Skip to main content

Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 464: debated on Monday 9 May 1949

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

Coal Industry

Opencast Mining

1.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power in how many cases during 1947 and 1948 have successful tenderers for opencast coal work been instructed by his Department to purchase plant from the Ministry of Supply or any other Government Department.

None, Sir. But because of the need to ensure that American machinery already purchased for dollars was employed in the most productive manner, there were a number of sites for which tenders were asked on the understanding that the successful tenderer would purchase excavating plant which was especially suitable for the site concerned. The number of machines purchased from the Ministry in this way was 43 in 1947, and 38 in 1948.

In actual fact, was it not the case that many contractors were compelled to take machinery they did not want; and is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the evidence put before the Select Committee it was stated that the Ministry had started unloading plant on unsuccessful tenderers?

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is, "Certainly not, Sir," and I would not agree with that interpretation of the evidence put before the Select Committee.

2.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power on what basis is the initial cost of providing loading and screening facilities for opencast coal-mining written off by his Department.

Capital expenditure incurred in the provision of loading and screening facilities is spread over the total production programme. An annual review is made of the rate at which such expenditure is written off, and, if necessary, adjustments are made in the light of the balance still outstanding, the estimated amount of future capital expenditure and the remaining production programme.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if, then, the whole of the capital cost is ultimately recovered from the selling price of coal?

3. Mr.

the Minister of Fuel and Power what percentage of the sale price of opencast coal is represented by Departmental overheads.

The estimated figure for the year ended 31st March, 1949, is 41 per cent. of the average sale price.

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. HUGH FRASER:

15. To ask the Minister of Fuel and Power what action is being taken to restore the agricultural value on the opencast mining site at Hatchley Farm, Dilhorne, Stoke-on-Trent; why machinery including a tractor has lain idle there since 1st October, 1948; why a contractor's bungalow on the site is paying neither rent nor rates; what is the work of an engineer who is on duty on the site each day; and what action he proposes to take.

Mr. Speaker, may I point out that this Question should read, instead of "a tractor has," "six caterpillar tractors and six scrapers, the property of his Ministry, have."

Restoration work on this site began last October, but early in November, owing to bad weather, the ground became waterlogged and unfit for further work, and the contractor was given permission to postpone work until the Spring. In April, however, he gave notice that he would be unable to complete his contract and alternative arrangements are now being made to complete the restoration of the site. The tractors and scrapers were not required for other work during the winter, and were left on the site for use when restoration started again.

The contractor's agent and his wife were allowed to stay in a Nissen but erected by the contractor because they could find no alternative accommodation. It is not the practice of the Ministry to charge ground rent for contractors' buildings. I have no information about rates. The engineer who uses the office on the site is mainly engaged on routine work in connection with other sites in the district.

Is it not the fact that these tractors could have been employed in the month of November and also since April? In point of fact, they have been eating their heads off doing nothing. Further to that Irishism, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these tractors might well have been used by his right hon. Friend who has been complaining about the lack of tractors in Tanganyika? Something like 6,000 working hours have been lost by these tractors, which I compute to amount to a loss of about £9,000. Is the Minister further aware that the firm who were employed by his Ministry have since gone bankrupt? Is no check made of firms before such contracts are given to them? Finally, is the Minister aware that a complete mess has been made of the land, and that the topsoil and the subsoil are completely and inextricably intermingled?

The tractors may have been eating their heads off, but they are still alive, I am glad to say. They certainly could not have gone to Tanganyika and come back in time to do restoration work this Spring. As regards the contractor, I am glad to say that it is very rare for a contractor to break down on his contract as has happened in this case. We take all possible precautions to prevent that kind of thing happening.

17.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power, in view of the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, whether he proposes any early change in the present opencast coal policy.

No, Sir; if we are to be able to meet the increasing demand for coal at home and our commitments to expand exports, it is imperative that everything possible should be done to fulfil the present opencast programme. The policy of the Government, therefore, remains as stated by my predecessor in the House on August 7th, 1947. At the same time we shall continue our effort to reduce costs of production which, as the Committee's Report shows, have fallen by nearly 10s. a ton in the last five years. My Department's reply on the detailed recommendations of the Select Committee will be forwarded to the Committee in due course.

Arising from that reply, which indicates that the Government are continuing their policy of winning opencast coal, I want to submit the following questions to the Minister: first, is he aware that the people who are living adjacent to opencast sites are suffering great mental anxiety, physical discomfort and disturbance of their domestic life, and will he take steps to eliminate or reduce to the lowest possible level the discomforts experienced; and secondly, is he further aware that the promises made on 30th March at the meeting held in the Billinge U.D.C. to the people there have not been carried out by his Department? Will he ginger them up and see that the promises are kept?

With regard to the second part of the question, I will certainly follow up the information provided by my hon. Friend. As to the first part, we will certainly do everything we can to diminish the inconvenience which opencast operations cause in that locality, but I must insist that we carry out the programme if we are not to be short of coal.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the devastating effect on agriculture and food production is a factor which is just as important as that of obtaining coal? Why does not that get proper consideration?

It certainly does get proper consideration, but in terms of value it is very small by comparison with the value of the coal which is raised.

Domestic Supplies, Cornwall

7.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware of the shortage of anthracite and domestic coal in South-East Cornwall; and if he will take immediate action to rectify this position.

10.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will take steps to remedy the shortage of fuel in West Cornwall, with particular reference to anthracite.

As I have frequently explained to the House, and as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has recently indicated in correspondence with the hon. Members, anthracite is scare on the home market owing to the need to increase exports, particularly to Canada. The shortage is no more acute in Cornwall than elsewhere, and coke, of which supplies are adequate, is a satisfactory substitute in most stoves and boilers. Stocks of house coal in South-East and West Cornwall are reasonably good for this time of the year, and I am not aware of any special difficulties in these areas.

The Minister has used the word "scarce." Is he aware that in Cornwall this is not a question of scarcity; the supply of anthracite is absolutely zero. With regard to the last part of my Question, is the Minister aware that domestic coal is at a dangerously low level? I do not think it is reasonable compared with the rest of the country. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the matter again?

According to my information, stocks of domestic coal in Cornwall are substantially above the level in the rest of the country, and represent at least two or 1½ weeks' consumption.

Is my right hon. Friend prepared to give priority to owners of stoves which only burn anthracite?

Yes, Sir, we have always given instructions to our local officers to ensure that in such cases anthracite shall be provided.

Would the Minister ask for a special report from the South-Western Fuel Overseer?—because I have been round two or three coal yards in that area, and there is no domestic coal at all. The Scotch anthracite burns too slowly for these "Cookanheat" stoves. There is no Welsh anthracite whatsoever in the St. Austell district—or there was none three weeks ago.

I had, of course, obtained a report from my regional officer before answering the Question. I do not think the hon. and gallant Member realises that stocks of house coal are normally very low at this time of the year.

Is the Minister aware that the report that he mentioned referred to Cornwall, whereas I had specifically referred to South-East Cornwall? Perhaps there is a conflict there. Will the right hon. Gentleman inquire into the matter further?

According to my information, stocks in South-East Cornwall amount to 1.6 weeks supply.

Western Europe (Production And Marketing)

9.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether any steps have been taken by His Majesty's Government either through the National Coal Board or otherwise to co-ordinate the production and marketing of coal in Western Europe as a whole.

Production and marketing of coal in Western Europe is coordinated through the Coal Committee of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation on which His Majesty's Government are represented. This Committee meets frequently in Paris to deal with solid fuel problems arising within the framework of the Organisation, in particular the forward coal prospects, requirements and availabilities of the participating countries. In addition, His Majesty's Government are represented on the Coal Committee of the Economic Commission for Europe which includes representatives of all European countries who are members of the United Nations. This Committee meets quarterly in Geneva to recommend allocations of the available supplies of coal, and has recently initiated a study of the long-term aspects of European coal production and utilisation. The National Coal Board is kept in close touch with the Paris and Geneva Committees through the Government machinery in London, and representatives of the Board also attend meetings of the committees as advisers to the United Kingdom delegate.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that after the first world war cut-throat competition between British, Polish, German and French coal industries resulted in every ton of coal cut being sold under the cost of production? Does he recognise the necessity for taking effective steps to see that this situation never recurs?

The hon. Member raises a very big issue with which I cannot deal in question and answer, but I can assure him that we appreciate the point he has made.

Does either of the bodies mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman deal with Ruhr coal which is being exported at a price substantially below the normal world price?

Certainly, the Economic Commission for Europe would be concerned with that, and also I think the other Committee.

Is the Minister aware that Polish coal is now being landed in Eire? Cannot something be done to make better co-ordination than that?

I am not aware of any lack of co-ordination. At any rate, so long as we can sell all the coal we can afford to export I do not think we need grumble very much.

Mining Subsidence (Report)

16.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he can now state when legislation will be introduced to implement the main findings of the Report on Mining Subsidence or alternatively, in view of the urgency of the matter, if he will consider introducing a short preliminary Measure dealing with compensation for damage done to cottage property.

I regret I am not yet in a position to add to the reply given to my hon. Friend on 24th February last. The proposals raise many important issues which are the concern of several Govern- ment Departments, as well as the National Coal Board, and some delay is inevitable before the Government can reach a decision on the Report and the action to be taken as a result of it.

Has the Minister considered the suggestion in the second part of the Question?

Yes, Sir, but I do not think it would be practicable to introduce separate legislation dealing with that point, and in any case the exact criteria to be applied in the matter of claiming compensation is one of the points which must be most carefully looked into.

In that case, is the Minister aware that three months ago the answer he has now given was reasonably satisfactory, but that the people living in the cottages there are being subjected to the same treatment as if they were under enemy bombardment, and that they are no longer satisfied with that answer? We really must ask for a hasty decision.

I quite appreciate my hon. Friend's concern in this matter, which I share, but I would ask her to be a little patient. This is a very difficult problem into which we must go carefully before we reach a decision.

Would the Minister kindly tell us whether an opportunity will be provided for the House to discuss the Report? We agree that there are many complications and that might be a profitable procedure.

Is the Minister aware that we had an understanding from his predecessor in 1946 that legislation affecting compensation for mining subsidence would be brought before this House before the end of 1949?

I am not aware of any such promise being given. I should be very surprised if, in fact, it were given.

Petrol Supplies

Overseas Visitors

4.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether overseas visitors who purchase secondhand cars can now be given the same facilities in regard to petrol allowances as are made available to overseas visitors purchasing new cars in this country.

18.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he has now come to a decision on the possibility of making an allowance of petrol available for visitors to Britain who wish to use friends' cars.

I have come to the conclusion that arrangements can be made whereby, without undue risk of black market operations developing, a small supplementary petrol allowance can be issued to visitors from overseas who borrow a car here or buy one secondhand. Accordingly, as from 1st June, such visitors will be able to obtain a special allowance of petrol sufficient for 250 miles of motoring, in addition to any standard ration available with the car. Each visitor will be entitled to only one allowance in a period of six months, and not more than one allowance will be issued for any one car in the same period. Further details will be announced shortly.

Is the Minister aware that the removal of this restriction so far will give considerable satisfaction, and will he endeavour to remove it still further?

I think we had better wait and see how the plan works out in practice.

Can the Minister say whether, where his regional officers have turned down recent requests, they will in fact take up those cases immediately in case sufficient publicity is not given to this matter?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would await the further details which will be announced very shortly.

It is a small allowance, but I am satisfied that if we were to give a larger one the danger of abuse would be very great indeed.

Hotel-Keepers (Fishing)

5. Mr.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will make a special allowance of petrol to hotel-keepers to enable them to transport their visitors to fish in rivers and lochs.

Yes, Sir. I am prepared to grant a small allowance to hotels in exceptionally isolated rural areas for the use of a car to convey guests to a river or loch where the hotel has acquired fishing rights.

Can the Minister say whether any special conditions, in addition to these, are being imposed?

Subject to the interpretation of this rule by my regional petroleum officers, "None, Sir."

Is it not much more important to grant an additional allowance to commercial travellers, because their job is part of the raw material for the export trade?

Radiospares, Ltd

11 and 12.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) under what authority his Department suggested to Radiospares, Ltd., that they should at their own expense have saloon bodies removed from their vehicles and van bodies put in their place at a cost of £5,000 in order to evade the regulations under which his own Department are operating;

(2) why he has reduced the amount of petrol previously allowed to Radiospares, Ltd., 19–23, Fitzroy Street, London, W.1.

This firm originally received allowances for its cars from my regional petroleum officers. Last year, the firm converted its cars, obtained C licences and was given allowances by the district transport officer of the Ministry of Transport on the higher scale applicable to goods vehicles. When the definition of private motor vehicles was altered to include dual purpose vehicles so as to prevent their obtaining red petrol, the firm had once again to apply to the regional petroleum officer for allowances for its cars. After a careful review of the case, it was decided to increase by one-third the allowance previously issued by the regional petroleum officer.

As regards the construction of the cars, my officers merely agreed that if certain alterations suggested by the firm were carried out, the vehicles would no longer fall within the structural definition of private motor vehicles contained in the Motor Spirit (Amendment) Regulations, 1948.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that a car needs the same amount of petrol, whether the petrol is supplied by the Ministry of Transport or the Ministry of Fuel and Power? The car does exactly the same job. Could the right hon. Gentleman give some explanation as to why a differential scale is applied by the two Ministries? As the Minister has answered my two Questions together, perhaps I may ask two supplementary questions. Is he aware whether the advice, given "under the counter," so to speak, by his Department, that this firm should convert its vehicles, is accurate? Are the regulations so silly that if a different body is put on a vehicle which does exactly the same work as it was doing before, it gets a different amount of petrol?

There has always been a quite natural distinction between the scales of allowance applicable to vehicles whose purpose is carrying goods, and to private cars which obviously can be far more easily used for private purposes. That distinction must, I think, be maintained. This firm converted its vehicles in effect to evade the anti-black market regulations which we introduced, and it is now being caught under the regulations which stop that evasion.

If the firm carries out a fresh conversion so that the vehicles conform to the definition required, can the Minister say whether they will get their former allowances of petrol back again?

Hydro-Electric Projects, North Wales

14.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what is the present position regarding the proposal to construct several large reservoirs for electricity generation in North Wales; and if he will give an assurance that local authorities and amenity societies will be fully consulted.

The British Electricity Authority recently announced in the Press certain plans which they were considering for the development of hydro-electric power in North Wales. I have received an application for the building and civil engineering work necessary for extending the existing Dolgarrog Catchment Area, and notices of this application have been published and plans deposited for public inspection to give interested parties every opportunity of making representations. As regards the other major projects, the British Electricity Authority have not yet sought the statutory powers which they must have before proceeding with them. The answer to the last part of the Question is, "Yes, Sir."

Food Supplies

Groundnut Scheme

19.

asked the Minister of Food what report of the progress of harvest under the groundnut scheme in Tanganyika he has received.

Since the third week in March, when the crop prospects were good, most, but not all, of Tanganyika has suffered a widespread and severe drought, which has seriously affected both the groundnut and sunflower crops in the Central and Western Province, causing premature ripening. In consequence, harvesting of groundnuts began in the second week of April, a month before the normal time. No figures of yields will be available until the crop is decorticated at the central depots, but this year's crop in the Central Province, where most of the acreage already cleared lies, will obviously be seriously affected. On the other hand, it is encouraging to notice that the Southern Province, where by far the greater part of the scheme's acreage will lie, has not suffered nearly so severely from this general sub-continental drought.

I am sure we all agree with the Minister that it is very unfortunate that there has been this drought in Tanganyika, but of course that happens fairly regularly in those parts. Can he tell us a little about the prospective yield of the sunflower crop which is, I think, a bigger acreage than the groundnuts at Kongwa, because that was going to contribute very considerably to the total quantity of oil seeds we were to expect?

I cannot agree with the implications in the first part of the supplementary question that droughts occur very frequently in that part of the world. The rainfall is quite well known and the hon. Member can look up the average tables for himself. Droughts of this severity are quite rare, as a matter of fact. It will certainly affect the sunflower crop in Kongwa, as well as the groundnut crop. We do not know what will be the yield.

Does the right hon. Gentleman now wish to alter his statement, made on 14th March, that many thousands of tons of this groundnut oil would this year go into the margarine ration?

I think the right hon. Gentleman is misquoting me. I do not think I used the words "many thousands of tons." But certainly I do not want to alter the statement—which I think was the statement—that there would be a contribution to the margarine ration this year, and I repeat that statement. It will not be so large as it would have been if the crop had been larger.

With regard to the comparative failure in the East, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will pay more attention to the surplus quantity of groundnuts in the West of Africa?

For the last 18 months we have been paying the most close attention to the problem of moving that surplus down the Kano Railway, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I am glad to say the weekly movements now are nearly 2,000 tons up on last year.

20.

asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the resignations of seven of the senior staff of the Overseas Food Corporation employed on the groundnut scheme in Tanganyika, he will strengthen the board of the Overseas Food Corporation to ensure that there is at headquarters a proper appreciation of the practical problems involved in making a success of this scheme.

I cannot accept the hon. Member's implication that the resignation of any executive in East Africa calls for special measures to strengthen the Board of the Overseas Food Corporation. In fact, almost all the changes that have taken place recently in the senior staff in East Africa result from the determination of the chairman and members of the Board to re-organise, build up and maintain an efficient local establishment, with a full appreciation of the practical problems involved in the enterprise. I can assure the House that the Board is fully aware of the need for practical experience. That is why the chairman and the majority of the members of the Board have been in East Africa almost continuously for the past three months.

Does not the Minister know that things are at sixes and sevens out there and that orders and counter-orders have been given each week? In view of the very disturbed state of mind of many of the staff, would he not think it wise now to strengthen the Board, as the Question suggests, by adding some people who have their feet on the ground and who already have had experience of African conditions?

No, Sir. I cannot agree with any of those implications and I do not agree for one moment that orders and counter-orders are being given. I do know that a small number of executives—four or five—have resigned and have been replaced by others and that, I think, was very wise action on the part of the Board.

Does not the Minister consider that these resignations point to the necessity of his reviewing the whole of this scheme in the new situation which exists in the world? Further, on the question of having experienced people, would he remember that he appointed as the original people at the head of this Corporation those who had had no experience at all in Africa?

No, Sir. Mr. Wakefield, for example, had 15 years' experience of agriculture in Tanganyika. These statements have no relation whatever to the facts.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether these seven resignations referred to were, in fact, voluntary resignations or whether they were, as he has given the House to believe by his answers, dismissals?

They were different in different cases. Two of them were doctors who were going back to other medical work in this country, and they were entirely voluntary, but some of the others were, in fact, at the wish of the Board.

Does the Minister really know who these executives are, because on the last occasion in the House, when I raised this issue, he made a mistake?

I have a list of their names before me, if that is what is meant by the hon. Member.

Knacker's Yard Order

21.

asked the Minister of Food if he has considered a letter from the Stafford Rural District Council about the Knacker's Yard Order of 1948; and if he is prepared to amend the order on the lines suggested by its Chief Sanitary Inspector.

The Council's suggestions raise important practical and legal questions and will take some little time to consider. I will send my hon. Friend a copy of the reply to their letter when a decision is reached.

Pigs (Slaughtering)

22.

asked the Minister of Food what is the practice of his Department in administering the words undue hardship, which, under Section 3 of circular LLP dealing with pig slaughtering, exempt pig keepers from taking their animals to a depot under his control.

We do not ask pig keepers to take their pigs more than five miles; and transport difficulties due, for instance, to had weather, are taken into consideration.

In particular cases, where farmers are gravely inconvenienced, will my right hon. Friend see whether undue hardship is not a factor, so that they may have their pigs killed on the spot if they so desire? There are such cases in my constituency.

Restaurant Meals (Maximum Charge)

23.

asked the Minister of Food whether, in view of the increased cost of food as a result of the Budget, he will raise the maximum charge that may be made for meals at restaurants.

The average cost of a restaurant meal will be increased by only one-eighth of a penny by these changes.

Would not the Minister consider abolishing altogether this wartime restriction, which is so vexatious, so bad for the tourist trade, and is not found necessary in any other country?

Food Parcels

24.

asked the Minister of Food if, when British subjects send food parcels abroad in accordance with the regulations, he will arrange with the Postmaster-General to increase the weight sufficiently to allow for the containers, particulars of which have been sent him.

The 7 lb. limit is based on the international postal scale for parcels. The next higher weight would be 11 lb., and we do not allow parcels weighing more than 7 lb. to be sent, since they might be profitably re-sold and a considerable illicit export trade in food develop.

36.

asked the Minister of Food whether his attention has been drawn to circulars sent to people in this country by an organisation described as Home Parcel Service of 5c Connaught Place, New Delhi, and from other similar organisations inviting persons to order parcels of food to be sent to them in this country; and how far his regulations permit persons in this country to act on the invitation contained in these circulars.

Yes, Sir. We have no jurisdiction over traders abroad who send these circulars, but anyone in the United Kingdom buying rationed foods offered in this way is committing an offence against the Food Rationing (General Provisions) Order. I understand that it is also an offence against the Import of Goods (Control) Order to import any goods without a Board of Trade licence.

In view of the fact that circulars of this kind do come in considerable quantities, and of the fact that many of the recipients are quite unaware of the legal position, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to make that legal position known, so that however silly the law may be, it can be enforced?

Yes, Sir, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and I are issuing a joint statement on the matter.

Poultry (Control)

26.

asked the Minister of Food at what date he proposes to decontrol the price and distribution of poultry.

34.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that poultry is regularly being sold at more than the controlled price; and whether he now considers that poultry should be decontrolled.

41.

asked the Minister of Food when the price and distribution of poultry will be decontrolled.

I regret that I cannot yet give the date on which decontrol will take place.

Can the Minister give an assurance that, in view of the reduced meat ration, he will implement his promise to decontrol the price and distribution of poultry at an early date?

Yes, Sir, but it is the present shortage of meat which is in my mind when I say that it would be premature to fix the date at the present time.

Cereals

29.

asked the Minister of Food if he will give an estimate of the total subsidy allocated to cereals used for branded breakfast foods.

We do not propose to subsidise cereals used for branded breakfast foods in the current year.

Carrots

32.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware that there are considerable stocks of carrots lying in pie in the East Riding of Yorkshire which belong to his Department and which will suffer rapid deterioration with the advent of hot weather; and if he will arrange for these supplies to be moved immediately so that the carrots can be saved and the land occupied by the pies be available for recultivation.

As orders come in the remaining carrots are being moved and, as far as possible, priority is given to stocks on land needed for recultivation.

In view of the great discouragement to the farming community, who fear the food they produce may go rotten, will the right hon. Gentleman see to it that the appalling wastage that occurred in carrots last year is not repeated?

I could not agree that these carrots have been wasted, for they are being used for stock feed.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week carrots were practically unobtainable in Covent Garden?

Meat (Wholesale Price)

33.

asked the Minister of Food why, in view of the fact that the price of meat has been increased by 4d. per pound, his Department is charging butchers 5d. per pound extra.

The hon. Member has been misinformed. The average wholesale price of meat to butchers has been increased by 4d. a lb. The particular increases vary between 2d. and 5d. per lb.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I hold in my hand a letter from a responsible person in Yorkshire, who says that the Ministry of Food charge the butchers 5d. a lb. all round for meat? I do not think he knows what his own people are doing.

That was what I had in mind when I said that the hon. Member had been misinformed.

Sardines

35.

asked the Minister of Food whether he is aware of the fact that sardines are not available in the shops; and what steps he is taking to remedy this situation.

The present shortage is due to failure in the Portuguese fishing last year. I am again negotiating for large quantities of sardines this season. and if fishing is satisfactory good supplies should be available here towards the end of the year. In the meantime we are making regular allocations of brisling and sild.

Has my right hon. Friend tried to get supplies from France as well as from Portugal?

We hope to get very substantial supplies from French North Africa this year.

Is it not a fact that in 1947 private merchants in this country were able to buy sardines in Portugal without interference, with the result that we had a full supply a year ago; but that the Ministry of Food decided last summer to go in for bulk buying, so that the private merchants were no longer allowed to buy directly from Portugal, with the result that now we have no sardines in the shops?

Is there any truth in reports that sardines in considerable quantities have recently been seen approaching the shores of this country? Are any steps to be taken to catch them when they arrive?

I suggest that the hon. Member's fishing constituents should take part in that operation.

"Food Facts" (Advertisements)

37.

asked the Minister of Food what is the object of advertisements under the heading, "Food Facts," such as, "Our Big Day"; and what has been the expenditure on this particular advertisement.

The object of the advertisement was to ask grown-up people to delay their purchases until the children had had an opportunity of buying sweets. The cost of space for this advertisement was £3,200.

Does the Minister really consider it worth while to use up the taxpayers' money encouraging Peter, Sarah, Joey and Brenda to be selfish at the expense of their elders? Does he not think it would be better to provide Peter, Sarah, Joey and Brenda with more protein food rather than sweets?

No, Sir; this is an example of how much my views differ from the hon. Member's on this and almost every other question.

Would not my right hon. Friend consider taking some drastic action against the people who run in and out of confectionery shops, buying as much as 20s. worth at a time?

Do not many adults behave as though they have never seen chocolates off the ration, so that children who indeed have never been able to get sweets off the ration are being deprived of their share?

Feedingstuffs (Imports)

38.

asked the Minister of Food if he will state the approximate tonnage of animal foodstuffs he must import month by month to maintain the existing meat ration until September, 1950.

Home produced supplies of rationed meat depend mainly on homegrown feedingstuffs and are not much affected by changes in supplies of imported feedingstuffs which are used chiefly for the production of milk, eggs and bacon. Feedingstuffs, even if imported now and directed to produce beef or pork, could have no significant effect on the output of meat for the ration until the summer of 1950.

Would the Minister state whether he could buy more from Empire sources if he wished?

No, Sir. We buy all the available feedingstuffs not only from Empire and Commonwealth sources, but also from all non-dollar sources.

Would the right hon. Gentleman mind answering my question? Could he buy more if he wished to do so?

I have just answered the hon. Member's question. We do already buy all the available supplies from Commonwealth and all other non-dollar sources.

Pork (Imports)

39.

the Minister of Food the quantity and value of the pork which he has recently bought in the United States of America; if this will suffice to maintain the fresh meat ration until September; and when he expects to settle the import programme of animal feedingstuffs for 1949–50, so that a substantial increase can be made in the rations for British pigs, which will enable home production to be expanded to at least the level of 1938.

The purchase of pork in the United States is not yet complete so I cannot give quantities or prices. This pork will greatly help to maintain the carcase meat ration until home production comes along in the late summer. What animal feedingstuffs we are able to buy in 1949–50 will depend upon the outcome of our negotiations with the exporting countries, of which the two most important are Russia and the Argentine.

While the Minister is making this deal with America for pork, would he not, at the same time, make a deal with them to bring in more coarse grains, so that he can immediately increase feedingstuffs for pigs in this country, with the result that by 1950 he will get more home produced pork?

Yes, Sir, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer would certainly insist that all possible non-dollar sources should be explored first.

Oatmeal (Exports)

40.

asked the Minister of Food why he refuses to permit the export of oatmeal and oat products to India and Pakistan; and when this trade may be resumed.

Can the Minister say why in that case he has recently informed the manufacturers of these products that no permits can be issued, and is he aware that similar products are freely being imported into India from Australia?

No, Sir. I think that the hon. Gentleman has one particular transaction in mind. I think that that case might be reconsidered, but there is no general prohibition of exports to these destinations or any others.

Fruit And Vegetables (Director)

42.

asked the Minister of Food what rank in his Department is held by his chief adviser on the distribution of home-grown and imported fruit and vegetables.

My chief adviser on these problems is the Director of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables, a man who has been in the Ministry since the outbreak of war and whose advice was often sought by Departments even before the Ministry was established. Formerly a director of a firm of fruit brokers and a past President of the Wholesale Fruit Trade Federation, he was also a member of certain Ministry of Agriculture and Empire Marketing Board committees. He enjoys my fullest confidence and that of all sections of the trade, with whose representatives he is constantly in contact.

In view of that answer, may we take it that my right hon. Friend is satisfied that suggestions which had been made against this officer in the past are quite unjustified?

Fresh Fruits (Cold Storage)

44.

asked the Minister of Food if he will inquire into the availability of cold storage facilities for storing fresh fruits in the country generally and encourage the provision of such storage facilities, in or near the big cities, so as to improve the supplies and avoid waste.

My Department already has full particulars of all cold stores suitable or quickly adaptable for the storage of fresh fruit. I am satisfied that the space available in commercial and Government-owned stores is ample to meet any calls likely to be made upon it.

Soap Coupons (Holiday Establishments)

25.

asked the Minister of Food under what regulation hotel and boarding house keepers have to extract soap coupons from visitors' ration books when spending short times on holiday.

Under the Soap (Licensing of Manufacturers and Rationing) Order, 1948; the period is 12 or more consecutive nights.

Austria (Political Parties)

45.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he can now give an assurance that the Austrian people will be free to decide the number of political parties contesting the next election; or if the present limitation to three parties will be maintained.

46.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Control Commission in Austria have yet agreed to allow new political parties to be set up there in accordance with the Austrian Constitution and if not what action is being taken by the British element on the matter.

47.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that the Allied Control Council in Vienna is preventing the recognition of any political parties in Austria other than the People's Party, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party; what is the attitude of the British element of the Control Council in this matter; and whether the embargo will be removed so as to enable such democratic parties as wish to prepare for the forthcoming elections to do so in good time.

48.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps he proposes to take to ensure that the Austrian people are free to exercise their democratic right to form new political parties.

52.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will assure the House that any attempt to influence the course and results of the forthcoming elections in Austria by artificially restricting the number of parties who may contest the election will be vigorously resisted by His Majesty's Government.

His Majesty's Government have for some time been anxious that the Austrians should be free to form any new political parties they wish in accordance with the Austrian Constitution. The House will, however, appreciate that there are various other considerations which have to be taken into account, and one of them is the need for securing joint action by all four of the occupying powers in Austria. My right hon. Friend regrets that it has not yet been possible to obtain unanimity in this matter.

Is the Minister aware that his answer will give great satisfaction to all democratic opinion in Austria, here, America, or anywhere else; and can we depend on the vigorous action of the British Government to defend this principle in all quarters?

I think that my answer shows that we have done, and are doing, our best to ensure by our attitude that the Austrians are free to form new political parties if they wish to do so under the Constitution.

Will the Minister consider taking this matter up at a much higher level with the American and other Governments who participate in the Allied Council, and point out to them that their attitude in refusing to allow the Austrians to form new political parties strikes at the very root of the democratic basis of Western democracy and that there are very important principles which should be understood in this matter?

We had very full discussions with the French and United States Governments on this point.

Can the Minister say, apart from expressing general approval of this principle, when in fact it may be possible for the Austrians to form political parties as they wish?

Can my hon. Friend say which of the other Allied Powers are preventing the achievement of unanimity on this question?

We have discussed this question with the French and United States Governments and have not been able to reach agreement.

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the efforts of His Majesty's Government, although so far unsuccessful, are by no means yet over, and that he will persist in this matter?

Can the Minister say definitely which Government is putting an obstacle in the way?

Will my hon. Friend see that this matter is brought to the personal attention of Mr. Dean Acheson, the American Secretary of State, because it seems to be a contradiction of all that he ever stood for that he should not in this matter express the same democratic opinion in his own country as he has expressed elsewhere?

Germany

Control Commission (Staff)

50.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the number of persons employed by the British Control Commission in Germany now and a year ago, respectively.

The numbers are 12,505 civilians and 188 military personnel at 31st March, 1949, and 17,135 civilians and 519 military personnel at 31st March, 1948.

Can the Under-Secretary say what the figures will be in a few months' time; what reduction will take place?

Spain (Diplomatic Relations)

51.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if His Majesty's Government will oppose the rescinding of the United Nations' resolution regarding Spain of 12th December, 1946.

A resolution was moved in the Political Committee on Saturday last to rescind that part of the 1946 resolution which deals with diplomatic relations with Spain. As my hon. Friend will no doubt be aware, the United Kingdom Delegate abstained from voting.

As the resolution to which my hon. Friend refers only partially covered the resolution of 1946, would he answer in full the Question on the Order Paper, and tell me, therefore, whether this attitude of neutrality means that his right hon. Friend has so far not been able to make up his mind on this very important question; because, if he has made up his mind, then surely the Foreign Secretary in Great Britain should give a lead by boldly proclaiming whether—

Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Government will follow up the excellent common-sense advice given to the United Nations the other day by the Minister of State, that the conditions of trade with Spain should not be overruled by purely political considerations?

If His Majesty's Government are convinced, as they must be, of the futility of withdrawing our Ambassador from Madrid, will they take the straightforward course of voting in favour of the motion rescinding the 1946 resolution?

No, Sir. We do not want to risk any misunderstanding of our political attitude in this case.

As this is not a question of trade but of political attitude, will my hon. Friend suggest to his right hon. Friend that this is a case where solidarity within the Commonwealth would be the right attitude to follow?

Has the hon. Gentleman any hope that by the time this matter comes before the Assembly the Government will pluck up courage to vote one way or the other?

Of course, it is not a matter of courage at all. We are pursuing a perfectly consistent policy in this question. We have always said that we do not regard this as a matter in which we had strong feelings. On the one hand, there can be practical advantages of having an Ambassador in Madrid, and, on the other hand, there is the danger of having our political attitude misrepresented.

As my hon. Friend does not want our policy to be misunderstood, will His Majesty's Government make it quite clear whether this country favours or disfavours the inclusion of Fascist Spain in the comity of nations?

That has been made clear on several occasions, and I have nothing to add to a recent reply.

Leaving aside any opinion on the Government of Spain, is the hon. Gentleman aware that my hon. Friends on this side of the House attach particular importance to maintaining the closest diplomatic contacts with Spain and in being properly represented in Spain by an Ambassador?

House Of Commons Catering (Grant)

55.

asked the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, whether the provision of £14,500 in the Estimates for 1949–50 as a grant in aid to the committee will suffice to defray the year's deficit on the basis of the present level of receipts and expenditure being maintained.

Receipts and expenditure of the Kitchen Committee have no direct bearing on the amount allowed in the Estimate referred to. The amount is provided as a contribution towards the cost of staff wages, insurance, and superannuation, during the period when the House is not sitting, as is done in the case of other staffs providing amenities for Members of the House. The actual cost to the committee is considerably in excess of the amount in the Estimate.

Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that action is being taken by the committee to ensure that no further recourse to the taxpayer beyond the amount already voted will be voted at the end of the year?

The committee is and has been taking every possible step to ensure that. If the hon. Gentleman can add to our information we shall be very glad to hear from him.

Transport

Short Distance Haulage

56.

asked the Minister of Transport if it is his intention to take any steps to prevent the possibility arising in the short-distance haulage areas of firms, outside the scope of nationalisation, from concentrating lorries that had been previously used for long-distance work on the short-distance trade and thereby causing confusion in that part of the industry.

It is too early yet to say whether any difficulties of this nature are likely to arise.

Has my right hon. Friend any action in view should this set of circumstances arise in the near future; has he any plans to overcome this difficulty when it does arise?

As I have already indicated, I do not think it is wise to deal with this problem hypothetically.

Speed Limit, Burwash

57.

asked the Minister of Transport why he has refused the urgent request of the Burwash Parish Council for an extension of the speed limit on A.265 through Burwash; whether he is aware that two fatal accidents, and other minor ones, have occurred on the stretch of road in question; and if he will reconsider his decision.

This section of road is not in a built-up area, and in my view the extension of the speed limit as proposed by the parish council would not be justified. My information is that there has been only one accident during the past four years and no fatal accidents during the past 16 years on this section of road.

Is the Minister aware of the deep anxiety that there is about this matter, particularly in view of the opening of a new housing estate abutting onto this road; and will he be prepared to have a local inquiry so that this apparent conflict of evidence can be resolved?

This has been very thoroughly examined, and my reply was a considered one.

Humber (Crossing)

59.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is now prepared to consider proposals for the construction of a bridge or a tunnel across the Humber.

No, Sir. I could not regard such a project as of sufficient priority to justify consideration at the present time.

As the right hon. Gentleman is unable to take any immediate steps in this matter, will he at least ensure that the time-table of the ferry service across the Humber is greatly improved, and that the present exorbitant charges for cars are greatly reduced so that car drivers are encouraged to save the 40-mile detour on the journey from Hull to the South?

That appears to me to be an entirely different question from the one on the Order Paper.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hard core of 5,000 unemployed in Hull would be a very desirable labour pool with which to start such a project?

Ferries (Report)

60.

asked the Minister of Transport what steps have been taken to give effect to those recommendations of Part 3 of the Ferries Report which do not require legislation.

None, Sir. I am still considering these recommendations in consultation with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Scotland.

As these recommendations have now been considered for something over a year, could my right hon. Friend say when some action is likely to result?

I would remind my hon. Friend that when the Ferries Committee was appointed I made it quite clear that it was for the purpose of gaining information, and not with a view of indicating widespread immediate Government action, because there was no information available about these ferries. However, certain recommendations have emerged which might be put into operation without legislation, and they are receiving examination.

London Metal Market

61.

asked the Minister of Supply if he is now able to make a statement regarding the opening of the London Metal Exchange.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his attitude in this matter is responsible for lead being something like £37 a ton and zinc about £31 a ton higher in price in this country; and why does he not realise that this extraordinary attitude of mind is the greatest handicap producers can have in selling their goods abroad?

I do not accept the implications in that question a bit. If it were not for the fact that we have been bulk purchasing metals many of our manufacturers would have been without their raw materials.

In view of the fact that His Majesty's Government are losing millions of Marshall dollars because of the contract prices for the second quarter for 4,500 tons of lead, 18,000 tons of copper and 18,000 tons of zinc, all purchased at prices well above existing world prices, will the Minister kindly reconsider this matter?

No, Sir, I still do not accept the implications put forward by the hon. Member. However, the question of the opening of the Metal Exchange is under review, but I have no statement to make about it at the moment.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the prices of a number of British goods are now well above world prices for no other reason than that manufacturers cannot get their raw materials at world prices?

Is the Minister aware that when he was talking about the Liverpool Cotton Exchange recently he said that its re-opening and the extension of its use were under consideration; and will he now, after all these years, stop merely considering and open the Metal Exchange?

In view of the very unreasonable attitude of the Minister, I beg to give notice that I shall try to raise this matter on the Adjournment at a very early date.

Ministry Of Works

New House Of Commons Chamber (Woodwork)

63.

asked the Minister of Works in view of the obvious defects revealed in the suggested finish for the woodwork of the new Chamber exhibited on the specimen door in the Tea Room, he will entirely reconsider the treatment for all the woodwork of the new Chamber of the House of Commons.

64.

asked the Minister of Works if he is aware of the criticism of the proposed panelling in the new Chamber now being demonstrated in the Tea Room; and if he will consider substituting for it waxed oak in its natural state.

The colour of the oak will not be settled until the Advisory Committee have had the opportunity of expressing views on this and other samples.

Is the Minister aware that the acid in English oak prevents any artificial colouring put on at this stage lasting over a period of years, which means it is a certainty that in a few years' time, if the present treatment is carried on, we shall have a blotchy looking room?

I am aware that that opinion has been expressed. and consideration is being given to it. I am not yet able to take a decision.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Advisory Committee represents the opinion of this House; and are any means provided whereby the Advisory Committee can consult with hon. Members as a whole?

The purpose of putting exhibits of this oak in the various rooms is in order that the Advisory Committee may, by contact with hon. Members, get the general opinion of Members of the House.

Has the right hon. Gentleman taken any steps to see that the Advisory Committee does so? It is not much good putting oak on view and then referring back to the Advisory Committee.

This matter was considered by the Advisory Committee, and it was on their suggestion that the exhibits were made. They know that the matter is to be reconsidered and are, therefore, getting the necessary information.

Could the Minister tell us how we can inform the Advisory Committee of this situation?

Yes. If the hon. Member will contact me I will give him the names of his hon. Friends who are on the Advisory Committee, and he can then get into touch with them.

I beg to give notice that I shall at as early a date as possible call attention to the poor liaison between Members of the House and the Minister with regard to the new Chamber.

Government Offices, Edinburgh (Site)

65.

asked the Minister of Works whether a site has yet been acquired for the erection of the proposed new Government offices in Edinburgh; and when it is expected that preliminary work will be commenced.

Negotiations for the acquisition of a site for a temporary office building in Edinburgh are nearing completion. It is expected to start work on the site towards the end of this year.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there is sufficient building labour available in Scotland for this extra work?