks, his Department decline to allow rectification in any circumstances?
The decision was taken that this option should be irrevocable after a period of some five months in which all the circumstances were explained and it was pretty generally known. Each teacher was acquainted with the circumstances and it would be impossible to have people flitting in and out.
Is the Minister aware that in fact mistakes have been made and that the documents concerned are very complicated? What is the objection to allowing rectification, at any rate for the first few months of the scheme?
The objection is the difficulty in connection with the administrative side of this work if such a practice were allowed.
Trade And Commerce
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will give an estimate of what loss would be involved if he released for current use at the present market price the Government stock of pulp for newsprint manufacture.
As I informed the hon. Member in reply to a Question on 24th February, pulp is not purchased specifically for newsprint but for the production of all descriptions of paper in which such pulp is used.
Would not the President of the Board of Trade feel it right to answer the Question on the Order Paper and, if I may put a supplementary question, will he tell me if it is a fact that the Newsprint Supply Company have offered to take over the Government's liability for this bulk purchase of pulp, if the Government get out of this business altogether?
I have had many discussions with the Newsprint Supply Company and I have suggested to them that they might care in their own selling prices to anticipate the reduction which it is confidently expected the Government will be making in the near future.
When will the Government get out of this business altogether, so that a true market price can rule?
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is satisfied that the large stock of mechanical pulp now held in store on Government account will not deteriorate in condition.
There should be no danger of deterioration provided the stocks are used by the mills in the order of receipt.
Is it not a fact that fungus is already growing on some of these stocks of print and mechanical pulp, and that that is causing a break in the flow of production into newspaper offices at the present time?
As the hon. Member knows, the rate of consumption of newsprint has been increased in the last few days. That will help to reduce stocks somewhat, and, as I have said, if they are used in proper order there is no danger of deterioration.
Dominions And Colonies (Agreements)
asked the President of the Board of Trade what reciprocal arrangements for the long-term purchase of British manufactured goods are made with the Dominions and Colonies with whom we have entered into agreements for guaranteed purchase of food and raw materials on a long-term basis under bulk-buying arrangements.
Does it not seem very undesirable that we should give concessions on the question of long-term purchase and get nothing in return in the way of guarantees?
I think that my hon. Friend is wrong to suggest that we get nothing in return as a result of long-term purchase arrangements within the Commonwealth, because that is of great benefit. But it is not necessary in the case of those countries, as it is in the case of many others, in the course of bilateral negotiations to use those discussions to remove or relax import restrictions upon British goods wherever we can.
Civil Defence Organisation
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why no directions or guidance as to their duties under the Civil Defence Act, 1948, have yet been issued to local authorities; and whether directions or guidance will be issued in the near future.
Since the passing of the Civil Defence Act, Departments concerned have, in accordance with undertakings given by Minis- ters, been discussing with representatives of the local authorities the general arrangements for reconstituting a Civil Defence organisation. These have made good progress, and my right hon. Friend hopes to lay appropriate regulations before Parliament at an early date.
Were not such instructions issued some time ago for the Armed Forces, with which Civil Defence will have to co-operate? Is it not of great importance that Civil Defence should be prepared to deal with emergencies, and should not instructions be hastened and issued accordingly?
I agree that it is important that we should get out instructions as quickly as possible. My right hon. Friend hopes that the first regulations will be before Parliament before the end of next month.
Police Pay (Report)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has yet received the Oaksey Committee report on conditions of pay in the Police Force.
Yes, Sir. The first part of the Committee's report dealing with pay, allowances and pensions has now been published as a Command paper.
In view of the long time that has been taken to produce this report, could the Under-Secretary say how long his Department will take to go into it, and when this House may have an opportunity to discuss it?
I am afraid that I cannot state any actual date. Obviously it has to be considered by a number of interested bodies as well as by the Department. There will be no unnecessary delay.
As the police force in many of our towns is under-manned and well below establishment, will my hon. Friend push on as rapidly as possible with a decision about implementing these recommendations?
Will that be done without waiting for the remainder of the recommendations?
Yes, I. think that action can be taken on this part of the report.
Will my hon. Friend ask the Home Secretary to consider the advisability of consulting the Police Federation again before the report is implemented?
All the police bodies will be considering this report within the next few days or weeks.
In view of the fact that this Committee has been at work since last December, cannot the Under-Secretary give us some estimate as to when the Government will make up their minds on this matter and announce their decision to the House?
I have already said that I cannot give a date.
Do I understand from the reply of the Under-Secretary that he is proposing to take action to implement a report before the matter has been discussed by Parliament?
Certainly not. I said nothing of the kind.
Oh, yes, the Under-Secretary did.
I said nothing of the kind. I suppose the hon. Gentleman was referring to the question in which I was asked, if I understood it rightly, whether it would be necessary to await the second part of the report before anything could be done on the first part, which has been published. That was the question which I intended to answer, and if it was another question which was put to me, that is a different matter. That is how I understood the question.
Horsley Hall School
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, previous to recent proceedings, the Horsley Hall School was recognised by juvenile courts as a condition of residence school under probation orders.
My right hon. Friend knows of only one occasion on which a juvenile court has made it a condition of a probation order that the probationer should reside at Horsley Hall School. The condition, which was imposed in August, 1947, on medical advice, has since been deleted and the boy has left the school.
What care is taken to see that such peculiar action is not taken in future?
There may have been a misunderstanding on this occasion; it is the only one of which we know. There are arrangements under a probation order for ensuring that persons shall not be required to reside at an institution unless it is within certain categories.
Typhoid (Research Worker's Death)
asked the Minister of Health if he will consider the payment of compensation to the parents of Edward Gill, of Stone Road, Stafford, who died from typhoid fever as a result of his work in a bacteriological laboratory in Stafford at the time of the typhoid outbreak in Shropshire.
While I deeply sympathise with the parents I am advised that I am not liable for such a payment. But a grant has been made ex gratia to Mr. Gill's father, which he has accepted in full and final settlement.
Is the Minister aware that the National Insurance officer has given a decision that the tragic death of Edward Gill resulted from his employment, and does he not think that the Medical Research Council, as the employers of Edward Gill, should have accepted some responsibility? Is he further aware that their more generous offer has only been made since this Question was raised?
The last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question reveals the value of the House of Commons itself. In reply to the first part, I think it is quite clear that it is admitted that the boy contracted typhoid in the service of the Medical Research Council. That is the reason why, in consultation with the Treasury Solicitors, an ex gratia grant of £132 was made to the father.
National Health Service
School Clinics (Medicines)
asked the Minister of Health if he is aware that, when children are given prescriptions by a doctor at a school clinic, their parents have to pay the chemist for the medicines supplied; and, as this is contrary to the principle of the Health Service, if he will take steps to amend the regulations so as to provide that no charge shall be made.
Any medicines supplied at these clinics are provided free but if a school medical officer thinks a pupil requires a prescription he would no doubt refer him to his National Health Service doctor, who could prescribe for free supply under the service.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the case I sent him a prescription was given by the school doctor, and is it not rather a cumbersome proceeding for one doctor to have to send a child to another already overworked doctor?
No. The school medical service is grant-aided and it would be extremely difficult to operate the National Health Service in respect of this matter through the grant-aided service of the schools. It is also exceedingly undesirable for two doctors to have charge of one patient.
Is the Minister aware that these children are sent to the school clinics by the authority, and surely the doctors there are fully qualified? Is it not advisable that they should be given the same right as any other doctor to give a prescription?
The whole difficulty is to operate the National Health Service through the grant-aided medical service. Very little difficulty need be experienced by a person going to his own family doctor. My hon. Friend knows that it is the intention eventually to assimilate the therapeutical side of the school medical service into the National Health Service because of these difficulties.
asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that some opticians are advising applicants for spectacles under the National Health Service that it will be months before they can receive them, whereas if they pay for them they can be supplied with glasses in a few weeks; and whether this practice conforms to his regulations.
I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard) on 17th February. I shall be glad to have inquiries made into any specific cases which are brought to my notice.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether he has evidence that this is becoming a widespread practice, and is he satisfied that there is adequate local machinery for getting this put straight?
I do not think it is becoming a more extended practice than it was before; I believe that it is getting less. There are, I believe, some opticians who are doing this, and I think it is highly undesirable that it should be done.
asked the Minister of Health why he is unable to ascertain how many persons are now in receipt of payment for jobs in hospitals which were done voluntarily prior to 5th July, 1948.
I could no doubt ascertain the numbers, but do not consider it of sufficient importance to justify asking for a special return from 2,835 hospitals when they are so fully occupied otherwise.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this is a matter of administration which he could ascertain from those responsible for the administration without interfering with the medical service which has to be given in these hospitals? Is not it right that Parliament, which votes this money, should ensure that there is no unnecessary extravagance?
The administration of the hospital is responsible for providing the medical services of the hospital. If the administration have additional work to do they cannot do their medical administration as they should—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] As I have had interpolations of "nonsense" I would point out that it is from the other side of the House that we are continually having reproaches about administrators having to fill up too many forms, and there being too much paper work. Further, it would be necessary to investigate how every voluntary hospital in Great Britain did its work before and compare that with how it is doing its work now in order to get this information.
Would not it be in the public interest if sample inquiries could be made, not necessarily covering all the hospitals, to find out the dimensions of this problem? Surely the Minister realises that his scheme stands or falls by the economical and efficient way in which it is enabled to spend the nation's money?
It is, as hon. Members know, a very remarkable thing today that the whole of the Health Scheme is administered by 10,000 to 11,000 voluntary persons who are not paid anything at all; and that is a very remarkable tribute to the voluntary principle. We cannot call to account officials employed in an official capacity unless they are paid a salary.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that without information of this kind, his denials of extravagance in the administration of this service are worthless?
And without information of this kind accusations of extravagance are nonsense.
Aged People (Welfare Service)
asked the Minister of Health how far, in view of the number of old people living alone in unsatisfactory circumstances, his regulations, made under the National Assistance Act, 1948, enable local authorities to provide a welfare service for them in their own homes.
I do not fully appreciate what kind of welfare service my hon. Friend has in mind, but the health visiting, home nursing and domestic help services of local authorities under the National Health Service Act are available to old people living in their own homes, and the National Assistance Act empowers local authorities to contribute to voluntary organisations which provide recreation or meals for old people. A local authority who are a civic restaurants authority can include a mobile meals service in their civic restaurants service which is, of course, of particular help to old people.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that surveys made in certain industrial areas have shown that there are hundreds of old people living alone who require visiting, and who require someone to keep in touch with them, and perhaps do their shopping, and so on? It would appear that this power is not in the hands of local authorities under the National Assistance Act, and they would welcome being able to do that. Would he have any objection to their undertaking this service as welfare authorities under the National Assistance Act?
That is another matter, and I will certainly look into it. I fully appreciate the fact that there are very large numbers of old people who are now living in their own homes, which fortunately they are now able to do in much larger numbers. I will certainly look into the possibility of extending the service.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the National Assistance Board will not co-operate with local authorities in giving them information? Where they have to give a supplementary grant to assist old people they refuse to give information to the local authority so that the welfare authority can follow up these cases and see if these people need any further assistance.
I cannot at this stage agree that the National Asssistance Board is not going to help, but I certainly will inquire to see what co-ordination can be brought about.
Undeveloped Land (Housing Authorities)
asked the Minister of Health why he requires local authorities in possession of undeveloped land to obtain planning consent under Circular No. 61 of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning where planning consent had already been obtained under the old procedure prior to the issue of the circular.
I am sending my hon. Friend a copy of a circular which I issued on 11th April to housing authorities on this question.
Will the Minister state whether he is prepared to waive this requirement where it can be shown that the council will experience delay in developing its housing scheme when it has already obtained planning consent to develop under the old procedure?
If my hon. Friend will examine the circular which I am sending to him I think he will find that we are simplifying the procedure, because of the matters raised by him.
asked the Minister of Health whether in dealing with applications for the speedy acquisition of land from Rural District Councils, it is his policy to refuse authorisation under Section 2 of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, where the local authority already possesses undeveloped land in some part of its district.
No, Sir. My decision whether to issue such an authorisation depends on the circumstances of each individual case.
Royal Commission On Gambling
asked the Prime Minister if he will increase the number of persons who have agreed to serve on the Royal Commission on Gambling, so as to include a representative of Tattersalls and/or the National Greyhound Racing Society.
I have been asked to reply. No, Sir.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the present members of the Royal Commission have sufficient practical experience, and is he aware that, apart from one member of the Royal Commission, the rest of the members have not the remotest idea, by virtue of the constitution of this Commission and their qualifications, of how to ask any questions on this matter, because they would not understand it?
I think that generally the House would agree that this is a matter upon which objective impartiality is desirable rather than having people who are so expert that it might be difficult for them to free their minds from their expertness. No doubt the assistance my hon. Friend contemplates could be made available to the Royal Commission by means of people like those about whom he is concerned giving evidence in the usual way.
Capital Punishment (Royal Commission)
asked the Prime Minister if he will now announce the names of the Members of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment.
I have been asked to reply. Yes, Sir. As my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, informed the House on Thursday, 20th January, 1949, the Chairman of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment will be Sir Ernest Gowers, G.B.E., K.C.B. The King has now been pleased to approve the appointment of the following members of the Commission:
- Mrs. Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Cameron, C.B.E. (As a writer, known as Elizabeth Bowen),
- Mr. Norman Roy Fox-Andrews, K.C.,
- Miss Florence Hancock, C.B.E.,
- Mr. William Jones, C.B.E.,
- Mr. Horace Macdonald,
- Mr. John Mann, C.B.E., J.P.,
- Sir Alexander Maxwell, G.C.B., K.B.E.,
- Professor George Allison Montgomery, K.C.,
- Earl Peel,
- Professor Leon Radzinowicz and
- Dr. Eliot Slater.
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Commission embodies sufficient practical experience? Has any of these ladies and gentlemen ever served a commuted death sentence?
Not so far as I know, Sir.
But the right hon. Gentleman will consider the idea?
asked the Minister of Agriculture what immediate action he is taking to protect the North Sea and other near water fishing grounds in view of their depletion.
An Order is already in force prohibiting the landing and selling of undersized fish as recommended by the Overfishing Convention of 1946. It is hoped shortly to lay before Parliament a further Order raising the minimum size of mesh of nets which may be used in the North Sea and waters adjacent to the British Isles.
While I appreciate these measures, has not the time come for an international conference at Ministerial level, because of the importance of this question? There is hardly a trawler fishing in the North Sea today which is paying its way.
I could not agree more with the hon. Member about the urgent necessity of giving effect to the Order referred to, and we are in fact at this moment considering whether or not the six nations who have ratified the Order should bring it into operation at once.
asked the Minister of Agriculture when the new order to give effect to the recommendations of the Overfishing Convention, held in London in 1946, with reference to the alteration in the minimum sizes of the mesh of nets, will be introduced; and from what date the new mesh sizes are to become effective.
It is hoped shortly to lay an Order before Parliament fixing new sizes for nets. The date on which they will come into operation will be fixed having regard to the position of fishermen and manufacturers so as to enable the fullest use to be made of existing nets.
Before the right hon. Gentleman does that, will he assure himself that the other signatories to the Convention will implement regulations which are equivalent to the restrictions which we propose to put upon our own fishermen?
Yes, Sir. As I said in reply to a previous Question, the five other signatories are being consulted as to the appropriate date for bringing the Order into effect.
Does that reply mean that the British Order will not be applied until all the other nations have agreed to come in on the same date?
It will not apply until those who have already ratified the Convention have agreed on the same date.
asked the Minister of Agriculture when the next meeting of the Standard Advisory Committee set up at the Overfishing Convention, 1946, will take place.
The Standing Advisory Committee was set up for a specific purpose and its report was issued in Command Paper 7387. It contained a recommendation that the Committee should become the permanent Commission provided for by Article 12 of the Overfishing Convention, 1946. The Convention is not yet in force as six Governments have not yet ratified it. I am, however, considering the desirability of inviting Governments, which have already ratified, to agree to the Convention being brought into force so that the permanent Commission can be appointed.
Will the Minister name those Governments who have not ratified the Convention?
Belgium, Eire, France, Iceland, Portugal and Spain.
Headless Fish (Landings)
asked the Minister of Agriculture what steps he intends to take to stop the landing of headless cod and other long fish from the distant fishing grounds in view of the damage to their keeping qualities; the fouling of grounds; the loss of fishing time; and the loss of fishmeal for cattle, pigs and poultry feeding.
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to a Question on this subject by the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) on 4th April. There is no conclusive evidence that the heading of fish at sea substantially affects keeping quality or is detrimental to the fishing grounds. It does not necessarily involve a loss of fishing time. More fishmeal could be obtained by preventing heading at sea, but this might lead to less fish being landed for human consumption.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the fishing industry is unanimously in favour of returning to the traditional practice of landing fish whole? This new practice has simply come about because of the interference of the Minister of Food in a well-meant endeavour to bring in more fish, and all he is doing is to bring in more bad fish. Should it not be stopped? The right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the production of all food.
Yes, Sir, but the hon. Member is aware that while I appreciate the urgent need for more fishmeal as protein feedingstuff and so forth, I am also anxious to see that the human family are not deprived of any of the fish we could obtain while there is such a shortage of meat.
Is the Minister of opinion on examination of this question that the heading of fish does reduce the keeping qualities, and what is the scientific estimate of the effect of the heading of fish on the fouling of the fishing grounds?
Experiments carried out by the Torry Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research have shown that as regards the keeping qualities there is no great advantage or disadvantage directly attributable to the heading of fish at sea.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that to retain the head of a fish decreases the effect of the weight of the fish on those in the lower strata in the hold, because the heavy bone in the head of the fish reduces the pressure on the fish underneath?
It is obvious that if all the fish are headed there is more accommodation for the bodies of the fish, of which the human family are in urgent need.
Is not my right hon. Friend aware that all the people in the longshore fishing industry are agreed that this practice has spoiled some of the best fishing grounds not only in the North Sea, but in the White Sea and in the far fishing grounds, and would he do something to get this practice stopped instead of spoiling the fishing?
I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no unanimity among the trawler owners. There is no reason why they should not start bringing in whole fish instead of heading them at sea.
County Committees (Accounts)
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will arrange for each county agricultural executive committee to publish annual accounts covering all its activities, starting with the year 1948–49.
Any accounts for county agricultural executive committees which are to be published will be submitted by my Department to the Comptroller and Auditor-General for audit. The figures relating to such transactions of all the committees already appear in the annual Appropriation Accounts of my Department. It is proposed to publish annual trading accounts relating to the various trading services of committees, commencing with the year 1948–49. The exact form of these accounts and in particular the question whether separate figures will be given for each committee has not yet been settled.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that generally when people have good accounts they are keen to publish them, and when they have bad accounts they are sometimes reluctant to do so; also will he remember that his present policy encourages the opinion that there are certain extravagances which will be concealed? Does he not agree that that is not fair to the individual committees who are doing such excellent work?
Does not the Minister agree that it would be of great interest and value to the country if the county committees would publish their accounts separately in view of the fact that many county executives are doing their job efficiently and that some are not doing it efficiently? In view of the need for keeping down expenditure does he not think that that is desirable.
I have said to the House on several occasions—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) did agree with me a few years back—that to publish separate accounts would necessitate very long explanatory notes at the bottom, comparing county with county geographically, with the rainfall and all the rest, or wrong conclusions might be reached.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that that may have been true, and was true, for three or four years, during and immediately after the war, but it does not follow that it is still true or that it will be true in future?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the geographical considerations, the rainfall and other factors, have not changed during the past three years.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, having regard to the geographical factors being one consideration, that a common system of accountancy is very desirable in these matters.
Is the Minister aware that there is a very great demand in the counties that these accounts should be published; and does not he agree that if they were published it would greatly strengthen the position of the county executive committees which are now closed corporations in the eyes of the inhabitants and the farmers?
I assure the hon. and gallant Member that I have received no such representations from any county.
asked the Minister of Agriculture what action is being taken to close the gap in the sand-hills at Anderby Creek, Lincolnshire, through which a considerable quantity of arable land was recently flooded; and what compensation is available to the farmers concerned.
I understand that the Lindsey County Council are considering a scheme for closing the breach in the sandhills near Anderby Creek. I regret that I am not aware of any funds out of which farmers who suffered losses as a result of the recent flooding could be compensated.
Does the Minister realise that a considerable number of houses have either been destroyed or damaged in this area for which he is ultimately responsible; and does he also realise, with reference to the last part of his answer, that the present Bill before Parliament does not improve the possibility of giving any assistance to these people in any way whatever?
I can only repeat that I know of no source from which funds are available for compensation in these cases. I certainly have not any at my disposal.
Willow Beds (Planting)
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the increase in price of Argentine willows and exchange difficulties with that country, he will take steps to encourage the planting of new willow beds in England.
The difficulties to which the hon. Member refers and the consequent restrictions on the importation of willows from the Argentine in themselves provide an encouragement to home willow production.
If the willow growers make proposals to the right hon. Gentleman for the limitation of these imports, either by quantitative control or tariffs, will the Minister consider that seriously?
I can assure the hon. Member that I have already had conversations with representatives of the willow growers. Arising out of these conversations, I believe that the parties responsible are considering the possibility of a marketing scheme.
Is there anything in any international agreement to prevent the Minister taking advantage of the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles)?
Not that I am aware of.
Forestry, Forest Of Dean
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether in view of the long delay and misunderstandings that have arisen between the Forestry Commission on the one hand and local authorities and industrial concerns on the other in the Forest of Dean over matters of public interest, he will consider setting up machinery whereby these difficulties do not in future arise.
No, Sir. I am aware that there are certain difficult questions to be settled in this area, but I am satisfied that the existing machinery for dealing with them is adequate.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it might be desirable for the Director of Forestry for England and Wales to meet local bodies in the Forest of Dean from time to time in order to thresh out difficult questions as they arise?
The Chairman of the Forestry Commission is fully aware of the difficult propositions in the Forest of Dean. I can assure my hon. Friend that they are doing their best to square them up.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a local authority in the Forest of Dean recently wanted an extension of a cemetery and was offered by the local officials a marsh at an old colliery working?
That may be, but I understand that in the same area there was also some idea of building a crematorium.
Land Settlement Association
asked the Minister of Agriculture what are the total head office expenses of the Land Settlement Association.
Head Office expenses of the Land Settlement Association, Ltd., were £38,525 in 1947–48, the last year for which audited accounts are available.
Traffic In Horses (Committee)
asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he will now announce the names of the other members of the Committee he has set up to inquire into the traffic in horses.
Yes, Sir. I have already announced that the Earl of Rosebery will be Chairman of this Committee and I am now able to state that the other members will be my hon. Friend the Member for South Battersea (Mrs. Ganley), the hon. Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Price-White), Lord Digby, and Professor W. M. Mitchell, Principal of the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College.
Will my right hon. Friend impress upon these people the urgency of presenting a report as soon as possible, and can he say whether they will be able to commence their sittings right away?
That is already in the mind of the Chairman.
Will the Minister say whether there are any Scotsmen on this Committee?
Electricity Cables, Berkshire
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if his attention has been drawn to the inability of the Southern Electricity Board to proceed with their plans to supply electricity to Woodland St. Mary and Lambourn Woodlands in Berkshire, owing to the high costs consequent on the requirement of the Air Ministry that part of the cable should be laid underground and if, in view of the urgent need for electricity to be supplied to these districts, he will consult with the Service Departments to ensure that such adventitious costs are met from public funds.
The question whether the Southern Electricity Board should proceed with this particular extension is a matter relating to the day-to-day operation of the Board and not one in which my right hon. Friend can intervene. As regards the cost of the work, there do not appear to be any special circumstances which would justify an approach being made to the Service Departments with a suggestion that they should vary the recognised practice in such cases.
Is it not a fact that the Southern Electricity Board have reached agreement with the local residents to proceed with their scheme, and that, through the action of the Air Ministry, the cost of the scheme was made prohibitive by some £4,000 or £5,000 by their requirement that some of the cables must be laid underground? Should that not be a charge on public funds rather than a prohibition on local residents?
There are many occasions when it is necessary to lay underground cables rather than have overhead wires, and this case did not seem to be one for intervention by the Department.
Is this not another case similar to one we heard about in. the last few weeks? Surely, the Government made the claim that nationalisation would provide cheap supplies of electricity in the rural areas?
Not at all. That has nothing to do with it. This has been the common practice of the electricity industry for many years.
Opencast Mining (Cost)
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the average cost of production per ton of opencast coal which is being obtained at present.
The estimated average cost of opencast coal for the year ended 31st March, 1949, was 44s. 6d. per ton, of which 29s. was the cost of production at site.
Would the Parliamentary Secretary explain to the House why there should be this immense disparity between the cost of producing opencast coal and producing iron ore, which is a similar process in almost wholly similar conditions?
There are differences, of course, in the production of opencast coal, as compared with the production of iron ore, because of the varying depth at which the coal is found.
Would not the cost of opencast coal be much lower if the Departmental overheads were not so high?
I do not think so. I think the Department runs it very efficiently, if I may say so.
Is it not a fact that the seams now being worked are of lower quality than hitherto, and that therefore the amount of coal obtained is less than hitherto?
No. The seams vary from area to area, and in many cases are as good in quality as deep-mined coal.
Can the Minister say whether the cost per ton as given by him, includes the cost of the reinstatement of the land in its former condition?
Yes, it does, and that is one difference with iron ore, where, of course, the land is not reinstated.
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he is taking to ensure that the cheaper prices that merchants are paying for coal to the National Coal Board than that paid to factors will be passed on to the consumer.
It cannot be assumed that there will necessarily be a saving to be passed on to the consumer. The factors performed wholesale distributive services which will have to be provided either by the National Coal Board, in which case an appropriate charge to the merchant will be made, or by the merchant himself, who will incur additional expenses.
Is the Minister aware that in the trade it is suggested that the merchants will get as much as ls. 6d. per ton in buying direct from the National Coal Board, and will he take steps, if that is so, to see that it is passed on to the consumers?
Yes. If there is a reduction in the distributive costs as the result of merchants buying from the Coal Board that will be reflected in the review made from time to time by my Department and the necessary adjustments in retail prices will be made.
Is there any clear and universal definition of "merchants" and "factors" in this particular context?
All the alteration did was to enable merchants to go direct to the National Coal Board or to a factor, if they so desired, or for the Coal Board to do the factoring themselves.
asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he can now state if there will be a reduction in the price of petrol per gallon following the termination of the petrol pool.
My right hon. Friend has no evidence at present that the dissolution of the Petroleum Board by itself would justify a reduction in the price of petrol. The prices of all petroleum products depend upon the costs of importation and distribution. The possible effect on prices of recent changes in these costs is at present under discussion between my Department and representatives of the distributing oil companies.
May I ask the Minister why, in view of the fact that there has been a substantial reduction in the cost of fuel oil in all parts of the world, it is only in this country that no reduction can be made? Why is it that we never know where we stand under the present Government?
In reply to the latter part of the question, I might suggest that it is the incapacity of the hon. Gentleman to understand many of the things said in this House. In regard to the cost of fuel oils, the price of gas oils and of other fuel oils has been reduced. The hon. Gentleman's Question. however, was about petrol.
I want to know where we stand. I am vexed about this, and I am not going to be put off.
Business Of The House
May I ask the Leader of the House if he will state the Business for next week?
Yes, Sir. The Business for next week will be as follows:
Monday, 2nd May, and Tuesday, 3rd May—Iron and Steel Bill; 3rd and 4th allotted days, respectively, of the Report stage.
Wednesday, 4th May—Report and Third Reading of the Mid-Northampton-shire Water Board Order Confirmation (Special Procedure) Bill; and
Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Water (Scotland) Bill, and the Special Roads Bill.
Thursday, 5th May—Supply (12th allotted Day); Committee, Debate on the situation in China and attacks on H.M. ships.
Friday, 6th May—Second Reading of the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Bill, which is expected to be received from another place today; and
Second Reading of the British Film Institute Bill and Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution.
There is one point which I should like to make about Business. The right hon. Gentleman will notice that Thursday is taken out of the Opposition's time. We have agreed to that, although the Prime Minister had offered a day himself. We have done that because we realised that the right hon. Gentleman wanted the Debate soon, and that it might be difficult to find a day out of Government time. In return for this, I feel that I am justified in asking the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he could not perhaps find another day for the Report stage of the Iron and Steel Bill.The right hon. Gentleman will remember what happened yesterday on the new Clauses. I was not here myself; I was engaged on non-controversial business elsewhere. The only two new Clauses which were at all adequately discussed yesterday were the Government's new Clauses, and all the six others—three Liberal and three from this side of the House—were not discussed at all. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will consider that a very happy state of affairs if it is to be continued for the remainder of the Report stage, and I hope he will answer my very reasonable plea.
I was getting ready to be nice and accommodating and reasonable, because I thought that what the right hon. Gentleman was leading up to was that, having agreed to a Supply Day for the Debate on China next week, it strengthened the hands of the usual channels on his side of the House in the negotiations for other special day Debates. I was going to be nice about it, and I really had no idea that he was coming to the question of the Guillotine on the Iron and Steel Bill, which stiffened me up somewhat.
Pushing us around.
Where has the right hon. Gentleman been to?
Where is the right hon. Gentleman going to?
I did not think we had been ungenerous about the Report stage. [Interruption.] Actually, it is a day more than was given to the Report stage to the longer, and as I think rather more complicated, Transport Bill of an earlier Session, and I did not think we had done badly. If I might respectfully suggest to the Opposition what would be advantageous to them, it is that they might see their way to make more economical use of the time that is available. As the House knows, I deplore the Guillotine; I do not like it, but it has got to be. Honestly, I did not think myself that the time allocations under this Guillotine, either in Committee or on Report stage, in the circumstances of the case were unreasonable.
Can the Lord President say when it is proposed to introduce into the House the North Atlantic Treaty for Debate and ratification?
That will not be next week, but I shall see to it. The hon. Gentleman can take it that it will be quite soon.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those of us who represent mining areas find that the local authorities greatly appreciate the publication of the report on mining subsidence, and, in view of that, will be give an undertaking that he will consider the early implementation of that report?
Certainly; the Government will, of course, consider the report. I understand that hon. Gentlemen representing mining constituencies wish to have a talk with Ministers and I am trying to arrange that as soon as possible.
Questions To Ministers
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday I called your attention to the fact that Questions had occupied nearly half an hour, to which you kindly replied that it was a matter for consultation through the usual channels. I am wondering whether I might ask the Lord President now if he would be prepared to reconsider the Standing Order so as to allow Questions to be called over a second time and thus give more opportunity for important Questions to he answered?
I agree that this week there has been a shortage of Questions, a shortage which has continued even up to today, but, taking the general run of days, Questions not only last out the time, but there are usually more Questions than it is possible to reach. Whilst I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, and whilst I recall the practice of earlier days, I do not think we ought to revert to that practice. On the whole, I think that the present system is best. After all, if hon. Members put down Questions, there is an obligation upon them to be in the House.
We have an important statement to come and we have the Guillotine at 5.30, and we do not want to take time from the Debate.
India (Commonwealth Relations)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like on behalf of the Prime Minister to make a statement about the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Minister's which has just been concluded. Hon. Members will already have seen the announcement in today's newspapers. It will, of course, be realised that it was necessary to make the results of the Conference known in this way in order to facilitate simultaneous announcements in all the self-governing countries of the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, I think the House would wish to hear the terms of this statement so that a decision which will, I feel sure, be regarded as an historic one in the evolution of the Commonwealth may take its place in the records of the House with the least possible delay. The communiqué is as follows:
MEETING OF PRIME MINISTERS
During the past week the Prime Ministers of the United' Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Ceylon, and the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs have met in London to exchange views upon the important constitutional issues arising from India's decision to adopt a republican form of constitution and her desire to continue her membership of the Commonwealth.
The discussions have been concerned with the effects of such a development upon the existing structure of the Commonwealth and the constitutional relations between its members. They have been conducted in an atmosphere of good will and mutual understanding, and have had as their historical background the traditional capacity of the Commonwealth to strengthen its unity of purpose, while adapting its organisation and procedures to changing circumstances.
After full discussion the representatives of the Governments of all the Commonwealth countries have agreed that the conclusions reached should be placed on record in the following declaration:—
"The Governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Ceylon, whose countries are united as Members of the British Commonwealth of Nations and owe a common allegiance to the Crown, which is also the symbol of their free association, have considered the impending constitutional changes in India.
"The Government of India have informed the other Governments of the Commonwealth of the intention of the Indian people that under the new constitution which is about to be adopted India shall become a sovereign independent republic. The Government of India have however declared and affirmed India's desire to continue her full membership of the Commonwealth of Nations and her acceptance of The King as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth.
"The Governments of the other countries of the Commonwealth, the basis of whose membership of the Commonwealth is not hereby changed, accept and recognise India's continuing membership in accordance with the terms of this declaration.
"Accordingly the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Ceylon hereby declare that they remain united as free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations, freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty, and progress."
These constitutional questions have been, the sole subject of discussion at the full meetings of Prime Ministers.
That is the statement. I hope the House will bear with me if I venture to suggest that any full discussion of this matter, if it is the wish of the House that this should take place, might more appropriately be deferred until a later occasion. I say this, having regard particularly to the fact that the leaders of delegations from the other countries of the Commonwealth are naturally not yet in a position to report personally to their own Governments or Parliaments.
Perhaps I may be allowed to ask whether the Lord President is aware of the deep interest with which we have listened to his statement. I am well aware of the difficulties of clock time and sun time throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations—and I do not say that they have been satisfactorily solved on this occasion,—which seem to assign to London and Great Britain 2 a.m. as the moment of release for an important declaration. One would think this might be a matter for further consideration on future occasions. But I am all the more glad that His Majesty's Government have met the request which I made to them with the full support of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party, that the joint declaration of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers should be reported formally to the House and thus take its place not merely—or, perhaps, I ought to say, not only—in the newspapers, but in our Parliamentary records. Any other course, I feel, would be derogatory to Parliament and especially to the Mother of Parliaments.Final judgment on matters of such gravity and far-reaching merit is impossible today. Debates have to take place not only here, but in the Parliaments which are concerned and which are located in the five continents of the globe. There are many questions which arise and which are unanswered, and there are possible consequences, some of them potentially adverse, which cannot yet be measured. Nevertheless, I feel that I should be failing in my duty as Leader of the Conservative Party if on this occasion I failed to express, under all proper and necessary reserves, a definite view. The test question which, it seems to me, we ought to ask ourselves, and which I have asked myself, is: Do we wish India to remain of her own free will and desire within the Commonwealth or not? I have no doubt whatever that nearly all of us in all parts of the House would answer that question "Aye." I do not in any way retract or regret the views I have expressed over so many years, and I am very glad not to be responsible for much that has been done in the past—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and in the recent past. But we are all of us governed by events which we cannot control, and by the actions of majorities duly elected to the House of Commons. Six months ago I said in this House in the Debate on the King's Speech:
[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I said this six months ago—"We must look forward. It is our duty, whatever part we have taken in the past, to hope and pray for the well being and happiness of all the peoples of India, of whatever race, religion, social condition or historic character they may be. We must wish them all well and do what we can to help them on their road. Sorrow may lie in our hearts but bitterness and malice must be purged from them, and in our future more remote relations with India we must rise above all prejudice and partiality"—
The present attitude of India seems to me more favourable to continued association than it did when those words were spoken. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is more favourable. I am unfeignedly glad that an impassable gulf has not opened between the new India and the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations or between our famous past in India and our anxious present all over the world. I am sure that this will be a help for all in the future. I am well aware of the arguments about equal sacrifices and contributions, belonging to the club and taking the advantages and not contributing to the rules but, as the Bible says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." It is certainly more agreeable to have the power to give rather than the need to receive. We do not always find ourselves in that position in respect to some other countries in the world. If, on the whole, we most of us feel able to answer the test question in the affirmative and wish to have India associated with us in the future, it is fortunate that the institution of the Monarchy, never more deeply enshrined in the hearts of its proud and willing subjects and citizens all over the world than at the present time, should not have been a barrier to the inclusion of India as a Republic in the Commonwealth. Some time ago, when, by courtesy of Ministers, I had some indication of what was afoot, I foresaw some danger that the symbol of the Crown, which had hitherto been the circle of unity for the whole British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations, might become an exclusive instrument in respect of India in its new guise. I am sure it has been wise to avoid any chance of that. I cannot feel that either the majesty of the Crown or the personal dignity of the King is impaired by the conditions under which India remains in the Commonwealth. On the contrary, the final significance, the vital significance and value of the Monarchy, seems to be enhanced both by the latest proofs of its enduring importance to the other Dominions, as testified by their responsible Prime Ministers, and to the fact— [HON. MEMBERS "This is out of Order."] I take it that it is in the public interest, when an important statement is made in the House by the Government, that the views of other parties should be ascertained, and I have no doubt that the Adjournment could be moved if that were desired by the Government. It seems to me that the personal dignity of the King is not impaired by the conditions under which India remains in the Commonwealth. The final significance and value of the Monarchy seems to be enhanced by the way in which the King is acknowledged by the Republic of India and by the Commonwealth monarchies alike. [Interruption.] It is astonishing how far below the level of events hon. Gentlemen are showing themselves to fall."and not allow our vision to be clouded by memories of glories that are gone for ever."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 251.]
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask your guidance whether we are to have a series of extensive comments on this statement and, if so, on what Motion those comments are to be made?
One knows perfectly well that on these formal occasions it is the right of leaders of political parties to state their party's point of view. Rather than have an Adjournment, I gave my consent to this, and I take full responsibility for it. Realising that the Guillo- tine has to fall at 5.30 and that, therefore, there is little time for discussion on the Steel Bill, I thought this was the quickest way out: that statements should be made by the responsible leaders of the Opposition parties. It is not for me to tell them how long or how short they should be.
I should like to put this point. It seems to me that, far from being any derogation of the Monarchy, the proof of the attachment and importance that all the Dominions gives to it has shown the strength and vitality of that institution.We cannot, of course, tell how all this will work out in practice, and obviously there are many difficult questions and dangers to be surmounted. There is no doubt however—this I say to all my friends on this side—that it is the duty of us all, wherever we sit, to try our best to make this new expression of the unity of the world-wide association of States and nations a practical and lasting success, and that is the course which we on this side of the House intend to steer. I feel that the tides of the world are favourable to our voyage. The pressure of dangers and duties that are shared in common by all of us in these days may well make new harmonies with India and, indeed, with large parts of Asia. We may also see coming into view an even larger and wider synthesis of States and nations comprising both the United States of America and united Europe which may one day, and perhaps not a distant day, bring to harassed and struggling humanity, real security for peace and freedom and for hearth and home.
Inasmuch as there is to be further Debate on this at some later stage, may I content myself with merely saying at the moment that I believe there is general satisfaction in every freedom-loving country throughout the world that the Prime Ministers, each one of them with a heavy sense of responsibility for his own country, have nevertheless been able to arrive at this arrangement. I am sure that it is the sincere hope of us all that, using the words of this declaration, there will be even closer cooperation for those causes of liberty, peace and progress which are the desire of all of us.Let me add this. I think it is only right that we should—and I desire to do so most sincerely—congratulate the Prime Minister on calling these Prime Ministers from the various countries together. I am quite sure that his tact and understanding have played a major part in bringing about this historical agreement and declaration.
If I may, I would say on behalf of the Prime Minister and of the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations that we express our thanks for and appreciation of the generally friendly observations that have been made about this matter by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party. It is a good thing—a very good thing and not a bad thing—that there should be general harmony about this matter between the parties in the House. Therefore I cordially welcome what the Leader of the Opposition has said. He took his time, but I make no complaint about it. I cordially welcome what he said, and thank him for his observations, and no less the Leader of the Liberal Party. In these Commonwealth matters, the more we can march together in this House, the better it is for everybody.
Orders Of The Day
Iron And Steel Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
[2ND ALLOTTED DAY]
Clause 5—(Subsidy In Respect Of Imported Materials)
I beg to move, in page 6, line 22, to leave out Clause 5.The object of this Amendment is to delete from the Bill the statutory provision for the payment or employment of iron and steel subsidies. We on this side of the House think that it is dangerous in principle to incorporate in the Bill an undertaking that the general taxpayer shall make himself responsible for subsidies. Especially do we feel this in the light of Clause 29—or Clause 29 as we used to know it: I think it is now Clause 31—which says that, taking one year with another, the Corporation has to make its income and expenditure account balance. The Minister during the Committee stage conceded the point to which we attach great importance that if there are subsidies paid they are to extend over the whole iron and steel industry. That is a valuable point. However, since the time when this Bill was under discussion in Committee has come the decision that iron and steel subsidies are to be ended; and I think that the principle that the right hon. Gentleman apparently concedes by that decision ought to be maintained in the Bill, and that if losses are to be incurred they should not, ab initio,be concealed by subsidies, and that the general taxpayer should not be required to make the Minister's conglomeration of steel companies profitable by rights given to him in the Bill. We also consider it undesirable that bad buying should also be concealed until, perhaps, the annual Debate takes place on this matter. I should be very glad to hear from the Minister why he considers it necessary to maintain this statutory power. I quite agree that there may be times when some help in buying scrap abroad, or in the importation of iron ore, may be necessary for the nationalised undertakings; but the Corporation has got to pay its way, and I think it is better to deal with this matter in the most realistic manner, and to delete this Clause from the Bill, and oblige the Minister to come back to Parliament if he requires any extensive system of subsidy.
I do not think it would really be wise to omit this Clause. The right hon. Gentleman admits that it may be necessary—we cannot tell—to provide a Government subsidy to level external prices and internal prices, and to prevent a quite unreasonable burden from being put upon the steel consumers. That has been done up to now with, I think, the general agreement of all sides of the House. Although most of the subsidies are now withdrawn, the House must appreciate that some subsidies still remain. There remain the subsidy on imported finished steel and the repayment of import duty on pig-iron and steel. We hope that those subsidies may be abolished before long; but we cannot tell: they may have to continue. We see no point in abandoning this Clause which is solely permissive. We see no point in putting the Government and the House to the inconvenience, if on some future occasion it is decided that it is necessary either to continue the present subsidies or to give new ones, of bringing in a Bill for that specific purpose. We can see no purpose in doing that. This Clause is permissive. If the Government were to embark on a subsidy policy, they would report it to the House, and the House would be aware of it. It seems a more straightforward method to allow this permissive Clause to remain in the Bill.
The Minister has said that this Clause is purely permissive, and has made a case in relation to finished steel. I think most hon. Members will be prepared to agree that there will be some materials imported in respect of which there will be a case for preferential price, if not some form of subsidy; but although we may concede that some sort of subsidy is necessary in certain cases in existing circumstances, because of the difference in the price of imported and home products, there is, surely, no reason for continuing in this Clause subsidies on so wide a range of materials. Surely, we are not for an indefinite period to go on paying subsidies on such materials. Surely it is possible, through the establishment of a Corporation like the B.I.S.C., to even out the effect of those disparities in price without resort to subsidies. In a Bill which is a major Measure, and which, but for the imminence of the next General Election, would, perhaps, have had a long passage, we should not write in something which we have no intention of pursuing permanently. Surely, the Minister is not telling the House that for an indefinite period of time he is going to pay useless, unnecessary subsidies on raw materials. Although a case may exist for subsidies in respect of finished steel—and I think there is a case there, and I do not see any answer to not maintaining subsidies at the present time—there is no case really for them for raw materials. If the Minister cannot agree to the abolition of this Clause, I think he ought to see that, in another place, this reference to raw materials is eliminated.
I fully appreciate that this Clause, as the Minister has said, gives him permissive powers only. On the other hand, it does seem rather curious that such permissive powers should be given to the Minister at the very time when the bulk of the payments or subsidies in respect of the iron and steel industry are being withdrawn. It is surely a remarkable change in policy that, at the same time as the subsidies are being largely withdrawn, we should be writing into the Bill permissive power to continue them indefinitely. This applies not only to the type of subsidies which have been paid in the past—during the war and the immediate post-war period—but, according to this Clause, to subsidies which can be paid in respect of any imported materials such as alloying elements or other materials. Therefore, the Clause gives the Minister very wide permissive powers—far wider than anything he has hitherto seen fit to exercise.In addition to that, the presence of this Clause in the Bill gives the impression that the Minister contemplates at some time in the future a long continued subsidy, and not just a subsidy to cover one particular year, or two particular years. If that is what the Minister has in mind he would surely use a simpler method—a Supplementary Estimate or a Clause in the Finance Bill of the particular year— to achieve his object. If only temporary subsidies to cover particular temporary difficulties are envisaged, there is clearly no need for this Clause in the Bill, as there are other methods of paying the Corporation out of moneys provided by Parliament. In any case, the amount to be paid would have to be specified in a Supplementary Estimate or by some other method, so the Clause for occasional payment is unnecessary. If regular payments over a period of years are envisaged, the House is entitled to have a more exact indication of the way in which the Minister intends to use these powers.
Here again, we are up against a question of principle rather than the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman or the interpretation which can be placed upon the wording of this Clause. It is common ground—and has been during the whole of this Parliament—that the various experiments under nationalisation and public control would be judged by results. What better method is there of judging the success or failure of these various experiments—and this one in particular—than to be confronted with the actual figures of profit and loss and thereby focusing the whole situation in the public eye?My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) made an important point when he referred to the question of concealed losses. It is a great temptation to those operating any undertaking under a system of this kind to know that standing behind them all the time is the Government. The whole mental approach of those operating the Corporation must undoubtedly be governed by the possibility that their losses can be concealed, or camouflaged, by the method of subsidy. I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman's plea just now that it would be a bad thing or a disadvantage if he had to come to the House and introduce a new Bill. He tried to dissuade us from pressing this Amendment because it might mean, at a future stage, the introduction of a new Bill to deal with some situation which may arise. I believe that would be an excellent and healthy thing because Parliament is then confronted with the actual cold facts of the situation. After all, we are still here as guardians of the money of the public who elect us, and a public which is staggering under a crushing burden of taxation. If it is to be loaded once more with the losses of an industry of this kind, surely the greatest publicity possible is the healthiest thing. The officials of the Corporation would know that if they lose money and go down hill they are going to put their Minister through the ordeal of the introduction of a new Bill and explaining the situation to justify those losses—
I interrupt because I want to help the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I do not think that he can have read the Clause. It is not a question of repaying losses made by the Corporation. The Clause merely deals with the situation in which the prices of products in this country are cheaper than the prices of those products abroad, and the more expensive products from abroad have to be imported. We cannot under this Clause repay losses in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has argued.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made that intervention because it is completely in accord with the arguments made by this side about the iron and steel industry in general. I think that I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman said, "Do not put me to the trouble of having in future to introduce a separate Bill." That was one of the reasons which he advanced for retaining this Clause. I am sure that in saying that I am not doing him an injustice. I think that it would be a very excellent thing if he had to do that, because it would bring the matter into the full glare of publicity. It is, of course, possible for losses to be concealed by this method.I admit being at the disadvantage of not having been on the Standing Committee. That is not my fault but the fault of the Leader of the House who took the matter away from us and it is, therefore, a little difficult to follow all the lengthy proceedings upstairs when one has not been there. But the simple point that I am making is—and here surely the right hon. Gentleman will not quarrel too seriously with me—that if this scheme is to be justified as an experiment, let it operate in the full glare of publicity and with the fullest possible discussion in Parliament. If amending Bills have to come later, so much the better because it will keep the matter before us.
I am shocked by what we have just heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite). If he has looked at the Clauses of the Bill dealing with the accounts of the Corporation, he will have seen that they have to conform with the best commercial standards, and yet, according to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, it would be possible under the best commercial standards to conceal in some mysterious way losses made by the Corporation under the cloak of these subsidies. This I find very shocking. That may be his idea of the best commercial standards; I confess that it is hardly mine. I had hoped that they were better than that. Are we to understand that the best commercial standards allow iron and steel companies at present to conceal any losses that may inadvertently be made under the cloak of subsidies that they have already been receiving? I should have thought that that suggestion was not only contrary to the best commercial practice but insulting to the honourable profession who prepare and audit the accounts of these companies.
This Clause is permissive only, but it provides a temptation for the Corporation; and a temptation from which, I think, the Corporation ought to be protected. The document "Labour Believes in Britain" has said that there must be no feather beds for those who fail the nation. It is true that the extensive use of feather beds has been provided in the National Coal Board and similar bodies, and I trust that there is now to be a change of heart on the part of the Government. This provision is in fact a feather bed. The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) hit the nail on the head when he said just now that this Clause will mean an entirely different mental approach from that which would obtain if there were no such Clause. That, I believe, to be the heart of this matter. When the Corporation realise that they have to make both ends meet, they are more likely to do so than if they find a Clause of this character. It is common experience that when provision is made to milk public funds, public funds are in fact milked. That is human nature. For that reason, it would be an excellent thing not to have this Clause in the Bill. The hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) has given good reasons why it should not apply to imported materials. He was willing to accept finished steel but even in the case of finished steel, I think that there is no case for having this Clause in the Bill.Let us consider what the position will be. This Bill cannot become effective—even if the General Election were to go in a different direction from that in which we on this side of the House expect it to go—until some time in the summer or autumn of next year. Steel production is rising steadily. The world demand for steel is at its peak at the present time, owing to the wartime ravages, and steel production in Germany is being allowed to increase. It ought not to be the case that we shall need to import finished steel very much longer, in which case the need for a subsidy on imported steel will not arise. I feel, therefore, that the motive behind this Clause is thoroughly bad; the Clause provides a temptation for which the Corporation is almost certainly bound to fall, and I trust the Minister will even yet delete the Clause.
One cannot but be amused by the fact that a few months ago the Government benches were deriding the British steel industry for the reason that it was gaining a large Government subsidy, while today we find them here as the exponents of, and the demanders for, the continuation of those subsidies. I wish to add but a few words to what has already been said.First, if the industry is subsidised it naturally loses its sense of acuteness and the intense need for competition. We have recently had a very good example of that in the scrap shipments from Germany. Everyone in the steel industry knew that they were being subsidised; the cost of the scrap was agreed by the outside Government Department with the Americans, and it was a very high price indeed. If they had been people who were earnestly concerned whether their profit or the profitability of their firm depended on the price at which they could acquire scrap from abroad, undoubtedly they would have worked very much harder for a lower price for Ger- man scrap. I think that we may yet see the German scrap price fall, because we shall be much keener to get it down. The same thing will, I believe, apply throughout the steel industry on the question of subsidy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) said, with the subsidy there is a feather bed which the individual publicly-owned company and the Corporation can fall back on, knowing that behind them they have the Minister and an unlimited public purse. We really feel that this Clause should be deleted from the Bill. If need be, if a serious situation should arise, the Minister should come to this House and ask for the re-allotment of such subsidy. It is again a question of Parliamentary control. We believe that the efficiency of the industry will be greater if those subsidies are deleted from the Bill.
Surely the guardians of the public interest on the Treasury Bench must feel that this Clause places upon them a much heavier weight of proof than they have yet here discharged. Upon the face of the Clause, it rings almost all the alarm bells. It purports—it is true only permissively—to give future Governments the right, without specific recourse to the House, to spend entirely unlimited sums; there is no ceiling limit at all. That alone puts a very heavy onus of proof upon the Government.Secondly, it does this for an occasion which admittedly cannot arise at a date which can now be predicted, not within the lifetime of this Parliament. Although no doubt it was properly meant for a gracious courtesy, it is really a kind of contemptuous impertinence for a Minister to say that he wishes to save the Government and the House the trouble of dealing with these things. The trouble of dealing with these things is what the House is for, and without it government becomes not government at all but, as the good Bishop of Hippo said long ago, merely thievery on a greater scale than would otherwise be possible. That is what Parliament is for, so that when sums of money are needed from the public purse the Government should have to come and explain how and why before taking the money, and not merely to announce afterwards how it has happened and to invite inquiry then. I am rather sorry that there is not a Law Officer on the Government Front Bench, because I wish to ask a rather technical question. This Clause is really technical, and if the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me perhaps he will try to follow the exact words I am going to quote, because otherwise the rest of my argument will become meaningless; I do not guarantee that it will not anyway. I wish to refer to line 27, beginning at "the total cost." The occasion which arises when the Minister or his successor is to be permitted to pay a subsidy is when the total cost of imported materials exceeds the price at which such things are sold in Great Britain. Now, I do not think that the draftsman has succeeded in meaning what he meant to mean. I speak with great diffidence, because I know that the draftsmen are much better at these things than I am. It seems to me that the words as placed are trying to compare two incommensurable things—the cost and the price; because what is really wanted is the cost of buying and the total receipts for selling, which is a different thing from the price of sale. I think that there is a drafting difficulty there. There is a more important one, I think, in the words, and I do ask the Minister to consider whether this does not want looking at again. As I read the words, hot being a lawyer but taking them as an ordinary, more or less intelligent person who understands English in the literary sense, he is not permitted to start paying his subsidies except when, taking the running account from I do not know what beginning date, all the transactions add up so that the total cost is greater than the total receipts. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman follows what I mean, but I think that is what the wording means. If the total costs are x and the total receipts are x minus q, then he may pay a subsidy. A year later he has still got to take all those figures into account, merely adding on the pluses or minuses that have happened during the intervening years. That seems to me to be the effect of these words, and I really think we ought to have them explained to us by a lawyer. At any rate, the Minister ought to be able to tell us this. All I have said may be nonsense. I do not think it is wholly nonsense; but certainly I may be mistaken, and the upshot of what I have said may be mistaken. I fully understand that. But I do not think the right hon. Gentleman or other hon. Members opposite would say, unless they were merely trying to be facetious, that there was no sense or reason in what I have said. The question to which I think the right hon. Gentleman must know the answer without the help of a Law Officer is this: How could that be tested? Suppose the case I have just put for the interpretation of these words. Who is there to test it? As far as I can see, nobody. There is nobody to test whether what I have just said is the right meaning of the words. I will not go into the possible alternative, which is I think obvious. As far as I can see, there would be no way of getting the right meaning of the words. I always dislike very much these things which are to be done with the consent of the Treasury. There is a curious modern habit in legislation of trying to argue that it is unconstitutional to say that one Minister must consult another. Over and over again I have had that argument used against me by all Governments, but particularly by this one, on the ground that Ministers must be presumed to be of one mind—the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility, and all that. Simultaneously there is this growing habit of saying that' His Majesty's Ministers, His Majesty's Secretary of State or His Majesty's Minister of Supply, or whatever it may be, may or may not do this with the consent of the Treasury. As far as I can see, the sole authority to interpret the meaning of these words is the Treasury and no other, and I think that that multiplies by two or three the burden of proof which the Minister already has upon him when he is asking the House to authorise him or his successors to pay sums of money of an amount wholly unlimited, not now predictable, in circumstances which cannot possibly arise at any time within the calculable future.
I think that we have had a very inadequate explanation from the right hon. Gentleman of the presence of this Clause in the Bill. After all, the presence of this Clause in the Bill raises two perfectly distinct issues. The first is on the question of policy. Should a State-owned iron and steel industry be in receipt of subsidies from the taxpayer? There is another and to my mind more important question, and that is the question of financial practice and financial procedure. I am astonished that when we are discussing a Clause for the payment of subsidies in a Bill of this character there should be no representative of the Treasury upon the Government Front Bench to defend this subsidy Clause. We have until half-past five upon this batch of clauses, and I seriously suggest that the Minister should get in touch with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and invite him to attend the House in order to defend the presence of this Clause in the Bill.I will explain why I say that. The financial practice and procedure which has grown up in regard to clauses of this character is that Government expenditure requires statutory authority only if it is to be both substantial and continuous; that is to say, that it is to continue from year to year. All of us who have been in the House' for any length of time have seen innumerable instances of expenditure of money by Governments upon particular objects without statutory authority; that is to say, by the procedure of bringing in a Supplementary Estimate, and with the ex post facto approval of the Appropriation Act at the end of the Session. That has been done by Ministers in my day to provide subsidies for, let us say, the Covent Garden Opera, fireworks for VE-Day, and all sorts of matters of that kind. It is still the fact that even the expenses of the National Savings committees, which have been proceeding since 1917, have as yet got no statutory authority, because when they were first introduced it was not intended that they should in fact be continuous. Therefore, the presence of this Clause, giving statutory authority for the payment of subsidies to the State-owned iron and steel industry, indicates to the House that these subsidies are, it is apprehended and expected, to be both substantial on the one hand and continuous from year to year upon the other. I say that we should have had here some representative of the Treasury, and I am very much obliged that we now have the presence of the Financial Secretary. For his benefit I will again explain shortly the point I have been making, which is that the presence of Clause 5—that is the power to subsidise the State-owned Iron and Steel Corporation, giving statutory authority for this expenditure out of the Exchequer—indicates that it is the intention of the Government that expenditure on these subsidies should be both substantial on the one hand, and should continue from year to year on the other. 4.15 p.m. I have pointed out that if it is merely a matter of getting the Iron and Steel Corporation out of a temporary hole, perhaps one year out of three or five, it would be perfectly proper for the Government to bring in a Supplementary Estimate for that particular year and for that particular limited purpose. They could secure statutory authority from the House after that by means of the Appropriation Act. That is a course which is taken in innumerable cases of Government expenditure for particular objects when that expenditure is not expected to recur year after year. Apart from the question of policy, which is of the greatest importance, it seems astonishing that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should require statutory power to subsidise this nationalised industry which is going to be so much more efficient and productive than it has ever been before in private hands. That is surprising enough, but it is more surprising to me that they should include in the Bill a Clause which can only be intended to give them power to subsidise the Iron and Steel Corporation year by year to a substantial amount. I therefore suggest that we should have from the Government an explanation why they will not accept our Amendment to leave out the Clause, and then, if the Iron and Steel Corporation requires, as the Minister indicated that it might require in special circumstances and from time to time, a sum of money from the Exchequer to tide it over a particular difficulty in regard, say, to the price of imported scrap or something of that character, the Government could come to the House and obtain, by way of a Supplementary Estimate, statutory authority in a way which is perfectly normal.
Once again I find myself drawn into this discussion by my interest in the arguments presented by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas). The last two speakers raised, not objections to the payment of the subsidy at all, but one, objections to the drafting of the Clause, and the other, questions of policy that might be inferred from the presence in the Bill of a Clause of this kind. I did not understand either of the last two speakers to object to the payment of subsidies. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) wanted an explanation of the legal circumstances in which the payment might arise, while the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) very properly raised a point whether there is an inference as to the amount and the permanence of the subsidy to be drawn from the following of this procedure rather than another. Both those speakers contemplate that a payment may have to be made in appropriate circumstances.Not so the hon. Member for Keighley. He is against it altogether. He does not want the Clause or the subsidy. He is against it on broad public grounds. He says that wherever a subsidy is payable people are under a temptation. In saying that, he says something that I should not have expected him to say, of all Members; he says that where there is a temptation nobody resists it. [An HON. MEMBER: "He could not."] That is the argument which he puts forward. In his opinion advantage would be taken of the opportunity, and that is why he does not want the opportunity to be there. I am not so cynical myself. I do not think that everybody who is entitled to a subsidy always cheats. Let us assume, nevertheless, that the hon. Gentleman is right and that therefore there ought to be no subsidy. Then, of course, what we have to do is to examine whether the position is better under the Bill or better without it. Subsidies were paid without it. Subsidies are being paid now. [An HON. MEMBER: "No"] Certainly, The hon. Member for Keighley says that subsidies should never be paid because the temptation to cheat is, in his opinion, irresistible. Surely the position may be just a little better and not a little worse if we take that irresistible temptation out of the hands of private companies and private individuals who make a personal, individual profit out of it, and if we limit the temptation to a public corporation which, by statute, makes no profit at all. Therefore the hon. Gentleman, so far from quarrelling with his Friends and crossing the Floor of the House, bitterly attacking, even vituperating, them in all the speeches which he makes, and joining another party on the ground that they are doing what they are doing, transferring an irresistible temptation to make private profit from the particular individuals who make it to a public corporation, subject to controls by this House—
I think the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), carried away by his own eloquence, has committed one error which I do not think he intended. He said I think that the corporation and its subsidiaries were going to make no profits. I do not understand that at all from the Bill.
I am very grateful for the correction. I suppose I am revealing no secret when I say that I am not an expert about steel or about the Bill. If it be the case, and for the purposes of this argument I am prepared to accept it, that the right hon. Gentleman is right—I am not quite sure about it, but let us suppose that he is right—and that the Bill does contemplate that the Iron and Steel Corporation might make a profit, I think he will agree that it will not be a private profit and that nobody will put it into his pocket. The right hon. Gentleman will say that whether the profit be private or not, one in fact will be made, and so we come to the same thing in the end. Suppose it were permissible to make a profit and that a profit were made. That profit will remain in the hands of a public corporation, and the administration and the use of it will be controlled, at whatever remove, by this House. The hon. Member for Keighley does not want that. He wants this irresistible temptation to make a private profit to remain. That is why he left the Labour Party and joined the Tory Party.
The hon. Member should not show more ignorance about our Debates on steel than is necessary. He must be aware that we on this side of the House ask for the ending of subsidies upon the steel industry and that the Minister has now obliged us, except in the case of subsidies upon imported materials. [Interruption.]
I am really very grateful to the hon. Member for Keighley for the information he has given me, although I understand that everybody else in the House denies its accuracy. Suppose he were right. Do I understand that all those gentlemen and institutions propose to hand back to the Treasury all the subsidies that they have had so far?
I agree with the views that have been expressed from this side of the House as to the undesirability of subsidies in general. They are, in fact, the antithesis of free enterprise, and they have never been used in the past, so far as I can remember, except in exceptional circumstances and to combat a particular and temporary evil.There is another aspect of the subsidy question to which I do not think attention has hitherto been drawn. It will be noted that the articles to which a subsidy may be applied under the Clause are:
The materials used in any of the activities under the Second Schedule are very many indeed. If one takes a census of all the stuff that goes into the production of rolled sections of steel, or pig-iron, or activities under the Second Schedule, one would cover a very wide field indeed. I can think of limestone, coke, alloys and so on, and fuel oil. The field over which we are ranging to which subsidy can be applied is therefore very great. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell me whether I am in a fallacy in the second part of my argument. I do not believe that I am. The second part of my argument is this: Let us assume a rather exaggerated state of affairs for the purposes of this argument. Coke was in very short supply for a very long time. Raw coke is expanding production. It might very well come about that imported coke is brought into this country for the purpose of manufacturing pig-iron and that the price of the imported coke is higher than that of the home-produced coke. Surely there would be a very great incentive to the Treasury and to the National Coal Board to arrange that home coke prices should rise. Then the subsidy would disappear. The Minister look s disgusted at that suggestion. If he does not want to take coke as an example, let him take any other material which comes into Second Schedule activities. There is another danger, apart from the straightforward subsidy danger. It is the tendency for home prices to rise, perhaps artificially, in order to limit or even to eliminate the subsidy on imported goods. In addition to the argument which has been adduced against the desirability of the subsidy and for its elimination, there is that further argument to be taken into account."any imported materials for the purpose of the carrying on … of any of the activities specified in … the Second Schedule to this Act."
The Minister said correctly that this Clause was permissive. He seemed to indicate that there is something rather wrong in passing a Clause merely because it is permissive. What is this Clause really intended to permit? My fear and that of many hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House is of the continuation of the subsidy over a long period continuously. If this is a permissive Clause, it acts as a sort of smokescreen. The Minister has appeared before us as the great champion of flexibility in the working of the Clause, but flexibility can become pliancy and pliancy weakness, right back to the boneless wonder.I feel that there is great danger in having a permissive Clause. It is likely to affect the outlook of the Minister and his advisers when they come at a particular point of time to decide: "Shall we come out into the cold wind of competition by stopping the subsidy or shall we continue the subsidy under the permissive Clause? It might make things a great deal easier for us." It is a sort of gadget Clause, like one of those electric toasters which is always popping up an extra piece of toast which one eats when one ought not to. 4.30 p.m. I cannot help feeling, that the arguments of the Minister and his colleagues are not directed to the protection of the public purse. There is no doubt that the moment of decision as to whether to take off or to continue a subsidy is likely to be prolonged in the direction of continuing it unnecessarily as long as a Clause of this nature is present in the Bill and the Minister does not have to come forward and justify before the House the subsidy which might have been taken off.
We have had some complaint, I understand, about the fact that the time allotted for the discussion of this Bill on the Report stage is insufficient. It has occurred to me that, as I imagine the Opposition are labouring under a misconception, if I intervene now it may shorten the discussion on this point. My right hon. Friend the Minister has, in fact, said all that can be said in reply to the criticisms that have been made.
How does the right hon. Gentleman know?
It seems quite obvious to me in listening to the Debate since I have returned to the Chamber that what he said has failed, not for the first time, to sink in opposite.
The right hon. Gentleman was not here. He does not know what the Minister said.
The plain question I would put to the Opposition is whether they want the remaining subsidies to come off now or to continue until such time as it seems desirable, owing to the reduction in the price of imported finished steel, that that would be a good thing to do. The Opposition seem to forget that in their view the Bill will never be implemented even if it becomes an Act; in other words, that in 1950 they themselves will be where we now are. It would be very unfortunate if in that unlikely event they found themselves in the situation where it was highly desirable in the national interest that these limited subsidies should continue for a temporary period and they would not be able to put that into operation.Therefore, it seems to me that, from their point of view, the pressure they are now bringing is short-sighted, and it appears to us that it would be absurd from the national point of view, whatever Governemnt were in office, to take the Clause out of the Bill. As the Minister pointed out, it is permissive. It is obvious that for a period yet it will be essential for these reduced subsidies to be paid. That being so, we cannot for a moment agree to their deletion from the Bill. I want to make a final point which my right hon. Friend did not make but which he would desire me to make. The purpose of Clause 5 is to avoid the unsound method of using the Appropriation Act. These subsidies are a new expenditure and up to now they have not received statutory authority. They should receive such authority and we should not use the Appropriation Act for this expenditure. The right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who once occupied the position I now occupy, will agree that it is highly desirable that statutory authority should be sought and obtained for an expenditure of this kind and that we should not year after year use the device of the Appropriation Act only, for an expenditure of this magnitude and kind. I hope the Opposition will realise that what we are doing here is reasonable, that the provision is permissive and that at the moment it is essential and no one on either side of the House can say when the time will arrive when we can dispense with these subsidies.
The right hon. Gentleman has been a little disingenuous in the observations he has addressed to the House on this matter. He first of all told us what the Minister said, but as he was not present I do not see that he has any method of knowing what the Minister had said, unless it be that the doctrine of common responsibility must be extended to the doctrine of the common brief. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that another Government might be returned which would require, in the national interest, to pay subsidies of this kind for special reasons, and that if Clause 5 were omitted that would not be possible. Surely he knows that without this Bill and without Clause 5 the subsidies have been paid year after year.Therefore, the whole of that part of his argument—I am coming to the latter part of his argument—can only have been intended to deceive the House of Commons because it was absolutely fallacious or based upon a lack of knowledge. These subsidies have been paid year after year, and similar subsidies have been paid, and it is not true to say that if this Bill fell to the ground, or if for some reason vesting date never took place, or if there was a change of Government the new Government, whatever its complexion, whether of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends or of my hon. Friends or of all of us together—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—might not be able to do so. I am simply stating the logic of the facts; that any Government can perfectly easily do this. The right hon. Gentleman went on in the second part of his speech—it absolutely contradicted the first part—to say that the Government could easily do this and has been doing this through the device of the Supplementary Estimate and the Appropriation Act.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman, whom we all know to be a man of the highest honour, is not saying that he would support the action of any future Governmnet of which he was a Member in applying subsidies after having today voted against the application of subsidies in this Bill?
I am grateful to the tribute to my honour but this is a matter partly of honour and partly of just common sense. The Clause does not make the smallest difference to the power of the Government to make or not to make a subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman did not attend the first part of the Debate and did not hear the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). We have had during the war on the coal subsidies and in the case of a great number of things which come to us in Supplementary Estimates—
The right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) argued that where we had a subsidy so large and permanent. we ought not to use the Supplementary Estimates, but ought to have a Clause in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has himself argued that the subsidy is, in the sense used at any rate, large and permanent. Why then is he opposing the Clause?
I am just coming to that. I am very glad that the hon. Member has helped so much with my speech, as he so often does in the interruptions which he makes. They are always the making of my speeches. I look to his presence before I even dare to rise, so helpful is he.I was explaining that it was not true to say that in the event of some sudden emergency, special need or national requirement which was commonly accepted in all parts of the House or by the Government of the day, the deletion of this Clause would make it impossible to pay the subsidies. I was merely pointing out that the obvious argument that that was true was that they have been paid without the Bill having been introduced at all. The Financial Secretary's argument was that we could not have the subsidy until we had the Bill. We all know that we have had the subsidy and we have not yet got the Bill.
This is really a tiny point. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but what I think I said and what I desired to convey to the House was that although it is true that subsidies have been paid in this way it is much better—I know the Opposition prefer this—that it should be regularised in a Bill of this kind as we happen to be passing it.